Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Sep 2015

Vol. 242 No. 4

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on pre-budget outlook, to be taken at 1 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply at 2.50 p.m.; No. 2, Minerals Development Bill 2015 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Longer Healthy Living Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours.

While we will not oppose the Order of Business, I would like a debate to be held early next week on rural Ireland and rural regeneration. We welcome the many announcements that have been made in the course of the past 24 hours on the so-called capital programme and certain programmes seem to be supported on a regional basis, but the absence of a strategic approach to empowering rural and regional Ireland to perform to its potential is worrying. This was exemplified last week in one announcement that seemed to show complete contempt for rural Ireland, with the insult of some €30 million. When I heard about it on the radio, I wondered whether it was just for Sligo and, if so, I would have been disappointed with such a small amount. The stark reality of the contempt for rural Ireland soon became crystal clear on last Wednesday's "Morning Ireland," as we heard that the €30 million was for the entire country and would be spent over the course of six years. That is a whopping €190,000 each for Sligo, Leitrim, Tipperary, and every county in Ireland that has suffered desolation and wipe-out at the Government's hands in its actions on rural and regional Ireland.

We could debate rural crime, in particular. The Government closed 139 Garda stations. Yesterday we heard that a whopping €500,000 was saved with that great move. What value have we taken from our rural communities? Yesterday we heard of the shocking crime perpetrated on a family in Tipperary by a Dublin gang. Some 30,000 such burglaries have taken place in the past 12 months, which represents a 10% increase. Many of them occurred in rural Ireland.

I could give an example in Dromore West, County Sligo, in which in the early evening, while most of the family were at mass, the lady of the house was tied up and the house ransacked in search of money. Members have seen the announcements of the past couple of days to much fanfare, all of which are welcome. While announcements of investment are welcome, they lack the strategic approach required to acknowledge the potential of rural and regional Ireland and the desolation they have suffered under many Governments it must be said but, in particular, the current Administration in recent years. When the great account of ignoring rural Ireland is written, no Government will escape, but the Government and its actions since 2011 surely will command the most damning chapters in that regard. I, therefore, call for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity, albeit not today because my party does not wish to be disruptive. I call for a debate in the House on rural and regional Ireland, on the Government's lack of a strategic approach to acknowledging its potential to act as a contributor to the national effort and the lack of a strategic level of focus in recent capital and other investment announcements.

On behalf of the Labour Party group, I thank the many colleagues from across the House who expressed their good wishes to former Senator Jimmy Harte on his retirement. I am aware of how much his family appreciated it, as did all members of the Labour Party group, but his family have specifically asked me to pass on their appreciation and thank all Members again in this regard. Members will miss him in the Chamber.

Yesterday many colleagues welcomed the capital investment plan. I welcomed the increased investment in education, housing, health and transport. However, I specifically welcome the allocations for justice which are very important but perhaps not as high profile as the others. The announcement of funding for a new family and children's court complex at Hammond Lane, Dublin, is important, welcome and long overdue, as facilities in the area of family and child care law are very poor. In addition, given the concerns many colleagues have expressed on rural crime, the announcement of €46 million in additional funding for new Garda vehicles is welcome, as is the €205 million for information technology improvements for the Garda and for a new forensic science laboratory, all of which will greatly help in the prosecution and investigation of crime.

I ask the Leader for a debate on childhood obesity and healthy eating and nutrition for children. I am grateful to Senator Jillian van Turnhout who has convened a children's future health group supported by the Irish Heart Foundation, Barnardos and the Children's Rights Alliance, among others. Yesterday it heard some alarming facts and figures for the incidence of childhood obesity and the measures that might be adopted to tackle it. Members might usefully have a debate on that subject in the coming months to try to bring that message to a wider audience and debate in a constructive fashion the measures that could be adopted by the Government to tackle this growing health issue.

I note Members will debate a motion tomorrow on Syria and the issue of migration. This morning, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality heard some highly informative presentations from the Refugee Appeals Commissioner and the head of the Department of Justice and Equality's immigration service on how the resettlement and relocation of migrants from Syria would be managed logistically on foot of the welcome Government announcement that Ireland would take in 4,000 refugees. I look forward to that debate.

News emerged last night of how it might be necessary to vacate a large number of homes in the Dublin docklands area or how their owners might be obliged to pay a large sum of money because they were built, I think in 2006, but now turn out to be a fire hazard. The cost to the individuals living in these homes will be approximately €20,000 each which they simply cannot afford to pay. The reason I raise this matter is that this is not the first time this has happened. It happened last year or two years ago, when it was necessary to vacate a large number of homes in north Dublin at an extremely heavy cost to the State. There is an answer to this issue which I supported when it was put forward to the Minister by a wellbknown legal expert in this area, which is to have some form of insurance for new homes being built. Consequently, even years afterwards, up to ten to 30 years hence, were it to turn out that those homes were built incorrectly, they would be covered by insurance. The Minister showed no enthusiasm for it, nor did others who had been approached because they thought it would increase the cost considerably. However, given the news that emerged last night of what is happening in the Dublin docklands and the large number of home owners who must either pay a large sum of money or vacate their homes, this is something that must be done. I would welcome the opportunity to have a debate on the matter in the near future.

Another issue to which I have not really received an answer is the question of Seanad reform. I asked what was happening with Seanad reform both last week and two weeks ago. Members received a promise from the Taoiseach that action would take place and he then brought former Senators Maurice Manning and Joe O'Toole into the Chamber to put that reform programme to Members. While there was a good debate on it, Members have heard nothing more since. They had hoped something would happen before an election, but while one does not know when the election will take place, it appears as though nothing will happen until the next Government takes office. On that basis, I urge the Leader to find time in order that something be done about this.

My final point pertains to genetically modified organisms. Northern Ireland has now banned their production and importation and while it may well be right - there certainly are two views on the issue - a debate is needed on it but none has been held on genetically modified organisms for years. There is little doubt but that the world has changed in the past century and many successful scientific developments in food have meant that people who otherwise would have starved are not starving now. I do not suggest we should automatically do what Northern Ireland is doing and ban the production and importation of genetically modified organisms, but there should at least be a discussion and this House is the perfect place in which to have it. I urge the Leader to find time for such a debate in the next few weeks.

I am greatly disturbed, as I am sure most, if not all, Members are by today's reminder that all local radio stations nationwide have an annual levy of 2% of their turnover imposed on them. As Members are aware, RTE receives a licence fee but those public service broadcasters get nothing for it. In addition, all of these local radio stations provide a great deal of news programming and are significant providers of public services but receive nothing in turn. I do not believe, with respect, that RTE deserves this monopoly-like treatment. It does a major disservice to the public and local radio stations and is crying out for redress. I call on the Leader to try to bring in the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, who is a reasonable man. He has called for some debate on this issue and perhaps Members might speed up matters. I reiterate it seems ridiculous that they are providing such a service as public service broadcasters. RTE, of course, is charged with public service broadcasting, which is part of its legal remit, but I note it gets all of the licence fee, with nothing coming out either from it or the levy for the other public service broadcasters. The playing pitch should be levelled and serious attention given to this matter.

I acknowledge I have referred to this previously, but I wish to refer briefly to the 39 works of art that were taken from Killarney House and stored prior to renovations. I am looking at Senator Tom Sheahan who I am sure is as concerned as I am. Two items turned up in an auction and I believe were recovered. I had thought the other 37 works of art had been recovered, but what has happened to them? This matter must be investigated also. Were they removed from State storage? Have they been recovered and what is the position? I do not know but Members probably read about it this morning. While I do not know how accurate the report is, it is a matter that must be investigated.

I raised the issue of inheritance tax in the Seanad a number of months ago and have had many conversations with people who are affected by the tax in the Dublin-Rathdown constituency in which I live. Many residents have expressed anger at the current penal inheritance tax regime and shown grave concern at the manner in which grieving families are being treated as a result.

On 25 August there was standing room only at a public meeting I organised in Mount Merrion community centre entitled, Cut the Inheritance Tax, where attendees asked for an urgent review of the tax. Ireland has one of the harshest inheritance tax regimes in the world, with Dubliners in particular heavily penalised by the tax. In 2014 Revenue collected €168.3 million in inheritance tax from Dublin-based taxpayers. This is more than 50% of the total inheritance tax of €327 million collected nationally in the year. A number of people who attended the public meeting asked for a petition to be sent to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to cut the rate of inheritance tax in the upcoming budget. We have effortlessly received 1,000 signatures. After I finish I will go to the Minister's office to hand him all of the signatures I have received. One woman who signed the petition gave her rationale by stating she signed it because she thought it was very unfair that people worked and saved all their lives to provide for their families and even after their death, the Government still took taxes from them and their loved ones. Another comment was that a family home should not be sold for tax payments as parents had worked hard and long and paid enough tax throughout their lives to leave their children with something at the end and that it was a complete disgrace that a home full of memories would have to be sold to pay the tax.

Senator we will be able to make submissions on the budget after the Order of Business.

I call on the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, to address this issue immediately. This tax is wrong. It is unfair and has already been abolished in numerous countries, including Austria, Norway and Sweden, as it is deemed to be double taxation. Ireland needs to follow suit urgently.

Is it possible to bring to the House the Minister for Health to debate the HSE's recruitment of nurses from abroad? Representatives of the HSE are in Britain and further afield trying to entice nurses back to the health service here by offering them inducements. I call for a debate because hundreds of people in this country left the nursing profession for various reasons, including raising families. They are trying to get back into the nursing profession but finding it almost impossible. I am told they find An Bord Altranais less than co-operative. Much of the issue is with regard to paperwork and bureaucracy. I call for a debate and the Minister to give a directive. We have qualified persons here who have been out of the service for a number of years and wish to come back. Their families are reared. This is where we should target the recruitment. It should also be part of it. I have the anecdotal case of a paediatric nurse who is needed in Kerry General Hospital. She has been out of the service for number of years and needs retraining and reassessment, which can only be done in Crumlin children's hospital, but that hospital will not do it because she will not work there. It is crazy. I cannot understand why there are such draconian measures whereby the hospital in Crumlin will not provide for the reassessment or retraining required to enable her to work in Kerry General Hospital. Will the Leader invite the Minister to come to the House to debate this issue? Nurses are needed. They are in the country and want to get back into the service. We should entice them and give them any help they need to do so.

I missed the opportunity to say a few words in tribute to former Senator Jimmy Harte. I take the opportunity to say how much I will miss his quiet but deadly sense of humour. He was an unobtrusive man, but he had a very shrewd political intellect. Of course, he came from a distinguished political dynasty. I wish him well in his retirement.

With regard to the question of genetically modified food which was raised by my colleague and friend Senator Feargal Quinn, it is very interesting that the North of Ireland has decided to ban it. This places us in a particular situation. I have always felt that with, regard to EU policies, there is much more in common between the agricultural community North and South than there is between that in Northern Ireland and England. It would be a pity if we did not explore the area with a view to banning it in the South. We had discussions on this issue and I was strongly reprimanded by an old colleague of mine, Professor David McConnell in Trinity College Dublin. He had all of the science, but I had my science also and the conclusions are ambiguous. What is not ambiguous is the criminal behaviour of some of the genetically modified food corporations such as Monsanto. It has a really disastrous record around the world. We need to be very careful. Laying aside the scientific evidence for one moment, or forever, in fact, if we look at the practical market opportunities, most European countries accept genetically modified food. Ireland does not and we are unique in this regard. If we maintain this position, we will have an established niche market for green uncontaminated foods. We should think long and hard before we give away this opportunity.

I support Senator Mary White in her call for a debate on inheritance tax. She is probably onto a winner. In June I read that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, or his advisers had stated he was considering something. I hope there will be a positive response. He stated something about widening the bands. It was the case a child could inherit more than €500,000 and the rest was taxed at 22%, whereas now the threshold is down to €225,000 and the rest is taxed at 33%. Deputy Alan Farrell and Senator Catherine Noone have also spoken about the issue. Many people are speaking about it and I hope the case will be successful. I also advocate it. Fair play to Senator Mary White for raising the issue, with Deputy Alan Farrell and Senator Catherine Noone. I hope the Minister will hear the case loud and clear.

I wish to speak about human trafficking, the arrest made in County Donegal this morning and the freeing of six people. Slave labour and the sex trade are still going on. I call for a debate on the draft national action plan on human trafficking. A review was carried out on the national action plan on human trafficking in 2011 when the Government took office, but a new plan is in the process of being drafted. Denise Charlton of the Immigrant Council of Ireland has called for action on this issue. I compliment the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, on publishing the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill last week. It is part of it. Committee D of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly reported on human trafficking and publication of the national action plan is a follow-up to it. It is, therefore, timely to call for a debate on it in the Seanad.

Education grants are an ongoing issue. If a young person is living at home - when I say "young", I do not mean students straight out of school but those aged over 23 years -the means of the parents are taken into consideration, but if they are out of the home, it is the student's independent means that are taken into account. I would like to have a debate on education grants as a whole to see how students are treated. Grants are one thing, but there is also a standing fee charged by the college. I call for a debate on this issue, if the Leader will facilitate it.

On a point of information for Senator Cáit Keane, the inheritance tax threshold was €521,000-----

The Leader will respond.

It should be brought back to what it was in 2008. It is now €225,000.

I call for a debate on the capital programme announced yesterday by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is important from the outset to state any increased capital spending is to be welcomed because we have been starved of capital funding, not only from the Government but also from the previous Government because of what happened in the economy.

We need to see more capital investment and make sure the roads and the social and economic infrastructure of the State are world class. For that to happen, we must have investment. However, there is no doubt that there is a veneer of electioneering going on with all of these announcements. The Government owes it to all of us in the Opposition to bring those plans into Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann to allow us to properly debate the issues and examine closely what has been announced. If one considers what has been announced for my own city and county of Waterford, one realises that they are mostly projects that were announced previously and are in the pipeline. They have been repackaged and sold as new projects when in fact the funding or commitment is not new at all. Obviously, everything that has been announced is good news, but to be fair to the Oireachtas and the Seanad, in particular, we must be given an opportunity to debate the capital plan with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ascertain his exact plans and to determine what additional funding will be provided over and above what was already earmarked. If we are to continue with this process in the coming weeks and months, with everything being seen from an election perspective, the best thing the Government could do, given all of the current speculation, is to call a general election before the end of the year. That is obviously a matter for the Government, but I call for that debate, given that there was a high-profile launch and press conference yesterday by a number of Ministers. They must come into the Chambers to which they are accountable and debate the issues with us.

While I support Senator Marc MacSharry's call for a debate on rural Ireland, I take serious issue with his criticism of the Government, especially considering the unholy mess it inherited, the lack of funding available to it on taking office and the fact that during all of the years of the boom, very little was done to improve life in rural Ireland. I welcome the funding of €30 million announced last week. While I accept that it is not enough, it is a start and will assist many worthwhile projects in rural Ireland. The five-year capital programme announced yesterday will have an impact on the rural parts of the country. Many roads, schools and Garda stations will benefit from funding under the programme.

I point out to Senator Marc MacSharry that rural Ireland is fighting back and that many organisations and community groups around the country are putting plans together to revitalise their areas. They are trying to develop local festivals to make their areas attractive to visitors, for example. There is a lot of very positive work being done. The Government has a duty to support those communities and is doing so. It is investing, for example, in town enhancement schemes. I see this in my own town of Ballinasloe, where Irish Water is making a major investment in the water and sewerage systems, to be followed by an overall town enhancement plan.

I also welcome the announcement made yesterday by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Ann Phelan, that €3.7 million would be made available for rural economic development zone pilot projects. Places such Ballinasloe, Gort, Tuam, Carraroe, Glenamaddy and Oranmore will benefit from such projects, which represent a start in getting positive things to happen in rural Ireland. I accept that there are many challenges for rural Ireland. We want to see more jobs in rural Ireland and would like to see IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland focus much more on decentralisation to Ireland's rural towns, thus spreading the benefits of the economic recovery more widely.

I heard on the news this morning that we were projected to have growth of 6% this year and 4.5% next year. That will have a knock-on effect in rural Ireland. I am very encouraged, having heard from several small builders and tradesmen that in the past six months they have seen a significant increase in activity. The fight-back has started and things are moving in the right direction. It is up to the Government to ensure the effects of the economic improvement are felt in all regions, particularly in the small towns and villages of rural Ireland.

Night after night on our television screens we see the plight of wretched people running from their respective wartorn countries, but I am absolutely shocked at the level of racist comment that I am beginning to hear around the country. Yesterday a man stood outside the gates of Leinster House with a sign saying "No more refugees." Many of us will have visited New York at some stage in our lives and seen Ellis Island. I wonder how we would have felt back in the 1800s if there was somebody standing on Ellis Island with a sign saying "Go away."

They did; they treated Irish people desperately.

The Irish populated countries as far away as Australia, Canada and the United States of America. One will find Irish people and Irish pubs all over the world. People are not coming to this country because they want to do so. They are coming because they have nowhere else to go. It poses huge problems for us, but I am happy to congratulate the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for offering its training centres throughout the country to provide training, socialisation and language programmes for refugees coming to this country. We should acknowledge that offer.

One of the most serious issues for those coming here concerns the fact that they have left their own countries with nothing. They left without paperwork and so forth, so there will have to be fairly stringent recognition of prior learning. If somebody comes into the country and presents as a doctor or engineer, how do we verify this? I recall many years ago a butcher operating as an orthopaedic surgeon for a number of years in one of the main hospitals. That is an issue that must be borne in mind.

On the issue of planning, we have a construction industry that is on its knees, although it is now beginning to recover. I acknowledge the work of the Government in reviving the economy, but the planning system needs examination. I am calling for a debate on planning, particularly with regard to the notion of planning for local needs only. There are people with money who are prepared to build houses in rural parts of Ireland, but they are being blocked purely on the basis of the local need condition. One must question where we are going with planning in that regard. I ask for a debate on the issue in order to try to lay down some ground rules for what constitutes local need because it appears that it differs from one place to another. I ask the Leader to consider organising such a debate.

I support the call for a debate on rural Ireland and particularly the funding allocated for rural regeneration that was announced last week. That announcement was a slap in the face for rural Ireland. I worked out that it would not provide a decent wheelbarrow per parish, never mind rural regeneration. There are houses in the middle of towns and villages across the country that are vacant and falling down. If we are serious about housing and rural regeneration, that is something that must be addressed with investment rather than some of the harebrained schemes being proposed by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

I also refer to the capital programme that was announced yesterday. A lot of it is stuff we have heard before; it has simply been repackaged and presented as something new. People from my area are sick and tired of hearing about the Adare bypass. We have been hearing about it for the last 20 years or more, but it is welcome that apparently we will see it come to fruition this time. The biggest infrastructural project that must be undertaken in this country - the lack of which is holding my region back - is the building of a motorway connecting Limerick and Cork. These are our second and third largest cities and the fact that they are not connected via a motorway is something that sticks in the craw of those living in the region and holds it back, particularly in Limerick city and its hinterland. In order to attract investment, we need that connectivity. Yet again, however, such a motorway has not been announced. I have presented a motorway project to the Minister, a different form of public private partnership that could have delivered that infrastructure, and I am very disappointed that it was not included in the capital programme announced yesterday.

Regarding the issue raised by Senator Paul Coghlan, I spoke to staff at my local radio station recently. Local radio stations are competing on a very uneven playing field against the national broadcaster, given its receipt of television licence fee funding. The service provided by Live95 FM in Limerick, particularly by Joe Nash on his "Limerick Today" programme and Liam Aherne who covers sport, is second to none.

They support local communities and promote local festivals and initiatives across the board. They give airtime to issues of huge concern to people in local areas, of which the national media, RTE in particular, do not appear to take a blind bit of notice. The broadcasting charge is something the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, will have to tackle. I support Senator Paul Coghlan's call to have the Minister attend the House for such a debate.

I join my colleague Senator Marc MacSharry in requesting from the Leader a debate on rural Ireland for the reasons outlined by colleagues on all sides of the House in the past few years but, in particular, those outlined in the past few months.

I support Senator Paul Coghlan in his comments on local radio stations. It is unacceptable that they are operating on a shoestring budget while providing an excellent service. I agree totally with Senator James Heffernan that they should be allocated a percentage of the licence fee that is collected by the State. It is also interesting to note that on the meagre budget they have, they must pay 2% to maintain a regulator for local broadcasting stations. That is not acceptable. At least that should be paid for directly by the State. I would welcome a debate on this issue. Their association made a presentation to the Fianna Fáil think-in in Sutton and it would be worthwhile to circulate it to colleagues in the House.

I ask the Leader if it is the intention of the Government to hold a by-election to fill the vacancy that has come about following the regrettable resignation of our former colleague Jimmy Harte.

I issue a little advice to the Taoiseach through the Leader that, given the "record of achievement", of the European Agriculture Commissioner, former Deputy Phil Hogan, as a Minister, it would not be wise to take his advice on when to go to the country. He has made a total hames of everything he has touched to date. That is just a little friendly advice.

He brought forward the 30% quota.

I would not take his advice on when to go to the country. If it is taken, the Government will be wiped out. I would wait until March.

Did the Senator hear Senator Mary White? He brought forward the 30% quota.

I said he had made a mess of most things he had touched.

I subscribe to and support Senator James Heffernan's comments on local radio stations. We must really examine the concept of the television licence, how the revenue is used and could best be distributed. The Minister for Communications, Eenrgy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, has presumably kicked to touch the whole issue of a broadcasting fee, but the current pot of people's money is entirely consigned to one supposed national broadcaster, while local radio and other national radio stations go unfunded. Debate, consideration and a change of emphasis are needed.

I support the Senator also on the gaping hole in the new national development plan as far as people in the Cork-Limerick region are concerned. Certainly, the development of a Cork-Limerick motorway is essential from a regional and rural planning perspective. I heard the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, on radio this morning talking about the fact that the project would cost €800 million, which admittedly is a sizeable sum. However, it is a project we need. If alternative funding mechanisms must be found, we must investigate those possibilities. The rail link to the airport will not carry a passenger until 2027. Apart from these two particular projects, we should have a debate, if there is time in terms of the longevity of the House, to discuss how we actually spend these national moneys and why it takes so long to build these important national infrastructure projects. I heard the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, explain yesterday about the planning process, which takes so long.

That has all been done.

Under current rules and regulations, that is how it happens. It is very difficult to accept that it will be almost six years before the first piece of physical work commences on the rail link infrastructure. Forgetting the politics because politicians and Governments will come and go, when a substantial block of money seems to be available for a national project, it is depressing to think it will be six or seven years before any work will start. We must look at fast-tracking significant infrastructural projects. If changes of legislation or emphasis are required, so be it. It speaks volumes about how wrongly we plan and deliver things that we are willing to accept that it will be 2027, when all of us will have been long gone from the House, before the first passenger will travel on that link. Surely infrastructural development must be facilitated in a different fashion. It is simply not good enough that a project that is wanted now will not happen for more than a decade. Rather than discussing a particular project, we should try to debate with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, how we can speed things up to deliver on this plan and make it work quickly. The airport link is the ultimate example, but there are other projects, including bypasses, tunnels and bridges. If it can be done in Canada and Australia five times more quickly, we should catch up.

I support Senator Mary White in her comments and general campaign on inheritance tax. It is something about which I spoke previously. In fairness to the Senator, she highlights how effective the Opposition can be in her campaign on the issue. She had a very good meeting on it and has received a great deal of publicity - fair play to her. It is not uniquely a Dublin issue, as it affects people throughout the country, but it has a big impact in Dublin. Generally, the feeling among experts is that we need to increase the threshold and bands. If one looks at what people used to pay before the changes and what they pay now, some have experienced a tenfold increase on a house that does not carry a huge price. Around €400,000 is not the average price, but it is certainly not a crazy price for a house in Dublin. On such a house, inheritance tax has increased from around €4,000 or €5,000 to €30,000 or €40,000. There will either be a substantial change or no change at all because of the way the markets work. If it were to be done incrementally, people would hold off on transactions. I am hopeful that in the budget there will be a substantial change to the rate of inheritance tax. I also thank Senator Cáit Keane for mentioning my previous reference to the issue.

Like others, I support the call for a debate in the House on rural Ireland and rural issues. The farmer is the backbone of rural Ireland and farmers have many issues, one of which concerns the fair deal scheme which operates on the basis that, unless a farmer transfers his or her land more than five years before he or she enters a nursing home, it is assessed against him for the duration of his or her stay. If a farmer goes into a nursing home prematurely and is there for ten or 15 years, he or she might lose his land entirely to the scheme. The strange thing is that one would think that, if a farmer transfers his or her land four and a half years prior to going into a nursing home, at the end of the five-year period, six months into his or her stay, he or she would no longer have his or her land assessed, but that is not the case. If a person goes into a nursing home one day before the five-year period is up, his or her land is assessed for the rest of his or her living days. This is something we should debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. If family homes are assessed for only three years, income from land should also be assessed for only three years. This is an issue that warrants to be debated in the House.

I ask the Leader, at some stage before the budget is announced, to bring in the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, in order that we can have a discussion on this issue. There is merit in it for farmers.

Senator Marc MacSharry and several other Senators called for a debate on rural Ireland. I will certainly try to arrange such a debate in early course with the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan. The €30 million scheme announced last week is only one of a myriad finance projects being undertaken in rural Ireland with various grants and I am sure it can be discussed during the debate. I will not get into a tit for tat with Senator Marc MacSharry on the number of Garda stations and post offices closed under Fianna Fáil's watch. As it would be very embarrassing for him, I will not get into it.

I was never a Minister.

The Senator is not easily embarrassed.

We had nothing to do with it.

Senator Ivana Bacik welcomed the justice allocations under the capital plan and, in particular, two elements of the plan that had been sought in this House only yesterday. One is the sum of €205 million that will be put into smart technology for gardaí in order to combat rural crime, as well as crimes committed elsewhere in the country. The Senator also called for a debate on childhood obesity. That very important issue was debated previously, but we can certainly arrange another discussion on the measures to be taken to address it.

Senator Feargal Quinn has called for the introduction of an insurance scheme for new homes in the light of the developments about which we read in today's newspapers about difficulties with fire regulations in a number of homes. I hope to arrange a debate on housing and the issue could be discussed at that time.

I have nothing further to tell the House about Seanad reform. We had former Senators Maurice Manning and Joe O'Toole in the House and my information after that was that the Taoiseach would set up an implementation body to give life to what was included in the report, but I have not heard anything further. I do not know if the implementation body has been set up or if it is imminent, but I will try to find out what is happening. However, at this stage I would not hold my breath.

Senator David Norris spoke about genetically modified food. We will try to get the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House to discuss the issue. I am sure he would be quite willing to have a debate on it.

Senator Paul Coghlan and quite a number of other Senators, including Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Paul Bradford, spoke about the plight of local radio stations. I know that representatives of local radio stations are in Buswell's Hotel highlighting their case. They seem to be at a disadvantage, particularly when it comes to the licence fee. Senators asked for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, to come to the House to address the matter. I will ask him to take part in such a debate. Local radio stations are providing an excellent service nationwide, on which they are to be complimented. They should not be at a disadvantage as they seem to be.

Senator Paul Coghlan also spoke about the theft of paintings from Killarney House and wondered where the remaining paintings were. Although I cannot tell him, I am sure many people are trying to find them. It is a serious matter that these valuable paintings have gone missing.

Senators Mary White, Cáit Keane and Catherine Noone spoke about inheritance tax. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. we will be discussing pre-budget submissions from and I understand the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, will attend. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, may also attend and it will be an ideal opportunity to raise the matter. As has been highlighted, the Minister gave an indication last June that he intended to address it in the budget. The Senators might not have to wait much longer to see what he has come up.

Senator Tom Sheahan spoke about obstacles to employment for nurses. They should be removed. I agree with the Senator that any issue in that regard should be addressed. Perhaps he might raise the matter in the Commencement debate to receive a reply from the Minister for Health. It is my understanding that 500 extra nurses have come into the system since last year, with over 140 consultants, but we need many more, as the Minister has acknowledged.

In calling for a debate on the national plan Senator Cáit Keane spoke about human trafficking. As she mentioned, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 will be dealt with soon, as it has been published as a Seanad Bill. We will have an opportunity to debate the issue in early course. The Senator also called for a debate on education grants.

Senator David Cullinane, in speaking about the capital programme, suggested there was a veneer of electioneering. A capital programme is presented every four or five years and this capital programme is no different from any other. It highlights the fact that €27 billion will be made available which increases to €42 billion in total when one takes into consideration European grants, etc. Of course, everybody wants to have a project in his or her own area. Senators James Heffernan and Paul Bradford called for the construction of the Limerick to Cork motorway, for example. There are motorways from Dublin to the cities, but there are no motorways between the other big cities of Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. However, a choice has to be made between projects. Although that project is not included in the current capital plan, there will be a mid-term review.

Senator Michael Mullins spoke about rural Ireland and suggested it was fighting back. He spoke about the money available for town enhancement plans and other schemes in rural Ireland which were being well received. He also noted the 6% growth in the economy, with many small builders and craftsmen beginning to get back to work, leading to further activity in the construction sector, in particular. The capital plan includes many projects, with estimates of more than 42,000 extra jobs being created in the construction sector in the next few years. That is good news for small towns as well as cities.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to the plight of refugees and welcomed the fact that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was offering services and facilities in that regard. As the Senator knows, we will deal with a motion on the situation in Syria in the House tomorrow when there will be ample opportunities to discuss the matter. The Senator also called for a debate on planning. We will try to facilitate his request.

As I mentioned, Senator James Heffernan spoke about rural Ireland and the need for a motorway between Limerick and Cork, a matter he has raised in the House previously. He also asked for a level playing pitch for local radio stations, a matter also addressed by other Members.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson asked about the by-election and the motion passed in the House last week. I understand the Minister will move the writ at the weekend. The intention is that the by-election will take place soon.

Senator Paul Bradford spoke about the television licence, local radio stations and the need for a motorway between Cork and Limerick. He highlighted the need to expedite these projects. I could not agree more with him. If legislation is required to fast-track major projects announced in the capital plan, it should be brought forward. Delays such as those mentioned by the Senator which have happened during the years should not be allowed to continue. We need to get on with the job and expedite the projects mentioned.

I note Senator Catherine Noone's comments on inheritance tax.

Senator John Kelly spoke about rural Ireland, in particular the anomalies in the fair deal scheme. The Senator could raise that matter in the Commencement debate to have it addressed by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed at 1 p.m.