The Order of Business is No. 1, Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m. and adjourned not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 2, Public Services and Procurement (Social Value) Bill 2015 - Committee and Remaining Stages. This is a Fianna Fáil slot and the party is proposing to take Committee and Remaining Stages of the Bill today. I am sure if we on this side of the House were proposing to take Committee and Remaining Stages of a Bill on the one day, there would be many objections.
Order of Business
If the Leader was to allow adequate time, there would be no problem.
I will accede to the request and hope Fianna Fáil Members, when I propose something similar, will not be jumping up and down about it.
The inconsistency has been well spotted.
The Bill will be taken at 4 p.m., with the debate to conclude not later than 6 p.m. The final item is No. 3, Minerals Development Bill 2015 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 6 p.m. and adjourned not later than 7 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Owing to the State funeral and as a mark of respect to the family and Garda colleagues of the late Garda Anthony Golden, the Seanad will not meet tomorrow.
I accept the Order of Business and note the Leader's comments on time. If Senators were given more time to discuss our Bill, we would have taken Report and Final Stages next week. I am sure the Leader chose not to accede to the request. As such, he is partly responsible for Committee and Remaining Stages being taken together. We had no choice in the matter.
I was not asked.
We will remember that in the future. Sometimes there is nothing more consistent than inconsistency.
The Leader's recommendation that the House should not sit tomorrow as a mark of respect to the late Garda Tony Golden whose State funeral will be held at noon tomorrow is appropriate. Garda Golden sacrificed his life for his country and it is in order that this and the Lower House should not sit tomorrow and that those Members who are available to attend the State funeral do so. Those who are not able to attend will remember the late Garda Golden tomorrow.
The budget announced yesterday was aspirational and geared towards a general election in November. It was a manifesto of sorts without much content. Senators will be amazed to learn what will not take place as a result of the budget. If I was giving advice to the Taoiseach, I would tell him to run because the budget will unravel in the next few weeks when people see exactly what is in it.
Is the Senator being serious?
Yes, I am being very serious.
Will the Leader ask the Ministers for Social Protection, Health and Children and Youth Affairs to come before the House to explain exactly what budget 2016 will mean for their Departments? One of the clearest examples I can give is the weekly increase of €3 in the old age pension. That amount is a pittance and would not allow a person buy three quarters of a pint of Guinness in one of the cheapest pubs in Ireland.
Is the Senator referring to his pub?
The increase amounts to €156 per annum. Senators should bear in mind that €1,200 per annum has been taken from pensioners through the removal of free telephone allowance and other allowances.
On child care, the expansion of the early childhood care and education scheme is not what it seems because the scheme only applies for three hours per day and 38 weeks of the year. This measure is completely unsatisfactory as it will not suit single parents or anyone else. It is a fraud. The announcement on the National Asset Management Agency is only one side of the coin.
The other blatant issue is that free medical cards will be provided for children aged between six and 12 years. The Government did not engage in negotiations on the issue with the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO. I recall that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, was president of the IMO when a Fianna Fáil-led Government introduced a free medical card for people aged over 70 years. He ground down that Government by securing gold-plated medical cards and ensured it paid for its decision to make an announcement before negotiations had taken place. The Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, will not be in situ to implement the decision on medical cards. He stated yesterday that implementation would be subject to negotiations with the Irish Medical Organisation. The IMO will screw the next Minister, as the Minister, Dr. James Reilly screwed the then Fianna Fáil Government. That is my warning on the matter. The budget will collapse because-----
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
At this stage, the only advantage for the Government would be to go before people discover the truth.
Migrant Syrians on Europe's borders are in dire straits and looking to Ireland. We are supposed to accept 4,000 of them, yet we cannot look after Travellers who are living at the side of the road. It is expected that we will take 4,000 migrants from Syria. I advise these migrants to go to Germany, Sweden or another country because the Government is incapable of looking after its own. How in hell would it be capable of looking after migrants?
I find so much of Senator Terry Leyden's contribution disagreeable that I do not even know where to begin. I will leave it to the Leader to respond.
It was dreadful to see the opposition to the site provided by the local authority on behalf of the State for the families who had been horrifically bereaved at the weekend in Carrickmines. It was despicable to see people obstructing the provision of temporary accommodation for these families. The Government, notably through the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, made clear its view on the actions of those who had blocked the provision of temporary accommodation for the unfortunate families concerned.
I thank the Leader for his indication regarding the cancellation of tomorrow's sitting and the State funeral for the late Garda Golden. I also welcome, in respect of today's business, that the House will take Second Stage of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill after the Order of Business. This long-awaited and welcome legislation made agonisingly slow progress through various stages of drafting under the previous Government. It is welcome that it will finally be brought before the House today in line with long-standing Labour Party policy and with the full agreement of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I remind Senators that I introduced a Climate Protection Bill in 2007 in Private Members' time. The Seanad was the first House to debate climate protection legislation. It is welcome that climate legislation will be debated later today when we will be joined in the House by members of Friends of the Earth and others.
The budget announced yesterday included some welcome announcements setting out the Government's prioritisation of education and child care. While I accept that the House debated the budget last night, I ask for a specific debate on child care. I do so in the light of the welcome announcements to increase child benefit and introduce an additional year of the early childhood care and education scheme, which so many of us had sought, and the welcome measure on statutory paternity leave, which marks the first recognition that fathers have a role in the workplace. These are important and progressive steps. Last week the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, launched a Labour Party report on child care which recommended not only that we take initiatives such as those taken yesterday but also additional measures to make child care more affordable for parents and professionalise the child care workforce. These are the two additional focuses which must be taken up in any debate on child care. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue in recognition of the major advances made in the budget for families, children and, in particular, working parents, and in view of the need to do more.
I very much welcome the news yesterday which may have been overlooked because of the budget that the Taoiseach had made a commitment to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe's convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality produced a report on domestic violence and sought the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. The Government's commitment to do so is very welcome as it is very important in the provision of supports for women who have suffered from domestic or other forms of gender-based violence. It will also bring Ireland up to speed in the context of its international obligations in this area.
I welcome the statement by Professor John McHale of the National University of Ireland Galway who is also chairman of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, in which he expresses caution about the budget. The very large increase in corporation tax revenues this year may not recur. The problem in the past was that non-recurring revenues mostly associated with the construction industry became built into the system. It is important to have a divergence of views. One of the things we have found at the banking inquiry is that the so-called consensus in the past decade was substantially contrived and that individuals such as Mr. Morgan Kelly and Mr. David McWilliams were not listened to. Professor McHale has a very valuable role to play, particularly as the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council was not in place during the period to which I refer.
As I indicated last evening, in recognising the increase in public expenditure from 2014 to 2016 was 4%, as the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, stated, the Department of Finance sometimes needs to have the equivalent of a shoebox in which to keep one-off receipts it does not receive in the general income stream.
As I did recently, I draw the attention of the House to the pupil-teacher ratio. In the Dáil yesterday the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, referred to a ratio of 28:1 in primary schools, but the numbers on the website of the Department of Education and Skills indicate that the current ratio is 16.2:1. I am delighted that 2,500 extra teachers will be recruited, reducing the ratio, but wrong numbers that exaggerate the problem appeared in the Minister's state,emt and are contradicted by the website. We all want smaller class sizes and may be closer to it than we believe. According to data up to 7 July 2015, the ratio in primary schools is 16.2:1 and, in secondary schools, 13.9:1. I do not know from where the higher numbers came. They artificially make the situation look bad, which is not the basis on which policy should be made. Yesterday's decision was correct, but the numbers reported to the Dáil need revision.
I refer to the budget announcements yesterday, in particular the focus on child care and the investment of €85 million, which is an excellent first step in supporting children and families through the provision of quality and affordable child care. Will the Leader arrange for a debate on child care with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs? Many positive measures were announced yesterday such as the extension of the free preschool year, a €15 million investment in preschools for children with special needs, two weeks of paid paternity leave, €1.3 million for inspections to ensure the quality of child care and the restoration of the capitation grant to pre-recession levels. There will also be investment of €1.2 million in a fund elsewhere and an increase in child benefit. These important measures will help people to return to work and training and support families. For many, the cost of child care is equivalent to a second mortgage. It is important that we invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to the House to expand on the question of how he will invest in child care in the next five or six years. The budget is the start of that process and I welcome the measures the Government has introduced.
I express my sympathy to the families of those who died tragically early on Saturday morning: Thomas and Sylvia Connors; their children, Jim, Christy and Mary who was aged just six months; William Lynch; his partner Tara Gilbert; their children, Jodie and Kelsey; and William's brother, Jimmy. Tara was also pregnant with the couple's third child. The relatives of those who died, the whole community in Carrickmines in south County Dublin and people from all over Ireland are devastated and numbed by this enormous loss of life, which saw an entire family taken from us. We cannot fathom the depth of the grief felt by the friends, families and colleagues of those who lost their lives. Images of the smiling families have been printed across every newspaper in recent days, showing how close and happy they were, and truly put into context the enormity of the loss. It is particularly heart breaking for members of the Traveller community who cherish family connections strongly.
I also express my sincere sympathy to Nicola Golden; her children, Lucy, Alex and Andrew; and the extended family of the late Garda Tony Golden, in particular, his parents, David and Breege; his sister, Mary; and his four brothers. He was taken from us on Sunday in the line of duty in Omeath, County Louth. We were all moved by his bravery. His last act was to help a person in dire need, a woman who was a victim of domestic violence. As a result, he made the ultimate sacrifice in losing his own life. His colleagues cannot speak more highly of him, his dedication to the Garda and his absolute commitment to public service and people in all circumstances. He was known as a true gentleman who showed professionalism in all aspects of his duties. The Golden family deserve every support that we can give while its members try to come to terms with their enormous loss. I extend my sympathy to gardaí in Dundrum Garda station who have helped me with my public meetings on crime, including burglaries. I know how dedicated they are to public service.
I add my voice to those of Senators who have expressed their sympathy following the horrific events in Carrickmines. Some homeowners - I emphasise the term - in south County Dublin have effectively stood in the way of the provision of temporary accommodation for the survivors of the tragedy. I was struck by the comments of a representative of Pavee Point when he stated he had never witnessed such depths of hostility and hate towards his community as he did on that occasion. That says it all. I am a member of the Dublin City Council strategic policy committee. Wider society must examine its conscience on the issue of Traveller accommodation, which dates back decades. This problem has not just been facing society since yesterday.
I welcome today's reports that discussions between members of the Government on the issue of rent certainty are ongoing. According to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, his officials will continue their discussions with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and his Department. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, stated both parties were committed to finding a way to control rents. A comment I made in statements on the budget last night bears repeating: 700 families in Ireland are homeless and living in emergency accommodation. In July Dublin City Council paid €1.5 million to hotels to accommodate homeless persons. Undoubtedly, people and, in particular, families are becoming homeless because they cannot afford to meet rent increases. While my daughter sat on a DART yesterday, she overheard a girl crying to her mother on a mobile phone because of a €200 increase in her rent. That is a fact. We must act to stop this.
Uncharacteristically, I have nothing to add today except to join colleagues in extending my sincere sympathy to the family of the garda who was appallingly shot and on the dreadful tragedy involving the Traveller families. I would be less quick to judge the residents. The council acted outside its own planning system and did so within an hour and without consultation. It is awkward. My wholehearted sympathy goes to the Traveller families, but the residents expressed their sympathy also. It is a difficult, intractable human problem. It also shows that the original provisions for the Travellers were completely inappropriate. It was a fire trap. Any photograph one might see of the area shows this clearly. They were huddled in the most squalid and inappropriate housing. It is humanly understandable that residents put in a situation where something was being pushed through as an emergency measure within an hour or two would show hesitation. It is regrettable. There is a long history of neglect of the Traveller community.
I would be reluctant, without further knowledge, to sit in judgment on the residents.
I wish to follow on on the issue of Travellers and Traveller accommodation. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is meeting the Traveller group to try to find a satisfactory solution to the problem that has arisen. Everybody must examine his or her conscience. It is an emergency and the families are suffering. Money has been allocated to local authorities for Traveller sites, but the delay in selection must be taken on board. The Tánaiste said today that if local authorities needed more money, it would be forthcoming. That is very welcome.
With regard to homelessness, I support the remarks made by Senator Aideen Hayden. Addressing this is a priority and we must focus on the methodology. When one considers the expenditure of €1.5 million in July alone, one realises there is false economy. However, one cannot build houses overnight. Even if there is to be a solution involving prefabricated housing, it should be made available on the ground as quickly as possible.
I wished to call for a debate on child care, but this has already been done by two Senators. I look forward to the debate.
As spokesperson on the environment, the most important legislation for the developing world, the First World and the children of the future is the legislation that will be passing through the House today at 1 p.m., the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill. I hope it will be passed because we have been waiting for it for quite some time. This is a good day to mark in the Seanad in that respect.
I pass on my condolences to all of the families bereaved in the fire in Carrickmines and also the family of the late Garda Tony Golden. I extend my sympathy to all of the families involved, as other Senators have done.
I am sure there will be many calls by Senators for various Ministers to come to the House to discuss budget 2016. I agree with the Senators who have said the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, should come to the Seanad as a matter of priority to take questions on what is a housing emergency in the State. Yesterday the Government attempted to bribe people with their own money in budget 2016. The hallmark of the Government in the past four and half years has been that the top 20% of income earners in the State have benefited every single time in every single budget introduced by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Yesterday the top 14% of income earners gained approximately €900, while the average worker, on €20,000 or €30,000, gained only a fraction, or one third, of that sum. In no one's language is that fair, yet that is what has been delivered by the Government.
The property tax will remain, as will water charges. The promised free GP care which is being rolled out on the basis of age is not being rolled out on the basis of health need, ability to pay or income. Rolling it out according to age is not the way to proceed.
The real tragedy, however, is the housing crisis. How is it that €181 million can be found to give to the people with the deepest pockets in the State? The top 14% of income earners walk away with €181 million, while there are people dying on the streets and in dire straits. The Government should listen to Senator Aideen Hayden who is an authority on this issue. This is a national emergency. I agree with the Senator and I am not doing so to play politics. I genuinely believe she is sincere in what she says. We do not need to overhear conversations on buses or trains to learn that there is an emergency; it has been evident for a long time. It is about time the State, all Government representatives and the Opposition got their act together on this issue and sorted it out. I ask for a debate on housing in the context of what should and could have been included in the budget but was not, to deal with the emergency If I were to prioritise the invitation of one Minister to the House, it would be the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly.
I am very concerned about Senator Terry Leyden.
The Senator should not be.
He seems to have had a serious change of heart overnight. I sat with him yesterday in the Chamber listening to the Budget Statement and he seemed very impressed. I just do not know what happened to him overnight. In any case, he seems to have been got at.
I assessed it in depth.
I would like to have a debate in the next week or ten days with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, on the job creation measures included in the budget. All fair-minded people would accept that the budget very much targets job creation and work and attempts to make work pay. It is very much welcome that the universal social charge has been reduced from 7% to 5.5% on earnings between €18,000 and €70,000. This will make a very significant difference to people at work who have borne the brunt of the cuts and hardship in recent years.
Yesterday, after the Budget Statement, we noted for the first time in five years a real sense of hope and real concentration on driving the economy forward now that we have exited the bailout and are in a position to start repaying our debts. It is very much welcome that the self-employed are at last being respected and treated fairly in the budget. The introduction of the tax credit of €550 for self-employed workers and farmers is very much to be welcomed. It is a start. I hope we will see the self-employed gaining equality in forthcoming budgets.
The transportation sector which creates very significant employment was given significant relief in the budget, with the capping of the tax on transport vehicles at €900 per annum, bringing the rate into line with that in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. I hope we will now see many of the companies that have registered in Northern Ireland registering in the Republic and bringing in much-needed revenue.
That is not correct. The Senator has got it wrong.
I very much welcome the 7% increase in overseas development aid. Now that the economy is improving, we are ensuring an increase in support for the most deprived people in the world. The increase is a start and I hope that in the coming years we will reach the target of 0.7% of GDP.
Like others, I would like to be associated with the words of sympathy on the very tragic death of Garda Golden. By all accounts, he was a man with a big heart. He responded as a garda as he was expected to do but sadly lost his life. I extend my sympathy to his family on their great loss. I commend the late Garda Golden for his service to the nation. I also extend my sympathy to the families bereaved by the tragic deaths in Carrickmines.
Yesterday when I commented on the budget, I said there appeared to be a little something for everyone except third level students and their families. I have thought about this since and must reiterate that I am really disappointed there was no move on the student contribution charge of €3,000. Within a few years, all of the youths in the Visitors Gallery will be going to college. Every year during the recession the charge increased by €250. It would have been nice to see a small dent in that figure. I am saying this because the families and students affected are the very ones who were hit by an out-of-control rental sector. There is no rental certainty for students, including in Galway from where every day I receive a call from a family in trouble. Individuals tell me they are due to leave their house in January but have five young children, including a baby who is sick. They ask what they should do and I actually say I do not know. The council has no houses to give them. I knocked on a man's door the other day and asked him how things were and whether there was anything he would like to say. He said he was fine because he had been given a house and was finally a homeowner. He said he was saying this because all his friends were in the rental sector.
In Galway we have the largest percentage of people relying on the rental sector. Some 40% of homes are in the rental sector. Think about how fragile that base is. We have had 10,000 people on the housing list for years in Galway. As such, I support Senator Aideen Hayden and others who have been flying this flag for the longest time. Let us start a campaign in the Seanad to secure rental certainty for our families and students. Let us do this before this Seanad term expires. I ask the Leader to secure the attendance of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, or whatever Minister is in charge, be it the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. They need to work together on this issue because we are talking about expenditure, but we are also talking about imagination. A Bill is ready to be brought to the floor of the House to deal with the rental sector and rent certainty. Let us do it.
I need to reply to Senator David Cullinane on the budget.
The Senator will be replying to the House.
Incorrect information is being furnished and it is part of the debate we are having. A married couple with two children on one income of €25,000 will be €1,000 better off as a result of the budget, or over €21 per week. A married couple with two children earning €55,000 will be €30 per week better off, or €1,500 per annum. That is the reality of the budget. It is about looking after people with young families. That is what was done in the budget.
I am a little concerned about Senator Terry Leyden's contribution. While I agree with him that we need to negotiate with GPs, we did not promise to give medical cards to children aged between six and 12 years. We promised to give GP cards. I will discuss the matter with the Senator after the Order of Business to explain what the difference is.
I know well what the difference is.
The Senator said we were giving medical cards.
I was in the Department of Health for a longer period than the Senator.
Senator Colm Burke to continue, without interruption.
I want to correct what was said. I know exactly what GP cards and medical cards are.
It is GP cards we are talking about.
With a GP card one cannot get free prescriptions.
Please allow Senator Colm Burke to speak without interruption, please.
What I am saying to the Senator is that it is an important step in providing health care for young people and it is all part of our programme to move eventually towards GP cards for those up to 18 years of age.
It is important to note that the budget is a balanced one. I was talking to one person yesterday who was in receipt of the old-age pension, as was his wife. He is caring for her because she requires full-time care. He had worked out that he would be €1,000 better off because of the increase in the respite care grant, the increase in pension and the increase in fuel allowance. As a result, he believes that is important for him. It is the first step in trying to restore what we need to provide in providing assistance for those who are retired and those who need our support otherwise. This is the first step on that road and it is a very important one. If Senator Terry Leyden thinks we can achieve it all in one year, I note that we cannot. This is the first step on the road and there are many more that must be taken to redress what had to be done to deal with the huge growth in expenditure over a short period. We had to pay the price from 2009 on.
I welcome the measures included in the budget. From the point of view of job creation and small businesses, it was a great budget. Every sector of society was positively helped, particularly in health. As Senator Colm Burke mentioned, providing GP care for the under 12s is a great move. I welcome the extra nurses and extra investment generally through the respite care grant and so on.
There are two areas I wish to highlight that should be emphasised in future budgets, or sooner, if funding becomes available in the short to medium term. Recently, Roy Keane made amusing comments about breastfeeding. It was all very funny and I issued a press release in which I referred to "Keane on breastfeeding" because we perform very badly in this area. An AIMS Ireland survey found that only 56% of new Irish mothers breastfed, compared to 80% in the United Kingdom and 90% in Scandinavia. Most women cited a lack of support as the reason a lot of them chose to give up trying. I carried out some research and it seems that we need to place a great deal more emphasis on the supports required by new mothers. For instance, we need lactation consultants in hospitals. It is an area which could do with funding in the medium term.
The other service that needs funding is IVF. Many couples suffer infertility which is recognised as a disease by the World Health Organization. Even plastic surgery is supported in the public health system in a lot of cases. The €4,000 to €5,000 minimum cost per cycle of IVF is very high for couples who are trying to have a baby. In Belgium it has been funded since the 1990s, while in the United Kingdom it has been funded since 2000. In Wales and Scotland there is an entitlement to two cycles of IVF treatment in the NHS. Now that we are starting to see the economy settle and grow and the worst days are behind us, we must start to invest in services such as IVF and to encourage breastfeeding. It is hugely positive for babies to be breastfed. While it is not necessarily a matter about which is very comfortable to talk, that may be part of the problem. Certainly, I would like to see an emphasis on these issues.
There is no question but that the budget is balanced and fair. Like Senator Michael Mullins, I am a little concerned about Senator Terry Leyden this morning. Perhaps it is no wonder he is reeling. He is going around in ever-decreasing circles. The budget is about making work pay. There is something in it for everyone across the board. The Senator should not be smiling. He can read any newspaper he likes this morning and he will get the truth of the matter.
Does the Senator rely on the newspapers for opinion?
There is a general welcome and a fair and balanced summary in all of the newspapers this morning.
It is all a PR exercise.
Senators can read the editorials and anything else they like.
It is spin.
We are fond of the Senators opposite, but they are codding themselves this morning.
It is not going to go down well with the Senator's council. Why did the Minister not extend the social welfare provisions to councillors?
Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption.
We will talk to the Senator afterwards because there is no point in gibberish here.
Do not forget what happened in Abbeydorney.
I agree with Senator Aideen Hayden on what has happened in Carrickmines and hope the residents will see their way to accommodating the people living in their own area in what is a temporary measure. They have suffered an appalling tragedy.
Last week I made reference to a debate in the Seanad on the need for a sports strategy. I also alluded to the fact that the weekend would be bookended with the Irish soccer team playing against Germany in Dublin and the rugby team playing in the Rugby World Cup. We enjoyed the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat at both ends, but, sadly, the weekend was tainted by the catastrophic fire in Carrickmines, with the loss of ten lives, and the gunning down of Garda Anthony Golden. It really puts into perspective what life was all about. While we had sympathy for those affected in Carrickmines over the weekend, I was disappointed to see neighbours in the same area block the identified site to which some of those affected were to be moved. On the other hand, we saw a perpetrator and a murderer, the thug who was out on bail. This should not be happening in our society. Lives are at stake in rural Ireland and Ireland in general because of these thugs who are out on bail.
This weekend we face another weekend of exceptional sport. I wish the Irish rugby team the very best of luck in the quarter final against Argentina. It is appropriate to pay tribute to our great captain and leader Paul O'Connell whose international career was cut short by a catastrophic hamstring injury. He has made a phenomenal contribution to Irish life through his dedication to Ireland and leadership of the Irish team. When all 15 players step out onto the pitch in Cardiff at the weekend, his loss will be a source of inspiration for them.
We must not forget that tonight another Irish sportsman will be going for gold. We hope Michael Conlan will become the first Irishman to win a gold medal in the World Boxing Championships.
I will conclude by making some points on the budget. I understand budgets cannot please people all of the time. I realise that we have very short memories. If Senator Aideen Hayden could look back three, four, five or six years, where were we then?
Senator Aideen Hayden might not be happy with the Senator’s comments.
It is time to give credit where it is due. In that context, I give credit to the Government because it has increased funding for sport by 40%. This is up from the 2015 figure and will assist in the completion of the national indoor arena at Abbottstown. I say, "Well done," to the Government. It is time to give credit where it is due.
Another slush fund.
I welcome the budget. One cannot please all of the people all of the time, but last night's debate was well rounded, particularly in the areas on which I am a spokesperson, namely, education and disability services. We have improved the position greatly. One of the most difficult things that occurred since I became a Member of the Seanad was the cut to the respite care grant. I have lobbied to have it restored to the full amount of €1,700 and I am delighted that this will be done on foot of the budget. I am also thrilled that €15 million in funding has been provided to facilitate full participation by children with disabilities in the child care scheme. This initiative will really improve access to education for children with disabilities. There is no doubt they should have such access. It was also good to see in the announcement yesterday that there would be a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratios in primary and post-primary schools. From speaking with school principals in my area, I know that they are delighted with the announcement and also with the confirmation that the schools minor works scheme - the summer works grant - is to be paid in the coming weeks. We realise that this will be a long process, but it is a step in the right direction. There will be an additional 2,260 teachers, including 550 posts to support improved guidance counselling, something for which we have all lobbied the Minister. I welcome the news on the additional 550 posts to improve managerial structures and guidance counselling. That is a great move. The Christmas bonus is to be restored to a figure of 75% and there will be an increase in the State pension for the first time since 2009. There is also funding for the travel scheme, which is great. While there are plenty of pluses, there are other things we would all love to have seen included. However, I think it is a well rounded budget and that it has something for everybody.
Reference was made to housing. I would welcome a debate on the matter with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and suggest he be asked to come before the House to engage in such a debate. I would particularly like to discuss a case which I have raised at meetings of my party and which I have tried to raise as a Commencement matter. I refer to the case of a family which has been struck down in the past few months. They have a young child of four years of age who will have his leg amputated because of bone cancer. His mother is expecting her fourth child. I have made representations since August for immediate consideration of a housing transfer for this family to an adapted unit that would suit its needs. I am still waiting for initial contact to be made with the family in order for someone to assess their situation. I ask the Minister to come before the House to discuss the matter.
The House engaged in a two-hour debate last night on the budget. I did not get into it last night and certainly do not intend going on and on criticising it today. I do not think others should use the opportunity to do so either. On a personal note, I welcome my mother who is in the Visitors Gallery. I take the opportunity to wish her a very happy birthday. I thank her for being a great ma and for all that she does for me.
I share Senator Eamonn Coghlan’s sentiments on the unfortunate retirement of Paul O’Connell who is a terrific Limerick man and one of the greatest and most inspirational of leaders on the rugby field. His absence will be a huge loss to Irish rugby. He was captain of Young Munster, Munster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions. We will not see his likes again. I am reminded of calls I made at the time of Henry Shefflin’s retirement to the effect that the introduction of an honours system should be considered. Under such a system, either the Office of the President or the Oireachtas could honour people who had given great service to club and country on the sports field. I ask the Leader to bring this proposal to the attention of the relevant line Minister or the President.
Every time Senator Terry Leyden stands up in this House he brings a smile to my face. He might have lost his vocation-----
I am glad I bring a smile to the Senator's face. He will not have much to smile about next year.
The Senator might be better suited to stand-up comedy since he cannot read a newspaper and does not know what the budget has brought about for people.
That is nasty. The Senator is jealous because Senator Terry Leyden has a sense of humour.
As I campaigned on the issue, I welcome the restoration of the €350 respite care grant. I also welcome the restoration, to 75% , of the Christmas bonus, the extra year of child care and the reductions in universal social charge.
It should not have been taken away in the first instance.
It is a fantastic budget. I was the first person in the Oireachtas to call three or four years ago for the abolition of the universal social charge. At the time, we were told it was here to stay, but I am delighted that the process has taken place and that it will eventually be a thing of the past.
Is that the Senator’s election manifesto?
I support what Senator Eamonn Coghlan said about the bail laws, with which there is something seriously wrong. If a person has 12 penalty points on his or her driving licence as a result of exceeding the speed limit on a few occasions, he or she is put off the road and there is no room for debate. The killer of Garda Anthony Golden had 70 previous convictions, but he was out and about carrying a gun. There is something seriously wrong when this is allowed to happen. The bail laws must be debated in this House.
Well said. I agree with Senator John Kelly’s point on the bail laws. I understand the process of legislation has begun, but it probably does not go far enough.
I join Senator James Heffernan and others who paid tribute to Paul O’Connell. He is an iconic Irish sportsperson who hails from Munster. He epitomises everything that is good about Munster, rugby, sport and Ireland. It is a pity that his international career came to an end last weekend with an injury in Cardiff and that he will not get to see out the Rugby World Cup as captain of our great team. He is not only a great sportsman, he is also a thorough gentleman. He comes to Lahinch, County Clare on a regular basis. As he recently purchased a house in the area, I look forward to welcoming him there on a much more regular basis, given that he might have a little more time on his hands.
He is going to play in France.
He is a great ambassador for the mid-west and on each occasion he comes to Lahinch he is very generous with his time. He is never shy about having his photograph taken, signing autographs or chatting with children, villagers or visitors. Sport is losing a consummate gentleman, but I know that he will continue to promote everything that is good about Ireland.
I ask the Leader if we could have a debate on commercial rates. Today I met some contractors and tabled a Commencement matter which was taken by the Minister. I also met retailers whose businesses were being closed. One told me that when he visited the local authority to explain that he had a difficulty in finding money to pay rates but could keep his business open, he was told to close it. When one visits any village or town in rural Ireland, one will see retail space that has been closed. We have to find a way around this problem. From what I understand, there are solutions in Britain and Northern Ireland.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and others who sit in his seat for trying their damnedest at all times to give me speaking time. Yesterday we had a very important debate on the budget. I was in the Chamber in plenty of time and sat through many presentations by Members on both sides of the House but the clock ran out and I did not get to speak. Sadly, the Government side will never know how much I was going to praise the budget it produced yesterday, or perhaps criticise it on one or two small points, particularly the provisions for lone parents, the low-paid, etc. We have to find a way to give democratically elected Members who are not members of groups an opportunity to say whatever it is they want to say. It is something that has been a bugbear of mine for some time. I have always appreciated the way the Cathaoirleach has found a way to give me time to speak. Others who have taken the Chair from time to time have done the same, but when the clock runs out, that is it. We have to examine the matter.
In all of the euphoria surrounding the budget it has been forgotten that moneys should have been put into social housing in the past few years, particularly during the tenure of the Government. The leader of my party raised the question of homelessness in the other House today when he noted that nothing significant had been done about it. In fact, the figures prove there is something radically wrong with the Government's priorities in this regard. There has been a massive fall in funding for local authority housing, voluntary housing co-operatives and private housing grants. In fact, in 2009 the annual figure for local authorities was €670 million, which fell to €88.5 million this year. When the Government took over in 2011, the figure for local authority housing was €189 million, down from the previous two-year high of €670 million. During the period of office of the Government, a further reduction took place. Funding decreased drastically from €417 million in 2010 to €189 million in 2011. There were corresponding reductions across the voluntary sector, particularly in the voluntary and co-operative housing sector, which has proved to be a very significant contributor in the provision of social housing, whereby the level of funding of €158 million was reduced to a measly €34 million this year. They are the realities facing the Government. The Taoiseach has said it is not about money, but despite the spin the Government is putting on how wonderful everything is and the money being allocated, if we really want to tackle this serious issue, we need to consider the amount of money being made available. If €670 million was provided in 2009 and only €88.5 million has been allocated this year, that has to have an effect on the priorities of local authorities throughout the country in addressing homelessness. Examining the funding mechanism should be an urgent priority for the Government. It has been said the Government is dishing out money left, right and centre. The fact that this very night, some people, particularly children, will not have a bed in their own home is a national scandal. According to figures provided by my party leader in the Dáil today, some 50 or 60 people will be made homeless every month. That is happening in modern Ireland, but the spin in the past 24 hours has been about how wonderful everyone in government is and how great things are, that we should all be down on our knees thanking the Government.
I wish to finish on a somewhat lighter note and endorse the birthday wishes of Senator Heffernan to his mum. We share the same date - I emphasise the word "date". Perhaps she does not know this, but we share the date of 14 October with some very distinguished people, not least Sir Cliff Richard and Éamon de Valera.
I pay tribute to the contribution to sport made by Paul O'Connell, the captain of the Irish rugby team. He is an exemplary sportsman, known throughout the entire world, one whom many young men in this country will try to emulate.
Tomorrow will be a day of national mourning following the death of Garda Anthony Golden. I suggest a book of condolences be opened in every Garda station in the country. Many people would like to express their sympathy to his family. Perhaps every regional headquarters might consider opening a book of condolences in his honour.
The acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Terry Leyden, described the budget as aspirational. That is true; it is aspirational. In the past four and half years we have aspired to secure recovery to try to tidy up the mess we inherited. It is to be hoped it will continue to be an aspiration for the next four years.
I refer to such items as the extra €3 per week for old age pensioners and the increase in the Christmas bonus and the fuel allowance, all of which we will have an opportunity to discuss when we debate the social welfare Bill that will be brought before the House in the next couple of weeks. Members will have ample time to discuss all social welfare issues and I am sure we will have a very constructive debate, as we always do.
Senator Ivana Bacik raised a number of matters, to which other Members alluded. She referred, in particular, to the provision of temporary Traveller accommodation and the problems in that regard. She also noted the strong Government response on these issues yesterday. She referred to the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill which will be brought before the House after the Order of Business and on which I hope we will have a very constructive debate, given that it is a Bill on which many Members have sought a debate in the past few months. Like many other Members, she also referred to child care and called for a debate on the issue. We will certainly try to bring the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, to the House to discuss it. She welcomed the signing of the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence, something which should be welcomed by all right-thinking people.
Senator Sean D. Barrett referred to Mr. John McHale and the caution expressed by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council on budget provisions. The Senator welcomed the extra 2,260 teaching posts, including 600 new resource teachers, but questioned the pupil-teacher ratio figures mentioned in the Budget Statement. I am sure they will be rectified.
Like Senator Mary Moran, Senator Hildegarde Naughton welcomed the child care provisions, especially the additional funding of €15 million for children with disabilities.
Senator Mary White and several other Members extended their sympathy to the families of the deceased in the fire at Carrickmines, as well as to the family of the late Garda Anthony Golden. All other Members expressed their sympathy on the Order of Business yesterday.
I know that some Members were not present yesterday, but they have conveyed their sympathy today.
I am surprised that Senator Mary White did not welcome the budgetary provisions on inheritance tax, something for which she called last week. They have been attended to by the Minister for Finance and I thought the Senator would refer to the matter this morning.
Her memory is selective.
She was successful on the issue of paternity leave also.
Senators Cáit Keane and Aideen Hayden referred to the provision of Traveller accommodation. I note Senator Aideen Hayden's point on the need for rent certainty and her call for a debate on the matter with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly.
Senator David Cullinane also called for a debate on housing. He spoke about people on higher incomes getting greater benefit from the budget, but he did not mention that the Government had taken more than 700,000 people on low incomes out of the universal social charge net. Its aim is to assist people to get back to work. That is the best policy, one in which we are beginning to succeed. Some 125,000 extra jobs have been created since the Government took office.
Senator Michael Mullins welcomed many provisions included in the budget, especially those dealing with the self-employed, including the farming community and road haulage contractors. It was costing over €5,000 to tax a truck here compared to a figure of €900 in the United Kingdom, but that has now been rectified by the Minister for Finance.
Senator Michael Mullins also referred to the increased figure in overseas development aid.
I note the point made by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames who was hoping to see a reduction in the student contribution. Unfortunately, one cannot do everything in a budget, but I hope the Government will have another four or five budgets in which to rectify that matter.
Senator Colm Burke was probably harsh in explaining to Senator Terry Leyden the difference between a GP visit card and a medical card. I am sure Senator Terry Leyden is fully au fait with the difference.
Very au fait.
However, Senator Colm Burke did point out that the budget was fair in giving something back to hard-pressed individuals in middle Ireland. Many Senators have been speaking about that sector for many years.
I note Senator Catherine Noone's point about the importance of breastfeeding, as well as her comments on infertility. I hope we can have a debate on these issues.
Senator Paul Coghlan said the budget was about making work pay.
Senator Eamonn Coghlan raised a number of issues, including the bail laws, to which Senators John Kelly and Martin Conway also referred. I am informed that a review of bail legislation began today at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I am sure we will have a discussion in the near future on the serious issue of bail. It is one that will have to be addressed by the Government as a matter of urgency. The public is crying out for it to be dealt with. It is an absolute disgrace to see people with 200 or 300 convictions being allowed out on bail. It should not be tolerated and I hope the issue will be attended to.
Senators Eamonn Coghlan, James Heffernan, Martin Conway and Terry Brennan referred to Paul O'Connell. There is no doubt that he is a giant of a man in every respect. We all wish him well and hope he will have a speedy recovery in order that he will be able to play in France next year. It is appropriate that a Limerick man such as Senator James Heffernan should speak about Paul O'Connell. I note his suggestion that there should be a system to honour people such as Paul O'Connell. Perhaps the Senator might table the matter for discussion in the Commencement debate. In that way, the appropriate Minister could respond on behalf of the Government. It is something that was mooted previously, but it might not be a bad idea to receive an update on it.
Senator Eamonn Coghlan also mentioned our boxers at the world championships, including Michael Conlan who is going for gold. Our boxers always do us proud in the sporting arena and we wish them all well. The Senator also welcomed the 40% increase in the allocation for sport in the budget.
Senator Mary Moran mentioned the budgetary provisions for education and disability services. She also welcomed the restoration in full of the respite grant care, as well as the extra €15 million for services for children with disabilities attending school.
Senator John Kelly welcomed many of the provisions included in the budget and spoke about the dismantling of the universal social charge, the tax introduced by Fianna Fáil. I hope a future Government will dismantle the tax which has proved to be very difficult for workers.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised the issue of commercial rates. It is a matter for the local authorities. In many counties in which there have been valuations by the Valuation Office there are severe difficulties with commercial rates. The Senator is right in that regard and I will try to facilitate a debate on the matter. Speaking times are agreed to on the Order of Business and, unfortunately, we cannot change them willy-nilly. It sometimes happens that Senators cannot get in to contribute to a debate.
Senator Paschal Mooney spoke about the amount of money provided for housing. A sum of €4.5 billion is available in the capital plan and ready to be spent on housing. Therefore, money is not the problem. Getting local authorities to provide plans, even to restore boarded up houses, has proved quite difficult, but we are beginning to see action in that regard, albeit more slowly than the Government had thought. This year an additional €17 million has been made available to provide accommodation for the homeless, on top of the €50 million already provided. I know that it will not solve the problem and that it is only a drop in the ocean, but, unfortunately, one cannot build houses overnight. I know that people do not like to hear this, but it is going to take time to do so. It is very difficult for people who have been made homeless and are hardj-pressed, but we have to get the housing programme up and running as fast as possible. All barriers in the way will have to be removed.
Senator Terry Brennan spoke about the death of Garda Tony Golden and asked for books of condolence to be placed in Garda stations. I am sure that suggestion will be considered by superintendents in the various Garda divisions.