Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2015 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2, Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 3 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded. For the information of Members, with regard to sitting days, the provisional arrangements are that the Seanad will sit five days in the week beginning, Monday 13 July - the week after next - and two days the following week.

I thank the Leader for outlining the business of the House. There is one point relating to the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2015. Only 90 minutes were provided for amendments on Report Stage. An e-mail was sent at 7.30 p.m. stipulating a deadline of 9 p.m. This is not of the Leader's making, but it is a very short timeframe and we did not get to include our amendments. I will address them by way of discussion on the section during the debate. I may not be able to do so and in that case I will refer to them on Fifth Stage. A deadline of 90 minutes, particularly when the e-mail is sent in the evening, is not sufficient.

I have previously asked that the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey, or the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, come to the House to address my grave concerns about the operation of the pyrite remediation scheme. I know that the Leader has requested the Minister to come here to debate that issue. The scheme is far too cumbersome and not getting the traction we thought it would. There are major problems relating to the local property tax exemption, as many home owners suffering pyrite issues are not being given the local property tax exemption promised as part of the legislation. The Department and the Revenue Commissioners are insisting on a specific test that can cost up to €3,000, so why would anybody bother seeking an exemption in such circumstances? I know that there will be much work to do before the end of the session, but it would be useful, if possible, to get in the Minister of State before the recess. I will table a Commencement matter on the subject otherwise.

I give the following notification to Members in order that there will be no confusion similar to what we saw on a motion last week.

I will be circulating a motion to all Members seeking their support for a call by the Seanad for the urgent filling of the pancreas transplant surgery post in Beaumont Hospital. I have raised the matter on a number of occasions, as have other Members. We are all concerned at the fact that transplant patients now have no access to organ donor co-ordinators and are being told to go to accident and emergency units. I have raised this issue in the past two weeks and I am trying to be helpful, as we are not getting the answers we should from the HSE or the Department of Health. I will circulate the motion to all Senators later today seeking their support and I will be looking for a specific debate next week, even if it is for only half an hour. Members might let me know by close of business next Tuesday whether they are willing to support it. If anyone reads the testimony published on thejournal.ie last night of someone waiting for a pancreas transplant, they will see that she feels the rug has been pulled from under her. There is no access to pancreas transplant co-ordinators and we have no pancreatic surgeon. The post remains vacant. I ask Members to put their names to the motion if they feel they can, as the Seanad has a role in this regard. If word goes out from the Seanad that we are as one in calling for this matter to be addressed urgently, we will have done a good job. I ask Members to consider it.

I thank the Leader for scheduling the resumed Committee Stage of the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill for this afternoon. I advise colleagues that the Bill started life as a Private Members' Bill introduced by me and Senator Mary Moran on behalf of the Labour Party in March 2013. On Second Stage, 11 Members spoke and, as such, there is significant interest in the legislation, which is intended to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act to ensure discrimination against teachers, in particular, on the basis of sexuality or family status will no longer be possible. It is a very important Bill and there is great interest in it from civil society, the unions and LGBT rights groups. It was delayed and we had Committee Stage over two dates in March 2014, at which time there was again a great deal of interest from colleagues. In the light of that, we are scheduling the resumption of Committee Stage which will I hope conclude this evening, as the Government has now approved a set of amendments for Report Stage. We hope Report Stage will take place next week. Those Senators who tabled amendments on Committee Stage, Senators Katherine Zappone and Averil Power, have been briefed by the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and a further briefing has been arranged for next Tuesday, 7 July, at 3 p.m. for all Senators with an interest in the Bill in order that Members can have a full briefing on what the Report Stage amendments will entail. The meeting will take place in meeting room C in LH 2000. I have circulated a notice on that at the request of the Minister of State. It is a very important Bill and it is a good day for the Seanad to see it progress as a Government Bill, having started life as a Private Members' Bill. It is broadly welcomed on both sides of the House.

I also welcome the announcement this week, about which other colleagues spoke yesterday, of the extension of GP cards to all children under 18 years who receive a cancer diagnosis. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, announced it earlier this week and it is a hugely important and very welcome extension.

I commend Alcohol Action Ireland, the alcohol health alliance, for the work it is doing in support of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which was published in February 2015 and which will provide for minimum pricing of alcohol and various restrictions on alcohol advertising. The Bill, which has been greatly anticipated, received a broad welcome.

The day has finally come. What shall we call it - One Parent Family Day or Children's Day? Perhaps a more apt description might be Jobseekers' Day. As we are all aware, today is the day thousands of lone parents throughout Ireland, most of whom are women, will find their payment to support themselves and their families has been cut. It will be cut because their youngest child is seven and because they are working part-time but less than 19 hours a week. These people have jobs, but these low-paid, low-quality jobs are not in any way lifting them out of poverty. The Government says the cuts and changes are going through in order taht lone parents can get a job and no longer be poor, but we have evidence to the contrary. It just does not work that way. In fact, I am getting reports from some lone parents today that the new cut payment is not in their bank accounts yet. Can the Cathaoirleach imagine how they must feel? Even the bureaucracy appears to be getting it wrong and it is causing distress.

My first question to the Leader is whether he can confirm that all lone parents will get their payment today and explain why it is not there now. Many Members in both Houses protested vehemently against the cuts as recently as last night, but our voices have fallen on deaf ears. More importantly, lone parents have also protested vehemently against the cuts. What I find hardest to take is the Government's deafness to their voices. The Government has told us for the last four years that it is about reform of this and that. A reform of politics that would make a most significant difference to how we do our business would be to listen and have a dialogue with citizens, especially those who are affected directly by what we do in these Houses. Yesterday, I published findings from a civic forum that I held in Leinster House, attended by more than 30 lone parents, at which we debated what changes they wanted to see so that they and their children might have an equal chance to flourish in Ireland. With its publication, I call on Government to immediately establish a special working group with a predominance of lone parents and their representatives to review the cuts and conditions in one-parent family policies and to feed their recommendations into budget preparations, beginning with the national economic dialogue that will be held later this month.

That brings me to my other question. Who is being invited by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to the national economic dialogue? The Minister has said every Government has a duty to engage with its citizens and that he is committed to ensuring the process is as open and inclusive as possible. Will the Government invite some lone parents to the dialogue? Are any Members of the Seanad being invited? I would love to attend.

What happened yesterday in the vicinity of the front gate of Leinster House was shameful and disgraceful. Certainly, it was not related to peaceful protest. I am delighted to hear this morning that the other House has taken action and that the Garda Commissioner will be in Leinster House tomorrow morning to discuss the matter. We are all aware of the constitutional position, and while we do not want to go heavy on it, two Members of this Chamber were accosted. I am not speaking for them, as they can do that for themselves, but the way they were treated was shameful and disgraceful. Apparently, at least one Member of the other House was also so treated, and he has spoken for himself.

Seanad Members need to take up the matter within the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I do not have the remedy, but I am sure the Garda Commissioner will talk to whoever is there tomorrow. It may be that more gardaí are required here at certain times. It may be that the Garda did not think this group was verging on violence. From what I have heard and from what I saw on television last night, it certainly was not peaceful. We all believe in peaceful protests, but protests that are determined not to be peaceful or to break the law - I gather some people were arrested last night - should not be allowed up to the gates of the Houses. It is as though some protests are coming right up against the property. While they may not be defacing it, some Members may have been roughed up coming in and out. I have not witnessed it personally, although I am aware of the two Members who tried to leave by car last night and had to be rescued by gardaí. In any event, the situation has to be addressed. We cannot simply sit back and do nothing. I am delighted that some action has been initiated, apparently, by the other House. It may be a matter for the Cathaoirleach and his office to examine. The Leader is probably more aware of matters than me and I look forward to hearing any news he has. He might liaise with the other Chamber in order that both Houses will act on this matter jointly.

Yesterday marked the passing of the Government's deadline for banks to reduce their mortgage rates and the banks have almost completely ignored it. Some of them have said they have no intention of doing so. I ask that the House debate as a matter of urgency No. 32 on the Order Paper, Central Bank (Emergency Powers) (Variable Interest Rates) Bill 2015, which I introduced three weeks ago.

Hard pressed home owners who have carried the economy through the recession are being punished on a monthly basis by banks which they, as taxpayers, have bailed out. The banks need to be forced to act in this manner and it is in our hands to do so. It is the Central Bank (Emergency Powers)(Variable Interest Rates) Bill, which should be at the top of the agenda taking into account what happened yesterday.

The recently published building regulations technical guidance document is very interesting. I am delighted it includes the provisions in the carbon monoxide alarm Bill. It took some time to have it included but it is now part of the building regulations technical guidance document, although I am a little concerned that it seems to recommend rather than insist in terms of that issue.

I read recently - I am not referring to the unfortunate deaths in Baltimore in recent days - that 150 people die each year from drowning. France introduced mandatory swimming lessons for children under the age of 13 years, therefore, everybody leaving primary school is able to swim. That is a measure to which we should give serious consideration. It would not take very long to do it, but I believe it could be done and would be very valuable. There have been a number of deaths from drownings because people could not swim, and I am not referring to the unfortunate incident the other day.

I support Senator Katherine Zappone's call for a review of the changes to the lone parent's allowance. I do not believe that initially this was meant to be a cut that would result in people losing money. The idea was to try to find more work for people but, unfortunately, situations will arise where people will lose money and they need to be addressed.

I support Senator Paul Coghlan's point about what happened outside the Kildare Street gate yesterday. It was outrageous. It is legally unacceptable that these anarchists could hold the Parliament to ransom. Senator Paschal Mooney and I engaged with them and they consider themselves to be democrats. None of the Deputies or Senators could leave this area from 3 p.m. yesterday until almost 10 p.m. It is amazing that, legally, a parliamentarian cannot be stopped by a garda on the way to or from the Seanad or the Dáil, yet these protestors managed to do that yesterday. Many Deputies and Senators had genuine reasons for leaving Leinster House yesterday, but that did not matter. The people protesting did not care that somebody had a hospital appointment or that Senator Landy wanted to go home last night for personal reasons. They stopped his car and threw bollards at it. They spat at him. He had to abandon his car. He had no legal protection.

I agree that people have the right to protest, but we have to define what is a protest. We have to make the distinction between a protest and total disruption. Buses bringing people home from work had to stop for 40 minutes outside Leinster House. Eventually, the people had to leave the buses and walk home or get taxis. People travelling in their cars to collect their children after work, some of whom might have been lone parents, could not collect them because of the protest. These people did not care. Would that be allowed outside Downing Street or the White House? The answer is that it would not be allowed.

We can be critical of the gardaí and people were critical of them when nothing happened on the occasion the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, was held hostage in her car for two and a half hours. People said the gardaí were wrong because they did not act. That was followed some weeks later by a garda friend of mine pulling a lady off the bonnet of the Taoiseach's car, who then fell against a bollard. He is now the subject of an investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. We have to know where to draw the line. We need clear legislation that outlines what is and what is not a protest and that must be done as a matter of urgency.

I send my condolences to the family of Val Doonican, a Waterford man, who died yesterday. It is a tragedy for his family and I offer my condolences to his wife, Lynn, and his extended family. He was bestowed the freedom of Waterford city a number of years ago. I had the pleasure of being in the council chamber on that occasion and to hear about his life and the many stories he had to tell. He had a programme on the BBC for many years which was watched by many people in Britain but also in Ireland. He was a hugely popular Waterford figure and a proud Waterford man. The Leader of the Seanad will have warm memories of Val Doonican also. I again extend my sympathy to his family.

I raise again an issue that was raised on several occasions in this House about the changes to the lone parent payment. It is disgraceful that despite weeks of calls by Senators on this side of the House, the Minister has not been able to come in to justify this change.

Almost every day last week Senator Gerard P. Craughwell and others tried to move a motion he placed, democratically, on the Order Paper. He gave the Minister every opportunity. He did not push the matter to a vote and yet she was not able to come into the House to discuss these changes. This will drive women out of work. That is the core of the argument against these changes. They will not facilitate all those 12,000 mainly women back into work because the work simply is not there for all of them. Even if it were available, they would be unable to meet the cost of child care. That is the reality for many of these families. I support the sentiments of Senator Katherine Zappone who also raises this issue on a regular basis both inside and outside the House. It is not too late. The budget will be introduced later this year. The Government tells us it has €1.5 billion to give away, and we will see all sorts of auction politics in the coming months. Why can it not do something for lone parents now? There is the capacity but it seems the political will is not there. It is important to make the call, on the day this change comes into effect, that the Minister would come into the House to discuss these issues.

I add my voice to Senator Feargal Quinn's call for mandatory swimming lessons for young people. As somebody who worked in a swimming pool facility as a lifeguard and a swimming instructor for many years during my youth, I know the value and importance of people being in control in the water and knowing how to swim. I convey my sympathy to the families of the unfortunate people who lost their lives this week.

I extend my condolences to the family of Val Doonican. He was a great statesman and a wonderful person to highlight all the good things coming in the country with his very successful career. I hope he can now walk tall through the gates of Heaven.

I raise also the events that took place outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday. Mine was one of two cars surrounded by protestors last night while trying to leave. I had to leave to deal with an emergency which had serious knock-on consequences for me at midnight. I was shocked by the tone and the animosity shown to the gardaí last night and could not praise the gardaí highly enough for their behaviour and bravery. No amount of money would pay anybody to stand on the street and take the abuse they took last night. We go into this job knowing that we have to take the rough with the smooth, but I saw a young garda who was standing right beside my car being hit by a cone and knocked out - she fell like a ton of bricks - and 20 minutes later she insisted that she wanted to go back on duty. That was above and beyond the call of duty. I understand the garda is still in hospital this morning, having been taken to hospital last night.

It is not right. We can all engage in peaceful protests, but nobody should be subjected to having their car thumped or being spat at, or to the absolutely abusive language that was used last night. That protest was supposed to start at 6 p.m., yet from 3 p.m. yesterday people were stopped from getting in and out. I looked on social media this morning and people are passing comments. At no stage did gardaí tell me last night that I could not leave. I explained the position to them.

The point has been well made.

I express my personal thanks to the gardaí who did an amazing job in protecting us last night.

I wish to address the abolition of the one-parent family payment from yesterday, 1 July, for parents whose youngest child is over seven years, by the leader of the so-called Labour Party, Deputy Joan Burton. I am trying to come up with a new name for that party, as it no longer reflects my ideals of what a labour party should be about.

The party of Connolly.

Fr. Peter McVerry, in a letter to The Irish Times last week, wrote that these cuts

will cause unnecessary hardship for thousands of lone parents and their children, and should be abandoned. [...] My experience over the last few years is that, increasingly, the Department of Social Protection has become hard-hearted and even ruthless, to the dismay of some of its own staff.

The crux of the problem is the chaos of child care in Ireland these last years. The last good policy change was when Fianna Fáil introduced the free preschool year. Nothing has happened since, and Ireland's child care costs are among the highest in the 34 OECD countries. The average weekly cost of child care here is €167, although it is much higher than that in Dublin.

Speaking on "Tonight with Vincent Browne" last night, I said it was a gendered cut, as 98% of lone parents are women. This is the most gendered cut in the history of the State and the fact that it has been done by a woman adds to the disgrace of it. The Survey of Income and Living Conditions, SILC, from 2013 showed that 23% of one-parent families lived in consistent poverty. This represents an increase of 32% in the consistent poverty rate for those families from 2012 to 2013. Another person whom I revere very much, Professor Kathleen Lynch, professor of equality studies in UCD, compared the situation to welfare cuts in the United States and cited a study describing those US cuts as creating "intractable conflict for poor people trying to care for kids." Could someone tell me how one does a job as a lone parent while looking after children? I would like to think the women in this House are very ambitious and big into their careers. How can a woman be ambitious in her career if she is a lone parent and has nothing to live on?

I was with a woman last Friday who has two children. She is a qualified nurse with degrees in nursing management, yet the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is paying for her food and electricity. She lives in the wealthiest constituency in this country, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

The point has been well made.

I agree with Senators who have expressed concern about the protest yesterday and compliment the members of the Garda on the manner in which they dealt with it. In fairness to them, they put up with a lot of abuse and threats and managed very well in a difficult situation. I do not think any garda should have to put up with the abuse endured yesterday.

On the matter of social welfare reform, we have the highest number of people in households with no income other than social welfare across Europe. There has to be reform for a very fundamental reason. Whether we like it, we will have 20,000 more people reaching pension age every year from now on. That means 20,000 extra people per annum will be in receipt of the pension and will require additional care such as health care. We need to plan for this and part of that planning is reform. Whoever comes into government in 2016 - I hope it will be Fine Gael and the Labour Party - by the time they leave Government five years later, there will be 100,000 more people in receipt of the old age pension. We currently have 3.5 people working for every old age pensioner, and if we want the same ratio in 15 years we will need 2.7 million people working. We need to bring about reform. The Tánaiste has brought about necessary reform of-----

It is not reform if no alternatives are created.

It is reform. We are reforming and we need to have it in place; it is all part of the long-term planning we have to deal with.

The Minister, Deputy Alex White, said last night that he was proud of this cut as a work activation measure. Did Senator Colm Burke see him?

I support my friend and colleague Senator Mary White in her impassioned plea to the Minister. I had intended proposing an amendment to the Order of Business and would like to do so in her name and the name of our group. I propose that No. 67, non-Government motion No. 16 on the Order Paper, be taken before No. 1.

I support those Members of the House who referred to yesterday's disgraceful and anti-democratic scenes outside this House of democracy. Senator Mary Moran is right. I attempted to move my car at 3.30 p.m. and was confronted by a line of gardaí at the front gate. In front of them were at least 40 or 50 anarchists who certainly had no interest whatsoever in democracy and were only concerned about starting a fight. The gardaí, in discharging their duties, attempted to clear a way for my car to make its way out. As Senator John Kelly said, I had an appointment that I had to go to - I had no choice - and the car was parked at the front of the House, not the back. Gardaí tried to clear a way in the most diplomatic manner possible. There was no attempt to push or shove people but rather to move them out of the way, yet the gardaí were immediately set upon. iPhones were produced and there were shouts of abuse and "Shame" because the gardaí were attempting to do their duty in what I thought was a very diplomatic and orderly fashion. People stood in front of the car, totally oblivious to the pleas of the gardaí that they move. I eventually withdrew, reversed back in and took a taxi to my appointment, as I did not really want to put the gardaí under any extra pressure. Subsequently, a garda was injured. There was no question in my mind that if I had persisted and if the gardaí had continued to attempt to allow me out there would have been injuries to the gardaí, and I was not prepared to subject them to that.

We engaged with some of these anarchists a little later on, as Senator John Kelly said, and we might as well have been engaging with the wall. One of them actually said, when I put it to him that it was most unlikely that he would be allowed to do what he was doing in any other country, that this was his country and he was entitled to do so. I said, "Yes, you are entitled, but what about the rights of other people?" That was what seemed to be missing yesterday afternoon.

I want to separate what happened in the afternoon from what went on later. I have no doubt there were people who were there legitimately to protest, and they were perfectly entitled to do so. A Member of this House who had expressed a particular view earlier in the day was actually one of those on the platform later on. I do not want to be critical of him in any way for taking a party line. It gives an indication of the depth of feeling among all parties and none about what was going on in the earlier part of the afternoon.

I hope the Leader will answer my next question, in the light of the fact that the Garda Commissioner will be coming before Members of the other House.

Given the Garda and the authorities must have known in advance that there was to be a protest, why were the people concerned allowed to congregate in front of the gates of Leinster House? Why were they not put behind barriers in Molesworth Street which would have prevented much of what happened later? Some weeks ago parents and young children who had come from all parts of Ireland to legitimately protest about child care costs were corralled behind barriers on Molesworth Street and were not allowed to cross the street.

The Senator is over time.

I refer to people who were innocently and inoffensively going about legitimate protest. After that, Members of this House who attempted to bring friends and neighbours who had attended what was a peaceful protest into this House were denied access, yet there were people yesterday, who I can only describe as anarchists, who were actually in this House earlier. We saw them coming back out.

The Senator is well over time.

The saddest aspect of it all was that there were young children present yesterday and some of them were laughing at the fact that a cone was thrown at that poor unfortunate garda who was injured. There was a left-wing academic-----

The Senator's point has been well made.

I will finish on this because it is so important. This is about a threat to democracy and the democratic institutions. A left-wing academic was quoted in The Irish Times today as saying legitimate protest was quite valid. There was nothing legitimate about what happened yesterday afternoon and I wish that man would realise that he would need to look into his own heart and not defend the indefensible.

Before I call Senator James Heffernan, I welcome the members of the DPE camera club from St. John of God in Drumcar, County Louth, who are guests of Senator Mary Moran. I remind Senators that we all are subject to time limits and that we cannot allow some Senators have five minutes and others have only one, as that would be grossly unfair.

I do not intend to go on too long. We have heard a lot about the incidents last night on Kildare Street. I attended that protest earlier in the day. I listened to many of the speeches made from the podium which came from a wide variety of different groups such as those who were there concerned about the cuts to lone parents and those from Right2Water, We Won't Pay, support the boycott and other groups. A degree of sensationalism can come into this but, in the main, those I engaged with at that protest yesterday were decent and sensible people who were certainly passionate about the cuts affecting their lives. However, there was a fringe group of what can only be described as ludramáns and idiots who became part of the protest and took it over. They certainly do not speak for the majority of people. That is a problem with the water charges protest. The movement is being sullied by these plonkers who think it is a good idea to take on and have a bit of an argy-bargy with, the Garda. It is a scandal for the likes of Senator Denis Landy, one of the most decent Members of this House, to be treated in such a fashion, as he was last night, when trying to get home. This is something that has occurred on a number of occasions with protests since I have been a Member of this House. I refer to the management of protests. I do not know whether it comes down Garda resources or whatever else, but the idea that Kildare Street can be completely blocked off from those who are trying to get home from work, catch buses up the street and go about their daily lives is wrong. I am not a security expert but surely a cordon should be placed at the bottom of Molesworth Street to contain a protest there.

If the Leas-Chathaoirleach can bear with me for one more minute, I want to speak about the cuts to lone parents. There are many lone parents this morning, of whom the Deputy Leader may be aware, who have not received the transitional payment into their bank accounts. These are lone parents who are depending on this payment to provide a child's lunch, bus fare or whatever. It is adding to the distress. I suppose we will hear the yarn that the Department's computers are to blame, it is a technology glitch or whatever, but that is not good enough.

The Senator's time is up.

I support Senator Paschal Mooney's call that No. 67, non-Government motion No. 16, be taken today because this issue must be discussed and teased out.

Is the Senator formally seconding the amendment?

I formally second it.

Some Senators are taking advantage of time. One Senator who had indicated to speak a long time ago, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, had to leave because he was under time pressure because some Senators have taken four or five minutes. Senators are abusing privilege. There are seven more Senators to speak and if they all want to take five minutes, I will take a sos for a half an hour and come back at 1 p.m.

I apologise, but it was brought to my attention that there was a long-lost cousin of mine in the Visitors Gallery and I just wanted to say hello.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business by my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney. I support my colleagues who have spoken on the incidents that occurred outside Leinster House yesterday. Intolerant, undemocratic and fascist is how the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, described what happened yesterday outside this House to him, to colleagues in this House and to members of the public, which was totally unacceptable. Accompanied by a colleague from this House and a gentleman who was in with me on other business, we decided to go out at 3 p.m. to get a cup of coffee. Through no fault of his own, that gentleman happens to be fairly large in size and as we were passing a group of approximately 150 protestors, they started shouting, "We are paying to feed him." That was said. Thankfully, he did not notice it, but I did. Those are the types of individuals who were outside of Leinster House. I am sorry if some feel that is funny but as I am concerned, it is certainly not funny nor is it for the gentleman concerned who, thankfully, did not pay much notice to it.

It certainly is not.

It is totally unacceptable that these people who claim to believe in democracy do not have much time for the democratically elected Members of this House. While acknowledging that at least 50% of the people outside were genuine and believed in what they were there for, I would say to those thugs who already have their representatives in the other House, who I have no difficulty in naming - Deputies Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger, Richard Boyd Barrett, Joan Collins-----

It is unfair to refer to Members in another House.

It is a roll of honour.

They have already got their elected representatives in the other House-----

They do not represent the IRSP, Éirigí or any of those.

-----who were not satisfied with trying to undermine the State in the other House without trying to subvert democracy in this House.

That is a matter for the other House.

It is unfair to name Members of the other House who are not here to defend themselves.

With respect, it is not unfair to name people who were inciting hatred and violence outside Leinster House yesterday.

That is an unfair charge to make.

It is time we stood up and said what exactly is going on in this country or it will be too late for us. As I was leaving, having been prevented from leaving Leinster House for two and a half hours last night, there was a small group holding the flag of the nation shouting abuse at me and photographing me as I left.

The Senator has made his point.

I have made my point forcefully.

I pay tribute to the members of An Garda Síochána, especially the sergeant in charge, Sergeant Gavin O'Reilly, who had to deal with a lot of abuse yesterday that they should not have had to put up with. I acknowledge exactly what my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney, said about the child care protesters.

Today, as others have said, is D-Day for lone parents when their payment is cut if their youngest child has turned seven years of age. This is quite amazing. One must remember that these are lone parents and a seven year old is a very young child who cannot be left alone. If such children are left alone, that is neglect.

The parenting would be called into question if that happened. I voted for this proposal when I was on the other side of the House because the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy JOan Burton, promised me and members of Fine Gael and Labour Party that the cut would not come into operation until appropriate supports had been put in place. She mentioned in particular child care of the same quality as that which is available in Scandinavian countries. A month ago Senator Gerard P. Craughwell and I visited child care facilities in Finland and a comparable child care system is not in place in Ireland. We are probably 50 years away from such quality and standards, and may never have such child care unless we plan for it. The House will rise in a week or so. Some 12,000 vulnerable people - mothers, by and large - will be affected, along with their children. It it a scandal. It is not reform, as Senator Colm Burke said. Mothers are unable to go to work or continue in education because they do not have child care supports, and their young children will be at risk of poverty. How can that be called reform? I would call it State neglect. Before the House rises, I ask the Leader to ensure the Minister will address the issue with us in order that we can go into the summer recess with some understanding and awareness that lone parents will be supported rather than being left high and dry. Why are we singling out people who are at risk of poverty?

The Senator's time is up.

Did I or other Senators ever have to parent children alone? When my children were that age, I was glad to have a second parent. I take my hat off to them.

The Senator's point has been made.

I do not know how they do it. Let us not hang them out to dry. I thank the Leader for his time and look forward to the answer.

I add my voice to those who have raised the issue of lone parents. It is appalling that many families who, as we know from the statistics, struggle economically to rear their children and make ends meet, as well as being below the poverty line, are being abandoned by the Government. As Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said, the Minister gave a commitment that none of this would be triggered until such time as there were adequate child care facilities in place to enable such women to work. The cost of child care in this country is prohibitive for anyone on a modest income. I ask the Minister to revisit the decision at this late stage.

There is an interesting resolution before the 29th session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, currently under way in Geneva, entitled "Protection of the family: The contribution of the family to the realisation of the right to adequate standard of living for its members particularly through its role in poverty irradiation and achieving sustainable development." It could not be more pertinent in view of the debate we had today on lone parents. The resolutions includes a number of points. It urges member states to create a conducive environment to strengthen and support all families; underlines that the family has the primary responsibility for nurturing and protecting children from infancy to adolescence; states the introduction of children to the cultural values and norms of their society begins in the family; urges states to take appropriate measures to ensure that a child is not separated from his or her parents against his or her will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child; and reaffirms the right of the child to education and states that education should be directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities. Ireland is a member of the UN Human Rights Council. It is more in hope than expectation that I say I expect Ireland to support this, given the record of the Government on child protection and the family. In the event that Ireland does not support or opposes the resolution, I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House to explain why an anti-family course of action was taken.

For the past few days I have asked for an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that the Minister for Social Protection be brought to the House to discuss the issue of lone parents. Yesterday I received a message from a supporter of one of the Government's parties, stating, "I think you want a culture of schoolgirls in gym frocks pushing prams and on social welfare for life." I have two sisters who were lone parents and went through extreme hardship to rear four children, attend university, get good jobs and live productive lives. I am damn well not going to take that sort of rubbish from anybody.

Senator Paschal Mooney has asked for an amendment to the Order of Business, which has been seconded, and I hope this time the Government has the guts to bring the Minister to the House, have the figures on the table and see who is suffering. I have been inundated with messages from lone parents who have not received their payments. There are people who cannot afford to take the bus to Dublin today. What is going on? We have to do something about this. It is like Irish Water: something is pushed and driven through, no matter what happens, and to hell with what anybody thinks. This is a democratically elected House. The Minister is quite happy to speak to Sean O'Rourke on the airwaves but will not address the House. It is not good enough.

I was with Senator Paschal Mooney at the gates of the Houses yesterday. I have supported the Irish Water campaign and other things that go against Government policy. What I saw happen to the Senator yesterday was totally unacceptable. He was accosted while minding his own business. It was outrageous. Many good people travelled from all over the country to be outside the gates of this House, but there were about 25 thugs there, who should be nowhere else but in jail. I support Senator Mooney.

I support all of the comments made about the protest, if one could call it that, outside the gates of Leinster House. Members were accosted and people who probably thought a legitimate protest was being organised were overtaken by the usual thuggery we have seen in the country in the past 18 or 24 months. Individual elements from a past that this country should not recognise are involved in situations outside the gates of the Houses. It is an absolute disgrace. The brave members of An Garda Síochána had to take the abuse hurled at them, and there was spitting. It was disgraceful and disgusting behaviour. The individuals involved undermined any legitimate campaign they may have had. I listened to some of the contributions at the protest and I did not know what they were talking about. They did not proclaim any cause on behalf of any group or individuals. A lot has been said about the protest and I commend the staff of the Houses and members of An Garda Síochána.

I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine before the House. The report on the future of agriculture, Food Wise 2025, was launched today in the RDS. It is a template which follows the strategy introduced by the former Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, known as Food Harvest 2020. It is a ten-year blueprint for agricultural development and the agrifood sector. However, the sheep sector is currently at a crossroads and is facing a major crisis. According to the current flock register, there are 3.53 million sheep in the county. There are around 450,000 in my county and some 5,500 flocks. In the past fortnight alone, the price per head for a ewe or lamb going to a factory has fallen by €17 on average. It is fast approaching €5 per kilo.

Some commentators in the agriculture sector are predicting that it could fall to €4 per kilo. Even if it the price falls below €5 per kilo for lamb production it will become economically unviable and farmers will be forced out of business. This affects particularly counties Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Galway, Cork and Kerry. We need a debate on the issue and I hope given the urgency of the issue the Leader can facilitate it with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Does Senator Martin Conway wish to speak?

Yes. I will be brief.

As the train is just leaving, I will allow the Senator on.

That is very generous of you. I add my voice to those across the House in condemnation of the behaviour of individuals outside the House. I commend An Garda Síochána and members of the staff of the Houses. The 300 or 400 staff who work full time in the Houses have an expectation that they can come to and go home from work. I am always mindful of speaking about this type of issue because we are just feeding into the headline grabbing which some of the individuals in question are seeking. They want us to be outraged and to express our outrage in order that they can get headlines. To them, in whatever warped sense of political judgment they have, they believe that by us being outraged and disgusted it feeds into whatever they are trying to achieve. It would be no harm if there was a re-examination of the protocols in place between the Houses of the Oireachtas and An Garda Síochána for this type of protest. It is not fair that anybody should have his or her car damaged. It is not fair that any member of the Garda should be injured and knocked unconscious. Neither is it fair that any Member of the House or any member of staff of the Houses should not be able to leave in safety and with dignity.

Senator Darragh O'Brien mentioned the deadline for the tabling of amendments. We will certainly look at that issue, as we want everybody to have an opportunity to table amendments. I am not aware of the circumstances, but we will look at the issue.

On the issue of pyrite remediation, I suggest it is a topic to be discussed in a Commencement debate. I expect the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Paudie Coffey, to be in the House on numerous occasions between now and the end of the session. As one of the debates will be on urban regeneration, it may be possible to raise the issue if the Senator does not seek to debate it by way of a Commencement matter.

I thank the Leader.

The Senator has mentioned that he intends to table a motion on the filling of a vacancy in Beaumont Hospital in relation to transplant patients.

And other matters.

I do not think anybody in the House would disagree with the filling of any such vacancy. There are hundreds of vacancies for consultants in the HSE and I am sure we would all support the filling of them-----

It is life and death, Maurice.

-----but, unfortunately, it is not as easy as that. There is a difficulty in the recruitment of consultants and key personnel in the health service.

Senator Ivana Bacik referred to the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill and outlined that a number of amendments would be tabled on Report Stage. She also mentioned the briefing for Members on the matter.

Senator Katherine Zappone, among many other Members, referred to the reform of the system for lone parents. I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business. The Minister has been in the House on a couple of occasions to take the Social Welfare Bill and so on. The reforms had been flagged for a number of years-----

On the basis that there would be a changed child care system.

Will the Senator, please, allow me-----

Will the Leader, please, address the issue?

If I cannot address the people outside the gates who cannot speak-----

Come on, the Leader cannot stand over this. I never stopped him from speaking.

People cannot speak without being given a reply.

This is an outrage.

Please allow the Leader to respond.

We have been on the Order of Business for 65 minutes.

Prior to the reform of the one-parent family payment scheme, lone parents could have been on the scheme until their youngest child turned 18 years, or 22 years if in full-time education. The non-conditional nature of the payment, coupled with its very long duration, engendered long-term welfare dependency for many lone parents and their children. Supports for lone parents in Ireland have been out of line with international norms. There has been a move away from long-term non-conditional supports towards adopting a more active and supportive approach. In New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom the equivalent lone parent supports cease when the youngest child reaches the age of five years.

The Leader might also mention the equivalent child care schemes in place.

Senator Katherine Zappone asked that a working group be wet up to review the matter. That is something I will certainly raise with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton. I heard Senator Mary White of Fianna Fáil condemn the cuts, but that is like the kettle calling the pot black.

We do not, actually.

It is a little rich for Fianna Fáil Members to shout-----

-----having cut child benefit, supports for the disabled and blind people.

We introduced the free child care year.

Will the Leader, please, try to address the issue?

As usual, they are being hypocritical.

Fr. Peter McVerry-----

The Leader cannot stand over the cuts that have been made.

On the other major matter Senators have raised about what happened outside Leinster House yesterday, Members were accosted in going about their business, while a female garda was injured and hospitalised. There were vile remarks directed at people; cars were damaged and people spat at. When the garda was injured, people were taking photographs and laughing at her. This is anarchy and unacceptable in a parliamentary democracy and should not be tolerated. I am delighted to hear that the Garda Commissioner is coming tomorrow for a meeting to review the issue of security and what happened. I know how inconvenienced Members were. I also know about the difficult family circumstances faced by Members who could not get to their destinations. Their families were very hurt as a result. I will not delve into the matter, but I have heard about the personal circumstances of some Members and they were appalling. It was certainly an attack on democracy.

I am sorry for interrupting, but on a point of order-----

Will the Senator, please, allow the Leader to speak?

If it is a point of order-----

I will rule on the issue. What is Senator Mary White's point of order?

My information is that it was the dissident Continuity IRA that was involved. We have to-----

The Senator knows that that is not a point of order. Will the Leader, please, continue

I thank the Senator for supporting me. They were anarchists. It was an attack on democracy and should not be tolerated. There may have been people who had engaging in a legitimate protest on their minds, but it was certainly overtaken by these thugs. I reject the assertion that there is sensationalism about the coverage. Members know exactly what happened which can be viewed on social media. However, those involved will probably not include footage of the attacks they made on gardaí and Members. I hope the issue will be addressed, as any right-thinking person does not want to see this thuggery. Some 95% of people do not want to see it outside Parliament, any house or building where thuggish elements attack gardaí who do so much for us in protecting democracy.

Senator Feargal Quinn raised the issue of mortgage interest rates and asked that No. 28 be discussed. We will certainly consider his request. Some of the banks have reduced their variable interest rates and I hope action will be taken against those which have not done so.

The Senator also referred to the building regulations guidelines and said the provisions of the carbon monoxide alarm legislation were included in them. Our input fed into the regulations and I am glad that the Seanad played a part in that regard.

On swimming lessons for children, I am told that aquatics is a component part of the physical strand of the primary school curriculum. Many schools provide swimming lessons for children. I do not know whether they are compulsory, but I agree with the Senator and hope such lessons will be extended to everyone.

Senators David Cullinane and Mary Moran referred to the passing of Val Doonican. He was made a freeman of my city, Waterford. I knew him and know many of his family in the city. He was certainly a proud Waterford man and Irish man. He often said he was an overnight success, but he had been ploughing the ground-----

For 40 years.

-----for up to 40 years before he became a success and what a success he was. He had his own television programme on the BBC. He was a former and very proud past pupil of the school I attended, De La Salle College in Waterford. I express my condolences and good wishes to his family and sympathise with them at this sad time. He was certainly a great ambassador for his city and the country.

Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of the reform of the social welfare system and referred to the challenges that would face us in the future. There is no doubt that we will face many challenges. On lone-parent payments, I understand the vast majority have come through today and that where there is a difficulty, it will be attended to as a matter of urgency.

On a point of order, will a press release be issued to inform those who have not been paid? They will not have money for the weekend.

That is not a point of order.

Members have been told by Leas-Chathaoirleach what a point of order is; many Members seek to raise points of order which are not points of order. It happens on a daily basis. It is used as an excuse by Members to make a point. Members should read Standing Orders to know what a point of order is.

I have ruled on that matter.

There should be a tutorial on it.

Please allow the Leader to continue.

I note Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill's point about agriculture and the sheep sector which I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Yesterday the Leas-Cathaoirleach made a point about razor clam fishermen which I raised with the Minister. I understand there is an inland fisheries forum and that recently up to 40 minutes was spent with the Minister in dealing with issues affecting razor clam fishermen. The Senator should encourage them to engage with the forum. The Minister would be very receptive to their representations.

The forum is a joke. It is not working.

Senator Paschal Mooney has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 67, non-Government motion No. 16, be taken before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided by electronic means.

Under Standing Order 62(3)(b), I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 22.

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared.
Question put: "That the Order of Busines be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 18.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.