An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on transport and sport, to be taken at 2 p.m. and conclude at 4 p.m, with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed 50 minutes, the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes each and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Report Stage, resumed, and Final Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m. and adjourned at 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and adjourned after two hours, if not previously concluded.

I remind Members that following the Order of Business we will be hosting the Kiely family for the scheduled tributes to the late iar-Chathaoirleach Rory Kiely. As I am sure many Members will want to pay tribute to him, I hope we can strive to complete the Order of Business without delay in order that we can start the tributes at 12.45 p.m.

On the last point, I remind Senators that group spokespersons have three minutes and are permitted to raise two items on the Order of Business. All other Senators have two minutes and are permitted to raise one item. Unfortunately, many Senators are not in the Chamber and will not be aware of this, but their colleagues who are present might remind them of it as they arrive. I apologise as I might have been a little lax yesterday, but I will not be today. The Leader has reminded us of the reasons we should not delay today.

I support the Order of Business as proposed. Will the Leader of the House devote time within the next week or so to debate the roll-out of the €3 billion and flawed national broadband plan that was signed yesterday by the Government? It was an excellent PR stunt. According to the successful bidder, Mr. David McCourt, the project will ensure businesses and residents will have a bright and sustainable future. The only one who has a brighter future is Mr. McCourt because he has the best sweetheart deal of all time. It is one of the most magnificent achievements of any businessman without one yard of fibre or one pole at his disposal. I know that he is in New York seeking to raise funds for the project and he will probably be successful because it is a win-win for him and his company. In August the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment brought forward a very good and well studied report. Deputy Dooley led off for Fianna Fáil at the time when we came to the conclusion that there was good cause to look at the issue again because we had the ESB, which is not a national but an international company. It has all of the infrastructure needed to provide broadband for every house in Ireland without any difficulty. Eir also stated it would be prepared to consider becoming involved again. Of course, the reason the decision has been announced is the by-election to be held on 29 November, as well as the fact that things are not going very well for the Government. In fact, they are going very badly for it. They are going so badly for it that it is thinking of withdrawing candidates, not to mention anything else. Of course, broadband is needed. We need it. Fianna Fáil-----

The Senator should be on the stage.

We are on the stage.

The Senator should be in an opera house.

This is one of the most important stages in Ireland. The Dáil and the Seanad are the most important stages in Ireland. In every election in recent years Fine Gael stated in its manifesto that it would provide broadband for every house in the country. That has not happened and it will not happen for a very long time. It is a myth. It is a great day when a contract is signed, but Mr. Robert Watt and others questioned the signing of it as much of the fibre would not be rolled out until beyond 2020 or 2026. All I am saying is there is a need for broadband. How it is provided is a matter of judgment. The Government will be judged on the issue. It is very strange that the former Minister was accused of being too friendly with Mr. McCourt and left office, while the Minister seemed to have been influenced by him. I say, "Well done," to Mr. McCourt, for whom it is a great day. I wish him luck in that regard.

How is Fianna Fáil's Fingal candidate going?

I hope Fine Gael is not receiving any contribution from-----

The Senator should withdraw that remark.

What did I say?

The Senator knows well what he said. It is scurrilous.

Did I miss something?

The Senator did say it. It will be in "the blacks".

If Senator Leyden was out of order, I rely on him to-----

I was not out of order.

The Senator knows that he was out of order.

We will not argue about it now. Senator Leyden will reflect on the matter.

It is about time that he was called out. It is the Fianna Fáil model of broadband and that is what it is going to be playing at.

The Leader will respond in due course.

I would love to see that level of debate about mental health services, not comments in the Chamber. It is a pity because I receive text messages on a daily basis, not just from parents whose children are trying to avail of mental health services in County Wexford but also from staff in HSE South. I will quote from a text message sent to me yesterday by a very distressed mother. She said:

What's happening? What's the story in Wexford? There is still no consultant, no registrar, no clinical nurse manager, who's out sick at the moment, no medical appointments for children with mental illness. They are in dire need. There's no one to write prescriptions for controlled drugs for children, no service after five o'clock when there is a clinical manager there. Instead children are sent to the Department of Psychiatry in Waterford in a single room with no occupational therapy, just medication offered. They're locked in a room.

By the way, this area in University Hospital Waterford is called the dungeon. Every now and then, a consultant is brought from Galway and paid €3,000 per day to see children on the weekends he is available. I do not know anymore where we are. Two and a half years ago staff in Slaney House were promised that they would be moved to better accommodation, but they still have not been moved. In October 2017 they were promised that premises would be available to them.

They are still in the old premises. At this point I do not know what to do. I was Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care. I was promised the committee would continue, which would allow members of the committee to oversee, supervise and scrutinise the HSE. Now that committee is gone, so there is nobody doing it. I again call on the Government to reinstate the committee and to please do something within the next week about Slaney House. I acknowledge that Mr. Paul Reid was down there the other day. Wexford will come to its knees. A massive problem or tragedy will happen and then the Government will act. It should act now. I will be on this case daily until Christmas until something happens.

I support Senator Freeman's remarks. It is not confined to Wexford but I am aware of particular problems there. I spoke to one mother this morning who must wait 13 weeks to see a psychiatrist in an emergency. That young person must go through the whole of December, Christmas and the beyond without getting an appointment. That is a very serious situation. I agree with Senator Freeman about the life-saving initiatives and action on recruitment that we are talking about. Years have passed sense A Vision for Change was published. Think of all the photo opportunities that it created and yet we are still in those circumstances. It is a shame on us all.

I propose a change to the Order of Business – this may have been done and I apologise if it has been – that instead of debating the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017, we debate the need for a public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell. The Minister for Justice and Equality will obviously be available at that time. It is crucial that we debate that in this House.

Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business to that effect?

I am. It may already have been taken care of but if it has not I am proposing that.

The Government is planning new laws to stop local groups and environmental organisations challenging controversial developments in court. I have real concerns about this because the new law will effectively deny ordinary citizens, community groups and non-governmental organisations, NGOs, the chance to ever take a court challenge. If passed, the changes would make it impossible for newly-formed campaign groups to seek judicial review of planning decisions affecting their locality and it speaks to the lack of consultation. Developments absolutely must happen but they must be done in consultation with community groups. To state this cannot be done unless a group has been in existence for three years and 100 members have signed it is the wrong way to go. This comes on top of the changes to legislation that allow major capital projects and large housing developments to go directly to An Bord Pleanála for approval. There is no means of appealing them except by judicial review. That is taking autonomy away from local authorities. I would like a debate on this here because I do not like the direction it is going in terms of local people not having a genuine say in the development, shaping and structure of their communities.

I support Senator Conway-Walsh's proposed amendment to the Order of Business to take statements on the Shane O'Farrell case and the need for an inquiry in that case instead of Report Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017, at 4 p.m. today. I had not been aware that Senator Conway-Walsh was proposing that amendment but I did last week call on the Leader to arrange for further debate on the case of Shane O'Farrell. I have been supportive of the family, and I know other colleagues in the Chamber, notably Senator Norris, have also been very supportive of the family. I think there would be great support for Senator Conway-Walsh's proposed amendment and I am happy to second it. In the Dáil last week, there was significant movement forward on that debate. It would be useful for us to take a similar approach in the Seanad, in keeping with the approach we have taken before on the issue of Shane's tragic death.

The recent unfortunate comments by candidates from different parties, although not the Labour Party, in the by-election campaigns in several constituencies – I am not going to go into them – exemplify what the Labour Party Leader, Deputy Howlin, has called the toxic discourse that is seeping into public discussion about migrant communities in particular, new communities in Ireland and the nature of inward migration. It is a really unfortunate development. It is important that the Government and all public representatives be seen to lead, to take a stance against language that is disrespectful of others, particularly minority communities. It is important that we show in a concrete and visible way that we are taking a stand against this. The language we use as public representatives really matters. There are two ways in which we could move forward on this and I ask the Leader to take these on board.

First, we need to see the introduction of legislation on hate speech. The Department of Justice and Equality is conducting a review of the prohibition of incitement to hatred legislation. That is a very welcome review. It is due to conclude in December. We should have a debate early in the new year on the shape of proposed hate speech laws. There has been a good deal of discussion already about these in this House and the other House but it is long overdue that we reform our incitement to hatred legislation and ensure greater protection for our communities against that sort of hate speech. Second, and more immediately in the Seanad, we could give Government time to Committee Stage of the Labour Party Bill that would have given rights to undocumented children in Ireland. We brought that Bill forward this time last year. It passed Second Stage, despite Government opposition. It got support across the House, apart from Fine Gael, and it was introduced specifically in response to cases of children who had been living all their lives in Ireland, who had been born here or had come to Ireland as very young children, had all their schooling here yet had no regularised status in Irish law due to long delays in the asylum applications system and other flaws in the system. It is within the scope of our Oireachtas to legislate to give residency and citizenship rights to such children. It would be a really positive, concrete step for the Government to be seen to move on this. I understand the Taoiseach is favourably disposed to some form of regularisation system and I am proud to support the Migrant Rights Centre, which yesterday brought people into Leinster House and brought a letter signed by many people in this situation to the Minister of Justice and Equality. It is not a huge number of people overall. Will the Leader give Government time to Committee Stage of the Labour Party Bill on undocumented children?

I want to raise the issue of mental health facilities, the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, and disability services in my local community health organisation area, CHO 8. I have said on numerous occasions that I believe CHO 8 has the least funding per capita for disability services and for CAMHS. I am concerned that every time there is a difficulty with the budget, disability services are like low-hanging fruit and lose out each time. I would like the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health to come in here to discuss this. Part of this discussion could be about the assistant psychologist posts advertised in the past two years, 120 the year before last and again last year, the big recruitment drive, the week-long interview sessions in hotels. Hundreds of young people were interviewed and I do not know if any of those positions have been filled. If they were filled, by their nature, young people move and I do not think they were backfilled. There is a huge flaw in a system that can announce 120 positions for assistant psychologists but not fill all of them or fill some at least. I do not know what they are doing with them.

Assistant psychologists are perfectly capable of carrying out assessments under the supervision of a senior psychologist, and reducing waiting lists, and that is what should be done. I ask that the Minister of State come before the House to have this debate with us and give us his impression of what is going on and how we can make it better.

I support what Senator Freeman said about psychiatric services. If, as she stated, an emergency appointment for a psychiatric interview is taking 13 weeks, we are not just talking about delays but also about lives. The HSE is statute-bound to provide psychiatric services, and there comes a point at which it is in breach of its statutory duty. I think this will end up in the courts in the form of some massive action at some stage. The problem is that when people, especially young people, take their own lives, there is no financial penalty on the people responsible. It is very serious. Children could be denied psychiatric help for 13 weeks when they are in crisis.

The other matter I wish to speak about is the desirability of asking the Minister of State with responsibility for the Electricity Supply Board, in which I think the State is still a shareholder, to come before the House to explain the reason for the following: when, in the 1960s, the board had destroyed the longest single stretch of Georgian architecture in Dublin by putting up a hideous office block on Fitzwilliam Street, it then had the opportunity to rectify the damage it had done. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, when he was a member of Dublin City Council, had inserted into the city development plan a requirement that any development on that site should involve the reinstatement of the facade. The board campaigned to change this in order that it could put up another incongruous building on the site. Now it appears that the board is not even building this building for itself; it is a speculative office development that it is offering to the market to dispose of. There is no excuse for this. The opportunity to restore this part of Georgian Dublin was sitting there, and the ESB, in its wisdom, has chosen to ignore that opportunity, to get Dublin City Council to change its development plan to allow it not to restore the damage it did. Now the board is proposing to sell off the development, once it has it finished, for private office development. This is a terrible tragedy, and somebody - the shareholder - should take responsibility for what has happened.

I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, to come before the House at some stage for a debate on the issue of housing. Limerick City and County Council and several other councils are considering a programme that proposes that people, be they widows or widowers living on their own or single people living in three or four-bedroomed houses, be given the option to downsize. While some councillors have raised concerns about issues surrounding this, it needs to be examined. Several people have called to my office expressing interest in downsizing from a three or four-bedroomed house to a smaller, perhaps one or two-bedroomed, bungalow or apartment. We need to look at this nationally. It would free up homes for families on the housing waiting lists. We need to look at the bigger picture and have a debate on the matter in this House. I ask the Leader to arrange for that to happen.

I wish to raise an important issue. Thousands of families in Donegal are affected by defective mica-affected concrete blocks. This has devastated them. We welcome the fact that a scheme administered by Donegal County Council will be operational soon to help the families make their homes safe. Unlike with the pyrite redress scheme, however, families in Donegal have been required to provide a 10% contribution. If this involves a complete rebuild, 10% will be a significant amount for families who are paying mortgages on homes that have been destroyed by this blight in our county. The Mica Action Group has done some excellent work. It has engaged with financial institutions and has received a fairly positive response to its call for the banks and other financial institutions that hold mortgages on thousands of these homes to make a contribution to help with that 10% and to make the scheme happen. What is required from Government is for the Minister for Finance to engage with the Central Bank to bring together all the banks and other financial institutions in a cross-lender approach such that everybody is on the same page and the families can be reassured that when the scheme is announced, they will have the financial supports to make their homes safe again. This would be completely in the interests of the banks and other financial institutions because right now the real value of these properties is rapidly deteriorating. The homes would be made safe and their value restored to the full market rate, which is what everybody wants. I ask the Leader to refer this matter to the Minister for Finance today and to ask him to engage urgently with the Central Bank and the financial institutions to get this resolved in order that when the scheme is up and running soon, those supports will be in place.

This issue is not exactly on the radar, but a few months ago "RTÉ Investigates" followed the controversy in the greyhound industry concerning retired greyhounds and the poor welfare of greyhounds. There was a major clamour from animal rights groups, and rightly so, for the Government to stop the nearly €17 million of funding going to the Irish Greyhound Board. Today, however, I see that the board is introducing a traceability database, which will cost in excess of €300,000. I very much welcome this. I have never had a greyhound but I have attended Shelbourne Park on a few Tuesday nights and seen many people with no interest in greyhounds from all around the world. Seemingly, it is a tourist destination. They seem very much to enjoy it, as I do. On this occasion I will not say the Irish Greyhound Board should be congratulated, but perhaps it is getting its act in order. I thank "RTÉ Investigates" and the animal rights groups for ensuring that there will now be traceability for the welfare of these greyhounds. A total of 6,000 greyhounds seemingly went missing, but this initiative should be welcomed.

I thank the nine Members who spoke for their contributions to the Order of Business.

To respond to Senator Leyden's contribution, we all welcome the publication and signing of the national broadband strategy. I am disappointed the Senator does not welcome its guarantee of high-speed broadband for every home, business and farm in the country.

I do, and the Leader should not misrepresent me.

I am sure the Senator's people in his county of Roscommon are congratulating Senator Hopkins-----

That is pure propaganda.

I am now congratulating Senator Feighan.

Has the Leas-Chathaoirleach no control of this man at all?

I cannot allow the Senator back in.

Senator Leyden is out of touch.

I am not responsible for the competence of the Leader's response. Everybody gets their turn here.

The Leader has made irresponsible comments.

I shall re-state what I said, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. It is disappointing that Senator Leyden, in his contribution this morning, did not welcome the fact that high-speed broadband will be supplied to every home, business and farm in the country, and in particular in Roscommon.

I am sure Senators Feighan and Hopkins will be delighted-----

-----to tell the people of Roscommon that Senator Leyden could not welcome broadband.

Senator Leyden is out of touch.

Everybody knows full well, as do the Members opposite who complain about rural Ireland being left behind, that one of the most important things is connectivity. I have noticed that the contributions of the other Opposition Members did not do what was done by Senator Leyden.

What about Deputy Naughten?

They are only happy when there are miseries.

Did Deputy Naughten not help as well?

Senator Leyden probably wishes he was still the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.

He was Minister of State but that is a long time ago.

We had automatic phones then, Gearóid.

Senator Leyden was probably the Minister who had telephones in the boot of his car and delivered them to all of the homes.

Yes, and asked people whether they wanted a black or red phone.

We would not even have the fixed lines for phones if it were not for Senator Leyden-----

That is correct.

-----the then Minister, Mark Killilea, and, most especially, Albert Reynolds. That is fact.

And Padraig Faulkner.

And Padraig Faulkner.

Order, please. We cannot be having this ad-libbing.

Senator Leyden held his post with distinction.

Senator Leyden will remember Albert Reynolds putting his sweet lips a little closer to the phone on "The Live Mike" one Friday night. I remind Senator Leyden, as a former Minister-----

-----that the Attorney General and the European Commission have advised that it would be against state aid rules and procurement laws to simply designate the ESB, or any semi-State body, to carry out the project. The Fianna Fáil way was never to pay notice to rules and do their own thing.

The Leader is being too political.

Senator Buttimer is the Leader of the House so should be more reasoned-----

Please, the Senator can take that up with the Leader afterwards.

---and responsible.

The Senator is out of order.

Senators Freeman, McDowell and McFadden have raised the issue of mental health. All of us concur with the remarks that if a person is an emergency case there should not be a 13 week wait, which is unacceptable. Senator Conway-Walsh also made reference to mental health.

Again, it is disappointing that Members do not acknowledge that there has been an increase in funding. I will say it again, as I said to Senator Devine yesterday, there has been an increase to €1.026 billion in 2020, which is an increase of €315 million since 2012. In addition, there has been an increase of €39 million in the mental health service budget, which will include €13 million for new developments next year.

I accept there has been an issue with recruitment and Senator McFadden made reference to the interview process. To be fair to the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, priority has been given to the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. There is too long a waiting list but the numbers have been reduced. As Senator McDowell said, with which I completely agree, if an emergency is an emergency then it is about the life of a person. That is the fundamental point and there is a need for a joined-up approach to the whole issue of mental health.

Senator Freeman made reference to the Government in terms of the Oireachtas cross-party committee. That is not a matter for the Government. It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Dáil and Seanad, to reconvene the group, a measure of which I am very supportive.

Senator Conway-Walsh proposed an amendment to the Order of Business on the need for a debate on the Shane O'Farrell inquiry. All of us on this side of the House and indeed, all Members in both Houses, want justice for the O'Farrell family. I will not divide the House on the matter and acquiesce to the request. This is not a partisan matter.

I thank the Leader.

All of us want justice for the O'Farrell family.

I thank the Leader.

Reference was made to the strategic planning process. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has or is making changes to the process. I understand the point that was made about people having their say. One must balance housing needs with the rights of residents. Valid points were made and I am happy to arrange for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.

Senator Bacik made reference to the recent comments by a number of by-election candidates. Yesterday, Senators McDowell, O'Sullivan and I discussed, as part of the Order of Business, the need for respect and tolerance in the political process. Sometimes we need to understand the import of our words, what they mean, and be mindful of how we say them. I am happy to have that debate, as we had yesterday, in the House. I will have a discussion with the Senator regarding her request for Government time to be set aside for the Labour Party Bill.

Senator McDowell made reference to the Georgian heart of Dublin being uprooted and demolished by the ESB. One cannot disagree with the points that he made about Fitzwilliam Square, where the ESB demolished a Georgian building, which beggars belief. I agree with him that there was an opportunity and I am disappointed that the ESB is not acquiescing. I am not aware that the ESB is selling the building on as I thought it was its headquarters.

The building is not the headquarters at all.

I thought it was.

Perhaps Senator McDowell might table a Commencement matter on the topic. Perhaps he might ask Deputy O'Callaghan, as he quoted him, and ask him to ask his councillors for help. Perhaps the Senator is getting ready to run in Deputy O'Callaghan's constituency.

Maybe after the invitation from the Minister last night.

I was invited by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to run for the Dáil.

We are not going back on last night's discussion.

Given some of the proposals made by Senator McDowell, where he wants to tie the hands of the next Government and Dáil, he might have an interest in being there himself given what his amendment proposed last night.

Senator Boyhan for President.

Order, please. The Leader to respond, without interruption.

I note that Senator Boyhan is not rushing to run in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

I am reviewing that also.

In light of that, we might tell the county council that Senator Boyhan is reviewing his position.

I have two options.

Senator Boyhan is considering it.

Senator Boyhan is considering his position, exactly.

Senator Byrne made reference to the issue of housing and the need for us, as a country, to have a debate and a discussion around what Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell calls rightsizing and what Senator Byrne called downsizing this morning. The points Senator Byrne made are becoming the norm in our offices. As we knock on doors, we find that single or widowed persons are living on their own in three or four-bedroom houses. We need to have the conversation and I am happy to arrange for the Minister to come to the House.

Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the important issue of mica in Donegal. Vested interests and stakeholders have held a series of meetings in Donegal. I am happy to bring his points to the Minister. Perhaps a Commencement matter on the topic might be more expeditious in getting a reply. The incidence of mica is a very important matter that needs to be resolved for the people of Donegal.

Finally, Senator Feighan made reference to the welfare of greyhounds in light of the "Prime Time Investigates" television programme. The Irish Greyhound Board has put €350,000 into a fund for a traceability database, which is welcome. We welcome any improvement to be taken in terms of animal welfare. Many people in the greyhound industry were appalled at the content of the programme and are working hard to redress the matter.

I will not divide the House in terms of the amendment proposed by Senator Conway-Walsh.

Senator Conway-Walsh proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 2 not be taken and that a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the need for a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell be taken instead." Is the amendment agreed in light of what the Leader has said? Agreed.

I was tempted to propose an amendment that we take Judicial Appointments Commission Bill at the end of the Order of Business.

In light of Senator McDowell's contribution last night, I know that he needs to recharge his batteries so I will not do that.

I thank the Leader. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.

I ask the Leader to propose the suspension until 12.45 p.m.

In proposing the suspension, I wish the Fianna Fáil Whip a very happy birthday as well.

We will all subscribe to that but no singing in the Chamber.

Sitting suspended at 12.10 p.m. and resumed at 12.50 p.m.