The Order of Business is No. 1, report of Committee on Procedure and Privileges on an amendment to Standing Order 16, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council repealing certain acts in the field of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters - back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m.; No. 4, motion re statement for information of voters on Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015, to be taken immediately without debate at the conclusion of No. 3; No. 5, Workplace Relations Bill 2014 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m.; and No. 68, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 15 re national integration strategy, to be taken at 6.45 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I wish to raise a matter concerning student gardaí in Templemore. Approximately 300 gardaí have undertaken their training of 104 weeks in total, with 32 weeks in Templemore. I am alarmed as I am dealing with a couple of cases at the moment in which the Department of Social Protection is refusing these trainee gardaí family income supplement, FIS. I believe the Department is in breach of three very clear statutory instruments that are long standing. The chief superintendent of the college in Templemore has also been assisting trainee guards who are now employed by the Department of Justice and Equality, are paying tax and USC and are earning €182 per week gross during their training. Many of these gardaí genuinely cannot afford to feed their families because of the stance the Department of Social Protection is taking. The Department's answer is that "student gardaí are full-time students doing a B.A. in advanced policing and are not employees". The FIS section has put that in bold in its response to me. This is the fourth time I have written to it. However, according to the Department of Justice and Equality, these gardaí are employees of the Department of Justice and Equality and completing their training to become fully-attested gardaí.
I know the Leader of the House is very familiar with this issue. It is not an acceptable situation. I have been corresponding with the Department for the guts of eight or ten weeks and have gotten nowhere and am asking for the Leader's assistance and that of other colleagues, particularly on the Government side, in raising this matter with the Minister for Social Protection. It involves a small number of gardaí. I have spoken to one garda with three young kids. The bank has given him a mortgage holiday for the period of his training. People are making a lot of sacrifice to become gardaí and are certainly not doing it for financial gain. I would have thought the State should give them some support. This is an anomaly and the FIS section within the Department is taking a very hard line on it. I ask the Leader's assisance in raising the matter with the Minister and getting it resolved quickly.
As regards the Fennelly report and investigation into the resignation or retirement of the former Garda Commissioner, the cloak of the Bailey case has now been disposed of so there should be no impediment to the Taoiseach informing us as to whether he was recalled by Fennelly to answer queries about the original evidence he gave to the investigation. I still do not understand why the Taoiseach will not himself now make a clear statement as to his role that evening and what he asked the former Secretary General to say to the former Garda Commissioner. Did he overstep his own statutory powers by directing the former Commissioner of An Garda Síochána to effectively resign? These are very serious issues and there is no reason the Taoiseach cannot answer these questions. I know he does not want the report published before the general election and is just trying to kick it down the road. My colleagues and I in Fianna Fáil find it completely unacceptable.
It would be appropriate for the Taoiseach to make a statement on this matter to clear it up. In that regard, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Taoiseach come to the House to make a statement to clarify whether he was recalled by Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly to answer queries on the original evidence and outline what he said to the Secretary General and the message he asked the Secretary General to relay to the former Garda Commissioner. There is no legal impediment on the Taoiseach in addressing these matters. All he is trying to do is hide behind this investigation.
I welcome the announcement this morning that the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has expressed support for the Government position on the relaxation of spending controls. This will come as a welcome boost to the Government's campaign to lobby the European Commission to ensure the spending limits will be lifted to some extent. I note the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council's position that the current spending limits set by the European Union are far more constraining than required due to the averaging out over the ten year period. This is very welcome news. I heard the chair of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council say this morning that he thought there should be a positive reception at the European Union for the Government's lobbying campaign and the good news on that matter coincides with the figures published today on unemployment showing that unemployment had reduced to 10% for the first time since early 2009 and that 90,000 jobs had been created since the Government's Action Plan for Jobs in 2012. Many of us have asked the Leader for debates on job creation and unemployment. We might have a debate on that again in due course because it is a good news story that needs to be highlighted. We need to speak about it again, particularly after the Government's economic statement scheduled for the end of this month.
I ask for a debate also on policing in the light of the welcome announcement today by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, that the Minister for Public and Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has sanctioned the recruitment of 250 new recruits to the Garda. I listened to Senator Darragh O'Brien speak on that issue, but it is worth noting the welcome increase in Garda recruits. There are 300 new recruits-----
-----since last September and 250 additional recruits have been announced. The Minister is addressing the AGSI conference today, but this is very positive. It is welcome also to see the positive reporting, particularly in the wake of the murder trial last week and the excellent policing practice that goes on in this country. At the domestic violence conference I spoke about earlier this week, there was also a recognition and acknowledgement of the excellent practices going on in some quarters in the Garda on policing of domestic violence.
I remind colleagues that we have a Labour Private Members' motion tonight on integration with the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. It commends the Minister for the work he has done to date with new communities and in particular highlighting last week's inaugural PolskaÉire Festival 2015, which was hugely successful. As there will be people from that festival in the Visitors Gallery, I hope colleagues will participate.
I wish to speak on the child care law reporting project that has produced 30 new case reports today. Carol Coulter and her team are providing an invaluable service for us. As one of the issues highlighted in the reports is the lack of specialised mental health services for children, I reiterate my call for a debate on children's mental health services. We are seeing far too many reports published showing where we have failed. I would like to have a debate in this House to allow us determine what can be done and how we can ensure children will get the mental health services as they need them, not a long time after we have failed the system.
The second issue I want to raise is one I had put down as a Commencement matter and I ask the Leader not to ask me to do that because it was ruled out of order. It concerns the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 which is stalled on Committee Stage in the Dáil since December 2013. Today, 1 April, marks the launch by Inclusion Ireland and a coalition of disability groups of the Fool Me Once campaign to repeal the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871. It is a 144 year old Victorian law that defines people with mental health difficulties as idiots, lunatics and of unsound mind. The campaign has attracted 2,000 signatories to date and remains open for the rest of the week.
With regard to some of the comments people made about the reason they felt so strongly about this issue, one parent stated, "As a parent of 3 children on the spectrum I’m appalled at this bill. It’s outdated, inhumane and it needs to be scrapped immediately." Another stated, "A change long overdue! My son is not a 'lunatic'! It's a 19th century law for people living in the 21st century." Another signatory stated, "I have a sister who suffers with Down's Syndrome. The idea that the law can refer to her as an Idiot or a Lunatic makes my blood boil! This is disgusting and needs to be changed ASAP." I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, older people, equality and mental health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to come into the House to answer these questions. Will the 2013 Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill be enacted before the general election? Why has the Bill remained at Committee Stage for so long, and what is the likely timeframe for Ireland to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into Irish law, which is long overdue? Families are living with this archaic, Victorian law. We need to progress this legislation and I ask the Leader to do everything in his power to ensure that happens.
I welcome Raheny Girl Guides to the Visitors Gallery.
I, too, welcome the announcement made this morning by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, of 250 extra Garda recruits. That brings the total since September to 550, which is a very welcome development. We all know the pressure on Garda numbers and this news is very much to be welcomed. The Government recognises the pressures and the Minister has committed to never closing Templemore College again, as was done by the previous Government.
I note also that the Investec manufacturing PMI study out today also records strong improvement in March. That is helped by a record high rate of employment and has led to a sharp increase in output, with strong new orders. It is noted that operating conditions have improved in each of the past 22 months. That strong manufacturing growth is supported by rising domestic and export business. It is clear that while many difficult decisions have been made, the results are now bearing fruit. The economy is expanding at a significant rate and the tax take is up. That is allowing us to provide services such as increasing the number of Garda recruits. The rising tide is not based on property. It is based on a more stable approach which is spread over a wide range of areas in the economy. I ask the Leader, in view of the forthcoming spring statement, to ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to come before the Seanad because it would be an opportune time to discuss the economy. The spring statement will be an outline of the way the economy will grow on a sustainable basis in the years to come.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator Darragh O'Brien. It is time Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly's interim report was published. It would be useful to do this in the interests of everybody, including the Taoiseach. I do not believe the rumours about the Taoiseach having shafted the then Garda Commissioner are useful. Whether they are true or not, we need to get the facts of the matter and the people are entitled to it. Announcements of additional gardaí being recruited will not cover the fact that people yearn for that and are entitled to it.
I also ask for a debate on public sector pay. The Government may have plans for a forum in this regard, and we look forward to participating in it, but many of the reductions in the public service in terms of pay and conditions in recent years were seen as temporary. Now, as things are beginning to improve, it is only fair that the squeezed middle would be looked after in some way. There is much celebration, particularly on the Labour Party benches, with regard to the 250 Garda recruits announced and the 300 completing their training in Templemore but all of those are being paid 35% less than the average industrial wage. That is a possible subject for a motion at the Labour Party conference. These people are our best and brightest. Are they not entitled to the same rates of pay as their superiors and equals? It is clear that some are more equal than others. The same applies to teachers and nurses. The cost of living has increased in many instances. The cost of rents has certainly increased and we expect these people to work for 30% to 35% less than the average industrial wage. If there is an improvement in the national coffers, if unemployment levels are falling and things are so good that we have to have Private Members' motions this evening and every other evening commending the Minister of the day for their superior action on behalf of all of us, surely the people on the front line are entitled to a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. As that is not the position, I hope the Labour Party and Fine Gael can deal with this issue.
Young gardaí, teachers, nurses and civil servants all over the country have been squeezed in the middle. Now that they are seeing much debate and celebration by the Taoiseach and senior Government Ministers as to the State's perceived recovery, they are wondering when it will visit their door. I think they are entitled to know.
Last November, the Labour Party with our Government colleagues in Fine Gael, committed to tackling the housing problem in this country head on. We saw fantastic work being done before Christmas concerning the homeless in this city and other cities. Today I am pleased to acknowledge and welcome the next phase of this work, which is tackling local authority housing waiting lists. Through building, buying and leasing, the Government will spend €1.5 billion which will reduce housing waiting lists by 25%. In one action we will see a massive reduction in waiting lists. In my own county of Tipperary alone, we will see 832 new houses either built, leased or bought at a cost of €57 million. Some 832 families will have their own homes for the first time. This is a massive development which I warmly welcome from my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. Not alone will this development provide houses, but it will also provide the stimulus that has been spoken about by all parties in this House for many years. It will directly create jobs for builders and builders' providers - the breakfast roll men. This is a good news story which should be welcomed across the House.
I also support the call by our leader, Senator Darragh O'Brien, to bring the Taoiseach here, not just to discuss the Fennelly report but also the serious allegations that have been made and repeated yesterday by Deputy Mick Wallace in the Dáil that the Taoiseach failed to act on a Garda whistleblower who is stationed in the Athlone area. This is despite the fact that the Garda met the Taoiseach in his constituency office prior to Christmas. These are serious allegations. I am reluctant to say this because I think the Taoiseach is a nice man personally, but it is quite obvious now that he is refusing to answer direct questions that are being put to him. He is doing it on a regular basis with our own party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, and he was at it again yesterday. It was quite obvious from looking at the exchanges between the Taoiseach and Deputy Mick Wallace that he did not even attempt to address the specific questions being put to him.
We also have the Fennelly report. Several months ago, I gave the House information that had come to me that an early morning phone call was made to the former Garda Commissioner Callanan by the Secretary General of the Department under the direct instructions of the Taoiseach, which prompted his resignation. These are also serious allegations that need to be teased out. It is incumbent upon the Taoiseach to attend this, the Upper House of the Oireachtas. It is not enough for him to hide behind his vast majority in the Lower House. He should answer questions that will be put to him here.
I also want to raise the issue of variable mortgage interest rates, which our leader, Senator Darragh O'Brien, raised here yesterday. What is the point of the Government, which represents the State, owning 99% of one of the major pillar banks and 15% of the other pillar bank? Yesterday, when our colleague Deputy Michael McGrath raised a motion on the variable mortgage rate issue, a junior Minister told the Dáil that the Government had no role. What are the directors doing there? They are supposed to be there in the interests of the people of Ireland. Even on a commercial basis, as directors in the State interest, they are holding a 15% equity in one bank and a 99% in another bank, but do they have any influence at all in the boardroom? Are they just turning up for the tea and biscuits?
The Senator's time is up.
It is outrageous and a disgrace. It is time the Government fessed up to exactly what the State's representatives, sitting on those two banks' boards, are doing.
I join my colleagues in welcoming the announcement that 250 new gardaí will be recruited. It is good news for the young people involved, as they will now get good jobs in An Garda Síochána. It will also mean a lot for the security and policing of our State at difficult times. In addition, it will bring the force up to that magical figure of 13,000.
I also welcome the news that milk quotas will now be abolished, which will create up to an estimated 1,000 jobs. Over the past 30 years, people have not had the chance to expand production because of milk quotas. However, dairy farmers are currently making a huge investment in dairy programmes for the future. The abolition of quotas will create more jobs and will provide an opportunity to export more output from our growing agri-food business. All in all, therefore, it is good news for the agriculture sector.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to attend this House to discuss the report by Mr. Dominic McGinn SC into the tragic death of Fr. Niall Molloy 30 years ago, on 8 July 1985. As he was our local curate in the Castlecoote Fuerty parish, I knew him well personally. It is a shame and a scandal that nobody has been found guilty of the manslaughter/murder of Fr. Molloy in Kilcoursey House, Clara, in 1985. The current Government gave commitments to the family of Fr. Molloy, prior to the general election, that there would be a full sworn inquiry into the tragic death of Fr. Molloy, but this did not take place. The outcome of the report by Mr. Dominic McGinn, SC, states there will be no further inquires into the controversial death of Fr. Molloy. That is not acceptable to the families, however, who feel that justice should be done and be seen to be done. I followed up this matter at the time and met Judge Frank Roe who was president of the Circuit Court. The judge, who is now deceased, directed the jury not to find a particular person guilty of manslaughter, even though he himself was a personal friend. A lot of issues arose-----
The actions of the judge and what happened in that case should not be dealt with in this House.
But it is in contained the report.
Irrespective of that-----
I think the Minister should come into the House. It should also be borne in mind that Fianna Fáil was not in government at that particular time - it was a coalition Government. There is an implication that a senior member of Fianna Fáil was at the wedding. He was with his wife, but they left on 7 July. They were not there on the day that Fr. Molloy was murdered or died tragically.
The Senator's time is up.
Fr. Molloy was chaplain to the Irish Defence Forces at Custume Barracks, Athlone, where he was a popular member. He told me himself that he was disappointed when the bishop of the day, Bishop Dominic Conway, moved him to our parish of Fuerty at the time.
Senator Paschal Mooney raised an interesting question about the role of State directors on the boards of banks in which the State has a shareholding. I suppose the question really is what are they there for? We like to think they are there to defend the public interest, but is that the reality, or are they there as directors to defend the banks' balance sheets and, ultimately, the bottom line? There is a little bit of schizophrenia going on here. On the one hand, we want the banks to return to profitability in order that they can repay us, the shareholders, the money we have pumped into them. There is a real issue that needs to be discussed. Do we need to change the role of the directors of the banks in question?
This would require a change in the legislation. Interest rates is only one of the issues that needs to be raised with the Minister for Finance and debated. The Taoiseach this morning called on the banks to pass on reductions in interest rates but again, that is a request as opposed to an instruction. There is a real issue there for us as to what is the role of these directors and who are they there to serve. If we want banks to pass on lower interest rates and if this is going to have an impact on the bottom line, are we prepared to say we are willing to accept that when it comes to ultimately what amount of money is to be repaid to us and how quickly it will be repaid? I find it deeply frustrating when I think of the number of times I have stood up here to ask for a debate on banking but we have not as yet had that debate. A number of issues could be debated, not least the issue of the banks, interest rates, mortgage arrears and the whole issue of the Central Bank caps and so forth. This debate needs to happen. I ask the Leader to please pursue that request with the Minister for Finance specifically and no one else.
I welcome the announcement this morning of the €1.5 billion allocated to every local authority in the country, along with targets for the delivery of the social housing programme. I am delighted to see an allocation to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, my own local area, to cover nearly 700 housing units. I join calls from all sides of the House for a full and more robust debate on the issue of housing and the construction sector generally.
Like all other Senators, I welcome the recruitment of 550 new gardaí since last September. The first recruitment drive since 2009 began in 2013. This is a welcome increase in Garda numbers because we need gardaí and they need proper facilities and services, as well as extra numbers.
I raise and call for a debate on the issue of jury service and those who are called to serve on juries. In a recent case the jury served for more than four months. Certain categories of people are excused from jury service, for example, Oireachtas staff, local authority staff, HSE staff, harbour authorities staff, doctors, dentists and chemists, over a range of occupations, but these are all State jobs as opposed to private sector jobs. This has always been the practice. Jurors are not paid for doing jury service. However, not alone are people out of pocket, but they may also have to pay for child care for many weeks and months. I ask for a debate on this issue. Some years ago the Law Reform Commission asked for a review of the voluntary aspect of jury service and whether expenses should be paid to jurors. At least we should discuss the issue to see if this would be possible. It is not fair on self-employed and those employed in the private sector. People lose opportunities for job promotion while they are away on jury service for a lengthy period. Jurors are chosen from the electoral register at random. The Law Reform Commission suggested that the methodology of selection of jurors should include the electoral register for local and European elections in order to allow long-term residents of the State to participate in the jury system. It is only fair that every resident would be entitled to be represented on juries.
I welcome the news yesterday that the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, said an investigation was under way into the intimidation and harassment on social media of members of the public and gardaí. This is brilliant news for many adults and children the length and breadth of the country who have been exposed to sustained and sometimes orchestrated campaigns of abuse online. This issue has been allowed to fester because of the lack of clear legislation in this area. The Commissioner's commitment is particularly important because, in my experience, social media companies have shirked their responsibilities entirely when it comes to providing a duty of care to their users. This has been made abundantly clear to me in recent days because only last week I wrote to Twitter and Facebook as a result of the inordinate number of messages that I received from people who have been subjected to online abuse. I have asked these social media companies to confirm how many complaints they have received, the length of time it has taken them to investigate these complaints and how many of these complaints have been referred by them to An Garda Síochána. To date, they have failed, refused and-or neglected to provide me with this information. Their reluctance to acknowledge any duty of care whatsoever to their users is quite baffling. Despite the fact that they have the benefit of a favourable tax rate in this country, it is about time that they showed some corporate social responsibility and at the very least, responded to specific questions and quitted their powder puff PR spin. I commend the Garda Commissioner for taking action in attempting to bring some degree of decency back to online discourse. I urge her to ensure there is cross-Border co-operation between the policing forces to ensure people can be brought to task for the kind of vile vitriolic messages being posted online and that they face penalties and sanctions. I ask the Leader to set aside time to discuss and debate this matter with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
I raise the issue of the housing budget. I welcome the announcement that in Cork city and county over €205 million has been allocated for the period 2015-17. It is very welcome that an extra 2,500 houses or apartments will be built and made available. However, I have concerns about the ability of local authorities to be able to respond to the funding. My concern arises with regard to Cork City Council which was allocated over €10 million last year for regeneration in the north-west area of Cork city but over €5 million of that allocation was not used. It is extremely important that in allocating this funding appropriate actions are taken to ensure the funding is being spent appropriately and delivered on time. There needs to be a mechanism between the Department and the local authorities in order that if local authorities are not delivering action will be taken. This allocation over three years is very welcome because allocation from year to year is no longer acceptable as it does not allow local authorities to undertake long-term planning. However, the checks and balances need to be in place at an early stage.
I wish to raise an issue which I have raised previously which is the cost of medical insurance for those practising medicine. There is a concern that a number of people are retiring from practice because of the cost of medical insurance. I met the Medical Protection Society this morning on this matter which the society has been raising for more than one year. For example, the cost of insurance for an orthopaedic consultant is over €104,000 per annum. This amounts to €2,000 a week for professional indemnity insurance. The capping levels need to be looked at. If people are forced out of practising medicine in the private sector there will be more people looking for service in the public sector which does not have the staffing levels to deal with that increase in workload. I ask the Leader that this matter be brought to the attention of the Minister and that appropriate action be taken by the Government in order to assist all those involved in medical practice in order that the cost of medical indemnity insurance is lowered. This needs to be done urgently.
I ask for a debate with the Minister for Finance about how the State Claims Agency defends litigation involving the State, in particular, the need to avoid unnecessary court cases. Guidelines may be needed. The State Claims Agency handles much of the litigation where the State is concerned.
The agency is actually the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, operating under a different guise. The NTMA reports directly to the Minister for Finance on the performance of its State Claims Agency functions. I request a debate with the Minister on this matter and the need to put guidelines in place, particularly in the light of the experience of one family in County Kerry whose case was highlighted in the media recently. The family's son was born at Kerry General Hospital in May 2006 and, tragically, suffered a severe brain injury at birth. He has cerebral palsy and is completely dependent on others for all of his daily needs. The family which recently reached an interim €2.8 million settlement with the Health Service Executive, HSE, states the consultant who delivered their child met them shortly after his birth, apologised for what had happened and cried with them. However, it was not until February that the HSE admitted liability. The boy's mother said the attitude adopted by the HSE had caused huge stress to the family and resulted in a long legal battle. In turn, the HSE indicated that the State Claims Agency, not it, made decisions on the legal approach taken in such cases. It also stated it did not know why it had taken so long for a settlement to be reached and that it had a policy of open disclosure at the earliest opportunity whereby it would admit liability in cases of wrongdoing.
In many instances there is a clear tort leader which gives rise to liability on the part of a hospital. In such cases the only legal issue to be determined is the extent of damages or the level of compensation to be awarded. This can be done in an application to the High Court to measure damages where liability is not an issue. Clear guidelines governing the manner in which the State Claims Agency approaches cases in which there is clear liability and this has been acknowledged by the HSE and the hospitals involved must be put in place. The HSE and hospitals should not be allowed to withhold an admission of liability as a negotiating tactic in circumstances where there is an implicit threat to the family. It should not be a case of people being told, "Accept our offer of damages or risk a court case". It is unseemly for a State agency to treat families in the manner I have outlined, particularly where there is the option of using the relatively non-adversarial procedure of asking the High Court to measure damages. In many cases families seek only an apology and funds to allow them to offer long-term care to their disabled children. Such families should not be put through the wringer by any State agency. It is clear that guidelines are necessary. I would appreciate it if we could engage in a debate with the Minister on this specific issue.
I call Senator Michael D'Arcy. In the context of how the Order of Business operates, I must point out that I am obliged to rotate between Government and Opposition Members when calling speakers.
If Senators come into the Chamber after someone has indicated-----
Unfortunately, that is irrelevant.
-----I do not think it is acceptable that they should be called first. I expect to be given an appropriate amount of time in which to contribute.
I know that the Senator indicated, but I am obliged to rotate.
I welcome the abolition of milk quotas which have been in place since 1984. This development will allow many jobs to be created throughout the country, not just in particular areas. Ongoing and valid criticism to the effect that employment was limited to certain locations in the past has been levelled at the Government and those which preceded it. Jobs will be created in every parish and county throughout the land.
Another issue I want to raise relates to the allocation of €1.5 billion in funding for the provision of social housing. It is about time such funding was provided. I am not going to criticise what happened in the past, particularly as money was not available. However, money is being made available now. Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to come to the House to explain how the funding is being allocated? I have just examined the numbers and wish to make it clear that I am not very pleased. I could only scratch my head when I discovered that certain counties or constituencies were receiving half of what was being given to counties and constituencies with similar populations. I have been very critical of the way Fianna Fáil did business when it was in government. The way in which that party did business was that a Minister would look after those in his or her neck of the woods and everybody else could just shag off. The current Government comprises Fine Gael and the Labour Party and that is not the way we do business. However, what is happening in the allocations to which I refer seems to indicate that we are, in fact, doing it in that way. Members will note from my tone that I am very displeased. I will inform the House why that is the case. Under the allocations that have been announced, County Wexford where I live will receive €25 million, while County Tipperary where the Minister resides will receive €57 million. I would like the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, to come to the House at the first available opportunity to explain the numbers to me. What is being done in the context of the numbers smacks of the way in which Fianna Fáil used to do business.
The Senator should not forget that the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, laid on a train for three people in his constituency. He is well used to looking after his constituents.
Contrary to what Senator Michael D'Arcy stated, it is welcome that €62 million has been allocated to County Kerry for the provision of social housing. That said, however, I seek a debate on housing, particularly in the context of what Senator Colm Burke said about expenditure. The funding to which Senator Michael D'Arcy and I refer is being allocated for new builds, long-term leasing arrangements and the purchasing of houses. I am confident that the CEO and director of services of Kerry County Council will ensure the money which has been allocated will be spent prudently. However, I still believe there is a need for a debate on the issue.
On many occasions I have raised the issue of staff levels at Muckross House. I am glad to announce that funding has been made available for the recruitment of eight new guides. I take the opportunity to thank the Leader and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, for their interventions. I also thank the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who was ultimately responsible for making the funding to which I refer available.
I was going to call on the Leader to reply, but I will allow Senator Mary Ann O'Brien to contribute. However, she will be the final speaker before I call the Leader. Senators raise issues on the Order of Business and then do not wait to listen to the replies the Leader provides. Senator Michael D'Arcy was supposed to be the final speaker, but then I allowed Senator Rónán Mullen to contribute. Senator Mary Ann O'Brien will be the last to contribute before the Leader replies. It creates disorder in the House if Members just come and go as they please.
I am eternally grateful. I wish to utter two quick sentences.
I welcome the announcement made by EirGrid on Friday. Is it not wonderful that when the people rise up and make their thoughts known, things happen? However, there are questions to be answered. The project to link Dunnstown, County Kildare with County Wexford was supposed to cost €500 million. Now, however, Californian and Russian involvement means that it will cost half that amount. I am seeking a debate after Easter with the relevant Minister on EirGrid's new findings, the north west and Dunnstown to Cork lines, the plans envisaged and the public consultation process that will take place. I do not know whether any Senator was in Buswells Hotel yesterday, but if there was, he or she will know that there is much to be contemplated and discussed in the context of the future of the country and its energy grid.
I hope that, unlike yesterday, my voice will hold out.
Senator Darragh O'Brien referred to student gardaí in Templemore and their inability to obtain family income supplement. As he correctly pointed out, these students are paying tax and the USC. There appears to be a need for joined-up thinking by the Departments of Justice and Equality and Social Protection in this matter. I will bring the Senator's concerns to the attention of the relevant Ministers.
The Fennelly report has not yet been published, but I am sure the House will engage in a debate on it when it does emerge. The Taoiseach has outlined that under the Commissions of Investigation Act, he is constrained in commenting. That is and will remain his position.
The Taoiseach can only sack Ministers. He is not in a position to sack anyone else. I am sure we will engage in a debate on the report when it is published.
Senator Ivana Bacik referred to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council and its support for the Government's efforts in Europe. She also welcomed the fact that the unemployment rate had dropped to 10%. The level of unemployment has fallen for 40 consecutive months.
The Senator also requested a debate on policing and welcomed the announcement that 250 additional Garda recruits would be taken on in the coming months. Several other Senators also alluded to this matter. The announcement means that the total number of new Garda recruits in the past 12 months now stands at 550, which is certainly a step in the right direction. I agree with the Senator that on many occasions we have all been quick to condemn the Garda for engaging in certain practices. We should applaud the force for the excellent policing practices for which it has been commended, particularly in the past week or so.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout spoke about specialised mental health services and called for repeal of the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871, which I agree is archaic and Victorian. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, will be in the House from 4 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 29 April and a debate will take place on that occasion.
Senator Hildegarde Naughton spoke about the new Garda recruits. She also noted that the recovering economy was allowing us to provide many more opportunities, services and jobs. These are the benefits of a recovering economy.
Senator Marc MacSharry called for a debate on the issue of public service pay. We will have that debate. The Low Pay Commission is being set up to ensure people will be treated favourably. I agree totally with the Senator in respect of those in the squeezed middle, which is why the Minister for Finance made alterations in the last budget to help them. He will continue to do so in the budget to be announced next October.
Senator Denis Landy spoke about the local authority housing programme. Many Members have alluded to the significant grants provided for various local authorities which are to be welcomed by all. The sum of €1.5 billion is sizeable and would provide for the provision of up to 800 houses in my local authority area. It will be welcomed by everyone on a housing list.
Senator Paschal Mooney spoke about the whistleblower's allegations. The Taoiseach wrote to Deputy Mick Wallace asking for details of what he had said, but he did not reply to him.
The Taoiseach met the garda in question in December. He did not need to write to Deputy Mick Wallace.
On the Taoiseach coming into the House to answer that question, the Government is responsible to Dáil Éireann, not Seanad Éireann. I have said this before. It is not something I like saying, but it is a constitutional fact.
Senators Michael Comiskey and Michael D'Arcy welcomed the announcement on milk quotas. It can only be good news for farmers and rural Ireland, in particular. It will lead to the creation of a large number of jobs where they are needed and provide great opportunities for the farming sector.
Senator Terry Leyden referred to the case of Fr. Niall Molloy. I have not read the report and do not wish to comment on it.
Senator Aideen Hayden referred to the need for a debate on the banking sector. She has asked for such a debate on a number of occasions and stated she wants the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to come to the House for it. I have made several requests, but, as I am sure everyone will agree, the Minister has been elsewhere in Europe on many occasions and only came back from America yesterday. I will renew my representations to have a debate on the banking sector.
I note Senator Cáit Keane's points and call for a debate on the issue of jury service. I am sure the justice committee will also take up the matter.
Senator Lorraine Higgins welcomed the statement of the Garda Commissioner on the intimidation of gardaí and members of the public on social media. I agree that social media outlets have a duty of care to their users and will ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, to come to the House to debate the matter.
Senator Colm Burke mentioned the allocation of €205 million for more than 2,500 housing units in Cork. I agree with him that appropriate measures should be taken to ensure these units will be delivered on time. I am sure the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and his Department will be pushing the local authorities to ensure this happens.
Senator Colm Burke also raised the matter of the cost of insurance for professionals in the medical sector, a matter he has sought to raise with the Minister for Health on several occasions. I will renew my representations to the Minister on the matter.
Senator Rónán Mullen spoke about the State Claims Agency and the admission of liability. The Minister for Health has commented on this issue and I am sure he is aware of the Senator's comments on the admission of liability which have been broadcast on several occasions in the newspapers and elsewhere.
In addition to speaking about milk quotas, Senator Michael D'Arcy expressed disappointment at the allocation for the provision of housing in his county. Each local authority was asked to bring forward specific building projects up to 2017. As part of that strategy, targets had to be agreed with each local authority in 2015. I am sure the allocation lies somewhere between what a local authority had sought and what it agreed to. The Dublin local authorities will be set housing targets by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government over and above what they proposed to ensure strong delivery where the need is greatest. The combined total up to 2017 for the Dublin local authorities comes to more than €500 million. Approximately 300 separate building proposals are being assessed by the Department and projects will be announced in a number of phases starting in mid-April. Construction work is under way on social housing projects on approximately 33 sites throughout the country. It will continue apace in the next two to three years.
Senator Tom Sheahan mentioned that €62 million had been allocated in housing grants in County Kerry. He also welcomed the funding being put in place for the recruitment of eight new guides at Muckross House, something he had been seeking for quite some time. I am sure it will be welcomed by the people of County Kerry.
Senator Darragh O'Brien welcomed the announcement by EirGrid. The matter was raised on the Order of Business yesterday. It was also raised as a Commencement matter in the House this morning by Senator Denis Landy. Senator Darragh O'Brien might look at what the Minister had to say during that debate.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Taoiseach to clarify if he was recalled to give evidence by Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly and his communications with the former Secretary General at the Department of Justice and Equality on the resignation of the Garda Commissioner be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Heffernan, James.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- Power, Averil.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- Gilroy, John.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Brien, Mary Ann.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.