The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re notification of a vacancy in Seanad Éireann arising from the resignation of Senator Jimmy Harte, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion of referral to Joint Committee on Health and Children of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 4(7)) (Membership of Council) Regulations 2015, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Minerals Development Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 4, Choice of Court (Hague Convention) Bill 2015 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
The Opposition accepts the Order of Business today and will work with the Government in that regard.
With regard to the regrettable by-election caused by the resignation of Mr. Jimmy Harte, does Fine Gael intend to contest it or will it hand over to an Independent on this occasion?
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
I am sure our friend will be delighted to contest or to accept the agreement that the Labour Party's candidate will be the sole Government candidate in this regard. I hope the person selected will be-----
That is not a matter for the Order of Business today.
I am only giving advice that the candidate should be suitably qualified and not retrospectively qualified for the position, which concerns the industry and commerce portfolio. That is very important and I have tried-----
We do not want a repeat of what happened last year. We are trying to put up with Senator Gerard P. Craughwell.
I am trying to encourage the Government to be very conscious of the situation. Of course, the Fianna Fáil Party-----
The Senator is only filling time.
I am not, actually, I am filling very useful time. Fianna Fáil will be contesting this by-election. As normal, we will be putting forward a candidate.
We will be contesting it vigorously. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Labour Party in this regard.
I encourage the Government parties not to take the action they took the last time. Retrospective qualifications are not acceptable in this House. It was a frightening and sinister activity on the part of the Government.
Will the Leader arrange for the appropriate Minister, whether it is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to come to the House to discuss the regrettable decision by Paddy Cosgrave yesterday to transfer to Lisbon the Web Summit which was established in Dublin and very successful for several years? It attracted 30,000 visitors to Ireland and generated €140 million in income for the country. One can rightfully criticise the hoteliers and others for this decision, but this is not the real reason for the proposed transfer of this major conference to Lisbon from 2016 to 2019. It was a significant boost to the economy, attracted many of the top web developers from around the world and resulted in the creation of many worthwhile jobs. The contribution of Bono to the summit has been enormous too.
I hope the Government decides to hold an international conference in Ireland in 2016, bearing in mind that Ireland, not Lisbon, is the Silicon Valley of Europe. All the major web companies are located in Ireland and they are very successful. Will the Leader seek a debate on the hosting of international conferences in Ireland? The Convention Centre Dublin on the quays was built under a progressive Fianna Fáil Government and should be utilised in more ways than one, as it is a wonderful asset. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for trade, I arranged many successful conferences in Ireland with An Bord Tráchtála. We have brilliant people working in the public service who would be delighted to have the opportunity to hold the largest and most successful web conference in Dublin in 2016 and beyond.
However, we do not always have to depend on the public service. We - Ireland - can do it.
It is regrettable that we are moving to a by-election in the Seanad. Many Members, including me, expressed our deep regret about our colleague Jimmy Harte’s resignation. Yesterday, all of us wished him well in his retirement and for his speedy recovery. I am not going to descend to making any sort of cheap political points about the unfortunate fact that we will have a by-election to fill his absence. We sorely miss him.
I thank the Leader for indicating yesterday that next week we will be debating a motion on the terrible humanitarian crisis in Syria. However, I am glad that since yesterday a package of measures has been agreed at the European Council with €1 billion promised in aid to resolve the crisis we are seeing with refugees gathering on the borders of Europe.
Yesterday, it was remiss of me not to commend our colleague, Senator Aideen Hayden, on the publication earlier this week of the Threshold report on its Dublin tenancy protection service. I commend her for all the work she has done in this area and support her calls for a debate on the issues contained in the report.
I commend the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders, IASIO, for the publication of its biennial report for 2014-2015. I was glad to attend the report's official launch by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I commend Mr. Paddy Richardson, chief executive of IASIO, and its staff for the significant work they have done in seeking to rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-offenders into the community. They have some really strong success stories from the past two years, including over 1,200 employment placements and 433 community returns successfully completed. The organisation is doing an important service for rehabilitation.
While we have had debates on rehabilitation before, will the Leader organise another one? I also hope such a debate on rehabilitation and crime generally would have a focus on rural crime which was highlighted so much at the ploughing championships this week. We all welcomed the announcement this week by the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, and the Government of the €30 million rural regeneration and investment in rural communities package. I have a couple of suggestions as to the crime prevention projects on which some of that money could be spent. In particular, there could be an extension of some ongoing Garda schemes such as the crime prevention ambassadors, a scheme particularly useful for older people in rural communities, and the community CCTV programmes in rural areas. I will be writing to the Minister of State about this, but we should have a broad debate on crime prevention and the rehabilitation of offenders.
I echo the sentiments of Senators Ivana Bacik and others in their appreciation of former Senator Jimmy Harte and Mr. Paddy Harte. Mr. Paddy Harte and Mr. Glenn Barr did such work in promoting reconciliation on this island, long before it had entered the political mainstream. We will miss Jimmy Harte very much in this House.
I refer the closure of the School of Modern Languages at the Ulster University in Coleraine as an economy measure. It has resulted in the loss of 1,250 student places in languages in the north west of the country, as well as 120 posts. We need more language teaching in Ireland, North and South. There is an emphasis these days on teaching languages at an earlier age, perhaps introducing it in primary schools. The Minister for Education and Skills is a language graduate. Will she consider having a debate on this issue and the implication that a narrow utilitarian view of education could lead to losses? It is a wrong decision in Northern Ireland. That society needs more diversity, not less. It has implications, however, for the entire island of Ireland in trying to promote the smart economy and a broader minded society. Will the Leader ask if the Minister for Education and Skills will debate the implications of that closure for education in the entire country?
As several Senators did not get in yesterday, I gave a commitment they would be called early today.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. Yesterday would have been the day for me to pay tribute to our former colleague, Jimmy Harte, whom I have known for many years. When he was a county councillor, my first engagement with him was when the all-Ireland fleadh was in Letterkenny and asking him to accommodate people from County Clare. I have no doubt he will look for the compliment to be returned when the fleadh comes to Ennis. Jimmy is a soft-spoken gentleman from County Donegal with deep conviction, a deep sense of social justice and doing what is right for ordinary people. In his short time in this House, his legacy will live on, not just in this House but in politics, following the long tradition of his father, Paddy.
An issue around transport provision arose in County Clare over the summer. I have always been a great proponent of facilitating private transport operators. We have seen the dramatic success of such facilitation with the granting of a licence for low-cost fares and convenient travel to Mr. Michael O’Leary and Ryanair which will carry over 100 million passengers this year. Similarly, Dublin Coach, founded by Mr. John O'Sullivan, a native of County Clare, is now providing cost-effective and cheap connectivity on an hourly basis from Dublin to several parts of Ireland. It is a good and positive development which means people can travel to Dublin to the theatre, a show or a match in the evening and return to counties Clare and Kerry and other places the same evening. The problem is that there are restrictions on his licence which do not serve the customer or make sense. At certain times of the day during the morning and the evening, Dublin Coach is not allowed to pick up or drop people on Arthurs Quay in Limerick. Similarly, he cannot pick people up in Newcastle West or Abbeyfeale.
Will you give me one minute?
The Senator only has two minutes altogether.
The licence prevents him from doing this, although his coaches are passing through the places in question several times an hour. Will the Leader contact the National Transport Authority to lift these punitive and ridiculous restrictions on Dublin Coach's licences?
Senator Martin Conway seems to have drifted into County Limerick. He might be best to get on the ferry in Tarbert and head back to County Clare.
I join colleagues in the tributes paid yesterday and today to former Senator Jimmy Harte. What happened to him was tragic and unfortunate and we wish him the best. It is not long since he, Senator John Crown and I were in Gdansk and Poznan in Poland at the time of the European Championships. It is a pity to see what has happened and we wish him the very best.
I congratulate and wish the very best of luck to Ms Glenna Lynch and Mr. Cian O'Callaghan in their election campaigns, the newest members of the Social Democrats, who declared this morning.
There have been many announcements this week and it seems that the place to be for good news announcements is the ploughing championships at Ratheniska. Yesterday there was a tremendous commitment made to rural Ireland. It makes me laugh when I see the Government's mealy-mouthed commitment. This is its final year in office and it has decided to announce a €30 million rural regeneration scheme to be introduced over five years, which is €6 million per year. If one divides that by the number of parishes in Ireland, there is approximately €2,000 per parish on offer. What kind of regeneration will that bring? When one travels throughout the country, one can see that rural Ireland is fighting on its back in an effort to remain vibrant and thriving and to survive. This kind of mealy-mouthed commitment does nothing to stem the tide of people leaving rural Ireland. This highlights the Government's commitment to rural affairs and rural issues.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Yes. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence and will talk to him on another date about speaking time.
There is a conflict between the Departments of Environment, Community and Local Government and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in respect of wind energy. The Government seems to want to destroy the country with wind farms and wind technology that is obsolete. The latter are a stain on our landscape, which is the only thing we have in rural Ireland. In the area of County Limerick in which I live, we are trying to develop a tourist structure around rural Ireland. There is a drive to cover the country in wind farms without examining the possibility of converting existing energy stations to burn renewables such miscanthus, etc.
There is a need for an urgent debate on our 2020 targets and environmental matters.
I, too, acknowledge the contribution made by former Senator Jimmy Harte in his short period in this House. He is a man of great conviction and, as one of our colleagues mentioned yesterday, he is a fearless individual who has suffered greatly. His family also suffered greatly and his house was attacked during the Troubles, but it not deter him. I wish him continued good health and success in his retirement.
The CSO figures that were published at the weekend confirm strong growth in revenue from overseas visitors for the first six months of 2015. Spending in Ireland by overseas visitors for the first half of 2015 rose by 16.2% compared with the same period last year. The figures also show that the number of holidaymakers increased by more than 20% and that spending by these visitors was up 34.5% for January to June when compared with the figures for January to June 2014. That is good news for tourism.
The loss of the Web Summit is to be regretted. During last year's event there was a phenomenal increase in hotel prices in Dublin of the order of 500% to 600%. People who stay in these hotels regularly throughout the year are now unable to do so. That may have been one of the reasons why the event has been moved. This is a regrettable development and I hope that Dublin will play host to an alternative convention.
I convey my very best wishes to former Senator Jimmy Harte and wish him all the best in his retirement. This is a hard day for him because it was a proud moment for him when he was elected as a Member of the Oireachtas. We did not anticipate that he would not see out the term. We wish him well.
I am in a positive mood today and would like to be positive about a few things. It was marvellous to see the Pope in Cuba and to see the exchange of embassies between the United States and Cuba of late. It is remarkable when one considers the foolishness of the past 40 years, when these two neighbouring countries that should have been close friends were actually at each other's throats for so long - so much so that they almost precipitated a nuclear war. It is a message to the major powers that the quicker they bury their differences and work together for the good of the entire global community, the better off we will all be.
According to recent reports, TG4 is finding it very difficult to make ends meet. Even with the Government grant last year, the station will probably be in deficit. TG4 deserves better than that. In the forthcoming budget I would like to see a proper deontas for it. Lately, I was laid up and unable to attend the race meeting in my native Listowel, which I regretted deeply but I was able to watch the whole thing on TG4 for the entire week. Not only did it show the racing, it also showed interaction between the locals and people from the larger rural community across Munster. It interviewed ordinary guys; it was not all about racing, jockeys, and form. TG4 offers the kind of community service that RTE is not in a position to provide. Even leaving aside what the station is doing for Gaeilge, it should be treated better. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Finance, Deputy MIchael Noonan, particularly as the latter now has bags full of money to give away.
I request a debate on the Oireachtas joint committee's report on key issues for female entrepreneurs in Ireland and their participation in the tech sector, in respect of which I had the honour to act as rapporteur, and ask that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation come before the House to engage in said debate. My presentation was unanimously accepted by the membership of the Oireachtas joint committee, including Senator Michael Mullins who is sitting behind the Leader. There are 12 recommendations made in the presentation, each of which is very important. However, I draw attention to one recommendation because it is parallel to a statement made by the Irish Tax Institute this week which highlighted that Ireland was not advancing up the global rankings on entrepreneurship. Key Irish entrepreneurs and business leaders have expressed serious concern about our tax environment. As a small open economy, Ireland's export sales are necessary in order to sustain our standard of living and existing employment and to create new employment. It is a sad fact that there is still 9.5% unemployment and that the figure for youth unemployment stands at almost 21%, which represents a loss of human capital. In July 2015 the National Competitiveness Council drew attention to the hundreds of third level graduates who had left the country.
This is the key point. The Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation suggested that, in the next budget, the Government should remove the tax discrimination facing self-employed entrepreneurs, including PAYE tax credit and the lack of social welfare rights. The Government should consider an entrepreneurs' capital tax at a much lower rate than the current horrendous 33% capital tax rate.
The Senator is out of time.
What is happening is very worrying. Many Irish potential entrepreneurs are leaving to set up businesses in the United Kingdom and the United States because of our horrendous 33% capital acquisitions tax.
I support Senator Mary White in her call to have the rate of capital gains tax brought down. It is utterly ridiculous at 33%. We will actually get more money in if we bring it down. I would not agree, however, on female entrepreneurs. Being a female entrepreneur - if I even understand that word - a person who has been involved in business since I was 16 years old, I never had a problem. I do not know whether I am female or male when I am involved in business. To me, that is a load of balderdash.
On a point of order, if as many women set up businesses as men every month, we would have 500 extra jobs a month.
That is not a point of order.
I wish to talk about charity regulation in Ireland or the lack thereof. I cannot believe I am coming back to this subject. I wrote a report in 2012, I think, just to give colleagues a quick reminder. Do my colleagues know how much money the Government gives to charities in Ireland each year? It gives in excess of €4 billion. My colleagues should think of all the schools in Ireland and imagine if the students' copybooks were not marked. There is nobody in Ireland in the charity sector whose copybook is marked because we do not have a regulator. Are charities compliant with best practice such as codes of governance and fundraising? How efficient are the charities that receive public money? Are they measured or held accountable? The answer is "No". Does the Government have a database of charities? This is going well. The new regulator is getting there on a database, even though we had one before via Ms Patricia Quinn and INKEx, which we shelved before we started the regulator. We are building a new one. Does the Government know the combined spend on payroll, overheads or marketing in all the charities in Ireland? The answer is "No". The Daily Telegraph carried a story yesterday about a very high-profile charity called ShelterBox, sponsored by no less than the Duchess of Cornwall. Huge fraud has taken place. The boss of that charity has given his son endless contracts and business. There is absolute murder going on. In the Daily Mail last week we also had the RSPCA, Save the Children, the NSPCC and Oxfam all in before the regulator about aggressive fundraising and going after vulnerable people. Some €4 billion from all of the different silos and parts of government is being given out and there is no regulation. I do not have to remind colleagues about Rehab and the CRC. There are a few other small ones that have appeared in the newspaper and if colleagues care to buy the Daily Mail this weekend, there is another scandal approaching. We have no regulator. I ask the Leader if the Minister could come and talk to us about this.
Yesterday I did not get a chance to speak. The point on defibrillators made by Senator Feargal Quinn is a no-brainer. I know they are telling us we do not have the money, but for goodness' sake there is VAT on defibrillators. If Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell and I were to set up a GAA club out in south Dublin, we would have to pay VAT on the defibrillator. That is something small which we could just take off.
There is a sum of €30 million for rural Ireland - what an absolute joke. We need a debate on the issue. I will have a lot more to say about it.
I support Senator Mary White's call for a discussion with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, on the Oireachtas joint committee's report that was published recently. I know she put a lot of work and effort into it. I would like to see our discussion with the Minister encompassing the Action Plan for Jobs 2015 to see how we can accelerate the 1,300 jobs per week being created. We need to create more and every opportunity should be taken to do so.
On the tourism issue raised by Senator Terry Brennan, it is welcome that revenue from overseas tourism will increase this year by 16.2%. The fact that the number of visitors from North America is up by nearly 34% is particularly significant. We cannot be complacent and need to have a discussion with the Minister on the figures and what we are doing right and what is going wrong.
I am certainly very concerned with some of the commentary on the reasons the Web Summit is going to Lisbon and the fact that hotel prices in Dublin seem to be an issue. We are all very conscious of the significant rise in accommodation prices here, at a time when the hospitality industry is lobbying to ensure the VAT rate is retained at 9%. A commitment was given when VAT was reduced to 9% for the hospitality industry, that the industry would play ball and ensure that its prices were kept competitive. Some elements of the sector are certainly not keeping to their end of the bargain. That has to be a major concern for all of us. While many of the restaurants and other aspects of the sector are doing their best to keep prices under control, the hotel sector certainly needs to be called to book on this issue.
Yesterday on the Order of Business and this morning we heard about the €30 million of rural funding that was announced. I know th at the Leader was asked yesterday to have a debate on rural Ireland and this issue. The package that was announced by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, at the ploughing championships is going to run for six years from 2016. It is my understanding it is designed to channel funds via local authorities, for example for renovating derelict buildings, regenerating vacant sites or upgrading street lighting. Further details are to be announced in the coming week. The Taoiseach said he hoped the funding would address infrastructural blockages in rural Ireland. However, when we start talking about revitalising and regenerating rural Ireland, or eliminating the two-tier economy between urban and rural areas, we must also consider services. When the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, come to the House to discuss the funding and the broader issues around rural Ireland, I hope we will also address their proposals on the amalgamation of services. Proposals from the Department to amalgamate, for example, fire and library services have caused concern in some areas. Communities are understandably upset by the proposals, as they will undermine the ability of counties to protect their own local services. The Department is seeking to amalgamate these services in a number of areas, including Cavan and Monaghan.
Another report, Managing the Delivery of Effective Library Services, recommends a unified management structure for the operation of these services only. There is grave concern about where this proposal will ultimately lead. When we start talking about more effective, leaner services, what strikes people is a reduction in finances and how the same services are to be provided when two counties have to start drawing from the same pool. We have heard rhetoric on streamlined, more efficient services before and it is often translated into budget cuts, reduced hours, possible staff cuts and worse; it has resulted in some closures. We just need to look at Garda stations, post offices and banks. First come efficiencies, then come cuts and closures and, when a service is gone, we all know that it is gone. We have heard it all before; we have heard about efficiencies in public services. It does equate to cutbacks and job losses. I do not think we can talk about rural funding and the funding that is going to be coming to local authorities without discussing these issues which are central to rural Ireland and its communities.
Yesterday and again this morning we heard much comment about the loss of the Web Summit to Lisbon. While the reasons for it are probably varied and complex, the cost of accommodation here----
It is about money and greed.
While the cost of accommodation in this city is certainly a factor, I draw attention to what might be another factor in this decision. Back in 2013 for the entire period of the Web Summit, there was a water shortage in Dublin. When there were 30,000 international and national entrepreneurs and high-tech businesses coming here to experience the Irish ambiance for entrepreneurship, they found themselves not being able to have a shower and restaurants were unable to serve water.
It might just cause those who are opposed to paying for water and for investment in water to reflect on the logical consequences of their decisions. This is one of them. While I am not saying this is the single and only reason for the loss of the Web Summit it certainly must be a contributory factor.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on local government reform in the light of the proposed amalgamation of Cork city and county councils? I am fully in favour of the reform. According to reports in the media today there is only a 5% vacancy in office space in Dublin, at a time when we are trying to attract more investment. In the regions - Cork is the major region - we could take advantage of this opportunity if we get our decision making and administrative processes in order. We could then talk seriously about regional development. We could perhaps include in that debate the overwhelmingly important possibility of the devolution of the powers from central government to local government. This is overdue.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health to the House because I would like us to have a debate on our ageing population? The demographic of the population is quite outstanding. It is alarming that 65% of us will be over 65 in the next 15 years and we need to plan for it. The reason we fail in Ireland is that we do not plan. Homelessness is a very complex problem. One of the reasons it is so bad is that we did not plan. A total of 68% of us do not even have a will. We do not even plan personally, let alone as organisations or as a country. We did not have a plan for Irish Water. We do not have a plan for housing and we did not plan ahead for transport. We need a plan for our ageing population. We are institutionalising far too many of our older people and not giving them independent living. According to the Alone report, of the 36,000 people in very good institutions and care homes, 12,000 did not need to be there. I suggest we need the Minister here because we could create a fair deal within homes, not just within institutions or within care homes. I see my job in the Seanad as some kind of a Government adviser on how to plan and how to exercise more perception and how to exercise more strategic thinking for the future and we need the Minister in here to help him to do just that in our last session.
Gabhaim gach dea-ghuí ar an Seanadóir Jimmy Harte. Is iomaí spalla a bhíodh mé féin agus Jimmy ag caitheamh le chéile trasna úrlár an tSeanaid ach ar deireadh thiar bhíomar cairdiúil go leor ar bhonn pearsanta. Guím gach rath air sa todhchaí leis an dúshlán mór atá roimhe.
Ba mhaith liom freisin go mbeadh díospóireacht againn maidir le cúrsaí oileáin. Tá ionsaí leanúnach á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas seo ar na hoileáin agus níl sa ghné is deireanaí maidir leis an tseirbhís aeir go hÁrainn ach gné amháin de. I would like us to have a debate on the Government’s islands policy. It has been stated to me on many occasions over the summer that there appears to be a constant barrage of attacks on island services by the Government such as the cuts to the ferry services, in particular to Inis Mór and the fact that the Government will not provide a second teacher in the primary school on Inis Meain, the people have had to depend on a private company to do that. There are problems in health provision from doctors and nurses on most of the islands. The Leader company, Comhar na nOileán Teoranta, will be defunct if it is not given permission to continue. That certainly looks to be the policy of the Government. The air service to the Aran Islands has been an absolute fiasco and the way it has been handled is a disgrace. We also see that the section in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that deals with the islands seems to have been slimmed down, starved of resources and really is not able to do its work. People tell me that amounts to an absolute attack on the life and livelihoods of people on the islands. It is very important that we have the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht here to discuss the future viability and sustainability of our island populations, the wealth they bring to the nation, their importance and how important it is to support them in their efforts to maintain vital services on those islands and vibrant populations. It would be a very timely debate. I hope the Leader will be able to facilitate that debate as soon as possible.
I add my voice to those who have referred to the retirement of former Senator Jimmy Harte, his contribution to his community and Seanad Éireann. I met him on the first day I joined the Seanad. He was a fine gentleman and gave me some sound advice. There were many times during the first year or two of my time here when he put me to shame, particularly at lunch time when I saw him strip off in the fitness centre and go out training for his marathon running. All the goings on in the Seanad pale in comparison to what he and his family have endured since that tragic fall. It makes us realise that our health is our wealth. I wish Jimmy and his family the very best of luck as he continues to recover from that tragedy.
With regard to Senator Terry Leyden’s comments on the loss of the Web Summit, a general election is certainly in the air because it is not the Government’s fault that we have lost the summit. It is not Tourism Ireland’s fault, or Ireland’s fault. This is all about business and the almighty dollar.
The bottom line is the dollar.
Despite all the support from Irish institutions.
Having worked in Fáilte Ireland for many years as a younger man, I know that conference venues change from city to city around the United States and Europe. Ireland was lucky to host the Web Summit for three or four years. Digging deeper into Senator Terry Leyden’s comments about its contribution of €140 million to the economy and the 30,000 guests who come to Ireland, it must be election time because his numbers are way off. I have heard of a contribution of €70 million or €100 million. If there are 30,000 people they are contributing almost €5,000 per person to the economy, yet we hear that almost half the people who attend the conference are not from overseas. Tourism numbers are up and the conference centres have bookings all the way through to 2017 and beyond. It will not make a difference to tourism numbers. There are over 300,000 people attending the National Ploughing Championships. That makes an enormous contribution to Ireland, rural Ireland in particular. I spent the past three weeks travelling around rural Ireland working on a television series and found that the attitude in rural Ireland has changed dramatically for the better in recent years. Restaurants are booming and businesses seem to be booming. Ireland is back on its feet and we will see much better things in the near future.
When is the programme being broadcast? I would like to know. Is it on RTE, TV3 or UTV?
I support the request made by Senator John Gilroy that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government come to the House to discuss the future of local government. No. 16 on the Order Paper would be a useful vehicle to initiate that debate. It is a Private Members' motion signed by the majority of Senators.
I possibly differ from Senator John Gilroy in that I have very serious doubts about what is being proposed in Cork. Certainly reform is required, but what the Minister apparently suggests is almost a trial run of regional government. As the Senator said, we certainly need to decentralise powers. I am an advocate of strong local government. I was an advocate of the town councils. One council serving almost 500,000 people sounds more like regional government than local government. Local government must contain and maintain the word "local". We do have to reflect not just on Cork but on the future of local government across the country. The Minister has committed to a review of what was put in place last year. We are asking him to come to the House to debate that review. I simply request that the Cork situation be part of that review.
If the Leader has the opportunity in the next month or two, will he invite the Minister for Finance to the House to discuss the future of credit unions?
There is serious concern among members of the credit union movement that further regulations to be signed into law by the Minister in late November or early December will have a negative impact on the credit union network. The voluntary credit union movement has been hugely successful. It has millions of members and provided significant finance for people during the years. We must try to protect and expand it rather than retract it. I appreciate that there were difficulties, but I understand they have been addressed. There is, however, genuine concern that sections of the most recent trade union legislation which are due to be signed into law and commenced by the Minister later this year will be detrimental. I would like him to come to the House to discuss his views. I would also like us to have the opportunity to express our views on how we could develop and expand the credit union network.
The national Famine commemoration will be held in Newry this Saturday, 26 September. It is the first time the commemoration will be held in the North and I hope many Senators will attend this important event, if they have the time to do so. It commemorates a bleak time in our history when the potato crop failed. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, that €1 million will be spent on marketing the potato, which is an important part of our culture and heritage and a nutritious food, with all the vitamins one would want. I remember having champ on a Friday and I was able to go around like a Duracell bunny all day.
It is also called "colcannon".
I would like the Minister to come to the House to outline how the potato will be marketed. To misquote an old saying, "A spud a day keeps the doctor away". Some 36% of the potato crop is grown in the counties of Louth and Meath and the marketing fund is great news for these growers. The spud is great food and the Cooley spud is the best in the country. The great potato growers of Cooley - the Raffertys, the McCanns, the Malones, the Hanlons and probably the Brennans - could produce enough potatoes for the whole country if marketing funding was provided.
The Senator should bring some to Strasbourg next week.
For Senator Jim D'Arcy's illumination, Carne potatoes from south Wexford are the best in the country. Former councillor Leo Carthy was a great proponent of them.
I have heard about them.
On the same issue, on a recent trip with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade to an Irish Aid programme in Malawi we were passing through a market in a rural area that was packed with people and all sorts of produce when some of the market traders came up to the windows of the minibus offering "Irish potatoes, Irish spuds" for sale. Apparently, Irish potatoes were introduced by Irish missionaries in the 19th century. I, therefore, concur with what Senator Jim D'Arcy had to say about potatoes.
I support the call made by Senator Paul Bradford for a debate on local government and concur with what he said. The trend to moving away from town councils to county councils which happened under the previous Minister is a mistake. We could get more value and more of an impact from local government if it was more closely associated with the people. In 2001 when the then Minister introduced the Bill, one of the options considered was having regional councils modelled on municipal or district areas feeding into a geographic region. For example, we could have a south-east regional council that would include subordinate municipal or district councils. We need a debate on this issue, but it must go beyond it and deal with the lack of empowerment of councillors. A review of the County Management Act is long overdue. The lodging of significant powers with an executive is never suitable to ensure proper democracy. We have the weakest local government system in Europe. Our system of government is highly centralised and we need greater devolution from the centre.
If possible, will the Minister for Finance attend the House next week for a pre-budget debate? I asked for such a debate previously. We need to debate issues such as inheritance tax, capital acquisition tax and USC. A meaningful debate would be helpful to the Minister in the final stages of refining his budgetary arrangements to be announced on 13 October. It would be a useful exercise for us and for him. I, therefore, ask the Leader to inform us whether such a debate can be arranged.
Senator Terry Leyden asked about No. 1 on the Order Paper. I am sure the Labour Party will select a well qualified nominee to fill the position vacated by our friend and former colleague Jimmy Harte. I acknowledge that quite a number of Members did not have an opportunity yesterday to pay tribute to him for his work in the Seanad and to wish him well.
Senator Terry Leyden also mentioned the Web Summit. He was critical of Mr. Paddy Cosgrave yesterday because of the relocation of the summit to Portugal. We should praise Mr. Cosgrave for the work he has done in the past few years in holding the summit here and the jobs created as a result. It may be held here again at a later stage.
Senator Ivana Bacik complimented Senator Aideen Hayden on the Threshold report and called for a debate on the matter. She also called for a debate on the report on the rehabilitation of prisoners and crime prevention measures. We have a large legislative programme for the coming months and I am sure these issues, as well as the issue of rural crime, among others, can be accommodated in a number of debates on justice issues and legislation.
Senator Sean D. Barrett expressed concern about the closure of the School of Modern Languages in the University of Ulster, Coleraine. The closure is regrettable as it is important to promote the teaching of modern languages. More people with languages are required as there is a lack of suitably qualified individuals. It is important, therefore, that such schools remain open. I am sure this issue will be raised at the North-South Ministerial Council and in other fora.
Senator Martin Conway raised an issue related to the National Transport Authority. Perhaps he might raise it as a Commencement matter.
Senator James Heffernan spoke about the allocation of €30 million for rural development. This sum is in addition to the hundreds of millions that will be pumped into rural Ireland by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and many other Departments and local enterprise organisations. The Senator also called for a debate on wind energy projects. We will try to facilitate such a debate, although we have already had a number of debates on the matter.
Senator Terry Brennan indicated the growth in the numbers of overseas visitors. This point was also made by Senators Michael Mullins and Eamonn Coghlan. The growth in the figures is excellent and should be highlighted. The figures for this year are exceptional and long may it continue. The Government's policies, including the 9% VAT rate it decided to introduce a number of years ago, are bearing fruit in the creation of jobs and increasing tourist figures.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan welcomed the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and the USA. I note his points in that regard and also about additional funding for TG4.
Senators Mary White and Michael Mullins called for a debate on the joint Oireachtas committee's report on female entrepreneurs and also asked for tax measures in various areas to be included in the budget. Senator Jim Walsh made this point previously in seeking a debate on pre-budget submissions. I am happy to inform the House that we will have a debate next week with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and, I hope, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, on pre-budget submissions. I am glad that we can facilitate the request made at the right time.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien raised the issue of charity regulation, a matter she has highlighted previously. We will try to arrange a further debate on it. I note her point about VAT on defibrillators, a matter she can certainly raise with both Ministers in the House next week.
Senator Kathryn Reilly referred to concerns about the amalgamation of various services in local authorities and its effect on communities. I note her points and we can have that debate. We had the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, in the House previously and will try to have her here again. However, as I said, we have over 30 pieces of legislation to be brought before the House in this term; therefore, after next week we will be busy dealing with legislation. I had expressed the opinion that more Bills should be published as Seanad Bills, whereby they could be brought before the House earlier, rather than have a situation where we rushed Bills at the end of term, a practice which has continued since Adam was a boy. I hope we can deal with the legislation properly and give it the time it deserves in the coming weeks and months.
Senator John Gilroy spoke about the Web Summit. He made the point that in 2013 when we had a water shortage the 30,000 attending the summit, as well as the rest of the population, had difficulty in even having a shower as a result. This is something that tends to be forgotten.
Senators John Gilroy, Paul Bradford and Jim Walsh made points about and called for a debate on the need for local government reform and various other issues in local government. The two Senators from Cork also mentioned the amalgamation of Cork City and County Councils. I am sure that debate will continue for quite some time. I will try to facilitate a debate on the matter with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell highlighted the fact that we had an ageing population and the need to plan for the future. She is quite right. It is an issue facing the country and there is a need to plan for the future. I will certainly ask the Minister for Health to come to the House for a debate on this very important issue.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the matter of island services. Some 64% of total funding for the islands goes to the Aran Islands, a figure of which the Senator is probably aware. I understand the subsidy to the air service has increased from €800,000 to €1.5 million or €2 million. The Minister of State with responsibility for the islands and the Gaeltacht is doing everything possible to fight his corner to seek more money and provide better services for the people of the islands, just as his predecessor did.
Senator Eamonn Coghlan also pointed to some facts about the Web Summit. He gave some tourism figures in that regard.
In addition to dealing with the issue of local government reform, Senator Paul Bradford made a number of points about credit unions, an issue he will be able to raise with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform next week.
Senator Jim D'Arcy highlighted the upcoming Famine commemoration and also the marketing of the potato and its importance in several areas in County Louth and County Meath, in particular. Of course, Senator Jim Walsh pointed to the situation in County Wexford.
I think I have covered most of the items raised by Members.