The Order of Business is No. 73, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 20 re current political situation in Northern Ireland, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m.; and No. 1, Children First Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m. and adjourned not later than 9 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
I wish to be associated with the Leader's remarks about our colleague, Senator Jimmy Harte, whom I wish health and happiness in his retirement. We all agree that he is an absolute gentleman. He is an avid sports fan, particularly soccer. He has had a rough couple of years and I hope his health will improve in retirement. We will certainly miss him in the Seanad where he played a very important role. I wish him all the best in his retirement.
I welcome Members back after the recess. On many occasions other Members and I have raised the issue of the availability of Fampyra, the multiple sclerosis, MS, drug that was withdrawn by the Government and the Health Service Executive, HSE, from 3,500 MS sufferers. I am pleased to advise the House that just two weeks ago I received correspondence from the HSE and the Minister for Health stating they had approved it. It will greatly assist the mobility of approximately 3,500 MS sufferers. It will improve their independence and allow many of them to return to work, which is to be welcomed, although, unfortunately, it took 18 months to convince the Department that this was the right thing to do. However, it has now been done and the House played a role in that regard. I am very pleased that it has happened.
On health matters, I advise the House of a very serious issue in Dublin. As of last Tuesday, 15 September, north County Dublin, an area with a population of 350,000, has been without the National Ambulance Service. There has been no coverage whatsoever since 7 o'clock last Tuesday owing to the fact that a new ambulance base in Lissenhall north of Swords which cost €500,000 has not been fitted out. The HSE stated at a meeting today that it might be ready in December. The issue is bad forward planning. The Department has not even requested any of the fittings or equipment required to run an ambulance base. As a result, HSE ambulances based at St. James's Hospital in Dublin city are expected to take calls from as far north as Balbriggan. This is unacceptable and I am writing to the Minister about the matter. I ask the Leader's office to also take it up with the Minister. It is simply unacceptable that nearly 500,000 people in the Dublin region will be served by only one ambulance, provided by Dublin Fire Brigade.
There have been a number of announcements on transport and transport policy within Dublin. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to come to the House at the appropriate time when the final announcements are made for a proper debate on the Government's future transport plans, not just for Dublin but for also the country.
Just before we returned after the recess we saw the publication of the interim report of the Fennelly commission on the retirement or sacking, depending on one's perspective, of the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan. It is fair to point out that, judging from any of the polls taken, the general public does not believe the Taoiseach's version or his accounts of what happened at the time. None of us does. I doubt anybody could believe his surprise that the former Garda Commissioner had decided to retire. Certainly, the former Secretary General, Mr. Purcell, was sent to give a message to the former Garda Commissioner that he had to step down. However, one person with a unique insight into what happened and the decisions made by the Cabinet, particularly the advice that it and the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, was given, is the the Attorney General, Ms Marie Whelan. She will have a unique and important perspective of what really happened around that time. It is important, therefore, that she answer question about some of the contradictory evidence given and the fact that her evidence had to be changed four times during the course of the commission of investigation. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that, under Standing Order 56, the Attorney General be invited to the House to answer questions about her role as the senior legal person in the State and senior adviser to the Government, the Cabinet, the former Minister for Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach. Standing Order 56 clearly states a Minister of the State or the Attorney General may attend and be heard in the Seanad. That Standing Order should be invoked, as it would provide an opportunity for the Attorney General to get her point of view across and answer questions from Members across the House who are very concerned, as is the general public, about the events that occurred around the time of the retirement or resignation of the former Garda Commissioner.
As this needs to be addressed-----
----- I am formally proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that the Attorney General, under Standing Order 56, be invited to attend and be heard in Seanad Éireann.
Before speaking to the Order of Business, I join colleagues in expressing tribute to Senator Jimmy Harte on the announcement of his resignation. On behalf of my Labour Party colleagues, I echo the warm sentiments expressed about Jimmy by the Leader and Senator Darragh O'Brien. Jimmy is well known and well loved by all of us. He has had a long and distinguished political career. He was first elected to the council in Letterkenny in 1994 and has since been very much a leading light in his community in Letterkenny. He is a keen sportsman, as all of us are very well aware. He ran many marathons. He was chairman at one time of Finn Harps Football Club and has played a range of different sports. As a Seanad colleague, he was an exemplary colleague and a true gentleman. I think all of us, on both sides of the House, were extremely shocked at his accident two years ago. We have been following his progress since then with keen interest. All of us wish him and his family, his wife, Mary, and their four children, the very best for his continued good health and full recovery and wish them the very best into the future. I wish to note that on his resignation today.
I welcome everyone back and ask the Leader if we might in early course have a debate on the dreadful humanitarian crisis arising from the migration of Syrian refugees towards the European Union and into EU countries. All of us have been shocked by the distressing images and reports of refugees on the borders of different EU countries. I am glad of and welcome the Government's announcement that Ireland will play a strong part in welcoming Syrian refugees here under resettlement and relocation programmes, but I would like us to have a debate in the Seanad on this issue. A number of us came together at a cross-party meeting on 10 September to discuss how Ireland can best respond. There are different considerations around resettlement and relocation as well as practical and logistical issues which we should debate in this House while we see the process moving on with the Government's task force and the NGO consultations. We should be as generous as possible towards people who are fleeing dreadful conflict in Syria.
I can inform colleagues that we considered the Fennelly commission report today at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Mr. Justice Fennelly's interim report was produced on foot of a request by the committee for an interim report on a number of issues. The committee will be writing to the Government seeking to have the interim report and the full report, when it comes out, brought within its remit for discussion at the committee.
I welcome the signing into law of the Marriage Equality Bill and the fact that we will see in a very short time, I hope, the first gay marriages taking place in Ireland.
I also echo the sentiments and best wishes to Senator Jimmy Harte on his retirement.
People are sleeping in tents in Tallaght. They are people who often through no fault of their own are not only without a home but are also without shelter. We have a shelterless crisis as well as a homelessness crisis. Reports this week are that 50 families a day are without emergency accommodation in south Dublin. We have a shelterless crisis in Tallaght and throughout the nation and the land, and in a culture where we have this extraordinary seanfhocal which says that we live in each other's shelter and shadow. There still is a little bit of that going on in Tallaght. I experienced it last week. Under the shelter of the oak, beech and chestnut trees alongside the parking lot of the priory in Tallaght village, not far from the famous Friar's Walk, a group of volunteers who call themselves VISIT set up tables, brought food and started to serve people who were shelterless and homeless that day. They have been doing this four times a week in the past year and the numbers they serve are growing. Ask them what they do when it rains or downpours. They say they walk over to the covered entrance to the priory itself. Why do these civicly minded, generous volunteers have to do this in the rain? Why do they have to do it at all? The narrative of Ireland's recovery rings hollow close to the Friar's Walk.
The Taoiseach said yesterday that the housing and homelessness crisis was not just a matter of money and I agree with him.
Not only have we not invested enough money - austerity politics was no excuse for that - we have not fixed the local, regional and national systems in order that our investments can pay off with shelter for everyone. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, said yesterday at the publication of the first report on Threshold's brilliant Dublin tenancy protection service - hats off to the leadership of Senator Aideen Hayden and her CEO, Bob Jordan - that rent increases were a moral issue. I agree with the Minister on that issue, too. It is a moral issue for all of us, not just the landlords. Will the Leader ask the Minister when his solutions or proposals to the rent increase crisis will be tabled and implemented? The people who are sleeping in tents in Tallaght want to know the answer to that qeustion, too.
A Chathaoirligh, a chairde, I welcome everyone back. I wish to be associated with the remarks about our colleague, Senator Jimmy Harte, who has become a very good colleague and good friend in the past few years. I wish him all the very best for a full recovery.
I ask for the leave of the Leader to allow No. 15 to be taken before No. 1.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 15 be taken before No. 1.
I also extend every good wish to Senator Jimmy Harte on his retirement. He has been an amazing contributor to Irish public life, both on Donegal County Council and latterly in Seanad Éireann, following in the footsteps of his illustrious father, Paddy Harte. I am sure the Harte family will continue to be at the centre of Irish political life in the future.
I welcome today's Private Members' motion on the current situation in Northern Ireland. In that context, I condemn in the strongest possible terms the outrageous comments by a Donaghmede Sinn Féin councillor that those who run Irish rugby had an inferiority complex.
I agree with the Senator.
He went on to remark on the anti-national attitude of the west Brits who still run Irish rugby. That is the equivalent of an American calling someone an Uncle Tom.
This goes to the heart of who we are. In fact, the people who run Irish rugby could be termed national heroes as they have kept a united organisation throughout the Troubles in a deeply fractured space. It is with great pride that I will cheer a 32-county Irish team as they play on the world stage with a fair chance of winning the tournament. Let us remember that Amhrán na bhFiann is the national anthem of a 26-county Irish Republic and we are rightly proud of it.
Does Senator Jim D’Arcy have a question for the Leader on the Order of Business?
This rugby team is a much more ancient and deeply spiritual manifestation of an older Irish nation.
The Senator should call for a debate on the issue.
Those who run the organisation should be applauded and not-----
I call Senator Terry Leyden.
I wish to say one thing, a Chathaoirligh.
The Senator is over time. Many speakers are offering.
He would not say that to our county men, the two Kearney brothers, Dave and Rob, if they were looking at him.
Senator Jim D'Arcy will have a platform on a wider stage next week at the Council of Europe when he can explain all of those things to the 800 million people who are represented by the Council of Europe. I look forward to hearing his contributions next week. He is a very good contributor also.
I join the Leader and our leader on this side of the House on what was said about Senator Jimmy Harte. I wish him well. He was very popular here and was so proud and delighted to be a Senator. I know this from his contributions and meeting him. It is sad that he has decided to resign for health reasons. We wish him a speedy recovery. I also extend best wishes to him, his wife, Mary, and family.
I served with his father, Paddy Harte, as a Deputy and took over from Paddy in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1982. When I met Jimmy I was struck by how proud he was of his connection with the FAI and the staff there, whom he brought into the House. We were all delighted to be in the House but he was particularly delighted as he had worked very hard to get here, having previously been a councillor. His father and mother were also here and they were very proud of him. It is disappointing, but we wish him every success.
The decision by Paddy Cosgrave's company to move the web summit from Dublin to Lisbon is a major disappointment. I pay tribute to him and his team of 120 workers in bringing the summit here, which grew from a small number, 400 or 500, in 2010 to 30,000 last year. The Government should explain why it allowed this marvellous event to leave the country. It was a great contributor to Dublin and to Ireland, because what comes into Dublin also spreads, from a tax point of view, to people around the country. As the former political head of Bord Tráchtála, now Enterprise Ireland, I believe the State should have its own, Irish web summit next year. I do not see why we are depending on any individual company to arrange for seminars and functions in this country which is the leading light in the world. Mr. Cosgrave has no monopoly of seminars or summits. I am sure that Bord Fáilte, Enterprise Ireland and other enterprising people would be prepared to get the leaders of Google and such organisations together to bring our own international summit to Ireland and to hold it, not just in Dublin but in Galway, Cork, Limerick and other parts of the country. Let us be more proactive in this regard. This country is Ireland Inc. and we are stronger than any Paddy Cosgrave company. We can do it if we want to do it, with the will and the right leadership, which I hope will be forthcoming from the last dying sting of this particular wasp of a Government.
I wish my good friend and colleague, Jimmy Harte, all the best on his retirement. It is a sad day for Leinster House when we lose somebody of his calibre. Jimmy is a gentleman and one of the most decent people I have met. His contribution to Seanad Éireann has been exemplary, as was his dedication to public service. He seldom stood up without first thinking how his contribution would further the public good and that was obvious from all his contributions in the Seanad. His insight, wit and general good form were a tonic to us all. His contribution continues a long tradition in his family of political service. His father, Paddy, was a man of his time and exhibited the same attributes as Jimmy, such as courage in the face of what were sometimes unpopular political positions. I wish his wife, Mary, and his family, Amy, Lochlainn and Michael, and little Saidbh who is probably watching us on the television today, the very best. We hope Jimmy's recovery continues and that he will be back to the top of his health in no time at all.
I also wish Senator Jimmy Harte the very best. He was an outstanding Senator who had one quality which some of us, myself included, lacked, namely, fearlessness. He was the one Senator who, when I first came here with him, was able to stand up to Sinn Féin and never let them away with a thing. I admired him for this. He never let it away with anything because he had experienced it on the borders of Donegal all his life. I wish him the very best. He will be sadly missed.
I must also point out to Fianna Fáil that Standing Order 56 states the Minister of State and the Attorney General may attend and be heard in the Seanad.
To what is the Senator referring?
The clue is in the verb "may". The inference from Standing Orders is that if the Attorney General decides that she or the Minister of State would not like to come-----
Is the Senator the Cathaoirleach?
-----and not be hauled over the coals by a failing, degrading and good-God-give-me-an-issue Fianna Fáil-----
What is the Senator talking about? I read it. That is pathetic.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell to continue, without interruption.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has tried to couch this motion in a benign way as the letter of the law but it is certainly not in the spirit of the law. It is couched in malice aforethought with no-----
I am glad that after four years the Senator has started to read Standing Orders.
Might I point out to Fianna Fáil-----
The Senator does not seem to know how the House works.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell to continue, without interruption please.
Might I point out to Fianna Fáil that the answer is in the word "may" and the Senator understands the English language and the inference of it?
We are so lucky to have the Senator here.
The Attorney General is not here to answer the Senator's partisan and political needs and make him feel relevant, nor is it to answer his need to seek attention now that he is on his way to an election.
The Taoiseach may have been right-----
Is the Senator going to keep referring to me or is she going to ask a question?
Does Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell have a question for the Leader?
I am fearless in the face of Fianna Fail. The Taoiseach may have been right in relation to the abolition of the Seanad if this kind of aforethought malice intent carries on.
What is the Senator talking about?
We are here to bring about a real democracy, real change, good reason-----
The Seanad was kept despite the Senator.
It seems that it is a case of "Look at me"-----
Yes. Fianna Fáil's motion is, "Look at me, I am dancing." I suggest-----
It is not-----
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell to continue, without interruption.
It is an amendment to the Order of Business, not a motion.
That is exactly my reason.
It is not about-----
It shows what happens when-----
They just shout like little boys. It is a case of "Look at me, I am dancing." I suggest the Senator find his own mirror and dance in front of it.
Senator Darragh O'Brien should have done what Senator Katherine Zappone had said and spoken about homelessness and about the banks which are represented at the ploughing championship and using words like "brave" when they are eating into people's lives, putting up interest points and actually giving a percentage of people's mortgages to spend as they will. Fianna Fáil should find its priorities and dance to its own tune.
The Senator should be in the Abbey Theatre as a great actress.
The Senator can be at the side but behind the curtain.
I would not be behind the Senator's curtain.
It will be hard to follow that. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has done well.
I would like to be associated with all the remarks made by my colleagues on Senator Jimmy Harte. I did not know him that well until I was elected to this House and he became a very good friend and a very good colleague to work with. I wish him all the best in the future. He is a big loss to this House.
The big thing in the media during summer 2015 was rural crime. I welcome the publication by the Minister for Justice and Equality later in 2015 of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015. There should be a debate in this House not only on this Bill but also on rural life in general. I welcome the announcement today of €30 million for village and town renewals. This will spearhead a recovery in rural Ireland where much of rural Ireland has been left behind. The Criminal Justice Bill we are discussing deals with bail laws and people who commit crimes while on bail. I have raised this issue in the House before and the situation has to be looked at. People who received concurrent sentences knew that they faced a concurrent sentence, no matter how many crimes they had committed. It is important that consecutive sentences are included in the Bill. We are the people who make the laws of this country, but we are not the ones who implement them. They are implemented by the Garda. I welcome the reopening of the college in Templemore where 250 gardaí passed out this year, with 500 more this year. I think the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Commissioner will make sure they are allocated to rural Ireland to ensure rural crime will stop. There has been hypocrisy from Fianna Fáil on the closing of rural Garda stations. A garda in a rural Garda station will not stop rural crime in the middle of the night.
I have asked the Leader a question on rural crime and will continue with it.
The Senator should be careful or Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell will have a go at him.
The people in question are highly organised and coming at night time; therefore, it is important that sentencing be a deterrent. That is the purpose of the Bill.
The Senator is over time.
I want to finish. We have all been victims of crime. I have had diesel stolen three or four times and have had tools stolen, but I only reported it to the Garda once. There is a great community watch scheme, but people at home have got to take serial numbers. I will finish on this point. Take the serial numbers-----
These items are appearing at car boot sales.
Gardaí should be inspecting these car boot sales. I, therefore, ask the Leader for a debate on rural life, not just rural crime.
Disability groups lobbied overnight on two occasions last week outside the Taoiseach’s office and Leinster House. They were asking that payments be made to them directly rather than through corporate bodies. We have discussed, at the instigation of Senator Colm Burke, the position of section 39 bodies. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the possibility of directing finances directly at disabled people in keeping with what they were seeking last week.
I second Senator John Crown’s motion that No. 15 be taken before No. 1.
I call for a debate on housing costs which have moved out of line, from 2.5 times to as much as 12 times average income. There are decisions to be made about the future of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, empty sites and ghost estates around the country. We need to debate the problem the banking inquiry committee encountered that short-term finance was being used to fund the purchase of long-term assets such as housing. Will the Leader arrange a debate this term on housing?
In August, unfortunately, several workers died in public service. On 13 August Mr. Padraig Noone was killed while fixing hedges near Castlebaldwin on behalf of Sligo County Council. He was described as a gentle soul and a much loved father. On 31 August, at Thomond Bridge, two public service workers were killed while repairing the bridge which has such historic connotations. They were Mr. T. J. Herlihy from Castleisland and Mr. Bryan Whelan from O’Brien’s Bridge, both of whom were described as family men. The people mentioned went to work on 13 and 31 August to serve our society and we owe their relatives our sympathy. We owe them our appreciation as individuals who served this society so well every day.
I add my voice to those who have wished our colleague, Senator Jimmy Harte, a happy and successful retirement. All of us in this Chamber had hoped to see him back among us before the House rose for the last time. Like me, he is a graduate of University College Dublin, UCD. We all know that he is a man with a very strong moral compass and with a very strong voice when it comes to supporting the national soccer team. I wish him the absolute best.
I thank Senator Katherine Zappone for her words about the first annual report of the Threshold Dublin tenancy protection service. In the first year of its operation the service was responsible for preventing 2,808 people, including over 1,600 children, from entering homeless services. I, therefore, support the call for a debate on housing generally because the issue of housing supply is critical but also on the ongoing problem of homelessness, the level of which continues to rise at an enormous rate. The report contains many recommendations, one of which needs to be acted on immediately, that the service be extended beyond the Dublin region. The problem of homelessness extends beyond the Dublin region. The service is also open in Cork and we hope to be able to open it in Galway. However, many areas surrounding large urban centres are also suffering significantly as a result of significant rent increases. I ask the Leader to arrange a serious debate on homelessness in early course.
I am very pleased that Sinn Féin was the subject of criticism from some Members of the House. It shows again that we must be doing something right. We will hear a lot of such nonsense from some Senators in the next few weeks and months. I say to Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell that in a couple of weeks or months the people will have an opportunity to pass judgment on Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil and I am glad that they will have that opportunity. Some believe their opinion carries more weight than that of others inside or outside this House. We will have a general election when the people will make up their minds on all parties.
I am shaking in my boots.
I have no difficulty with that whatsoever.
I support Senator Aideen Hayden’s comments. I could be partisan, but I will not be.
She has done great work on housing and has raised many important issues in that regard in this House in recent years. However, we are experiencing what has been described by many organisations as a national emergency. All of us, both in government and opposition, have been raising the issue of housing for years. The problem is that the State has completely abdicated responsibility. There is no social housing being built at all. There is no increase in the supply. Many middle-income families who would ordinarily buy a home cannot get a mortgage and are renting property. They are competing with people who are in need of social housing and who cannot find private rental accommodation.
Everyone who helps people or holds a clinic deals every single day with people in housing need who cannot find landlords who will sign up to any of the options, be it the housing assistance payment, the rental accommodation scheme or the rent supplement scheme. It is becoming a real crisis. Homelessness, in terms of people sleeping on the streets, is a real problem and there is a crisis. There is also a problem for people who are being forced to sleep in overcrowded and substandard accommodation because they cannot gain access to any of the options available. The only option for them is the private rental sector. The State is abdicating its responsibility. I fully support the need to have a proper debate on this issue. It is not just a question of a debate because people want solutions. We have been talking about this issue repeatedly since Jonathan Corrie died only a couple of yards from Leinster House not so long ago. There was a national outcry, yet precious little was done later. We need to have a debate on the issue. I ask the Leader sincerely to organise it in the coming weeks in order that we can make constructive proposals to the Ministers with responsibility.
I welcome everybody back after the summer recess. I join my colleagues in wishing well our colleague, Jimmy Harte, on his retirement. Jimmy has been a good friend to all of us in the Seanad. He has had a very difficult couple of years, but I know that he is making a good recovery. Like all my colleagues, I wish him well.
I welcome the announcement made in the past couple of days on rural areas, primarily in respect of the payments under the areas of natural constraint scheme. This will mean substantial payments going into every county. The scheme replaces the old disadvantaged areas scheme which has been in place since the early 1970s and has paid much-needed money to farmers right across the old disadvantaged areas. I welcome the €30 million allocated for towns and villages across rural areas. This comes about because of the report produced on this matter by Pat Spillane and the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas. It is very welcome money and it will put life back into the towns and villages concerned.
I call on the local authorities right across the country to examine how they value premises in respect of rates. We have all been contacted from time to time by small businesses in towns that are finding it very difficult to pay rates. I have raised this issue in the House previously. I know a man with a small pub who pays approximately €2,400 but who does not open his premises until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. The entire valuation process should be examined to give businessmen a chance to do business in small towns. We have seen far too many businesses closing down in recent years and want to do everything possible to rejuvenate towns across the country.
I second the motion to amend the Order of Business proposed by our leader, Senator Darragh O'Brien. I join all sides of the House in saying how sad we are to hear of the resignation of Jimmy Harte. I wish him a full and speedy recovery from his tragic fall a couple of years ago. None of us realised at the time just how serious that event was and its unfortunate consequences, which we now see. The high esteem in which he has been held on all sides of the House was reflected on this side in that our Whip facilitated the pairing of the Senator throughout his illness at all times and without exception, even when he might have been under severe pressure not to do so. I compliment our Whip for coming to that accommodation with his opposite number, Senator Aideen Hayden of the Labour Party.
I am particularly disturbed by yet more spin by the Government on the issue of rural regeneration. The announcement seems to have been welcomed here.
We are talking about €30 million over five years and that includes the Leader programme, the contribution to which the Government reduced by 40%. This is a significant amount of money in rural Ireland. I come from an area where the Leader programme was held up as a model, not only for the rest of Ireland but for the rest of Europe. The Leader programme has worked and continues to work because it has an input from the ground up, from communities upwards. In my county - I think the same is true of other Leader areas - there is a consultation process under way which has received very positive feedback from the general public to ensure the money is filtered down to where it will be most effective. If the Government was really serious about rural regeneration why does it not reintroduce the CLÁR programme that Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív had when he was Minister? Why does it not reintroduce the RAPID programme which helped inner cities and which had a real positive effective impact on communities? Will the Minister of State with responsibility for rural development come into the House and explain how this €30 million - this drop in the ocean, this public relations stunt in the dying days of the Government - is going to be spent that will have any impact or any effect whatsoever? Why is more money not given over to local authorities for secondary roads? Why is there no reintroduction of the local improvement schemes? Why are all these schemes, which were done away with by the Government and which were having a very real impact on rural Ireland, now being shunted to one side? We get a PR statement coming out during the National Ploughing Championships which makes it look well. It is unacceptable.
I also take up Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell on what she said. I say to her that we are very serious about our politics. A newspaper headline some years ago read “Payback time.” It is obvious from her remarks that the Senator is deciding in the dying days of the Government to ensure her own seat in this House because it is going to be payback time for her.
My remarks were very clear.
I join in tribute to my good friend, Jimmy Harte, and wish him well in his retirement. I had a particular relationship with her in that we met first on the Seanad campaign criss-crossing the country and regularly met up and stayed in the Lucan Spa Hotel. Sadly, he will not stand for re-election, but I wish him well on his retirement and wish him a speedy recovery.
I wish to raise the matter of how business is conducted in government. Every year during our budget we have the HSE calling for more and more money. It is €500 million short or €400 million short. The lack of interdepartmental joined-up thinking is one example of how we are wasting money. I hope the Leader can bring this to the attention of both the Minister for Health and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. There is a lady in Castlerea in County Roscommon who has had a stroke. She is in a unit in Galway and it is costing €150,000 to keep her there with no end in sight. She is also looking for a housing adaptation grant in order for her family to be able to take her home. As she is over the limit she will not receive the grant she needs, which is only €35,000. If Departments talked to each other, one could say, "Give that woman the €35,000 to make her house adaptable and let us save on the €150,000." However, it does not happen, it is ridiculous. It is no wonder that families are frustrated looking at these scenarios.
I now turn to the proposed wind turbine set-back distances, leaks about which featured in yesterday’s media. Going from 500 m to 600 m is nothing short of tokenism. Greater set-back distances are required. We have a peculiar scenario where two Ministers in one party, my party, cannot agree on this issue. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, wants larger set-back distances, but the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, is blocking it because he thinks we will not meet our 2020 targets. We will reach our targets if other forms of renewable energy were explored instead of concentrating solely on onshore wind power. The offshore wind power yield is ten times greater than that onshore and it is not being done. However, it proves - we have raised this issue many times with Senators John Whelan and Denis Landy in this House - that the conflicts of interest have won this debate.
I also send my best wishes to Senator Jimmy Harte. He impacted on all of us in this House when he spoke. It is a reminder of how quickly his political life could stop. We wish him well and hope he has a speedy recovery.
The legislative programme published yesterday does not include Seanad reform, yet Senators John Crown and Katherine Zappone and I have tabled amendments, motions and Bills on this matter. The Leader organised a debate on the report of the working group on Seanad reform in May with former Senators Maurice Manning and Joe O'Toole. It gave great attention to the matter and we were given significant promises but where has it turned up? Seanad reform is not even included in the list for planned legislation in the coming session.
It is shameful
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames is right, it is shameful. It is outrageous that it has not happened. Is there any possibility that Seanad reform will be on the agenda? I would quite happily introduce a Bill when my next Private Members’ time comes up in a month or so to debate this again. Is it possible that we could manage to get it through?
One of my frustrations in this House in the past 22 years is the time it takes for legislation to be introduced. Six years ago, when I bought a German-made car which contained a reflective triangle, a first-aid kit, a torch and other emergency items, I called for the making of such emergency kits compulsory for all cars. The Minister at the time supported my calls. Nothing, however, happened. Yesterday, the current Minister said he was delighted the Garda was calling for legislation to this effect. My call was made five years ago. Around the same time, I introduced a Bill on the provision of defibrillators. The Minister at the time said the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, would examine the possibility of introducing such legislation.
The Minister at the time was Deputy James Reilly.
Nothing happened, however, because it was claimed it was too costly. What happened this week, however? Ryanair announced it was going to put a defibrillator in each of its aeroplanes. However, it will not be the case for Aer Lingus aeroplanes. This shows the time it took for this to happen. We need to get the legislative process moving.
I, too, would like to be associated with the kind words of tribute to our dear colleague, Senator Jimmy Harte, on his retirement. As everyone has testified, he is a sincere and thorough gentleman. I wish him and his family well in his further recovery. Please God, it will be complete in due course.
I would like to be associated with the call by Senator Aideen Hayden for a debate on housing. I congratulate Threshold on its great work and the many thousands of people it has saved from homelessness, despite the scale of the problem.
I welcome the boost for rural towns and villages through the new €30 million rural regeneration scheme. Despite what the Opposition might state, it will support the revitalisation of towns and villages, provide better places to live and work and increase their potential to support growing economic activity. The scheme’s initiatives will be administered through local authorities with oversight provided by local community development committees. We need to find a way to restrict the power of the large retail multiples to impose their big-box designs on edge and out-of-town sites. This is one of the greatest challenges we face in halting the decline of towns. There might be some measure that can be devised to provide a more level playing pitch. As has been said by Senator Michael Comiskey, many small shopkeepers, many of whom we know, are finding it difficult to face their rates bills. I hope the Government will consider this. Will the Leader take these matters on board, particularly the housing debate?
I welcome my colleagues back and offer my best wishes to Senator Jimmy Harte and wish him well for his recovery. He is a man who loved soccer and tried to engage us in that sport.
Over the summer, particularly in recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the relevance of this Seanad. What is its relevance if it does not act in people's hour of need? Just before the Seanad commenced its summer recess, I sought a debate on the 18 homeless pregnant girls, but that debate was refused. I looked for a debate and a recall of the Seanad on the Syrian crisis, but it was refused. I also raised the issue of the Aran Islands air service, not to mention the issue raised by Senator Feargal Quinn, namely no legislative plans for Seanad reform. None of these issues has been resolved. The people spoke out on Seanad reform, but all of these issues remain unresolved.
We should not turn a blind eye to the fact that across Europe the refugee crisis is stoking passions. We in this Chamber should be aware that we are likely to face a huge increase in anti-refugee sentiment when in this country we have more than 2,000 people in emergency accommodation, homeless people on the streets and half of those homeless being children. This morning we heard a Capuchin monk say he is feeding 800 people daily. What is the Government going to do for the Irish people who are forced to rely on Christian charity just to eat?
I have heard the Taoiseach say he wants to see recovery behind every door. So do I, but what I find behind many doors is unresolved debt and missing people due to emigration and, sadly, suicide in some cases. The fact that people have been left in this situation does not bode well for the refugees we should rightfully accept into the country. The Government cannot continue to treat our homeless people, those in direct provision accommodation for up to ten years and the refugees who come here as numbers on a page. Throwing hundreds of refugees into Monasterevin is not a way forward.
Will the Leader tell me what the Seanad will do this session in its dying months? What will it do to address the serious issues of homelessness, the shortage of accommodation and the refugee crisis? What real debate will we have and what real action will we take?
I join my colleagues in extending good wishes to Senator Jimmy Harte. I have known him for many years and had the pleasure of serving with him in the HSE West forum for a number of years. Both there and here I saw at first hand his commitment to public service and his concern for the people he represented. I hope his recovery will continue and that he makes a full return to health. We think of him and his family at this difficult time and hope the future will be much brighter for him.
This year will be remembered for the appalling situation we have witnessed in Syria and other war-torn parts of the world, with hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge in Europe. I am pleased a decision was finally taken yesterday that 160,000 refugees would be accommodated, housed and cared for in the European Union and that we would take our share of those, at least 4,000. Will the Seanad bring forward whatever legislation or authorisation is required from the Houses of the Oireachtas next week to facilitate the Government in accommodating the people in question? I know a departmental task force, chaired by the Department of Justice and Equality, has been established in recent weeks.
It would be appropriate if, next week, we could get an update from it as to what progress is being made working with the NGOs, the religious orders and the Red Cross. I certainly would not share the concern expressed by Senator fidelma Healy Eames relating to anti-refugee sentiment because I witnessed a huge outpouring of generosity last week in Ballinasloe when people were asked to contribute clothing for shipment to Calais to support people in emergency accommodation and I am sure that will be reflected throughout the country as we try to come to terms with this difficulty.
I join others in expressing best wishes to our former colleague, Senator Jimmy Harte, on his retirement from the Seanad and to wish him well in all respects, particularly in respect of his health. He was most unfortunate to have had the accident he had and I there but for the grace of God go any one of us.
I wish to raise the issue of housing, about which we heard a lot over the summer months. Unfortunately, the words have not been matched by action in this area, which is regrettable. The fact that, in the lifetime of the Government, we have allowed construction of housing, particularly in the public sector, to fall to the levels to which it has fallen is a very significant contributory factor to the crisis and the levels of homelessness we now see. In 2013, 8,300 houses were built. The figure increased slightly to 11,000 in 2014. It needs to be done on an annual basis. Having just come out of a recession caused by a property bubble, we are on the cusp of another one, particularly in the capital city, and very little action is being taken to address it.
I am calling for a number of things to be done. The cost of houses must be controlled and I am looking for the restoration of the certificate of reasonable value, which applied a number of decades ago and which could have an effect in controlling house prices. I am asking that mortgage interest relief, which was abolished by the Government in 2012, be restored at the marginal rate in order to assist those trying to get on the property ladder. I would like to see action taken in respect of the scandal of high variable mortgage rates which has been allowed to continue and about which we have heard a lot of talk by the Minister for Finance and other politicians. I would like to see it tackled seriously to force the banks to bring them down to competitive rates. The banks have never borrowed at more competitive rates. If we are to tackle this issue, it must be met with a significant improvement in capital investment, which the Government again slashed in 2012, in local authority house construction. That is the only solution and it must be effected in the budget. If politicians and the Government are serious about it, we should see that reflected in the Budget Statement of the Minister for Finance on 13 October.
We are way over time and there are eight Senators left whom we will call tomorrow. They are Senators Terry Brennan, Martin Conway, Cáit Keane, Mary Moran, James Heffernan, Ned O'Sullivan and Mary White. I call on the Leader to respond.
It is not 5 p.m. The next item of business is not until 5 p.m. Surely we can get in before 5 p.m.
There is a set time of 55 minutes for the Order of Business.
I appeal to the Leader of the House to extend the Order of Business because what we have to say is relevant today. It will not be relevant tomorrow. I propose that the Order of Business be extended. This is the first day back. In all fairness, give us a chance.
Senator Darragh O'Brien spoke about the drug Fampyra. It is now available, which is to be welcomed. The Senator made a number of points about the Government withdrawing it, a matter about which we had long debates. The Government did not withdraw funding. The drug was introduced as part of a pilot scheme with the drug companies and they withdrew it. Thankfully, the problem has been solved and the drug will be available to people suffering from multiple sclerosis.
The Senator also spoke about the ambulance service in Swords and Balbriggan. Perhaps he might table a Commencement matter to receive an update.
The Senator also called for a debate on the need for a national transport plan.
Certainly, when such a plan is published, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, will be quite willing to come to the House to debate the matter.
The Senator proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. He is certainly entitled to his interpretation of the findings of the Fennelly report, but I do not propose to accept his amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Ivana Bacik spoke about the situation in Syria and the migrant crisis, as did Senators Fidelma Healy Eames and Michael Mullins. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames's comment on throwing refugees into Monasterevin is regrettable. There will be no throwing of refugees anywhere; they will be treated with the utmost respect.
What about the system of direct provision?
The report of the interdepartmental task force has been sought by Senator Michael Mullins-----
Spending seven to ten years in direct provision accommodation does not amount to respect.
The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.
As I said, the report of the interdepartmental task force has been sought by Senator Michael Mullins. I can assure the House that, as requested by quite a number of Members, we will have a debate next Thursday on a motion following the Minister's meeting in the European Union yesterday on the refugee crisis.
Senator Katherine Zappone made proposals about rent controls and requested that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, be brought to the House as a matter of urgency. The question of housing was also raised by Senators Aideen Hayden, David Cullinane, Paul Coghlan and Jim Walsh. Many Members complimented Threshold on its report and Senator Jim Walsh came up with some very good points. However, it has to be pointed out that the Government of which his party was part abandoned the building of social housing during the boom, when the country was awash with money and it was wondering how it could spend it. That is one area in which it could have spent it, but it did not do so.
I presume Senator John Crown was looking for permission to publish his Bill. In that case, I will agree to the amendment proposed to the Order of Business, that No. 15, Longer Healthy Living Bill 2015, be taken before No. 1.
Senator Jim D'Arcy referred to the regrettable choice of language used by a Sinn Féin councillor in describing as west Brits the people who ran Irish rugby. It was a disgraceful comment. As the Senator pointed out, the Irish rugby team is a 32-county team, an all-island team, and we wish it success in its ventures in the Rugby World Cup in the coming weeks. Such comments are bigoted and we are adding credence to them in discussing them in the House.
I note Senator Terry Leyden's comments on the Web Summit. It is to be regretted that it is to be moved next year for the many reasons outlined. They include the exorbitant prices charged by some hotels this year during the summit when they had a captive audience. This is something we will obviously have to discuss at a later stage when we are debating tourism related matters.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is certainly vehemently opposed to the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Fianna Fáil. She is correct in what she said about Senator Jimmy Harte. He is a man who always despised violence by the IRA. I remember vividly his description of his family house which was attacked by it during the Troubles. He is a man who has always advocated the reunification of the country by peaceful means and with the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland, as his father advocated. Many of the people who advocated it long before the Good Friday Agreement was signed were not taken seriously and frowned upon.
However, it is a policy which the Senator always advocated, as his family did before him.
Senator Pat O'Neill spoke about rural crime and welcomed the publication of the new burglary of dwellings Bill and the announcement of the allocation of €30 million for village and town renewal. He also made a very important point about the importance of people keeping the serial numbers of items in their houses. As he said, many of these items are put up for sale; it is important, therefore, that they keep the serial numbers to give to the Garda to prevent crimes and catch those who perpetrate these crimes.
Senator Sean D. Barrett referred to people with disabilities and said payments should be made to them rather than to providers. He is right in that regard. It is something Senator Tony Mulcahy has raised on several occasions in debates on services for people with disabilities. I am sure the Minister has received the message at this stage, but I will certainly bring the matter to his attention.
Senator Sean D. Barrett also recalled the deaths during the summer of several public service workers when on duty. We express our sympathy to their families.
Senator Michael Comiskey asked about and welcomed the replacement of the disadvantaged areas scheme by a new scheme and the moneys being provided for it. He also asked for the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, to be invited to the House in order that the question of rates in rural towns could be examined.
Senator Paschal Mooney, rightly, recalled the fact, which I acknowledge, that Senator Diarmuid Wilson, the Opposition Whip, always ensured a pairing for Senator Jimmy Harte during his illness. This must be acknowledged. It continued the tradition followed in the last two Seanaid. In the last Seanad when a Fianna Fáil Senator was seriously ill, we provided for a pairing. It is the right and decent thing to do. We thank Senator Diarmuid Wilson for doing so.
That is very generous of the Leader. I thank him.
Senator John Kelly spoke about the need for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Health to get together in the case he mentioned regarding the housing adaptation grant. He is right; there is a need for more joined-up thinking in this regard. I note his point about wind turbines. I am sure we will have a further debate on that matter in the near future.
Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the legislative programme. There is a very ambitious legislative programme for this session, but I cannot throw any light on the matter of Seanad reform. The last information I received was that an implementation group was to be set up to progress the proposals made in the Manning report, but I am not sure whether any progress has been made even on that aspect of the matter.
We will leave it until after the general election. It will be handier.
I will revert to the Senator on the matter when I have any news on it.
I also note Senator Feargal Quinn's points about road safety measures, German car makers and the delays in dealing with the matter. I take note of his point about defibrillators. The legislation was accepted on Second Stage at the time and the Government indicated that it might come back on the matter. In the meantime there was a report from HIQA which suggested it would be far too expensive to implement the measures contained in the Bill that had been put forward. However, as I would have thought further proposals would have been brought to the House, I will inquire about the matter.
Senator Paul Coghlan complimented Threshold on its work. He questioned the power of large multiples which were allowed to locate on the edge of towns the length and breadth of the country. Certainly, the problems in town centres arose as a result, but I do not think we can turn the clock back.
It is regrettable that this was allowed to happen, but we are where we are in that regard.
I think I have addressed the points raised by Senators Fidelma Healy Eames and Michael Mullins about the refugee crisis. I confirm that we will have a debate on Thursday next on that topic.
I asked the Leader if he would arrange a debate on the rural governance programme with the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan.
We will certainly try to arrange it.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That, under Standing Order 56, the Attorney General be invited to attend the House to answer questions about the events that led to the resignation of the former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan." Is the amendment being pressed?
Under Standing Order 62(3)(b), I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Crown, John.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Mark.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Heffernan, James.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- Power, Averil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Reilly, Kathryn.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Mac Conghail, Fiach.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Brien, Mary Ann.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Zappone, Katherine.
Senator John Crown has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 15 be taken before No.1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.