Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Education Research Centre (Establishment) Order 2015, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 1a, motion regarding arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 14 July 2015, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 2, Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2013, Report and Final Stages - a Private Members' Bill - to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 6 p.m., if not previously concluded.

The Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015, which was due to be taken after the Order of Business today, cannot be taken because it did not finish in the Dáil yesterday. I tried to bring forward the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2013 to after the Order of Business but, unfortunately, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is tied up until 3 p.m.

I am sure Senators are aware that yesterday the British Chancellor, George Osborne, announced dramatically in his budget that a retired couple who wish to downsize or to bequeath their home, worth up to £1 million on their deaths, can pass on the value of the home to their children without paying tax.

Figures from the 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, countries show Ireland has one of the toughest inheritance tax regimes in the world and Dublin accounts for over half of all inheritance tax paid last year. The current situation of inheritance tax in Ireland shows that there is a clear anti-Dublin bias. The increase in property prices, particularly in Dublin, is generating a massive tax burden for families who inherit homes from their deceased loved ones. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown the average price of a three-bedroom house is €500,000. The threshold is €225,000 and the tax rate is 33%. The blow is that in the midst of being overwhelmed by the deaths of their parents, people must pay this tax up front. There should be a dramatic change in the approach to inheritance tax. The threshold should be changed. In 2000 it was €381,000. To be fair, it should be raised to €400,000 and the rate dropped to 20% because 33% is too high. It is ridiculous putting a burden on children of parents who have worked hard and want in their hearts and souls to make sure their children have a good quality of life. They must pay this tax up front. They might have to sell the house to pay the tax and gain nothing from it. It is a very serious issue for everyone but particularly people in Dublin.

The Labour Party Whip, Deputy Stagg, sent a dramatic e-mail to a constituent, saying that he and many others in the Labour Party are totally opposed to the cuts to the one-parent family payment, made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, Leader of the Labour Party. This affects thousands of young families.

It is disgraceful.

It is the hardest neck I ever came across. It is callous and cold. I do not how Senator Bacik, for whom I have the highest regard, has the stomach to take this. Deputy Stagg, the Labour Party Whip, should be embarrassed when he states in his e-mail that he knows, as well as we all do, that the Tánaiste said she would impose these cuts only when there was a Scandinavian style child care system in place. Child care in Ireland is chaotic. This is a serious embarrassment for the Labour Party, its leader and all its members.

Are they capable of being embarrassed about it?

I would say they are embarrassed because I know that they are genuine.

The Senator has gone way over time. Does she have a question for the Leader?

It is hard to listen to a member of Fianna Fáil talk about hard necks and embarrassment because it has a monopoly when it comes to having a hard neck in this Chamber, as is well known, in the context of the appalling mess in which it left the country in 2011.

Ask the Greeks about our success story.

I would not look to Greece for a model for what to do if I was the Senator-----

They are looking to us-----

Please allow Senator Bacik to contribute, without interruption. Senator Leyden has indicated that he wants to contribute.

Senator Bacik is being provocative.

I will not take lectures from the Senator. I listened with courtesy to Senator Mary White, no matter how provocative she was. It is fair to make the point that Members should listen with courtesy.

I have not seen any e-mail from Deputy Emmett Stagg, but we had an extensive debate in this House on the lone parent's allowance. I participated in that debate, as did others, and we are all agreed on the need to ensure lone parents move out of the poverty trap in which welfare dependency has left them. If anyone doubts this, I urge him or her to look at the figures for the risk of poverty status of lone parents. They show that, even at the height of the boom, they were at a vastly heightened risk of poverty because of welfare traps and welfare dependency. What the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, is seeking to do in the reforms is to ensure activation measures will be put in place to move lone parents out of welfare dependency-----

-----into a position where they will be able to engage in the workforce

Please allow the Senator to continue, without interruption.

In fairness, the Labour Party Whip does not see that.

The Senator has indicated that he wishes to speak.

As we all know, the surest route out of poverty is moving from welfare dependency into secure and full-time employment.

Child care is too expensive in Ireland.

Please allow Senator Bacik to make her point.

Senator White should not lecture me on child care. I have engaged directly with the Tánaiste, as have my Labour Party colleagues, on the group of lone parents who may suffer adverse consequences as a result of the changes to seek to ensure these consequences will not be adverse in terms of lost income. We are engaging actively with her and her Department on the issue. I understand the Tánaiste is actively engaged in following up on individual cases. I urge any colleague who is aware of individual cases to raise them with her office and the Department and engage with local Intreo offices which are now very much geared towards implementing job activation measures and moving away from welfare dependency.

I refer to the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, Report Stage of which will be taken this afternoon. It is a good day for the Seanad to see the Bill conclude in this House where it was introduced as a Private Members' Bill by me and Senator Mary Moran on behalf of Labour Party Senators. It aims to amend what is a real embarrassment for the country, the continued existence in an unamended form of section 37 of the Employment Equality Act which facilitates discrimination and has a chilling effect for those who are lesbian or gay, particularly teachers who teach in religious run schools.

Was Senator Power also not involved?

Many colleagues, including Senator Power, have been active in seeking to change this provision and it is a proud day for the Seanad to see the Bill being accepted by the Government. I hope we will conclude Report Stage today.

We all hope we will see a good and proper resolution of the issues for Greece at the European summit this coming Sunday. I hope we will see some bailout package agreed with Greece.

In the light of the significant fact that the Whip of the Labour Party in the Dáil has seen fit in a private e-mail to oppose the cut in the lone parent payment and that, when challenged, he did not withdraw but stood by what he had said, it is important we have a further discussion on the issue in this House. For that reason, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we deal first with No. 68, non-Government motion No. 16, on the Order Paper in my name and those of Fianna Fáil Party Senators and Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. It addresses clearly and logically the position of lone parents and would give Members on all sides of the House an opportunity to engage in the discussion.

On 30 June there were two fatalities in County Clare. I understand that in one case the ambulance service had to request the assistance of the fire service. I also understand that as a result of staff shortages in Ennis, paramedics had to be drafted in from other parts of the county which left them compromised in the provision of an ambulance service. In his wisdom, the Minister for Health has announced the establishment of a new national ambulance service. However, given the serious incidents on Monday, 30 June in County Clare, it is appropriate that he request a report on what happened on that day and the level of ambulance cover provided. He should also seek explanations from the National Ambulance Service management for what happened. The position is extremely serious and such a report is required as a matter of urgency. Following on from it, I suggest there be a review of ambulance services in County Clare. I, therefore, ask the Leader to request the Minister to initiate a report and review the ambulance service in County Clare as a matter of urgency.

I again wish to raise the case of the young Irishman in an Egyptian jail. In today's edition of the Irish Independent the public affairs editor, Mr. Shane Phelan, reports that Ibrahim Halawa has been subject to electric shock torture in an Egyptian prison, according to a submission made by a leading human rights lawyer to politicians yesterday. It is important that this young man be released by the authorities in Egypt and brought back to Ireland. As Members know, his father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, is the most senior Islamic cleric in Ireland. Ibrahim Halawa has been detained for almost two years. It is very serious that an Irish citizen is being treated in this manner. I know that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is doing his best, as is the ambassador, but their best is not good enough. The State-----

They cannot circumvent what happens in the Egyptian courts.

There is no law and order there. They are not treating this young man properly. Is electric shock treatment acceptable to you? Would you like to receive electric shock treatment in some jail?

Certainly not. I was talking about what the Senator was up against.

I ask Senator Leyden to speak through the Chair, please.

Is Senator Coghlan standing over the Egyptian system and the degrading torture of a young 19 year old Irishman through electric shock treatment? Is that the way we treat an Irishman 100 years after the Easter Rising?

The Senator knows that it is not.

Senator Leyden should not invite comments from the other side of the House. Does he have a question for the Leader?

I second the motion proposed by Senator Norris on lone parents.

To return to the case of Ibrahim Halawa, in the circumstances I have no hesitation in calling on the President, Mr. Michael D. Higgins, to intervene. He has a responsibility to Irish citizens and I do not think he can stand idly by and allow an Irish citizen to be treated in this manner. I call on him-----

The Senator should not mention the President's name in the House.

He is a politician and was elected by the people of Ireland.

He is not; he is above politics.

He should contact the President of Egypt to say he must release our citizen.

The Senator is completely out of order.

Unprecedented cases require unprecedented action, but no action has been taken and it is about time it was. We have a President in Áras an Uachtaráin who is a great human rights advocate, a man who has stood up for people's human rights.

The Senator is completely out of order.

I hope I am in order.

We talk about Seanad reform.

We all share the concern about the health and well-being of Ibrahim Halawa and want to see him returned to his family and back in Ireland to further his education. I have every confidence in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, his officials and our consular staff who are doing everything possible to secure his release. In the past year and a half some 42 visits have been made to him in prison in Egypt.

I believe this issue will be resolved through diplomacy. I certainly believe that grandstanding such as we have seen here this morning is not helpful. I would appeal to everybody to work diplomatically and to support the efforts being made by our diplomatic staff to resolve this issue and get this young man home.

I want also to speak on behalf of the asthma suffers of this country, some 470,000 people who live with this condition on an ongoing basis. We have the fourth highest incidence of asthma in the world and 60% of sufferers in Ireland have uncontrolled asthma, meaning they are at risk of an asthma attack. One in every ten adults has asthma and one in every five children, which is a frightening statistic. A clinical programme for asthma was adopted in 2011 but, to date, it has gone largely unimplemented. I call on the Government to include the funding for the first phase of this programme in the 2016 budget. It is estimated it would cost some €2.5 million and the priority would be to spend this money in primary care, given the majority of people are treated for their asthma condition by their local GP. I would also like to see a free annual asthma review for each person with asthma. Another issue is that asthma sufferers are paying a very high cost for medication, which is an area that needs to be addressed. At some stage in the future, we should have a discussion with the Minister for Health in the House in regard to the rolling out of the clinical programme for asthma and its funding in the 2016 budget.

Two weeks ago the Joint Committee on European Affairs launched a report, UK-EU future relationship: Implications for Ireland, which specifically looked at the implications for Ireland of Britain leaving the EU. At the time, this launch was mentioned in the House but I want to know when we might have a debate in the House and bring in the relevant Minister to discuss the report. I raise this issue particularly in regard to the cross-Border effects and the implications for the Border region, in particular the economy and local communities. If Britain were to leave the EU, it would significantly change the Border area and we were warned during the committee deliberations of the effects it could have. It would transform the Border into a major international frontier which would be manned by passport checkpoints and customs controls. It is important that we discuss this, not just for those reasons, but because of the implications it could have for the Good Friday Agreement and some of the cross-Border institutions that rest upon that. We all know there are many issues in the North at the minute and the institutions are already under threat. We do not want any further stunting of the progress that has been made in recent years. One issue that is pertinent when talking about the Border is that of funding. The Border region has benefited hugely from EU funding and the agriculture industry has benefited from an all-Ireland approach. There would be significant implications for these areas.

I ask the Leader when we will have a discussion on this important matter. I want to ask the Minister what role the Government is playing currently to ensure the country is bolstered against trade, immigration and financial fallout in regard to a potential exit.

Senator White raises an interesting point around inheritance. I suggest to the Leader that we might have a debate on the issue of taxation more generally, in particular taxation and fairness. I must admit I cannot agree with Senator White. First, inheritance tax is based on value and, obviously, Dublin properties are more valuable than properties outside of Dublin. The other point I would make is that inheritance tax is tax on unearned income and is set at 33% after the €225,000 allowance. Someone can work a couple of extra hours in a supermarket and pay 40% at the marginal rate. I do not think tax on unearned income should be lower than tax where people go out and work in productive employment.

It is another intellectual approach we have this morning.

I would also make the point that inheritance tax perpetuates more unequal societies. I am very surprised the Senator would raise an issue such as child care and, in the same breath, suggest that people should be able to have tax relief on wealth they do not earn when, obviously, the more wealth they inherit, the more unequal society is. We do not see too many people on social welfare inheriting more than €225,000, and, by the way, it is €225,000 per child. On that point, I would be very happy to have a wider debate on the whole issue of fairness.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Willie Penrose, on the fact his proposal to reduce the period of bankruptcy to one year was accepted, as I understand it, unanimously by the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality yesterday. I ask that this would be incorporated into law as quickly as possible. We have all seen the desperate situation in this country and the unwillingness of banks to resolve the situation for people. The period of bankruptcy, together with the bank veto, have been identified as two issues which are still delaying the resolution of the serious issue of mortgage arrears. Will the Leader ask the relevant Minister when Deputy Penrose's very welcome proposal of limiting the bankruptcy period to one year will be incorporated into law?

On a point of order, does the Senator have a problem with children who may have to sell the property up front to pay the tax? This is extreme communism.

Communism? I am sure people on social welfare in Ireland would not regard that as communism.

It is extreme communism.

I support my colleague from Clare in the call for a debate on the ambulance service, particularly the emergency ambulance service. As we know, many ambulances are stood down and are not available when required throughout the country. In my own county of Kerry, two emergency ambulances have been withdrawn over the last four years. We now see situations where patients, including road traffic accident victims, are waiting up to an hour for ambulances to arrive. I ask the Cathaoirleach and the Leader to organise a debate in the House on this situation.

I also put the House on notice that we have a motion on the Order Paper in regard to the situation with organ transplants and organ donation. We will be putting an amendment to the Order of Business next week. As we are sitting five days next week, I ask the Leader that we would have the Minister for Health in the House to give a statement in regard to Beaumont Hospital.

He was here yesterday.

I know that, but the situation has not been resolved and we need urgent action. Obviously, when the House rises, the situation is not going to be improved.

On an important point, the skillsets simply are not there. We know the answer we have been getting, which is that the jobs have been advertised and so on. Unfortunately, the current pay thresholds mean the people have to come in from abroad, if we are going to get them at all. The treatment purchase fund is also an issue we have raised in our motion as it would allow those on the kidney transplant list and the pancreatic transplant list to become eligible for the treatment abroad programme.

The most amazing situation dealt with in our motion is that those who are on the transplant list are being instructed to go to accident and emergency, which is hard to believe. These people are very sick and vulnerable to infection. For the HSE and the medical services to be instructing them to go into harm's way by telling them to attend the emergency wards is entirely wrong. They never had to do this before and, in fact, it is the exact opposite of what they had to do and what they should do. I ask that the Minister would come to the House to explain why our transplant patients are being put in harm's way.

The Senator is way over time.

I wish to raise a point of order. Senator Hayden should let constituents in Dún Laoghaire know her position on inheritance tax.

That is not a point of order.

She should let them know her position. It is the wealthiest constituency in the country.

A Senator

I suspect it is another blow to the constituents of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Senator Coghlan, without interruption, please.

I agree with my colleague, Senator Michael Mullins, in regard to the young man who was falsely imprisoned in Egypt. We have to rely totally at this stage on the diplomatic efforts being made and led by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Of course, there is no argument about the inhumane treatment that has been wrongfully doled out to that poor man. We all wish to see him free at the earliest possible stage. It is difficult for one country to circumvent the courts system and what we might think of it, whatever faults it may have, in another country. I am sure that learned legal man, Senator Thomas Byrne, would agree with me. As Senator Mullins has said, the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is leading well on this issue. Some very inappropriate comments were made on the other side of the House this morning but we will pass over that.

On a separate matter, Senator Mark Daly will, no doubt, be glad to hear we will sit four days, rather than five, next week because, as the Leader has explained and I have no doubt will explain again, a Bill will not be ready on Monday. That is not our fault but that of the other House. I am surprised-----

We are not discussing next week's business. We are on today's business.

I just mentioned it by way of information which, I am sure, the Leader will clarify further. As the Cathaoirleach is always inviting questions I ask the Leader if he would clarify that issue when he responds.

What Bill is the Senator talking about?

I have no doubt he will respond.

What Bill did the Senator mention that we are not taking on Monday?

The Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015. It is not concluded in the other House. The Leader mentioned that at the outset.

That is today.

The Senator is taking over the Leader's role.

I am not. I can see the smile on your face but far be it from me-----

Will the Senator please-----

NAMA must be doing well this morning before the Committee of Public Accounts given that my good friend and colleague failed to mention it.

Is the Senator asking for the transparency Bill to be brought back in by Fianna Fáil? We will do that if the Senator supports it.

We are getting ourselves into a bit of a mess in this House. We now have a policy to drive lone parents into poverty and the Whip of the smaller party in the coalition Government is opposed to that policy, yet we cannot get the Minister to attend the House-----

-----to support that. In view of this I second Senator Norris's proposal.

It is already seconded.

I will third it to make sure it gets over the line.

I am sure Members are aware that yesterday the Irish Congress of Trade Unions decided to oppose the imposition of additional water charges. We are trying to ram legislation through this House which started last night. I ask members to reflect on that. It is opposed by 600,000 members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

I appreciate I am stepping on thin ice when I raise the next issue. The issue of Oireachtas pensions needs to be discussed openly and transparently. When former taoisigh are getting an increase in their pensions while lone parents are being driven into poverty there is something terribly wrong. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate because I am sick of hearing there is a constitutional entitlement and that we are talking about property rights. There were no property rights for public servants when their pay was cut. Perhaps it is time we have somebody in here to discuss property rights and pensions and why pensions are being increased when lone parents are being pushed into poverty.

I am glad Senator Craughwell has raised what is a very sensitive issue about pensions. I understand from reading the newspapers today, particularly the Irish Independent, which seems to be obsessed about pay and pensions in these Houses, that there is some talk of volunteerism. I understand the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said at the weekend that there could be a legal challenge because of the Lansdowne Road agreement. It is interesting that there has been a deafening silence from the trade unions. We have not heard anything from them. It would be prudent, but it is a matter for the individuals concerned, and it would help to assuage the whipping up of public anger on this issue whenever it comes into the newspapers, if the recipients were to refuse voluntarily to take the increase, which are modest in terms of the overall figures. It would be in the best interest of the public and the county in general if they were to voluntarily refuse to take it.

In the context of the Irish Independent, I have spoken to my colleague, Senator Mary White, on this issue because from a male perspective one may not always get it right. I was somewhat disappointed at the photograph that appeared on the front page of the Irish Independent of two hard working Aer Lingus cabin crew shown putting on make-up in advance of the arrival of the Airbus into Dublin Airport. If ever there was a sexist photograph that is demeaning of women this was one of them. Cabin crews work exceptionally hard but to give the impression that they were nothing more than two dolly birds getting their make-on in advance of a plane arriving and being photographed in a national newspaper is unacceptable. I do not think that women, in general, should be shown in such a demeaning manner.

In regard to the Amnesty report and the poll that has appeared in the national newspapers relating to people's attitudes towards abortion, it is important to put on record that the pro-life campaign, in a statement which was not covered by many of the newspapers, revealed that Amnesty International's recent report on Ireland's abortion laws was compiled with the assistance of an international abortion lobby group, called Women on Web, and that not the slightest attempt was made to ensure balance in compiling the report. They failed to consult with women who regret their abortions or those who came under intense pressure from State funded agencies to abort their children with life limiting conditions.

The revelation that Amnesty collaborated with the group, Women on Web, in compiling its report completely undermines the credibility of what was produced. It also raises very serious questions about Amnesty's professional judgement for partnering with an organisation that facilitates the reckless and irresponsible importation of abortion drugs into countries such as Ireland, leading to situations where women end up self-administering the drugs without proper medical supervision. I agree with the conclusions of the pro-life campaign group that Amnesty is in fully-fledged campaigning mode on one side of the abortion issue. It is no longer the unprejudiced and even-handed organisation that won the public's trust and respect. I am a member of Amnesty and have been very reluctant to withdraw my membership because of what has happened.

I will not do it because Amnesty, generally, has got a proud and long history of looking after people. When I and many others in this House, Senator Norris being one, have down through the years raised human rights issues it has been in the forefront when nobody else cared but on this issue it is totally and completely wrong and out of order.

I agree with my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney, on the matter in regard to Amnesty. When it presented its report to the Joint Committee on Health and Children I decided not to comment on it because I felt that the research provided to the committee was not properly done. I have serious reservations about that report which was presented to the Joint Committee on Health and Children.

On the pensions issue, there is a simple solution to the matter, that is for the people who are entitled to the increase to decide not to take it. If Senator Gerard P. Craughwell wishes to write to each of the individuals I am sure nobody is preventing him from doing so. However, there is a legal issue in that the Government cannot pick out one group and decide not to follow through on a prior agreement. That is a legal issue that, unfortunately, cannot be dealt with. It is a constitutional issue and a difficult issue.

May I raise the issue of the drugs problem? I am aware the Minister is attending the Joint Committee on Health as we speak. We had a detailed presentation this morning from a group from Monaghan on the use of drugs by young people. We have a huge problem, no matter where it is, whether in a town, village or city. It is no longer confined to any one area of the country. We need to have a major debate on how to deal with it. The Minister is talking about bringing in new legislation but we all need to be involved, including parents, sports clubs, youth groups, the HSE, the Department of Health and schools. We need to work on how to deal with this growing problem.

The figures for 2012, the only figures available to me, show that some 632 people died as a result of drug use in that year. I expect the figures are even higher for 2013 and 2014. More than €109 million is being pumped into this area by the Health Service Executive, but we are making very little progress. We need a major debate on where we want to be and what our plan is for the next five to ten years to deal with this issue. As we know, people are able to order various illegal drugs online and have them posted to them. Children as young as 12, 13 and 14 years are accessing these substances. We have a major problem on our hands and must start dealing with it properly.

I welcome the publication of the European Commission's third report on Ireland since we exited the bailout. In particular, I note the Commission's observation that the standard variable rate charged by banks here is "relatively high". One might conclude, therefore, that the authors are operating under a misapprehension - I am trying to be polite - when they go on to say Irish banks must be given sufficient leeway in setting mortgage interest rates. The Commission has missed the heart of the matter - that the banks have had and continue to have the so-called leeway they need to adjust mortgage interest rates, but they have abjectly failed to do so. The key point in all of this, of course, is that we do not have a normal competitive banking environment. Until we arrive at that point, the banks will continue to take advantage of customers through what I would describe as extortionate variable interest rates. Unfortunately, as I said, the Commission has totally missed the point. That is why we need legislation to compel banks to treat customers fairly. I introduced a Bill some time ago to do precisely that and it is time the Government moved the issue forward.

According to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, the Courts Service is to outsource the collection of fines. The number of people jailed for non-payment of fines last year was 8,140, 775 more than the number imprisoned in 2013 and an increase of 1,400 on the 2011 figure. Last year the Government passed legislation designed to reduce this number, but, as I understand it, it has not yet been implemented. We need to know if and when these measures will come into force.

I take the opportunity to express my appreciation to colleagues for the useful debate we had yesterday on Seanad reform. I was rather stunned to discover yesterday morning that the Taoiseach had arranged to have a meeting on the issue involving only the leaders of the parties in the other House. He changed his mind at the last minute, however, and managed to get a few representatives from this House. That was at 7 a.m. for a 7.30 a.m. meeting. Clearly, this issue is not high on his agenda. I hope there will be a change in that regard.

I do not intend to comment on the incident in which I was involved personally last Wednesday night other than to say that since it happened, I have been contacted by a large number of councillors from around the country to tell me how their access into and out of council meetings has been obstructed in recent months. In many cases, they have been unable to drive their vehicles out of council office car parks for several hours after meetings have ended. This is happening not only across Dublin but also throughout the country. In Cork city, for example, council meetings have been interrupted and forced to suspend.

In Carlow, councillors had to leave their cars, in many cases overnight, because of the activities of protestors, some of whom are either directly attached or purport to be attached to Members of the other House. That is absolutely disgraceful and cannot be allowed to go on. In the context of the forthcoming inquiry into the incidents that took place outside the Oireachtas last week, will the Leader bring the matter I have raised to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality and also the Garda Commissioner? We have a situation where councillors, elected public representatives working for very small salaries, are being obstructed and prevented from carrying out their functions in the democratic process. That needs to stop. People have lost the run of themselves in their understanding of how democracy operates and, specifically, how protest operates. It is not protest if a councillor is prevented from leaving a meeting at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., perhaps to go home and finish his or her work for the day. In many cases, as I said, councillors' cars are being hemmed in overnight and they cannot get home. In Cork some councillors live 60 or 70 miles from council offices. I ask the Leader to take up this matter with the Minister.

Will the Leader and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges review how the Order of Business is conducted in the House? Many of us - I include myself among that number, from time to time - come in for the Order of Business and speak off the top of our heads on matters that do not pertain to Parliament and legislation, leading to ridicule in the media and confusion among the general public, given the standard of some of the debate, as to why it bothered to save the Seanad. That is a fact and it is something with which we must grapple. The Seanad has a very important role to play in our democracy and it is important that we continue to play that role. We are not doing so, however, if Members simply come in and rattle off what they have seen on the front page of some of the tabloid newspapers. It is unacceptable and the Cathaoirleach and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges should take action. We are all guilty of doing it from time to time, if we are completely honest with ourselves.

What about the issue the Senator raised recently concerning Kells?

That was a legislative matter. On the particular day the Visitors Gallery was full of people from Kells.

That is why the Senator raised the matter.

It is not one of the issues sometimes raised here that create mirth and laughter. It was an issue of general concern to thousands of people.

An issue that is of even broader concern to people in this country is that of mortgage arrears. The Government promised two months ago there would be changes to the bank veto and an expansion of the mortgage to rent scheme. Nothing at all has happened on the second point, but we are told legislation will be brought to the Dáil next week, at the very last minute, on the bank veto. In the meantime, 100 repossession cases will be heard in Trim on Monday, following the 100 heard before the court last week. I am sure the position is the same in every county, with multiples of that number in Dublin. Is the Government taking the issue seriously at all? Why did it not push the legislation through and give some hope to people? Ministers seem happy to hold press conferences at Government Buildings to get the headlines out before the issue is forgotten about again. It has not been forgotten, however, by the thousands of people around the country who are facing repossession. Will the Leader indicate whether the legislation is due to be brought before this House before the summer recess? If so, when will we receive copies of the Bill in order that we can analyse it before it comes up for debate?

Will the Leader agree to make arrangements after the summer recess for a pre-budget debate with the Minister for Finance? I heard part of the Minister's interview this morning on Newstalk in which he indicated his proposals to cut the universal social charge by at least one percentage point in the forthcoming budget. It would be helpful if Members of this House who have suggestions to make, particularly on taxation and spending, could play a part in the process in the lead-in to the budget rather than being left to complain after it is passed. As soon as we are back in September, it would be useful to debate the budgetary options facing the Minister and the Government. There was an interesting discussion this morning between Senators Mary White and Aideen Hayden on the inheritance tax issue which is very relevant, particularly for people in urban areas. All of these matters need to be discussed. Money will not be found to solve all of the problems we face; it is a question of considering the political, economic and financial choices to be made. Traditionally, the budget is announced and the analysis of its provisions takes place when it is much too late to do anything about them.

I believe we should have an opportunity to make suggestions and put ideas forward before the budget. We could even sit a day earlier in September to have that debate with the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State at the Department of Finance. It would be useful. Perhaps the Leader would reflect on that.

I heard on the news yesterday that the Web Summit is returning to Dublin this year from 3 to 5 November and approximately 32,000 people are expected to take part. In conjunction with the Web Summit last year, the Surf Summit was held in Sligo and it had approximately 200 participants. This year it is anticipated that up to 800 participants will take part in the Surf Summit on the Wild Atlantic Way. Undoubtedly, Ireland's west coast is now a world renowned destination for international surfers. This will be a major boost to the tourism industry in November both in Dublin and in Sligo and its surrounding counties. I welcome this great news for tourism.

I agree with some of what Senator Byrne said. However, while Members of the House must be temperate in the issues they raise, the decision on what to cover is a matter for the media. The media have a poor record. They pick the ludicrous and ridiculous contributions made in the Seanad and report on them. There is no doubt that it makes something of a laughing stock of the House.

Last evening was the first anniversary of the 50-day conflict last year in Gaza in which 504 children were murdered by the Israeli Defence Forces. There is a very thought-provoking installation at the Ha'penny Bridge and I recommend that people go to look at it. All of the names of the children killed in that conflict are recorded on white ribbons which are flying from the Ha'penny Bridge.

Senator Mooney raised Amnesty International and the poll that showed 81% of people were in favour of a more liberal approach to abortion. Polls can often reflect the opinions of those for whom they are written. I am not sure that it is up to 81%, but I certainly believe the country has moved on a great deal since the referendum in 1983. Since 1980, almost 163,000 women have made that difficult trip to England. It is high time we had a referendum on the eighth amendment and leave it up to the people. Yes, it is a divisive societal issue, as one can see from the various protests held in Dublin last weekend, but we have moved on as a society and the issue should be put to the people in a referendum again. Ten women per week still have to travel to England. The outsourcing of the problem to another jurisdiction is not the proper way to deal with it, so we should grasp that nettle now.

I appeal to the Labour Party to push for that referendum to be held. It is Labour Party policy. I also ask the major parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to face up to it. Fianna Fáil has been ducking and diving on this issue and has not committed to a referendum. If the referendum is not to take place during the lifetime of this Government, the parties that will lead the next Government should commit to holding the referendum, regardless of what they think about the issue. It is only right, proper and fair to give the Irish people, after more than 33 years, the right to a say on this issue.

I do not know what Senator Heffernan would say if somebody were to propose a referendum that would allow his right to continue living to be the issue.

The Leader might recall that in December 2014, I called on the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, to investigate what was, in fact, a second round of accusations against the Saolta University Health Care Group. An information technology, IT, services contract had been awarded to Northgate plc, despite the fact that reports suggested that a Saolta group board member had previously been a consultant with that UK-based company. Indeed, it emerged that Northgate plc was the only company to be asked to bid for the contract, which raised all sorts of questions about the HSE's tendering procedure requirements and whether they were being followed. The Saolta University Health Care Group includes major hospitals in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon and Galway, and it had been in trouble previously for similar reasons. In fact, one member of its board resigned after the first controversy in June last year.

The problem is that the HSE is still sitting on a report, which is about the spending of taxpayers' money, more than seven months after I first raised the issue. The report was supposed to be published last December, and there have been articles in the press which suggest that parts of the report have already been seen by people in the media. The articles tend to suggest that tendering procedures were not followed properly and some of the people involved still hold responsible positions in health care in this country. It is not clear whether there will be any accountability on this issue. The fact that the public has yet to find out what is in this report is appalling. Taxpayers deserve to know what happened, whether anything inappropriate or illegal occurred, who was responsible in that event and what steps are being followed.

Are you asking for the report to be published and for a debate on it?

Yes. In particular, I am asking if the Leader could intervene with the Minister for Health and ask him to order the release of the report. The previous Minister for Health said that there would be no further breaches of procurement rules by that hospital group. To maintain public confidence in the management of public money in hospitals, the Minister should direct the HSE to release the investigation report at this point. The potential misallocation of public money is a serious issue and I would be grateful for the Leader's intervention on that matter.

Senator White raised the question of inheritance tax with specific reference to her new constituency. On the general issue of tax, including inheritance tax, if we reduce tax in one area it must be recovered in another area. I am sure the Minister for Finance would welcome suggestions from the Senator and Fianna Fáil before the budget regarding where that money would come from. If they are sensible, he might act upon them.

Change it anyway.

The Leader, without interruption.

I note the Senator's comments on the cuts to one-parent family payments and the comments made by Senator Norris regarding Deputy Stagg. They are the views of the Deputy and I cannot comment on what he puts in e-mails and so forth. I will not accept the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. We have dealt with the issue on several occasions in the House. Senator Bacik outlined the reforms in the social protection system, particularly the job activation measures.

Senators Conway and Daly called for a debate on ambulance cover, particularly in counties Clare and Kerry. Perhaps that could be raised at the health fora which have been set up by the HSE in the various areas. Representatives could raise the matter at the health forum also. With regard to specific issues in Clare and Kerry, Commencement Matters are the only way they can be dealt with in this House. I am sure the Members will avail of that facility.

While I respect Senator Leyden's concern for Ibrahim Halawa, he was grandstanding a little on the issue today.

It was not the first time I raised it.

He was out of order-----

He is grandstanding every day.

His references to the President and asking him to intervene in this regard were completely out of order.

I would not agree with the Leader, actually.

The Leader, without interruption.

The next hearing in the case of Ibrahim Halawa is scheduled to take place on 2 August. Once again, the Irish embassy officials will attend. In the meantime, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials in Dublin and Cairo will continue to work actively behind the scenes to do everything possible to facilitate positive progress in this case as early as the circumstances may permit. Embassy officers visited Mr. Halawa for the 42nd time on Wednesday, 24 June. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, met the Halawa family on 4 June. As is the case for any Irish citizen imprisoned abroad, any suggestion of ill treatment in this case has been taken with the utmost seriousness by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has been raised with the Egyptian authorities, where appropriate.

The high level of consular visitation is an important practical tool in monitoring Mr. Halawa's welfare and ensuring the embassy in Cairo is well placed to raise any concerns arising directly with the prison authorities. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has received correspondence from a firm of solicitors in respect of Mr. Halawa's case in recent days and this is currently being considered by the Department. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and his Department are maintaining extensive contacts with the Egyptian authorities and other international partners with citizens in similar circumstances. Following examination of other similar cases, it is clear that irrespective of any political efforts made by foreign governments, including high-level requests, the other trials have been completed before any political consideration of a possible release by the Egyptian authorities has taken place. In Mr. Halawa's case, the trial is still ongoing, and, while the Department and the Minister continue to maintain extensive contacts with the Egyptian authorities, including at high levels, the precedents examined to date suggest it is unrealistic to expect that any release will take place before the initial trial concludes. It is the Government's considered approach, supported by decades of diplomatic experience in other consular cases and extensive consultation with states that have citizens in similar circumstances, that our current firm diplomatic efforts provide the best means of achieving the twin goals of protecting Mr. Ibrahim Halawa's welfare and securing his release at the earliest possible opportunity.

I had more success getting a prisoner out of Greece.

I believe this is a comprehensive reply to Senator Leyden.

It is comprehensive. I agree with the Leader.

It is a comprehensive response.

I went to Greece and got a prisoner out.

The Leader, without interruption.

They are the facts of the situation. If Senator Leyden chooses to grandstand on the issue, I cannot prevent him from doing that.

I have a track record of getting people out of jail.

Senator Mullins raised the question-----

Castlerea is in your constituency, Senator Leyden.

No, I am talking about Greece.

Senator Mullins also raised the plight of asthma sufferers, a matter raised by Senator Landy on the Order of Business yesterday with reference to the clinical programme.

Senator Reilly raised the question of the impact of Britain leaving the European Union, the joint committee report on the matter and the impact on Border regions in particular. I imagine that is a matter we will be coming back to later in the year.

Senator Hayden called for a debate on taxation and fairness. Senator Bradford called for a pre-budget debate on taxation matters as well. We will try to facilitate this with the Minister in September when we come back. Senator Hayden also welcomed the report of the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which has recommended that the period of bankruptcy be reduced to one year.

I wish to reply to Senator Byrne. Unfortunately, he is not in the Chamber, but I will answer his query on in respect of the issue of the Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Bill. We will have the Bill before the House next week. That is for the information of Senator Byrne, in particular, who asked about it.

Senator Daly raised the question of pancreas transplants. I am unsure whether Senator Daly was in the Chamber yesterday, but the Minister was in the House and dealt with a Commencement debate on the issue, raised by Senator Burke.

I know, but he did not deal with the issues in our motion.

He dealt comprehensively with the matter and I understand he made a further statement on the issue.

Senator Coghlan asked about next week. I had indicated that we would be sitting five days next week but now we will be sitting on four days. We will not be sitting on the Monday now, but we will be sitting Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Senator Craughwell, Senator Mooney and Senator Burke raised the question of political pension restoration. It was this Government which introduced pay cuts for the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and all serving Ministers. Moreover, it abolished State cars for most Ministers and reduced political staffing costs.

That was afterwards, simply for the optics.

The Leader, without interruption.

I listened to Senator White without any interruption. I did not interrupt any person. It was this Government which introduced reforms in order that Members of the Oireachtas would not be paid official officeholder pensions while they were still sitting Members. New laws were introduced by this Government and are applicable to all new Members of the Oireachtas, including Ministers. The Government introduced a new single public service pension scheme with a new minimum pension age of 66 years. Certainly, I share the view that it is ludicrous for many of the Taoiseach's predecessors to enjoy pension entitlements that are not much lower than his current salary. That applies to other higher earning public servants' posts as well. I am mindful of the continued high level of pension payments to former public officials during the time of the economic crisis. It was also this Government which increased to 20% the public service pension reduction on pension payments in excess of €100,000. The reductions in the pay for high-level public servants were made under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act. The Government has also decided that members of the current Government and their senior special advisers will not personally benefit from any of the pay increases due in 2016. That is the record of this Government in respect of payments and pensions to officeholders.

I note Senator Mooney's points in respect of Women on Web, their support for abortion drugs and the role of Amnesty International in assisting that campaign. I note his comments in this regard.

Senator Burke commented on the use of drugs by young people. I believe the Minister is speaking on this issue in a committee at present. It is a sad fact that more than 630 people died in 2012 from drug misuse.

Senator Quinn referred to the European Commission third report on Ireland and the Commission views on mortgage rates. The fact is we need more competition in the banking sector. That is exactly what we need. I also note Senator Quinn's point in respect of the fact that more than 8,000 people were jailed because of non-payment of fines. The Government is addressing that and we will have a related Bill before the House next week, the Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill, which will deal with these issues.

Senator Landy commented on the disruption of council meetings throughout the country where public representatives failed to gain access or egress from council chambers. That is a deplorable situation. It is a matter which council officials should raise directly with the relevant chief superintendent to address. Sadly, it is a fact of public life now that people who are in public life are harassed going to and coming from meetings. It is a sad fact and a sad day for democracy in the country.

Senator Byrne referred to mortgage arrears. The Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Bill will come to the House next week. Senator Byrne also referred to comments made by Members on the Order of Business. I cannot legislate for what people might say on the Order of Business. I would love to be in a position to be able to stop people, but I cannot. We would have liked to have heard Senator Byrne make his comments on Seanad reform yesterday.

I compliment all the Members who made representations and the two former Senators, Dr. Maurice Manning and Joe O'Toole, it was a very comprehensive debate on the issue. Senator Brennan welcomed the Web Summit due to be held from 3 to 5 November and outlined the major benefits and the boost for tourism in Dublin and Sligo and other areas. Senator Heffernan reminded us of the anniversary of the children who were killed in Gaza last year - that was a sad and tragic period which needs to be commemorated. There was a call for the repeal of the eighth amendment suggesting that people's opinions have moved on. Senator Mullen disagreed with those comments and raised the question of the Saolta University Healthcare Group and Northgate, calling for the HSE to release the report. Commencement debates were down on that issue in the past and I will bring the matter to the Minister's attention.

Senator David Norris has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 68, motion 16, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 21.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • White, Mary M.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and David Norris; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.