Order of Business

Before I call the Leader, I am sure Members of the House would like to join me in an expression of sympathy on the death of Alexis Fitzgerald, a former Member of this and the Lower House. I am sure the Leader will arrange for expressions of sympathy at a later date.

I join the Cathaoirleach in offering condolences to the late Alexis Fitzgerald's wife, Mary. He was an excellent representative in this House. We will arrange a commemoration of him in the House at a later stage.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Monday and Tuesday, 20 and 21 July 2015, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and adjourned not later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.45 p.m.

We agree to the Order of Business. I join the Cathaoirleach and the Leader in expressing the sympathy of our group on the passing of the former Senator and Deputy Alexis Fitzgerald. There will be an opportunity to have more substantial expressions of sympathy, but I add my voice to the sympathy extended to his wife, the former Deputy and Minister, Mary Flaherty, and his children. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

In the same context, I am sure Members on all sides of the House will express their sympathy to a former Member of the House and current Deputy, Joe O'Reilly, on the death of his mother who I understand passed away yesterday.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam.

In about 20 minutes the LE Eithne will steam up, if I can use that somewhat outdated nautical term, to Ringaskiddy in Cork Harbour following a most extraordinary ten weeks during which the Naval Service covered itself in glory. The crew will be returning as heroes in a modern sense, having saved the lives of more than 3,300 refugees who found themselves in one of the most inhuman environments. It was a new departure for the Naval Service and is one that will be added to its illustrious record. It is not often we have the opportunity to praise the Naval Service in these Houses. Generally, we tend to refer to the Defence Forces in the context of their peacekeeping activities. On this occasion, however, the House will join me in congratulating the Chief of Staff who is a naval officer and rear admiral and ask him to convey the thanks of this House and the people of Ireland to the 65 crew and medical staff who did such impressive humanitarian work in the Mediterranean in the past few weeks.

I understand the Naval Service will also be welcoming the addition of a new ship, the LE James Joyce, bringing the complement of Naval Service ships up to eight. Considering that we have such a huge area of sea to cover for fishery protection, this is a welcome addition to the Naval Service and fishery protection, particularly on the south and south-west coasts.

Members of this House have occasionally referred to the plight of the homeless. The most striking example of it occurred late last year when there was an outcry about the tragedies that occurred in the city as a result of homelessness. Quick and active resolutions were put in place at the time. Sadly, however, the homelessness issue has not gone away and a report today reveals the shocking news that 17 pregnant women are sleeping in nothing more than tents and the back seats of cars. They have no homes during their pregnancy. Homelessness is unacceptable in a modern society, regardless of what category of people it affects, but that 17 pregnant women cannot find refuge during their confinement is an indictment of a society that prides itself on having a humanitarian approach. Perhaps the Leader might convey the sentiments of the House, as I am sure all Members will agree with me on this issue, that something must be done immediately, similar to the proactive approach of the Government on the last occasion, with Fr. Peter McVerry and others who work in this area. This issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency. I understand only four beds are available from Anchora, the organisation that looks after pregnant women. I hope direct and immediate action will be taken in this regard.

On behalf of the Labour Party group, I offer condolences to the wife and family of former Senator and Deputy Alexis Fitzgerald. I also offer condolences to Deputy Joe O'Reilly. With many other Members, I served with him in the previous Seanad, from 2007 to 2011, and he is a great friend and colleague. I am very sorry to hear of the death of his mother.

I join Senator Paschal Mooney in offering a huge commendation from across the Seanad to the crew of the LE Eithne on the immense humanitarian work they have done. A number of us have spoken about it in this House, but it is hugely positive to see the amazing work they have done and to read some of the detailed accounts of the rescues in which they were engaged and the many thousands of migrants they rescued. In that context, I ask the Leader to schedule a debate, early in the new session, with the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, on the implementation of the report on the direct provision system that was published recently. I note that the Minister of State has been appointed to head an implementation body to assess how the recommendations made in the report can be put in place. Clearly, when we discuss migrants, the issue is not just migrants being rescued in the Mediterranean but also migrants living in Ireland. Many Members of the Seanad have worked on this issue over a long period. The recommendations of the working group on direct provision are welcome, but Members should keep a watching brief on this and hold regular debates on the issue.

I also support the call for a debate early in the next session on homelessnes. After the justified outcry last Christmas the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, provided for a significantly increased investment in services for homeless persons, but we should have a debate on the issue again in the House.

I also seek a debate in the new session on child care in the light of the report published this week by Early Childhood Ireland. The report, Footsteps for the Future, by Dr. Stephen Kinsella from the University of Limerick looks at the funding of early childhood or preschool education. In particular, there is an analysis of the provision of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme year and the provision of child care by service providers. However, we should have a broader debate on child care, looking at the matter not just in the context of early childhood education in the three to five year old cohort but also child care for infants and children up to three years of age. I am aware that a report is due on this aspect. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, has commissioned a working group report on how best to ensure accessible, affordable and high quality child care for parents and children in Ireland. As the report is due to be launched shortly, it would be timely for the Seanad to have a debate on it when we have considered its findings. It would give us an opportunity to have an input.

I echo the sentiments of Senator Paschal Mooney and the Leader on the loss of Alexis Fitzgerald, a most popular, friendly and courteous man to meet. I extend the sympathy of the Independent Senators to his wife, Mary.

It is welcome that two of the students injured in Berkeley, Niall Murray and Jack Halpin, are returning to Ireland this week. For them and the others who survived that tragedy - Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Clodagh Cogley, Hannah Waters and Aoife Beary - we wish that the summer will be a time in which they can recover fully. We also think of the other foreign disasters for Irish people in the early summer, particularly for the Carty family in County Meath and the Hayes family in Athlone who were bereaved in the Tunisian event.

Like Senator Ivana Bacik, I welcome the work of Dr. Stephen Kinsella. He is around these Houses quite frequently; he attended a finance committee meeting last week. He is a most interesting person to meet on many aspects of how the economy might develop. Perhaps we might see more of him.

I hope the people in Greece and Germany will not put a currency before a country. There has been too much of that. One does not make a god of a currency. It is simply a means of exchange between countries and has received far too much prominence.

I welcome the good news that three quarters of the population have high or very high satisfaction with life in this country, despite all of our problems. It brings to mind the words of a former Member of the House, W. B. Yeats:

Cast your mind on other days

That in the coming days may be

Still the indomitable Irishry.

Despite banks, their accounts and so forth, we are still doing well, surviving and emerging from these great disasters. That is a positive note to mention. Some people will be taking up their buckets and spades, as the newspapers put it, but the banking committee will be working for another two weeks. We will continue to delve into these matters and Members will not be disappointed by the work of Senators Susan O'Keeffe, Marc MacSharry and Michael D'Arcy. This House has been splendidly represented on the committee and it will be a good report.

I welcome the wonderful news from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, on the announcement of the €100 million investment to promote tourism, transport and sport. It brings the Department's capital spend in 2015 to €1.7 billion. It will be used to support the public transport system, road maintenance and a speedier roll-out of all the necessary work to be undertaken on various projects. A sum of €60 million will go towards transport, €34 million will go towards remedial roadworks both at national and local level, €4.2 million will go towards tourism which has been a jewel in the crown in recent years in terms of what it has contributed to the economy, while €1 million will go towards road safety.

I am especially pleased to note that in ten minutes the official sodcutting ceremony will take place at the national indoor arena at Sports Campus Ireland in Abbotstown. I remember competing as a young man on the American indoor circuit when there was talk of a national indoor arena being built in 1979 in the docklands area of Dublin, but that did not happen. The allocation of €800,000 for the national campus is appropriate and it will accelerate the delivery of the project. That is an indication of the work the Government has been doing to return the public finances to order. We are building a better future and providing for levels of investment to meet the economic and social needs of the people. I welcome today’s announcement.

I add my condolences on the death of the former Member of this House and Dáil Éireann, Alexis Fitzgerald. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

I wish to refer to an issue which was highlighted last night on the “Prime Time Investigates” programme but which has been under review by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General for some time, namely, procurement within the HSE and hospital sector. The HSE spends approximately €1.6 billion every year in the procurement of services. It is trying to distance itself this morning from the hospitals concerned, but the fact remains that the HSE provides a block grant for each of those hospitals and is responsible for the manner in which the block grant is spent. It is answerable to the Comptroller and Auditor General who found in his audit of HSE procurement as far back as 2012 and 2013 that goods and services were being procured in some instances without competitive tenders.

A different but linked issue was raised in last night’s programme. It appears to be endemic across the HSE and hospitals. While it may have been common practice in the past, it is totally unacceptable as we try to obtain value for money in the procurement of services or goods for the public health care system. We should debate the matter, but I accept we might not have time ahead of the summer recess. However, I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Health on the issue in early September when we return, taking into consideration some of the recommendations made by the Committee of Public Accounts on HSE procurement and what steps have been taken by the Department of Health, the HSE and the hospital groups to fulfil some of the recommendations made. If the practice is continuing, as was highlighted last night, it appears that the recommendations have not been taken into consideration. I ask the Leader to facilitate such a debate in early course on the resumption of the Seanad.

I also express my sympathy to the family of Alexis Fitzgerald, in particular his wife, Mary. I knew him through UCD. I also express my sympathy to Deputy Joe O’Reilly, another UCD colleague, on the death of his mother.

I agree with Senator Paschal Mooney on the need for a debate on homelessness. I formally ask the Leader to call on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to immediately meet the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, to discuss the €18.6 million shortfall in the homeless budget in Dublin city and the four Dublin county councils. I commend the work of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and the Tenancy Protection Service. In spite of very significant difficulties, they have secured housing for a significant number of people who have been facing homelessness. It is a crisis that needs further action and to be further addressed, but we must acknowledge the work that is done by the two organisations to which I referred in protecting people who would otherwise be on the streets.

We all know tht the homelessness crisis is being largely driven by the shortage of housing and high rents. I am somewhat disturbed by a narrative that is coming across to the effect that what we need to do is lower building standards in order to supply housing more quickly. With many others, I campaigned for many years to improve building standards and move us away from the 600 sq. ft. two-bedroom apartment that blighted Dublin city, in particular the centre of the city for many years, and what are now proving to be the slums of the 21st century that are being occupied almost exclusively by single parents. I bel ievevery strongly we must hold the line on building standards. Housing is for life, not for Christmas, to borrow another adage. We cannot have a scenario where poor quality housing is built now because we want to quickly increase the supply. We cannot abandon good quality building standards.

Ba mhaith liom thar ceann mhuintir Shinn Féin anseo sa Seanad comhbhrón a dhéanamh tar éis bhás an iar-Bhall den Teach seo, Alexis Fitzgerald, lena chlann, lena mhuintir agus lena chairde. I echo the sentiments expressed on the passing of the former Senator and Deputy Alexis Fitzgerald and pass on our condolences to his family and friends.

I concur with Senator Ivana Bacik in her call for a debate on the working group on direct provision. It is very important that we debate the issue. I have serious misgivings about some of the findings of the working group, which I will make at the time. Perhaps before we break up next week, if he is able to do so, the Leader might also give us an indication of the progress of the protection Bill which is intricately linked with the work of the working group. A Bill is required to introduce most of the recommended changes that need to be made.

Many Members might be thinking about taking a break from the Houses, but I raised an issue to which the Leader did not get to respond owing to the shenanigans about a number of women who did not have much time to wait. I refer to the 1,512 women who have signed up the Magdalen redress scheme. In order to sign up the women were required to indemnify the State. They did so on the understanding the Government would honour in full the recommendations made in the Quirke report. In recent weeks women based in this country have begun to receive their long-promised medical cards, only to find they are inadequate for their health needs and do not entitle them to the enhanced range of services they were promised when they signed up to the scheme. No provision has been made for the survivors who reside outside the country, all of whom are entitled to redress.

As if the issue was not problematic enough, the medical cards issued to the women in question in recent weeks clearly identify them as survivors of residential institutions, which is a breach of their privacy. They are elderly and have been and, sadly, continue to be treated appallingly. They have no time to waste. Several of them have passed away since the Taoiseach’s tearful apology to them. They deserve the best we can give them immediately, not when we return from our summer holidays. I note that we will have a Minister or Minister of State from the Department of Justice and Equality here next week. I call on the Leader to make time available either today or next week in order that we can address the issue and raise the concerns raised by the women concerned. The Government should not leave them hanging in uncertainty during the summer recess. They deserve the best we can offer. We must take action and should do so while we are still here. I call on the Leader to organise such a debate.

I agree wholeheartedly with everything said by Senator Paschal Mooney about the LE Eithne and her crew and the sterling service it provided on behalf of all of Europe in the Mediterranean. I am pleased it has been replaced by a sister ship. I pass on our good wishes and congratulations to Rear Admiral Mellett on his position and promotion. He is shortly to take up the role of Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces.

I also sympathise and pass on our condolences to the widow of Alexis Fitzgerald, Mary Flaherty, on his untimely passing. As has been said, he was a very friendly man whom many of us knew very well and held in high regard. I also extend my sympathy to our good friend and colleague Deputy Joe O’Reilly on the death of his mother.

I, too, add my condolences to the family of Alexis Fitzgerald.

There is much congratulatory talk this morning about the crew of the LE Eithne. It is rather surprising that it has had to make a claim to be compensated for overseas service and that it has not been met on the same terms as those that would have been afforded had the crew been on UN service.

I do not know how far that claim has progressed but for those who put their lives in jeopardy to serve this country, rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean is not just about the issue of rough seas and so on. We see they are garbed up when they undertake these rescues, but we do not know if sick people are being brought on board that ship. When these men and women of the Naval Service are away from home, there is serious family hardship. I ask the Leader to inquire of the Minister about the claim with respect to their overseas service payment.

We should note that Rear Admiral Mark Mellett is the first ever naval officer to take over as Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and it is a great day for the Naval Service. With respect to what we saw on the "Prime Time Investigates" programme last night on procurement, will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if there is a role for the Garda? There are hundreds of patients on trolleys in hospitals, yet people are accepting holidays in Portugal and elsewhere. I am not saying anybody is guilty at this stage, but if money is going astray - we heard this morning that ten times the price was paid for a particular article - surely that is fraud and there are criminal offences that should be investigated.

On the issue of homelessness, I remind the House that Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has brought to our attention the fact that 17 pregnant women are homeless in Dublin this very day.

I extend deepest sympathy to the Fitzgerald family on the death of Alexis Fitzgerald who served in this House and was Lord Mayor of Dublin in the 1980s. He and his wife, Mary Flaherty, both served as Members of Dáil Éireann at the same time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family today.

I also extend my sympathy to Deputy Joe O'Reilly on the recent sad passing of his mother.

I support the call for a debate in the autumn on the procurement processes within the Health Service Executive. What we saw on the television programme last night gives cause for grave concern. Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill said there might have been such practices in the past and if that was the case, they were no more acceptable then than they are today. We need to have a root and branch investigation of what is happening and if sharp practices are taking place or there is illegality, those responsible must face the full rigour of the law. I certainly hope that will happen as a result of the programme last night.

I am concerned about an issue that came to my attention yesterday. The prison in Castlerea was unable to accommodate a prisoner who had been brought there to serve a five year sentence for indecent assault because he was a wheelchair user with special medical needs. He was taken on a 150 km round trip to the prison but brought back to his home last night. That is a source of serious concern. I am conscious of how the victims of that man's crime feel about the fact that he is not in prison having had a five year prison sentence imposed on him last week. The prison authorities were instructed to sort out the situation in Castlerea last Friday and they were unable to do so. I ask the Leader to request a statement from the Minister for Justice and Equality on the issue and seek confirmation as to when the man in question will commence his five year sentence.

Out of 47 European countries, Ireland has the fewest number of judges per 100,000 of population. I ask the Leader for a debate on that issue and also on the issue of barristers defending and prosecuting cases of sexual violence having, as they do in other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, to undertake training on the impact of sexual violence on victims. That does not happen, but it should be mandatory.

Currently, only 17% of judges in the High Court and only 12.5% of judges in the Supreme Court are women. Again, the figures are not in proportion with those in the rest of Europe. Too often, the judges presiding in cases of rape, child abuse and those involving minorities are men who have been educated in private schools and are largely conservative and middle class. Their number is way out of proportion with the rest of the population and that must change. However, it can only change by law, as we did in this House when we changed the requirement for political parties to have gender quotas. Forty per cent of members of State boards must be women, but that has not happened. The problem in having the same group of people sitting in the Judiciary is that there is group think. They think the same way about the impact of violence on women. We have seen suspended sentences being handed down in cases in which-----

I have not said anything inappropriate.

The Senator's time is up.

My time is not up yet. They were cases in which the perpetrators admitted that they had raped somebody, yet suspended sentences were handed down. This week, in regard to the house of horrors, three judges said the sentence should be reduced in one of the most horrific cases of abuse in the history of the State.

The Senator's time is up.

All of these judges are male, middle class and went to private schools. That has got to change.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to address the Leader this morning. He will recall that nine days ago I raised the issue of 17 homeless women in Dublin who were pregnant. It is a scandal. It has taken me one week to get one media outlet to cover the story. I compliment the journalist, Philip Ryan, of the Irish Independent, for covering it. I have met some of the young women in question who are pregnant and homeless. Some of them are living in squats, in tents behind homes or on sofas. Other Senators mentioned the issue. Cura, an agency that helps pregnant women, has only four places available. The situation is desperate. I have written to the Taoiseach but have received no response. I have written to the Minister for Health but have received no response. I wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and received an acknowledgement. I met him, but nine days later nothing has been done. One of the girls is due to give birth in three days. Where will she go? It is bad enough to be pregnant and homeless, but imagine being homeless with a new baby. One of the women has diabetes, but she has no place to store insulin. She has to be out of the hostel at 9 am., which is unsustainable. I am delighted that the Cathaoirleach is giving me the opportunity to speak. The House will sit next week. I ask the Leader to help us to receive an emergency response, priority one status, to provide supportive accommodation for the women concerned. This is either a caring society or it is not. I will continue to raise this issue in the coming days. I am relying on the Leader to deal with this issue.

Is it true that there will be not be Commencement matters next week?

I have had a Commencement matter down regarding Innis Meáin national school for more than one week. The school needs a second teacher. It has a woman working with children on her own, with no cover to allow her go to the bathroom or have her lunch.

That is another matter-----

That is an unsafe environment for any teacher in which to be working. I want to know the reason and look forward to receiving a response.

Senator Paschal Mooney paid tribute to the captain and crew of the LE Eithne. This is a special day for the Naval Service with the LE Eithne returning and the LE James Joyce arriving in Haulbowline at the same time. It is great to see €70 million being spent on such a wonderful new vessel.

As the Senator pointed out, our seas are almost ten times greater than the landmass of the country and it is very important that we have these vessels. I join in complimenting the captain and the crew and commend them for their humanitarian work. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised a related item. I was not aware that there was a claim for an overseas service allowance. I am fully aware of the sacrifices members of the Defence Forces make and I will raise the matter with the Minister for Defence, but I am surprised to hear about the claim. I had not been informed about it.

Senators Paschal Mooney, Gerard P. Craughwell, Fidelma Healy Eames and Aideen Hayden raised the issue of homelessness. We are all aware that the problem has not gone away and that there is a need for further investment. However, we did see a big improvement. There was a significant injection of capital last year which solved the problem for some time, but we still have problems, especially the dreadful position in which homeless pregnant women find themselves, a problem highlighted by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames. Senator Aideen Hayden praised the work of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. There is no doubt that those involved have done Trojan work since the organisation was set up. The issue needs to be addressed and it is a priority. I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and ask him to address the shortfall in funding for homeless services. The Minister of State with responsibility for housing will be in the House later today and I will also bring the matter to his attention.

Senators Ivana Bacik and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh commented on the direct provision system and the report published recently. A task force has been established by the Government to assist with the transition of persons from direct provision accommodation. It will be chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and report back to the Government on key aspects of the report by 30 September. It will deal with the protection process. Separately, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is writing to her Government colleagues to seek their views on aspects of the report that impact on their Departments. The immediate focus of the task force will be on the particular needs of the cohort of people who continue to reside in direct provision accommodation, despite having been granted protection status or leave to remain. The task force will bring together representatives of Departments and draw on the expertise of relevant agencies and non-governmental organisations, as appropriate, to consider the issues involved in the successful transition of the people concerned into Irish society, which I imagine will be welcomed by everyone. Perhaps we might have a further debate on the matter in the autumn session.

Senator Sean D. Barrett welcomed the return home from Berkeley of some of the survivors. We all wish them good health and happiness for the future. The Senator also recalled the resilience of the Irish race, despite our difficulties, as highlighted in the report published recently.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan welcomed the additional investment of €100 million in tourism, transport and sport. The injection of capital for remedial roadworks will be welcomed by local authorities throughout the country. It is great to see the sod being turned for the new indoor arena at the National Sports Campus, something which was mooted over 50 years ago, as the Senator mentioned.

Among other Senators, Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill raised the matter of procurement services within the HSE and hospitals. I did not see the programme mentioned, but I agree that these practices are totally unacceptable and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. On Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's comments, I take the view that the procurement issues are employment disciplinary matters and do not think there is a suggestion of criminal activity. However, I am sure that if there is, the Garda will be actively involved.

As I mentioned, Senator Aideen Hayden, spoke about homeless services and the need to hold the line on housing standards. I agree totally with her. There can be no short-term or quick fixes in dealing with the difficulties in the provision of housing. Standards will have to be maintained.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to the direct provision system, a matter I have addressed, and the Magdalen laundry sufferers, a matter raised by Senator James Heffernan on Tuesday. I hope these matters will be addressed by the Government in early course.

Senator Michael Mullins highlighted the case of a prisoner in Castlerea. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality. When people are convicted of serious offences, it is important that they be incarcerated as soon as possible, but I am sure this matter will be addressed. I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister.

Senator Mark Daly relayed facts about judges. I point out that the facts and figures he gave were for civil law jurisdictions. As this is a common law jurisdiction, the facts to which he referred have no bearing on the position in Ireland. He should note that 33% of judges in Ireland are female, one of the highest percentages in Europe, if not the highest, in common law jurisdictions. Last year the Government appointed 21 judges, 12 of whom, or over 50%, were female. The Senator should, therefore, look at the position again. These are the facts. The Senator should acknowledge that the Government is doing everything possible to raise the number of justices who are female. Sentencing is another issue altogether. I will certainly try to arrange a debate on it in the autumn.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames remarked on the issue of homelessness, a matter I have addressed. She also asked about debates on Commencement matters. We will not deal with Commencement matters next week.

Order of Business agreed to.