An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 92, motion 7, re Oireachtas secretarial assistants, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 1, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2019 - All Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude after 45 minutes, with the contributions of group spokespersons on Second Stage not exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no fewer than five minutes reply to the debate, with Committee and Remaining Stage to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 2, Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and to adjourn after 60 minutes, if not previously concluded; No. 3, Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. or on conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and to conclude no later than 3.30 p.m. by the putting of only one question from the Chair which shall in relation to amendments include only those set down or accepted by Government; No. 3a, Appropriation Bill 2019 [Certified Money Bill] - All Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3 and to conclude after 45 minutes, with the contribution of group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no fewer than five minutes reply to the debate, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 3b, motion re the earlier signature of the Appropriation Bill 2019 [Certified Money Bill], to be taken on conclusion of No. 3a, without debate; and No. 3c, Migration of Participating Securities Bill 2019 - All Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3b and to conclude after 45 minutes, with the contribution of group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no fewer than five minutes to reply to the debate, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter.

I want to mention the awful and tragic death of Nadine Lott and to offer my condolences to her family, particularly her young daughter. Nadine Lott from Arklow died last night after succumbing to the horrific injuries she sustained. Last week I highlighted the alarmingly high rate of domestic violence and deaths of women in their own homes, in front of their children and often with their children. I want a debate on domestic violence in this Chamber as soon as we return from the Christmas break. The women of Ireland are facing a great crisis, namely, the crisis of domestic violence, which is not being tackled. We are furious it is not being tackled properly. I would like to request that a specific committee be set up to examine the issue, although not over a long period. I would like a committee made up of people who have an interest in and knowledge of this area to produce a report within a matter of weeks because this cannot continue. A number of women have been murdered in similar circumstances, and it is no longer acceptable. We need to respect the memories of these women by taking action.

I would like to raise an issue facing thousands of crèches, childcare facilities and early education facilities throughout the country, namely, the insurance crisis. As we all know, there is only one insurer in the market. Many facilities are without insurance at the moment. If they want insurance, they have to go to one insurer which is offering outrageous rates. It is tripling the insurance premiums of the previous year, even though no claims are outstanding or no claims have been settled in a particular facility. This is absolutely outrageous. Not one Minister from the Department of Finance, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Justice and Equality or the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has met the insurance companies or their industry body since taking office in 2016. That is symptomatic of the hands-off approach taken by this Government to the insurance crisis facing many businesses.

There is a severe shortage of childcare places in north County Dublin, and if any facilities close because of this issue, it will cause great distress in an already squeezed market. It has been coming for months, but the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs seems surprised. We have been highlighting this since last April but it is only the now that the Minister is seeking to do something about it. It is probably a little too late. These facilities are providing a public service. Early years education is a vital public service, yet these facilities are being treated appallingly by the Government. They are not being offered any support or assistance, and it is an outrage that this crisis has gotten to this point. I want the Leader to address this issue.

Thank you, Senator. I call Senator Craughwell.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

As this is our last sitting of this term, I would like to uncharacteristically take time to thank people. I thank the Leader for his stewardship of the House over the last term. We did not always agree but it was always respectful and I would like to say that the Leader is a good friend. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his fairness in the way that he chaired some very difficult legislation about judges and such.

Everybody might not agree.

I thank the staff of the Oireachtas, who have always facilitated all of us at any time that we needed everything. We would like to wish them all a happy Christmas.

Now that all the niceties are over, we will go away and most of us will have a comfortable, warm, happy Christmas in our homes. It would be wrong to let the day go by without thinking of those who do not have a home, who will spend Christmas in hotels, hostels or on trolleys in hospitals. It is an awful time of the year. It always baffles me that we get so excited and concerned at Christmas when this is happening year-round. I see people in this Chamber and elsewhere stand up to talk about how they would fix the system and such. I was in the regional hospital in Galway when I was ten and my bed was in the middle of a ward because it had no beds. The staff were putting beds in the middle of wards and putting people on trolleys. That was in the 1960s. Nothing has changed over the years. I know of no fix that will make the world a better place without everybody pulling in one direction. Cheap shots at one another, especially in the areas of health and education, will never solve the problem. The problem requires all of us to put all of our shoulders to the wheel.

Today, we might think of those who we have let down badly. This country has become a very wealthy country again. People are coming back from Helsinki, from an EU meeting. I was amazed at the number of children who were on the flight, having flown to Helsinki to see Santa. I was thinking about the children who were walking the streets of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford because they had to leave the hotel at 12 o'clock in the morning. There is a lot of inequality. I know we are coming to the end of the lifetime of this Government. Whatever Government comes in, that inequality has to be tackled. I do not know that there is a way to solve it in the current political system but my thoughts are with those people today.

I call Senator Ruane.

Was Sinn Féin not indicating?

The groups are of equal strength.

Grand. It is not usually the order.

I have generally called Sinn Féin first but the groups are of equal strength. It is at the discretion of the Chair and this morning Senator Ruane indicated first. Senator Conway-Walsh will understand.

I do not know whether I second the Leader's motion on secretarial pay, which is being taken without debate, now or at the end of the Order of Business. It is brilliant to see that everybody in the Chamber has come together to place a real value on the work of the people who make our work possible. I was thinking about why it is so important. It is not only because people deserve to be paid well but because the efficiency of this House relies on a level of knowledge and experience. If one does not pay the people who work within one's office well, one will have a constant turnover and constantly lose that level of experience and knowledge that a person working in the office brings, with the substantial workload that those people do. I thank everybody in the Chamber for lending their support to that.

When I knew I was speaking on the Order of Business, as with Senator Clifford-Lee, a lot was on my mind. I find it very hard in the aftermath of something so wrong and evil happening to a woman. I get a pain in my heart where I struggle to even articulate what it must have been like for that woman, her family and the people in her community. As someone who was no stranger to violence or male control, I find it hard to find the words to even begin to express the anger and collective trauma that the women of Ireland often feel when something unjust, wrong and violent happens to another woman and another mother. I would like to remember that today and second what Senator Clifford-Lee has said about it. I know we have domestic violence legislation but we need to look at how that is impacting or not impacting on the issue and how we can begin to address, in a real way, violence against women in their homes and in general.

I wish everybody a very happy Christmas. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Cathaoirleach, Martin, Bridget and everybody else involved in the running of this House, and indeed the Leader of the House for their work throughout the year. We might have our battles but overall things could be worse. The devil you know.

There is a "but" coming.

Like others, I want to send my solidarity to the family of Nadine Lott. As this is an alleged assault, we cannot comment further on the particulars, but we know that 230 women have died due to violence in this country since 1996, with six so far this year. We have asked for a debate in the House to look at the impact of the legislation and how it is being implemented. It is important that we do that in the new year. We need an all-island approach to domestic violence and violence against women.

Today, I want to speak about the lack of State services being given to An Post and why this Government is encouraging people to bypass post offices and do their transactions and claims online. They should have their local post offices as the first option, not the last option behind being encouraged to conduct transactions online. Why is motor tax not available through the post office? Why is the Central Bank not encouraging people to bank through their post offices? Another problem is that, in the case of some of the post offices that were closed temporarily and then reopened in parishes such as Ballycroy, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is not interacting with the post offices. All their claims have been moved to another post office but they were not automatically changed back though they should have been. All of the claimants got letters when the post office was closing but they did not get letters when the post office was reopening. Payments need to be brought back to local post offices. People are afraid to move payments from one post office to the other because they are afraid of losing their payments or that their payments might be late. I ask that the Leader take this up with the Minister and ask the Minister to look at the temporary closure of post offices and the transactions with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

The CEO of An Post, David McRedmond, said in an interview on Sunday that the general incompetence of the Government is to blame for citizens not being able to access the full range of State services through the post office network. The Government really needs to get serious about our post office services. In 2018, 159 post offices were closed, mostly in small rural areas. We cannot allow this to continue. Post offices are a vital part of our rural communities. They provide a social and economic hub for people, and they provide valuable local employment. The Government should look at improving the post office network and ensuring that it gets the full range of Government services. The Government must look at a coherent and properly resourced strategy with firm proposals that will secure the future of post offices and the thousands who are employed. I ask for a debate on that in the new year. We should bring the Minister in to present concrete proposals about how these matters regarding rural post offices will be addressed. Areas without post offices are not areas that serve the community well.

I know that yesterday in this House and the other House, tributes were paid to Cormac Ó Braonáin who died so tragically at the weekend at the age of 19. He was national chairperson of Labour Youth. I add my voice to those as a friend and comrade of Cormac. I express sympathies to his parents, Lú and Eva, his sister Muireann, and his family and friends.

I had the great pleasure of knowing Cormac well. I canvassed with him over many different campaigns during recent years. For someone so young he had incredible reach, charisma, leadership and talent. I was at the vigil for him in Lios na nÓg, his former school in Ranelagh, where so many people spoke movingly of their own knowledge of him, friendship with him and of his work with the scouting movement. He was a leader in the scouting movement. He worked with the Irish language movement and undertook fundraising for the school and his former secondary school as well. He is an incredible loss to us in the Labour Party, to all of us who knew him and to all the many people and communities he touched. There will be a funeral service for him tomorrow in the Mansion House. I know many more tributes will be paid to him there but I wanted to put mine on the record.

I support the sentiments of Senators Clifford-Lee, Conway-Walsh and Ruane in calling for a debate on domestic violence. It is really important. I wish to express sympathies to the family of Nadine Lott. It is such a tragic story and death.

I am glad we are putting forward a motion on secretarial assistants. I think every Senator has signed it. That is great. I wish to pay tribute to Senator Ruane and Seb in her office for leading on it. It is important and it is good that we are coming together on the last sitting day to do that.

I wish colleagues and Oireachtas staff, yourself, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, and the Cathaoirleach the very best wishes for Christmas and the new year.

I wish yourself, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, and all my colleagues and the staff a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year.

Senator Craughwell outlined the housing issue. It is an issue that needs to be dealt with. I was in Leitrim last Monday. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, opened or turned the sod on 53 new homes in four different developments to the tune of €12 million. A great deal is being done. I was delighted to see all the young couples and people getting the keys to their houses and moving in. It was a joy to see the Christmas tree in the houses. We need to do more but the personalised attacks on the Minister have been most unfair. Some people say that because he is from Dublin he knows nothing about the west of Ireland. However, he was comfortable and very much at ease. If I was the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the same question would be put to me. I would be asked what could I know about housing in Dublin. We get personal about it, as when discussing health or housing. We have to be careful that we do not personalise it too much. That does not take away from the suffering of the many thousands of people who are without a home. We have to work. We are doing our best. We are putting serious money into this issue. There are some positive aspects of the delivery of housing.

I have talked about the UK election. It is obvious that Scotland is going in a different direction to England. Northern Ireland will be using Dublin and Ireland as a base to work through the EU. This opens up extraordinary opportunities for us. Mike Nesbitt, the ex-leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and a member of the legislative assembly, said something profound. He said all his life Northern Unionists were looking over their shoulders at Irish nationalists. However, the people they now need to fear most are English nationalists. This is very symbolic.

I want to thank Fianna Fáil. In fairness, people in Fianna Fáil have been great advocates of the Commonwealth. Yesterday, Deputy Stephen Donnelly and Deputy Malcom Byrne said that what we need to do for a united Ireland was to rejoin the Commonwealth and celebrate 12 July. They were following in the footsteps of de Valera when he met Churchill in Westminster in 1953. He said that if he had been Taoiseach in 1949, Ireland would not have left the Commonwealth. We burnt down a potential bridge with our neighbours. In 1999, 20 years ago, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, addressed students in UCD. He said that leaving the Commonwealth in 1949 was particularly clumsy and that we succeeded in cutting off most of our English-speaking friends around the world. I am absolutely delighted and I hope my colleagues in Fine Gael can be as forthright in their thoughts as those in Fianna Fáil on the Commonwealth. I thank them very much. It is a wonderful idea and I am with them on this one.

I was deeply concerned this week to hear that GPs are charging general medical scheme patients for taking bloods in some circumstances. Medial card patients are still being charged for blood tests despite the HSE ruling that blood tests should be covered by the card and that patients should report their GPs if they are being charged.

Doctors have previously argued that the medical card contract was not designed to cover the amount of routine blood tests that patients now need. This confusion is hitting the most vulnerable people in their pockets. This issue has arisen several times in my clinics. Many of those reporting it are elderly. This cost is really something they would consider a luxury. Some might put off getting a test because of finances. That is the opposite of what the medical card is supposed to achieve. It really concerns me that people are now telling me that they cannot afford to get their bloods done. I have been contacted by several people with chronic illnesses who require regular blood tests. They absolutely cannot absorb the cost. We need to have an option. If a person goes to hospital, there is free blood testing. However, Carlow does not have a reliable transport system. The hospital in Kilkenny is our nearest hospital. That is not an option for us. Again, rural Ireland is forgotten.

Will the Leader ask the Minister whether GPs have received recommendations from the HSE to the effect that patients are not to be charged? Discussions are ongoing on the contract at the moment. It is generally understood that GPs provide necessary care for their patients. This would and should include blood tests. I want to know whether this can be clarified. Can the position be stated so that the public can know exactly where they stand? This is absolutely a major issue for me. I wonder whether the Minister could clarify the matter for me.

I agree with the previous speakers. My sympathy goes to the family of Nadine Lott. We need to have a major debate in the House about domestic violence.

I wish to congratulate the new IFA president, Tim Cullinan. It is great and I wish him well. I believe he will really represent the beef farmers. That is what we need to do because they really need support now. I will absolutely be giving my support to him and to the beef farmers.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas. I believe 2020 will be a busy year for all of us. I hope everyone has a lovely and peaceful Christmas. We will all see each other in January.

I wish everyone Christmas wishes. It is lovely to see the House with so much goodwill. It abounds. It is unusual and nice to have such goodwill to all men and women.

I rise today to make specific reference to the recent developments in the political landscape in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Both jurisdictions have seen significant changes to personal and elected representatives. They have seen significant swings in the balance of power. No one, including the experts, saw much of this coming. No one could have predicted the monumental shift in support in Great Britain based on the information and indicators pre-election. However, many could see that there was a lot of apathy north of the Border. People were frustrated by the lack of an executive and a lack of government. They could be mobilised to demonstrate their frustration by shifting to the moderate middle ground. That is what they did en masse.

Change is sometimes good and change can sometimes move things on. Sometimes it can give an impetus to do things differently or to look at things in a different light. In fact, change could have given some of the larger players the nudge they need to go the extra mile, think outside the box and consider things previously unthinkable. Following a period where uncertainty was the order of the day, we must return a degree of normality to the business of politics and refocus on the bread-and-butter issues, including Brexit, with a greater degree of certainty and more clarity around the implications of any such exodus of the UK from the EU.

We have seen the result of the general election in Great Britain and the significant majority. Whatever side of the Brexit discussion we are on, we now have a situation where decisions can be taken, rightly or wrongly. We will be able to identify the decision-makers, engage with them, argue and debate with them, reason and row with them and at least begin to make plans for the future based on arguments. We can make the case for deals and arrangements that mitigate risk and develop opportunities in a new era of engagement between the UK and Ireland.

The relationship between the UK and Ireland is symbiotic and really important for both sides. In fact the interdependence, is important north, south, east and west. I do not believe for one minute that the UK Government, or the UK Prime Minister, would, or would have any desire to, act in such a way to hurt, damage or make poorer the citizens of the UK, especially those constituents who have now placed trust in his party. They would not hurt, damage or make poorer the people of Ireland due to the importance of this relationship across trade and business, sport and tourism and most especially the people on the two islands.

Taking these changes into consideration, it could be argued that we are much better placed this week compared to last week to get on and start planning. Furthermore, yesterday saw the launch of report of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. That is a clear indication of the serious work to be undertaken by both civil servants and Members of both of Houses in an attempt to reduce the risk and prepare everyone for the potential changes that may be ahead. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, it is not about the plan, it is all about the planning because plans always have to change. At least Ireland has done, and continues to do, the planning, despite any changes that may be necessary.

Whatever faces this House and Government in the next few weeks it is imperative that we speak with one voice, stand shoulder to shoulder and ensure the best outcomes are achieved for this country. An impending general election should be regarded as something to stabilise the political system and present an opportunity to reset the sails to catch the wind. As Dolly Parton once said, we cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails. The one thing I am sure is that the sky will not fall in and the relationship and interdependence between the two islands will continue. However, everyone in this House needs to work hard to weather this storm.

I want to mention the very sad passing of Nadine Lott. I have raised the topic of domestic violence in this House on numerous occasions. This Government has done more since coming to power to legislate on domestic violence in the home and community than was done in the previous 30 years but we need to build a strategy that can make a real change in how we respond effectively to domestic violence. I support, therefore, the call for a debate on the matter early in the new year. Having attended Safe Ireland's conference recently with my colleague, domestic violence is a topic of conversation that comes up from time to time but it seems to have been dropped again. Interestingly, this morning every Senator who mentioned it was female. We, therefore, need have a proper debate on domestic violence in the new year.

I wish to refer to Irish Water. There have been several water restrictions in place in the Athlone area over the past number of months because the treatment plant in Athlone is working at capacity all the time and there is not enough water being treated to supply the town. The water restrictions are difficult for families, people with young children, elderly people and people who are sick. It is also not ideal as this time of year is busy for businesses. I know Irish Water is doing its best. I ask the Leader to consult the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, ask him to put pressure on Irish Water. There was a suggestion that the company would install a temporary treatment plant in Athlone as a short-term solution until work was done and investment made in a new treatment plant.

I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Cathaoirleach, all of the Whips of the different parties, Senators of all parties and none, the Seanad staff and, indeed, the staff of the Houses because there are staff in every corner of this House that keep it working throughout the year, for what they did for us in 2019 and wish them a very happy and peaceful Christmas. God bless and thank you.

I echo the Christmas wishes for everybody and hope that 2020 will be a fabulous year for us all.

I refer to the retention of records that were transferred to the National Archives following the Ryan commission. Every Member has probably been intensely lobbied on this. A total of 15,000 survivors submitted testimonies. The Retention of Records Bill 2019 has been somewhat controversial from the first time that it was mooted. The proposal to seal the records for 75 years is disproportionate, unnecessary and would suppress information that is in the public interest for an extraordinary period until 2094 or 2095. The testimonies are a record of our collective social history.

The Bill was due to come before the Joint Committee on Education and Skills but it was deferred and, instead, the experts presented to the committee. The legislation will not pass in its current form. There is also a growing belief that it may not be required at all. We believe that the records are covered by the National Archives Act 1986. Many people have lobbied us, including the families of survivors, and the legal and archival experts. I refer to Dr. Maeve O'Rourke who is a lecturer in human rights law. In her submission she stated: "We cannot overstate the potential impact of this Bill’s contents on our country's historical record, on survivors' and their families' personal lives, and on our State’s ability to prevent abuse in the future." Sinn Féin believes that further discussion is required. We will, therefore, oppose the progression of this Bill until we feel that both experts and survivors are satisfied with how the Government is proceeding.

I want to raise a difficulty that surrounds the Irish National Immigration Service, INIS, particularly for people who are granted refugee status in this country and then try to get their relevant papers. They are blocked because of a website that has been set up by the Department of Justice and Equality. This is the only way that refugees have to book an appointment to get a Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, card in Dublin. The website is hopeless and it lacks basic functionality - the kind of things one would expect from an appointment system with a ticketing system, a queue and some basic filtering. When one goes to the website is, one enters one's details on the make appointment page and then one can click a button to search for available slots in the next ten weeks or choose a specific date within that timeframe. In reality, even if one clicks the button 100 times over a week or a month one will have wasted one's breath and one will not get a single appointment. This is the most common experience and is the result of the zero functionality of the website.

A really sinister problem has arisen. The website has been unable to filter out people who make block bookings for appointments, which they then sell on social media. It is utterly shocking that people use social networks and messenger apps to sell things that have been funded by taxpayers. It is an absolute scandal that third parties are profiteering on the backs of the taxpayer. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Department and ask its officials to do something about it rapidly to facilitate people who are in this difficult situation.

I would also like to be associated with wishing a happy Christmas and peaceful new year to Members, the Seanad staff and all of the staff throughout the whole facility whether they are in the catering section or the printing side, which might not be popular at the moment. I wish everyone a happy Christmas and peaceful new year, and I hope that we will all be back here in the new year to debate further.

I extend my sincere sympathy to the Lott family on their tragic loss. One must remember that there are two sides to domestic violence and that some men are in domestic violence situations. We must take that into consideration. A case of was highlighted recently in the public domain. We should look at both sides of this and I support the ladies who have asked for a debate on domestic violence. I will participate in the debate because people have brought cases to me where men have been subject to domestic violence. Unfortunately, most of the tragedies occur on the female side but there are some men who are in difficult married or relationship situations.

I agree with Senator Clifford-Lee on insurance for crèches. This is one of a number of sectors that have been affected by the sudden increase in insurance premia, including small businesses around the country. There are many legs to this chair. I ask the Leader to either arrange a debate or establish a committee to look into the legal costs associated with insurance. Yesterday, I highlighted the fact that 85% of litigation results in awards of less than €100,000 as ordered by the courts, yet 63% of every award comprises legal costs.

If people go through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, the average fee is €752 and the average award is €22,631. In 85% of the cases going through the courts the awards are under €100,000. The average award is not very different from that in the PIAB at €23,199, but the average legal costs are €14,684. That is an additional 63%. It is no wonder our insurance premiums are going up. The Seanad should have a debate on this issue. If we cannot have a debate, we should establish a committee to investigate the legal fees being charged in this country. When the troika was here one of the issues it highlighted was legal fees. We must deal with them. They are part of the reason for our insurance premiums being so high.

On a final matter, a Kildare man, Mr. Brian Rushe, was elected deputy president of the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, yesterday. I wish him all the best for the year ahead. I also extend best wishes to Mr. Tim Cullinan. They both have difficult tasks ahead with regard to farming incomes and Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, payments.

I join my colleagues in congratulating Mr. Tim Cullinan on his elevation to the highest role in the IFA. I understand he is a beef farmer from County Tipperary so he will be acutely aware of the difficulties in that sector. Undoubtedly, he will use his experience in his new office to try to find credible solutions to the difficulties beef farmers are currently experiencing.

While it has been a tough time for farmers, it has also been a tough time for many businesses, especially those located in Monaghan, Cavan and elsewhere along the Border. The dark cloud of Brexit has been hanging over the country and especially Border counties. The two counties of Cavan and Monaghan have also had the added pressure of rates revaluations, which resulted in rates increasing for many businesses to such levels that many businesses cannot see a future. That is difficult. At this time of the year I encourage people to shop in their local town or village where possible and wherever they may be. I am acutely aware of Cavan and Monaghan and I will be requesting the people there to consider doing that. Many towns like Monaghan and Cavan have voucher schemes in operation whereby people can buy a gift and the business stays in the town. As we all know, the first door we knock on for support for the GAA club, a community event or a soccer club is that of the local shop or business. I ask people to be cognisant of that this Christmas and to spend their money locally where possible. That supports jobs and the businesses support the local community.

At this time of the year we are conscious of those who find themselves in hospitals or nursing homes at Christmas, as well as the staff who must work there over Christmas. They are in our thoughts at this time.

I wish the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader, the Members of both Houses and all the staff of the Houses a very happy Christmas. I hope they enjoy the break. We will be back here le cuidiú Dé in January for whatever 2020 might bring. I wish everybody a healthy and happy 2020.

I join in thanking the staff for all their help during the year and wish them a very happy Christmas. I thank the Leader for his courtesy and help during the year. I have not been fighting with him all the time; he has been helpful on some occasions.

On a serious note, I strongly welcome the passing of the Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019 last night. It is a template for co-operation across parties from the former Senator, Grace O'Sullivan, MEP, Deputy Sherlock and the Minister given the urgency it required. However, we must still keep our eye on the ball with regard to climate change and biodiversity. Under the climate change legislation there is an onus on each Minister to report to the Seanad annually on the progress each Department is making. When will that be scheduled in the new year? Will the Leader try to ensure it does not happen in the same way as it did last year, whereby the Ministers queued at the back of the Chamber, came in, spoke for five minutes and then left? We should put some thought into how we will interact on such an important matter. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss with the Leader, at his earliest convenience, how to manage that in the new year.

I seek the Leader's support in asking the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to intervene in the situation of Limerick FC. It was announced last Wednesday that the club is due to be liquidated. While Limerick FC has acquired many debts over the years, soccer is still the most played sport in Limerick. Limerick city is the third largest city in the country and not having a senior soccer team will have a detrimental effect on both schoolboy soccer and the local clubs. Many volunteers and families have been involved with Limerick FC and soccer in general over many years. There is a great knowledge bank in Limerick with the University of Limerick, Limerick Institute of Technology and all the people involved in sport. They should all be brought together to form a group to ensure the future of soccer for Limerick FC. People have had great enjoyment over the years in Thomond Park, Hogan Park and the Markets Field where the club is currently located. Markets Field is a category 2 UEFA stadium and holds up to 4,500 people. It is in the heart of a socially disadvantaged area and has brought great life to that area. There is also great involvement between the stadium and the community, education and business. I want the Minister to intervene by bringing all the relevant stakeholders together to put soccer back on the map until trust can be rebuilt between the business community sponsors and the people who have put so much effort into Limerick FC and soccer over many years.

I wish the staff of the Seanad and of the Houses generally and every Member a happy Christmas. Incidentally, I have written to the Minister, Deputy Ross, and I am seeking the Leader's support on this.

And the Taoiseach.

A Leas-Chathaoirligh, I wish to be associated with the expressions of goodwill and thanks to you, the Clerk and his staff, the Members of the House and particularly the Leader and his staff for making the House function so well in the last year.

I also wish to be associated with the tribute paid by Senator Bacik to the late Cormac Ó Braonáin. As somebody who married into that extended family, I cannot comprehend the loss his death will be for his parents. I hope they get some consolation from the kind words and words of admiration that have been expressed about him. It is a real loss. It should be noted that his great-grandfather was one of the early Senators and was elected on three occasions to the Seanad in the 1930s and 1940s. Cormac Ó Braonáin's death is a loss and his idealism is a model for young Irish people.

On a different note, I wish to criticise the Government very heavily. In the season of goodwill and so forth I must thank the Leader for lifting the heavy burden of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 from my shoulders and those of a few other Members. I am deeply grateful to him for that, but I wish to make a serious charge against the Government.

Not for the first time.

Some time ago our colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, complained about seagull activity and ran into heavy derision in the media for his stance against seagulls and his complaint about their outrageous behaviour.

Recently, Senator Feighan said he was the subject of a similar attack. It occurred to me there must be some culpability on the part of Government for all of this. Happily, crossing St. Stephen's Green the other day, I discovered that it is, in fact, seagull central. There must be 200 seagulls sitting on the ponds in St. Stephen's Green. Whose fault is that? Who runs St. Stephen's Green? It is the Office of Public Works, not Dublin City Council.

I ask the Leader to bring the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, to the House to explain to us why he is giving facilities to the seagulls of Dublin to maraud around Dublin Bay South in particular from their pond base in St. Stephen's Green, and to do something about it once and for all.

They regularly vacate the pond. I saw two of them very busy and very active this morning on the green as I walked down here, attacking two white plastic bags on the side of the street.

That is the mating season.

Is the Leas-Chathaoirleach saying they were carrying white plastic bags?

They were attacking the bags. They were going to rip them up and put the contents of the bags all over the streets.

That is a outrageous. Did you ring anybody about it?

I call Senator Reilly.

This will be the last contribution on the matter, but we have had this problem in Balbriggan for many years, so it would seem the tribe is expanding. There can be a serious problem.

I want to raise an important issue that was raised again with me at a meeting yesterday but has been raised over the last number of weeks, namely, the issue of the cost of insurance. Many of the comments made by Senator Lawlor were in regard to costs and there are a myriad of problems involved. I want to congratulate the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on the signing into law of his Judicial Council Bill, which will help for the first time, in a more formal way, to provide for the continuing education of judges, the creation of guidelines for awards on personal injuries, the creation of sentencing guidelines, the creation of a judicial code of conduct and the introduction of a mechanism for dealing with complaints.

It is a complex area but, as we break for Christmas and look forward to celebrating Christmas with our families, there are businesses that fear they will not be able to open in the new year, many of them crèches. Many people are afraid they may not have a job in the new year and many parents are wondering if they will be able to keep their job if their childcare arrangements have to be changed or suspended.

The Ministers, Deputies Zappone and Donohoe, and the Taoiseach met about this yesterday and they are addressing it. They need to address it urgently and I would encourage them to do so. I hope we can get an urgent solution to the immediate problem but we need a much more sustainable solution in the longer term, addressing all of the other issues that have been raised by Senators Lawlor and Clifford-Lee.

I wish everybody a happy Christmas, particularly the Leas-Cathaoirleach and the Cathaoirleach, and all the staff of the Houses and all fellow Members. Again, I hope we will see urgent action taken to address the insurance issue. I commend Mr. Justice Frank Clarke on his work in getting the various preparatory works through the committees, and I hope they would look on this is an urgent issue and expedite the outcome of their work.

I want to thank everybody for their patience and perseverance during the year, particularly the staff, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader and the Cathaoirleach, and to wish everybody a happy Christmas.

At the risk of sounding like Boris Johnson, can we get something done for the secretarial assistants? It is great that everyone signed the motion and it is fantastic we got the support. The pay rises have been outstanding for over a year and it is in the Government's hands to deal with this. I ask the Leader to ensure it is done. We cannot let these people down beyond the end of this parliamentary term.

On Christmas Day, Mohammed Ramadan and Husain Moosa are due to be executed. It is what Bahrain likes to do; it is a good day to bury bad news. These two men have been framed and forced to confess to terrorist charges. They were arrested without warrant, tortured into confessions and denied access to legal counsel. They are both due to be executed on Christmas Day by the Bahraini authorities.

Bahrain is one of the most wicked regimes anywhere in the world in terms of how it treats migrant workers - it is basically a slave economy - and how it treats women. If a woman gives birth in Bahrain, unless she is married to a Bahraini national, her children have no right to Bahraini citizenship. Yet, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, was out there last month, talking about the wonderful dynamic economy in Bahrain and how we can contribute to developing business with it. There was no mention of human rights, no mention of torture, and no mention of the fact two men are due to be executed - shot, most probably - on Christmas Day.

I am calling for a debate on the issue of Bahrain and on the broader issue of our foreign relations. This Government has lost its moral compass. We have seen how it has behaved in regard to Senator Frances Black's Bill, where it was appalling to see a Government standing up for an apartheid regime. Here, we have one of the most wicked regimes in the world, yet we see that our Minister of State is willing to ignore all sorts of horrific human rights abuses and just go touting for trade and business. Surely to God, any Government should be better than that.

I want to join the wide condemnation of insurance companies and to call out their carry-on. Everybody is supposed to be sitting at the table, including the Minister and all the stakeholders, to try to find a resolution to the crisis in the insurance industry, which is crippling motorists, businesses and crèches, and taking money out of people's pockets with the premia they have to pay.

The most recent report published by the Central Bank showed the insurance companies have no bona fides in this regard. They keep pointing to fraudulent claims and the size of awards. Everything is pointed at except the fact that, so long as they are nursing their profits, they do not mind. It is quite shocking that premia on motor policies have gone up by 42% in the last ten years when the cost of those claims is down 2.5%.

I support the Minister in his efforts. The insurance companies have to be made accountable for their carry-on. I believe that, on the whole, we have to look at the amount that is being awarded in claims, given we know we are ahead of averages in many other countries. The law of negligence and the duty of care are very broad, and to try to curtail that is another issue. However, if people think they are in a position to argue they have been failed in a duty of care towards them, whether by a council or some other public body or private business, they will always do that. It is about the amounts they are getting. People have gone to the courts and have seen what others got money for, and have seen that was not a fraudulent claim. If people trip over their own feet but someone else was the cause, they could be compensated. The fact there has been a lot more coverage of this by the media means people might think this is fraud. It is not fraud; it is the way the law of our land is. Either we cap it and get to grips with it, and deal with these insurance companies which are putting money in their back pockets, or we will be putting a lot of trouble on our citizens.

I want to add my voice to the call from Senator Gavan for a debate on human rights and trade policy. These are going to be crucial issues in regard to the trade agreements we make on Brexit also, so a general consideration and discussion on how we incorporate and reflect human rights principles in our trade policy would be very welcome in the new year.

I rise in the main to speak about the human rights advocate, Cormac Ó Braonáin, who I know was acknowledged earlier in the House. I knew Cormac when he was an 11 year old, a very passionate 11 year old who was already writing political songs with his school friends at the time. I had the honour of working alongside him in campaigns, including the presidential campaign and others, and seeing him as an activist.

I spoke to him last Saturday at the rally for peace. As he so often did, he was standing in international and national solidarity with the most vulnerable groups in society and arguing for progressive and positive change. It was extraordinarily tragic to hear of his passing later that evening. It is a significant loss to his family and all those with whom he worked and, indeed, the Labour Party - he was recently elected the chair of Labour Youth - as well as the broader progressive movement and debate within society. In his 19 years, he had an extraordinary impact. I know many people from all kinds of parties and backgrounds and of various ages who were affected by the conversations they had with Cormac and found his passion infectious and ideas compelling. His effect will continue to be felt. I hope that we can, through our political work, honour some of the principles he put forward.

His spirit of activism, delivery and wanting change is reflected in many of our parliamentary staff, including secretarial assistants, people who work for Members of both Houses and give their time and energy to multiply and amplify our work. I am proud to sign the cross-party motion encouraging and demanding that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and his Department engage on the matter to ensure we do not go into another Oireachtas term in which those who work with us as Senators are not recognised or adequately resourced. Their work, skills and the qualifications many of them have are not being recognised. We need to look at their pay and conditions.

My final point-----

The Senator is a minute over time. I have given all Senators latitude today. If the Senator is quick, I will allow her to continue.

Recommendations 8.13 and 8.14 of the report of the implementation group on Seanad reform call for a review and these issues to be addressed. I would like those recommendations to be effected, along with many other aspects of that report. It is another area we need to address in the new year.

I offered my thanks to the staff and everybody else yesterday but the Leader was not present. I wish to take this opportunity to thank him. It is not easy to be the Leader of the House, try to reach consensus and keep everything moving. In particular, I thank Ms Orla Murray and the other support staff in his office. It is not an easy job. Senators always get on with each other. In spite of what those watching these proceedings may think, we are pragmatists and need to get our work done.

Yesterday, I quoted Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. As I was leaving the Chamber, several people asked me to identify the quote. It is important and I will repeat it. We are richly blessed and honoured to be able to walk in the gates of our Parliament and represent the people we represent locally, nationally or internationally. It is a great honour and privilege to so do. As one who walks into the Chamber every day, I am particularly pleased to be in this job, as are all Senators. We are blessed and enriched by our time here. I again quote Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, "Reflect upon your present blessings - of which every[one] ... has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which all [of us] ... have some."

I am not sure how to follow that.

The Senator can give us his own carol.

I will not quote Charles Dickens. Senator Marshall quoted Dolly Parton earlier, which might be the first time she has been quoted in the Seanad.

On a sad note, I wish to pass on my sympathies to the family of the late Cormac Ó Braonáin. I did not know him but I know many people involved in youth politics in Fianna Fáil and other organisations who did. He lived close to where I live. His passing is very sad. I pass on my condolences to his family, friends and all of his support base. It is clear that he was a very gifted and popular young man. I pass on my sympathies to all who knew him.

On a happier note, I wish a very happy Christmas to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach, Senators, their staff, our Leader and his staff. I do not think anyone elected to the Seanad approximately three and a half years ago thought we would get this far. It is great that we have. Although some legislation took a significant period to be passed, other legislation has been dealt with very efficiently. This Seanad has dealt with many Bills. Last week, I compiled a summary of the parliamentary party business in the Seanad for the Fianna Fáil national executive. A significant volume of legislation was dealt with in this term. Credit is due to all who wok on every side of the House to improve and, ultimately, pass legislation. We have more business to do this afternoon. I thank everyone across the House. The staff of the Seanad Office are small in number but great in quality and very efficient in everything they do. I thank all the staff of the Houses.

They keep us all right.

From the minute we walk in to the minute we walk out, we are looked after very well. I thank all the staff. I wish all Senators and their families a very happy Christmas.

I support the motion on secretarial assistants which I, along with almost every other Senator, signed.

The insurance issue with which Senator Paddy Burke and others and I have been dealing at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach has been going on for a long time. It is a work in progress. We are now seeing some of the data we have been seeking for a long time. We need to have a debate on insurance in early course when we return in the new year.

I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the family of the late Cormac Ó Braonáin. I also offer my sympathy to the Labour Party on its great loss. It is obvious that he was a very fine young man.

I wish the Cathaoirleach, Leas-Chathoireach, Mr. Martin Groves, Ms Bridget Doody and all of the Seanad staff well, as well as the Leader and his staff. People do not realise the volume of work that must be done in the background to get Bills through the House and passed and to ensure that everything works efficiently. I congratulate them all and wish them a happy and safe Christmas.

I wish to raise the issue of the renewal of driver's licences. Some time ago, the Government awarded the contract for the issuance and renewal of licences to an external company. There are Irish people all over the world, including in Australia, China, America, England and elsewhere, but a person who loses or mislays a licence or whose licence expires must present himself or herself in person at one of the licensing offices dotted around the country. There is such an office in Castlebar in my area. In this day and age, one can renew one's passport in any part of the world using one's smartphone. One takes one's photograph, downloads an application, fills it out and uses one's credit card to pay the relevant fee. Irish people all over the world need to renew their driver's licence for one reason or another. In many cases their licence is used for identification purposes. They should be able to download a renewal application, take their photographs on their smartphone and renew the licence from wherever they are without any hassle. I call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to bring this to the attention of the company that has the contract for the issuance and renewal of licences such that it upgrades its technology to allow our citizens around the world to renew their driving licence remotely.

On a sombre note, like all other Senators, I wish to offer my condolences on the tragic death of Cormac Ó Braonáin to the Labour Party and, in particular, his family. All Senators started their political careers as activists at his age. His death is a tragedy for Ireland. The ideas that would have come from him would have made a difference in society.

Like others, I wish the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader, Ms Orla Murray, and Mr. Martin Groves, Ms Bridget Doody and company all the best for Christmas and thank them for their help, co-operation, indulgence and understanding. Christmas is a time to spend with family. It has been a busy period, particularly for those of our colleagues who had by-elections. I hope that they get a break before the next big one, in which we will all be involved.

A final point about Christmas has to do with the importance of shopping local. Clare County Council and Clare FM in my area ran a fabulous campaign about shopping local. They put a series of videos up on social media that were professionally done. After watching them, one would just want to shop local, they were so good. Every €1 that is spent in small local chemists and gift shops is worth more to our economy, job creation and job retention than spending the same amount in multiples, including internationals, or online.

Hear, hear. We do not want to have to buy tractors elsewhere. They come to Dublin now.

City people need a look at these things now and again.

There are some in Senator McDowell's profession who could afford to buy all of the tractors that were there.

Are we all to go to Clare?

I am sure that we could organise a few tractors to bring some of the Senators' group down to Clare to go shopping if they were so inclined.

Absolutely. We will get a big tractor for Senator Craughwell. I wish all colleagues the best. People should shop local. It creates and retains jobs.

I thank the staff for their help and assistance throughout the year. I thank my colleagues for their help, assistance and, sometimes, criticism, which has been valid and helpful. I thank those colleagues who helped me in the by-election. As I told someone recently, the by-elections were only the league. The next outing is the championship. I am looking forward to that challenge as well.

A matter that we should put on the agenda for debate is the increase in the cost to the health service of medical negligence claims. I was looking at the figures. There was a good report in the Sunday Business Post on the matter. The level has gone from €62.1 million in 2013 to more than €245 million in 2018. That is a 300% increase in a very short time. My understanding is that, in 2019, the figure will be more than €300 million. Facing this enormous increase in litigation while also trying to provide healthcare is a major challenge for our health service. Early in the new year, we should debate what action needs to be taken to help reduce the figure and whether there is an alternative way of dealing with the litigation. We must be mindful that, if people have an adverse outcome where there is negligence, they are entitled to compensation. It is not about placing restrictions on that, but about how we will deal with it.

I wish everyone a happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous 2020.

I believe that is everyone. I call on the Leader to respond.

I thank the 25 members of staff-----

(Interruptions).

I am sorry. I meant the 25 Members of the House who contributed on the final-----

We do not have that many staff members yet.

I thank the 25 Members of the House for their contributions on the final Order of Business of the term and, as Senator Marshall stated, of the decade. When we come back, it will be a new decade and a new opportunity for this House.

Senators Clifford-Lee, Lawlor, Reilly, Mulherin and Horkan raised the issue of insurance and the disappointing news of the withdrawal by Ironshore Europe from the market. It has created a strong sense of worry and frustration. The issue of insurance is a priority for the Government. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, set up a working group. Senators will be aware that, regardless of who is in government, the Government and the Central Bank are constrained in how they can get involved in the market and pricing therein, but there has been significant reform in the insurance industry. However, it is fair to say that there is a need to ensure that insurance companies play ball, are fair in their pricing and do not rip people off. The Government is conscious of that. The Judicial Council Act 2019 is one mechanism that hopefully will drive prices down. I would be happy to have the Minister of State return to the House in the new year on the matter.

Senator Craughwell referred to homelessness. At this time of year, many people are vulnerable. I remind the Senator that the Government will expend €2.4 billion on housing and homelessness in next year's budget. This is about ensuring that we increase housing supply.

Among others, Senators Ruane, Bacik, Gavan and Clifford-Lee spoke about the issue of secretarial pay and conditions. It is a cross-party motion supported by us all. As I stated last week, the role and nature of the job have evolved and changed, and pay must therefore be commensurate with what is expected in light of the educational backgrounds of many of our staff. I hope that there will be a prompt and expeditious change. We will take the matter up with the Minister and the commission and we will place it on the agenda of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in the new year.

My learned colleague and friend, Senator Conway-Walsh, spoke about An Post and the Government's role. I remind her that, a number of years ago, the Government introduced a suite of its services for delivery through An Post - social protection payments, driving licences, property tax, dog licences and television licences. At the risk of ridicule and condemnation by many, we even refused to change the post office's model of delivery of television licences. People would have been critical of it. The post office handles passports. Garda fines can be paid via An Post. In 2018, An Post reached an agreement with the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, whereby there would be no further compulsory closures of post offices. The Senator is a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach and an eminent finance spokesperson in this House. I remind her that An Post was in profitability to the tune of €40 million in 2018 and €8.4 million in 2017. More Government services have been given to An Post than ever before, but I look forward to having a debate about An Post in the new year.

Good. There are particular problems with social welfare services, for example.

We must nail the myth that the Government is closing rural Ireland down. On the contrary, the Government is keeping rural Ireland open. I will not have a row on the last day of the term, but let us not talk rural Ireland down. Let us remove the myth altogether. It behoves us all to support rural Ireland, be it the farmers, SMEs, shopkeepers, retailers or whoever.

Who cannot get insurance.

Let us shop local. And-----

They are shutting down. There has been no action from the Government on insurance.

There you go again. You always come in with the béal bocht.

Through the Chair, please.

I accept that there are challenges in insurance, but not one Senator from the Opposition benches who spoke about insurance gave any recognition to the facts that car insurance and house insurance were reducing, legislative proposals had been put in place and the Minister of State had set up the cost of insurance working group.

What about public liability? Childcare facilities will shut their doors next week. That is what the Government has done.

That is a major problem.

(Interruptions).

Senators, please. Only the Leader can respond to the Order of Business.

The béal bocht will get the headline.

The béal bocht will always get the headline and Members' votes. That is what this is about. I accept that. In 2020, let us bring perspective and give a bit of praise to the Government, which is trying to do something.

There will be an election in 2020. The Leader will not be late in getting perspective.

Senators Bacik, McDowell and Higgins and many other Members of the House spoke very eloquently about the sad and tragic passing of Cormac Ó Braonáin. I was not here for the Order of Business yesterday. On behalf of Fine Gael and on my own behalf, I offer deepest sympathies to his family, his parents and the members of the Labour Party. He was a fine young man who was making a very valuable and positive contribution in politics and human rights and was making life better for his fellow citizens. His sad passing at a very young age is very hard to take. His family may take solace in the fact that his very short life was very well-lived and was full of endeavour, enthusiasm and positivity. It was rooted in doing what we should all try to do, making our world a better place for everybody. I had the pleasure of meeting him. He was a very fine and decent young man. I am deeply sorry to have to offer my sympathies to his family today. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Senators Feighan and Marshall made reference to the changing political landscape in the UK and in the North. I congratulate all of the victors in the different constituencies in the North of our country last week. I wish them well. In the context of Brexit and last week's election, it is important that we now see the power-sharing Executive in Stormont return. There is a duty on all sides to ensure that a government is back up and running. I appeal to all members from all political parties to ensure that a power-sharing Executive is put in place in January at the latest. I believe 13 January is the deadline. We can have political differences but we must come together in the interests of the people whom we serve on our island, whether North or South.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised a very important issue regarding GPs and charging. No agreement has been concluded. It remains to be resolved. It is a matter for the GPs, the HSE, and the Department to sit down and resolve it. I will be happy to hold a debate in the new year if the Senator has not received an answer by that time.

Many Members raised the issue of the very tragic death of Nadine Lott. We offer our deepest sympathies to her family. Senators Clifford-Lee and McFadden called for a debate on the issue of domestic violence. It is not acceptable that 230 people have died as a consequence of domestic violence since 1996. We have proposed significant legislative changes. There is also work to be done in respect of education. I will be very happy to have a debate in the new year. It is a pity that the Order of Business was not held after the meeting of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee because, in the context of the very genuine contributions on the issue of domestic violence, it is an issue which the committee should take up in the new year. The Leas-Chathaoirleach chairs that committee. To be fair to all Members of the House, we should give consideration to this issue and park others because it is very important. It has received cross-party support-----

I was not referring to the Senator. If the Senator took notice of what I was saying, she would know I am not talking about being against any issue. This is about one issue that unites all of us in the House. We should have a forum for debate and consultation with a view to ending the scourge of domestic violence in our society. As Senator Lawlor said, this issue affects men as well. It is not just a women's issue but an issue for all of society. I thank all Members of the House. Senator Clifford-Lee is right. Many cross-party committees have been formed in the House. We should establish a very strong cross-party committee on this matter. I support the Senator 100% in that.

Senator McFadden raised the issue of Irish Water capacity in Athlone. It is a very important matter on which we need to see Irish Water act. Senators Murnane O'Connor and Lawlor congratulated Tim Cullinan and Brian Rushe, the new president and vice-president of the IFA. I join with them in congratulating the new leadership. I wish Mr. Cullinan and Mr. Rushe well as they take up leadership of a very important organisation representing farmers in our country. Is it a critical time for the farming sector, which has had to endure a very difficult time over recent years. I am sure they will work constructively with the Minister, Deputy Creed, on behalf of the Irish farmer.

Senator Devine raised the issue of the Retention of Records Bill 2019 and the emails we have been receiving. I am not sure about the progress of the Bill. The Senator said it is on Committee Stage. There is a tremendous volume of emails coming in on the issue. It is important that people take cognisance of the genuine concerns expressed within those emails.

For the benefit of the record, the Bill's Committee Stage has been deferred. It is not even being dealt with in committee.

I thank Senator Ruane. She did not get an opportunity in her contribution to address the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 which is coming before the House later on. In light of that fact, and to be fair to Senator Ruane who has done a great deal of work on this issue, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business with regard to that Bill. I propose we extend debate by an extra 30 minutes.

The Leader is referring to No. 3.

Yes. The Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019.

The Leader proposes that debate continue until 4 p.m. rather than 3.30 p.m.

Consequently, No. 3a will be taken at 4 p.m. rather than 3.30 p.m.

Yes. My aim is to be fair to Senator Ruane. I want to try to work with most people in the House.

I will move the amendment at the end. I just want to inform Members.

It will need to be moved formally but I think we have agreement.

Senator Norris raised a very pertinent and valid point regarding the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service online system. Those of us who every week meet people who are dealing with this issue will know that it is very vexing and needs to be resolved. I have a very simple philosophy. There should always be a human interface in this matter. I do not think electronic means are good enough. I know the system is designed to save time and so on. Perhaps the Senator can table a Commencement matter on the issue rather than calling for a debate. If he cannot, we can discuss how to proceed. It is an important matter.

I thank the Leader very much. I just noticed a big article about the issue in The Irish Times. People are actually giving personal details to these third parties. It is very dangerous.

It is dangerous. Senators Gallagher and Conway raised the issue of shopping locally. Senator Gallagher raised the issue of the precarious position of businesses in the Border area in the context of Brexit. If all of us, including those watching and listening at home or sitting in the Public Gallery, could shop locally rather than going online to Amazon and so on, it would be a huge help. I do not want to incur people's wrath.

Senator Humphreys raised the issue of the debate on the Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019 yesterday. I thank all involved in that.

Senator Byrne raised the very important issue of the plight of Limerick FC and football at Markets Field. There was a very probing piece in the news at the weekend regarding the continuation of soccer in Limerick. We have had a very long tradition in football in Limerick. I implore all involved to sit around a table to ensure that soccer continues in Limerick.

In his usual colourful way, Senator McDowell has tried to blame the Government for the seagull situation. I am not sure that the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, could help him with the seagulls in St. Stephen's Green without employing means which I will not mention.

He would have a shot at it.

I am happy to refer the matter to the OPW.

He is a great man for putting on his waders and sorting things out.

He is indeed.

Senator Gavan raised the matter of human rights in Bahrain in the context of two people who are threatened with execution on Christmas Day. As I said before, there is a need for us, as a Government, to be very proactive with regard to human rights around the world and not to sell our soul for business. I have a very simple view on that. We must get the balance right. We should never recoil or withdraw from promoting human rights and calling people out. I agree with the Senator in this case. Bahrain's policy on human rights in unacceptable and leaves an awful lot to be desired.

Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of the renewal of driving licences. He makes a very good point and I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House in the new year.

Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of medical negligence and the increased costs. The Joint Committee on Health that I chaired and of which he was a very valuable member did some work on that. It is a source of concern and I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House in the new year.

Finally, mar fhocal scoir, I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Cathaoirleach for their stewardship of the House, as well as the Acting Chairmen. I wish the Cathaoirleach a very healthy 2020 and the same to the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I thank the Acting Chairmen for their strong role in the House and note they always helped to keep the debate flowing.

I welcome the Minister for Finance to the House. He is in the Visitors Gallery.

I thank all the people in the Seanad Office led by Ms Bridget Doody and Mr. Martin Groves, our Clerk, for their courtesy, professionalism and good humour even in the face of adversity and tension and for the very good advice they give the Chairs, who sometimes might not listen to them.

That is outrageous. We always listen.

I wish them a very peaceful and joyful Christmas. They are the unsung heroes of this Upper House. I thank the men and women who work in the Oireachtas, in particular the men and women who record and tape us, and turn our microphones on and who make us look much better than what we are sometimes. I thank them for their unstinting professionalism and their ability to work very late in the night without ever grumbling and complaining. May they all have a very positive and happy Christmas.

I thank the ushers, the catering staff and the people who work in the Bills Office, the Library and Research Service and in particular the Captain and acting Superintendent, John Flaherty, for his courtesy. I thank the members of my staff, Orla Murray in particular for her tremendous work in the Leader's office. I thank in particular the Members of the House and their staff for their co-operation and courtesy. Even at times when the going gets a bit difficult, we always manage to smile and an ability to walk away and to have a deoch or a conversation that is not about politics.

I was struck by the fact that this is the last meeting of the Seanad of this decade and perhaps of this Oireachtas. We may not be back.

The decade ends next year, by the way.

The Leader will have to correct the record on that.

Does the Leader have some information?

I wish all the Members and their families a happy, safe and joyful Christmas and a prosperous new year. Christmas is the tenderness for the past, the courage for the present, and the hope for the future. May all here have a great rest and we will see them all, please God, back in January.

The Minister for Finance is very welcome. He is keeping an eye on us. I hope that is not threatening in any way.

The Leader's good wishes are very much appreciated and heartily reciprocated. That goes I am sure for the Cathaoirleach, and Martin, Bridget and all of the staff, as well as myself of course.

Order of Business agreed to.