The Order of Business is No. 1, Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 4.15 p.m.; and No. 2, Companies Bill 2012 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and adjourned not later than 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
Has the Leader received an update from the Minister for Health on the multiple sclerosis drug, fampridine - Fampyra - which has still not been assessed by the Department of Health? Many sufferers of MS cannot access the drug which could change their lives and give them back their mobility. I do not take issue with the Leader, but I am sick to the back teeth of writing to the Department of Health on the issue. People are losing their mobility and independence. The cost of the drug is €270 a month. Surely to God an urgent decision could be made on it.
I wish to follow up on what my colleague, Senator Thomas Byrne, said about the unprecedented events of the past week. We all received our ballot papers for the imminent Seanad by-election by registered post yesterday.
It is not in order to display a ballot paper in the Chamber.
I am holding a ballot paper for the Seanad by-election.
The Senator should not display it in the Chamber.
I do not see the problem with displaying it.
We do not display documents in the Chamber.
I know that the Government does not want to discuss the issue.
One is not allowed to display anything in the Chamber.
I will not display it, but I refer to the ballot paper for the Seanad by-election. The second candidate on the list is Mr. John McNulty from County Donegal. I will not give his address. He is listed as a business man and board member of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. We know that he is not a board member of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and contest that he probably never was because the board never met to ratify his appointment by whomever and we do not know whether the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, was told to do it by the Taoiseach-----
Last week I ruled that the qualifications of candidates were not a matter for the Seanad.
I accept and respect your ruling from last week, a Chathaoirligh, but the Government cannot slide away from this and think people are going to forget about it. I am not forgetting about it because what has happened in the past week is absolutely despicable and deplorable. It is a degradation of the Seanad. I say to the Leader that the Taoiseach and a Minister of his party has brought the Chamber and the democratic structures of the State into disrepute. A nomination was made up in order to ensure the individual concerned could run in the by-election. Others will say he may have been able to do this anyway. We will never know that because another candidate, Mr. Craughwell, withdrew his complaint to the committee on the basis of the apparent qualification of Mr. McNulty owing to his being a board member of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. That is what happened. Now we have a ballot paper that states he is a board member of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. That is who some Members across the Chamber are being asked to vote for, when that is not the case. I put it to the House that he is not qualified on that basis.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Yes, I have a question for the Leader and I have also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. We deserve answers on the issue. Let us be fair. The Taoiseach belatedly apologised, but I do not know what he apologised for because the previous day he said it was a matter for the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys. I would not have proposed the amendment if the Minister had answered any questions when she came to the House last week, but as colleagues are aware, she did not. She re-read her script. She did not answer the question as to why-----
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader? He is way over time.
As the Minister did not answer the questions put to her, I will give her another opportunity to do so.
The Senator is so good.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business and ask my colleagues to examine the matter if we care about transparency and getting to the bottom of the issue.
I seek the attendance in the Chamber today of the Minister to answer questions put to her such as who asked her to appoint this chap, Mr. McNulty, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Was she aware that this individual was going to be a Seanad by-election candidate for Fine Gael?
These are questions the Senator can ask during the debate.
I am proposing the amendment because this is a serious issue.
I will finish on this point, but for argument's sake, had this issue not been raised in this Chamber last week and had some journalist not done the job, none of us would have known about it. Incidentally, two thirds of State appointments since the Administration took over have been appointed without any advertisement.
The Senator is way over time. These are points that can be made during the debate.
I formally propose an amendment to the Order of Business again today to have the Minister come into the House to answer questions put to her about the appointment of Mr. McNulty to the board of the IMMA in order to ensure he could be a ratified candidate to fill a vacancy in this very House.
All Members had the opportunity to speak last week when the Minister was in this Chamber and to put our views on the appointment of Mr. John McNulty-----
No, we did not.
Many Members did. They put expressed their views on the appointment of John McNulty to the board of IMMA. I outlined my own views and was glad to have the opportunity to so do.
The Senator will vote against him in that case.
I seek a date from the Leader for the resumption of the Committee Stage debate on the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill. This is the Bill that I, together with Labour Party Senators, introduced as a Private Member's Bill on 13 March 2013 to amend section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act to ensure one no longer has the potential to discriminate in schools against teachers because of their sexuality or marital status. There is great support for the principle of the Bill from all sides of the House. The Committee Stage debate began earlier this year, in April, and is due to resume once Government amendments have been prepared. I hope the Leader and I can work to ensure Committee Stage will resume and that the Bill will pass through the House before the end of the session in December.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on the national dementia strategy. I was glad to join members of The Alzheimer Society of Ireland outside Leinster House earlier today and commend them for their work. In particular, they seek to highlight the need to ensure the proper roll-out of a national dementia strategy and I ask the Leader for a debate on this issue in early course.
I commend the Start Strong organisation for its event last Thursday that I attended and at which the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, spoke. I also wish to state how glad I am that she has made a commitment to making some change in the law to ensure better provision of parental leave and paternity leave, in particular. Senator Mary White has been hugely active on this issue and introduced Private Members' legislation in this regard. Like the section 37 amendment, I hope there can also be cross-party support for this initiative.
I have two questions for the Leader, one of which is related to the arts and the other to the Seanad. Since last Wednesday, as all Members are aware and as they just have been reminded by Senator Darragh O'Brien, there has been an ongoing public controversy about the disrespect - the Senator used the word "disrepute" - paid both to the arts and the Seanad in the light of Mr. John McNulty's nomination to the IMMA and the Seanad by-election. By contrast, last Wednesday the Irish arts world had much cause for positive celebration outside this Chamber because Eavan Boland, one of Ireland's most eminent poets, turned 70 years. This coincided with the publication of her new collection of poems entitled A Woman Without a Country. Throughout the decades, her body of work has had a profound impact on the Irish psyche and soul as she charted new territory in search of a language not voiced before and in search of a nation not fully imagined and that depicted how woman's place outside history could be transformative as well as transformed. I believe that by way of marking the 24th Seanad's commitment to the arts, as well as to women "finding a voice where they found a vision", as in the great words of Eavan Boland often quoted by the former President Mary Robinson, I ask the Leader to bring Eavan Boland's name to the Seanad committee that decides on inviting significant public figures to the Chamber to address Members. I expect it would be a remarkable and inspiring exchange.
My second question relates to another date on the calendar, namely, 4 October, when Members will mark the first anniversary of the day on which the Irish people voted in referendum to retain the Seanad. It is my belief, as well as that of countless citizens throughout Ireland, that the people did not vote to retain the Seanad in its current form but that they voted for real reform. Consequently, I request that the Bill published by Senator Feargal Quinn and me on Seanad reform be taken on Committee Stage as soon as possible. That would be a fitting way to mark the anniversary of the people's vote. Senator Feargal Quinn and I also will table amendments to ensure the Bill is capable of delivering on a core set of fundamental reforms on which we believe all parties can agree.
We will be seeking Government time for Committee Stage of the Seanad Bill. That would be a prime way for the Taoiseach and the Government to demonstrate respect for the people, the Seanad and implementing the new politics that all sides of the House agree is needed.
When the handover of Hong Kong to China took place in the 1997, the then Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, had agreements with the Chinese authorities. We all remember the valuable work Lord Patten did in the reform of the RUC on this island. Those agreements provided for democracy and a free press. I ask the Leader to take up with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, the issue of whether we should approach the Chinese authorities to say we would prefer it what was going on in China did not happen and that its economic success was paralleled by the development of democracy and a free press in Hong Kong and throughout China.
I also raise the corporate tax issue in relation to Apple. The Commission wrote to the former Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, on 12 June and, apparently, we have not participated. What was put to the media today by the Commission was a complaint that a request had been made to us on 12 June, with, as it states, normally one month to reply, and 13 weeks had passed since. The Commission has put out the document and we have to participate in this process. What it states is based on the above, that the Commission is of the opinion that the contested rulings do not comply with the arm's length principle and, accordingly, it is of the opinion that through these rulings the Irish authorities confer an advantage on Apple and that the advantage is obtained every year and ongoing, when the annual tax liability is agreed on by the tax authorities in view of that ruling. The Americans estimated last year that the tax avoided per day by Apple in 2012 was €25 million, or €9 billion a year. We have been condemned for our policies on this in the United States and, only today, in the United Kingdom. I do not know whether this was addressed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, whether we have enough economic expertise, but we should not be getting into this kind of relationship with the European Commission. We should enter into this dialogue, defend - as we have stated here on so many occasions - the 12.5% corporation tax rate and get rid of the fiscal termites who keep on undermining that rate and bringing Ireland into public odium in the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom.
I was sorry and would be concerned to learn that the people-owned pillar bank had plans to outsource its loyal bank porters, of whom there are over 200 in the country. Many of these staff have over 20 years' service. They are the face of the bank. They are the staff who open and close the branches. They are the ones who often meet and greet customers. I have even seen them being helpful with clients trying to use the new quick lodge system. I worked in that institution once upon a time which - I hasten to add - that was long before the cowboys invaded the pitch. It is disgraceful that it is trying to removing these staff who have been so loyal and steadfast to the institution and who have done nothing wrong as regards banking in this country. We should make a protest, which I intend to make, to headquarters in regard to this matter.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to come to the House to debate the future of maternity services. Members will be aware of the sad case of Ms Dhara Kivlehan who, after giving birth at Sligo Regional Hospital, died in a Belfast hospital. At the inquest last evening an independent expert obstetrician and former master of the Rotunda stated it had effectively been a systemic and clinical failure that had led, in a complex case, to her death.
This is a case that requires a serious review by the State in how it approaches maternity services in the future. It is worth reminding Members of the report we exposed on this side of the House which planned to downgrade maternity services in the north west to the extent that an obstetrician would not be available but that it would be a midwife-led service. What happened last night underpinned the need for expert obstetrician services to be available to all the women of Ireland, regardless of where they live.
At this point, the Minister must make clear his intentions. Clearly, significant investment and additional resources are required to be put into maternity services as Ireland has the lowest number of obstetricians per patient in the OECD. With commitments under the working time directive and the temptation of higher remuneration abroad, it seems fewer obstetrician hours will be made available in Ireland. We are facing a crisis in ensuring further cases such as that of Dhara Kivlehan can be averted. I hope this debate will be held soon as it is merely a matter of time, sadly, that this will happen again. Unless the appropriate resources and strategic plan are put in place, we cannot ensure this will not happen again.
The Irish Wheelchair Association was founded in 1960 and now has 20,000 members. It is one of our foremost advocacy groups and charities doing tremendous work for people who lead a challenging life when confined and bound to a wheelchair in assisting and supporting them in living full and independent lives. It is hard in this day and age to believe, however, that we still provide funding for the construction of public buildings, spaces, such as car parks and parks, venues and stadiums, that are not adequately wheelchair accessible or friendly. I thought we had brought to this to an end some years ago. Only this week, the Irish Wheelchair Association, however, published the latest draft of its best practice guidelines for wheelchair access. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to attend the House at the earliest juncture to debate this issue to ensure these guidelines are embedded in the planning code and regulations? This will not put any additional cost on anyone building privately. However, when we build arts centres, post offices, schools, and sports stadiums, as well as simple facilities such as public toilets in car parks, we should not suffer upon people confined to wheelchairs the further indignity or embarrassment of not being able to access, use freely or enjoy facilities that the rest of us can. It is a simple matter to resolve and one in which we can play a part. There are also people who still park on kerbs on footpaths and clearly designated disabled parking zones which is a further affront to those confined to wheelchairs. There is no fine too large for someone who parks improperly like this.
I support Senator Katherine Zappone’s call for the Leader to allow time for Committee Stage of her Bill on Seanad reform to be taken. As he knows, we passed the Bill on Second Stage way back in March last year. There was a referendum this week last year in which the people said they did not want to support the Government’s move to abolish the Seanad. Nothing has happened since that we know of. I know that the Taoiseach has said he has called together a few leaders of different groups to see what can be done. This is 12 months after the referendum. Members have often heard me argue before how frustrating it is to see the length of time it takes to get something done legislatively. Senator Katherine Zappone has proposed that the Leader find time to take Committee Stage of the Bill which she introduced over one year ago.
I urge the Leader to find time to do so because the people of Ireland have said they want to see a Seanad that works and that is capable of doing far more than it is being allowed to do. That probably requires the changes that she has proposed in her Bill, which I was happy to second. We should make these changes and I urge the Leader to arrange time for the taking of Committee Stage of the Bill in order that it can be before the House very shortly.
I am glad that some young people are in the Visitors Gallery. I do not know whether they are Irish, but what I am about to say might inform them. Are Senators aware that the great Bank of Ireland is doubling the interest rate it charges graduate entries to medicine when they qualify? That is financial thuggery at its best. In other words, it is telling graduates who want to continue studying that they will get the loan at a certain interest rate but within three months of completing the course, the rate will be doubled. I want the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Education and Skills to come into the House to address this issue. It is not only doubling the interest rate but it is also picking rates out of the sky. According to the Medical Independent, graduate entry medical students are buried in a ditch of debt because of this. Some 65% of all our young doctors have left the country not only to seek better conditions and better lives but also because they cannot repay these enormous loans. Education is the right of everybody. We have, of course, to pay for it, and that includes graduates, but to take the 4.5% interest rate for entrants to graduate medicine and then increase it to 6%, 7% or 9%, to be repaid over ten years, chokes the graduates of the country and beggars them before they even begin. It is financial thuggery. Bank of Ireland is back where it began. When I pointed out to its representatives last week that it had received €3.75 billion out of a universal social charge on all of our wages, they stared blankly at me, but they are quite capable of running around America after builders who owe them the millions of euro that they gave out like nuts at a circus tent and of beggaring graduate students. This is extremely important because parents do not have the money to send children to universities in their areas and thus have to send them to other cities. They need to borrow money not for credit but for education. I want the Minister for Education and Skills to outline how she intends to address this issue and I am looking for an amendment to the Order of Business on that account. It is financial thuggery. No Senator should vote against me on the Order of Business because the issue is above politics.
Does the Senator want the Minister for Finance to come into the House?
The Minister for Education and Skills.
I second the Fianna Fáil amendment to the Order of Business. I agree that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht should come before the House today, but in reality the Taoiseach should come before the House. Last week he stated he took personal responsibility for what hae become a fiasco in regard to the Seanad by-election. If he was taking personal responsibility, for what was he taking personal responsibility ? When one takes responsibility for something, it means that one did something wrong. The Taoiseach should come into the House to explain to us what he did wrong. We all know what he did wrong, but he should account for himself in this House.
We also, shamefully, had a situation where the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey, hired a former Fine Gael councillor and director of Irish Water as his personal driver on a salary of €665 per week. The same individual received a gratuity payment of €57,757 when he lost his council seat and received an annual fee of €15,000 for his position on Irish Water. There is a clear conflict of interest where a director of Irish Water is employed by the Minister of State with responsibility for that body to be his driver.
What was most disturbing was the response of the former councillor to questions from the media. When he was asked if there was a salary attached he said: “I don’t think there is anyone working for free at the moment.” Many people on Gateway schemes throughout the State would disagree with him. He also said:
You tell me one party out there who doesn’t look after their own. I don’t see anything wrong with it.
Does the Leader stand over these remarks? Does he see anything wrong with it? The most disgusting thing he said, which I invite the Leader to condemn, was: "We were all nearly eating out of bins three years ago." Very few Fine Gael supporters were eating out of bins three, ten or 30 years ago. There are many people, however, who, while they may not be eating out of bins, are in poverty and cannot afford to pay their bills. On this day of all days for us to discuss the issue, the Leader and his party want to impose water charges and some families will have to pay up to €500 once metering begins. I ask the Leader to comment on all these issues and I will support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Fianna Fáil.
I am very disappointed that the Cathaoirleach has ruled out of order my motion on RTE's decision to terminate the 252 long wave transmission. While I respect his decision, I want to tell RTE I am not letting go of the matter. As a news broadcaster, RTE monitors everything that goes on in the House. I intend to raise it at tomorrow morning's meeting of the Committee on Transport and Communications and will request the support of my colleagues, which I believe will be forthcoming, in inviting representatives of RTE to come before the committee to explain its terrible decision to terminate the 252 long wave transmission. RTE tried this some years ago but was stopped in its tracks. Now RTE has got it in under the radar and the Minister is acquiescing in it by refusing to come into the House to give his response to this outrageous decision that will have a very adverse effect on the Irish Diaspora in Britain. It is unacceptable to state only a small percentage of people are listening. How does RTE know? It states people have other platforms, but many people, Irish and otherwise, listen in their cars, travelling throughout England. I have received an extraordinary level of reaction to the decision from colleagues, friends and other representatives of the Irish community in Britain. I will not let go of it. RTE cannot and should not be allowed to do this. As a public service broadcaster, it has a responsibility to look after the Irish Diaspora as much as the people on the island of Ireland.
I echo Senator Sean D. Barrett's comments that a very poor image of Ireland has been transmitted as a result of the European Commission's release of its letter on corporation tax and the way it is levied on multinational companies in Ireland. I am particularly concerned about the impact this is having on Irish America and corporate America. I remind the House that in May last year thejournal.ie reported the comments made by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain who had raised this issue in the US Senate and from whom it is alleged that all this came, that Apple negotiated a 2% rate in Ireland, far less than the State's 12.5% rate for companies. What was significant about the letter from the Commission was that the man responsible for the tax affairs of Apple in 1991 in his negotiations with the Irish Revenue Commissioners said the conclusions arrived at were "unscientific". If that does not ring alarm bells in the Government, I do not know what will.
A company called Apple Operations International, AOI, operates an Irish subsidiary in this country that pays little or no tax on profits in Ireland or the United States. AOI has not filed tax returns in any country om the past five years, despite income of approximately €23 billion between 2009 and 2012 according to the Senate investigation. While I fully respect, understand and appreciate that any government has a responsibility to ensure foreign direct investment continues and I value, like everybody on both sides of the House, the enormous contribution Apple has made to improving the workforce in this country and the tax it pays here and I have no doubt it pays tax-----
I ask for the Minister for Finance to come before the House at the earliest opportunity. There is a concern about the adverse image this is having abroad on the Irish.
Last weekend there was a report and a headline in the Financial Times, a much-read newspaper internationally, which was particularly damaging to Ireland and Ireland's image in the corporate field.
I urge the Minister for Finance to come to the House or issue a statement that would address the issues that have been raised.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to debate the issue of abuse of graduate entrants into medicine. I support her on that motion.
We have all received the ballot papers for the Seanad by-election on 10 October. That by-election will be a test for all of us - a test of democracy in this country. We are seeing Government politics being carried out in a way more like Beijing than a western democracy. We are seeing abuse of public office, no free votes and job fixing. We are seeing the very worst type of politics that none of us stood for in 2011. Above all, this election on 10 October will be a test of the courage and resolve of Fine Gael and Labour Party Members. It is unreasonable for the Taoiseach to expect his Deputies and Senators to follow his lead and support stroke politics by voting for Mr. McNulty. Mr. McNulty is a victim and his candidacy is corrupted as a result of the abuse of public office by having him put on the IMMA board. It has been well documented and written on today by Fintan O'Toole. He has abused six political operational principles: selflessness, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I have a question. I am asking the Members of this House on the Government side whether enough Fine Gael and Labour Party Oireachtas Members will have the courage to stand up and abstain from voting for Mr. McNulty.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
It absolutely is relevant.
It may be relevant, but it is not relevant to the Order of Business.
The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are meant to be giving leadership.
It is not relevant to the Order of Business.
Instead they are calling on us to vote for stroke politics and cronyism as the way forward for our young people. That is not leadership.
I support Senator Marie-LouiseO'Donnell. I also attended a briefing by the graduate entry medical students. The debt burden among them is very high and it has been increasing. They have made a very compelling case for relief on repayment of loan products used to finance their graduate entry to medicine. We should be doing everything we can to encourage them to remain here in Ireland when in fact we are encouraging them to leave. I formally second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell.
The Leader promised me a year or two ago that we would have a debate in the Chamber on the persecution of Christians in certain parts of the planet. It is a critical issue. A debate in the House for a couple of hours would be worthy and it might highlight the appalling plight of Christians in certain parts of the world who are demonised, executed or forced to give up their religion. We should have such a debate at the Leader's early convenience.
What is the status of the proposed sea fisheries amendment Bill? Is it likely to be brought before this House or is it lost at sea, to coin a phrase? I have a very strong interest in the matter and ask the Leader to ascertain the status of the Bill and when it is likely to be brought before the Seanad.
Following on the point made by my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, I ask a question. In the light of the fact Mr. McNulty is referred to on the ballot paper as a board member of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and this is not the case, I want to know whether this invalidates the process. I have only had a chance to briefly look at the 1947 legislation. Is the election invalid? Has this issue been looked into? Perhaps it is not something the Leader can answer, but I would be grateful if he could be of some assistance.
I will be of major assistance.
I am asking it as a question and not making any flamboyant statement. It is a legitimate and important question. It is not appropriate to cast a ballot on any ballot paper where the information on it is false and I would like to know what is the status of such a process in law.
I also wish to raise the issue of water charges. What has been announced today on the extension of the period for a flat charge to nine months is welcome, but it goes nowhere near providing people with the real-time information for which I called last week, whereby people would be able to assess their usage from the beginning of October to see how they are doing and what needs to change. Considering that many families will be interested in conserving water, people may be surprised to learn the water efficiency of washing machines and dishwashers can vary greatly. Perhaps they might not be surprised. The most efficient washing machines use 6 litres per kilogram of clothes in comparison to the least efficient, which use 14 litres per kilogram. Many families would consider replacing white goods such as washing machines and dishwashers with more economic models. Would it not be an idea to provide tax relief for those who want to do so? The Leader is aware grants are available for domestic energy saving measures such as solar panels and replacing boilers. There should be a grant or tax relief system for people to fit rainwater tanks. Such grants are available for farmers but not for domestic customers.
The Senator is over time.
There should also be a grant to replace inefficient appliances.
The announcement by the Minister for Education and Skills last week to increase the block grant to Protestant schools by €250,000 is little more than the politics of spin and shallowness. It does nothing to address the serious disadvantage faced by minority faith schools because of raising the pupil-teacher ratio and I call for this to change.
As I understand Mr. McNulty has withdrawn from the by-election - according to Twitter - we will see how this changes things. It is the right and honourable thing for him to do. He was put in a terrible position by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs, who owe him and his family a complete and wholehearted apology. He has been put through the mill unnecessarily by the type of stroke politics for which, unfortunately, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have become known in recent years.
An Bord Altranais - or the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland as it likes to call itself, although it is officially called An Bord Altranais agus Cnáimhseachais na hÉireann; I do not know why it insists on using the English name when we have always used the Irish one - has decided the annual retention fee should be increased by 50%. Unfortunately, the legislation allows it to do so without recourse to us. We need to make a stand on this. Nurses are among the only PAYE workers who must pay professional fees to a professional bodies. They are not solicitors or doctors who are self-employed and can put it off against tax, or employed solicitors whose employer normally pays the society fees. Nurses must pay it out of their own pockets. Nurses throughout the country are going mad over this because they have suffered pay cuts and increased hours. They are the front line of trying to provide an effective service and are under more pressure than they have ever been before. It is neither fair nor right of An Bord Altranais to seek this increase in fees. The Seanad should play a role in highlighting it, because nothing has been said in the Dáil, and tell An Bord Altranais nurses cannot pay it and its administrative costs are too high.
I pay tribute to the Clerk of the Seanad who during the Seanad by-election has always displayed her complete and utter independence.
I support the call made by Senator Denis O'Donovan for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the persecution of Christians throughout the world. It has come to the fore very much in recent times and I would like to see such a debate in early course. I also seek a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade following his return from the United States where he met the Vice President, Mr. Joe Biden, and the Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry.
The Minister's visit focused on Northern Ireland, immigration reform and Ireland-US economic matters. His meetings were timely, as the British and Irish Governments will become involved in talks in Northern Ireland during the coming weeks. We would like to hear from him what involvement the US Administration is likely to have in those peace talks. In recent years, many Members of this House have spoken at length about immigration reform and the need for us to see something done in respect of the undocumented Irish, who cannot return to their home country for special occasions like weddings and funerals. As there have been many false dawns, I would like to hear from the Minister about what progress is likely to be made during the coming months. I also welcome today's swearing in of the new ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Kevin O'Malley. I would like to hear from the Minister about how his discussions with the US Chamber of Commerce went regarding support for Irish companies setting up in the United States and the prospect of inward investment into Ireland.
It gives me great pleasure to note on page 8 of today's The Irish Times that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, will progress the introduction of paid paternity leave. I thank Senator Ivana Bacik for drawing attention to the fact that I had put this matter on the radar by introducing a Bill. Last year the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, advised me that the Government would deliver on my Bill.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that 2,780 women develop breast cancer every year. Although BreastCheck offers free screening to every woman aged 50 to 64 years, women who are aged 65 to 69 years are not being screened. This is a question of broken promises and ageism. The programme for Government included a commitment to extend BreastCheck to the 65 to 69 year old age cohort. According to the HSE's national service plan for 2012, this planned extension was to be completed before the end of that year. I joined a protest outside Leinster House today that called on the Government to implement its promise. Ageism is an unacceptable prejudice in Irish society. Women aged between 55 and 70 years have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than others, yet they are still being denied access to BreastCheck. I am calling for parity of esteem and equal treatment in health services. The Government should prioritise the matter immediately, about which I feel strongly. This is not a truly liberal democracy or even just a democracy until we treat all citizens equally.
I concur with Senator Mary White's sentiments about parity for women and her call for an extension of breast cancer screening to women aged over 55 years. It is important that this be done immediately.
Last Friday I had the opportunity to participate in what we believe was the first ever workshop organised by a disability group in Trinity College Dublin for people with intellectual disabilities on how the Government worked. It was organised by the national anti-bullying advocacy group and Ms Fiona Weldon, its anti-bullying advocacy officer.
It was an excellent workshop that presented an opportunity to learn more about something that affects us all, the Government. I commend the group for taking the initiative to educate people about the Government, voting and what goes on in government. I would like to see further similar workshops held. It was an enlightening day for everybody involved.
On a separate matter, with my colleagues, I have previously raised the serious and expensive matter of petrol. Last night I received representations from an individual who was distraught at being €3,500 out of pocket because of kerosene contaminated petrol. People are only becoming aware of this issue having brought their cars to a garage. I am aware of a number of cases of this in my area in County Louth and across the country. The people involved are the unsuspecting victims of this crime. I call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to discuss this issue as a matter of urgency.
I support the calls made today for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on the undocumented Irish in the United States. There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish people living and working in the United States. These people who come from every corner of this country have had their hopes raised and dashed time and again in recent years, including by the Kennedy-McCain Bill. We need to make a renewed effort to work with our friends in Congress and the United States Senate to ensure meaningful immigration reform in the United States. We are speaking in this regard about people who consider the USA their home. They want a pathway to legalisation and to be able to pay their taxes, obtain health insurance and the certainty of knowing that when something goes wrong they can return home without the fear of not being able to return to the USA. They also want to be able to go about their daily lives in the United States without living in dread of being deported. I dealt with a constituent who had been deported from the United States three years ago. He had been living in the United States for a number of years and employed 12 and 13 people in a very successful business which he had set up there, but despite this, he was deported. This is an issue on which we in this country can easily take our eye off the ball. For the people living here who have loved ones abroad illegally in the United States, this is a constant worry. I would like to hear from the Minister what progress he made on this issue during his recent trip to the United States and about the Government's plans and those of the diplomatic corps in the United States for engagement with Members of Congress and the Senate.
Somebody's telephone is causing interference.
I do not have a mobile phone with me. I do not bring mine into the House and advise other Members also not do so.
I do not bring my mobile phone into the Seanad Chamber and have never done so.
The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.
To respond to Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for an update on the drug for MS sufferers, I have made inquiries on the matter, but as I have not yet received a response, I will communicate with him on it at a later date.
I thank the Leader.
I advise the House that Mr. John McNulty has withdrawn from the Seanad by-election and asked Oireachtas Members not to support his candidacy. He issued a statement in that regard-----
Perhaps he thinks he is worrying us in doing so.
I think the-----
On a point of order, I thank the Leader for his statement and clarification. However, in the light of Mr. McNulty's withdrawal from the Seanad by-election, what is the process now? As members of the electorate and Members of the Seanad, we need to know-----
That is not a matter for the Order of Business.
It is also not a matter for me, as I have no say in the election. That is a different matter and different procedures apply.
There is no question for me.
How would I know that? We have never had an issue such as this before.
On a point of order, what happens to the ballot papers of those who have already voted?
That is not a matter for the Order of Business.
It is not one for me and I cannot provide clarity. I am sure the returning officer will be in touch with people to advise them of the position.
I am not trying to be disruptive, but I wish to ask one question. Following on from Senator David Cullinane's comments, ballot papers arrived yesterday morning.
People would have voted yesterday. What is the position? Will the Seanad, through the Cathaoirleach, ask the returning officer what the position is? The statement could be read and included in the Official Report.
That is not a matter for the Chair.
It is not for me to advise on it either and I have no wish to become involved in it. I am sure advice will be made available to Members. I agree that quite a number have voted, including me. The issue will have to be examined.
What will happen if that candidate wins and does not wish to take his seat?
I have no intention of amending the Order of Business.
Senator Ivana Bacik asked about Committee Stage of the employment equality Bill. I will try to ascertain when the Bill will be dealt with. The Senator also called for a debate on the national dementia strategy.
Senator Katherine Zappone spoke about Eavan Boland. We will certainly bring the name to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for consideration.
On taking Committee Stage of the Bill which deals with Seanad reform, the Senator is aware that I have made a number of announcements on the issue. I will check to see if the Government wishes to proceed with the Bill and allow it to be taken in Government time.
Senator Sean D. Barrett referred to the events taking place in Hong Kong and the issue of democracy. He, rightly, expressed his opinion in that regard.
With regard to the European Union's probe into Apple's dealings with Ireland, we maintain a very transparent corporate tax regime, with most companies paying effective rates very close to the top rate of 12.5%. The Revenue Commissioners have confirmed that Ireland does not make any special deal with individual companies and that the regime is statute-based and applies to everybody. There is nothing new in the publication from the European Commission, as it is a copy of a letter sent from it to the Irish authorities in June, indicating the commencement of a formal state aid investigation. Ireland is confident that there has been no breach of state aid rules in this case and issued a formal response to the Commission earlier this month in which it addressed in detail the concerns outlined in the opening position.
Senator Paul Coghlan spoke about the plight of bank porters, who, as he rightly stated, are on the front line for banks. Many of the banks now want to get rid of staff, which means that we may be talking to machines more often than people when we go into banks. I note the Senator's concern in that regard and that he will raise the matter with the bank in question.
Senator Marc MacSharry called for a debate on maternity services. I will certainly try to facilitate such a debate.
Senator John Whelan discussed the Irish Wheelchair Association and the need to follow best practice. My understanding is that building regulations cover the issues mentioned by him, but we will try to ascertain the exact position. It is very important that all building regulations are adhered to. Inappropriate use of disabled parking zones is a despicable practice and those fined for it deserve the loss of every euro in such instances.
I have already referred to the matter of Seanad reform which was mentioned by Senator Feargal Quinn.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell spoke about interest rates for graduate-entry medical students and sought an amendment to the Order of Business. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills, but I do not propose to accept the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator David Cullinane discussed events concerning the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
I read the newspapers today and some of the alleged comments attributed to the ex-councillor were unfortunate, to say the least. It is very important for a Minister to be driven by a person whom he or she implicitly trusts, but I have no intention of being drawn further into the matter.
Senator Paschal Mooney mentioned the termination of the 252 long wave transmission. I agreed with him some time ago that it was a retrograde step. A saving of €800,000 has been quoted, but it will be interesting to see how he gets on when he raises the matter at an Oireachtas committee meeting in the morning.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout raised the question of graduate entry for medical students.
Senators Denis O'Donovan and Michael Mullins mentioned the persecution of Christians in many areas of the world and called for a debate on the issue. I will try to find out for Senator Denis O'Donovan when the sea-fisheries (amendment) Bill will be brought before the House.
Senator Rónán Mullen made a number of points about the Seanad by-election and also grants for water tanks and so on which I will bring to the attention of the relevant Ministers.
I thank the Leader.
Senator Thomas Byrne mentioned retention fees for nurses. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Health who I am sure is aware of it.
Senator Michael Mullins and Martin Conway mentioned the visit to be made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the USA, especially in the context of the undocumented Irish, on which they sought a debate. I know that the Minister intends to come to the House in the next couple of weeks to update us on the situation in Syria and Iraq. I am sure we will be able to include a report on his visit to the USA during that debate.
Senator Mary White mentioned paternity leave. She brought forward a very laudable Bill and I am delighted to say the relevant Minister intends to proceed with a Bill on the issue.
On the issue of breast screening for women aged between 65 and 69 years, I agree totally with the Senator. I think the Minister for Finance has indicated that when finance becomes available, such screening will be one of the issues which will be attended to, rightly so.
Senator Mary Moran commended the disability group in Trinity College Dublin. She also raised the matter of petrol stretching, a matter which has been raised by a number of Members in the House in the past few weeks.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to address questions about the appointment of Mr. John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
In the light of the information provided and statement made by the Leader that Mr. McNulty has withdrawn his candidacy and although questions remain to be answered, I withdraw the amendment. I have asked for clarification on the electoral process and would welcome a note from the returning officer to be read to the Seanad and included in the Official Report as soon as possible.
On a point of information-----
There is no such thing as a point of information.
On a point of order then, the Taoiseach has just informed the Dáil that the by-election is in process and that the name of a candidate cannot be withdrawn.
That is not a matter for the House.
There are already Fine Gael votes in the ballot box. If Mr. McNulty wins, will there be another by-election? Is that what is going to happen?
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on the rates of interest charged by Bank of Ireland on loans given to medical students be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
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- White, Mary M.
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- Zappone, Katherine.
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- Coghlan, Paul.
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- Conway, Martin.
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