The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and adjourned not later than 1.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Health Identifiers Bill 2013 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair; No. 3, Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply to the debate not later than 4.55 p.m.; and No. 4, Private Members' business, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Fund Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m.
Order of Business
Obviously, this is a very important week for the Government as we will have the election of a new Labour Party leader and, more importantly, a Cabinet reshuffle, with new members of the Cabinet and portfolio changes for many Ministers. Without going into detail on the personalities involved, I want to raise one point with the Deputy Leader and receive a commitment on it. I raised this matter on many occasions prior to the imposition of what those in government call the local property tax which, as we know, is not a local property tax. I saw four of the Deputy Leader's colleagues rail against it, interestingly and ironically, by way of a motion in the Dáil yesterday. I remind these Deputies that they voted to bring it in. I said at the time that it was an anti-urban and anti-Dublin tax because it was based on valuation. I remain opposed to it. As we know, not one cent of it went to the local authorities this year; it all went into the Central Fund. From what we hear in reports it appears the Government will decide to reduce subventions from central government to local authorities in areas in which a higher proportion of property tax is collected. We were told when the measure was brought forward that it would be used to support and enhance local government services. It appears that the areas in which a higher proportion of the property tax is collected will be penalised because the Government will reduce the subventions. I note that Senator Pat O'Neill is shaking his head, but by all accounts his party's main man in Kilkenny will not be the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government soon. I ask whoever will be the new Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government post-8 July which I understand is the date the Taoiseach will announce the reshuffle-----
It was always the case that there would be equalisation.
-----unless the soon to be former Labour Party leader and former Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, scuppers Phil's party and ends up in the European Commission and Deputy Phil Hogan remains as Minister, to come into the House in the next two weeks to discuss the Government's position on local government subventions. Be it the current Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, or whoever else, there will be ample time prior to the summer recess for whoever is the Minister to come into the House and answer questions for us.
I wish to make one further point. We have discussed the very important centenaries to be marked in the next few years, one of which is the centenary of the start of the First World War. As we all know, in 2016 we will mark the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. I ask that well in advance of that centenary we have a proper debate which I would invite the former Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, to attend. I was somewhat dismayed but, unfortunately, not surprised by his comments at the Irish Embassy in London yesterday where he said:
...Padraig Pearse rejoiced in violence. He rejoiced in the prospect of unionists arming. I think he was wrong about that. He was a romantic.
I know the former Taoiseach's background. He professed himself to be a Redmondite, which is fine, but in his remarks yesterday interestingly - I would like to question him about this - he made no criticism of his hero John Redmond who sent tens of thousands of Irish people to fight for the British Empire in Europe in the First World War. These comments by a former Taoiseach carry a lot of weight - excuse the pun in that regard.
Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader?
It was wrong to debate the main leader, one of the signatories in the 1916 Rising, in such a way.
That aside, I ask the Leader to ensure, when we are having debates and discussions in the Seanad in advance of the 2016 commemorations, that Mr. Bruton is invited to clarify his remarks.
I think I should ignore the speculation of the romantic opposite.
The Senator is renowned for his wisdom.
He is very fond of travelling to Great Britain. In fairness, he is probably playing to his audience. He is used to doing so. Prince Charles might have been there also.
There will be more about that matter. I know that it is interesting to speculate, but we can do so next week.
I very much welcome the announcement made by the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on the adopt a woodland in Killarney National Park conservation project. Early in March I spoke about the ongoing threat posed by Rhododendron ponticum to the native oak woodland in Killarney.
I thought I was being interrupted from the rear.
As I think they are on the Senator's side, he can continue.
I am not rowing with anybody here. There is huge public support for this effort.
It is our most important national park.
The National Botanic Gardens are.
They are very pleasant also. This is a very serious issue. I salute the work of the volunteer groups and the Department's staff during the years in trying to eradicate all seeds and saplings and for the clearance work that has already been done, but it is obvious that much more needs to be done. This invasive species-----
Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption.
It is a wonderful idea to get conservation groups, walking clubs, university groups and other interested groups involved and set up a volunteer charter which the Minister has now announced. It will provide for the necessary maintenance work to be carried out.
Come to Castlecoote.
I do not know what is wrong in Castlecoote, but the Senator can tell me afterwards. I salute this effort which is both serious and required. While wonderful work is being done, much more needs to be done and many more people want to become involved. Is it not wonderful that we will save the oak woods? I think they will survive, but this will help them to thrive. Members opposite are smiling at me.
The Senator needs to see the wood from the trees.
They do not realise the uniqueness of the oak woods both at Derrycunihy and across the lake. There are two types of oak tree that are to be found nowhere else in Ireland or Europe. I will leave it at that because Members are inclined to be giddy and distracted.
As I have said before, it is always a pleasure to follow Senator Paul Coghlan.
I heartily welcome the Taoiseach's announcement on the holding of the referendum on marriage equality in the spring. When I heard it, I tweeted that the Taoiseach had declared many months ago that he would campaign for marriage equality and he is true to his word, for which I thank him. This morning On "Morning Ireland" the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources said the Government would set a date for the referendum and campaign for marriage equality. Of course, this is a momentous day for those of us who have campaigned on this issue for decades. I received a tweet that it was an important side topic but that there were many more issues to be dealt with. It is a side topic for whom. It is an issue for a minority and their families and friends. The Government has a programme to support minorities, as well as majorities. It is also a critical announcement because it is the first that a recommendation of the Constitutional Convention will be followed up on. I again remind my colleagues that 79% of the delegates at the convention voted in favour of putting the issue of marriage equality to the people. I am thinking of other recommendations of the convention, for example, holding a referendum on economic, social and cultural rights, and look forward to hearing from the Government on its actions on these other recommendations because, ultimately, the measure of how successful the convention has been is how the Government responds to its recommendations.
Can we have a debate with the Taoiseach on the report of the Constitutional Convention, with reference to its recommendation on marriage equality? I know that a debate took place in the Dáil, but to distinguish our debate from that of our colleagues in the Lower House, perhaps we might use the report as a springboard to feed into the design of the constitutional referendum in the autumn. As all of us are aware, many of us have been active on this issue for a number of years on both sides of the argument and, no doubt, will be invited to debate it outside the House many times. My request is to use the House for what it is best at - drawing on the expertise of its Members to debate in a rational and respectful manner the detailed human, cultural and sociological complexities of law. For example, I want to debate the meaning of the terms "the common good" and "the natural law" and how they relate to the 21st century understanding of civil marriage. I want to reflect on the resources we use to make law, the ethical traditions and the sociological and psychological evidence. The Tánaiste once said marriage equality was the civil rights issue of this era. I thank him for having that conviction, particularly as he is about to leave that office. As I know that there are some who disagree with him, we need to have a debate on such a fundamental legal institution, the human right to access legal protections and the status surrounding what is one of the most fundamental promises one human makes to another. Wider still, it should take in what we want Irish culture to mean. Are we open, respectful and inclusive? I am asking the Leader to have this debate in Seanad Éireann.
With regard to the referendum on this issue, I look forward to rolling up my sleeves with my beloved spouse and partner to take the final lap in our race for love.
This morning the Carers Association is presenting its pre-budget submission across the road in Buswells Hotel. I have just come from that event and in its submission it requests 34 changes. I will not go through all of them, but they include recognising family carers as an exceptional group, implementing the national carers strategy, reviewing the fair deal scheme and restoring the respite care grant to the figure of €1,700. Major issues for the association are the provision of support for carers caring for those with a mental illness, basing eligibility for a medical card on need rather than income and flat rate prescription charges. Many other changes are requested, but these are the ones that come to mind and that I recognise as being very important. In the discussions and debate as we move towards budget 2015 it is very important that the House discuss and debate these issues. If the economy continues to grow at its current rate, there will be room for manoeuvre. The submission made by the Carers Association should receive priority in order that we can help the neediest in society in budget 2015. I am asking whoever will be Minister for Social Protection in the coming weeks to come to the House to discuss this issue before we break for the summer and sit down to decide the terms of budget 2015.
Yesterday Bewley's lost its case in the Supreme Court in an appeal taken by the landlord regarding upward-only rent reviews. I will give an idea of the figures spoken about yesterday. The rent had been €728,000 but has now been increased to €1.46 million until 2017. The House has passed the Upward Only Rent (Clauses and Reviews) Bill 2013, but it has not been passed by the other House. The reason I am at pains in saying this is that yesterday the judge said the decision was based on the specific terms of the lease and that the court was not setting a precedent.
As such, it does not set a precedent, but both Government parties included in their manifestos the desire to abolish upward-only rent reviews. Three learned experts have supported the view that it is constitutional to abolish such reviews. The trouble is that the Attorney General believes it is not. Standing Order 55 reads: "A Minister of State or an Attorney General may attend and be heard in the Seanad." Will the Deputy Leader invite the Attorney General to the House to explain her stance on upward-only rent reviews? This is an important matter. Yesterday's decision does not close the door, but there is a difference of opinion among lawyers. Just as when doctors differ and patients die, whether there will be a death knell for many small businesses depends on this legislation passing. I urge the Government to support it in the Lower House, after which the President will send it to the Supreme Court for a decision. In this way, the situation will be clear. I urge the Government parties to remove the Whip when the Bill is shortly before the Lower House.
I welcome the agreement reached by Vodafone and ESB to use the latter's network to bring fibre optic broadband to rural Ireland. This is a great move, as there are many broadband blackspots in rural Ireland where the ESB has a good infrastructure.
I also welcome yesterday's change to the rural development programme. We received word that the Minister would change the criteria for the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS. The issue of commonages also presented a major problem in recent weeks.
B'fhéidir go bhfaca cuid de na Seanadóirí clár tragóideach go leor a bhí ar "Prime Time" Déardaoin seo caite, faoi chás chailín beag as Conamara a fuair bás go tragóideach agus go hóg. On last Thursday's "Prime Time", Ms Aoife Hegarty did a sad report on the death of a six year old girl in Connemara due to medical issues. The Conroy family tried to have a hearing with the Medical Council on the death of Aibha. Due to particular legal circumstances, the Corbally High Court ruling kicked in when the family tried to have the case heard. The programme raised serious issues about the ruling's effect on people who were taking cases where they believed there had been poor professional performance or standards in the medical profession had not been upheld. The programme also stated that there were serious implications for the role of the Medical Council as an independent arbitrator in ensuring that patients got justice. A number of families feel that they are not getting justice because of the double jeopardy rule. When the Medical Council holds a hearing, it now takes a narrow interpretation of the High Court ruling, which makes it difficult to prove poor professional performance. Once the hearing has been held, the case cannot be heard again because of the double jeopardy rule.
A number of issues arise. Some pertain to us while others to the families that feel they have not got justice. At least 11 other cases are pending Medical Council hearings. I would appreciate it if the Minister for Health attended the Seanad to debate the role of the Medical Council in this and its intentions for those other cases. An appeal will be taken to the Supreme Court in the autumn. Does the Medical Council intend to postpone the current cases until after that has been ruled upon? If it does not, it will leave other families in a position similar to that of the Conroys, in that they will feel they have been denied justice. Why did the council not postpone the hearing of the Conroy case or pursue other courses of action that would have revealed more answers as to why that tragic situation occurred? The family would like to have the truth and answers and does not want to see other families in the same position. The Minister's attendance for a debate on this matter would be important.
I commend Senator Zappone on her fine contribution and second her call for a debate on the forthcoming marriage equality referendum. Many Senators were involved in the Constitutional Convention and have much to contribute to the debate.
I welcome yesterday's announcement by the Minister, Deputy Reilly, of the ex gratia scheme for those women who underwent symphysiotomies. I have raised this issue continually since entering the House. There has not been a week that I have not called for the Walsh or Murphy report. I am delighted that they were published yesterday. Payments under the scheme will range from €50,000 to €150,000. The procedure that those women underwent during childbirth was cruel and barbaric. Many underwent it in my local hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes, in County Louth. The practice was continued until 1984. I have dealt with many fine women in recent years who never gave up. They constantly sought answers and pressed for what happened yesterday. It was a long time coming. I pay tribute to the unwavering courage and determination of the survivors and I am delighted that their day eventually came. Dealing with this issue formed part of the programme for Government.
The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2014 was introduced yesterday and signed by Senators Henry, Cummins and Burke. What inspired them to introduce it? I speak with a certain vested interest. The Bill is meant to amend the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2008.
A copy of the Bill is available and this matter was dealt with yesterday.
I am sorry, but I want to ask the Deputy Leader a question. This Bill will allow drinking on Good Friday. By tradition in Ireland, Good Friday is a special day in the Christian calendar. I speak with a certain vested interest. I am appalled and shocked that a party-----
That is a point that the Senator can make when the Bill is being ordered and debated in the House.
I want to know when.
It is a relevant question and it should be answered.
It is not relevant.
It is. I want to know when the Bill will be-----
Senator Leyden is pre-empting the debate on the Bill. It is on the Order Paper.
Is it on the Order Paper?
I understand that it is.
It was published and it was circulated this morning. On the Order of Business,-----
When the debate is being held, the Senator can make those points.
-----when is it proposed to take the Bill in the House? Is it a Government Bill or a Private Members' one by Government Senators? Given the current debate on the consumption of alcohol, I am horrified. Government Senators should be more concerned about the fact that there is no proper control of the pricing or distribution of alcohol in supermarkets. The two days of the year when pubs are closed are Good Friday and Christmas Day. The former is a special day in the life of Ireland. It is the day that the crucifixion took place and it should be recognised and remembered. It should not be a day for celebrating or spending time in a pub.
The Senator's time is up.
For publicans and their families,-----
These are points that the Senator can make during the debate.
-----surely it is only right that they have a day to rest, reflect, enjoy their time together and attend a service in recognition of the foundation of the Christian church.
The Senator's time is up.
My time is not up yet.
Yes it is. The Senator does not decide that. I call Senator Jim D'Arcy.
I am still in the Seanad and my time is not up.
I would like some explanation from them. I am surprised Senator Colm Burke's name is on the list.
That is a matter for Senator Burke.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills here to discuss the progress report on the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector. The report states that many schools are "very welcoming and open towards pupils of all backgrounds. However, all of these schools may not reflect these good practices fully in their written policies". In this country we are now very much moving in a pluralist direction. Most of our schools are under the patronage of the churches but accommodation should be made for people from all backgrounds. The report continued: "This situation is unique among developed countries." There are a lot of things in the report which would be useful to discuss.
Before I finish I wish to say that I have great respect for Senator Darragh O'Brien - the utmost respect. However, he was a little bit harsh on John Bruton today.
I did not say everything I wanted to say.
John Bruton represents an Irish parliamentary tradition that dates back to Daniel O'Connell and Pádraig Pearse, who is one of our heroes and made the ultimate sacrifice, as he said himself, "in bloody protest for a glorious thing". John Bruton is entitled to express his opinion. If the Senator disagrees with his view then that is fine but he should not deny him his right of expression. The Senator said that John Bruton should not have said what he said. If the Senator disagrees with what he said then that is a different matter. In addition, John Redmond united the Irish Parliamentary Party, worked very hard for home rule and his son died in the conflict. He is another of our great heroes. We need not be exclusive here. I admire John Bruton for speaking his mind and contributing to political debate.
I would like to welcome somebody very special to the House for two reasons. A young man named James Kirwan is seated in the Visitors Gallery, he is from Shankill and he is a liver and kidney double transplant patient. Since 2006 he has never looked back after his transplant operation. He is on the youth advisory council of the new children's hospital which is only right. His attendance here today parallels with Dr. Eilish Hardiman's appearance in The Irish Times, on "Morning Ireland" and in other press about the unanimous agreement on the children's hospital being sited at St. James's.
We have had many arguments here about the matter but I shall not go back into the matter. Mr. James Kirwan has been on the council as a young man, a teenager and now as an adult. He agrees that the hospital should be located at St. James's and I am inclined to agree with him due to his experience of spending most of his life in hospital. As he said to me this morning, he will remain in hospital as an adult because that is how he will stay alive, and he is happy to remain there. He is on his way to university also. It is important that somebody like him who was put on the council by the Government is here today. He is the type of person that should influence policy, politics and how we move forward in health. I congratulate and welcome him to the House. I hope that one day he may be here as a politician.
Might I mention to the great Whip that the smallest rhododendron in the world is in the National Botanic Gardens. The National Botanic Gardens is interested in conservation and preservation and 400 endangered species are being kept alive in its herbarium. I also welcome the conservation and preservation work that is taking place in Killarney. I welcome the platform that has been brilliantly created by the National Botanic Gardens - the green lung of Dublin.
Is the Senator inviting the Government Chief Whip to visit the National Botanic Gardens?
I have done so in the past. There is no danger of that invasive species taking it over.
I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader could find out something for me. I was very distressed to find out from a patient, in correspondence I received this morning, that the drug fampridine, which has been shown to improve the ability of patients with multiple sclerosis who have impaired mobility to walk, is now being withdrawn. Also, folks who have MS, many of whom who are bad enough to need the drug - I will not say most - will not be able to work and, therefore, will be on a fixed income, depending on their supports. They have now been told that they will have to find €300 per month to pay for the drug as support for it has been withdrawn.
MS is a relatively uncommon condition and it is only prescribed for patients with MS who need the medication. I know we do not live in an economic vacuum and I know the health service does not exist in an economic vacuum. However, I also know that the HIQA and the Department of Health is still hiring public relations people, that HIQA could find the money to increase the number of inspectors up to over 200 and that front-line staff, as we mentioned yesterday, are being reduced and replaced with more expensive agency staff.
Reducing the mobility of a patient with MS increases his or her dependence, and also the costs and investment in other health care and social support resources that must be made. It is a classic example of non-joined-up thinking. Whatever department of the HSE is responsible for drug budgets just sees its budget. It is classic silo thinking and silo mentality. It is the same kind of thinking which resulted in the closure of the obesity surgery unit in St. Vincent's when every one of its operations saved money. We must convey the message that colossal mismanagement is taking place. I have highlighted this further example and thank Senators for their attention.
Following on from what Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said and her welcome for Mr. James Kirwan, it is apropos that he is here today.
I also welcome the Cabinet's signing off on the blueprint for the new national paediatric hospital, and I emphasise that is a paediatric hospital. I understand that the next phase is to select the design team with construction to commence in the spring of 2015 which is only a number of months away. In 2018 the hospital is scheduled to be opened almost 20 years after the idea was first mooted.
There will be continuous debate and opinions on whether St. James's is the appropriate location or whether the hospital should be located somewhere else. There will be debates on whether it is the right design, and there will be debates on the traffic and so forth. It is almost ten years since the McKinsey report was produced which said that one of the prerequisites of a new national paediatric hospital was that it should be co-located with an adult hospital. Yet paediatricians differ from that opinion and say that the prerequisite is to have it co-located with a maternity hospital in order to avoid any trauma being suffered, during the journey to the new hospital, by premature and newborn babies who suffer from various defects.
I note that planning permission has not yet been applied for. Almost a year and a half ago I brought it to the attention of the House that the planning permission should be the phase 2 option for a maternity hospital. Unfortunately I did not get any answers to my particular query back then. In the history of planning permissions, phase 2 approvals for hospitals have never taken place. I ask the Deputy Leader to ensure that the application for planning permission is made for a maternity hospital rather than waiting for the hospital to be built and then realising that planning permission for a maternity hospital is needed. Go raibh maith agat.
Due to the close relationship between this country and America, all sides of the House would like to join me in wishing American citizens in this country and in the wider United States a happy 4 July, which is on Friday. Also, in the context of the outstanding performance by the United States team in the World Cup, which sadly went out last night having put up one of the bravest fights anyone has seen in a football game in the World Cup, the team was outstanding and many people in this country adopted the USA because they are, after all, our cousins and we did not have one of our own, particularly after England went out of the World Cup.
Is the Senator looking for a penalty shootout?
We thought it might have gone to a penalty shootout. Who knows what would have happened then? It did not, unfortunately, but I am sure the Deputy Leader would like to convey the good wishes of the House to the new ambassador, Mr. O'Malley, and raise with the Tánaiste and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ongoing negotiations on the J1 graduates visa, which is due to expire in October after a five-year cycle. My understanding is there is optimism that the visa will be renewed. It is different from the standard student J1 visa and allows graduates, under certain eligibility criteria, to work in the United States on an exchange programme for a minimum of one year. The problem is that many employers in the US are reluctant to take on Irish graduates for a one-year period so I understand negotiations focus on extending it to a two-year term. This will be of great benefit, particularly to graduates who wish to gain overseas work experience and bring it back to this country for the benefit of this economy. Perhaps the Deputy Leader can raise the matter with the Tánaiste and get an update on current negotiations on the renewal and possible extension of the visa.
I refer to the apology by the Taoiseach on behalf of the State to the Roma families whose children were needlessly taken into care last year. I welcome the offer of compensation to the families concerned and the acknowledgement of the inappropriateness of the actions of the Garda Síochána in this case. I commend the Ombudsman for Children on her very straightforward report and clear recommendations. I also acknowledge the comment in the report that the Ombudsman for Children accepts the Garda Síochána was acting at all times in the best interests of the children concerned. That is not an excuse for what happened and I note the comments of the acting Garda Commissioner who fully accepted the report and indicated the Garda Síochána will take all measures within its powers to ensure such events do not recur.
I support my colleague, Senator Mary Moran, in commending the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, on yesterday's announcement that Cabinet agreement has been reached on an ex gratia compensation payment scheme for approximately 250 women. The tragedy for the women concerned was an issue taken seriously by the Minister in opposition and in government. I am glad that he has been able to secure agreement from Cabinet for proposals that will hopefully be of great assistance to the women concerned.
Senator Katherine Zappone posed the question of whether we are open, respectful and tolerant about marriage equality. As a society, we need to apply the question more broadly and I fear that the answer may be "No". I was deeply touched by the seven-year-old Roma girl who has reportedly dyed her hair black not to look prettier but to fit in. Why did she do that? Even at the tender age of seven years, she figured out that she would be safe by doing so and would look like the rest of her family and not be in danger of being taken again. The issue raises many questions. The Ombudsman for Children has declared the Athlone case to be an example of racial profiling. It raises questions about the type of society we are, how tolerant we are, how respectful we are and whether we respect difference. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to come to the House before the summer to examine a number of matters. These include the changes to policing, changes to GSOC and to discuss the report by the Ombudsman for Children. This will happen again and there will be other child cases. What new protocols will be in place? How will it be handled in the future? We need the Garda Síochána to take situations seriously but one must always be innocent until proven guilty. Are there better ways of handling things? Should a social worker have handled it alone? We must be careful. We value the family in our Constitution. Everything that could go wrong went wrong in these two cases. Considering the breadth of the role that the former Leader of the Opposition in this House, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, holds as Minister for Justice and Equality, it would be useful if we could have the debate before the summer recess.
I fully agree with the comments of Senator John Crown. My understanding, following an Adjournment debate two weeks ago, is that a new application for approval had been submitted by the drug company and it is being considered. Hopefully, the drug will be made available in the not too distant future. This is a matter of utmost importance to the people who require the drug. The sooner a decision on approval is made, the better.
Is Senator Colm Burke trying to justify his Bill to enable drinking on Good Friday?
Bí cúramach, Senator Leyden.
I am inviting the Senator to respond to my question.
Senator Leyden is not entitled to ask questions.
I refer to the escalating issue of the bull beef crisis in Ireland. Our beef farmers are unable to secure markets. The British market is effectively closed due to the labelling issue in Northern Ireland and the inaction by the current Minister cannot go unnoticed. It is certainly not going unnoticed among farmers. A Private Members' motion was tabled by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil last week and the Minister failed to show up. I have high regard for the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but his current actions leave much to be desired. Perhaps he has his eye on another ball but he should not drop the ball he is currently holding. The Irish beef industry is worth €2 billion to the Irish economy. Prices have decreased by 15% to 20% as a result of the lack of live export trade and the lack of political will by the Minister to address the labelling issue north of the Border. We should have Irish beef labelled as Irish beef on a 32 county basis. British retailers would then accept it as Irish beef but, due to a labelling anomaly, British retailers are not willing to accept beef reared here and finished in the North. It is creating major difficulty. I ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate a debate this week, if possible, with the current Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I hope we can find time. I do not want to push the issue to a vote tomorrow and I will give the Deputy Leader, in conjunction with the Leader's office, space to allow the Minister to come before the House. This is a major crisis. Small suckler farmers will be wiped out unless something is done over the next week or two.
I note that Mr. Eddie Downey, president of the IFA, was fulsome in his praise of the job the Minister is doing at a successful event in the Shelbourne Hotel yesterday evening.
A little over the top.
That is a matter for Mr. Downey.
I welcome Ms Caroline Byrne, who was job shadowing me today even though today is not national job shadow day. She was unable to attend on national job shadow day so I welcome her today. She is in the Public Gallery.
I do not often agree with Senator Terry Leyden but he has a point in regard to the Good Friday issue. There should be more no-alcohol days in this country, not just Christmas Day and Good Friday. We should look at restricting hours.
If the Bill proposed by my colleagues does nothing else but provide a platform for debate on reducing the hours of sale of alcohol, it will be a good one.
I take it that it is not a Fine Gael Bill. Is it a Fine Gael Bill?
In essence, I welcome it and look forward to the debate on it.
Excellent. The Senator will be supporting it in the way he has supported everything else.
It will be an interesting debate and I have no doubt that my colleague, Senator Terry Leyden, will participate in it robustly.
I hope the Senator votes against his own colleagues.
Senator Martin Conway will be whipped into voting for it.
I call on the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on aviation and associated industries. Several aircraft leasing businesses based in Shannon are very successful. I gather we are No. 1 in the world when it comes to aircraft leasing.
The Senator's time is flying.
Just to let you know, I have been interrupted. There are many aviation associated industries in which we could become proficient because we have a bank of knowledge that is unrivalled. Thousands of jobs could be secured as a result of the establishment of subsidiary aviation industries. The Government has stated it envisages Shannon Airport as a hub for this type of industry. I call on the Deputy Leader to arrange for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the House to discuss the aviation industry and how it can contribute to the recovery and development of the economy.
The Senator has made his point. I will have to ground him.
I was sorry to be absent for the contribution of Senator Terry Leyden, but I imagine it was probably the first time we had had a proposal in respect of a pub with no beer. Given his newfound commercial interests, I am surprised that the Senator would have taken that view.
How can this possibly be relevant to the Order of Business?
We look forward to the necessary and interesting debate that will flow from the legislation of Senators Colm Burke and Imelda Henry.
I support the comments of Senator Feargal Quinn on the upward-only rent review issue. In particular, I support his original - for this House - and thought-provoking proposal to the Leader to the effect that the Attorney General present her views on the matter before the House. If the Seanad has a constitutional entitlement to receive such a presentation, it would be worthwhile. The issue has been the subject of much debate in the House. We hear about the programmes for Government and their importance and that they are sacrosanct. There was a Fine Gael proposal, a Labour Party proposal and a proposal in the programme for Government to deal with the issue. Not only do I suspect it, but I am altogether aware that the quality of legal advice available to the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party in advance of the general election and their giving this solemn commitment was substantial and learned.
There are many barristers in the Labour Party.
One legal person can say one thing, while another can say something else, but the commitment was made and it is written in stone in the programme for Government. We certainly deserve to hear from the Government's highest legal adviser on why that commitment has been breached. The issue is of great importance to small businesses throughout the country. It is a matter of jobs. A Government for jobs, surely, would examine the issue and try to fulfil not only the electoral commitments but also the commitments made in the programme for Government. I thank Senator Feargal Quinn and my colleagues in Seanad Éireann for keeping it on the agenda. If Seanad Éireann does nothing else between now and the next election but ensure there is progress on upward-only rent reviews, we will have done a good day's work for the country in terms of job creation.
Senator Darragh O'Brien referred to the Cabinet reshuffle projected to take place next week. Of course, we anticipate it, as well as the outcome of the Labour Party leadership election on Friday.
The Senator asked a question about the local property tax and the four Labour Party Deputies who had spoken on the matter. To be fair, they raised an important issue about the need to ensure Dublin taxpayers were not discriminated against, something with which everyone would agree. We need to ensure the tax is fair. I was somewhat surprised to hear the Senator express opposition to the tax because, of course, it was a tax to which Fianna Fáil had signed up.
We did not sign up to it.
It is progressive.
No, it is not.
Let us be clear: taxation on property is more progressive than taxation on income or labour. According to the ESRI, it is six times more job-friendly than taxes on labour. The issue is to ensure it is levied in a fair and progressive way.
It is not a local property tax.
It will be used to pay for vital public services, including local enterprise and job support measures, fire services, road maintenance works, libraries and recreational amenities. As the Senator is aware, we had a long debate on the legislation when it passed through the House.
I was here.
I will certainly ask to have the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in the House again, as it would be good to hear more on the issue. However, it is also worth noting the high level of compliance with the tax, a feature sometimes overlooked in debates on the matter. Revenue which is engaged in ongoing collection of the local property tax has already collected over €291 million this year. It has achieved a compliance rate of 94% for 2013 and 91% for 2014. That is most impressive and shows that, by and large, people have signed up to the tax.
They have no choice.
Senator Darragh O'Brien also raised the issue of centenaries. Interestingly, he called for the former Taoiseach Mr. John Bruton to come to the House. It must be unprecedented for the leader of the Fianna Fáil group in the Seanad to call for a former leader of Fine Gael to come to the Seanad.
I want him here.
I think he would be an excellent choice.
Absolutely. Let us organise it.
He would be an excellent choice.
However, Senator Darragh O'Brien should put the request to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
The matter should be dealt with by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
It is part of the history of the nation.
However, I was somewhat surprised by Senator Darragh O'Brien's comments on Pádraig Pearse. I recommend all colleagues to visit the Pearse Museum in St. Enda's Park, Rathfarnham. I go there regularly and believe it gives a fascinating insight into the workings, views and ideology of Pádraig Pearse who was a man of many parts and a hero for many of us in terms of his work in education, apart from the part he played in the struggle for Independence. Let us put the matter on the agenda for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I will do that.
We are all entitled to hold different views on Pádraig Pearse, but I recommend anyone interested to visit the museum, if he or she has not already done so.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to rhododendrons in oakwoods. It sounded somewhat like a party political broadcast on behalf of Kerry tourism and an ode in praise of the oakwoods, with which we all agree.
Killarney now receives 90% of the national budget.
Senator Katherine Zappone made a most eloquent contribution welcoming the Taoiseach's commitment to hold the referendum on marriage equality next spring. I agree absolutely with the Senator that it is altogether welcome to hear the Taoiseach's confirmation. The Senator reminded us of the 79% vote at the Constitutional Convention in favour of marriage equality and the Tánaiste's comment that this was the civil rights issue for our generation, a comment with which I agree. I will gladly seek a debate on the report of the convention on marriage equality in order that the House can debate, in particular, the design of the referendum. I look forward to campaigning with the Senator in favour of the referendum proposal.
Senator Denis Landy commented on The Carers Association's briefing this morning and the various issues raised, including the recognition of family carers, the review of the fair deal scheme and so on. I will be happy to seek a debate in the House on carers. The Carers Association has sought a change in the medical card system. As the Senator is aware, the Government is developing a policy framework providing for eligibility for health services on the basis of medical conditions, something we would all welcome.
I welcome it.
I will update the Senator on the matter. The HSE has established an expert panel which will examine and recommend the range of medical conditions that should be considered for inclusion as part of the process. It is chaired by Professor Frank Keane and has been asked to report to the director general of the health service by September. I gather swift progress is being made.
Senator Feargal Quinn spoke about the decision made by the Supreme Court yesterday in the Bewley's case. I have not yet had an opportunity to read the judgment, but I know that we will all do so with interest. It is a matter of profound regret that the Government has not moved on the issue of upward-only rent reviews. Clearly, as many colleagues have acknowledged, there has been different legal advice and the Supreme Court judgment is, undoubtedly, a blow to those who had hoped we could do something more about the matter. The House passed Senator Feargal Quinn's Bill in February. We all recognise the major imposition placed on small business by retention of these clauses, in particular. The Senator called for the Attorney General to attend and be heard in the House. I understand various requests have been made for the Attorney General to attend the House to deal with various matters. There would, of course, be constraints on what she could say, given that she is the adviser to the Government and gives confidential legal advice. That is a matter we can consider, perhaps when we have all had a chance to read, review and consider the Supreme Court's judgment.
Senator Michael Comiskey welcomed the Vodafone-ESB agreement on fibre-optic broadband services. We all welcome it.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to a "Prime Time" programme broadcast last Thursday which I did not see concerning the tragic death of a six year old child in Connemara. I am sorry to hear about the case. I suggest it might be the subject of an Adjournment matter since it involves a particular case. I understand the Senator also raised the more general issue of the role of the Medical Council. I will certainly ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss the broader topic.
Perhaps that should take place after the appeal to the Supreme Court in the autumn which the Senator mentioned.
Senator Moran commended Senator Zappone and seconded her call for a debate on marriage equality, which I will seek. She also welcomed the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Reilly, of the ex gratia scheme for women survivors of symphysiotomy. Senator Moran has done a great deal of work on this and has spoken on it many times. I agree that it is a very welcome development. At last there is some justice for those women.
Senator Leyden raised the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill. I simply agreed yesterday to the amendment sought by Senator Henry, as the Leader always does with regard to being able to introduce a Bill. I cannot say what inspired any individual to bring forward a Private Members' Bill; clearly, that is a matter for them. However, it is a good idea that we debate this issue. I think we should change our licensing laws to allow people to consume liquor on Good Friday. Easter is a huge tourism date for us and it would simply make sense of something anomalous. We could have a good debate on alcohol consumption generally with the introduction of the Bill. However, it is a Private Members' Bill so the scheduling of debate on it will be up to the Fine Gael Members to decide. I cannot say when it will be before the House. It was circulated yesterday, so all Members should have the text of the Bill.
Senator Jim D'Arcy called for a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on progress on diversity of patronage, given the report published yesterday by the forum on patronage and pluralism in the primary sector. All Members who spoke last night in the debate on the education Bill with the Minister, Deputy Quinn, paid tribute to his great work in reforming the education system in many ways and, in particular, in seeking to ensure greater diversity of patronage and greater choice for parents in the type of school to which they send their children. I would welcome and will seek to have that debate. Senator D'Arcy also referred to the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, and defended his right to give whatever view he wishes on Pádraig Pearse. That is absolutely right.
Senator O'Donnell welcomed James Kirwan, a liver and kidney transplant patient from Shankill. I too welcome Mr. Kirwan and am glad he is on the youth advisory council of the new children's hospital. It is great to have people such as Mr. Kirwan on the council. We welcome the fact that progress is now being made on the hospital. Senator Eamon Coghlan referred to the progress being made and the fact that the Cabinet has signed off on the blueprint for the hospital. Construction will commence next spring and we hope the hospital will be open in 2018. With regard to the site, which Senator O'Donnell also mentioned, I was one of those who wanted it to be sited adjacent to the Coombe Hospital, a major maternity hospital in Dublin, but the St. James's Hospital site is very close to the Coombe. Senator Coghlan is right about seeking to ensure a maternity hospital is constructed alongside the children's hospital, but given that St. James's Hospital is such a major acute adult hospital, it is also very important that it be co-located there.
Senator O'Donnell also referred to the National Botanic Gardens and encouraged all of us to visit Dublin's green lung. I am a regular visitor and I agree with the Senator that it is a fabulous facility in the centre of Dublin.
The Senator must spend no time at home with all the visiting she does.
Senator Crown raised the issue of the multiple sclerosis drug fampridine. Senator Colm Burke has pointed out that he raised this on the Adjournment recently and that the HSE is to reconsider a new application on the matter. Senator O'Brien has also raised this issue a number of times in the House, and it has been raised in the media. All of us have concerns about this. The HSE received an application for the inclusion of fampridine in the general medical services, GMS, and community drugs schemes. In accordance with normal procedures, the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics conducted an evaluation of fampridine and concluded that as the manufacturer was unable to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of fampridine in the Irish health care setting it was unable to recommend reimbursement of the product, which has led to the difficulty. However, the manufacturer may submit a new application at any time. As Senator Colm Burke has pointed out, it has submitted a revised application for fampridine and the HSE is reconsidering it in accordance with the agreed procedures and timescales. We all hope this matter will be resolved very swiftly for people with MS.
Senator Crown also raised the general HSE budget. I responded on that issue yesterday.
Senator Mooney referred to our relationship with the US and extended a welcome to the new US ambassador, Mr. Kevin O'Malley. We join Senator Mooney in that and in wishing all US citizens in Ireland a happy Fourth of July on Friday. Like Senator Mooney, I was very impressed by the performance of the US football team in the World Cup generally and particularly in the match against Belgium last night. The team fought really hard. It is great to see soccer becoming such a popular sport across the US in recent years.
Senator Mooney also asked me to raise with the Tánaiste the ongoing negotiations on the J1 graduate visa. I will write to the Tánaiste and ask him to ensure it is renewed this autumn.
Senator Naughton referred to the very welcome apology given yesterday by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the acting Garda Commissioner to the Roma families whose children were removed, and to the offer of compensation made by the Government. Like Senator Naughton, I commend the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, on her excellent report. I have read the recommendations section and some of the report, but I recommend that colleagues read it. It is harrowing reading. It is very difficult for a parent of young children to read about the way in which those children were removed and taken into care. Clearly, this is a matter on which the State owes those families a very sincere apology and compensation.
The recommendations in the report are hugely important, particularly regarding the use of section 12 by the Garda. I have acted in the Children's Court and in what is called the HSE court in respect of cases in which children are taken into care. The gardaí generally act in good faith and they do not tend to act unless there are real risks, but it would be great to have a proper review of the exercise of Garda powers more generally. This report and the two incidents raise serious concerns about ethnic profiling and the manner in which these radical powers of the Garda are exercised. As Senator Healy Eames pointed out, it is particularly disturbing to read about the seven year old girl who dyed her hair as a result of this. It is dreadful to think of what she went through away from her family for two days. I support the Government's apology to the families and I hope compensation will be paid swiftly to them. Of course, it cannot compensate them for what happened, which was dreadful.
Senator Naughton also welcomed the symphysiotomy scheme. I understand it will extend to approximately 350 women.
Senator Healy Eames also called for a general debate on policing with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald. I would prefer to have that debate in a couple of months. We are still working on this and the justice committee will be holding more hearings on policing. The committee has already made an interim set of recommendations on the GSOC reforms to be made and the Government has signed off on the heads of a Bill. It would be good to have a debate on policing in the autumn to examine what else must be done, particularly in light of the report on the Roma families.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the fampridine issue, to which I have responded.
Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke about prices for farmers in the bull beef crisis. This was also raised by Senator O'Neill yesterday, who referred to the prices of livestock generally. I said yesterday that I would invite the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to the House to discuss this matter and for a more general debate on farming. Senator Conway referred to the fulsome praise of the president of the IFA for the Minister, Deputy Coveney, which he expressed at the event in the Shelbourne Hotel yesterday. I was not at it but I am glad the Minister was praised for his excellent work with the agriculture portfolio. I also welcome Caroline Byrne, who is job-shadowing the Senator. The Senator also referred to the Good Friday Bill. I believe the Senator's substantive point was to seek a debate on aviation and related industries with the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. I will seek to arrange that debate.
Finally, Senator Bradford referred to the upward-only rent reviews, which I have dealt with.