Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance Bill 2015 [Certified Money Bill] - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 2.55 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Gradam an Uachtaráin Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 3, Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and adjourned not later than 10 p.m., if not previously concluded.

We cannot agree to the Order of Business. I, therefore, propose an amendment that the relevant Minister come to the House for an emergency debate on the flooding issue. As we know, the forecast this evening for counties Clare and Kerry, all counties in Connacht, County Donegal and other parts of the country is again very bad. In 2012 the Taoiseach spoke about the need to have much more sophisticated early warning systems and a system that would operate to best advantage for everybody. After 2013, during which we saw the worst storms for 143 years, we heard the first calls from Met Éireann for additional staff. I see that, as part of the Government's announcements in recent days, the extra staff needed can be recruited by Met Éireann, but it is too little too late. An allocation of €14.5 million for flood relief schemes for this year alone remains unspent. While we welcome the provision of €15 million to aid communities under siege because of recent floods, it is truly disturbing to listen to communities throughout the country, including in Athlone and Bandon and farmers along the western seaboard. Last evening I spoke to somebody in Sligo whose house was completely flooded and who was in urgent need of somewhere to rent in order that they and their family could begin preparations for Christmas. We are not ready for this and never have been. Despite a series of measures announced by the Government in 2012 and specifically in 2013 when we witnessed the worst storms for 143 years, it seems we are as unprepared as ever.

The Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, said there had been unanticipated delays in providing the funding required to deal with this issue. What is the reason for the delays? The Army needed to be called out much quicker to prepare by providing sand bags and making other preparations to mitigate the effects of the disaster that has taken place. It is our contention that an urgent debate is needed. The House is entitled to know that all hands are on deck and what measures will be taken in the coming days as conditions continue to worsen. As we know, many families do not even have insurance because of what happened in 2012 and 2013. Following very bad floods in the United Kingdom in 2013, the Government there undertook to sign a memorandum of understanding with the insurance industry in order that people who had experienced flooding in the past would still be in a position to take out insurance on their homes at affordable rates. That is not the case here and one of the questions we want to put to the relevant Minister is whether there has been such contact with the insurance industry and whether a scheme is being prepared to ensure families will have this protection into the future.

We will push the amendment proposed to the Order of Business to a vote and I hope the Leader will be in a position to bring the Minister to the House to reassure us on what is taking place to mitigate the effects of a disaster that may get worse if the forecast as outlined is true.

I am sure the Leader will respond on the flooding issue.

However, I welcome the allocation of €5 million announced by the Government this week to assist small businesses that have suffered damage as a result of the flooding. I also welcome the clarification from the Department of Social Protection of the scope of the humanitarian assistance scheme. I note that the Government has not set a limit on the amount that can be paid to individual households under the scheme, again in respect of flood damage. All Members will be watching with great concern to see what happens regarding the predictions of rainfall and flooding across the midlands and along the River Shannon today. While it is clear a great deal of work has been done to try to minimise any damage, it is certainly a matter of grave concern. However, I welcome the measures which are already in place and which have been announced this week.

I also welcome the announcement made yesterday evening by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, that she intended to delete Rule 68 for primary schools. This is the rule that enables religion to permeate the school day, which has been a huge issue for many parents across Ireland in the schooling of their children and which may not be in accordance with their conscience and lawful preference. This change is long overdue and the deletion of the rule was recommended by the national forum on patronage and pluralism in the primary sector established by the former Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. I welcome the announcement made by the Minister that she will do this in the new year. I also note the passage through the Dáil last week of the Private Members' Bill that had started as a Labour Party Private Members' Bill in this House to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act to ensure schools would no longer be able to discriminate against teachers on the basis of lifestyle or because they offended or were seen to offend their ethos. This is hugely welcome, particularly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, teachers and I am glad that it has been done. The deletion of Rule 68 is a further step in making the school system more reflective of the reality of pluralism in society. I ask the Leader for a debate on this matter in the new year because the Minister also has stated she recognises that an amendment will be necessary to equal status legislation to ensure schools will no longer be able to discriminate against pupils or prospective pupils on the grounds of religion. I will be speaking this Saturday at the launch of a new campaign, Education Equality, which has been established by a group of parents who have been relatively prominent in the media in recent weeks, that is seeking to ensure this change will be made and that schools will no longer be able to discriminate on the basis of religion in their admission policies. I also note that the Minister has stated, regretfully, the likelihood is she will not be able to get the admission to school legislation through in the lifetime of the Government. This is a reform that must happen. I commend the organisers of Education Equality for putting together a campaign in which it will seek to bring it about early in the lifetime of the next Government, if not before.

I second the amendment proposed to the Order of Business by my colleague, Senator Marc MacSharry. It is absolutely appropriate that the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, come into the House as a matter of urgency to explain what measures have been taken. Government Members may not be aware that the amount of capital funding for flood defences this year is being cut from the amount allocated last year. There was a reduction in the funding allocated prior to the storms and Members need to know what is happening. I assure the Leader that there has been a cut in the budget and the figures are available.

I wish to deal with a couple of items. First, on 29 November I referred to three cystic fibrosis drugs that had been approved by the European Medicines Agency, EMA, on 20 November. As I wrote to the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on 1 November, in advance of approval by the EMA, I was on top of this issue before the recent issues arose in the funding of these drugs. The Minister issued a statement yesterday that he was considering funding these drugs, which I welcome, but all Members should remember the nature of cystic fibrosis. It can be a highly debilitating and life-shortening illness. These three drugs offer enhanced quality of life and extended life expectancy and if the figure is €92 million, it would be €92 million well spent. There should be no further delay on the part of the Department of Health in approving them to make sure they will be available to the thousands of cystic fibrosis patients and sufferers in Ireland, many of whom are children. I, again, ask the Leader to use his good offices. I have written to the Minister, but I have not had a response since 6 November. However, I intend to follow up on the matter.

In the light of Senator Ivana Bacik's remarks, while some people in Ireland believe religion might be an offence, may I remind Members that it is an entitlement of educators to protect their religious ethos? On foot of the proposed deletion of Rule 68, I ask Senator Ivana Bacik and others how Church of Ireland schools will protect their religious ethos in what is a minority religion? How will the single Jewish school in the State be able to protect its religious ethos? I remind colleagues opposite that in the most recent census 82% of Irish people declared themselves as Catholic, while a further 8% declared themselves as Protestant. There are people with religious beliefs which also must be respected. While I am all for equality in this regard, I do not desire to have a situation such as obtains in the United States of America or Britain where those who want their children to be educated within a certain religious ethos must choose private schools. I do not want that to happen. Has the Government agreed to the deletion of Rule 68? Senator Ivana Bacik, as leader of the Labour Party in this House, has welcomed the proposed deletion of the rule, but that is a serious step forward. I agree with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in that under no circumstances do I believe children should be baptised or included in any faith community simply to obtain a school place. That absolutely should not be done. However, what about the millions of people who hold fast and firm and respect their religious ethos? The Labour Party, in particular, appears to think anyone who holds a religious belief is inferior to its members and their views.

We never said that.

I refer to respecting people in a republic. The Senator used the word "offend", that is, that religion would offend - she should check the record - that it would be offensive.

The Senator is over time.

I will conclude on this point. I am not offended by anyone's religion and I am not offended if someone decides not to hold any religious belief. However, I must tell the Leader that any proposed deletion of Rule 68 must be debated fully and must not be a knee-jerk reaction to a few hundred parents who have found themselves in a difficult position. What about the millions of people, the hundreds of thousands of parents who want their children to be brought up and educated in a religious ethos school, as I do with my daughter, to give them a good grounding in life?

The Senator is way over time.

As for this idea of welcoming the proposed deletion of Rule 68, I have a final question.

The Senator is not availing of leaders' time today.

Has the Government agreed to the deletion of Rule 68?

I also ask the Leader to facilitate a debate, either today or tomorrow, with the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, on the flooding issue. It has finally come to people's realisation that we have a serious problem with flooding, be it coastal flooding or rivers bursting their banks. I wrote about this extensively after the flooding that took place in 2014 along the coast of County Clare and all along the west coast. Up until a few years ago, approximately €30 million to €40 million per year was being spent on flood defences. While, thankfully, this figure has increased, it is now necessary to engage with the European Union to have an aggressive flood defences mechanism and programme under which the investment of hundreds of millions of euro is envisaged. The same approach must be taken to flood defences in Ireland as was taken to building motorways during the era of the Celtic tiger. Ireland has a fantastic road network because billions of euro was invested, rightly, to ensure its provision. It is now necessary to spend billions of euro on flood defences. We are an island nation surrounded by water and people live in coastal communities nationwide. The homes of people in Clonlara, County Clare and other counties are being flooded and the people affected will be in a worse position in a few hours time. Members must up the ante and there must be a realisation of the necessity to spend billions of euro on flood defences. Moreover, such a programme must be put in place urgently. While the State does not have the money to do this, we are a member of the European Union. As an island nation at the extremity of Europe, we have as many rights as citizens of Germany, France, Italy and every other member state. We must exercise these rights and apply for billions of euro in EU capital funding to ensure our citizens will not, from one month to the next, be fearful of inclement weather.

Aontaím le cuid mhaith den mhéid atá ráite maidir leis na tuilte ar fud na tíre atá ag déanamh an t-uafás damáiste. I support the call for a debate on flooding which is serious in the west, in particular, and the south. It has come to light that many of the issues arising in local areas are due to a lack of maintenance work being done during times when the weather is not bad.

During recent briefings given by the local authorities in Galway city and county, we heard about the frustration of the management of both authorities at the lack of resources and funding as a result of all the changes introduced by the Government under the Putting People First policy of the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan. I have never seen local managers as agitated as they have been in the past two to three weeks. For example, there are huge issues around housing and a lack of forward planning in terms of the hand-over of the administration of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. We are told that owing to inadequate numbers of staff to handle the transfer of thousands of applicants from the Department of Social Protection to the local authorities, serious issues will arise after Christmas.

Many of the flooding issues arising in local areas are due to blocked drains and work in that regard not being done during the summer. Owing to the reduction in the number of staff on the ground and a lack of funding for maintenance work such as drain unblocking and road-sweeping and fixing, this work is not being done. When we approach local authorities about these issues, we are told there is no money available to do the work. We are also told that Irish Water is putting pressure on the local authorities to cut job numbers and that this is likely to occur in the next couple of months. Instead of increasing staff numbers, there is a huge push to get rid of people who are working on contract for Irish Water in the local authorities.

There has been much debate in recent times about housing and so on. We need to continue that debate because of the lack of social housing, the homelessness crisis and so on. Following the terrible tragedy in Carrickmines, we heard that many local authorities had returned unspent allocations for Traveller accommodation. This was refuted last week by Galway County Council. According to that council, its applications for funding under the Traveller accommodation programme were turned down. We need clarity on this issue. Somebody is not telling the full truth on these matters and we need to address that issue. A debate on the issues related to storm damage and the need for ongoing maintenance work to be carried out between storms and for the requisite resources to be provided is vital.

Like previous speakers, I would welcome a broad debate on the issue of flooding throughout the country. Global Flood Solutions, a company based, in part, in Athlone, County Roscommon - ironically, one of the worst hit areas in terms of flooding - sells flood relief products all over the world, yet the Government will not do business with that company in the interests of solving the problems being experienced in places such as Athlone and Athleague. It beggars belief that nobody from the Government is willing to engage with this company which could assist us in solving the problems - albeit temporarily - of the many families and businesses throughout the country that are suffering because of flooding. I would welcome a debate on this issue as soon as possible.

I support the call for a debate on the current flooding crisis. I also support the call made by Senator John Kelly for the Government to engage with Global Flood Solutions, Athlone, of which Mr. Shane Curran is the director. I understand this company has been seeking engagement with the Office of Public Works for many years on its products and that its requests have been refused thus far. In 2009 I spoke in this House about the village of Athleague which was under water at the time. Three public houses in the village remained closed until after Christmas that year because they were under water. Two of those pubs have since ceased trading, which is illustrative of the effect of flooding on an area. Athleague village is now under water again. While local people are assisting each other in the clean-up of houses and so on, the local pub remains closed. The local butcher shop, a chemist's premises and other shops are also closed. It is distressing. The proposed budget to address the crisis is inadequate. One fifth of the money being allocated could be spent in County Roscommon alone, where Golf Links Road and Lanesboro Road are, for a second time in six years, flooded. The Government has stood idly by since 2011 and not made any investment to address this issue.

The Senator is wrong.

Fianna Fáil did a lot.

In 2014 it abolished the drainage board which could have assisted in alleviating the flooding in Athleague by widening the outlet there.

Fianna Fáil was going to drain the River Shannon 100 years ago.

No action has been taken in this regard. This Government of Teflon kids seems to get away with everything.

That was Bertie Ahern.

Nobody appears to be able to pin them down. During the flooding experienced in 2009, the then Taoiseach, former Deputy Brian Cowen, and the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Brendan Smith, visited many of the areas that were flooded, including Athlone and Cortober, to inspect the damage caused.

(Interruptions).

That solved the problem.

Nobody from the Government is assessing the damage caused by the current flooding. I do not think the Irish Red Cross is the right organisation to distribute the money being provided. It should be distributed through the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in the context of the impact on jobs or through the Office of Public Works. This is not charity work; it is business. I call on the county councils in the areas affected, particularly Roscommon County Council, to refund part of the rates paid for this year to assist affected businesses. It is distressing to see individuals such as Gerry McNulty, Alan Neilan and other young business people in Roscommon being wiped out for the second time since 2009.

The Senator should refrain from naming people in the House.

Some of these businesses will not be able to reopen in their current locations owing to the lack of proper drainage there. Nothing is being done in Roscommon town. Also, the beautiful building which it is proposed to construct in Roscommon town on behalf of the Office of Public Works - I welcomed the announcement in this regard when it was made - will lead to a further raising of water levels in the town. I have inspected many outlets in Roscommon town. I am convinced that major remedial works are required to assist in reducing the potential levels which future flooding might reach. We need to have a debate on this issue as soon as possible.

I presume a debate in the Upper House will suffice.

(Interruptions).

I agree with the remarks made by Senator Darragh O'Brien about the drug for cystic fibrosis patients. It is important that this issue be resolved. It is also important, in the context of the negotiations on the drug, that we get value for money. There has been much coverage in the past couple of years about the availability of particular drugs and the fact that it comes down to the bargaining positions adopted by those involved, which is unfortunate. I accept that a great deal of time and money has been spent on researching and producing the drug in question, but it is important that we get value for money from the process. I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien that this drug should be made available at the earliest possible opportunity.

Two recent requests by me for a Commencement debate on the issue of two facilities in Cork that can cater for 35 homeless people but which have been lying vacant for four or five years were ruled out of order. These properties were purchased by Cuan Mhuire and were to be used to provide accommodation for people who had completed treatment for alcohol addiction and were on the road to recovery. It is sad that these facilities remain vacant. I sought to have the relevant Minister address this issue in a Commencement debate in order that these facilities could be brought into use at the earliest possible opportunity at a time when we needed them. It is unfortunate that my requests were ruled out of order. While I fully respect the Cathaoirleach's ruling on this matter, given the urgent need for these facilities, the relevant Minister should come to the House to explain why they remain idle. I ask the Leader to inquire from the Minister why there has been no co-ordination between the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the relevant local authorities in this matter. One of the units is located in Cork county and the other in Cork city. As I said, these facilities which can cater for 35 people remain vacant. We need them up and running as soon as possible. Given that my requests for a Commencement debate on this issue have been ruled out of order, I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister on my behalf.

I have just come from the launch of the document on low pay, decent work and the living wage produced by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise. We should find time to debate this document as it is quite a balanced report. Our colleague, Senator David Cullinane, was the rapporteur for it and balanced it very well. One of the concerns is that in attempting to bring the living wage up to a level that would be acceptable, we could damage jobs. Employers might find that if they had to pay an awful lot more, they would not be able to do what they would like to do. I believe this discussion did take place in organising the report and it would be very valuable to have a debate on the topic in this House in the new year.

I am stunned that, although some time has passed since the last floods took place in 2009, very little has been done to attempt to solve the problems. Is it possible to get help from abroad? I think particularly of the Netherlands which lies very low, below sea level. The people there do not have this problem as they solved it many years ago. There must be expertise around the world, not just in Athlone, as Senator John Kelly has said. We should have a debate on this issue quite soon.

I would like to comment on Rule 68. The forum on patronage and pluralism reported two years ago and recommended dissolving Rule 68. That report went to the Minister back in 2012. It is not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The rules for national schools, of which Rule 68 is one, were devised 50 years ago. The language used in all of the rules should and will be revised, presumably, along with Rule 68. We would not have any problem at all with reviewing the language used in another piece of legislation from 50 years ago. One of the rules states junior infants should be taught by the mistress - a woman. Perhaps that was a good idea or a bad idea. I would go along with looking at all of the rules. When we are doing so, we must pay attention to what we put in their place. There is a new articulation of language recognising that there are many types of children, as Archbishop Martin said. Baptising a child just to get him or her into a school is not the way to do it. I would go along with retaining a lot of Rule 68 but under a new guise. It has good things like charity, justice, inculcating truth, patience, obedience - there are lots of good things in it and it is not all bad. We want to ensure we include all children of no religion and some.

I call for a debate on the Growing Up in Ireland survey, particularly on one aspect of it. Some 28% of all deaths among children under three years of age in the European Union are due to injuries. A particular report in Ireland targeted accidents involving children between the ages of one and three years and asks for a review of education of parents and how to avoid accidents. The percentage of children in Ireland who are hospitalised is very high. The Growing Up in Ireland study called for a review. I would like a debate on how we are going to address this issue. Accidents are also higher among boys than girls. Recklessness comes to mind. Perhaps we should be thinking about politics also in that regard.

I ask the Leader to amend the Order of Business to bring the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to discuss the practices of companies registered as private investigation companies. Last night I was contacted by a citizen and I am absolutely appalled by what I learned which is backed up by evidence. It is absolutely outrageous that there are companies employed by the pillar banks that are breaking into people's private property, accessing social welfare records and putting that information into the public domain. I heard this on radio once or twice, but now I know that these banks are hiring thugs - not reputable private investigation companies - who are climbing over people's back walls and filming and photographing them in their houses and bedrooms. These thugs will threaten people and access private social protection records, which are criminal offences. These companies are supposed to be registered. If that is the behaviour being engaged in, the Private Security Authority is falling down in its duties. This is a matter that needs urgent attention. We have innocent citizens trying to negotiate with their banks who are being threatened and intimidated by these thugs. I ask that we have the Minister come here today at some stage to discuss this matter. I will not ask for it to be the first item on the agenda, but I ask that we have the Minister here at some stage.

I had not intended to speak today, but I ask Senator Darragh O'Brien to withdraw his remark. I think you said the Labour Party felt that people with religious instruction were inferior. I take offence at that statement.

I certainly will not withdraw it.

I think you should withdraw it.

I just go by the proof of what I see.

Senator Máiría Cahill to continue, without interruption.

I will not withdraw it. She made a charge against me. I am not withdrawing any remark.

You should withdraw it because quite clearly I do not feel people with religious beliefs are inferior.

Talk to your hierarchy. Talk to your leader.

My daughter attends----

I cannot respond because I cannot hear what is going on.

Senator Máiría Cahill to continue, without interruption.

She is addressing me directly.

Senator Máiría Cahill to continue, without interruption.

She should address the Chair.

She is speaking through the Chair.

She is not; she is speaking to me.

In fairness to Senator Máiría Cahill, she is not long in the Labour Party.

We cannot hear what Senator Máiría Cahill is saying.

Gabh mo leithscéal; I think Senator Darragh O'Brien should withdraw the remark. Rather than coming from a place of religious conviction, his remark is coming from a place of political prejudice. I have a daughter who attends a Catholic school----

I ask that the Senator withdraw that remark.

I am not withdrawing it.

The Senator has made a political charge against me of political prejudice.

You are here to defend yourself and have done so. In respect of Rule 68----

On a point of order, the remarks should be addressed through the Chair. If I cannot respond, the Senator should be addressing the Chair. She should withdraw the political charge against me of political prejudice----

On a point of order, the Senator made much more serious allegations against me. They were so ludicrous I did not even bother responding.

The Senator has jumped up now also. It is like whack-a-mole.

Senator Máiría Cahill to continue, without interruption. She is quite entitled to call for what she is calling.

I am not withdrawing anything.

I am not withdrawing the remark. Rule 68 is archaic. Children have a human right under the European convention to a neutral studying environment and that is clearly not the case in this country. There is a lack of choice for parents who do not wish for their children to receive religious instruction. We have seen the difficulty this country has had during the years with how religion can take precedence over instruction and education. We have seen the abuses which followed as a result. No parent or child should be forced into a situation in which religious instruction underpins their day. Having said that, the Labour Party and I respect entirely the choice of parents and families to have religious beliefs. Should the Senator wish to have a debate on this issue, it probably could be useful as I am not quite sure he understands exactly what Rule 68 means.

I ask the Leader to indicate when he intends to take the bankruptcy Bill which has been promoted by Deputy Willie Penrose. My understanding is the Bill is to be published next week. Will it be a Seanad Bill or a Dáil Bill? I would like to think that we in the Seanad could facilitate a speedy passage of this very important legislation.

I ask that the Minister for Health come before the House and propose a further amendment to the Order of Business that he do so.

I had an experience in the past few days in regard to an applicant for a medical card, a lone parent who had a very sick child and who had applied for a medical card. That person was told the time limit had expired, although I was not even aware there was a time limit, and they will now have to make a fresh application, which requires a voluminous amount of documentation. This is a lone parent on social welfare with a sick child, but the number of documents required in order to be considered is shocking. Not only has the person now been advised to apply again, three or four months after they applied, but they have to supply more up-to-date documentation and a repeat of everything they supplied before because the centralised medical card agency in Dublin lost the documents. Not only that, but when I asked, on this person's behalf, if they could have the documents returned, given that they included a P45, of which there was only one copy, I was told the only way they could get the documents returned was by submitting a freedom of information request. What sort of inhumane system have we, as legislators, created? When the medical card system operated at local level, it was a very simple matter, as anybody in this House who has experience of it will know, in that one could get through to the person involved in the local office and he or she was able to sort it out. There were never difficulties surrounding medical card applications. I am appalled at the manner in which this applicant has been treated. A very inhumane system has been put in place. As a result, I have initiated through the Oireachtas Library and Research Service a full review of how these regulations were put in place, who put them in place, what statutory regulations have been put in place and what are the legal requirements that mean a person has to go through the freedom of information process to get documents back. I want the Minister for Health to come to the House. The buck has to stop with him because he is the person in charge, although he likes to think and tell the general public that he is not in charge at all, that he is only passing through and that he is a commentator. Here is a situation-----

Will the Senator clarify the amendment?

I am asking that the Minister for Health come into this House to explain the regulations surrounding medical card applications and whether he is going to improve them to make them more humane and more efficient than what is in place.

I share the concern of other Members about the flood damage in many parts of the country, including my own county. However, we should not get over-dramatic about it. We are aware of the failings of past Administrations, but we do not want to go down that road. I very much welcome the fund that has been set aside and that will be administered on behalf of the Government by the Irish Red Cross for businesses that have suffered in towns recognised to be at flood risk and which are unable to get flood risk insurance, which is very important.

It was said the OPW was not involved. Of course, it is involved; it is monitoring the situation and will continue to do so. The matter is being attended to and dealt with. I recognise that Senator Marc MacSharry likes to be dramatic, coming as he does from the Sligo school of amateur dramatics. Let us be calm and reflect on this matter. It is being dealt with and, please God, it will be dealt with satisfactorily, or as satisfactorily as it can be dealt with. We cannot totally drain the River Shannon and cannot redirect it. There will be a further debate about siphoning off some of the water for the east, an issue which will be resurrected again. As these matters are being dealt with, let the show go on without getting overly or falsely concerned.

It is time we had a debate on flooding and the measures to compensate those affected by the winter storms. We have all seen the footage of the floods, ruined homes and businesses and the Christmas plans that have been destroyed. There have been four Atlantic storms this year. However, there are two things that are predictable - severe weather and the pathetic response from the Government. Each time it happens, we get too little, by way of a response, and it is too late. It seems to have come as a revelation to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, that legislation prevents flood relief compensation to businesses and that only households may benefit. This is a Government that prides itself on getting the economy going again and getting people back working. How can it be jobs-friendly if businesses are allowed to suffer in this way?

When this crisis happened last year, with others, I called on the Government and the then Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, to take concrete steps to mitigate the harmful effects of future storms. The Government should have applied to the EU solidarity fund, but it did not. It should have aided small businesses with a Government-subsidised insurance scheme where people are not able to get private sector cover, but it did not bother to do that either. It has chosen to do nothing for small businesses impacted on by flooding. It is too little, too late to be talking about frustration on the eve of a general election. People are rightly frustrated at the lack of emergency funding for individual home owners and the lack of financial cover for businesses. Any further delay is inexcusable. Like others, I have been driving in east Galway where the flooding has been extremely difficult and frustrating for people. It is time the Government realised it is in government and did something about this matter.

Many of us grew up enjoying the romanticised versions of private investigators' lives - I think of "Magnum PI" and others. When we look at the reality of what private investigators get up to, however, it can be more sordid and grubby. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's amendment which I second calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to tell us what she knows and what she is going to do in about the necessary investigation not just of the activities of private investigators but also of officials in the Department of Social Protection. This is an important issue. It is yet another example, perhaps, of the creep that goes on where banks and officials of State collude to subtract from people's rights, in particular, the right to privacy and the privacy of their data. I second Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's amendment.

Given that business is scheduled to continue until 10 p.m., the Leader is unlikely to be able to accede to a request that the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, come to the House to discuss the flooding issue. I made a request yesterday that we try to organise it late this week or early next week. Obviously, communities are going through great hardship, with people throughout the country trying to get to work when roads are closed. We need to give this very serious attention.

I reject some of the criticism being made of the Government. Investment has taken place in flood alleviation measures in recent years. I cite Ballinasloe as a case in point, given the significant investment made there since 2009 which has worked to a significant extent.

Exactly. The work has been done.

Phase one of that project has been very successful, but we want to get to the next phase of the investment. We need an update on the CFRAM study which will be the blueprint for flood alleviation measures and investment into the future. I would like a detailed debate on the progress of that study and what funding is likely to be put behind it. We cannot praise enough the local authority staff who are working flat out and the wonderful work being done by the Army in helping to protect homes. The next 36 hours are going to be critical, but I know everything that can be done is being done to make sure as many homes as possible are protected from flooding. It is a time for everybody to pull together and to leave aside party-political squabbling on this issue. I am very encouraged by the wonderful work being done in communities by people coming together with public representatives and local authority staff, with everybody trying to ensure business gets back to as normal a position as possible in the lead-up to Christmas. I hope we will have a debate with the Minister of State who can update us. I very much welcome the fact €5 million has been made immediately available to help small business and that €10 million has been set aside to provide humanitarian aid. I hope the drawing down of this aid will be as simple as possible and that bureaucracy will be kept to a minimum.

We are not having the debate today.

It would be useful if the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, were to come into the House to answer those questions.

We would have a very harmonious House if some Members had their way; if we could not discuss religion or politics. I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney. I support everything that my leader, Senator Darragh O'Brien, said about Rule 68. Educators should be entitled to protect their religious ethos. I agree that it is unacceptable that people cannot get places in schools, but perhaps that is because the Government has not provided enough school places and it has very little to do with religion.

I wholeheartedly support the comments of Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Rónán Mullen on private investigators. The issue has been raised for a number of years. It was raised previously by Senator Michael D'Arcy, the Leader and me. On one occasion I brought to the attention of the House a situation involving a young man who had paid 75% of a loan he had on a truck to provide employment for himself and a number of other colleagues. He fell on hard times as a result of the recession and missed two payments. While he was attending an interview to seek employment, thugs arrived at his house, intimidated his mother - an ill elderly lady - stole his truck and sold it for a pittance. That is the type of activity that was going on a number of years ago, but, unfortunately, it is continuing. So-called reputable financial institutions - I hesitate to use the word "reputable" owing to their history - continue to use such practices and are getting away with it. That is totally unacceptable. We must have a debate on the issue. I call on the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality. She is due in the House on Friday and perhaps she might stay on for an extra few minutes to discuss this very serious issue. It is well known that private investigators are going around snooping, as Senator Gerard P. Craughwell said, on private individuals and leaking information to media outlets in order to embarrass them. It would be worth examining the matter to find out what the State-sponsored banks were paying such individuals.

It is welcome that the Government has handed the €5 million in emergency aid to the Irish Red Cross to distribute. It is a most appropriate organisation for that purpose. I hope the red tape will be cut out because the last time such a crisis occurred and financial aid was provided, 95% of people received nothing because of the hoops they had to jump through and the red tape they had to deal with.

Once again, I call for a debate on the need to introduce time limits for An Bord Pleanála decisions. This is very pressing, none more so than for the people living in east Galway who have been subjected to such an unmitigated disaster in recent days with the flooding. It is clear that families' lives are being destroyed along the Dunkellin river and the Aggard stream all because we are awaiting a decision on planning for flood relief works to be carried out on the rivers. I visited Craughwell and Athenry in recent days and met families affected by flooding. I am dismayed at what they have gone through. Pensioners had to be saved and transported from their homes by fire and rescue services, four-wheel drives and buses. It is the second time in six years that they have been rendered homeless because of flooding.

The Government has had five years in which to do something and it has done nothing.

It is wrong and unacceptable. I was told the last time the Dunkellin river-----

The Government had five years in which to do it.

I ask the Senator to allow me to finish my contribution.

Senator Lorraine Higgins should be allowed to speak without interruption.

This is a very serious issue and I would like to finish my contribution.

The Dunkellin river was dredged in 1907 by the British Government. That is the last time it was dredged. Frankly, that is ridiculous.

Who is representing the area?

If we do not dredge it quickly, we will contribute to bigger flooding issues in the future. The situation is much the same in the case of the River Clarin in Athenry which burst its banks for the same reason and destroyed several homes in the Caheroyan area.

While I have no intention of interfering with the planning process, I call for a little bit of reality to attach to proposals to deal with flooding in south Galway. We must focus on families who are enduring extraordinary hardship and will not be in their homes for Christmas because of environmental concerns. They are all very well and good, but when one sees big companies throughout this country, elsewhere in Europe and around the world which use a carrot and stick approach to offset their pollution distribution, why can we not have the same for people living along rivers and let environmental considerations take second place? Not only would that help to resolve issues related to flooding, it would also safeguard people's basic human right to safety in their homes.

The Government had five years in which to address the issue.

We need flesh on the bones of commitment when it comes to providing flood relief. The time for talking is over. We need decisions. We need a legislative timeframe within which decisions from An Bord Pleanála will be delivered. That is the only way we can bind them in order that the people of east Galway will not have to wait an eternity for decisions which are affecting their lives in such a catastrophic way. On that basis, I call for a debate on the matter.

I support Senators Darragh O'Brien and Colm Burke on the urgent need to provide the life-saving drug for cystic fibrosis sufferers. We are talking about lives which must come first. The Government must, please, wake up to the issue. I would appreciate if the Leader could communicate the issue to the Minister for Health.

I agree with Senator Lorraine Higgins on the issue she raised. The flooding is most serious in Craughwell, a little south of where I live. It is in east Galway but the very same issues arose in Carnmore, Claregalway and Oranmore. Why are we not flooded now? It is because we got the work done. An Bord Pleanála time limits must be looked at in cases of flooding emergency. People's homes are ruined. They are out on the street. The very special project at Thoor Ballylee in which I was involved and which reopened this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of W. B. Yeats has been flooded again. We opened it on the understanding that it could be flooded again, but it is wrong that the Government does not look at cases of repeated flooding. I am not being overly dramatic.

My final point is about the "RTE Investigates" programme. I completely agree that using public office for private gain is wrong; it is unlawful and it is a disgrace, but some of the techniques used by RTE were also less than honourable. I question practices such as offering confidentiality. One does not guarantee confidentiality if one does not give it. It showed the reporter, Nina, promising confidentiality. That is wrong. Neither did the programme offer balance. The reason I know that is I understand from TheJournal.ie that Councillor Tom McHugh from Tuam was on record as saying to the journalist that he would not take anything for private gain, but that was not shown. Why was there no balance? This was a disgraceful practice, but it brings every politician's reputation into disrepute. RTE has questions to answer about its practices. Equally, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If that was an acceptable technique, when pro-life groups brought undercover proof to the floor of this House that the Irish Family Planning Association and other abortion agencies were recommending-----

On a point of order, I ask the Senator to withdraw that comment about the Irish Family Planning Association.

Gabh mo leithscéal, pro-choice agencies were recommending the abortion pill, but that was not taken as bona fide proof.

The Senator is way over time.

There are many questions to be answered. If those are lawful and good practices to be approved by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for use by the public service broadcaster, they can be used by every other agency in the country. I do not believe they are honourable practices.

It is appropriate that we have some young students in the Visitors Gallery this morning. They are very welcome. I understand we have had numerous references to religion, politics and education this morning. I welcome the announcement made today by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, that she will repeal Rule 68 in the Department's rules for national schools.

The Senator can welcome it all he likes, but I do not have to agree with it. What is his point?

Senator Eamonn Coghlan should be allowed to speak without interruption.

The document dates back some 50 years.

It is quite a long time. This rule states religious education is by far the most important part of the school curriculum. Currently, children spend 30 minutes per day, or two and a half hours per week, studying religion, which is incredible when one compares it with some other core subjects. Pupils engage in physical education for less than one hour per week. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is reviewing the national school curriculum, with recommendations to be published some time next year. I call on the Minister to ensure the time allocated to physical education is increased and that the manner in which it is delivered changed in line with the Points for Life initiative that was introduced in the Seanad and delivered in a pilot programme in 2013 and 2014 under the guidance of the Professional Development Service for Teachers. It is not just me who is requesting this. There are teachers, parents, coaches and many people in the community who unanimously agree that it should be done. We all know about the value and importance of physical education in a child's development and overall well-being. It is now time to do something about it and this is the way we can go forward. I call for a debate on the issue at some time in the near future.

A Private Members' motion tabled by the Social Democrats was moved in the Dáil last night calling for the establishment of an anti-corruption agency. This is most timely. It is something we announced a number of weeks ago. What was shown on the "RTE Investigates" programme was only the tip of the iceberg. Corruption is endemic in public life and includes more than just three county councillors. It stretches to the heart of what we do. We have seen it in the past in various tribunals such as the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals and issues related to land rezoning. There could have been a tribunal for each local authority in the country. If one scratches the surface in respect of many of the land banks that could no longer be financed by local government, were bought at a premium price during the boom years and are now under the Local Government Management Agency, essentially a NAMA for local government, and if one saw the deals that were done in acquiring these sites, one would draw some very interesting conclusions. From issues related to Anglo Irish Bank which has become IBRC to the sale of Siteserv and NAMA properties, one can see that it is rotten. Some parties are decrying it when they have been complicit in it for many years. Some of the newer Members in Leinster House have been giving out about corruption. Parties that cover up other matters such as child abuse and sex offences cannot have any credibility when it comes to issues such as corruption.

Will the Senator clarify what he means by that? To what parties is he referring?

I will clarify what I mean. I consider Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA to be groups that have covered up instances of rape and child abuse.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Where is the Senator's evidence?

My evidence is sitting not too far away from me.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I do. I ask Government Deputies and my Senatorial colleagues to call on Government Deputies to support the motion to establish an anti-corruption agency. This is essential if we are to restore confidence in public life. It is a very timely measure and one the public demands from politicians.

Senator Marc MacSharry proposed that the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, come to the House to debate the issue of flooding which was covered in most of the contributions on the Order of Business this morning. I have a comprehensive document that I could read to the House, but I have no intention of doing so this morning as in the other House yesterday the Minister of State gave a comprehensive reply to a Topical Issue debate on the issue which I suggest Members should read. However, as so many Members have asked for a debate and the Minister of State will attend the House for two and a quarter hours to deal with the Finance Bill 2015, I suggest that, with the consent of the House, we give him 15 minutes at the end of that debate to make a statement on flooding, what has happened and is about to happen. In this way I am trying to facilitate the House.

That is appreciated. Will the Leader allow 15 minutes for questions also?

I cannot allocate 15 minutes.

We will take-----

I propose that we amend the Order of Business to take Committee Stage of the Finance Bill at 12.45 p.m. to be adjourned not later than 2.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, and allow the Minister of State to make a statement on flooding at that time or immediately after Committee Stage has concluded. I am doing my best to facilitate the House. Therefore, I do not propose to address the question of flooding which was raised by so many Members. We will leave it to the Minister of State to deal with.

Senators Ivana Bacik, Darragh O'Brien, Cáit Keane, Eamonn Coghlan and Máiría Cahill spoke about Rule 68. I hope we will have a debate on that matter early in the new year. Certainly, respect must be given at all times to people's religious beliefs. Everybody will go along with this. The right of people to send their children to the schools to which they wish to send them is sacrosanct. On repealing Rule 68 and all other related matters, the Minister for Education and Skills stated last night that she intended to do it some time in January. We might, therefore, have an opportunity to discuss this and other education matters when we come back in January.

Senators Darragh O'Brien, Fidelma Healy Eames and Colm Burke spoke about the new drug for cystic fibrosis sufferers. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Health. I do not know whether the Senators have raised the issue in the Commencement debate. If they have not done so, I suggest they do so to receive a full reply on it from the Minister. One of the good things about this House is that we can call in a Minister to deal with a Commencement matter. Therefore, if a Senator is not receiving a reply from a Minister, I suggest he or she raise the matter in the Commencement debate.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh spoke about staffing in local authorities to deal with the HAP scheme, the provision of housing and Traveller accommodation. I agree with him that if Galway County Council has stated it applied for funding for the provision of Traveller accommodation but could not obtain it, the issue should be investigated as a matter of urgency because we have been told money is available for that purpose. There is no question that there is more than sufficient money available for local authorities that wish to draw down funding for the provision of housing.

Senator John Kelly spoke about companies involved in flood relief works in his constituency. Again, this may be a matter for the Minister of State to deal with.

Senator Colm Burke spoke about the provision of accommodation for homeless persons in Cork city and county and asked that some properties not in State ownership be funded.

It is a matter for the local authorities and the agency which owns the properties, but I am sure that if they were to apply to the Government for funding, it would be seriously considered by it.

Senator Feargal Quinn called for a debate on a report compiled by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation entitled, Low Pay, Decent Work and a Living Wage. I agree with him that we should debate the document. The Minister is due to come to the House when we resume in the new year to discuss innovation and research, another matter on which we heard statements recently, as well as Government policy. I hope the Minister will discuss both issues.

Senator Cáit Keane called for a debate on the findings of the Growing Up in Ireland survey. We will try to facilitate her request, but it will not be taken before the end of next week.

Senators Gerard P. Craughwell, Rónán Mullen and Diarmuid Wilson mentioned the appalling way private investigation companies treated people. The Minister for Justice and Equality was in the House practically all of last week and will be here both this week and next. If Senators want her to come to debate the practices of private investigation companies, I suggest tabling a Commencement matter would enable them to receive answers from her.

With due respect, the issue needs to be debated.

If anyone has information on criminal activity engaged in by any of the people in question, he or she should notify the Garda as a matter of urgency. I am sure it would deal with the matter.

It is the overall level of regulation that is unacceptable.

Senator Paschal Mooney inquired about the bankruptcy Bill. I have no information as of yet on the timing of the Bill and I am not sure whether it has been passed by the Cabinet. It will probably be brought before the Dáil first, if it is introduced before Christmas.

Will the Leader make time available to debate the legislation before Christmas, if possible?

If necessary, we will certainly make time available, as I always do when legislation is brought before the House.

I believe the legislation has received clearance.

I am sure we will have the full co-operation of the Opposition on any legislation that is brought before the House

Absolutely; the Leader always receives it. I understand the legislation has been passed by the Cabinet.

The Senator referred specifically to a medical card application and the loss of documents. It is unacceptable. I suggest he table a Commencement matter. The Cathaoirleach will have a long list of Commencement matters and will have a difficult job in making his selections in the next few days.

The Cathaoirleach is more than capable of making selections.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson mentioned private investigators, a matter I have dealt with. He also welcomed the fact that the Irish Red Cross would administer the flood relief fund.

I agree with Senator Lorraine Higgins and other Senators that the time limits for decisions by An Bord Pleanála should be reviewed. We debated the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill last week and again yesterday. Unfortunately, on both occasions I did not hear any Senator raise this point. The debates provided them with an opportunity to do so, but I am sure the matter will be addressed by the Government in the context of an overview of the activities of An Bord Pleanála.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames mentioned the programme "RTE Investigates". The matter was dealt with comprehensively on the Order of Business yesterday.

Will the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources come to the House to address these practices?

The Leader to continue, without interruption.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan called for the time allocated to physical education in schools to be increased.

On a point of order, will the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources come to the House to address the practices involved?

That is not a point of order.

That is my question.

I ask the Senator to, please, resume her seat. She has interrupted the Leader's contribution.

I asked my question.

I was not asked that question. I replied that the matter had been dealt with yesterday.

Will the Senator, please, allow the Leader to respond to the questions raised today?

The Leader has made his points comprehensively.

Will the Senator, please, allow the Leader to respond to the questions raised?

This is repetition. If Senator Fidelma Healy Eames had been here yesterday when I replied, she would know that I dealt with the issue comprehensively.

With respect, the Leader did not hear my question until today.

Obviously, the Senator was not here yesterday.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan called for an increase in the time allocated to physical education in schools. I agree totally with him. We should have a debate on the importance and value of physical education. I assure the Senator that I will try to arrange the debate early in the new year.

Senator James Heffernan said a motion calling for the establishment of an anti-corruption agency had been tabled in the Lower House. I am sure that if a similar motion is tabled in this House, we will have an opportunity to discuss the matter comprehensively as corruption is an issue we should discuss. The Government has a very good record in terms of the amount of legislation it has brought forward-----

-----including on the registration of lobbyists, as well as several Bills to deal with corruption.

The Leader has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that the debate on No. 1 be adjourned at 2.40 p.m. and that the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, make a 15 minute statement on flooding. I ask Senators to bear this in mind.

Senator Marc MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate be taken today on plans to address the causes and consequences of flooding."

We withdraw the amendment on the basis of the Leader's comments.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the practices of companies registered as private investigation companies be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Is there a seconder?

I second the amendment.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 25.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Máiría.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator Paschal Mooney has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health to explain the regulations governing the issuing of medical cards and the need for improvements in the system be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 26.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Máiría.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

The Leader has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 1 be adjourned at 2.40 p.m. and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance make a 15-minute statement on flooding." Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.