Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015

Vol. 238 No. 4

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes. The debate will be open-ended.

That is a breath of fresh air from the Government side.

In the short to medium term, can a debate be arranged on public procurement and the involvement of Irish businesses, in particular indigenous businesses, in State contracts? The reason I ask is that I published a Bill last week which I intend to move in our next Private Members' time. It relates to improving access for Irish businesses to State procurement, both Government and local authority. The State spends approximately €15 billion per year in this area and, in many instances, we make it very difficult for Irish firms to participate. It would be worthwhile to have a debate on that issue.

In the past three years, I have raised the issue of payments to home help workers, which are outstanding. The State has been in breach of two Labour Court recommendations that thousands of home help workers are entitled to a gratuity payment in lieu of pension entitlements. That was confirmed twice by the Labour Court. As I stated, I have raised the issue in the House on a number of occasions and raised it recently with the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. As many people know, many home help workers are low paid and are on the minimum wage. They are a crucial part of our front-line services. I am pleased to be able to advise the House that after three years, some progress has been made with the new Minister and he has agreed to set up a group which will report in March on how this can be rectified. It is a pity the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, did not move as quickly when he was Minister for Health. However, I am grateful to the current Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, for taking this issue seriously. I will keep the House updated on developments in that regard.

I refer to the primary schools online database. I am a little bit concerned about schools in my area of Fingal. I have been informed that last week, all families were given a green form to complete for the Department of Education and Skills to facilitate the setting up of the primary schools online database. Some parts of the form are optional. However, the Department of Education and Skills requires students' PPS numbers and mothers' maiden names and has indicated that failure to provide them will result in the school not receiving funding. Incomplete forms will be sent back to the parents next week to complete. I understood that an element of the form was optional and that if someone did not give his or her child's PPS number, it would not affect the level of capitation given to a school. However, I have been informed that is exactly what will happen. That is contrary to what the Minister for Education and Skills said only a few weeks ago in the media when concerns were raised about the State holding this information on schoolchildren. I fully understand the need for the database as it allows the State plan for the future. However, some of the information being asked for is not required and hence it should be optional. We are now finding out that some of the optional data sought is important in so far as the school getting capitation grants for these pupils. That is wrong and I do not think that is what is intended. Will the Acting Leader ask the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to come to the House to explain the situation?

I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien on the procurement issue. The issue is not so much about SMEs but about micro-businesses, in particular where unreasonable requirements are being placed on them such as insurance requirements and turnover requirements, in bidding for State, semi-State or local authority contracts, or any contract backed by State support. Such a debate would be a worthwhile.

I welcome the announcement of progress in dealing with the situation in Greece. It appears that the Eurogroup of finance Ministers has accepted the Greek proposals and there is a way forward on that, which is good for the European Union as a whole because we all fear a Greek exit from the eurozone.

I bring to the House’s attention that the Supreme Court has rejected the appeal from the member of the Traveller community who alleged discrimination because a Christian Brothers school refused to admit a 14 year old boy. The five member court overturned that case unanimously, not on the issue of whether the child had been discriminated against. Two of the judges reckoned it was outside the court’s remit and three reckoned there was insufficient statistical evidence to demonstrate that the child had been discriminated against. This raises an issue for the members of the Traveller community who made the case very eloquently.

In a separate story, research published today showed that 80% of migrant children are being educated in less than 25% of Irish schools. We are seeing discrimination and a lack of inclusivity in the educational system. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, will bring forward the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013, which will make it illegal to refuse entry to a student on the grounds of race, religion and disability. Some soft admission rules, such as taking children on the basis that their parents went to the school, enshrine a certain type of privilege. Will the Acting Leader arrange for a debate on this because irrespective of the Supreme Court decision it needs to be brought forward?

I welcome the award of an A grade to the Government for child literacy statistics. This is the first significant recorded improvement in 30 years. I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, on having launched the "Right to Read" campaign which has placed literacy at the heart of the local authority agenda. In budget 2015, €6 million was allocated for the implementation of the national literacy and numeracy strategy bringing the total investment to €13.8 million.

I echo the praise for the Acting Leader for his organisation of the meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA. Praise for him was echoing around the halls because the guests he brought into the country enjoyed the occasion very much. One whom I met, who is strongly of the Unionist persuasion, told me not to let British Airways take over Aer Lingus because when it took over British Midland the service on the Belfast-London route deteriorated.

I welcome the statement issued by the Government at 14.41 today: “. . . the information and commitments that have been provided to date do not at present provide a basis on which the Government could give an irrevocable commitment to accept an offer to dispose of its shares, should one be made by IAG.” That is very important because more and more the information is coming out that the slots are far from being protected by British Airways taking over Aer Lingus because mergers such as those between KLM and Air France, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines require slot divestiture and that is how the European Union seeks to promote competition in the sector. These particular arrangements, apart from being leaked on an hourly basis to the media have not been furnished either to the Oireachtas or to the European Commission. On Sunday it was announced that the trade unions and the Labour Party were in favour and the news did not even last until lunch time as the real facts got out. At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, stated it was in favour and its members dissented pretty quickly. The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation, ITIC, said it was in favour and its members dissented fairly quickly. The chairman of Aer Lingus said the board was in favour but could not tell us what the vote was. This project is being pushed strongly in public relations terms but not in economic terms.

That is why the statement of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport at 2.41 p.m. that he is not yet moved by anything he has heard is most welcome. The real debate on this matter has not started. Articles 85 and 86 of the Treaty of Rome warn us that when two producers who are supposed to compete start to collude and make billing and cooing noises then the rest of society should be jolly worried about what is afoot. This is an industry which tends towards cartels, as it did in the past, and we need a strong competition policy developed. I looked at Barcelona Airport which is a hub airport deserted by Iberia. Ryanair carries far more passengers to Barcelona than either British Airways or the Iberia airline - the two partners in IAG. As I have already pointed out, British Airways does nothing on the north Atlantic from Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh or Belfast and, therefore, its sudden interest in Irish regional airports must be taken with a very large dose of salt.

I take the opportunity to welcome the fantastic announcement made by Apple yesterday to invest €680 million in its new data centre in Athenry, County Galway. It will be the largest centre in Europe owned by the company. The investment is a major vote of confidence in Ireland, particularly in the west. It is also evidence of the commitment by IDA Ireland and the Government to developing a regional strategy to spread industry throughout the country. The investment has the potential to transform the economic landscape of east Galway given the potential spin-off from this huge investment. I congratulate the many State agencies involved - IDA Ireland, Coillte and the county council. I compliment them on their success in landing this major investment. I welcome the positive response from the residents in Derrydonnell. Last night they responded positively to the professional approach by the Apple organisation that met all of them. I call on the state agencies to redouble their efforts and to build on their success. I hope they will attract a major industry to Ballinasloe. It is a town that has all the necessary services and a workforce and is an excellent location. The renowned songwriter Pete St. John first put Athenry on the international map. He now might have to add a new verse to reflect how busy it is going to be around "The Fields of Athenry" into the future.

It is welcome that many of our Ministers will travel around the world during St. Patrick's week to promote Ireland. I hope they will attract more new business to the country and many additional tourists to every region. The announcement is a positive start to the new year and let us build on it during the coming months.

I was afraid the Senator was going to burst into song.

I agree with Senator Michael Mullins that this investment is a great boost for Athenry. It is also a marvellous boost for the west and a great endorsement by Apple which is very much environmentally friendly. Interestingly, the Irish climate suits such companies because savings are made in terms of cooling equipment and so on. The announcement is great news for Ireland. Many of the great companies have located here. We are fortunate to have them choose Ireland and we should build on that initiative.

I am concerned about an article in yesterday's edition of the Irish Independent by Paul Melia, the environmental correspondent, in regard to speculation, at this stage, about the axing of routes between the west and Dublin, particularly Westport, which would result in fewer services for Ireland West Airport and Knock. Excluding Athlone the route affected will take in Kiltoom, Knockcroghery, Ballymurray, Roscommon town, Castlerea town, Ballyhaunis, Ireland West Airport, Claremorris, Balla, Breaffy Church, Castlebar and onwards to Westport. This is a very serious situation but one that should be clarified. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come into the House and explain the matter. He is the Minister responsible for transport and has ultimate responsibility for Bus Éireann, a State company, and Expressway regarding subsidies which it does not receive. In this case we are in the unique position of having a very strong political base in the west of Ireland. Perhaps the change of route is only speculation at this time. I hope it is.

I appeal to the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, Deputies John O'Mahony, Michelle Mulherin, Gabrielle McFadden, Frank Feighan, the Cathaoirleach, as a long-standing politician from Castlebar, and all the other Deputies and Senators on the route to come together to ensure this service is protected. It is vitally important to protect this service for the west. Following the announcement of a major development in Athenry, the State may potentially reduce services to the west. We were promised utopia when Deputy Enda Kenny took over as Taoiseach but I am afraid it has not arrived in that part of the west. I hope he will use his influence and I hope all the Oireachtas Members and councillors in the region will come together to ensure this remains speculation. The story has been leaked to environment correspondents probably to put pressure on the Taoiseach and others to ensure funding is provided to retain the Expressway service between Westport and Dublin and I hope that will become a reality.

Seeing as the Senator is on that route, I gave him a great deal of latitude.

The Cathaoirleach has been helpful and I thank him.

I would like to raise a law and order issue which was raised by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell last week. I agree with him based on what I heard in the past few weeks, especially regarding the Navan Road area. In particular areas, where older people live, they are being targeted by both young criminals and gangs. A number of cases have been highlighted in the media, including a terrible case where a lady was tied up and gagged in her home. The Garda is doing the best it can but years ago, gardaí were on the beat more often and on their feet on the streets in the evenings. That could make a big difference. The recruitment of 300 new gardaí this year is welcome, as is the provision of funding for new Garda vehicles. However, we need to get more creative in this space. Other initiatives that have been piloted in Dublin in recent times are crime text alerts and the Garda door to door service whereby gardaí call to people's houses, introduce themselves and let them know when they are available, thus making older people feel less vulnerable. It also allows the gardaí to survey people as to the perceived strengths of the service. We could consider expanding this nationally. It would be important to have a debate on this issue. Senators could come up with ideas as to how in small ways we could help to put people's minds at ease. There are law and order issues and burglaries, which may not even be reported in some cases, are a huge concern to people throughout the country and especially in Dublin. I would welcome a debate on law and order issues and, burglaries of residential homes, in particular.

I also welcome the improvement in the literacy statistics. It is great that the additional investment in education by the previous Government, particularly in disadvantaged areas under the DEIS scheme, is paying off. It is important to acknowledge that and for the Government to keep its hands off DEIS and reinstate the money it has taken from the school completion programme and other programmes that is necessary to give children from disadvantaged areas the best start in the education system.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1 today". No. 11 is the Public Health (Regulation of Electronic Cigarettes and Protection of Children) Bill 2015. I have proposed the Bill and it has been seconded by Senators John Crown and Mark Daly. E-cigarettes are not regulated in the State. They are not age restricted and, therefore, they can be bought by children. They do not carry health warnings and, therefore, users are often unaware of the risks. They can be used in workplaces such as bars and restaurants because they are not subject to existing legislation relating to cigarettes. While e-cigarettes are not as harmful as tobacco, they can still cause serious damage to a user's health.

As the World Health Organization has pointed out, they still contain harmful levels of nicotine. There is huge variation in the quality of the product and there are hundreds of different types of e-cigarette. Some of them are produced to a relatively high quality by pharmaceutical companies but others are produced as cheaply as possible in backstreet operations in China. Some of the e-cigarettes that have been tested have been found to be more dangerous than tobacco and to contain higher levels of toxins. Variability of quality is a huge issue and users themselves need to be aware of it. E-cigarettes also exude toxins into the air which are harmful to bystanders, including children, and there are no regulations on packaging, as a result of which children have suffered serious poisoning after drinking liquid nicotine.

The Senator can make those points during the debate.

E-cigarettes do need to be regulated and our Bill proposes a sensible way of doing that. We look forward to bringing it before the House and will be seeking an amendment today to introduce it and debate it in the House.

I join colleagues, including Senator Michael Mullins and others, in welcoming the news of the new jobs being created in Athenry by Apple. It is great news for the west. I also welcome the news that the ESB has taken on 300 apprentices in the midlands. In order to attract good quality, top-class jobs we need top quality, clean water and a similar development has occurred in Sligo where AbbVie has taken on a number of new people in recent times because there was a good supply of good quality clean water.

I raise an issue I have raised before in the House relating to rates on small businesses in rural Ireland, in particular on pubs. I believe some pubs in villages are being treated very unfairly. I know of a pub which has been rated very high, on a square footage basis, compared with other pubs in the same town, even though it is doing very similar trade because some work has been done to upgrade the building. The people running the business are unable to pay the huge rates being charged and with rural Ireland dying on its feet and people not going to pubs as much as they used to, this has to be looked at and changed into the future. We must do something.

I join colleagues in welcoming the news from Apple that it is to set up a new facility in Athenry not too far from the village of Craughwell in Galway - a well named village. I am sure that the new impetus in the quest to drive industry to the west is in no way attributable to my colleagues, the Independent Deputies from that area. I am sure the Government side will forgive me for saying this.

I seek a debate on the role the further education sector has in driving this type of industry. Prior to coming to this House I was involved for some 20 years in developing further education courses and spent some time as a member of an international committee on information technology training, CompTia. One of the huge problems in providing courses to meet the demands of ever-changing technology is the cost involved in putting infrastructure in place. For example, the creation of a simple cloud computing course for 25 or more students can cost approximately €150,000 for the hardware alone. Then there is the cost of providing in-service training for the teachers who will deliver those courses and time is also an issue. Ireland is uniquely placed, because of our climate, to develop a whole range of services in the cloud industry and to support cloud industries. To be fair to IDA Ireland and the Government, the news about Athenry is a great achievement for Galway and the west but if we are to continue to develop this industry we need to put in place the requisite second tier education facilities. We have a lot for which to thank GMIT and NUIG in the matter of bringing Apple to Galway but there needs to be a second tier of education and that will be provided by the SOLAS-funded further education sector. I would like a debate at some stage in the near future on the development of further education as a separate, distinct tier within the education system.

I join colleagues in welcoming the decision by Apple to develop the facility near Athenry. It is important to give recognition to Apple for the contribution it has made to economic development of Cork where it employs more than 4,000 people. It is a huge employer and has played a major part in the Cork region. I want to kill the rumour that it moved to Athenry because we overheat in Cork from time to time; I can assure everyone that is not the case. As always Apple approaches projects such as this in a professional manner and has been good at looking after its employees down through the years.

I raise an issue about which I am very concerned, having raised it previously about four weeks ago. I am concerned about nurses who have trained abroad who want to come back and work in Ireland. This morning I received a call from a person who was in contact with me before Christmas who applied to register with An Bord Altranais in order to practise in Ireland. The person has a job but cannot take it up because of not being registered. I understand that some people who applied in November 2014 are still not registered with An Bord Altranais. I am extremely concerned that on the one hand we are encouraging people to come back to work in the health service, yet we have an agency that is not facilitating their return. I ask the Acting Leader to bring the matter to the attention of the Minister and invite him to come to the House for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity. The matter is of serious concern and it needs to be dealt with immediately.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Averil Power.

It never occurred to me until last weekend the impact a song can have on the future economic success of a particular area. Having said that, a monument should be erected to Pete St. John who wrote "The Fields of Athenry", as one of the fields is going to be used to create much needed employment in that part of the west which we all welcome. I am afraid "Lovely Leitrim" did not have the same impact in Country Leitrim in terms of development but maybe there is still hope that the Government might move in that direction.

On the same weekend that the Fine Gael Party was in Castlebar the national bus company was proposing the cancellation of yet another dimension to the life of rural Ireland. I fail to understand how anybody would stand over the most recent announcement. I appreciate that Bus Éireann must pay its way. I said previously, in respect of the withdrawal of similar services from the towns of Drumsna and Rooskey in my home county on the N4 and also in association with similar small towns in east Mayo last year, if the concept of the support of bus services is that they are subsidised, there is a social dimension and they are not necessarily seen as money making machines by the Government. Surely the Government has a moral obligation to ensure it does not operate a two-tier economy. There is no public service transport facility in the world that is not subsidised by the relevant Government. It is fine in terms of transport services if one happens to live in certain parts of the country but if one lives in other parts which are less populated one will be denied services. I say this coming from a position of strength because in County Leitrim we have seen a continual withdrawal of bus services and public services. Around the town of Ballinamore there is no public service to link it to any part of either west Cavan, Longford and, ultimately, Dublin. Will the Acting Leader invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House to discuss the Government's commitment, if any, to ensuring rural bus services are maintained? If they cannot be maintained by Bus Éireann, the National Transport Authority which has entered the fray in respect the recent controversy has stated it would consider subsidising some routes.

There should be some sort of joined-up thinking in this matter. In circumstances where Bus Éireann either cannot or will not provide services, then feeder services to larger towns should be provided by the National Transport Authority under the rural lift programme.

I support the call by Senator Michael Comiskey regarding the way in which rates for small businesses, particularly those in rural areas, are assessed. I raised this issue on a previous occasion and made the point that there is a pilot scheme in place whereby rates are being assessed on the basis of the turnover and profits of such businesses. At that time, I highlighted the fact that there are pubs in Galway city that are the same square footage as pubs three miles outside of the city but that while the former establishments are packed with people, there might be only two customers in each of latter. However, the owners of all of these establishments pay the same rates. It is no wonder, therefore, that rural Ireland is in decline and that pubs are closing down every day of the week. This all comes down to commercial rates. In terms of supporting Senator Michael Comiskey, I suggest responsibility for the assessment of rates should be transferred to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners because it has access to the figures relating to the turnover and profits of the pubs to which I refer and would be in a position to make assessments on a pro rata basis. The pilot scheme to which I refer has worked very well. The busy pubs that are making the most money pay more rates, while those which make less money also pay less. The scheme in question is just not being rolled out quickly enough.

I apologise to the Cathaoirleach. I meant to be here earlier but my day job sometimes gets in the way. I wish to formally second Senator Averil Power's amendment to the Order of Business regarding the regulation of e-cigarettes. I am grateful to Senator Paschal Mooney for standing in for me. There has been a great deal of misinformation and disinformation doing the rounds since we first proposed this modest, reasonable amendment to existing legislation. No one is trying to ban e-cigarettes or prevent their sale. We are merely of the view that this is a relatively new product for which there are, as yet, no long-term safety data and which involves people inhaling chemicals into their bodies.

The amendment has already been proposed and seconded. The Senator can make those points during any debate on the matter.

That is fine.

My next question is very relevant, in geographic terms, to the Acting Leader, who hails from an Atlantic perch located in the south west. I do not mean to precipitate any international incident but in recent weeks there has been press coverage in respect of bombers from a foreign power - at the height of the Cold War these were routinely used to carry nuclear warheads - flying down the west coast, close to Irish airspace. During a discussion which took place on radio, I heard a defence analyst stating Ireland did not have air defence radar of any description and that it only had the capacity to detect aircraft with operational transponders. In other words, we are asking any foreign powers, terrorists or invaders that wish to make incursions into our airspace to kindly turn on their transponders prior to doing so in order that we might be alerted to their presence. Will the Leader clarify the position on this matter? In light of the fact that Ireland has a long coastline, is it the case that the authorities here have no way of knowing if an aircraft is flying overhead if said aircraft does not have its transponder switched on?

I also support the call made by Senator Michael Comiskey in respect of rates. This matter does not just relate to rural areas and I raised it when we debated the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. There are three businesses in Tallaght - one of the first areas in which rateable valuation was introduced - which were rated at the height of the boom and which are not making in revenues what they are paying out in rates. The businesses in question are now not viable. It must be recognised that this matter relates to more than just rural areas.

I bring to the attention of the House new research relating to peanut allergies, which seemingly contradicts all previous research in this area. The Irish Food Allergy Network, which is funded by Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and which does great research in respect of allergies in general, issued a fine report last year in which it recommended the putting in place of better diagnostic and management procedures. However, the report in question does not focus on prevention.

Researchers at King's College in London have produced a report showing that if children under the age of five years are allowed to eat peanuts, they have a lesser chance of developing an allergy. In other words, to prevent allergy it is better to introduce peanuts to children's diets as soon as possible, ideally in the first, second or third year of life. If the report is to form the basis of our approach - I am assuming it should because King's College is a very reputable institution - new guidelines for parents may well be necessary. What we are doing is simply issuing guidelines on how to manage a peanut allergy once it presents. Colleagues will recall the tragic death of Emma Sloan on O'Connell Street in December 2013 after she was unable to access an injection in a chemist's shop because she did not have a prescription. We do not have statistics to show how many people have died in this country as a consequence of an allergic reaction, but we do know that some 16,000 children have a peanut allergy. I am, therefore, calling for a debate on this serious issue.

I join colleagues in welcoming the decision by Apple to locate a major plant in Athenry. I commend Senator Michael Mullins and all the denizens of that area for this announcement, which will lead to the provision of badly needed employment. Deputy Dara Calleary, a member of my party's Front Bench, produced a paper recently showing the activities of IDA Ireland and the distribution of employment generated by it around the country. It makes for disturbing reading, particularly for those of us in the south west. Without meaning to begrudge the people of the west who badly need these jobs, I hope we will now begin to see a regionalised approach to the location of important industry. Despite the presence of a Minister from my county at the Cabinet table for the past three years, IDA Ireland has not even arranged any site visit to most of County Kerry, north Cork, west Limerick and so on.

It is too soon to comment on the Government's announcement on Aer Lingus. We have not had a chance to study the proposal, but it does seem to have put a temporary halt to the steamroller that was working overtime at the weekend. I hope wiser counsel will prevail and that the issue will not turn into a political football, with one half of the Labour Party in favour of it and the other half, led by Deputy Pat Rabbitte, against. Do we know where the trade unions, small business representatives and IBEC stand on the proposal? We must allow time for cooler heads to prevail. In the meantime, I give a guarded welcome to the holding statement made by the Minister today.

I welcome the report of the committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly on cross-Border police co-operation and illegal trade. In particular, I commend Senator Paul Coghlan for his major role in producing the report. The committee notes that the extensive challenges posed by cross-Border trade remain. It recognises the legislative efforts made to curb illicit trade but recommends that the Irish and UK Governments introduce more serious penalties for such activities. In addition, the committee expresses its alarm at evidence of the widespread practice of fuel-laundering plants and filling stations selling illicit fuel in Border regions. I welcome the Taoiseach's statement, as reported in the Dundalk Democrat today, that following this report, no effort will be spared to put the cowboy operators out of business.

In that regard, it is also welcome that Dow Chemical Company will produce a new fuel marker, which will come into force at the end of March. I hope this will provide a significant boost in the fight against illegal fuel laundering in both jurisdictions. I previously called for a debate and I hope it will not be long before we have the Minister in the Chamber, particularly on foot of this magnificent, well structured report to outline the progress to be made on diesel laundering.

Ach an oiread le mo chomhghleacaithe, fáiltíonn muid i nGaillimh roimh aon phostanna nua a chuirtear ar fáil. Is mór an rud 300 post a bheith ag teacht go dtí ceantar cosúil le Baile Átha an Rí. It is good news to hear that we have 300 construction phase jobs coming to Athenry. I would like to see clarity from the Acting Leader on the cost to the State of the new investment. Apple is a very profitable company and there have been questions about the amount of the tax it pays in the State. I wonder about the value of the lands being handed over.

Does Sinn Féin have a single positive thing to say?

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh to continue, without interruption.

I have just welcomed the 300 jobs. These questions are valid. As we have State assets involved in this, clarity is required on the issues. I am not asking for anything but this.

The Acting Leader might remember that, when I was a rookie Senator, I called for a debate on the traffic situation in Galway city a number of times. I remember being told that we had a very able Fine Gael mayor in Galway at the time, who was going to sort out the problems. That mayor is now Senator Hildegarde Naughton. There was a big meeting of more than 1,000 people in Galway about traffic issues on Thursday night. Senator Hildegarde Naughton admitted it was a huge issue and that she had not been able to address it when she was mayor. It would be timely to have a debate on traffic issues in Galway city. There are major issues of people travelling east and west in the city and trying to get around the city, the planning of schools and where people are working, the lack of connectedness in public transport, and the lack of cycle lanes. As I mentioned previously, it needs a cross-agency approach and we need the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the NRA, the NTA and Bus Éireann to come on board to put in place an integrated strategic traffic management plan for Galway. The debate on the issue would prove useful because it is the only city where we have such huge problems with traffic. I would welcome a debate on traffic in Galway.

The economy must be good in Galway if there are traffic jams.

I commend the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA, for the facilities and organisation during the conference in the past two days. As stated last night, it is unusual to have silver and gold anniversaries at one time but this was the 50th plenary session and 25th anniversary of BIPA. We had an excellent opportunity to discuss pertinent issues, including smuggling. It was particularly relevant to those of us who live in the Border area. I commend the report, which included reference to the excellent co-operation between Louth County Council and Newry and Mourne District Council in trying their best and making every effort working together to stop the illegal smuggling of diesel and cigarettes in the area. I welcome the recommendation of a task force, with facilities North and South to work closely together to eradicate the stain on the economy in the area.

I refer to the recent issue of special needs education and, specifically, the allocation for children with a mild learning disability. The situation must be clarified for parents and families of children in need of support and the children heading to school in September. I am disappointed the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, recommendations will not be implemented in September, as was hoped for, as I know from speaking with representatives of Down Syndrome Ireland.

It would have provided a baseline level of resources for schools countrywide. I understand the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, was guided by the advice of the working group of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, in making the decision to retain the current model. However, Members must establish what precisely is causing the delay in the introduction of the recommendations as they were published two years ago in May 2013.

Does the Senator have a question for the Acting Leader?

Yes. Children with a mild learning disability who began primary school in September 2013 - only a few months after the NCSE publication - will now be obliged to wait at least three years before the introduction of a newer, more equitable allocation model. It is not right that children with Down's syndrome with a mild diagnosis are not receiving resource teaching hours. I heard of one such case just today.

The Senator is way over time.

I ask that the Minister come into the House for a debate on this issue at the earliest opportunity.

Will the Acting Leader give consideration to finding time in the near future for a debate on the possibility that Britain will leave the Common Market? Britain is planning to have an election and hold a referendum to leave the Common Market. While it may be nothing to do with us, it appears as though it has a lot to do with us. It is a threat to the economy. Senator Mary Moran mentioned passports, but it would also be a threat were people obliged to have a passport to travel from Dundalk to Newry in the future. This is a matter Members should be discussing before the British make that decision. We have a common travel area with the rest of Europe to which we have become used since 1 January 1973. I did not think we valued it to that extent until we suddenly believed it might be threatened or threaten our way of life. This is an issue on which we should not wait until the last minute. Consequently, I ask the Acting Leader to give some attention to how this issue should be handled. Can Members at least have a debate on it? This House is the ideal place in which to have a debate and I am sure there will be debate on it at the Joint Committee on European Affairs also. However, Members should not wait until the referendum takes place; they should ensure the debate happens now.

Following on from the point made by Senator Ned O'Sullivan about Aer Lingus, this House has the benefit of people like Senator Sean D. Barrett who has expressed himself cogently at the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. However, the debate is not happening other than there; this House should have a debate on Aer Lingus. To the best of my knowledge, there is only one bidder. In the case of anybody who is selling something where there is only one bidder, regardless of whether it is a house, a business or anything else, one must make sure one is getting the best price or that, if one turns down that offer, it will not be a lower price at a later stage.

Like all colleagues, I welcome the job announcement made yesterday for the town of Athenry in the context of it being good from a regional policy perspective. However, as I have done in recent weeks, I ask the Acting Leader to attempt to have a broader debate on regional policy. This is because on the day there was good news for the town of Athenry and the broader Galway region, there was a simultaneous announcement made by Bus Éireann on the possible axing of a significant number of routes. Regional policy is about jobs, transport, education and the road network. It covers a broad array of matters that must be debated. Consequently, I ask the Deputy Leader to try to arrange such a debate.

I have listened with interest to colleagues speak about Aer Lingus and the announcement made in the past few hours by the Government. I believe it is a pronouncement that stems from political consideration, rather than from long-term strategic planning. While I appreciate the intellectual rigour of the argument presented by Senator Sean D. Barrett, Members are either failing or refusing to see the big picture. In this context, I note to colleagues that in attempting to look forward, it sometimes does no harm to look back. One should think back to the mid-1980s, when a company called Ryanair was trying to get off the ground, if Members will excuse the pun. One should consider the opposition to it at the time from unions, certain politicians who were worried about their constituencies and people who were talking about jobs. Had they got their way and had people such as the late brave Jim Mitchell not forced the pace on Ryanair, we, of course, would still have a national carrier called Aer Lingus and it would probably cost the average citizen approximately €1,000 to fly to London. If one wants connectivity, one also needs competition and a strong business model.

I have just briefly read through the statement made by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe.

I appreciate that people are looking to an election rather than to aviation policy. Anybody who believes that if this offer is still on the table six months after the forthcoming election it will not be snapped up by the new Government is in cloud cuckoo land. The Acting Leader might facilitate a debate in which Senator Sean D. Barrett's arguments are intellectually presented and not presented in the context of Members trying to mind their seats and the jobs of the people next door. We need a genuine debate on the future of Aer Lingus and the future economic growth and transport needs of this society.

On Saturday afternoon I received a call from IDA Ireland to say it had a major job announcement for yesterday morning. My first question was whether it would include chimney stacks or would it be lean and green. I asked this because there had been a previous development that did not fly owing to concerns about the health and environmental impacts. I was delighted to hear yesterday's announcement. The jobs will be in Derrydonnell, which is approximately three miles from Oranmore and two miles from Athenry. The 500 acre site between the two towns is currently in the hands of Coillte. I welcome this considerable development which will provide opportunities for our young people into the future and, in the interim, in construction. I urge Apple and Arup, the building consultancy, to answer the public's questions quickly. Last night, I was at the public briefing and there was concern that there was no question and answer session. On the whole, it is very good news.

I invite my colleagues to a briefing I will have tomorrow in the AV room entitled Up for School. Up for School is a global education campaign with the goal of getting 58 million primary school children who are not at school into school. Our goal is to get 2 million signatures, which we will present to world leaders at the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015. This was a millennium goal and it has not yet been achieved because of war, violence and discrimination against girl children.

Does the Senator have a question for the Acting Leader?

After the meeting, we will have a media photo call. If anybody wants to lead the campaign in their constituencies we will facilitate it. I would be very grateful for the support. It is very special project. We hope to get 10,000 signatures in Ireland and while it is no big deal, getting everybody together behind it will make a major difference. I have no questions today.

Please forgive me if I falter here and there in responding to the issues raised.

Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the issue of public procurement, State contracts and improving business and payments to help workers. He is glad that there has been progress on the matter and expects news about it from the Minister in March.

The Senator also referred to the online database for pupils and the fact that some optional information was considered important by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. The Leader has already raised a query with the Minister about the online database and she has promised to get back to him.

I thank the Acting Leader.

There will be news in March.

Senator Aideen Hayden raised the issue of procurement policy and welcomed the progress made in dealing with the situation in Greece. We all welcome it. She also referred to the Supreme Court's decision to reject an appeal in the education arena and called for a debate on the lack of inclusiveness in education. We can pursue that issue with the Leader on his return.

Senator Sean D. Barrett, as ever, argued cogently against the sale of the Government's shares in Aer Lingus to IAG and welcomed the Minister's statement. This is to be welcomed. It is an ongoing issue, about which we will hear more in early course from the Minister and the Government.

Senator Michael Mullins referred to and greatly welcomed Apple's huge investment in Athenry.

He said it was a major investment and a vote of confidence in the country and hopes that there will be a follow-on in favour of Ballinasloe. That would be welcomed by many in County Galway. Senator Terry Leyden was also strongly supportive of what was proposed in Athenry, but he noted that it was merely speculation. We will await clarification on the matter from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Senator Catherine Noone referred to a law and order issue whereby older people in certain areas on the fringes of Dublin were being targeted by criminals. She welcomed the new recruits and vehicles for the Garda but indicated that further measures would be welcomed and called for a debate on the matter. Last week the Leader announced that the Minister for Justice and Equality had agreed to attend the House for a wide ranging debate on law and order as soon as her diary permitted.

Senator Averil Power raised the issue of children being given best advantage and referred to DEIS schools. She also spoke about the serious damage caused by cigarettes, including e-cigarettes, and indicated that she planned to introduce a Bill to deal with the issue. I am sure the House has no objection to this.

Senator Michael Comiskey raised the issue of pubs and variations in rates. He pointed out that rural Ireland was suffering as a result.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell welcomed Apple's proposed investment in Athenry and spoke about the education sector. He knows much more about that subject than I do, given his experience. He referred to the problems and difficulties with cloud industries. I am sure we can obtain further information on the issue. Senator Colm Burke also welcomed the proposed investment in Athenry. He also pleaded for nurses to be allowed to return to Ireland. There are huge delays in that regard. I will bring the issue to the attention of the Minister for Health.

Senator Paschal Mooney also welcomed the proposed investment in Athenry and bemoaned the lack of investment in lovely Leitrim. He also referred to the national bus company and the absence of information on which services were to be withdrawn from rural areas. He asked about the Government's commitment in this regard. Perhaps this is a matter on which we might have a debate. It might be suitable for discussion in a Commencement debate.

It is bigger than that.

I am not in a position to disagree with the Senator. We will have to seek further information on the matter.

Senator John Kelly raised the issue of rates assessments and agreed with Senator Michael Comiskey in that regard. He noted that assessments were based on turnover and profit, which meant that businesses with a similar square footage had wide variations in assessments. He suggested assessments be decided by Revenue on a pro rata basis. This might be a suitable topic for a debate.

Senator John Crown spoke about regulating e-cigarettes and agreed with Senator Averil Power. As regard bombers flying off the west coast, this is a serious matter. The Senator stated we lacked a defence radar system. That is a matter for the military authorities, but I have no doubt that the Skibbereen Eagle will be keeping an eye on matters.

I apologise for interrupting, but I have some hearing issues. I asked the Acting Leader whether he could find out if Ireland had a defence radar system.

Please allow the Acting Leader to continue, without interruption.

I am sure we could and we will.

I thank the Acting Leader.

In the meantime, the Skibbereen Eagle will be investigating.

Senator Cáit Keane raised the issue of rates and non-viable businesses. She also referred to peanut allergies.

According to her, if a child under the age of five years eats peanuts, he or she has less chance of becoming allergic, but what do I know about that matter? The Senator wants a debate on it and I am sure we can arrange one in early course.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan agreed with Apple's proposal in Athenry but pointed out that IDA Ireland had provided no jobs in the south west recently. We are fortunate to have some successful industries there, for example, Kerry Group, Liebherr and others - thanks be to God. The Senator also pleaded for more time to debate the Aer Lingus proposal. We will provide it.

I thank Senator Jim D'Arcy for his kind comments on committee A's report on cross-Border police co-operation and illicit trade, which was agreed and adopted by the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA, in plenary session in this Chamber yesterday. The Senator correctly pointed out that great challenges remained. There are many laundering plants in his part of the country. Recently I saw 12 of them in the company of other members of the committee. They were across the Border in south Armagh. The Senator also welcomed the Taoiseach's statement to the effect that no effort would be spared in pursuing this matter further. He called for a debate on the issue which I am sure we can arrange.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh welcomed developments in Athenry, but I am not sure about his point on the cost to the State. It might be more suitable for discussion in a Commencement debate. As to the traffic problem in Galway, many of us are aware that it is serious. The Senator also called for a debate on that matter and I am sure one can be arranged.

Senator Mary Moran commended the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA, for its plenary session. It was the body's 50th meeting and 25th anniversary. Its members were pleased with the arrangements made in this Chamber and delighted to be in Dublin. The Senator welcomed committee A's report and agreed with one of its principal recommendations, namely, that a task force be established. The recommendation recognises the fact that the police services, North and South, while doing an excellent job and enjoying an all-time high level of co-operation, have everything short of hot pursuit, which is not something they want or which would be suitable. The task force is intended to comprise the police services, Revenue, customs, the CAB and its equivalent body in the North and the environmental agencies. It has a dedicated, full-time secretariat because criminals do not relax. They work full-time; therefore, if a task force such as this was not in place, the committee believes they would not be defeated. The criminals concerned have been in business for more than 20 years and will not be wiped out overnight.

Senator Mary Moran also requested clarification on education services for people with special needs. She discussed the delay in the making of recommendations and a further wait of three years. She asked for the Minister for Education and Skills to attend the House for a debate on the issue. I am advised that the House will hear statements on the inclusion support services of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, on 31 March.

Senator Feargal Quinn asked for a debate on Britain's position on the EU Single Market. We all wholeheartedly agree with him. I will ask the Leader whether time could be made available for such a debate, as it would be useful.

Senator Paul Bradford welcomed Apple's proposal and called for a debate on regional policy. He also called for a debate on Aer Lingus. Thanks to Senator Sean D. Barrett, the latter is almost a daily matter in the Chamber and I am sure it will not slip off the agenda. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames also welcomed the proposal made by Apple.

I hope I have referred to all of the points raised.

Did the Acting Leader give an indication on Senator Averil Power's proposed amendment to the Order of Business?

Yes. She wishes to introduce a Bill.

Senator Averil Power has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1."

The Acting Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.