Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Apr 2015

Vol. 239 No. 6

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 6.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 6.35 p.m. should Second Stage conclude; and No. 66, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 15 re one-parent family supports, to be taken at 6.45 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.

Prior to the Easter break I asked the Leader to bring to the House the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey, or the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, to review the pyrite remediation scheme. Over the Easter recess I found out that a grand total of five houses have been remediated under the Government scheme, which has been up and running for almost two years and accepting applications for more than 12 months. At the time I welcomed the scheme as a start, but I stated it was inadequate and too cumbersome. The Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, got quite excited on radio over the Easter break. I was not being personally critical of him; I just stated that the fact of the matter was the scheme was too slow and that hundreds of thousands of homeowners who required the State's assistance because HomeBond and the quarries had been allowed to walk away by the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, had been left with this scheme, under which five homes have been fixed. That is the reality. We need to debate this and I ask the Leader to schedule time with either the Minister of State or the Minister for a response. Perhaps he has already done so. The Minister was particularly critical of me, but both lads seemed to take it very personally. I thought they would be bigger than this but obviously they are not.

Is it true that an additional €7 million has been allocated to active staff in the Dublin Airport Authority to go towards their pensions? While I would welcome this, I wonder why those being hit even harder than anyone else - namely, the deferred pensioners, who have taken cuts of up to 60% - have had no additional funds to reduce the cuts to their pensions. I remind Members that it was the first time in the history of the State that any Government had introduced legislation to change a specific private pension scheme to reduce pensions and payments to retired members by six weeks per annum, to reduce long-term deferred members' pensions by up to 60% and, without permission, to transfer existing members to an inferior pension scheme. This bodes ill for all other pension schemes because the Government has set a precedent. I want to know whether this is true.

Was an extra €7 million secured by the unions for active staff members over 54 years of age? To facilitate the making available of this information, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, attend the House today to update us for half an hour on the IASS and that he might take questions from group leaders.

I commend RTE, Dublin City Council and all those involved in organising the excellent RTE Road to the Rising event held last week on Easter Monday. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people turned out in the city centre of Dublin to take part in this commemoration of the social and historical context to the period leading up to the Rising. It was a most innovative idea to commemorate 1915, the year before the big centenary commemoration next year. The numbers who turned out and the success of the event show the great public appetite for this sort of commemoration, which emphasises the social and historical aspects and the political context rather than focusing exclusively on the military side. The military aspect was illustrated by actors on the streets in the uniforms of British soldiers, who would have been on the streets of Dublin in 1915. We might usefully have another debate in this House in due course on the centenary events for next year and the idea of commemorations more generally. We have had such debates in this House before but, in the light of the immense success of the very innovative and novel event last week and the publication the week before Easter of the Government's programme for commemoration, it would be timely to have another on this matter. I welcomed in this House, as did others, the allocation of funding to preserve the building on Moore Street, which is of such historical significance, because it is where the leaders of the Rising met. There are further proposals on the table for buildings on Moore Street. I would like to include that issue in any debate we have in the House on commemorations.

I ask the Leader for a debate on sentencing and criminal justice, particularly in the light of the publication today by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, of the general scheme of the criminal justice (burglary of dwellings) Bill. The Bill is being published in the context of great concern about repeat offenders engaging in multiple burglaries, including while on bail. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality is likely to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The substance of the Bill highlights other issues, including more general issues concerning sentencing, bail and the management of the criminal justice system. I ask the Leader for a debate on that more general issue.

In the context of the marriage equality referendum, like many colleagues, I was out canvassing on the "Yes" side over the break and received a very positive response. I am very glad that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has today clarified that there is absolutely no issue in terms of school funding. The "No" side has been scaremongering somewhat about this. There is absolutely no danger to funding for schools that hold an ethical position that is against the idea of marriage equality for same-sex couples. I am glad that issue has been clarified and hope we will see red herrings such this and the conscientious objection clause being dealt with in the course of the debate.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked what was happening on the issue of Seanad reform. The Leader told me the report would be published this week, which it was. It is time for us to have a debate on this because those of us who took an active part in arguing against the abolition of the Seanad made a number of proposals, many of which are being included in the proposals of the Government or, at least, those being put together by former Members of this House. The Government plans to introduce legislation to do something about this, but I do not know whether this will happen immediately. If we are to have a general election before April next year, it will be interesting to see how quickly the Government can actually move on the issue of Seanad reform.

I ask the Leader to find time to debate the concerns Age Action highlighted this week about the possible increase in nursing home charges. It claims the proposal targets the sickest of older people and is fundamentally unfair because it is increasing the cost for those who cannot do anything about it. This issue was mentioned on "Prime Time" last week.

It has not received any publicity, but it is the sort of topic we should debate in the House. If we are to conclude that residents of nursing homes will have to pay more, it seems the Government is once again singling out the weakest and those in the most difficult position. To use the words of Age Action Ireland, it is fundamentally unfair. We should debate the matter soon.

I sincerely compliment Kerry County Council fire service on its competence and professionalism in dealing with major fires just prior to last weekend on the foothills of and on Mangerton Mountain in Killarney. I also compliment the personnel from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Irish Air Corps for the very many hours they gave to the matter. It had a Bambi Bucket that was capable of holding 1,000 litres of water with each trip from Killarney lakes. These fire outbreaks were very serious and during the few days in which they raged, they seriously threatened people and neighbouring areas. They are a reminder to everybody that they should protect themselves and have regard for neighbours and other households in the vicinity. Lighting fires in the open is extremely dangerous, as we know, and they are a very serious threat to the environment and wildlife. Such fires are prohibited under wildlife legislation. Anybody who wishes to burn gorse and scrub in the open should do so only within permitted timescales. They should also advise the fire service and, in cases such as this, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the intentions, including the time and location. If the fires had taken hold, they could have wiped out much of the 26,000 acres in our foremost national park. We can imagine what a disaster that would have been. I again compliment the personnel of the fire service, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Irish Air Corps on their tremendous work.

I second my colleague's amendment on what is a very important issue before the House that affects many people. I also raise the debacle of the launch of Ireland's Ancient East initiative by the Government yesterday morning. In attempting to promote tourism in the east of the country and giving some alternative to the Wild Atlantic Way, it has botched the job and the Minister should come here to explain himself. There is no mention of Monasterboice and the only mention of Kells in County Meath relates to car parking facilities and the Hay Festival, which has nothing to do with the Government. It is run by a voluntary group in Kells that has put a great effort into it with very little funding or support from any outside body. One can park a car in Kells but one would not find out about Monasterboice if taking this tour. It is outrageous. Kells was the centre of the ancient Christian world in this country in the medieval period. The Book of Kells was probably written there and was certainly kept there for a number of centuries. It is a fantastic ancient monastic centre. The same applies to Monasterboice, but I cannot find mention of it in the document. This is a debacle and whatever geniuses are responsible for drawing it up do not seem to know what they are talking about and the exact history of these areas. They seem to have picked what they felt were the most high profile sites. The Hill of Slane is mentioned in a footnote at the end. These are some of the most important ancient sites, particularly the ancient Christian sites, which are referenced in a full section of the document in dealing with ancient Christian Ireland. Monasterboice, Kells and the Hill of Slane, in particular, are some of the most important ancient early Christian sites in Ireland. They have not been given due regard. We are fighting as best we can to achieve a tourism product as there is a great deal of heritage in our area. There is a significant range of sites that may be visited, history to be learned and buildings appreciated.

However, Fáilte Ireland and the Government have done very little for it.

I refer to the unfair treatment of permanent tsb customers. The reductions in variable mortgage interest rates have not been passed on to its customers. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House to tell us what progress he is making on the matter. Some 320,000 people are affected by this. Mr. Brian Hayes, MEP, has already said this issue should be investigated. It is outrageous that when mortgage interest rates go down the bank can decide not to pass it on to its customers, but when mortgage interest rates increase that becomes effective from the following day.

Second, can we invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House to address a range of problematic farming issues? The issue of the young old farmers has not been resolved. The Department would probably consider them to be old young farmers. These are young farmers who have put big investments into their farms without any State support. There is also the problematic issue of digital mapping in rural areas. In some cases, the digital mapping shows rocky areas on the maps and farmers are being penalised as a result, yet if the inspectors arrive to inspect the area there are sheep grazing on it. If the farmers decide to appeal the decisions made by the Department, they could wait 12 months to get their single farm payment. That is wrong. It is a rural Ireland issue and it is important that the Minister come to the House to deal with these matters.

Will the Leader schedule a debate on the fair deal scheme and the availability of beds under the nursing homes support scheme, which was put in place a number of years ago? Figures released by the Health Service Executive, HSE, to Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on health, show that from 2009, when there were 7,850 fair deal beds, the number had dropped to 5,290 in December 2014. When the figures are broken down on a constituency basis, many counties have seen a very significant drop in the availability of beds under the scheme. Obviously, there is a problem and I ask that the Minister for Health be invited to come to the House to discuss it. There is also the situation of over 400,000 people waiting on hospital waiting lists. Many are waiting well over 12 months, even though the Government promised that outpatients would be seen in less than 12 months. One can see that some departments in hospitals across the State are worse than others, but the figures released recently by the HSE show that a significant number of people are waiting longer than the 12 months that was promised by the Government. I would appreciate it if the Leader arranged for the Minister for Health to come to the House to hear statements on these important matters.

To reply to the previous speaker, there are 22,000 fair deal beds, not 7,000. The Senator's information is totally incorrect.

I received it from the HSE. I will give it to the Senator.

I can give the Senator the reply. There are 22,000 beds and it is costing €970 million per year. They are the figures. As the Senator has incorrect figures, he should check them. That is the first point.

Second, with regard to the fair deal scheme, it is interesting to note that the scheme involves 80% of people's income and 7.5% of people's assets, to a maximum cap of three years. My understanding is the amount of money recovered from estates - the fair deal scheme has been up and running since 2009 - is approximately €7.5 million over a 12 month period. That is €7.5 million recovered out of a total of €970 million spent. I refer to assets, not income. The issue that must be raised is the level of security the HSE is putting in place in recovering that part of the funding under the scheme.

The other issue I wish to raise relates to the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, agreement with the Department.

I welcome the agreement and think it is the first step in the reform of the health system insofar as it concerns GPs. It is a welcome development. GPs make a huge contribution to health care, but we need to take another step. A pilot study that was recently carried out on accident and emergency units indicated that 30% of people who had attended over the weekend could have been adequately treated by GPs rather than attending the accident and emergency unit. The Department and HSE should examine how to work with GPs to ensure more people attend their clinics rather than accident and emergency units. There were over 1.1 million attendances at accident and emergency units last year and we must work to reduce pressure on the hospital service. One way of doing so is to work closely with GPs, an issue we could deal with in a debate on the next occasion the Minister is in the Chamber. It is an issue to which we should give serious consideration.

I request the Leader to use his good offices and that of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to seek the early release of the Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa who is being held in jail in Egypt. He was arrested in August 2013 and has been in prison for over 600 days. His life is possibly in danger because there are 450 other prisoners held in the prison in Cairo. Amnesty International is campaigning for his release. The Government is aware of the situation and the Taoiseach has been contacted. He is an Irish citizen who was 17 years of age in 2013 and is now 19. I met his sister campaigning for his release outside Leinster House this morning. His two sisters who were in Cairo with him were released in 2013. His family are worried and concerned. I would like to use the good offices of Seanad Éireann to appeal to the Egyptian ambassador and the government in Egypt to release an Irish citizen. He has a right, as someone born in this country and a full Irish citizen. The Government is not doing enough for his release. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to intervene.

I note the publication of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I welcome the proposal to prevent schools from applying selection criteria in regard to the occupation or financial status of the student's parents, or a student's academic ability, skills or aptitude. I am less sure about limiting to 10% the places reserved for children of past pupils. The proposal that applications can only be accepted one year in advance needs to be discussed. However, I am sure the matters can be ironed out in the course of the Bill going through the House. It would be great if we could have the Minister in the Chamber in the next week to outline her position on the matter and, more generally, to debate it and other topical issues in education, particularly in the wake of the teacher conferences held during the Easter break.

I welcome a former Member of the Dáil, Mr. Eamonn Walsh, to the Visitors Gallery.

I ask the Leader for clarification from the Minister for Health on the circumstances of a somewhat troubling event that occurred in Cork in the South Lee mental health services in the past few weeks. One of the nursing staff is also a member of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, Mr. Des McSweeney and was part of an expert committee planning future services in the unit that was to be redeveloped.

The Senator should refrain from naming individuals in the House.

I am not saying anything bad about the person concerned; I am praising him.

It does not matter. The person is not here to defend himself. It is long-standing practice in the House not to name people who cannot defend themselves.

He wants to contact Mary Lou in the other House.

I am quite happy to take responsibility for naming Mr. McSweeney in the House.

That is not the issue.

A member of staff, who was also a member of an expert committee which was planning services for the hospital, disagreed with some of the proposed developments. He gave a public interview about them and suddenly found himself suspended. I believe he has now been reinstated, but it is very troubling to me that the HSE elected that this gentleman be suspended from his duties pending an investigation. I believe the decision was taken by the HSE, not at local level. I personally believe people who work in the health services should have an absolute right to involve the public in debate about critical issues of policy. An assumption is sometimes made by officials who run the health service that they are the only non-self-interested party in the entire portfolio of people who have opinions and power in the development of the health service. This is very sinister. At the time of the Harney consulting contracts - I am sorry, am I allowed to say "Harney"? At the time of the Harney consulting contracts ten years ago, I voiced grave concerns about the possibility of a gagging clause in the consultants' contract. More recently, we successfully prevented any gagging clause from being inserted into the new GP contract. I would be very troubled indeed if our nursing colleagues were being silenced or gagged, especially when they have representative positions.

I want to take a moment to compliment the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on addressing the law relating to sentencing for burglaries. I ask her to consider redesignating the crime of breaking into and entering an occupied house as a crime against the person rather than a crime against property. The act of breaking into a house where there may be a family, children or an old person should be regarded as a form of assault, even if no physical assault occurs because circumstances intervene.

A few weeks ago I asked a question of the Leader which he was unfortunately unable to answer because he developed a very dry throat. He had a coughing attack and was not able to give his usual very full and comprehensive answer to questions. I hope he is feeling better. I asked if the Government would consider the possibility, in view of the highly intimidatory, extra-judicial and extra-jurisdictional attempt by international tobacco companies to prevent the Government from exercising its right and duty to protect the health of its own citizens by introducing appropriate tobacco control legislation, of proscribing any company which seeks to subvert our democracy, legally or in any other way, as an illegal organisation in the same way it proscribed the organisations that murdered so many of our citizens during the conflict in Northern Ireland. Would the Minister consider the possibility of introducing a referendum to make a very simple amendment to the Constitution to include a statement to the effect that the Constitution does not protect the right to tobacco commerce? Tobacco companies would then exist at the pleasure of the elected Legislature.

There is a proposal in the offing to require farmers who are herd owners to publish their names and addresses and the amount of money being received from the European Union in single farm payments. This is very dangerous and I have spoken to a lot of people in rural communities who are very fearful of it. This proposal raised its head a number of years ago but was dropped. I understand the money that comes from the European Union is paid based on herd number and I find it hard to believe people's names and addresses could be printed in newspapers and on websites because it will set a very dangerous precedent. Where will it finish? Will people have to give details of their bank accounts?

There are criminals who have nothing to do only watch what is happening with others. Joe Bloggs and his wife, Josephine, could receive €30,000 or €40,000 under the single payment scheme from the European Union which is printed in the newspaper. Is that not identifying people and making them susceptible to house break-ins and other types of criminality? The money should be paid to the herd number. If nosey people want to find out how much others are getting, let them work for it and find out to whom the herd number belongs. Printing the name and address of the herd owner is a dangerous precedent and there is a better way. While we are all for transparency, there is a better way. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House for statements on the matter?

We have spoken many times in the House about the need for the Government to take a co-ordinated approach to the crisis in the rental sector. We have called on the Minister to tackle the problem of rising rents, in particular. While the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection has promised increased spending on social housing, it takes time to come through the system. Last year rents in Galway rose every quarter, amounting to a 7% increase over the year. The result is that the monthly rental cost of a three-bedroom house in the city is in the region of €853. In addition to rising rents, particularly in east Galway, there is the problem of the lack of suitable rental accommodation for families. There are rooms or a small flat here and there to rent but increasingly fewer suitable family homes. A few days ago I met a young mother in Athenry who burst into tears at her conundrum which is that she and her family have been given notice and after trying many estate agents, they could not find suitable accommodation. These are people who are willing to pay good money for accommodation. As the family have a little dog, she is worried they might have a difficulty in finding accommodation. This may appear to be a small problem from a distance but upfront it is a real stress in people's lives. The lady, if lucky to find accommodation, will certainly face a rent increase. She would not mind that if only she could get accommodation.

Galway County Council estimated in 2014 that there were 50 or so unfinished estates located in various towns throughout the county. Happily, work has commenced on finishing some of the partially completed properties. The owners of these estates are either the banks or, more commonly, NAMA. The banks and NAMA are seeking to sell the properties-----

The issue might be suitable for debate as a Commencement matter.

It is understandable they want to sell them as soon as they are fit for habitation as they want to recoup the losses but I call on the Minister, and ask the Leader for a response to explore the possibility of making these unoccupied houses, when finished and fit for occupation, available as temporary rental accommodation. Ultimately they will be sold, but in the short term we must seek to find ways to alleviate the crisis in the rental market. That is the very least we should expect from a Government taking a co-ordinated approach to the problem.

This week the High Court is on circuit in Galway to hear personal injury actions. I know of one individual who is going to court for the third time in 12 months with a view to having his case heard. He has had at least four years preparation going to court and at least another year to have his case heard. The cost in terms of taking time off work and engaging solicitors and so on is significant. While I understand the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, has committed to reviewing the personal injuries board to ensure greater efficiency, will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to come to the House to debate the issue of the personal injuries list? Too many cases are listed at every sitting.

The fact is that a large number of them are actually settled on the steps of the courthouse. That creates a huge backlog of people waiting for their cases to be heard and there are costs involved in this. There is no incentive to have the cases settled in advance. The people of Galway and elsewhere are greatly disadvantaged by these waiting lists. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister here to review the personal injuries list to ensure it is better managed and that we have a more efficient process going through the courts.

I pay tribute to two great Dubs. One is the Irish soccer legend Ray Treacy who sadly passed away over the weekend after a short illness. He was a great legend in Irish soccer and was capped 42 times. He played with Shamrock Rovers and Home Farm in Dublin. We have also had the sad and sudden passing this afternoon of Dave Billings who won an all-Ireland senior football medal with Dublin in 1974. He made great contributions to GAA with Dublin, with St. Vincent's and UCD.

I would like to echo my support for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, bringing a memo to the Cabinet to change legislation and crack down on burglaries. We need tougher measures. For too long, those who have had two or more charges have been able to get released on bail. Times have changed. They cannot just serve concurrent sentences, these sentences must be consecutive. The Minister is demanding action but more importantly the people are demanding action on this and will have the support of the House.

Over the Easter break I had the pleasure of looking at a drone in action around the Liffey Valley Park. We know that drones are used in surveillance work and we see them used in wars, but now we are seeing them more in pleasure pursuits. While this drone flew across the Liffey Valley, under the M50 bridge, I was able to view it on an i-Pad. The views it captured were quite incredible. I asked the person qualified to fly this drone how far it could travel? I was told it could go in a 2 km radius north, south, east or west. I asked about vertical distance. He replied that it could also go 2 km up into the sky. This could present serious problems for aircraft in the area, either a helicopter or a low-flying plane going in to Weston Aerodrome. If the drone was to become caught in the engines of a plane, there would be serious trouble. I understand there are air-traffic control restrictions on heights that things can fly, but while one needs skill to fly a drone there is no reason I would not be refused if I went online or into a shop to buy a drone. We need to give serious consideration to and debate the danger these drones can pose for air traffic. It needs to be brought to the attention of the appropriate Department to establish what restrictions can be put in place when purchasing these drones which are very dangerous if misused.

I strongly support the case made by Senator Terry Leyden which calls on the Egyptian Government to release Ibrahim Halawa who is in jail in Cairo and to call on the Egyptian ambassador to do everything possible to influence that decision. The Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade are doing everything possible behind the scenes to secure his release. I pay tribute to the ambassador and the staff at the Irish Embassy in Cairo for their work in trying to secure Mr. Halawa's release. It is a traumatic time for the family and we all want to see him released as a matter of urgency.

I welcome the Government's approval for the criminal justice (burglary of dwellings) Bill, brought forward by Minister for Justice, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. The draft Bill will now go to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for pre-legislative scrutiny. I ask the Leader to arrange a discussion with the Minister in this House before the Bill is published. The Bill recognises that the home of every citizen is sacred.

That is where we should all feel safe. Burglary is particularly traumatic for the victim and in many instances, as Senator John Crown said, it can result in serious injury and even death to citizens. Many of these burglaries are carried out by serial offenders. Significant deterrents must be put in place. The issue of bail for repeat offenders must be addressed, as must the short sentences that are being handed out in many cases when a significant number of repeat offences are being taken into consideration. This issue is quite complex. There is a strong demand from the public that we ensure, in so far as possible, that every citizen's home is safe and that people who are offending regularly, breaking into homes and terrifying citizens, are dealt with in a strong and determined fashion. I compliment the Minister on the work she has done to date, but we all need to assist her in making this legislation as strong as possible.

Senator Catherine Noone has indicated.

On pothole fixing in Castleknock.

I join others in welcoming the legislation introduced by the Minister for Justice and Equality. It is badly needed to make the public feel more secure in their homes. It is an issue I have encountered on many occasions, especially among elderly people who do not necessarily feel in any way safe in their homes when there are repeat offenders such as those who have been mentioned burgling homes regularly. I am glad to see this legislation will deal with that in a particular way.

I was disgusted by the blatant sexist abuse to which the Minister for Education, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, was subjected on the "We Won't Pay the Water Tax - Limerick" Facebook page recently. The person who published the post also expressed a wish to throw her under a bus and there has been an alarming rise in the sexist online abuse to which several female politicians have been subjected in recent times, including Senators Lorraine Higgins and Marie-JLouise O'Donnell and me, and probably others. I recently had a threat of sexual violence made against me. We are living in a society that rightly abhors racist abuse, online or otherwise. The same level of abhorrence must be fostered against online sexist abuse against female politicians which has risen exponentially in recent months. A debate on this issue, not just on sexist abuse against women online but also online abuse in general, would be useful.

The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, raised the question of pyrite. He is quite right that five houses are complete to date, but the Minister has given an undertaking that 190 will be completed this year and that a further 190 will be completed next year.

There are 10,000 houses affected.

There will be progress and there has been significant progress. I am sure the Minister would be quite willing to come to the House-----

I look forward to it.

-----to outline the significant progress the Government has made which previous Governments did not do.

That represents a figure of just 4%.

We are quite happy to come to the House to speak about our record and the progress made in dealing with the pyrite problem.

We would be delighted to hear about it.

The Senator also spoke about the Dublin Airport Authority and the additional funds for pensions. I am sure he welcomed them, but he has also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business on the Irish aviation superannuation scheme, which amendment I do not propose to accept.

There are many other ways to find out from the Minister, rather than amending the Order of Business.

Senator Ivana Bacik spoke about the Road to the Rising event. She complimented the city council and all those involved in the event over the Easter period and called for a further debate on the Government's programme of commemorations. I am sure the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, would be quite willing to come to the House to have a debate with us on that matter.

Senator Ivana Bacik and others, especially Senators Michael Mullins and Catherine Noone, spoke about the laws the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, intended to bring before the House, in particular the criminal justice (burglary of dwellings) Bill.

The Bill will target repeat offenders. Senator Michael Mullins asked if the draft Bill would be debated in the House, as well as at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister. Perhaps we might be able to have a debate on the draft Bill before it is published and brought before the House.

Senator Feargal Quinn spoke about the Seanad reform proposals. There is a comprehensive document which all Members should read. I am in the process of arranging for the chairman of the body, Dr. Maurice Manning, a former Leader of the House, to come to the House for a debate on the matter and to answer questions, probably within the next two weeks. We can hear statements and have a question and answer session.

Would it not be better to see it first?

I understand the working group will produce a draft Bill, possibly to coincide with our debate on the matter. It may be as soon as that. Certainly, we will be arranging a debate on the matter which I hope to have, possibly, on 5 May. I have not arranged it yet, but perhaps it might take place before then. I urge people to examine the proposals made. They are comprehensive and mainly to do with the election of Seanad Éireann rather than with what goes on in the House, although there are some references to this also. Dr. Manning and other members of the group are quite willing to come to the House. I imagine that we will welcome him and that we will have a comprehensive debate on the proposals made in early course.

Senator Feargal Quinn also referred to the concerns of Age Action Ireland about nursing homes changes. My information is that there are no plans before the Government on the issue. The fair deal scheme has been mentioned by Senators David Cullinane and Colm Burke. I do not know from where Senator David Cullinane got his figures - he referred to a figure of 7,850 people. As Senator Colm Burke mentioned, a total of 22,000 people are participating in the scheme, at a cost of €970 million. The Senator made a good point about the assets recovered to date since 2009, which amount to only €7.5 million. Certainly, that issue will have to be looked at in the context of funding. I imagine it is something we can debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who I am sure would be willing to come to the House for a debate on it.

Senator Paul Coghlan spoke about the major fire in Killarney National Park. He complimented the fire service, the Air Corps and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. He also emphasised the need to be vigilant at all times.

Senator Thomas Byrne commented on the Ireland's Ancient East proposal announced by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. It is an exciting project similar to the Wild Atlantic Way. I am informed that Fáilte Ireland has spent the past year, in consultation with key stakeholders, working to develop the initiative, which is to include tourism attractions and businesses throughout the region. Following much consultation and deliberation, Ireland's Ancient East will be crafted with four distinct thematic pillars: ancient Ireland; early Christian Ireland; mediaeval Ireland and Anglo Ireland, including Ireland's great houses and gardens. All areas in the east and south east will be covered by the initiative. Fáilte Ireland's research suggests an initiative along these thematic lines has the potential to deliver an extra 600,000 overseas visitors, lead to tourism growth of over 20% in the region and an increase in visitor revenue of almost 25%, or €950 million, in total by 2020. It is an exciting project which I imagine will enjoy the same success that we witnessed with the Wild Atlantic Way. I compliment everyone involved in launching the project.

Senator John Kelly called for a further debate and an update from the Minister for Finance on mortgage interest rates. He also called for a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on young-old farmers and digital mapping. I am sure the Minister would be quite willing to come to the House to discuss these issues. He has dealt with young-old farmers, as they are called, in the budget and the Finance Act.

I have dealt with the matters raised by Senators David Cullinane and Colm Burke. Senator Colm Burke welcomed the IMO agreement with the Department on GP treatment for children aged under six years. This will be of great benefit to many hard-pressed families and has been welcomed by the vast majority of GPs.

Senators Terry Leyden and Michael Mullins referred to the Ibrahim Halawa case, on which I gave a comprehensive reply before the break. The Irish ambassador in Cairo is monitoring the position closely and representations have been made to the Egyptian ambassador and authorities. I can assure the Senators the Government is doing everything possible to secure the release of the Irish citizen concerned.

Senator Jim D'Arcy referred to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill. He welcomed many of its proposals, while disagreeing with others. He called for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House for a debate on the matter. I can inform him that the Minister will come before the House next Wednesday to discuss the NCSE inclusion support services. There will be an opportunity at that time and later to discuss various matters with her.

It is obvious that Senator John Crown enjoyed the break because he raised five or six matters. There was a disagreement on psychiatric services between the gentleman in question and the HSE. He was suspended but has been reinstated. I understand the dispute concerned staffing in a brand new state-of-the-art facility in Cork. I am glad that he has been reinstated and hope any difference will be ironed out as a matter of urgency.

Senator John Crown also referred to burglaries, an issue which I addressed, and asked for them to be classified as crimes against the person rather than property. These are matters we can discuss with the Minister for Justice and Equality if she comes before the House to deal with the draft Bill.

On international tobacco companies taking the Government to court for the laws we passed on tobacco, the Senator has novel ideas for proscribing such companies. I am sure all avenues will be addressed and examined by the State to defend against such companies.

Senator Tom Sheahan referred to EU moneys, inlcuding single farm payments paid to men and women with herd numbers. Their names and addresses are being published and he believes this sets a dangerous precedent. I see his point, especially as we have discussed the burglaries in many parts of the country. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to see whether anything can be done.

Senator Rónán Mullen referred to problems in the rental sector with the availability of suitable housing. That is the reason the Government is putting €1.5 billion into social housing in the next couple of years. Major progress has been made in dealing with unfinished housing estates throughout the country.

There will be an opportunity for local authorities under the new scheme in place to purchase and perhaps complete unfinished estates and use them for social housing. A myriad of areas not available previously are now open to local authorities as they try to tackle the housing problems in some parts of the country. Unfortunately, there is an oversupply of houses in other parts of the country. It is contradictory to have major problems in major cities such as Galway, Cork and Dublin at a time when there is an oversupply in many rural areas. Unfortunately, during the boom houses were built in areas where nobody wanted to live.

Senator Hildegarde Naughton spoke about the backlog in the High Court in Galway, especially of personal injury cases. She called for more efficient management of services. While that is a matter for the Courts Service, I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan mentioned two sportsmen who had recently passed away. Ray Treacy was a great international footballer. I had the pleasure of seeing him score many goals for Ireland. Dave Billings was a Dublin all-Ireland footballer.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan also made a point about the danger drones might cause for air traffic and called for greater regulation in that regard. I suggest that if he was to raise the matter during the Commencement debate, he might receive a comprehensive reply from the relevant Minister.

The final two speakers, Senators Michael Mullins and Catherine Noone, spoke about criminal justice matters. Senator Catherine Noone also spoke about the online abuse of female politicians. I do not think the problem is confined to female politicians. It happens to all politicians.

I referred to the sexist abuse of female politicians.

I agree with what the Senator said about the sexual abuse of female politicians. It is absolutely dreadful that people can go online and say whatever they want. Someone has to be held responsible. In addition to the people who make these utterances, those who run the websites must be held responsible. I will certainly try to have a further debate on the matter in early course.

Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to provide an update on changes made to the Irish aviation pensions scheme be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 22.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.