The Order of Business is No. 1, Road Traffic Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m.
Order of Business
The House will be aware of the controversy arising from the tapping of the telephones of journalists, supposedly in the national interest. Those of us who follow American television programmes will be aware of the term "in the interest of national security". I am a great fan of the series "The Good Wife" which tells the story of a political family in Chicago which is dealing with the courts. The issue of the national interest comes up regularly. In this context and with regard to the recent controversy involving GSOC, I can refer to what I can only describe as the Taoiseach's crocodile tears, a term used by Dearbhail McDonald in the Irish Independent. I commend the article to the Members on the Government side because she states that, effectively, that is all the Taoiseach is doing. The Government is operating under a law, the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, which is a direct implementation of an EU directive that has subsequently been shot down by the European Court. That raises questions. The idea that there be an independent review is kicking the can down the road, as the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Justice and Equality said earlier today in the other House. I ask the Leader to convey to the Government the fact that a Fianna Fáil Bill being introduced in the Dáil will effectively provide for oversight in this area in order that any attempt to tap a person's telephone, not just of journalists but of private citizens, would have go before a court. In the television programme I mentioned, when the US Government is trying to invoke national security, it must go through the court procedure, because there must be independent judicial oversight. That is what the Fianna Fáil Bill is about. If the Government has the will to protect the basics of democracy, journalist's sources and so on, as it states in its flaky talk, it can take on board the simple solution we have put forward. The idea that we are running out of time is totally unacceptable. I do not believe it is true. If a Government wants to get legislation through the Oireachtas, it will get it through in its own way as it has the majority.
I cannot sit down without commenting on the television programmes on the homeless crisis. What is extraordinary is that, in spite of all of the criticism of the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government, more money was spent in dealing with homelessness in 2008 that the Government has spent in five years. That is a shocking indictment of the Government's lack of compassion and humanity for the more than 800 families and 1,500 children who find themselves homeless, with the most recent revelation of 100 complaints to the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive about the standard of accommodation provided. One would not let pigs live in some of the environments in which poor homeless people are living. It is past time, going into an election, the Government acted on this issue.
I am sure all Members will want to join in the expression of congratulations to all those involved in the success of Irish films - producers, directors and actors - nominated for the Oscars last week, in particular Lenny Abrahamson on his nomination for best director for "Room" which has received four nominations. "Brooklyn" has received three Oscar nominations. It is superb to see such recognition of the enormous talent coming out of Ireland. Having said that, there is the serious issue of State funding. The Irish Film Board raised this issue on Thursday of last week in anticipation of the nominations. It organised an event with stakeholders and those working in the industry to aski the Government to reverse the spending cuts introduced during the crisis and to point out that funding for the board had been reduced by 40% from its peak in 2008, as Senator Paschal Mooney might recall. In 2008 the funding allocated peaked at €20 million, which is now down to €11.2 million. Clearly, the immense success of the Irish film industry has been achieved in spite of the funding cuts.
However, I support the board's calls for a review of these cuts.
I support calls for a debate on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's powers of telephone surveillance. Serious issues have been raised in respect of the apparent surveillance of journalists' telephones without any notification to them by GSOC. I am aware that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is presenting a review of the issue to the Cabinet and we might have a debate on it, if time permits, when we know the response. Clearly, this is another scandal relating to GSOC's powers.
I call for a debate on homelessness in the light of the revelations in recent days about complaints concerning accommodation which have been made in Dublin and in the light of the excellent RTE programme broadcast last night on which some brave families who were homeless effectively filmed themselves in their predicament over a number of months. It was powerful television and brought home to all of us the real plight of people who were homeless, but I take issue with Senator Paschal Mooney's comments. There was a period of serious neglect in social housing provision, on which I believe everyone can agree. For many years there has been a lack of funding provided for social housing and what we are now seeing is the consequence of those years of neglect of this sector.
A motion on the issue of cystic fibrosis and funding for particular medications has been circulated by Senator Mark Daly. Quite a number of colleagues from the Labour Party and, I am sure, from other parties have expressed concern to me about the issue and I have asked the Minister for Health for a response on the provision of two drugs in particular, Orkambi and Kalydeco, for those with cystic fibrosis. I have an alternative wording on which we might agree which I will circulate to group leaders today in order that, rather than playing political football with this very serious issue, we can agree for the health and safety of cystic fibrosis patients a factually accurate cross-party motion on the provision of important medication. I have spoken with the Leader about it, but it is an important issue. In the last few weeks of this Seanad's term it would be a very good issue for us to unite on as a House and throw our support behind it.
I express my support for Senator Ivana Bacik's suggestion that an agreed wording for the motion on cystic fibrosis drugs be considered by this House because it is something Seanad Éireann could do very positively. We are not normally confrontational in this House and if we can do something positive for people suffering from this very difficult disease, it would be excellent.
I also support Senator Ivana Bacik's call for a debate on telephone tapping, although I am rather amused by the way this issue crops up from time to time and always when it is to do with journalists. It is never brought up when the private citizen is involved. I remember when my telephone was tapped and I tried to get Mrs. Mary Robinson to raise it, but she could not, as it was a matter of national security. I am not blaming her at all. She was excellent, but private citizens do not rate a damn as far as this issue is concerned. I always assume my telephone is tapped. I am fairly outspoken and say on the telephone what I would say in this House or anywhere else. I frequently get criticised for it, but I just always assume that somebody is listening.
If there is time before the Seanad adjourns for the general election, I ask that we have a debate on a metro system. It must be 20 years since I tabled an amendment to Government legislation providing for a metro and at one stage it looked as though we might get it. This morning on the wireless I heard the representative of the Automobile Association, when asked about a metro system, say it was a good idea. The entire public transport system - taxis, buses, Luas, trains and so on - working at its maximum potential could shift less than 50% of commuters and he said that was a recipe for gridlock. He also said every investment in transport infrastructure was good. I know that at least one of my colleagues does not agree with me on this issue, but Dublin is about the only capital in Europe that does not have a metro. There is an infestation of half-baked Luas lines in Dublin, with their spaghetti of cables all over the place. At the beginning, the two lines did not even meet.
We had one line and then there was another and then another, all joined up. It is a complete farce. If they had spent the money they had wasted on Luas in putting in an underground system, we would all be much better off.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an athbhreithniú a rinne Údarás na Gaeltachta ar chúrsaí fostaíochta sa Ghaeltacht. Tá scéal an-dearfach ag teacht ó na torthaí a d'fhoilsigh an t-údarás inné. Léiríonn na figiúirí go raibh 215 duine breise fostaithe i gcuideachtaí na Gaeltachta ag deireadh na bliana 2015 i gcomparáid leis an mbliain roimhe sin. Molaim freisin go raibh formhór de na poist, nó cuid mhaith dóibh, i dTír Chonaill ós rud é gur cailleadh go leor post sa chontae sin sa bhliain 2014. Nuair a bhí mé ag amharc ar an athbhreithniú, mhothaigh mé go bhfuil dul chun cinn fiúntach ag tarlú mar gheall ar na limistéir teanga Gaeilge agus na pleananna do na limistéir sin. Tá súil agam go leanfaidh sé sin ar aghaidh. Molaim an t-údarás as an obair atá á déanamh acu.
On a point of order, following Senator Jim D'Arcy's excellent contribution and for those less fluent than me as Gaeilge, can I ask why, at least in this station, there appears to be no translation? There used to be translations from Irish into English.
The translation service was working. I heard it working.
Did you really? Perhaps some people might look at my instrument to see that it is functioning adequately.
Are there volunteers?
Is the Senator volunteering?
Form an orderly queue.
I pay tribute to Eileen Leslie Greer, aged 98 years, who was presented with a medal and certificate by the British ambassador yesterday for her work in Bletchley Park in decoding German codes. She is a first class honours German graduate from TCD. We owe a lot of our freedoms to those who did work at Bletchley Park, especially from this jurisdiction.
I must express concern about an article by Eithne Shortall in The Sunday Times to the effect that the National Gallery of Ireland would not be ready this year in time for the 1916 Rising celebrations. It was supposed to be ready and there were prospects of a major increase in the budget for the project, but it is coming in late. That should not have happened with a project that was to coincide with celebrating the 1916 Rising. I am concerned whether the same people will take hold of the Seanad and keep us out of this building when it comes to our turn to receive the attention of the construction industry. It is regrettable that the building behind us will not be ready as promised. The prospect of cost overruns is always there where the construction sector is concerned and we may be next for the treatment. How long is it intended to keep us out of this debating Chamber? Do we have guarantees that the projects will be completed on time?
While Senator David Norris can be compensated, he does at least have an instrument. It might not be working well, but we do not seem to have any instrument underneath us. Perhaps that might be looked at.
I support Senator Ivana Bacik's call for a motion that would encompass all our views on those with cystic fibrosis.
I recall a similar circumstance when research was carried out on a medication and it was produced to treat one of the cancer illnesses and cost was a major issue also. We came to an agreement at the time with the company that was producing it and I hope a similar understanding can be reached on this occasion. A very close friend of mine who had cystic fibrosis died a number of years ago. The experience of seeing somebody go through that trauma is unacceptable.
I wish to raise another issue. On 29 December 2015 my home town of Carrick-on-Suir experienced the highest level of rainfall in the country when 81 mm of rain fell in one night. As we will have a full debate tomorrow on the flooding, I am not discussing that issue, but what one would call an unforeseen circumstance. The local library, the Sean Healy Memorial Library, is called after a man who gave public service for 35 years. The roof of the building was leaking before the major downpour and it is now in extremely bad condition and dangerous. The electrical wiring has been affected also. The library needs funding urgently. I ask the Leader to intervene in this matter with the Department to see if some funding can be provided to prevent the Sean Healy Memorial Library in Carrick-on-Suir from having to be closed to the public on safety grounds.
I ask Senator Ivana Bacik who I support to include me in the list of group leaders. As I am my own leader, Whip and group, I ask her to include me.
The Leader might recall that some time ago I mentioned Councillor Willie Crowley. May the Lord have mercy on him because he died recently. He championed the cause of the residents of Millfield Manor in Kildare. Millfield Manor was a development of 79 houses and 129 apartments. In March 2015, six of those houses were razed to the ground in 30 minutes by a fire. It was the most devastating fire I had ever seen. I observed one house razed to the ground in seven minutes flat from the time the first flames were seen. The developer of the property went bankrupt in 2011, with debts of over €100 million. The UK system prevented the developer from being a director of a company for ten years. The residents who remain in Millfield Manor are faced with bills in excess of €35,000 to make their houses safe from fire. Mothers and children go to bed every night petrified that there might be another fire. The remedial work has not yet been done and nobody appears to be able to nail down who was responsible for the work. One can imagine how horrified I was last weekend to discover that the same developer was developing properties in Dublin city, having walked away from €100 million of debt. Now, through another company, he is claiming 30 years of construction experience, the best possible standards and so forth. The developer is selling houses for over €500,000 million a pop. There is something terribly wrong in this country when somebody can walk away from his or her responsibilities, set up a new company and head off into the hills again. It is wrong in every sense. I do not know what the Leader, any other Member of the House or I can do about it, but I understood we had put an end to the cowboys back in the 1980s.
I support Senator Ivana Bacik on the joint motion. I also wish to refer to the RTE programme broadcast last night. As Fine Gael spokesperson on local government and housing, we should hold a debate on the issue to show what is being done. As the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, said, it is a serious issue. Anybody who watched the programme last night could not help but be moved for the people and children featured in it, but we must ensure we are realistic in what we are discussing. The Government has taken and is taking the homelessness issue most seriously. It is its top priority.
I thought health was.
We were speaking about rough sleepers and - Lord have mercy on him - Jonathan Corrie. The number of rough sleepers has gone down by 46% since November. That is 46% too high because we want to do more about it. This morning Mr. Cathal Morgan, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, said the supply of local authority housing was still at a low level. Obviously, we are starting from a nil base. Senator Paschal Mooney referred to what we had spent in 2008, but social houses were not built. We had a sub-prime mortgage issue in 2008 that actually drove lending. Money was thrown at people who should never have been landlords in the first place. The sub-prime mortgage market was totally out of control. That led to the reckless lending of the banks which led to the downfall which led to housing problem we are now correcting.
It was done with the full support of the Senator's party.
Everyone has to play his or her part. Mr. Morgan said this morning that we had to accept modular housing. I want to comment on the development in Limerick. I read in the Irish Examiner in November that Councillor Gilligan in Limerick had welcomed the Government's provision of €3.8 million for 21 social housing units. Deputy Willie O'Dea then got up and said "No," that we could not have it.
Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue?
I am looking for a debate and a review on what is actually happening. We cannot build houses overnight, but we should all co-operate and work together. When 21 social housing units are to be provided and €3.5 million put into housing in Limerick, we should all come in behind it. We cannot have ex-Ministers saying, "Not in my back garden.". We need a long-term solution. We have 35,000-----
The Senator is way over time.
A review and a debate on what we are actually doing would be welcome to let the people know that we are working on this issue and that it is a priority.
I call on the Leader of the House to consider dealing with a Bill in this House, if it is passed by the Dáil. I am referring to Deputy Niall Collins's Bill on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. We should have safeguards. I had thought the intrusion and tapping of telephones was something we had left behind in the 1980s. Now, it has come about again that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has authorised the tapping of the telephones of Mr. Conor Feehan of the Herald, Mr. Senan Molony of the Daily Mail and Mr. Michael Clifford.
The Senator is naming people in the House.
I think they have been named in public already.
They are not here to defend themselves.
The three journalists have been named. I am sure they would not object to being named here because it is an awful intrusion into the private lives of these much-respected journalists who are doing an excellent job. Journalists have a role to play in our democracy to expose wrongdoing. They should not be harassed by GSOC. It is outrageous. The Government should adopt the Bill prepared by Fianna Fáil and bring it to the Seanad before the general election to ensure the total removal of the right to tap the telephones of respected journalists and deprive them of their civic rights. It is outrageous and will be a reflection on the Government if it does not take action as quickly as possible.
I, too, add my voice to support Senator Ivana Bacik's call on behalf of those with cystic fibrosis.
I welcome the announcement of the €127 million being made available through the European Regional Development Fund. In particular, I welcome the €2 million in grant assistance awarded to rejuvenate the centre of Dundalk. It is badly needed. I look forward to implementation of the plans now put in place. I raise the ongoing issue of accessibility. This is relevant in all of the plans in all of the hub towns for which money has been announced this morning. Appropriate plans to ensure accessibility are necessary. By this I mean the need to communicate and consult people who have accessibility and mobility problems. These are the people best placed to comment on the matter. I am calling for all people to be consulted in whatever town work is being carried out in, specifically my town of Dundalk. Mobility and accessibility are major issues.
For example, I brought a group from the Irish Wheelchair Association in Ardee to the Oireachtas this afternoon. The ushers have gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure the eight or ten wheelchair users are accommodated.
Senator Cáit Keane referred to last night's programme on people living in emergency accommodation. Unfortunately, I have not seen it yet, although I have heard the comments made today and look forward to catching up on it. Everyone is discussing the issue. People were moved on from a halting site in Dundalk on Friday. There has been mention of rehousing and emergency accommodation. Recently, three families in close contact in Dundalk have approached me. One will be evicted on Friday because the landlord is selling the house and there is no rent control. The family has been informed that the father will be sent to the Simon Community and the children will be put into care. That is unacceptable. All such families have done is to be unable to find accommodation where rent allowance or housing assistance payment, HAP, is accepted.
The Senator has gone way over time.
Absolutely, but something really needs to be done to address this issue.
I am glad that Senator Mary Moran believes something "really needs to be done" to address the housing issue because those of us on this side of the House have been raising it for the past five years, not just the past five weeks.
I am sorry, but I have been raising it for the past five years.
Senator David Cullinane to continue, without interruption.
The Senator might have done so, but her party has done precious little to deal with the housing problem.
Excuse me, but all of us have been raising it. I am not politicising the issue. I am saying what is necessary.
But I am politicising it. The housing crisis, with people sleeping in cars and in emergency accommodation, did not happen by accident. It happened because of Government policy and neglect. It happened because the State had not built social housing. We have surrendered social housing provision to the private sector. This was done by the previous Government under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. While an element of that Act was necessary, almost all social housing construction stopped once Part V came on stream. The State has not built any social housing since. The majority of people have been left to the mercy of private landlords through the HAP scheme and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. As we have stated in the House every week for the past few years, most people who are in this situation cannot find private rented accommodation or landlords who will sign up to these schemes. While all of this was happening, nothing was done to increase the supply of social and affordable housing that citizens needed. This has led to increased homelessness and a housing crisis. I am glad that the Government is at least accepting that there is a crisis, but we need investment. The Government parties' election mantra is about cutting taxes left, right and centre. They are not discussing the need to invest in housing, health care or the social services that people need. A debate on housing in required and it will be held in the next five weeks as part of the election campaign. I make no apology for making this a political issue because that is what it is. The non-provision of State housing is clearly a political issue, as well as the political responsibility of the parties in government that created the crisis. Some of us did not need to see a "Prime Time" programme to understand the seriousness of the issue.
We do not need a programme about the place where Sinn Féin is in power.
Senator David Cullinane to continue, without interruption.
There is a homelessness crisis there.
Some of us work in our constituencies and have dealt with people throughout the past five years.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
We knew exactly the depth of this problem and the tragedy that it presented for many working families. I am calling for a debate on the issue. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister with responsibility for housing to attend the Seanad? If that does not happen, seeing as how we only have a few weeks left, we will have it-----
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
Not today. I am making a reasonable request of the Leader that he try to arrange for a debate as soon as possible.
I bring to the House's attention that, five minutes' walk from here at the RHA Gallery in Ely Place, there is a photographic exhibition that shows the reality of the Syrian refugee crisis. The Caesar Exhibition displays photographs of detainees from the Syrian regime's prisons and detention centres.
The photographs were taken by a former military policeman in the Syrian army, known by the pseudonym "Caesar", who fled Syria in 2013. He smuggled out with him over 55,000 photographs of approximately 11,000 people who had been tortured in Syria by the Assad regime. The 11,000 victims he photographed represent only a fraction of those who were the subject of the systematic torture and killing that took place inside the regime's prisons. It is the most chilling exhibition I have ever seen. The brutal evidence that can be seen on the bodies of those pictured shows that they suffered from starvation, beating, strangulation and other forms of torture. As politicians and parliamentarians, we need to keep the protection of civilians in Syria at the top of our political agenda. We have seen in recent times the number of people who are starving there and we are aware that aid is being prevented from getting to them. The emphasis, rightly so, is very much on the defeat of ISIS, on which politicians throughout the world are focusing. What is being ignored is the brutality taking place and the contribution the Assad regime is making to the conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of between 250,000 and 500,000 people in the past four years. I know that time is running out, but I ask the Leader for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the situation in Syria in order that we can keep the appalling situation and the torture of these unfortunate people at the top of the agenda. The photographs on display have been verified by an international commission of inquiry; they have been shown at the United Nations in New York, at the UK Parliament buildings at Westminster and the European Parliament in Brussels. If Members get an opportunity to pop in and see them, it would certainly be worth their while. The exhibition is only running for another hour or so.
I agree that we should, as a matter of urgency, have a debate on the issue of homelessness and the wider issue of housing supply. We can sit here and talk about the reasons for the housing crisis in Ireland and if I were to look back to 2008, for the sake of argument, I would be able to point out that we were building more houses in this country than were being built in the United Kingdom. We had 200,000 vacant units in 2008. From approximately 2000, we failed to implement Part V of the Planning and Development Act. Had we done so, we would have had 35,000 more units of affordable housing, 18,500 more units of social housing and would not have had the crisis with which we are faced today.
It does not behove any of us, having seen the programme on RTE last night, to cast insults and abuse around because that is of no benefit whatsoever to people living in emergency accommodation, sometimes in the most dire of circumstances. However, I want to say the Government has ring-fenced funding for homeless services in each successive budget since it took office in 2011. I am very proud of the Labour Party's record. I am proud that the former Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, ensured we did not cut funding for emergency homeless services. In fact, it was increased by €10 million towards the end of 2015 and the allocation for 2016 is €70 million, up 56% since 2014. We have also made other improvements in the system. Some 700 people left emergency services in 2014 and approximately 1,000 did so in 2015. The bottom line is that very few families spend more than six months in emergency accommodation. Half of all allocations now go to homeless families. In addition, the housing assistance payment makes support far in excess of rent supplement available to homeless families in order that they might obtain accommodation. We have introduced a two-year rent freeze. Anyone who saw the programme about homeless families on RTE last night would note that most families have ended up being homeless as a result of rent increases. The two-year rent freeze, when it takes effect - it will take some time - will have a positive impact in removing the numbers of families falling into homelessness.
It is a very important point to make and I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to make it.
The Tenancy Protection Service which operates in Dublin and Cork and is being extended to the counties around Dublin has protected 1,500 families in the Dublin region alone from falling into homelessness. There are real questions about supply. I echo the words of Mr. Cathal Morgan from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on modular housing. It will not solve the problem, but it will make a massive contribution and I ask people to support it. There are 22 families in homeless accommodation today who should not be there because of the measures taken by some people who regard themselves as acting for their communities and prevented homes from being completed.
I am somewhat puzzled and disappointed, to say the least, as are most citizens, at the attitude of AIB in its offer to Germans or, as the website puts it, those resident in Germany of a savings interest rate that is three times the rate available to its Irish customers. I would like to hear its rationale for the decision. A spokesperson said it was about diversifying its funding base and reducing dependency on other funding. A funding base is put to the same use, regardless of the source. Why is AIB discriminating so much against the Irish citizens who, it could be said, saved it? As we know, it is 99% owned by the State. This sends the wrong message. We are trying to restore the bank's fortunes. It has made progress and it is to be hoped it will make more. However, to class the home base as second-class citizens is absolutely ridiculous. Perhaps we might have a debate on banking before the end of the session.
I, too, call for a debate on the issue of homelessness. Country to what Senator David Cullinane said, I raised the issue in November by way of a Commencement matter. I am disgusted that someone can come in here for less than ten minutes on the Order of Business and profess to care so much about the issue of homelessness that it becomes a party political point and then leave without listening to the rest of the contributions. I could wave and quote figures about what the Government has done about the homelessness crisis until the cows come home, but I do not want do that because it is not a party political issue. It is very worrying that families with young children are living in hotel accommodation for a year or more. As someone who was made homeless and very recently spent four years on the homelessness list because of republican intimidation, I also do not accept the bona fides of the Senator on the issue. All of that is not important. I have never seen conditions like some of those aired on the RTE programme last night. I do not want to hear criticisms of the Government and what should have been done. Rather, I want to have a debate on this issue to find out what we can do in the short term. I understand it will be 2017 or 2018 before some families are housed. In the meantime, I want to know what can be done to make the lives of families in emergency accommodation easier.
I welcome the news today that €2 million has been allocated for O'Connell Street in Sligo and a new community centre, Crann Nua, in Cranmore. It is very welcome news. Many calls have been made in the past few years to pedestrianise O'Connell Street in Sligo. Extra money will be allocated for the paving of the street and the provision of single-lane traffic. The street is the centre and heart of Sligo town, where most people do their shopping, and it will great be great to see it being partially pedestrianised and the money being spent. The people of Cranmore need the community centre. The community has done a significant amount of work in the past few years in a crowded space and the new community centre will make a huge difference to them. It is good news for Sligo.
I raise an issue that I raised last week, namely, the proposed land grab in Monksland, County Roscommon, by Westmeath County Council.
This is a very serious issue. We attended a meeting last Monday night at which 1,700 people were present. I sought a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government last week and I am still calling on the Leader to arrange it. We must have it before the general election is called. I note, for example, that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council covers parts of County Wicklow, but we do not see it trying to grab the part of County Wicklow for which it is responsible. Fingal County Council covers parts of County Meath, but we do not see it trying to grab the part of County Meath for which it is responsible. If this is about creating city status for Athlone, I will give an example to the House. Istanbul is the biggest city in Europe. It is the fifth largest city in the world. Not only does it straddle two provinces, it straddles two continents and operates very well. There is no need for consideration of a change of boundaries in County Roscommon. The people of County Roscommon will not allow it to happen. I urge the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on this issue as soon as possible.
Well done. The Senator might join me tomorrow morning for a Commencement debate, please.
On Friday night I had the privilege of being invited by the Lions Club to its annual dinner for the homeless which, rightly in view of what people had died for there, was held in the GPO. I was there with Ms Alice Leahy of Trust. I want to repeat something I said here three and a half to four years ago. When I left the GPO at approximately 9.30 p.m. and walked through O'Connell Street, it was a threatening and filthy dump full of marauding individuals. I walked up Grafton Street which I thought was bound to be a little better, but it was worse. This was not as a result of the behaviour of what we would call the "down and outs", the homeless or people who suffer from drug addiction; rather, it was due to the actions of members of the marauding middle classes who, with bottles of vodka in their hands, were kicking everything that was not tied down. There was not one policeman in sight. There was no place to have a cup of coffee. One could not go into the city and make it part of one's life. One could not sit down and enjoy the atmosphere. Of all the places I walked, I felt most threatened on Grafton Street. There was nowhere to go on O'Connell Street other than late-night burger joints. This is a very serious issue. I recall standing here three and a half years ago and saying we needed a metropolitan police service in Dublin because the place had become lawless. The city has been taken away from the people who live in the suburbs and would like to go into town to the movies, for a coffee, a meal or to walk up and down looking at the shop windows, while enjoying the new pavements on which we have spent millions for the third or fourth time. What I witnessed was people engaging in a marauding and threatening violence. That is what is going on in the city at 9.30 p.m. on a Friday.
I concur with the point made by my colleague Senator Aideen Hayden. The BBC made a documentary in 2009 or 2010 which asked who owed what to whom, who had been left bereft and who had taken the money and ran. I refer to the Bank of Scotland which was the worst offender in the Lloyds banking investigation and which left this country owing €9.2 billion. The word that emanated from the screen after all these questions had been asked was "greed". That is what did it - greed and commission. If one considers what is happening to a great many landlords, it is down to banking greed. I am talking about landlords who are incapable of paying for their homes or properties and who are obliged to give them back to the banks. The result is that ordinary families are being put out onto the street. I question this. The cause is greed. I note for the benefit of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin that we would be better off not slinging arrows and eating each other for what happened. Rather, we should be seeking to do something about it and that is what the Government, of which the Labour Party is a member, is doing.
I request a debate on how elderly parents are cared for. I have spoken to older people who have told me that they are genuinely afraid of becoming ill and entering public hospitals. They are afraid they will be seen as a burden rather than as people and as occupiers of beds rather than as patients. More darkly, elderly people sometimes fear that they will enter hospital and never come back out.
Routine illness can rapidly become life-threatening in later life and elderly patients sometimes feel doctors will hasten death rather than provide appropriate care. These fears are not groundless. In July 2013 the British Department of Health phased out from NHS hospitals a practice called the Liverpool Care Pathway, a protocol whereby elderly people suffering from non-lethal illnesses whose conditions deteriorated were forced to suffer days of dehydration or to be sedated, leaving them unable to ask for food or drink. That was how British hospitals dealt with ill and elderly patients for more than a decade. It often appears to me that we are in danger of copying the mistakes of the British, except that we sometimes wait until they have dropped certain bad practices before we adopt them. Whether the withdrawal of care is medically justified, it should always be based on the best interests of patients, not on some prevailing ideology or economic calculation. Care for older people presents particular issues. Ageing patients can deteriorate rapidly and we need a charter of patients' rights, with particular emphasis on care for older people. A number of EU states have adopted legislation on patients' rights.
On a point of order, was the Senator here for, or is he aware of, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill which answers all of his fears?
What is the Senator's point of order?
Is the Senator aware of the Bill which was passed here and in the Lower House and which prevents the very thing about which he is talking?
Will the Senator, please, resume her seat?
Do we have to listen to this drivel?
Sit down and cop yourself on.
Does Senator Rónán Mullen have a question for the Leader?
I have, but I also wonder why Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell engaged in that party-political rant. I tabled amendments to the Bill. I do not know whether she did.
I did and I had them passed.
What I am talking about has nothing to do with the contents of the Bill. The Senator should carry out her research before she comes into the House.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
Yes. I hope Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell will be better researched in the future before attacking me or other Senators.
I had some of my amendments to the Bill passed. I was here for the whole debate on the Bill, unlike the Senator.
On a point of order, I applaud the Cathaoirleach's intervention. It is despicable and unacceptable that a Member should attack another Member who is speaking.
Does the Leader agree that statutory rights are needed to cover the entire area of patient care and treatment, including human rights and values, information, consent, confidentiality, privacy, care and treatment, going far beyond the issues Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell sought to raise? The criminal cases at Áras Attracta have brought before us in a topical way the urgent need to re-examine the care we provide for the most vulnerable in society. In this instance, I refer to older people as they become more and more vulnerable in their lives.
Read the Bill.
Senator Paschal Mooney referred to GSOC. Concerns have been expressed in recent days about access to journalists' telephone records in the context of criminal investigations being carried out by GSOC. We all agree that a free press plays a pre-eminent role in any democracy in fostering a full, free and informed debate on all issues of public concern. Therefore, it is of fundamental importance in any healthy democracy that journalists be able to carry out their legitimate work unhindered. Today the Government agreed to the Minister for Justice and Equality's proposal that an independent review of the law be established on access to journalists' telephone records. The Minister will make a further statement later today on the conduct of the review, the details of which are still being finalised.
Senator Paschal Mooney and many others Members referred to the RTE programme on homelessness broadcast yesterday evening.
It is not tolerable that in Ireland today we have families with children living in emergency accommodation. It is a legacy of the housing bust that we are working to remedy every day. The Government and local councils are progressing a number of more suitable property and policy solutions for all families living in emergency accommodation. Many of the problems stem from the chronic lack of supply of housing, which is causing knock-on problems across the property market and wider society, for renters to first-time buyers and low income households. Senator Aideen Hayden has mentioned on several occasions that housing supply is the nub of the problem.
Housing provision is a priority of the Government, as evidenced by the social housing strategy 2020 which sets out clear, measurable actions and targets, primarily to increase the supply of social housing to meet the housing needs of all households on social housing lists. In total, the strategy targets the delivery of 110,000 new social housing units through current and capital funding streams. Senator David Cullinane mentioned that we should have a debate on funding and that there was a need for greater investment in social housing provision. I agree with him fully. Given the pressing need to recommence house-building, approximately €3 billion in capital funding will be provided in support of the social housing strategy under the Government's national capital plan 2016 to 2021. In 2015 more than 13,000 units were delivered across all social housing programmes, representing an 86% increase on the 7,000 units delivered in 2014. While this represents tangible progress, in order to deal comprehensively with the housing lists, further ambitious targets will be set by the Government, starting in 2016, during which the target is to deliver 17,000 units.
This is not a problem that can be solved overnight. Planning, design and building must take place and they take time. Money is not a problem in the building of houses. As I said, the Government has made €3 billion available and I am sure this will be acted on by local authorities throughout the country. More than 2,000 units that were boarded up have been brought back into circulation this year, but there is a need for further advancement in that regard and all local authorities have been asked to co-operate. The provision of funding for housing is not a problem and where local authorities request it, they will be allocated money.
Senator Ivana Bacik complimented all of the Irish people and actors who had been nominated for Oscars and called for greater funding for the Irish Film Board. I am sure that matter will be addressed by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Senator Ivana Bacik also raised the question of an all-party motion on cystic fibrosis. I hope we will have a wording that can be agreed to by all parties and Members.
Senator David Norris spoke about the need for a metro system in Dublin. The Road Traffic Bill will be brought before the House today and I believe another Bill on public transport will be brought forward in a week or two. They will provide ample opportunity for the Senator to raise the matter.
Senator Jim D'Arcy welcomed the progress made in job creation in Gaeltacht areas. An additional 215 people were employed in Gaeltacht companies at the end of 2015, while Údarás na Gaeltachta managed to create 533 jobs in 2015. That represents significant progress.
The Senator also acknowledged the progress made by Údarás na Gaeltachta in the implementation of the language planning process in the Gaeltacht in conjunction with community organisations. That is important work and we are all pleased that Údarás na Gaeltachta is prioritising the process in the 18 Gaeltacht language planning areas in which notices have been published to date. That represents significant progress, as the Senator mentioned.
Senator Sean D. Barrett asked for how long the Seanad Chamber would be closed for building work. He also mentioned the delays in the work being done at the National Gallery of Ireland. I am not aware of how long the work will take, although I am sure the House will be notified of when it will commence and what the plans are for us. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will discuss the matter.
Is the Senator is going to Farmleigh?
No decision has been made on where the Seanad will meet during that time, but I hope the work, when it does start, will be completed in the time allocated and that we will not have any overrun, as mentioned by the Senator in connection with other building projects.
Senator Denis Landy has welcomed the all-party motion we intend to table on cystic fibrosis. He also called for the provision of funding for the Sean Healy Memorial Library in Carrick-on-Suir. That is something he could raise as a Commencement matter for the relevant Minister to discuss.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell outlined the problems for residents of Millfield Manor and mentioned that the developer of that estate was operating again. It is deplorable when developers who have built such houses can be involved in house-building again. This matter should be addressed.
Like other Members, Senator Cáit Keane called for a debate on housing and outlined the progress made by the Government in many areas. I addressed the issue of telephone records which was raised by Senator Terry Leyden.
Senator Mary Moran welcomed the allocation of funding in Dundalk and also called for action on the issue of accessibility for people with disabilities, a subject she has raised on many occasions in the House.
I have addressed the matter raised by Senator David Cullinane of the need for investment in housing. I have outlined the investment the Government is making and intends to make in housing, social housing in particular, in the coming years.
Senator Michael Mullins mentioned the Caesar exhibition, a photographic exhibition highlighting the atrocities committed in Syria. He also mentioned the need to highlight the humanitarian issues we see highlighted so often on our television screens.
Senator Aideen Hayden spoke about housing supply and outlined the failure to implement Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which certainly contributed to the problems we are facing. She highlighted eloquently the progress made and the measures the Government had introduced in recent times.
Senator Paul Coghlan questioned the attitude of AIB in offering a higher interest rate on savings to German residents than to Irish residents and called for a debate on banking. We will certainly try to arrange such a debate, but as the clock is ticking, I do not know whether we will have sufficient time to arrange all of the debates requested by Members. I doubt that we will.
Senator Máiría Cahill also mentioned homelessness, an issue she has raised on a couple of occasions. She called for a debate, if we could fit one in, on housing.
Senator Michael Comiskey spoke about the additional funding of €2 million provided for a community centre in Sligo and the improvement of the streetscape in the city. I am sure it will be welcomed by the residents.
Senator John Kelly referred to the Boundary Commission. I will certainly ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House to debate the issue, but as the review is ongoing, I doubt he will come until it is complete.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell described streets such as O'Connell Street and Grafton Street on occasion as being "a threatening and filthy dump." She called for a metropolitan police force to be introduced and highlighted the greed in the past and which is still evident where landlords are concerned. She spoke about the need to address it.
Senator Rónán Mullen raised the subject of elderly and ill people. He said that in the past care had been withheld in the United Kingdom and that we should refrain from any such practice. I can assure him that the protection and care of the elderly is of paramount importance and that they will be protected by the Government in every way possible. I can also assure him that the practices to which he referred in the United Kingdom will not form part of any Government, hospital or humane policy in this country.
I apologise for having neglected to mention the speaking times in the debate on the Road Traffic Bill 2016. Spokespersons will have eight minutes for spokespersons, while all other Senators will have five minutes.