Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 1.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, motion for earlier signature of the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Prisons Bill 2015 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and brought to a conclusion not later than 2 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 4, Finance (Tax Appeals) Bill 2015 – all Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 3.15 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, with the time allocated on Second Stage to group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply for five minutes not later than 3.05 p.m.; No. 5, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2015 – all Stages, to be taken at 3.15 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 4.15 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, with the time allocated on Second Stage to group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply for five minutes not later than 4.05 p.m.; No. 6, Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4.15 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 6 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; and No. 7, Harbours Bill 2015 – Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 6 and conclude not later than 8 p.m., if not previously concluded.

I welcome to the Visitors Gallery Mary Leyden, wife of the good Senator Terry Leyden; her daughter, Councillor Orla Leyden, and her granddaughter Donata. They are very welcome.

Her full name is Donata Maria.

I thank the Senator for the clarification.

I wish to raise a number of issues. In recent days there has been a series of actions throughout the country which have compounded the difficulty caused by the Government and previous Governments in shutting down rural communities, in particular the closure of Garda stations. In west County Sligo we had the closure of Easkey Garda station some years back and despite officials from the OPW visiting the location with me and members of the community, who had a project for community use, the infrastructure was sold for a mere €65,000 at auction on Monday. This has been repeated throughout the country. Another action is proposed in Keshcarrigan, County Leitrim. The measly gain of €65,000 on the part of the OPW is insignificant when we consider the loss in value in the uses it could have had for community initiatives. It also wipes out the potential for these communities to have, at a future date, the return of community Garda stations when resources permit. This is a retrograde step. I again wrote to the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, on the issue this morning. I beseech all members of Fine Gael and the Labour Party to put a stop to this because it is wrecking rural communities throughout the country.

We welcome the White Paper launched today by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, on the future energy needs of the country and how we will provide them. Not directly connected to energy, it provides the community in Ireland with the opportunity to state - in a final way - that this is a country which is not in favour of fracking and is not prepared to gamble our tourism and agriculture infrastructure, and our clean air and clean water for what still remains an unknown quantity in the context of its impact on communities.

The main issue I want to raise is the health budget, about we heard this morning. Articles in The Irish Times underpin what we have been saying for many years, namely, that when the service plan for the HSE is published, it remains a bogus account of what lies ahead. Still we see - it surpasses even the terrible days of the former Minister, Deputy James Reilly - that the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has adopted a punditry and commentary role on health instead of realising he is captain of the ship and the one who is supposed to be driving the bus. He spoke on "Morning Ireland" and used phrases like "We projected this" and "We probably will not have enough money for that". Next year, under the fiscal treaty rules, we will not be able to have a supplementary budget of €605 million such as that which has been brought forward this year. Next year we will have to make do without. However, the budget for next year is only marginally above it. When will we have somebody in charge of the Department of Health who will take responsibility for the general management of it, budget appropriately for what is needed by the health service in the year ahead and acknowledge the crisis we are experiencing?

With regard to one crisis, in particular, we propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 15 be taken before No. 1 or at any stage today. It relates to the cystic fibrosis, CF, drug Orkambi, which, as Members probably know, has had huge results in other countries, with up to a 40% reduction in hospital admissions for cystic fibrosis patients. It is quite simply a wonder drug in terms of its effects and benefits. It would help at least 60% of the patients in Ireland. It is very effective for the most common CF gene alteration in Ireland, which is delta F508. Mr. Tony O'Brien, the CEO of the Health Service Executive, stated there is not enough money in the purse to provide this drug to people, without even considering the benefits we would have in reducing the number of patients. This is before the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics has even negotiated on the provision of the drug. I have been through this before, with Senator John Crown, in respect of access to cancer treatment. He and I were rubbished for our efforts to try to change the focus to the benefits to the patient rather than the cost per life saved, which is very different from patient to patient. We believe this is a retrograde step and we will put to a vote today that we take this motion and we will not agree to the Order of Business until it is taken because the cystic fibrosis patients of Ireland, their families and many people affected by this deserve better than somebody in the HSE in an ivory tower or a Minister simply saying we do not have the money to help.

I am sure the Leader will deal with the issue Senator Marc MacSharry has raised regarding the health service. However, I heard the same interview as the Senator and took a completely different impression from it. In fact, it was gratifying to hear in particular about the fall in the number of people in need of medical cards because they have been able to return to work. That was the most gratifying of all.

It enables us to invest more money in the other areas of the health system. If I remember correctly what the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, said, the headline figures in almost every area are heading in the right direction. However, I am sure the Leader will have more to say on that matter.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, that he will be allocating an additional €8 million to local authorities to facilitate and support the meeting of the cost of the clean-up in communities in the aftermath of Storm Desmond. I am sure we all agree this is good news.

The environment committee's report is expected to be published today. It will cover, in particular, the issue of insurance that I raised yesterday in this House and the plight of people who find themselves unable to obtain insurance for properties that were previously flooded. I was somewhat disappointed by comments attributed to the Taoiseach to the effect that he did not believe it would be in the interest of the State to step in with regard to insurance for people who have been flooded. However, if we are to go by what is happening in a number of other European jurisdictions, we must realise there needs to be a backstop for people who find themselves in these circumstances. We must not rely on private companies to provide appropriate insurance for people in these circumstances.

I welcome the announcement that the number of unfinished housing estates has dropped by 75%. This is excellent news. With the flooding issue, it gives rise to the need for a serious debate on planning. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, has announced that agreement was reached at Cabinet level on Tuesday on the publication of a major package of legislative and policy reforms to the planning system, including the publication of a planning and development Bill that will set up an independent office of the planning regulator. That is most important and has been called for over a very long period by a number of organisations, not least the Irish Planning Institute.

I welcomed the statement by the Government that it aims to boost diversity in third level education. It is particularly unfortunate that significant groups of people are still excluded from third level education in spite of the fact that the participation levels in third level education have increased very significantly in the past decade. However, as the report states, nearly all young people from Dublin 6 go to college but just 16% of people from Dublin 17 or Dublin 10 do so. This is an outrageous statistic that needs to be addressed. The lack of student accommodation is a very significant factor, particularly for people from rural areas, in gaining access to third level education. I am sure the Leader, being from Waterford, is aware of this.

I do not know whether I have any time left but the Cathaoirleach was very generous to Senator Marc MacSharry. On a lighter note, I welcome the commission of a commemorative stamp in honour of the Irish war poet Francis Ledwidge who, unfortunately, after having survived the battle of Gallipoli, died in Passchendaele during the First World War. It is totally appropriate that there will be a commemorative stamp on the centenary of his death in 2017. I welcome the fact that he has been put back on the leaving certificate syllabus. He was on it in my day.

I, too, welcome Senator Terry Leyden's granddaughter, whom I know has had her interest in the work of the Seanad sparked recently. However, I will let Senator Terry Leyden elaborate on that.

I welcome the appointment of Professor Geoffrey Shannon to the District Court. His contribution will be a tremendous addition to the work of that court, particularly in respect of family law. He will be sorely missed as special rapporteur for child protection in his role as chairman of the Adoption Authority of Ireland. He has given pro bono advice to countless NGOs across Ireland. We will miss him greatly but he is joining the District Court at a critical time. His appointment is an inspired choice, and I very much welcome it.

I noted the launch yesterday by the ISPCC of its special helpline for children who are homeless. I congratulate the society on this but I am extremely saddened that it has to resort to this to ensure homeless children will be able to contact Santa Claus to ensure he will know where they are on Christmas Day. We must all ask what more we can do when we see the increasing number of families, including children, who are finding themselves homeless because of any of the myriad reasons we have discussed here in the House. I really hope we do not need the special helpline and that it will not be needed this time next year.

I congratulate the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, on the launch of his White Paper on a carbon-free Ireland. I was at the launch, where I met a tremendous youth ambassador, Ms Aisling O'Boyle. I encourage everybody to look at her speech. If one needs a compelling reason to secure climate justice in Ireland, she will convince one. I commend her for her speech at the launch this morning. She certainly convinced me and re-engaged me on the need for us to do more.

I wish to ask the Leader about the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill. We were left with a number of Committee Stage amendments pending and Report Stage is to come. As I do not see the legislation on the Order Paper for this week, I take it that the remaining Committee Stage amendments and Report Stage amendments will be taken in the new year, if at all. I notice there is quite a lot of guillotining to occur today, which is regrettable.

I spoke on the health Bill dealing with raising the price of alcohol. I spoke about it on the wireless also. The subject of people on social welfare was raised. I said, perfectly logically I believe, that social welfare was intended for the clothing, food and warmth of people in distress and that it should not be spent on drink. I indicated I felt there was a good reason for this given the plight of many people, including elderly taxpayers. Elderly, poor taxpayers do pay tax and I thought it offensive for their tax money to be spent on alcohol. That is a point of view. It led to a considerable schemozzle. Somebody wrote an article in one of those downstream newspapers in which it was stated the Dáil bar is apparently swimming with totally drunken Members of both Houses and that one cannot stir in it.

How this young creature - I have never heard of her before - manages to get inside the Dáil bar, to which she has no access, is simply beyond me. In 30 years, I saw a drunk Member only once; it was a Member of the other House and he was dealt with effectively.

I am told I have received €56,000 in transport guarantees or whatever they are.

Expenses of €56,000. Yahweh, but where is it? I would like to know; it would be just wonderful. I could be backwards and forwards like I was a yo-yo on that amount of money. Apparently, this story is granted credibility. It is said we have these huge salaries, enormous grants and allowances, but I just wonder why it is that the 3,000 civil servants who are receiving so much more than we do want to break with us. It is because we are so timid in getting money. They fear they will be held back. They are already 30% below the general population. We are 30% below as well and now we are going to be shafted by the civil servants abandoning us. I want to know, before the ship goes down, where my €56,000 in travel expenses is because I have not got it. I want to know where it is. Every kind of looney in the country rises to the service and tries to take a gobble at me. I have received all kinds of correspondence. Senators will excuse the vulgarity of the remarks made. My secretary received a telephone call yesterday and she had to put down the phone. The fellow on the line asked whether he could speak to me and she said I was not available as I was working at a committee. He said, "Well, do you know what he wants? He wants a red-hot poker stuck up his arsehole." She put the-----

That is not parliamentary language.

You can say that again. By God, it is not parliamentary language and certainly should not be stated to my secretary and parliamentary assistant. I will just read another statement. There is very little that is offensive-----

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?

It is a wonderful catalogue of what I am.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?

Absolutely, yes. The correspondence is from a Mr. John Tierney. Hello, John. This is what he said and wants me to read, "You gay shit, read this about you - cunning little toady, creep, crawler, fawner, flatterer, flunkey, truckler, groveller, doormat, lickspittle, kowtower, obsequious person, minion, hanger-on, leech, puppet, spaniel."

The Senator is over time.

That is me and here I am.

He should send more - I absolutely love them-----

The Senator is way over time.

-----but will he, please, leave my poor secretary out of it? She does not like it. I laugh at it; she does not.

I assure Members that neither my secretary nor I nor anyone working for me ever received such a telephone call, thanks be to God.

I welcome the news of the deal done yesterday evening by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on fishery quota, whereby there will be an increase of 10% in the whitefish quota and of 8% in respect of prawns. This is good news in particular for those fishermen who own smaller vessels and are trying to eke out a living in difficult circumstances off the coast. The other point is discards have been done away with. I always have called for the abolition of discards because it is a waste of perfectly good fish and there is no point in discarding them, as they can be brought to market and used.

In recent days and again this morning, a number of colleagues have mentioned the issue of flooding. Now the floods appear to have started to recede, it is time to give consideration to putting in place a national drainage scheme along the River Shannon, as well as for some smaller rivers. I refer, in particular, to rivers in the part of the country from which I come, such as the Owenmore in County Sligo, as well as a number of other rivers in counties Sligo and Leitrim. It now is time for a drainage scheme to be put in place. I have been contacted in recent days by many farmers whose lands are under water and who have lost considerable amounts of fodder. Moreover, some of them have been obliged to move their cattle out of their sheds. This is a terrible time for those farmers and for the small businesses that are affected. In my native county of Leitrim, Carrick-on-Shannon and Leitrim village are badly affected. Thankfully, all the towns are open for business, but, as Christmas approaches, it is difficult for those people to be able to conduct their business. It is time to give real consideration to undertaking a complete drainage scheme along the Shannon and the other rivers affected by drainage issues. It is past time to put in place such a scheme.

I second Senator Marc MacSharry's amendment to the Order of Business. I also thank the Cathaoirleach for his welcome to my family today.

On 10 December 2015, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, signed the commencement order on the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement in cases of corporal punishment under section 28 of the Children First Act 2015. This amendment came about through the work of Senator Jillian van Turnhout and was supported unanimously by this House. It was a marvellous step forward and Members have provided and done the State great service and have done the children of Ireland a great service henceforth. Furthermore, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, is it not appropriate, in that the Proclamation refers to treating children equally? Senator Jillian van Turnhout tabled that amendment, which was accepted by the Minister which has been brought into force. It does not change family relationships at all but takes away the defence of immunity from criminal liability essentially for striking a child. This is of great importance and I make the point to the Cathaoirleach, the Leader of the House, the Minister, Senator Jillian van Turnhout and every Member of this House which unanimously supported this move that it was not initiated in Dáil Éireann but in this House. This House deserves credit for this, as well as for many other amendments that have been made over the course of 2015. The Leader has brought much innovation to the House in his own way, which has resulted in amendments being accepted by the Government on his initiation. Moreover, I note that most debates are given unlimited time, although I accept there is some tidying up under way at present. However, throughout the year, the Leader has given adequate time for detailed debates, which have resulted in Ministers returning after Committee Stage to table amendments on Report Stage on the basis of amendments tabled by Members of this House.

I congratulate Ms Phil Donnelly, one of the ushers in the House, who is with Members this morning on her recent promotion as a team leader. It is a huge recognition for Phil, who becomes the first ever female usher to be promoted within the Houses, but it is also a stark reminder that although female ushers were first appointed in 1994, it has taken 21 years for a female usher to win promotion. I wish Phil all the best in her future role. It is a great day, but it is also a sign for the men to watch out - the women are coming. Let us hope it is a sign of things to come.

The Senator is here already.

There are other vacancies coming up very shortly.

Absolutely.

I also welcome the passage through the Seanad last night of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 with unanimous support from all parties. This was a momentous and historic day in the history of the Seanad, particularly for those who lack capacity, as it will allow them to have more control and more of a say over their financial property and personal affairs into the future. It was a great day for people with disability or who lack capacity in any form, and it was one of my proudest days, if not my proudest, in my four and a half years in the Seanad.

I ask the Leader whether anything is being done about the jihadists who are returning to Ireland after going to the Middle East to fight for ISIS. I believe there is a need to ensure there is a massive disincentive for those who live in Ireland to go abroad to fight and then take an Aer Lingus aeroplane back to Ireland. I read recently that a number of people in Cork were refused, but, to the best of my knowledge, we do not have a penalty for them. I believe it is necessary to prosecute those who try to recruit these people online. While I am unsure how it would be done, a massive disincentive is needed to prevent people from being coaxed to go and fight with ISIS, and a range of countries in the European Union and elsewhere have introduced legislation to do precisely that. Its specific purpose is to target returning ISIS fighters. For instance, in Italy there is an eight-to-ten-year jail sentence for those who fight in an armed group that is illegal. Could this be the framework of an anti-terrorism law? The Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 prosecutes those who engage in terrorist activities outside the State; however, it appears as though the penalties listed in that Act must be upgraded in the light of what has happened in Paris and elsewhere. It appears to me that one could provide for a minimum of 20 years' imprisonment for those who go to fight for entities such as ISIS and then return to Ireland. It is a matter to which Members should be giving consideration and attention, and while I am unsure whether it could be done without all-party approval, I imagine it probably would have all-party approval.

I welcome the appointment of Mr. Justice Peter Kelly as President of the High Court. As Members are aware, he is an able and most distinguished judge and I believe no more able or fitting person could be found for the post. He will bring tremendous leadership to the role, as he already has brought to the Commercial Court in his time there, when he pioneered some great work. I believe no one has proved his worth as much as has this man in the role of judge. Consequently, I greatly welcome the appointment and wish him well.

I am delighted that Senator David Norris referred to that grossly inaccurate piece which appeared in the centre page of yesterday's edition of the Irish Independent. One would swear to God that all Members were drinking until the wee hours of the morning every night.

The Senator should never believe anything he reads in the Irish Independent.

Every night in both bars. My experience here in recent years has been that Members use the Members' Bar mainly for teas, coffees, scones, lunches and so on. While I am not normally there at closing time, I believe the bars close at what would be considered to be normal hours. As to where the journalist got this, I note that the facts she had were not facts; they were completely wrong about the number of Senators who are elected on panels and so on. She should check her facts before she writes further about this House or the other House.

It was rubbish. It was beneath journalism.

Absolutely correct. The Senator is quite right.

The Senator should stop buying it then.

I would not give her any publicity.

There must be a spy in the bar.

Renamed the coffee shop.

I do not know because the bar is not open at the hour she was claiming. We will leave it at that. The Senator is quite right.

Today I am publishing and presenting my fourth and probably final Bill during this term. It is the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2015 and it aims to reform the terms of private renting in Ireland by addressing both the high insecurity when renting long-term homes and the financial challenges faced by landlords. It also provides an immediate community-based and people-led solution for the ongoing homelessness crisis. I acknowledge the excellent work of the National Economic Social Council and the DKM report which I consulted during the policy-making process. I also thank Mr. Mike Allen of Focus Ireland and Mr. Fintan McNamara of the Residential Landlords Association for their expert commentary during the drafting of the Bill. I especially thank my assistant, Ms Magdalene Hayden, for her work on this.

The Bill provides for three voluntary rent agreement schemes which offer better security of tenure and certainty of rent for tenants than is currently available, even with the changes made by the Government in the previous Bill. It also provides for a more favourable tax treatment for landlords who voluntarily provide better protections for their tenants. I have included three proposed tenancy schemes. The first is the home tenancy scheme which is open to all households regardless of income or rent. The second scheme is social tenancy which is available for tenants who receive rent supplement and their landlords. The third scheme is solidarity tenancy which provides the highest level of incentives for landlords who offer medium-term accommodation to households who are either homeless or refugees. It is a way to offer an immediate resolution to the homeless and refugee crises.

That Bill has not been published yet.

It is being published today.

It is not on the Order Paper.

I have it in my hand here.

It is not on the Order Paper for today.

I apologise. I thought it was on the Order Paper. Will the Cathaoirleach allow me still to welcome it and mention it?

No, it is not on the Order Paper.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I will conclude by asking the Leader for time to debate this in the new year or to bring it to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. I ask also that my colleagues consider it.

I am concerned about the amount of time being allocated to discuss the Prisons Bill 2015 which, I understand, will only be 15 minutes. We welcome the Prisons Bill because it seeks to close St. Patrick's Institution, but the Department of Justice and Equality, during the Dáil debates, sneaked in a provision on certain persons who are serving sentences of imprisonment for the purposes of deportation or removal from the State and to change the Title of the Bill to take account of this. There are also technical amendments related to warrants issued by courts in Dublin. I imagine they are topics which Senators would wish to debate in this House. When these matters have arisen previously, there has been debate around them. It seems strange these topics are being sneaked into a Bill that is about the closure of St. Patrick's Institution. I am concerned there has not been a proper chance to debate it in the Seanad and I ask the Leader to consider the amount of time being allocated for that discussion.

I also propose an amendment to the Order of Business, if possible. I request that the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, be invited to the House to debate yesterday's High Court ruling on the levies charged on ferry services to the Aran Island ports of Kilronan and Inis Mór. Based on the ruling, the ferry company has stated it will discontinue the ferry service to Inis Mór in January 2016. This comes on foot of the decoupling of a public service obligation, PSO contract for the ferry service to the Aran Islands by a previous Minister of State, Deputy Dinny McGinley, which split the three Aran Islands into separate contracts. Consequently, there is now no PSO to Inis Mór which means the islanders are at the behest of the private company which runs the ferry service. The island could be without a ferry service from January onwards. We are running out of time before Christmas and it must be addressed urgently. Will the Leader call on the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, to see if he has one hour today to discuss what his Department will do to try to reinstate the PSO contract and to get the stakeholders - the islanders, the private ferry company in question, Galway County Council and his Department - to resolve the issue this side of Christmas in order that the service can be continued.

I commend a parish priest in Ashbourne, County Meath, for the novel approach he has taken to confirming children in his parish. Usually children who are being confirmed take a pledge not to consume alcohol until they reach 18 years of age. Fr. Darby is insisting that children take a different pledge not to cyberbully others. He has also invited gardaí to speak at masses, from the pulpit, on the dangers of the Internet and to encourage the 250 students to take a pledge against cyberbullying for their confirmation. It is most welcome. Gardaí in Ashbourne have been proactive in delivering the anti-cyberbullying message. They have visited schools to alert children to online behaviour and responsibilities. The gardaí there are doing such good work that it should be a model of excellence for others in similar roles. Garda Connor who has been out to schools and who will be speaking from the pulpit-----

I ask the Senator to refrain from naming people in the House.

I will pass on Senator Lorraine Higgins's regards to Garda Connor.

I thank the Senator. I know that she is a constituent of his. It is great to see this proactive measure being taken. It is a great move but it is only happening because there is a legislative vacuum in this area, which is a huge failure. Many people have contacted me over the past year and a half with concerns about online abuse and so on which I have documented in this House, particularly when I brought my Bill to Second Stage. I remember a headline from 2013 which stated that cyberbullies claimed the lives of five teenagers. I am sure all Senators would agree that for five children to have taken their own lives is five too many. It is clear there is a massive problem and the parish priest in Ashbourne has recognised this. It has been allowed to fester as a result of a lack of legislation. The reality is that adults and children in the State have been exposed to sustained and sometimes orchestrated campaigns of online abuse and their mental health and well-being has suffered. Unfortunately, they have no recourse. I call on the Minister for Justice, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to return to the House to debate my Bill on Committee and Report Stages and conclude the matter for the betterment of our online world.

I am pleased that reference was made to the individual who wrote that scurrilous article, which was riddled with ignorance, about this House and the Dáil. I will not enhance or otherwise refer to her further which would give her more publicity. She should check her facts. My late father, God be good to him, always bemoaned the fact that journalists, even in his time, did not check their facts. If there is any criticism, facts must be checked.

I wish to be associated with remarks made by Senator Aideen Hayden about Francis Ledwidge. I also grew up with his poetry and the opening line of his poem, Lament for Thomas MacDonagh, about the 1916 signatory whom he befriended, "He shall not hear the bittern cry", still rings true to this day, and I was not one to remember poetry all that well. I visited the spot where Francis Ledwidge had been killed. A stray shell came over a hill. He was a ganger with Meath County Council and his expertise was used. He was with a bunch of other soldiers who were clearing a road, actually more of a laneway, but the imagery I remember in particular is the Irish Tricolour flying proudly on the spot where an Irish patriot died. It is wonderful that An Post is going to acknowledge him.

Last Monday was the 60th anniversary of Ireland's accession to the United Nations. Although the United Nations was formed in 1945, Ireland did not become a member until 1955 because the Soviet Union objected to Ireland's membership. The de Valera Government applied for membership of the United Nations, but the Soviet Union blocked it because Ireland did not have diplomatic relations with Moscow. However, in the early stages of the foundations of the Free State, strong representations were made to the then emerging Soviet Union and there was developing ties between the Soviet Union and Ireland in the context of independence. All that fell away primarily because of the 1930s, fascism, anti-communist feeling and the strong influence of the Catholic Church at the time. The Soviet-Irish relationship lay fallow and when Ireland applied for membership of the United Nations, it was blocked by the Soviet Union.

In 1927, when the Fianna Fáil Party first entered Leinster House, one of the platforms included in its manifesto was the opening of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. This calls to mind a comment my dad used to make that Fianna Fáil was viewed as a group of communists and radicals and its members were ex-communicated by the church left, right and centre. I like to think that radicalism remains at the heart of the party to this day. This is the 60th anniversary of Ireland's accession to the United Nations.

In the past 18 months I have dealt with cases involving local authority housing tenants who have a family member with a severe physical and intellectual disability and have been waiting for adaptation works to be done to their homes. In one case, a family has been waiting more than seven and a half years for this work to be done. In two cases, the parents involved are providing full-time care to children with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. If the children were being cared for in an appropriate setting, it would cost the State approximately €3,500 per week to meet the needs of each child. I ask that the Minister come before the House to discuss the inadequate funding provided to local authorities for housing adaptation grants.

A significant amount of funding is being provided for local authorities to provide grants to enable private homeowners to carry out adaptation works. While these grants are also necessary, the amount provided for local authority houses is small. I ask that local authorities be allowed to exercise discretion in 2016 with regard to funding for housing adaptation grants. This would enable them to provide grants for priority cases in local authority housing. It is unacceptable that many families in Cork city have been waiting for between seven and eight years for adaptation works to be done, especially where the parents are providing full-time care and going far beyond what is required to care for a child. We are not providing the support these families need. Co-ordination is required between the health service, the local authority and the relevant Departments to ensure these parents are given the support they require. I ask that the Minister come before the House to discuss this extremely important issue for those who have been waiting such a long time.

I am not sure if Senators are aware that our colleague in County Kildare, Councillor Willie Crowley, was the victim of a hit and run accident last night. His condition is critical and I am sure all Senators will join me in sending our good wishes to him.

This morning, representatives of the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel and the Irish United Nations Veterans Association appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I commend both organisations for the tremendous work they have done in the past 25 or 30 years improving the welfare of retiring and departing members of the Defence Forces. The establishment of a house for ex-service personnel in Smithfield is a credit to them. A former member of the Defence Forces residing in the Smithfield house suffers from Huntington's disease and urgently needs to be transferred to a medical facility. I understand the facility in question has indicated it will accept him but there is a problem with a bed. The Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel is extremely worried that the individual in question will be injured in the house because he is no longer capable of looking after himself. I will not name the individual, but I will pass on his personal details to the Leader. I ask him to request that the Minister who I know is sympathetic to the man's case try to make the necessary arrangements on his behalf before Christmas. The individual in question cannot be left in the house in his current condition. While I accept that volunteers are working to relieve the floods across the country, members of the Defence Forces do not have a choice in the matter. They are issued with an instruction and must mount their trucks and work in the most horrendous conditions every day and the House must acknowledge this.

To add to Senator Paschal Mooney's comments, the Soviet Union was the first country to recognise the Irish Republic in 1919 and no less a man than Leon Trotsky was its foreign Minister at the time.

I second the amendment regarding the taking of No. 15, the non-Government motion on cystic fibrosis. I will read a note I received from a person who suffers from cystic fibrosis. He writes:

I suffer from cystic fibrosis, a debilitating disease which affects many organs of the body, eventually leading to premature death in many cases. I am 26 years of age with a life expectancy of 41. I spent three months of this year on intravenous antibiotics, a debilitating chest infection and I spent six months in hospital as an inpatient. Just last September, my lung capacity went to its lowest level ever of 23%. My condition will continue to deteriorate and I too, along with many other young Irish people, will have their lives cut short by cystic fibrosis. However, for the first time, there is now hope. A new drug that treats the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis has become available in Europe. Orkambi targets sufferers who have two copies of the cystic fibrosis gene. It has been shown to reduce lung exacerbation by 40% and greatly limits the amount of time that cystic fibrosis sufferers have to spend in hospital. And our hopes were shattered on December 6th by Tony O'Brien of the HSE who said he would not fund Orkambi. It is estimated the treatment will cost €160,000 per patient. This brings the total amount to €92 million. Orkambi will now undergo a rapid review within the national centre for pharmacology and pharmoeconomics. It is most likely that a health technical assessment will then be required to further assess the drug regarding cost-effectiveness and overall benefit to the patient. However, due to the costs, Orkambi will fail the HTA-----

Is the Senator supporting the call for a debate on this issue?

Yes, I am calling for a debate. The note continues:

The Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, has stated if it gets to the point where this drug gets through the process and gets approved by the NCPE and the National Drug Committee I will go to Government and seek money for it. I hold the opinion that Mr. Varadkar is very much aware that Orkambi will fail the NCPE-----

The Senator may make these points during the debate.

He continues:

We are tired of putting our lives on hold. I spend three hours per day taking treatment to alleviate the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

We are not having a debate on the Order of Business.

The note continues:

This isn't even a guarantee of prolonged good health because my efforts will be in vain. I will still end up battling consistent chest infections, enduring long hospitalisation stays, which will lead to my eventual death sooner rather than later.

The Senator is out of order.

He continues:

I can't even hold down a job because of regular illness. I simply ask that I and my fellow CF sufferers be given a chance to lead a normal life without constant interruption and fear of the road ahead.

The Senator is way over time.

The note concludes as follows, "For that to happen, the HSE needs to approve Orkambi."

I will try to remain within the time limit. I support the comments of Senator Colm Burke on adaptation grants. He cited a number of cases in the Cork City Council area, but the problem is nationwide. Until a few years ago, local authorities operated an uncomplicated, flexible and locally generated scheme known as the disabled person's grant. When the scheme was transformed to become the housing adaptation grant scheme, the level of administration increased. Occupational therapist reports were required and the costs of the scheme and the red tape surrounding it caused many of the delays we are now experiencing. While further investment is clearly required, it would be helpful if council officials showed much greater flexibility and discretion. Senator Colm Burke has referred to cases where applicants for home adaptation grants have been waiting for six or seven years. That is deeply regrettable. A disabled person's grant provides immediate assistance for families and disabled persons who may otherwise need to be institutionalised or cared for by the State in alternative accommodation.

We should try to re-establish the flexibility of these valuable schemes. In most cases, the amount of grant aid is modest. The requirements are small, but it is of importance to the applicants and their families. I support Senator Colm Burke. We should be able to make progress on such schemes and return to the days when the local authority had much greater flexibility and there was less bureaucracy and less need for all the reports. Up to five or ten years ago, applications were processed, certainly in the northern area of Cork County Council, within months rather than five or six years because of the flexibility that was allowed. I would like to see a return to the procedure at that time.

I support the calls made in the Seanad today and second Senator Mark Daly's amendment if it is necessary, because we were not sure if it was properly called the first time, for a debate in the Seanad and calling on the Minister for Health and the HSE to make funding available for the drug, Orkambi. There is another drug, called Kalydeco, which is already available for the relatively small percentage of cystic fibrosis, CF, sufferers in Ireland who need it and it is life-changing for them. The majority of CF sufferers in Ireland, as I understand it, would benefit from the drug, Orkambi. As Senators will be aware, Ireland has the highest rate of cystic fibrosis in the world. We all know persons who suffer from it and who have died from it. The least we can do is lead the way on this issue. What was most hurtful, for those with cystic fibrosis and those who have family members with it were the comments of Mr. Tony O'Brien of the HSE when he ruled the drug out before it had gone through any of the processes.

The Senator should not name officials from the Department.

That is how this debate started. People could not believe this process appeared to be done and dusted with the HSE.

The person named is not here to defend himself.

We need a debate on this issue today in the Seanad. We need to support those affected. Ireland needs to lead the way on this issue. We should not be rubbishing drug companies all the time like we did in the case of the drug Soliris last year because the hope of these CF sufferers for a relatively normal life depends on the research and development done by many of these drug companies. We should applaud these drug companies for the research they have done, some of which, it must be said, has been funded by charitable and other sources. A considerable amount of research has gone into this drug. I understand it would be of immense benefit to almost 60% of Irish CF sufferers and we need to show the way. When the drug Soliris was granted last year, there was a major injustice when two patients out of 12 were refused access to it. We debated the matter here in the Seanad on a number of occasions, it went to the Dáil and, eventually, that fight, which was a fight for justice, was won. I support the proposal for an amendment to the Order of Business.

I thank my colleagues, Senators Aideen Hayden and Lorraine Higgins, for mentioning County Meath where ears will be burning today and Francis Ledwidge. We are delighted that the stamp is being issued. I am also delighted that the Ledwidge committee has launched a CD of Francis Ledwidge's poetry which I recommend to colleagues as it would make an excellent Christmas gift.

I will pass on Senator Lorraine Higgins's words of praise for Fr. Darby in Ashbourne who is a wonderful priest because it is a wonderful idea. He is a great churchman but also, as one can hear from what Senator Lorraine Higgins said, an extremely practical man.

Lots of valuable items are being discussed in the House today. I add my voice to the urgent call for a debate on the provision of the new drug, Orkambi, for cystic fibrosis sufferers. We are talking about not only quality of life but life or death. One can rule it out of order all one wants but if it was one's life that was on the line, one would like to think that Parliament would at least hear a motion on a drug that could save one's life.

I would like to be strongly associated with the words of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh about the need for the PSO to be put in place for the ferry to Inis Mór. Once again, we are in a mess when it comes to the Aran Islands.

Is the Senator seconding the amendment which has been proposed to the Order of Business?

I certainly am. It is as simple as this. Bad decisions are being made about the Aran Islands all the time. A few months ago, it was an t-eitleán. Anois, an bád. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, and others get their act together when it comes to the Aran Islands, not make their Christmas a mess and stop isolating them? They are on an island in the Atlantic. They are off our coast, not on the mainland; let us, therefore, cut them a bit of slack.

I also support my good friend, Senator Feargal Quinn, about the importance of a debate on how we treat terrorists in this country. We should not think it is down the line of priorities. I refer to those who go to fight with ISIS or jihadists. We need to give a clear message that we do not tolerate that in our country and that we are a peace-loving nation. Regrettably, some of our own people could be joining those forces. That is an important debate to have in the new year. I do not expect it will be this week.

I am concerned that there is one Bill not on the Order Paper, that is, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill. Will the Leader tell the House if that Bill will come in by the end of tomorrow? We have waited for years for the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill. We have waited for years to decriminalise the women and penalise the buyer. The Leader should not tell me that this term, the Dáil and the Seanad could rise without this Bill going through this House. There is speculation that the Taoiseach may call an early election in January. If that is the case and if this Bill is not through, I bid "good luck" to all our brave comments and support for women who are marginalised, in poverty and at the mercy of pimps. I hope it is coming in this session.

I note today a publication from the Department of Education and Skills and the Higher Education Authority on addressing inequality in participation in third level education. This is commendable, but one also must respond that addressing inequality in education when students are aged 18 years rather than between the ages of four and 18 misses a large part of the problem of inequality in education. Perhaps these issues should be addressed by the new Oireachtas.

I also note the ESRI report today that families are still on average 10% worse off due to the combined impacts of the budgets since the crisis began in 2008. It is a challenge for all of us in this House in its remaining days and in the new Oireachtas that such losses of income to families still have not been made up. We have made a lot of progress and we are going in the right direction, but 10% is still missing.

Senator Marc MacSharry referred to the closure of Garda stations, particularly the fact that the OPW had sold Easky Garda station in County Sligo for €60,000. He complained that these Garda stations should be available for community use. I believe it was the intention that if communities showed such an interest, serious consideration would be given to making the Garda stations available for community use, but I do not know what happened in the case of the particular Garda station mentioned.

Senator Marc MacSharry proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 81, non-Government motion No. 15, be taken before No. 1. The motion relates to a cystic fibrosis drug, a matter raised by a number of Senators. The facts of the matter are that the drug has not yet been approved by the HSE for usage and the Minister is on record as saying that if it is approved for usage, he will go to the Government to seek more funding to make it available. As that is what the Minister would say if he were here, there is no need to bring him to the House today. Therefore, I do not propose to accede to the amendment proposed to the Order of Business. I assure Senator Marc MacSharry that, as soon as the drug is approved, the Minister will make the necessary funding available.

Senator Aideen Hayden welcomed the allocation of an additional €8 million for local authorities to clean up after the flooding. All local authorities in the various areas affected will appreciate this funding.

The Senator also referred to unfinished housing estates, a matter which has been addressed on many occasions in the House. It is welcome that the number of unfinished housing estates has been reduced by 75%. Tremendous progress has been made in that regard and I hope we will see an end to them completely within the coming year.

Senators Aideen Hayden and Sean D. Barrett raised the issue of inequality of access to third level education. Senator Sean D. Barrett stated the inequality started when children were four years of age or so. I am sure we will discuss this matter with the Minister for Education and Skills early in the new year.

Senator Aideen Hayden outlined the need for further student accommodation, particularly in Dublin, given its exorbitant cost. She had a lot to say this morning because she also referred to the commemorative stamp for Francis Ledwidge which was also mentioned by Senators Paschal Mooney and Thomas Byrne. It is to be welcomed. Like Senator Paschal Mooney, I had the pleasure of visiting Francis Ledwidge's grave last year when members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly visited a number of war graves.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout welcomed the appointment of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon to the District Court. On the question of judges, Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed Mr. Justice Peter Kelly's appointment as President of the High Court. We wish both judges well.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout also referred to the special helpline for homeless children, expressing the hope we would not need it next year. That is the hope of every Senator.

Senators David Norris and Fidelma Healy Eames discussed the sexual offences Bill. It will not be before the House again this year. We took but did not finish Committee Stage last week. There was no prospect of finishing Committee and Report Stages by the end of the session, but we hope the Bill will be passed by the Houses early in the new year.

Among other Senators, Senator David Norris commented on an article in yesterday's edition of the Irish Independent which contained some glaring errors and which certainly was not factual. One error that stood out was the statement that 54 Members of the Seanad would continue to be elected by Deputies, Senators and local councillors. Any child entering the House knows that 43 Senators are elected in that way, not 54.

That is a reflection on the quality of the journalism involved.

Boycott the Irish Independent.

Journalists were always known for examining and researching the facts before publishing anything, but obviously there is a need for------

Traditionally, but there is a new generation of journalists who obviously do not need to conduct any research. They just pick things off the top of their heads.

Senator Michael Comiskey complimented the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, on fishing quotas. The Minister has done well in that regard in recent years. The Senator welcomed the increased quotas for whitefish and prawns, in particular, and the abolition of the policy on discards. He also outlined the difficulties for businesses and farmers as a result of the floods and discussed the need for an agency to deal with the question of drainage of the River Shannon, a suggestion that was addressed yesterday.

Senator Terry Leyden complimented the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, on the Bill dealing with the reasonable chastisement of children. I appreciate the Senator's comments in that regard.

Senator Mary Moran complimented the usher, Ms Phil Donnelly, on being appointed as team leader. She also welcomed the passage of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill through the House yesterday.

Senators Feargal Quinn and Fidelma Healy Eames discussed the issue of jihadis returning to Ireland and what penalties they would face. The Senators mentioned the need for the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 to reflect the changes we had witnessed in recent years. I agree and I am sure the Department of Justice and Equality and the Minister are considering proposals to change the Act to reflect current circumstances.

Senator Katherine Zappone outlined the fact that she intended to publish a residential tenancies (amendment) Bill. I am sure the Bill will be debated in the new year.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh asked for more time to debate the Prisons Bill. We have allocated one hour to debate the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, but I expect the debate to conclude within a short period. As we will go straight into the Prisons Bill, I expect there to be more time available to debate it than indicated.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh was supported by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames in referring to the difficulties with the public service obligation, PSO, licence for the ferry service to the Aran Islands. I suggest the Senators table a Commencement matter in order that we might receive an answer from the Minister.

Senator Lorraine Higgins complimented the gardaí who were visiting schools to outline the dangers associated with online abuse. They are to be complimented on their efforts in this regard because it is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Senator Paschal Mooney stated that last Monday was the 60th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the United Nations. He outlined the historical background to Ireland's membership.

Senators Colm Burke and Paul Bradford discussed the need for house adaptation works for people with disabilities, particularly those living in local authority housing. I cannot understand how any council could stand over people having to wait six or seven years for such grants. The Senators are seeking greater flexibility in the provision of funding. This year the local authority in Waterford allocated an extra €88,000 from its own resources for grants for disabled persons. It is unbelievable to think it has taken six or seven years for adaptation works to be carried out. Councils should examine the issue.

We all join Senator Gerard P. Craughwell in wishing Councillor Crowley from Kildare well. He was seriously injured in an accident yesterday evening.

The Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women, ONE, a great organisation, is concerned about the health of one of its members in Springfield House. I suggest Senator Gerard P. Craughwell submit a Commencement matter tomorrow to receive an answer from the Minister. I join the Senator in complimenting the Defence Forces on their work, particularly in dealing with the recent floods when they did a tremendous job. They continue to do so.

Senator Sean D. Barrett mentioned the report of the ESRI. I am sure it will be examined and acted on by the Government.

I am sure all Senators would like to congratulate and wish Ms Phil Donnelly well in her new role.

Senator Marc MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 1, non-Government motion No. 15, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 24.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • 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.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • 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.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on the future of ferry services to the Aran Islands, in view of the levies being imposed on contractors, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 24.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • 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.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Fidelma Healy Eames and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Question, "That the Order of Business be agreed to," put and declared carried.