Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Monday, 20 Jul 2015

Vol. 241 No. 8

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Houses of the Oireachtas (Appointments to Certain Offices) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 2.45 p.m.; No. 2, Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.45 p.m.; and No. 3 - Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill 2015 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2.

To clarify, will the debate on the Houses of the Oireachtas (Appointments to Certain Offices) Bill be adjourned at 2.45 p.m. if it does not finish before then? Does the Leader intend to carry over the Bill or does he wish to conclude the debate on it before that time?

We will see. It should be finished by then.

I thank the Leader. I wish to raise a specific case with him. I would not do this on the Order of Business but for the severity of the case. A constituent has made contact with me about a matter that relates to the broader issue of health insurance, health insurance coverage and how health insurance companies such as Aviva deal with their customers. The man's name is Mr. Colm Callaghan. He has written to the Minister for Health-----

The Senator should not name people in the House.

My apologies. He is well known because the case is public, but I apologise for naming him. However, my constituent requires life saving medical attention and an operation that is only available in Canada. This has been confirmed by St. Vincent's University Hospital. A liver operation is required. What is galling is that this family has health insurance and the insurance policy document which I have with me clearly states "Yes" that the family is covered for benefit abroad for surgical procedures that are not available in Ireland. Obviously, the news the family received about this man's liver cancer was devastating. They made contact with Aviva at the time and were told verbally that they were covered and that the matter would be dealt with, except for the cost of flights and accommodation.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Aviva came back to them to tell them that they were not covered and that they would be paid €22,000. The cost of the operation was €200,000. The man concerned has a young family who are distraught. I will be writing to Aviva as it is absolutely disgraceful.

It is disgraceful.

I worked in the insurance industry and have the policy documents. We have asked the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to assist as best he can. The family wrote to him on 16 July. I will give the Leader the details afterwards and ask his office to take up the case with the Minister for Health who I am sure will be sympathetic. It may be that the State will have to step in, but Aviva cannot be let off the hook on this. The man concerned and his family have paid their premiums. It states on the policy document that they are covered and now Aviva is backsliding purely because of the cost. If the man concerned can raise the money, €200,000, he can have a lifesaving treatment in Canada that is not available in Irelan or elsewhere in Europe. It is groundbreaking surgery. Aviva needs to do the decent thing, admit the claim and allow the man concerned and his family to travel to Canada to receive the treatment and have the operation that will save his life. He is 47 years old. As the Leader knows, I do not generally raise specific health cases such as this. It is just the week that is in it because the Dáil is not sitting and we are. I will give him the details. I have written to the Minister, as have the family. I ask the Leader to take up the case with him. With the support of my colleagues, I intend to get on to the chief executive of Aviva and tell him of the Seanad's disgust at the manner in which the man concerned and his family have been treated. I seek the support of colleagues from all sides of the House on the issue.

In the light of what Senator Darragh O'Brien said about the awful circumstances of the case mentioned, I am sure we could agree a Seanad cross-party motion, although it is very late to do so. We would certainly have time to do it. We can all join in doing so.

I welcome the announcement that the Cabinet will be approving the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill tomorrow. It will give adopted children the right to access information on their birth identity, which is a welcome development. It has been promised for a long time and everyone in the House will be aware of the difficulties in drafting legislation of this kind. Colleagues on both sides have worked on the issue, as have colleagues in the Dáil. I look forward to the eventual publication of the Bill.

I also welcome the announcement that Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is to chair the Higher Education Authority gender equality review of third level institutions which is being conducted in the light of the Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington case. I know that other colleagues, including Senator Hildegarde Naughton, have been raising the case and have been concerned about issues around gender inequality following the Sheehy-Skeffington decision. I welcome the setting up of a panel to put forward what the head of the HEA has described as what he hopes will be "impactful" recommendations in the light of the review to ensure greater gender equality at third level.

We have heard a great deal this term regarding children's health and rising obesity levels. Senator Jillian van Turnhout has established a cross-party group, with the Irish Heart Foundation, to look at children's health and efforts to tackle obesity, etc. It has been suggested to me that we might look to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to institute a bike to school scheme, similar to the bike to work scheme instituted by the last Government, which has been so successful in encouraging higher levels of cycling among adults. The introduction of a scheme that would encourage higher levels of cycling among schoolchildren would be very welcome. It would be a really good initiative. I will be writing to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to suggest he take up this initiative, but I ask that the Leader to also support it. We might have a debate in September on how to improve children's health and the health of the population generally through greater promotion of cycling. We have seen great things such as the dublinbikes scheme working to improve levels of cycling but having a bike to school scheme would also be a great idea. It is always hard for schoolchildren to see back-to-school things at this stage of the summer when September seems so far off, but "bike to school" would be a good play on the words "back to school" and a very welcome initiative for children and parents alike.

I support that idea. I have two questions about the national economic dialogue which I was delighted to attend last week. I was the only Senator present and I am particularly grateful to the Leader for helping me to be there. I am not sure why I was the only Senator present.

Perhaps it was because, even though we had things to say about money Bills, we did not have votes on them. As we said during the debate on Seanad reform, we have a great deal of expertise that feeds into how the country sets its budgets and its priorities in that regard. I suppose this leads me to my first question which relates to the issue of Seanad reform. I understand there was a meeting of Opposition leaders and the Taoiseach on the evening of the most recent debate on the Manning report. I heard about it. It seems that at this meeting there was a debate but no consensus. According to the newspapers, the report is going to go to the Dáil for debate and perhaps a Bill might be introduced on the basis of whatever consensus is achieved. I wonder whether this is the best way to do the business of achieving Seanad reform. Perhaps it is a way of doing business while ensuring the Seanad is not reformed. I suppose my question relates to whether we will have a Bill on Seanad reform in the autumn.

I will return to the national economic dialogue for my second question. The matter of the engagement of parliamentarians with the Government in the budgetary process which we have often raised here was raised at the forum. It would be preferable if we could be engaged in pre-budget discussions rather than post-budget discussions. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, indicated at the conference that he had written to every committee in January last year to look for suggestions on the setting of budgets, but that no committee had responded. There was no engagement, at least in that way. I wonder whether that resulted from a problem with the committees or a difficulty with the process. How can we get more pre-budget engagement from parliamentarians as part of a more open, transparent and inclusive process? I enjoyed the national economic dialogue very much. I thought it was terrific. We were able to listen to parliamentarians, members of civil society and representatives of lobbying groups. However, that is not how we should debate our priorities when setting budgets. Similarly, debates within individual committees are not the best way to go about this work. I suggested we might need to keep child benefit where it is and instead invest more money in children's early years services. Professor John McHale, the director of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, mentioned to me in conversation that the OECD had been asked by the Government to make recommendations to it on how parliamentarians might engage in the budgetary process. Can we hear about what these recommendations are when they are lmade? More importantly, I would be willing to come in to have a debate at a committee meeting in September. I might even participate with the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform in debating priorities for budget 2016.

The Senator is way over time.

I appreciate the indulgence of the Chair. Will the Leader ask the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, if that is possible?

I wish the Cabinet well as it goes to Lissadell House for its meeting. As the home of the first woman to be elected to Parliament in Britain or Ireland, it is an inspiring place. It was a source of great inspiration for people such as Yeats who wrote in 1934 that the "real work of legislation" is done in meetings dominated by "old lawyers, old bankers, old businessmen, who ... have begun to govern the world". I hope the Cabinet's deliberations in the west will not be influenced by old lawyers, bankers and businessmen.

I echo the support expressed for the chairman of the Committee for Finance and Personnel of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr. Daithí McKay, who has asked for representatives of NAMA to attend that committee's investigation into a £1.3 billion property deal in Northern Ireland. There are fine relations between the two Parliaments now. Last Friday week we met the new Speaker, Mitchel McLaughlin. The chairman of NAMA, Mr. Frank Daly, is a frequent and valued attender at meetings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. It should be a case of hands across the Border.

I wish our great golfers Paul Dunne and Pádraig Harrington great success this afternoon. I note that yesterday our cricket team qualified for the next Twenty20 World Cup. Our hockey team has also qualified for the World Cup. Those involved represent the island of Ireland and give us great inspiration.

I wish the Cabinet well in its deliberations in Lissadell House and commend the Taoiseach for his decision to hold a Cabinet meeting there. Lissadell House is a place full of history and tradition and thankfully the battles associated with it in recent history have concluded successfully and it is now open to the public, as the Cassidy family always wanted. I commend the family for what they have done for society. My good friend, Senator Sean D. Barrett, left out one group of people who always deliberate successfully, namely, gentlemen professors.

I also commend Irish golfers, particularly Paul Dunne. Their international success is amazing. We are setting standards worldwide, as I know from the wonderful golf course in Lahinch where the Taoiseach and the Speaker of the House, Mr. John Boehner, played a successful game recently. I sincerely hope an Irish golfer will win the British Open.

Ireland is a centre of excellence in many areas. One such centre is the Irish Financial Services Centre where the creation of 100 jobs was announced today. I have maintained for a long time that the country should lead the way in mediation, arbitration and conflict resolution services. We should have a hub here in order that we become world leaders in this area. With that in mind, I again call on the Leader to impress on the Minister for Justice and Equality the importance of proceeding with e-conveyancing. We should embrace technology and the concept of e-conveyancing which would save the country millions of euro.

It is difficult for a Corkman to speak on the Order of Business having been chastened by Kerry the previous weekend. We left the Munster championship behind us two weeks ago.

The Senator should be used to it at this stage.

When the House returns in the autumn, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on an issue my good colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, raised last year. Some people scoffed at his remarks that seagulls were endangering society and taking food out of children's mouths, etc. Some in the media thought they were a bit of a joke, but the Senator is usually very level-headed and seldom flippant in his comments. It is interesting to note that no less a person than the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. David Cameron, has recorded his concern and worry about the behaviour of seagulls. He made his remarks because a tortoise and a child's pet, a terrier dog, had been killed in the recent past by seagulls. Fish, the normal food source for seagulls, are becoming more scarce and the number in the sea is probably only one third of the level 30 or 40 years ago. Seagulls have killed lambs and rabbits and we are reaching the stage where they are endangering society. Their behaviour is sometimes like that of a rabbit with myxomatosis or a cow with mad cow disease.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am asking for a debate on this important issue. Seagulls are becoming a nuisance and pest. We should consider the request made by Senator Ned O'Sullivan last year that we have a cull of this vicious seabird. Seagulls usually live at sea and nest on cliffs, but they are now invading towns and villages.

There is a seagull looking in the window at the Senator. He would want to be careful.

This is a very serious issue. One sees seagulls attacking the food of children who are eating fish and chips. I ask the Leader to consider having a debate on this issue in the forthcoming term.

I, too, welcome the news that the heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill will be adopted by the Cabinet and acknowledge the work of a number of people, including my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, and the Adoption Authority of Ireland, on the issue. I also note some of the issues the Adoption Authority of Ireland has noted it considers need to be addressed. We need to be mindful that we go as far as we can with this legislation.

I agree with Senator Katherine Zappone - I have said it already, as has Senator Paul Bradford - that we need to and should have a pre-budget debate in this House on the issue of public expenditure and the important headlines for the budget and so forth. Two weeks ago we passed legislation which prevents discrimination against rent supplement tenants in securing accommodation based on their source of income. It was perhaps a little noted part of the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, with which we were dealing at the time. May we have a debate on rent supplement? It is fine to put in place well meaning legislation preventing discrimination and I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, is keen that the legislation should be effective. However, I have a number of concerns, the first of which is about the adequacy of rent supplement. It is inadequate to secure or keep accommodation. There are still inordinate delays, although some progress has been made, in processing rent supplement claims and the manner in which the scheme is administered. My problem is that given all these issues, there is no way someone in receipt of rent supplement could not be discriminated against on purely legitimate grounds, namely, the manner in which the payment is made. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister concerned to look again at the rent supplement scheme on which so many tens of thousands depend for their home.

I raise the issue of the planned increase in the minimum wage, which I suppose was leaked. It has not been confirmed yet, but we hear that the Low Pay Commission, set up recently - we had lengthy debates in this House on the Bill - will recommend a 50 cent an hour increase in the minimum wage. It is interesting that the proposal has received a mixed reaction. Business groups state, wrongly in my view, that this will set the country back economically. They have completely overreacted to the proposal. The trade unions state it does not go far enough and I tend to be on their side. It is interesting that this morning IKEA has stated that not only will it pay the increase in the minimum wage but it will, from next week onwards, pay a living wage to all of its employees.

It is pointing the way forward for companies which can afford pay increases. I accept that there are some small businesses for which increased labour costs would be difficult.

The Government can do things to support those companies in the budget. However, very profitable companies can and should be paying better wages. We know who they are. Many of them are making very big profits in this country and should be paying a living wage and, where they can be, they should be supported and encouraged to do so. For me, it reinforces the need for the Low Pay Commission to be a living wage commission and to look at all of these issues. In reality, I do not think we should be looking at the issue solely through the prism of pay increases. For many low paid workers, pay increases are part of the solution, but what they need is access to good quality public services. For many people in low paid jobs the lack of wages is one issue, but the fact is they cannot depend on public services, be they housing support, health or education services, because of the impact of rising costs on them. That is the flaw in the logic of the Low Pay Commission. It is important for us to have a debate on the issue of low pay when we come back after the summer recess. I commend IKEA, something I would not have seen myself doing last week. It has, however, made that move.

I support the words of the Fianna Fáil group leader on the private health insurance company mentioned which has behaved despicably. I will lend my support and that of Sinn Féin to any motion he wishes to table in that regard.

It is always a pleasure to talk about sports in the Seanad. I mention world leaders. Perhaps we might look at Ireland as being a world leader in sports tourism. Today I received a number of text messages from people asking, "Who is this guy?"

It is always great to see someone come out of the blue. They were referring to young Paul Dunne who grew up in Greystones, went to school in Blackrock College and the University of Alabama. I did not know anything about him prior to this past week, but I have a great deal of pride in him. I think of Pádraig Harrington as well as Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley. Golf is really an exceptional sport, making Ireland a leader. Many years ago, the Golfing Union of Ireland received funding from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for its scholarship programme. The academy in Maynooth has helped to produce all of these great lads. People might ask how this boy, Paul Dunne, is going to do in the final round this afternoon, but it is not his first time playing in the British Open. He played in it last year and just failed to make the cut. Having finished fifth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, NCAA, he is going to do things. Golf and other sports are very important for tourism. These players are ambassadors when they represent Ireland which is priceless public relations for the country. When I was at the Irish Open in Northern Ireland this year, I got into conversation with some of the leading promoters of golf in the world. They said it would be fantastic if the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Government were to really consider the golfing package, promote it and get seriously involved in promoting and putting more money into the Irish Open. Players such as Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and this young lad, Paul Dunne, are huge attractions for the country and can bring in thousands of tourists, as well as attract great publicity for the country. I read John Greene’s column in yesterday’s edition of the Sunday Independent. He usually has his finger on the pulse when it comes to talking about sport and what governments should do. Last week I mentioned €800,000 going into the National Sports Campus development. Only 8% of that overall budget went to sport. It is time to go back ten years, increase the funding for sport and give our sportspeople an opportunity to lead us on the world scene. Let us hope an Irishman wins the Claret Jug this afternoon.

There is a report in the media again today which addresses the issue of child care costs. With others, I have raised the continuing high cost of providing child care. It is now out in the open again. Another report from a child care provider shows that a majority of parents want an extension of the one year free child care as a matter of urgency. They want direct subsidies or tax credits but would prefer direct payments. We have heard a great deal of talk in this House about the Scandinavian models and another new political grouping last week referred to the Nordic models, yet this all seems to be aspirational. We do not hear about the follow through. It is now agreed that it costs a couple with two children €30,000 a year to provide child care, which is as much as a mortgage payment. Child care costs are now equated with mortgage payments. That shows the seriousness of the issue. Yet again I add my voice to those of many others, inside and outside this House, calling on the Government to act soon in the budget. It must act to address the high cost of child care which is crippling parents. It is not fair in a society that has a developing and improving economy that this issue is not being tackled. Will the Leader use his considerable influence to convey what I believe is the sentiment of all in this House, that child care costs be addressed, meaningfully and effectively, along the lines of the recommendations of the report, particularly in respect of the extension of the extra year’s free child care, and that direct payments be made to parents to help alleviate the already unacceptable financial burden placed on them?

Senator Sean D. Barrett referred to Countess Markievicz as the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament, which she was. She was also the first female Cabinet Minister nominated in Europe, in 1918. In research for a book entitled, Women in Parliament, that I conducted some years back with Maedhbh McNamara, we discovered that Countess Markievicz went to de Valera as President of the Executive Council and said that if he did not make her a Minister, she would join the Labour Party. I am not sure what the reasons for this were.

On that note, I will proceed. I add my voice to the good wishes to our golfer Paul Dunne. Senator Eamonn Coghlan admitted that he did not know much about him and neither did I until this week. It is fantastic that somebody has come up through the ranks. The president of his club in Wicklow was speaking on radio this morning and described him as the boy wonder. I hope that will prove to be the case today.

Despite all the joviality around the issue of seagulls, to which Senator Denis O'Donovan referred, I heard a piece on radio this morning about it. I have a Jack Russell at home and hope to God the seagulls do not get him because apparently they have killed terriers across England already.

I raise the issue of funding that was provided last week by the Government for improved road maintenance, public transport, rail stock, rail safety and bus fleets. Also included in that allocation was funding towards community and local improvement schemes which are administered at local authority level. They have been the bane of local councillors for many years because they have been absolutely starved of funding. I am delighted that this round now allows for 10% of maintenance money to be allocated to the local improvement schemes and for 20% to be allocated to the community improvement schemes. This will mean that small improvements which will have a big effect on people's lives, particularly for those who are living on private and public lanes on which the councils are unable to carry out work. With support from the residents and co-operation from the local authorities, these works will be carried out, which is good news for local councillors who are working on the issue.

I wish to ask the Leader if he could check a matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality. I read a most disturbing account of what took place in Trim court last Friday. I know that I cannot name names here and will not do so. Apparently, a member of the public was taken from that court on the instructions of the judge with respect to some query about contempt of court. The man was returned to the court an hour later and, from witness reports, he had been badly beaten and his clothes were torn when he returned. Clearly, if this is correct, there needs to be some sort of statement from the Minister as to what happened when he was taken from the court. I will provide the Leader with the name of the man after this session. It is most disturbing that some things might happen in any of the courts.

On a lighter note, my colleague, Senator Martin Conway, was complimenting the gentlemen professors in the House. We should also bear in mind that there are a few lady professors around the House who need to be complimented equally. That is all I have to say.

I join colleagues in complimenting the wonderful sportspeople of all codes who gave so much enjoyment to all of us as citizens over the weekend. In particular, I wish every success to our two great Irish golfers this afternoon. I have no doubt that people throughout the country will be glued to the television screens to watch their progress. It is amazing and wonderful that a young person of 22 years would lead the British Open at this stage. A great American golfer referred to him this morning as the greatest golfer he had never heard of. We wish Paul Dunne and Pádraig Harrington all the best this afternoon.

As we head into an improving economic situation, the Government should be targeting additional resources, as they become available, at people with disabilities. I would like to see some of the necessary cuts made during the recession reversed.

The weekly payment to people with disabilities should be regarded as a priority. Most important, the respite care grant should be restored to pre-recession rates because the grant is required in that it gives assistance to parents and carers who are under pressure. Another issue that needs to be addressed is making all employment activation programmes available to people with disabilities. As it stands, the Intreo offices are not providing a comprehensive service to people with disabilities. Some of the programmes arising from the Youth Guarantee scheme are not open to young people on disability and illness payments, nor is the Momentum programme. In the light of the fact that one in ten adults of working age has a disability, we need to have a discussion in the autumn with the Minister of State as to how we can target some additional resources to people with disabilities in a way that will make a real difference to their lives.

I will follow on from Senator Michel Mullins's comments about respite care grants which I agree should be restored. As with all universal payments, those who can afford to do without should do without and those who need it most should receive the payment. The same applies in the case of the children's allowance. I do not agree with these universal payments. Senator Paschal Mooney spoke about child care and child care costs. It is true that child care costs are exorbitant and they are putting families under serious pressure but instead of giving an extra €5 in the children's allowance to everybody, why not divert that money into early childhood care as a sensible option?

I was at a public meeting with over 700 people in attendance in Shanagolden hall last Thursday night. They are concerned about an American conglomerate which is coming to the area to build a €200 million gasification project. This was signed off by local area councillors from all the parties at local district level and it came before a full council meeting. My issue is that I think local government is being undermined by county management. They are manipulating the systems, pulling very important issues through local district level and putting them before a full council meeting to be voted through with debate lasting five minutes. The disposal notice was voted through without the knowledge of councillors in any of the other districts. We are told the project will bring in €4 million or €5 million per annum in rent for the council. It was signed off without any consultation with locals and without any concern for human or animal health in the area. Gasification does not fit with any of Ireland's 2020 targets. I would like to hear where Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, in particular, stand on this environmental issue because they have all gone along with it at local level.

It must be great to be an Independent.

Is Senator James Heffernan seeking a debate on thd issue?

I want to bring it to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government because it will become a huge issue. The council will have to renege on the contract signed with this company and it will be in serious financial difficulty as a result. I do not see how the project can proceed.

I second Senator Michael Mullins's call to the Leader for a meaningful debate on disability issues early in the autumn. I agree with him and fully support the restoration of the rates for disability payments and the respite care grant.

From 25 July to 2 August, 6,500 athletes, 2,000 coaches and 30,000 volunteers, representing 165 countries, will gather in Los Angeles for the largest sport and humanitarian event in 2015, the World Special Olympics Games, and compete in 25 Olympic-style sports. This is the culmination of four years of hard work and training on the part of all the athletes, volunteers and participants.

Ireland will be represented at the games by 88 athletes, a 40-strong management team and 250 volunteers. Team Ireland will compete in 13 different Olympic sports. I wish our Special Olympians the best of luck as they depart early tomorrow morning for Los Angeles. We all like to get behind our athletes when they compete on the world stage. I do not play golf, but everybody in the country this morning has heard of Paul Dunne. I wish him well as he continues his efforts towards victory today. In the same end-of-term spirit, I take the opportunity to offer my heartfelt good wishes to Dundalk FC as it takes on FC BATE Borisov on Wednesday night in the third round of the Champions League. Dundalk FC has a realistic chance of getting through to the next round, which would be a great thing for the FAI, the SSE Airtricity League and Irish sport generally. It is great to see our home town competing against the big boys. If the will is behind Dundalk FC, it will not just qualify but win the whole thing.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 72, motion No. 18, on the Order Paper be taken today. The motion calls on the Minister for Education and Skills to allocate two teachers to Inis Meáin national school. As it stands, this island school has only one teacher who must teach the entire curriculum, from age four to 13 years, to nine children. Apart from the sound educational grounds on which a second teacher should be appointed, it is fundamentally unsafe for one teacher to be left alone with nine pupils, both in terms of pupils' welfare and the teacher's personal safety and ability to take normal work breaks. The Department has already approved five hours of resource teaching time for the school, which is an acknowledgement that children there have special educational needs. However, nobody will take up the post because by the time one funds travel and accommodation, it would not pay to do so. Every island school needs at least two staff if we are to ensure safe practice for both teachers and students. I am seeking the Leader's support on this matter. When I spoke to my colleague, Senator Cáit Keane, about the issue last week, she pointed out that at preschool level, where there are more than eight children, there must be two members of staff. By the time we come back in the autumn, children will have returned to school and it will be too late for this debate. Let us use Parliament to work for the people and, on this occasion, for the children of Inis Meáin. Either we are either serious about keeping our islands alive and encouraging young families to stay there or we are not.

I support the proposal made by Dublin Chamber of Commerce to the Minister for Finance that small companies with fewer than ten employees should, for the first three years of operation, be exempt from the requirement to pay PRSI of 10.7% in respect of each worker. Small companies are always reluctant to take on additional employees because of the extra costs involved, one of which is the payment of PRSI. The chamber is suggesting that in the first three years of operation and where there are fewer than ten people employed, start-ups should not be liable for this cost. The chamber of commerce points out that if 80,000 companies were to take on just one additional employee, we could make a substantial inroad into the numbers out of work. This well researched proposal deserves serious consideration prior to the forthcoming budget. As a person who has been involved with a small business for many years, I understand what is involved. Dublin Chamber of Commerce has huge experience in this area and its views should be taken on board and afforded careful examination.

I ask the Leader to organise a debate at some stage prior to the budget on constructive ideas for job creation in order that we can get people back to work and employers are encouraged to take on more people.

Cuirim leis an mholadh atá curtha os comhair an tSeanaid ag an Seanadóir Fidelma Healy Eames i dtaca le scoileanna beaga ar na hoileáin amuigh ón chósta. Tá 13 scoil i gceist, ocht gcinn acu a bhfuil beirt mhúinteoirí ann agus cúig cinn acu nach bhfuil ach múinteoir amháin ann, scoil náisiúnta Inis Meáin a rinne an Seanadóir Fidelma Healy Eames tagairt di ina measc.

I fully support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames relating to small island schools. There are only 13 of these schools on offshore islands. In the Gaeltacht areas eight have two teachers but five have only one teacher. From the points of view of health and safety, child protection, teachers' employment and educational outcomes these kids are not being given an equal opportunity. The scoil náisiúnta on Inis Meáin is in Senator Fidelma Healy Eames's constituency and the scoil náisiúnta Cholmcille, Oileán Toraí in my constituency, is in the same predicament with only one teacher and ten pupils. This is totally unacceptable. The cost of employing an additional new teacher is in the region of €30,000. The school in Inis Meáin has a resource teacher working approximately five hours a week which, when added to transportation costs, comes to €15,000 per year; therefore, it is a minimal cost to the Department of Education and Skills. The employment budget of the overall Department budget of €11 billion is in the region of €7.5 billion. Surely we can find an additional €15,000 for these small schools on Inis Meáin and Toraigh to give our kids the same opportunity. Ireland is assessed internationally by the OECD on the outcome relating to kids at primary and post-primary levels but we are not giving the same opportunity to small island children and that is not fair. I hope the Leader will accept the amendment and compel the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to talk about this very important issue before the schools start back again in September.

I wish to be associated with the good wishes sent to the Irish Special Olympics team as they travel to Los Angeles for the Special Olympic Games next week. This is an historic day for Irish sport. Paul Dunne was a complete all-rounder, a footballer, golfer, hurler and swimmer and it is an historic day for Irish amateur golf. For an amateur aged 22 years to be joint leader of one of the four major golf tournaments in the world is no mean feat. He is following in the footsteps of the great Bobby Jones who won the same tournament in 85 years ago in 1930 in a feat that has not been emulated since.

Did the Senator not go dancing with him?

The Senator is dancing with councils all the time.

Paul Dunne is following the greatest ever amateur golfer who is synonymous with the famous person who designed the Augusta National Golf Club course. I wish him well today. I have never met him but watching him on television I can see he is a very fine young man and a person for all young sportsmen to emulate. I played at Greystones Golf Club eight or ten years ago. It is in a beautiful location which will encourage visitors to Ireland to play the game. The golfing world is at this young man's feet.

The Senator is over time.

Paul Dunne will follow in the footsteps of Harrington, McGinley, Clarke, McDowell and so on. He is another fine ambassador for sport in Ireland.

I support what Senator Colm Burke said, namely, that our priority issue on resuming after the summer recess should be that of unemployment. I remind colleagues that despite the general improvement in employment, we have a 19.8% youth employment rate. It is a very serious issue.

There has been a surge of 8% in the incidence of crime during the past 12 months. Subsequent to that, last Thursday I held a public meeting entitled, Stop the Burglaries. I was privileged to have a former Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality and the current chairman of Crimestoppers, Mr. Tim Dalton, speak about Crimestoppers at the meeting. I am providing information this morning. Crimestoppers should be used more widely; it is not used adequately. Its establishment was not an Irish idea. The concept of Crimestoppers is used throughout the world in the United States and the United Kingdom, including the North. Crimestoppers is partly funded by the Government - the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health - and partly by the private sector - Ulster Bank, Neighbourhood Watch, the Vintners Federation of Ireland and DoneDeal. It is important to point out that neither the chairman of Crimestoppers nor its organisation committee, representing the interests of the people involved, is paid a fee. It is important to remember that the bottom line is-----

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

We need an urgent debate when we resume after the summer recess on the issue of the burgeoning incidence of crime throughout the country. There must be a community response to it. Neighbourhood Watch is about people, regardless of how well off or less well off they are, coming together in communities and working together to protect one another.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?

It was a folly to close Stepaside Garda station.

I join my colleagues in welcoming the Cabinet's visit to Lissadell House in County Sligo on Wednesday. It will be an historic occasion. The members of the Cabinet will be visiting the home of Countess Markievicz. I pay tribute to Deputy John Perry who was instrumental in arranging the visit and put a good deal of work into it, with the Walsh family. I visited Lissadell in recent weeks since the visit of Prince Charles. It is a great place to go. It used to attract approximately 40,000 visitors who also visited the north-west coast, right along the Wild Atlantic Way. Lissadell House highlights once again what we can offer along the Wild Atlantic Way, taking in counties Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal.

I join my colleague, Senator Denis Landy, in welcoming the funding allocated to all the county councils last week. These allocations will provide funding for the local improvement scheme and the construction industry scheme, something on which we have all been lobbied during the past year to 18 months. It is important that money will be allocated to these schemes.

I concur with those speakers who have wished the Cabinet well as it decamps for a pleasurable visit to Lissadell House. The idea of the Cabinet meeting across the country is a relatively new departure. Perhaps when future Cabinet meetings are being planned and thought of in that regard, it might do us all some good if a Cabinet meeting were to take place in some of our urban areas in which there are poverty and homelessness and social deprivation just to show that there is another side to society. I am not making a political point-----

It is a political point.

I said I am not making a political point. There is a second side to society and, notwithstanding the economic recovery, we need to reflect on the many problems such as homelessness, housing and deprivation which still need to be addressed.

I wish to speak about the future care of the elderly.

Fortunately, the percentage of people who are growing old will increase in the future. The report on the future of the fair deal nursing homes support scheme is being published today for consideration. I do not know what recommendations it will contain, but we are advised that they will not be acted upon in advance of the general election, which is fair enough. However, I would like to have a debate in the autumn on care of the elderly and that we would try to reach beyond the nursing home solution. The very fine organisation ALONE published a report recently which highlighted the fact that up to 30% of people resident in nursing homes should not be in a nursing home. There are many ways of looking after the elderly. It should not be a question of the nursing home solution alone, if Members will excuse the pun. I would like all the options including community care, home care, respite care, carer's allowance etc. fully debated. We speak about the problem but do not investigate it fully. From the point of view of the taxpayer but, more importantly, from the point of view of the elderly in the community, the community should be the start of the solution for them. I would like the House to debate the issue in detail, alongside the report, at the earliest possible date.

I want to comment briefly on the valid point made by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames. When she discussed the matter with me, I pointed out that according to the regulations, the staff ratio for preschool children aged three to six years was 1:8. The issue is valid and I asked the Leader earlier to take it up with the Minister for Education and Skills, particularly on safety grounds. I am sure he will comment on this, but the Senator should not get excited that it will be dealt with today because, as far as I know, the Minister is not in the House. However, the point is valid and I know people who find themselves in that situation.

I raise the issue of Rural Resettlement Ireland, an organisation set up by Jim Connolly 20 years ago. I have been a supporter of Jim Connolly for the past 20 years but yesterday Claire McCormack wrote a very good article on the organisation.

I ask the Senator to refrain from naming people on the Order of Business.

I am sorry, although I am sure he will not mind-----

That is not the point.

-----because in terms of rehousing people he is almost a one man band, although he has volunteers. We might consider having a dedicated officer in each county to determine the number of people who are homeless. Mr. and Mrs. Average who find themselves homeless might be interested in moving to the country. We should look anew at the problem. About ten years ago homeless persons were given the option to consider the rural resettlement scheme, but that seems to have died a death, so to speak. Jim Connolly should be helped to examine this issue in an innovative way with a view to having a dedicated officer in each county because there are people in negative equity now who could be resettled. Also, the situation in terms of employment is different now in that many people who are homeless or are on the verge of homelessness can work in rural areas with the help of IT. The rural resettlement scheme might also be a way of ensuring rural schools can remain open. The Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, was mentioned in the article to which I referred. She is proactive in this area also. I call for an early debate on the rural resettlement scheme, which might be an innovative way of creating jobs in the countryside.

Tacaím le cuid de na rudaí a bhí ráite ag an Seanadóir Barrett maidir leis an chúis nach bhfuil NAMA sásta labhairt le coiste Comhthionóil ó thuaidh. It should be conveyed to the Minister for Finance and the Government that if anything can be done to exert influence over NAMA to appear before the Committee of Finance and Personnel in the Northern Ireland Assembly, it should be done. It is unacceptable that a democratically elected forum such as this should be snubbed in this way.

Tacaím go huile is go hiomlán leis an leasú atá molta ar Riar na hOibre inniu maidir le scoil Inis Meáin. Is trua é nach féidir leis an Seanadóir Healy Eames déileáil lena rún sa Seanad an tseachtain seo. Tá sé fíor-phráinneach mar beidh an cheist seo ag teacht chun foirfeachta roimh dheireadh na míosa seo muna mbeidh cinneadh tógtha go mbeidh an dara múinteoir le fáil ar Inis Meáin. Tá daoine ansin atá sásta cásanna cúirte a ghlacadh. The situation in Inis Meáin did not happen yesterday or today.

The reason there is such an urgency to this issue is that if a decision is not made before the end of July, the Government and the Department of Education and Skills could find themselves in a litigious situation where they are taken to court over people's rights. Serious rights are being impinged upon here, not least the employment rights of the principal in the school. It is totally unacceptable that a principal on an island could teach eight children and not be afforded a lunch break or a toilet break. It is unacceptable in this day and age. Solutions can be found. The amounts of money involved are not insurmountable. The rigidity of the guidelines from the Department of Education and Skills is ludicrous in this situation. They do not take into consideration the fact that this is an island out in the middle of the Atlantic. I wholeheartedly support the amendment proposed to the Order of Business. Even if the senior Minister is not available, any Minister who is in the Houses should be here. It is not acceptable that all the Ministers have decamped and that there is none around.

This is a House of Parliament.

It is a House of Parliament and it should be shown respect. A Minister should make himself or herself available. I appreciate the Leader's predicament in this regard, but it is an important issue which, if left to run, will have serious legal and financial consequences for the State.

I welcome the launch yesterday in Killarney of a spiritual tourism project. This is something that could be of benefit to many towns, cities and places throughout the land and could lead to many interesting trails. I compliment Reverend Simon Lumby who has now retitled or expanded the title of his church, St. Mary's Church of Ireland, Killarney - Cill Airne - the Church of the Sloes, which, as the Irish scholars among us know, is the original name. There are many historic spiritual connections throughout the land, but we in Killarney are particularly blessed that in the town hall opposite there is an ancient well. There was an ancient church on a site somewhere in the vicinity, between the existing church and the town hall. Of course, there is also Innisfallen Island where the annals were written by monks in the 11th century, as well as Muckross and Aghadoe. There are some mountainside shrines. There is the magnificent Pugin cathedral which, by the way, is also known as St. Mary's. The project will lead people to other places. It will be interesting for the future of tourism.

I support Senator Denis O'Donovan in what he said about seagulls, picking up on what Senator Ned O'Sullivan proposed back down the line. I have noticed that seagulls are now coming inland 20 miles or so from the sea.

They are a better class of seagull.

Is the Senator sure they are seagulls?

We have noticed them on the fairways in Killarney Golf Club and such places. On that point, I also extend my good wishes to Paul Dunne and Pádraig Harrington today.

The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, raised the question of health insurance and referred to an anomaly in the policy held by a particular gentleman. Obviously, there is a contract between both parties, which is something that should be addressed. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the relevant Minister. I understand the Senator will be forwarding details of the matter.

Senator Ivana Bacik referred to the anticipated publication of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. As she will be aware, a similar Bill was brought before the House by Senators Averil Power and Jillian van Turnhout not too long ago. All Senators will welcome publication of the Bill and I hope we can have it dealt with in both Houses of the Oireachtas in the next session.

Senator Ivana Bacik also referred to the gender equality review of third level institutions and welcomed the fact that the review would be chaired by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. The Senator also called for a bike-to-school scheme to be initiated by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to improve children's health. I am sure the Minister will look kindly on such a proposal.

Senator Katherine Zappone referred to the national economic dialogue. Obviously, invitations came from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin. It is a pre-budget effort.

The has said he is seeking pre-budget submissions and mentioned at the national economic dialogue that committees did not submit proposals to him last year. I will write to him immediately to ask him to come to the House for a debate early in the new session. Let us see whether he will come to debate pre-budget issues. I will certainly put it up to him in that regard.

On Seanad reform, I have no further information other than the fact that the Taoiseach has decided to set up an implementation body with a view to bringing forward a Bill. There is a draft Bill from the Seanad reform group. I do not know whether it will be a Government Bill, but I understand the Taoiseach is setting up an implementation body to consider the reforms that have been proposed.

Senators Sean D. Barrett and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh urged representatives of NAMA to attend the meeting of the Northern Ireland committee on finance. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to determine whether any influence can be exerted. It is not a matter in which I can have any role.

Senator Sean D. Barrett and others have welcomed the fact that a Cabinet meeting is to be held in Lissadell House which was the home of Countess Markievicz who, as Senator Paschal Mooney, outlined was the first lady Cabinet Minister in the world. The suggestion has been welcomed in general that Cabinet meetings be held outside the Houses of the Oireachtas, where appropriate. I note Senator Paul Bradford's point in that regard.

Senator Sean D. Barrett and several others lauded the efforts of our golfers Paul Dunne and Pádraig Harrington. Senator Coghlan mentioned golf tourism, which is very important. Our golfers have been punching above their weight in their efforts in recent years and are doing a tremendous job. We wish them well today and in the future.

Senator Martin Conway urged that we proceed without delay on the issue of e-conveyancing. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Senator Denis O'Donovan mentioned seagulls. I do not believe it is a flight of fantasy and note that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has got in on the act also. It is an important issue if seagulls are stealing food from children and damaging animals. I heard on radio earlier that a lady in the Botanic Gardens had had her telephone taken by a seagull.

Is the Leader sure they are seagulls?

That is a matter that will have to be examined. I can assure the Senator that I do not propose to have a debate in the House on seagulls.

Senator Aideen Hayden referred to and welcomed the adoption Bill. She also called for a pre-budget debate which I will try to arrange with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, seeing that he suggested it.

Senator Aideen Hayden also called for a debate on the adequacy of rent supplement and how the scheme was administered. I will contact the Minister for Social Protection to determine whether she will come to the House to discuss the issue.

Senator David Cullinane welcomed the proposals of the Low Pay Commission on the minimum wage. He lauded IKEA for its decision to pay a living wage. The Government is committed to taking those on low pay out of the tax net. It has already taken hundreds of thousands out of it. It has also made a commitment in respect of universal social charge. That is the policy it will continue in its next budget.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan referred to sports tourism and the work of golf clubs and academies around the country in encouraging young people to play golf.

Senator Paschal Mooney referred to child care costs, an issue the Government is certainly committed to tackling, with realising all of the benefits of high quality child care through targeted investment in the coming years. Increasing the affordability, quality and accessibility of child care can play a critical role in realising a number of the Government's priorities which include achieving better educational outcomes for children, as well as for those with special needs; supporting parents in rearing their children while balancing work and family life commitments, and reducing the incidence of poverty among children and families. I welcome Senator Paschal's Mooney's comments in that regard. We all await measures to assist people with child care costs in the coming months.

Senator Denis Landy welcomed the transport initiative announced last week by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. The initiative includes community road improvement schemes which will be welcomed by local authorities.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to a matter being dealt with in the courts. It is one for the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána to deal with and I do not propose to take any role in it. It is known and, as he mentioned, was mentioned in the newspapers. I am sure it has been brought to the attention of the Minister, but ultimately it is one for the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána to deal with.

Senator Michael Mullins mentioned services for people with disabilities and the need to restore the respite care grant in full. The Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will receive many requests, including those made on the Order of Business this morning, for increased financial resources. They will obviously be considered in the budgetary process.

Senator James Heffernan spoke against the making of universal payments and said all payments should be made on the basis of need. I am sure many would share his views in that regard. He also said the gasification plant was agreed to without consultation. It is extraordinary any major project would be undertaken without consultation. I find it strange consultation would not have taken place in that regard.

Like Senator Michael Mullins, Senator Mary Moran sought a debate on disability services. She lauded the efforts of those who would be attending the Special Olympic Games. We wish everybody well in that respect. The Special Olympic Games held in Dublin were probably one of the greatest sports events ever to be held in this country. Senator Mary Moran was also parochial in referring to Dundalk F.C. which we all wish well in the coming week.

Senator Cáit Keane brought the matter raised by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames to my attention before the Order of Business. I will make representations on it to the Minister for Education and Skills. The argument on the necessity to have two teachers in island schools is valid, but I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business that No. 72, motion No. 18, be taken before No. 1. I can assure the Senators, however, that I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.

Senator Colm Burke called for PRSI relief for three years for small new companies employing fewer than ten employees. This has been recommended by Dublin Chamber of Commerce and I am sure the Minister for Finance will also consider it when framing the budget.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill mentioned one-teacher schools, a matter to which I have alluded.

Senator Terry Brennan mentioned Paul Dunne emulating Bobby Jones achievement in 1927 as the last amateur golfer to lead the British Open heading into the final round.

Senator Mary White said unemployment was a key issue. It certainly is. As she rightly pointed out, youth unemployment is still a major problem.

While the Government has got the rate of unemployment down from more than 15% to 9%, it is acutely aware of the problem and as such job creation will continue to be a priority.

Senator Mary White also lauded the work of Crimestoppers and called for a debate in the next term on crime. I am sure she welcomes the additional Garda recruits that have come from the Garda College in Templemore in recent months. This will continue for the rest of the year.

The number of gardaí in Dublin South and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is down by 90.

Senator Michael Comiskey spoke about the value of Lissadell House to the tourism industry in the north west.

Senator Paul Bradford called for a debate on the elderly. The report on the fair deal scheme will be published today. It makes several recommendations, including ensuring there is adequate capacity for those residents who require higher level or more complex care; ensuring value and economy, with the lowest possible administrative cost for the State and providers, and increasing the transparency of the pricing mechanism in order that existing and potential investors can make decisions that will be as informed as possible. The review also recommends the continued development of home and community-based care services as an alternative to nursing home care. The Government is not considering changes to residents’ contributions.

Senator Cáit Keane raised the issue of the pupil-teacher ratio in island schools, a matter I will take up with the Minister for Education and Science. The Senator also called for an examination of the issue of rural resettlement to deal with the problem of homelessness. Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has rightly pointed out that the problems in island schools did not just happen today. It is recognised, however, that they need to be solved.

Senator Paul Coghlan referred to a spiritual tourism trail in Killarney and noted the many attractions to be seen. The Senator will always highlight the delights of Killarney.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, “That No. 72, motion No. 18, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 18.

  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Fidelma Healy Eames and Paschal Mooney; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.