The Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, motions re election of Leas-Chathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, to be taken together at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 5, motion to restore the Statute Law Revision Bill 2016 to the Order Paper, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 4; No. 6, motion to restore the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 to the Order Paper, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 5; No. 7, motion to restore the Heritage Bill 2016 to the Order Paper, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 6; Nos. 8 and 9, motions re the continuance in operation of certain provisions of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, to be taken together at the conclusion of No. 7 and conclude within 50 minutes, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed three minutes and the Minister's reply not to exceed five minutes; and No. 13, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 3 re poverty and homelessness, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I wish to clarify that the leaders of the groups will have three minutes each on the Order of Business.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I convey our sympathy to the innocent victims of the Orlando shootings, the LGBT community in Orlando and the wider community. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time and we condemn what was a devastating and hateful act. I also convey the sympathy of the Fianna Fáil group to the families of the police officer and his partner who were murdered in Paris.
I express my disappointment that the Seanad will be taking a longer than usual break this summer, given our late start to the term. However, despite the short window, I assure the House that the members of the Fianna Fáil group will use the time available to initiate and progress much legislation. As a new Member of this House, I welcome the enthusiasm shared by all sides last Wednesday for reform of Seanad Éireann. There have been over a dozen reports on the subject in recent times and I am pleased to say the Fianna Fáil group will be spearheading and supporting reforms during this Seanad.
As all Members are aware, this is National Carers Week. We all accept and recognise that carers play an integral role in our society in looking after loved ones and family members at a substantially reduced cost to the State. Without them, the health service would collapse. However, many face a serious financial burden because of substantial delays in reeiving their payments. Fianna Fáil learned last week that the average processing time for carer's benefit and carer's allowance was more than 18 weeks. The appeals process could take a further 23 weeks. This means that a carer could be waiting more than nine months before receiving a payment. This is unacceptable and symptomatic of the unfairness perpetrated by Fine Gael in government. I ask the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to address the House and explain the delays and outline the actions he is taking to ensure his Department fully supports and engages with the carer community. These processing delays place additional stress on carers who are already under immense pressure as a result of their caring roles. Efforts should be made to ease the burden, not exacerbate it. As carers provide an invaluable service for the State, it is only fair that the Government show them the respect they deserve.
The Opposition groups in order of size are Fianna Fáil, the Independents, Sinn Féin, Civil Engagement and the Labour Party. I call next Senator David Norris from the Independents group.
I add my voice to the congratulations to your good self, a Chathaoirligh. You will be an excellent Cathaoirleach.
I refer to the situation in Orlando. It is quite clear that it was a hate crime. The people targeted were overwhelmingly gay latino men. It seems that Mr. Mateen was a troubled person. He had expressed violent views on gay people and had been very negative. Apparently, he had been upset by the spectacle of two men kissing, as recorded by his wife, yet he had been obsessed by Pulse. He had been there more than a dozen times and engaged in gay chat services. It appears as if he might have had some trouble with his own sexual identity, which suggests there is a great deal of work to do, even in countries like America. This was a terrible crime and highlights the situation regarding gun use. It is extraordinary that people can be put on a "no fly" list, yet they can still go and buy heavy machines guns.
We have a lot to do in this Seanad. I suppose the most striking issue before us is Seanad reform. I believe virtually everybody in the House has views on it. They strongly believe in reform of the Seanad. The Government claims to believe in the reform of the Seanad a;sp and it is by this yardstick that this Seanad will be judged. We will be judged on whether we get substantial and real Seanad reform, not just some tricking around and loosening at the edges and so on. It has to be comprehensive and full. I look forward very much to the debate on the issue.
There is also the issue of the eighth amendment. It is extraordinary that people in this country still believe that from their religious position they can intervene in a situation where a 13 year old girl has been raped and direct her on what decision she should take. The same applies in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. It is an obscenity that the mother of an unfortunate child with no brain, no nervous system and so on should be forced, regardless of whether it was against her will, to keep the child.
We must look also at the question of direct provision on which I have legislation that I hope to present to the House. It nearly passed the last time. The President has called on the Oireachtas to become involved in this issue. We nearly did it the last time and I believe we can do it again in this Seanad.
There is also the Living City initiative which was introduced partly as a result of pressure from this House to rescue the inner city core of buildings. This has been completely unacceptable. Only 33 applications were made nationally. This is because it was hedged around, festooned, as The Irish Times editorial stated this morning, with all kinds of inhibition preventing people from taking it up. In particular, speaking as somebody who is interested in the preservation of the Georgian core of Dublin, I was horrified at the restriction of 210 sq. m. As a civil servant said at the time, it was specifically to exclude what were described as Georgian mansions.
These buildings are a feature of the city; they are the identifying mark. They are the buildings that most need to be rescued. I understand the postion will be kept under review by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, but this House should have a significant role to play in extending and making acceptable the terms under which Living city initiative grants are made.
Despite some people's faint-hearted anticipation that we will have very little to discuss other than statements, we will have much to discuss. There is legislation from these benches. My colleague and friend, Senator Michael McDowell, will, for example, be presenting a Bill. I have some difficulties with it and will make them clear during the discussion on the legislation. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell also has a Bill to introduce. There are many legislative measures being brought forward by those on this side of the House and I look forward to the Government treating them with respect.
The group leaders have three minutes each for their contributions; all other Members have two minutes each. I call the leader of the Sinn Féin group, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I extend our sympathy to the community in Orlando, particularly the LGBT community, and the police officer and his partner in Paris who were shot dead. I commend the Yes Equality and LGBT groups throughout the country and in County Mayo for the vigils they are organising in solidarity and support for the community in Orlando.
I will refer briefly to the issue of Seanad reform. Our team in the Seanad is adamant that the recommendations that have been made must be implemented and that the necessary reform must be carried through. We have a motion which will be submitted tomorrow on the establishment of a sub-committee to examine properly how this could be done, but we will also be supportive of other Bills which reflect our commitment to the reform that is necessary of this House.
The Minister for Health should be invited to the Seanad to address the emergency where 26,000 operations and procedures have been cancelled in hospitals. This is due to beds being taken out of the system from the 1980s to the present. This allows medical teams who are paid huge amounts of money to stand by and do nothing because they do not have beds in which they can treat patients. Those who have taken the beds out of the system must be held accountable for the 26,000 people who have not been able to have their procedures performed.
In addition, will the Minister with responsibility for heritage be invited to the House to explain the bizarre situation where the Government is appealing the decision on the monuments on Moore Street and outline the rationale for it?
My remarks will be brief. On behalf of the Civil Engagement group, I echo the message of solidarity and concern following the tragic events that unfolded in Orlando. I attended the vigil that took place this week in the same location, next to Dublin City Hall, where last year Ireland celebrated the transformation in LGBT rights. It was a very sad occasion and sad to see such a solemn and concerned atmosphere among those attending. We extend our concern and solidarity to those in Orlando, but it is also imperative that we send a message on the importance of a considered response grounded in respect and peace and a concern for diversity and a recognition of diversity. That is very important, as well as to acknowledge the homophobic nature of the attack.
On the Order of Business, my colleagues will address a number of the motions which have been tabled. The Civil Engagement group is happy to support what we believe could be a transformative opportunity in terms of the introduction of a Bill to implement the Manning report. It will be introduced later and we look forward to supporting it and working with all Members of the House as it proceeds through the House.
Senator Lynn Ruane who spoke earlier during the Commencement debate will address other concerns and some of the motions tabled.
We note that statements on delivering sustainable full employment are included in the Order of Business. We should move speedily within this House in order that we do not simply look to make statements on issues such as full employment but also look to debate solid motions and legislation. I echo the points made by Senator David Norris. I believe there is a wealth of proposals and legislation that could emerge from all sides of the House and there is the strength to pass them through this House. I look forward to seeing this in play.
An issue that emerged today that is not included in the Order of Business is the publication by Women's Aid of figures that are shocking to us all. They concern the continued depth and presence of violence against women. We may look at this issue at a future date. Again, this House could play a role in driving forward the practical measures that will be needed to ensure real implementation of the Istanbul Convention.
I join other colleagues in expressing the sympathy of the Labour Party group in the Seanad to the families of all the victims caught up in the horrific attack in Orlando which was a homophobic hate crime, a crime of terror and a crime that highlighted not only homophobia and terrorism but also issues around gun control, particularly how somebody who had been under investigation by the FBI was able to purchase horrific assault rifles. I commend GLEN, BeLonGTo and Transgender Equality Network Ireland for organising the vigil on Monday evening and the Lord Mayor of Dublin for opening the book of condolences in the Mansion House. I understand it is open until 4 p.m. today. Again, I express my sympathy not only to those in Orlando but also the family of the police officer killed so horrifically in Paris.
I join Senator Alice-Mary Higgins in calling for a debate on domestic violence in the light of the figures published today by Women's Aid. We had some very good collaborative work in previous Seanadaí on domestic violence and mechanisms to address this huge problem.
I also look forward to working with colleagues from all parties and the Independent group on the pressing issue of Seanad reform. In particular, the Labour Party group in the Seanad will reintroduce the Competition (Amendment) Bill. We would like to see further progress on this Bill, a Private Members' Bill which was accepted on Second Stage by the Government in January. I hope we will see it proceed through the House as a Private Members' Bill.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the ruling last week of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the application brought by Amanda Mellet. I commend her for her bravery and that of her family and those involved in Termination for Medical Reasons because the ruling of the committee has shone a light on the need to address the eighth amendment to the Constitution. The finding that Ireland was in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and had violated the human rights of Ms Mellet because of the prohibition in our law of termination, even in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, deserves a very prompt and urgent response from the Government. I am disappointed to hear the Taoiseach appear to dismiss or denigrate that ruling as not being binding. I am concerned for two reasons about his proposal to establish a citizens' assembly. First, it appears to be an attempt to delay taking any action on the need to abolish the eighth amendment. The Taoiseach did not need to put the issue of Seanad abolition to a citizens' assembly before he called the referendum on it and I do not believe we need a citizens' assembly before we have a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. Second, some commentary on the citizens' assembly from Fine Gael politicians has betrayed an anti-politician tenor that is disturbing, that this idea is somehow going to be better than the Convention on the Constitution, a model which I think all of us in the previous Seanad agreed was a very worthwhile model that paved the way for the marriage equality referendum. The Constitutional Convention was made up of representatives of political parties and citizens chosen in accordance with the demographics of the country. This sort of model would be preferable to a citizens' assembly. If a citizens' assembly is to be held, it needs to be done expeditiously and we do not want to see further delay. We do not want to see any more cases like that of Savita Halappanavar or the tragic case in the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar. We need to move towards repeal of the eighth amendment without delay.
I refer to the ruling out of order of the Commencement matter I had tabled.
It asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure the terms of reference for the new tender process for the issuing of driver licences would require all post offices to act as agents, enabling the public to obtain-----
That is not a matter for the Order of Business. I made a ruling and if I open up every ruling I makee, we will never get anything done.
I am at a loss as the Minister has responsibility for the Road Safety Authority which deals with the issue of driver licences. My proposal would help post offices and the general public. It should operate like the Passport Office.
I made a ruling and cannot allow the Senator, in an indirect fashion, to raise the issue on the floor of the Seanad. I am sorry, but I must rule it out of order.
I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to discuss the issue.
I will allow that request.
My suggestion is that, in the same fashion the post office facilitates the issuing of passports, it could be done in the case of driving licences. That would give post office more business.
I ask the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Seán Canney, to come before the Seanad to speak about the issue of flood defences, particularly the minor works scheme. We know that a major €430 million major capital investment was announced last summer by the OPW, which was very welcome. Some of these schemes will not be rolled out for several years and in the meantime, there is a minor works scheme that could be used. I am concerned that there may be obstacles or delays in rolling it out. In particular, I am thinking of Crossmolina, near where I live, as people were very badly affected. Such is their frustration with the pace of progress that they are prepared to go into the river, which is not a good idea. We must receive an update on how the existing scheme which can facilitate shorter term solutions is being used to our benefit and to avoid potential flooding when the winter comes. This is the time to act in the summer.
I will work on the same rota, but before doing so, I will deal with one Senator who indicated earlier and is somewhat of a lone wolf in one sense. I use my discretion to call Senator Billy Lawless.
As someone living in Chicago, the city with the highest murder rate in the United States, arising from gang and drug violence, I am still appalled by what happened in Orlando in the past couple of days. A couple of years ago 91% of American people polled wanted background checks to be carried out to ensure gun control, but such an initiative could not get 60 votes in the US Senate because of the money the National Rifle Association had donated to politicians. In my own restaurants in Chicago I have a notice on the doors with a gun and a red line through it, as it is legal to carry concealed weapons in Chicago. That is so that I will be covered legally if someone shoots in my restaurant. This has all come from the money spent by these political action committees. There is no control over the money coming in to these committees and they can spend it how they like, with no disclosure. We must ensure we do not allow that to happen in this country.
I thank the Senator for being very brief. The next speaker is an experienced Senator of long-standing.
I have no problem with the Order of Business as outlined, but I ask the Leader to invite to the Chamber the Minister for Finance to give his views on the marketing and administration of whole-of-life insurance policies. Members may be aware that such policies involve an applicant taking out a life cover policy for events after his or her death and it would protect the family financially. It is good and useful for most people to take out such a policy. However, people do not seem to realise that after paying into such a policy for ten years, an anniversary is reached where an insurance company may, and invariably will, increase the premia significantly, with no corresponding increase in the guaranteed sum. I can give a brief example. Ten years ago an individual took out a whole-of-life assurance policy, with the premium set at €90 per month and the assured sum at €100,000.
Ten years later the sum insured has grown to approximately €220,000, a 100% increase, but the premium has increased from €90 up to €800 per month, something most people cannot afford. When these policies are being sold, it is not made clear to the purchaser that this is going to be the scenario. One finds people who are entering middle and old age and can no longer afford to maintain the premiums on their life cover at a time when, actuarially, they probably have more need of it than ever before. This matter was raised in the previous Dáil by my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, who has identified a very significant cohort of people who are caught in the trap to which I refer. It is a trap because in many cases individuals have used life cover as security for their mortgages and cannot arbitrarily opt out because they do not then have mortgage protection, which is more difficult to obtain the older one gets. This matter must be examined. I raised it briefly in the previous Seanad. I am going to bring forward a Bill to deal with it soon if I do not see the Minister moving on the issue. I hope the Leader will make that possible.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and wish him every success in the position.
I am very pleased to see the consensus among speakers today in favour of reform of this House and moving ahead with that process. Senator Catherine Ardagh, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, has spoken about it; Sinn Féin is committed to it, as is Senator Ivana Bacik on behalf of the Labour Party and Senator Alice-Mary Higgins on behalf of Civil Engagement. Given that the Leader of the House represents a Government that has as part of its programme the implementation of the Manning report, it strikes me that there is overwhelming consensus in this House on moving forward on the question of reform, even allowing for the minor difference that Senator David Norris has about his particular constituency. In these circumstances, two things strike me that I want to put before the House. I understand completely that due to the delay in the formation of a Government and the fact the Government is in a minority in the Lower House, there will be a dearth of Government legislative proposals for some time and the volume of Government legislation will be less than has been the case for a long period. I urge the House to make good use of the time available to it to deal with proposals which do not necessarily come from the Government but which are, particularly in the case to which I am referring, in accordance with the programme for Government. We should not just shoehorn everything that is not proposed by the Leader into Private Members' business. Rather, we should order business so as to accommodate the issues the House wants to deal with. It is in that context that I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that No. 11 be taken before No. 1.
I second the amendment proposed.
Ba mhaith liom i dtosach báire moladh a thabhairt do na Seanadóirí atá i láthair a bhfuil cúpla focal acu na focail sin a úsáid. Tuigim go bhfuil roinnt Gaeilge ag an gcuid is mó den dream atá anseo agus tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeadh muid ag tabhairt ceannródaíochta ó thaobh na Gaeilge de i dTithe an Oireachtais. Chomh maith leis sin, ba mhaith liom iarraidh ar an gCeannaire go mbeadh díospóireacht againn leis an Aire Stáit Gaeltachta maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta agus na pleananna atá aige ins an tréimhse Rialtais seo. I am encouraging any Senator who does have a cúpla focal to try to use them. It is important that we show ceannródaíocht and that we use it in the Seanad. The amount of Irish used in recent years has been very positive.
Will the Leader also clarify the time slots allotted to different speakers in dealing with Private Members' business? It is not clear how much time will be allotted in the various slots.
We are often accused in the Seanad of speaking rubbish. I think we need a Minister to come here and talk rubbish to us because there is a huge issue with the final act of the Labour Party and Deputy Alan Kelly in government to allow private companies to increase refuse collection charges. There is a plethora of companies providing these services and no regulation of what is happening.
There is a situation in Connemara where companies are trying to charge people a €224 standing charge without ever picking up a bin or a bag. I am told that the same company is running the exact same service in County Leitrim, but it is only charging a standing charge of €80. Fair play to those involved in County Leitrim. I am not sure how they pulled that one off, but certainly we in Connemara and Galway will not take it sitting down. It illustrates how this bin tax which is being imposed on people is totally unacceptable. It comes from the privatisation of the refuse collection system which was ill-thought out and which, in our opinion, should not have been put forward. It needs to be reviewed. We need the Minister for rubbish - I am not certain whether it is the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government who is dealing with the matter or if it is has been passed over to the new Minister - to discuss this isue immediately. The measure is to start in July and has been ill-thought out. There are families who cannot afford to pay their water charges, the property tax and so forth and they see this as another tax being piled upon them with very little choice and very little consultation. There are questions about where the money is going, where the data are being collected and how they are being used. I urge the Leader to have that debate next week, if possible. It is a very pressing issue.
It is a great honour to serve in the Twenty-fifth Seanad and this is my first contribution. I acknowledge the work of carers in society. This is National Carers' Week and, as my Fianna Fáil colleague said, there are long waiting lists of people applying to be carers. It is slowing down the system and not helping carers, families or children. It is time that steps were taken to work on an all-party basis to support carers, their families and those who need care.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to address the House. I have just returned from Paris where I spent a few days and want to advise Members of this House that we should be very proud of the travelling supporters who are doing the country's name great service as supporters of the Republic of Ireland soccer team and also the supporters of the Northern Ireland soccer team in the European championship. I extend best wishes to them.
I wish to raise two issues. I was taken aback by the response of the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to Senator Lynn Ruane's Commencement matter today on the nature of addiction and drugs issues. It appears that the Minister is intending to separate the Misuse of Drugs Act into two pieces of legislation, which I do not think is necessary. What is needed in this House is a more elongated debate on the nature of addiction, drugs and drug crime and to put the issues on a proper footing, which would be in keeping with the international move towards decriminalisation and having a health rather than a criminal justice response.
On my second point, I stood in this House on a number of occasions as Minister of State and what impressed me most about it was that it stood and spoke with one voice. The House was never more powerful than it was on the issue of direct provision. I believe Members will know, regardless of their political background, that this House was very impressive and managed to move that debate onto a higher platform when Members all stood together and tried to move the issue along. Once again, I was very taken aback when I saw a deletion from the programme for Government. It was a line from the draft programme for Government which referred to implementation of the McMahon report. Many Members of this House had difficulties with the report and possibly felt it did not go far enough. They believe the direct provision system should have been abolished, but at least the McMahon report was the first proper report on the direct provision system in 15 years and it would have gone a long way towards helping the lives of those in the system. The recommendation made in the draft programme for Government that the McMahon report be implemented was deleted and does not feature in the actual programme for Government. I ask that the House again use its campaigning zeal to seek reform of the direct provision system. Collectively and regardless of political backgrounds, all Members believe these reforms and the McMahon report need to be implemented in full.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I congratulate him on his election as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and look forward to working with all colleagues across the House on various issues during the term of this Seanad.
I also wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to those affected by the Orlando killings which were terrible. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those in the LGBT community and all those affected by these horrible killings.
I call on the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the future employment skills needs of the country. As the economy recovers, we see employers struggling to find workers with the appropriate skill sets to fill the vacancies being advertised in locations throughout the country. As a former apprentice, this is an area that certainly needs review and reform. We should always be evaluating and considering lifelong learning, reskilling and training, but there is a particular need for this now, especially in the construction sector where there is a lack of apprentices coming through in the various trades, as the economy recovers and demand increases. It is important that we have a debate in the House and that we bring in the various Ministers responsible for education, employment and job creation and have an in-depth analysis of current and future skill needs not only in Dublin but in all regions. We need to improve the language capabilities of students who are qualifying, given the job opportunities available to them. It is another area in which there are huge job opportunities for the country. I ask the Leader to make provision for a debate in this House on skill needs and future requirements and demands.
I join others in expressing my sympathy to the people of Orlando and the families and friends of those murdered and slaughtered there. I ask the Leader to convey to the American ambassador the deepest sympathy of the House.
On Thursday week we face a major challenge in the Brexit referendum in Britain. Our trade is €1 billion a week with Britain which is our biggest import market and second biggest export market. Ireland is its fourth largest trading partner. There are many Irish families living in Britain. Some may resent the fact we would intervene, but it would be helpful if we were to contact friends and relations in the United Kingdom in the next few days. The vote will have a major impact on the future of this as well as the British economy. A number of former Ministers and Ministers of State are now Members of this House and will realise what is involved in negotiations. I was involved in the negotiation of the Single European Act. Britain had a major input into that Act, as did Ireland. We worked together as a team in the European Union. I do not think the British people have been sufficiently informed about the influence of the United Kingdom and Ireland in those negotiations, the co-operation we received in the negotiations and the benefit to both island nations on the edge of Europe. It is vital that Britain remain in the European Union. The latest opinion polls are concerning. The Financial Times has just published that 44% of voters say they will vote to leave, while 47% say they will vote to remain. There are a number of undecided voters and the next few days will tell the tale. The campaign has been led with propaganda, particularly on the "Out" side, which reflects poorly on the ability and the achievements of the United Kingdom within the European Union. I appeal to anyone with relations in that country to give them a ring in the next few days and ask them to vote to stay. It is in our interests and the national interest and for the love of their country that they should vote to stay in the European Union.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his elevation - I have not done this since the vote took place - and wish him well in his position. I also wish well the Leader of the House, Senator Jerry Buttimer, as he takes the House forward.
I note that we are starting on a bad footing, with statements. I would like the House to avoid statements as much as possible and to deal with legislation as we move forward. I would also love it if Members of the House remembered, regardless of whether they want to be in the Dáil, that they are in the Seanad and that we do not have geographical constituencies.
This is a House of Parliament and I ask Members to try to keep the old constituency stuff at a minimum.
I second Senator Michael McDowell’s amendment to the Order of Business.
I congratulate my colleague and good friend from Galway, Senator Billy Lawless, for drawing attention to gun law and the outrageous situation involving the National Rifle Association in the United States. The issue might be worthy of debate.
The former Ministers for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform did a fantastic job during the Easter celebrations to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising. As a result, a medal was struck for the members of the Defence Forces who paraded on that day. That medal will be available to anyone who joins the Defence Forces between now and the end of the year. However, 120 men who formerly served in the Defence Forces and are now members of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, IUNVA, are denied access to the medal. That is an outrage. Not only did these men parade on Easter Sunday and at every military event but they have also served the country with distinction, at home and abroad. It is miserable in the extreme to deny them the medal that every other serving member of the Defence Forces will receive. I ask the Leader to take up the matter with the Minister for Defence. Other Members might perhaps join me in this request. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, etc., and have sacrificed being with their families for a long time to serve the country. Will the Leader, please, ask the Minister about this and report back to the House?
This is my first time to speak in the House. I send my support, solidarity and love to the victims in Orlando.
This is National Carers' Week. I acknowledge the hard work carers do day in day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, looking after their loved ones and the struggle they have in accessing facilities and resources. I also pay a tribute to the over 100,000 of my colleagues, nurses and midwives, of the entire island of Ireland. I thank them. I will miss them, but I will be here to support nurses and midwives throughout my tenure.
A matter in Cloverhill Remand Prison has come to my attention. The prison has a dedicated psychiatric nursing staff to care for persons placed on remand from remote courts all over the country during the night. They are often very disturbing cases and many involve mental illness. The nurses have an excellent record in not having to use special observation cells. They make the assessment immediately a person is admitted, realise what is needed and how much care and supervision is required. Mr. Fergal Black, the director of health for the Irish Prison Service, has decided to cut this night cover by 50%. That is outrageous and this House should support me in calling on the Minister to engage with the nurses and Mr. Black to stop the proposed cut.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment and wish him success.
I join in the condemnation of the massacre in Orlando. This was a hate crime and I am delighted that the people of the island of Ireland have joined in sending condolences to the people of Orlando.
I look forward to the debate on homelessness. The current situation is causing major hardship for families.
A colleague of mine who came to Dublin last week had to pay €160 for a hotel room on a Wednesday night because of a concert. That is one aspect of the issue that needs to be addressed. The cost of hotel rooms is affecting the tourists who come to the country, particularly in Dublin. Tourism increased by 33% between 2010 and 2015, but the number of hotel rooms has decreased. This issue must be tackled immediately because it could damage the tourism potential of the city and country.
I take the opportunity to congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election. He was well chosen and brings experience and integrity to the role. He is a great listener and fair. I also congratulate Senator Jerry Buttimer on his appointment as Leader of the House. He has the qualities to make the Twenty-fifth Seanad which comprises an elected group of powerful people come alive internally and externally. He chaired the meetings of the Joint Committee on Health and Children when it was discussing end-of-life issues and did so with exceptional ability, determination and compassion. He will bring the same talent to the House.
Everybody is talking about reform of the Seanad which we need internally and externally in terms of how people get here and what they do afterwards. I would like to make a suggestion to the Cathaoirleach. Perhaps we might have more control of electronic equipment in order that Senators who come to the House would listen to arguments and argue against each other without having their heads in phones or tablets, especially when some of the subjects about which we are arguing are quite profound, if not life-changing. It is very disconcerting to be sitting beside somebody who might be ordering shoes or talking to relations all over the world. I am not against electronic media, but we should show a certain discretion, especially when the national and international world is now watching us on screens. My grandmother used to say that if one wanted to change things, one had better start in one's kitchen as opposed to going up town. Perhaps we should start with a few mannerly changes in the House, one of which could involve the discretionary use of electronic media.
Unless a Senator clearly indicates to me that he or she wishes to speak and I can see the Senator concerned, I will skip him or her. I skipped Fianna Fáil because I did not see anyone indicate. I will allow Senator Colette Kelleher to speak. I skipped her by accident. I will try to keep to the groups; otherwise, there will be confusion. For example, as nobody from Fianna Fáil had indicated, I skipped those Senators. There are eight on the list from Fine Gael and I will skip anyone who does not indicate otherwise. I will not invite everyone to speak.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election last week. I also extend my condolences to the families of those killed in Orlando.
It is National Carers' Week and we are all endorsing the great work carers do. It is all very fine to talk about that issue, but it is another thing to provide proper support. Some 63% of people with dementia are living at home and are primarily cared for by the carers of whom we speak. We know that those diagnosed with dementia would like to live at home, but their carers would like some help. Until such time as we put home care on a similar statutory basis to the fair deal scheme for residential care, we will continue to have budgets that are inadequate and people who cannot access that level of care. At some point I hope to receive cross-party support in the House for the establishment of a fair deal scheme for home care in order that we are not just saying nice words and patting carers on the head. I want us to do something practical for them and those for whom they are caring. We know from reports that people have a preference to be cared for at home.
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to those who suffered tragedy in Orlando, which was quite shocking. I wish to see equality, awareness of disability and difference and diversity become a mandatory component of primary education in this country. As legislators, we can introduce the most forward thinking, radical legislation one could possibly imagine to prevent inequality, prejudice and people being treated in a bad way but no matter what we do we must change people's mindset. The only way we can do that is through education. The reason I make such a call is because in one seaside resort in County Clare, in recent months, a person of small stature was hired by ladies on a hen party. He was chained to the hen and displayed in a most despicable and vulgar manner and it was portrayed in the media as entertainment. It was not entertainment; it was a disgraceful abuse of somebody who was of small stature. We can introduce legislation in this House, but we will not stop such things happening. The only way we can stop it is by creating awareness among young people in order that future generations will not consider such behaviour as a form of entertainment worth paying for. This country is great and the vast majority of people who go on weekends away, be they for stag parties, hen parties or any other kind of entertainment, behave themselves and act in a respectful manner. Unfortunately, a minority do not and the only way to eliminate them is through education. I call on the Leader to organise for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to talk about reviewing the primary school curriculum in a way that would embed, embrace and deliver equality and disability awareness in a way that would be meaningful and make a difference.
I take the opportunity to congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment and wish him the very best of luck.
As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the district hospital network with a view to establishing a capital investment programme to upgrade some of the facilities. District hospitals should not be seen as a relic of a bygone era and if adequately resourced, they can provide a vital cog in the delivery of a modern health service. They are a widespread resource. We are not talking about a new layer of bureaucracy. There are more than 100 district hospitals around the country. Without being parochial, in deference to what Senator Gerard P. Craughwell said, there are four district hospitals in County Mayo and with the correct level of investment, we could alleviate the pressures on the secondary hospital system. The district hospital network operates in three separate ways in so far as they prevent admissions to acute hospitals, facilitate discharges from acute hospitals and can also work as an interface between the fair deal system, which is experiencing some delays, even though it has improved in recent months.
Will the Leader considering inviting the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, to the House to explain and give some rationale for a proposal that was announced in the national media yesterday about the provision of €200 million for a critical infrastructure fund? We know that there is a social and affordable housing crisis. Everyone in politics and public life knows this, as do citizens, yet it seems to be taking so long to address it. From talking to councillors right around the country we know that critical infrastructure is short in many places. We know that many bad planning decisions were made where no critical infrastructure was provided on land that had been zoned by people of all parties and none across local government. We also know that the Planning and Development Act clearly provides for sections 48 and 49 levy schemes for planning permissions to provide for contributions by developers in respect of development and that ultimately they would be ring-fenced for critical infrastructure to aid, assist and bring about these developments.
I refer, in particular, to housing. It is great that, yesterday and the day before, the Minister made a host of announcements in the media that funding for housing was coming, which is welcome. It is interesting that the Minister has hit the ground running with announcements, but they must go a little further. I note that in today's edition of The Irish Times there is a correction regarding these announcements yesterday in the media and that this funding will not come until the back end of 2017. I ask the Leader for clarification in this regard because, throughout the country, approvals for planning permission are withering on the vine because developers cannot get projects off the ground as a result of the lack of infrastructure and bad planning in preparing for that infrastructure. More importantly, in some cases it is not viable and I was informed the other day of a cost of €45,000 for critical infrastructure before one even got going. As that will not happen, Members must face up to the reality. A continuous supply of affordable and social housing is needed and I look forward to partaking in the debate on homelessness later because this also is part of the subject. However, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister into the Chamber to clarify what this fund is, when will it come on stream and where he will allocate it.
I have just one matter to raise. However, on listening to the contribution on Brexit of a Fianna Fáil colleague, I note that I am in the unique position of having a vote in that referendum which I will use to put Ireland first by voting to remain. That is because, in the first instance, that is the best thing to do in the national interest and our interests as an island nation. There is, of course, another Union to stay out of on which I would love to have a vote, but I hope down the line, as allowed for in the Good Friday Agreement, perhaps the Seanad might fulfil the ideals of 1916 as outlined and work towards having a Border poll and democratically give everyone the right to assert national independence.
Ar an drochuair, is in ísle brí go gcaithfidh mé i dtús báire tragóid a tharla sa Fhrainc i rith na seachtaine le linn comórtas sacair Euro 2016, atá ar siúl sa tír sin faoi láthair, a ardú sa Teach inniu. As many Members will be aware, despite all the joyous revelry taking place in France during the European Championships this week, unfortunately we lost young Darren Rodgers from Ballymena while over there, when he tragically fell to his death. On behalf of all Members I am sure, I send sympathy to Darren's family, friends and all those who were with him.
I hope the Chair will indulge me as I intend to ask the Leader to do something unique and I will be brief. I refer to the fans who have travelled and represented both teams, and us overall, exceptionally well by their behaviour and conduct and in the revelry in which they have been engaged. However, Members will also be aware that the family of Lee McLaughlin in County Donegal has issued an appeal for people to keep an eye out for him. He is missing and his family is unaware of his whereabouts. We have a duty of care to thoe who travel overseas, in particular for major international soccer or rugby tournaments, to which such vast numbers of citizens travel. Perhaps the Ministers with responsibility for sport, both North and South, as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, OFMDFM, might consider organising a concerted campaign on how to promote welfare, look after one another and engage with people back home. While I appreciate I am not seeking something specific, perhaps the Seanad might consider the welfare of citizens who are travelling abroad in such big numbers.
First, I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House. I wish them both, as well as all Members, well. While they may have different views, they are a family in the work they are committed to doing as part of the Oireachtas. I wish to take a moment to remember a former Member of this House with whom I became very friendly many years ago, namely, Joe Doyle, and send my regards to his wife, Peggy, and family. He was a lovely man and I worked closely with him a number of times.
In respect of what happened in Orlando, in one way it absolutely and horrendously was an attack on a community. Members also must understand, within that horrendous context, that it was an attack on democratic participation.
Democracy guarantees that every life, no matter whose, is sacred and as valuable as anyone else's. I have been heard to say before that the issue of disability is not a sectoral one but a societal one. In the same way as for any group in society that is being attacked or not getting fairness, it is an attack on the whole of society.
It has been mentioned that this is National Carers' Week. I was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in its launch on Monday morning. I will bring two insights to the debate. First, the great majority of carers, up to 80%, are female. I put this thought to us all: what more practical way to support, liberate and encourage the full participation of women in society than taking the yoke of 24/7 care from them as best we can? The other point I make about caring is that one does not just become a carer and cease being a lover or relative - son, brother, father, mother or whatever else. It is something that comes with living, but it should not be something that absolutely consumes the person involved.
My being here is a function of receiving support from everybody from right across the political spectrum, not only the Members of both Houses but particularly local authority members. I was extremely struck - it was an eye-opener for me and is a reflection on some of the points made this morning - by the fantastic and often unsung work members of local authorities were doing and the commitment and heart they brought to it.
Every entity in the Oireachtas is in support of the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which is to be ratified by the end of this year. My request to the House and the Leader is to ensure we can bring that flavour of inclusiveness for persons with disabilities, their families and carers into every debate and our every consideration.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his elevation and congratulate the Leader, both of whom will do a fine job.
I want to highlight an issue that I highlighted several times in the previous Seanad, that is, childhood obesity. In particular, I highlight a report produced by the Irish Heart Foundation which has found that junk food companies or food companies which are selling particular junk food products are purposely targeting young Irish teenagers on social media sites such as Facebook. These companies are trying to get them as young as they can, but, as young as they are, they are being targeted. The report reveals that the sophisticated techniques used to target children online through Facebook include tagging and comments. They do it in a humorous way and sometimes make reference to sports stars and festivals. It is subliminal and sophisticated. According to a child psychiatrist - this morning I was researching this a little - these companies are using high-tech analytics to target children directly in order that they can monitor them. Perhaps Senators have seen on social media that if one shows an interest in a certain matter, suddenly one finds one has many other things to do with it on one's feed. This is dangerous. We have legislation in place to restrict this type of advertising, which is targeted at children in specific ways and social media should not be any different. According to the research, 75% of parents were extremely unhappy when they discovered that this was happening. They did not have a clue that this type of marketing was ainmed at their children. We have a serious issue with childhood obesity in this country, with one child in four either overweight or obese. I must have stated that statistic about 150 times in the Seanad. We have not done enough to date. The Government now has a Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion and I do not want the job to be symbolic.
I want us to take this issue seriously as the situation is grave. Hospitals already suffer under the weight of diabetes, cancer and other lifestyle-related issues. Obesity is the elephant in the room. We have to address and face up to the issue. Some people are very aware of it. The vast majority of the population are busy living and perhaps not putting as much focus on it as we should. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on obesity, in particular childhood obesity, as early as possible. I ask him to bring the new Minister here to discuss how we will tackle the problem in a real way and have no more symbolism.
Before I call Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, I wish to let the House know the following. Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill referred to a Donegal man who was missing in Paris. I understand the missing man has been found safe and well, which is good news for sports lovers and the House. I wanted to inform the House of that development in case the Leader responded to the matter. The next speaker is Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor. I apologise for the delay. I will try to get around to everybody who wants to speak.
First, I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his new role. I know that he will do exceptionally well and will be very fair to everyone, which is so important.
Second, I convey my sympathy to the families of the Orlando victims. Everybody has been affected by the incident. It was an awful tragedy.
I do not wish to repeat what everyone has said about National Carers' Week. A carer's work is invaluable. It is so hard to learn, when one reads the figures and is fighting for people to have carers, that there is a backlog of 11 months in arranging appeals to have carers provided. We live in a society where people are living longer and we encourage them to stay in their homes, which is part of the policy of the new Government, yet we must fight for 11 months to arrange appeals to have carers provided for the elderly and others. This is not good enough. I ask the Cathaoirleach to call on the Minister to address this matter because it needs to be addressed urgently. There will be no point in us sitting here next year during National Carers' Week having waited a further 11 months for appeals to be heard. This is not good enough and unacceptable.
On a local issue, I represent Carlow as part of my role in the Seanad. I do not know if in many other counties there are respite centres, but the only one in Carlow was called Tir na nÓg and it catered for children aged from two to 18 years. As Senators may know, Carlow has a population of 59,000. Sadly, the centre was closed a few months ago, even though it provided a vital service for the people, particularly the children, of Carlow. I need answers; the people of Carlow want the centre to be reopened and I need to make sure funding is in place. I ask the Minister for Health to come here to address the matter.
Comhghairdeas leis an gCathaoirleach agus le Ceannaire an Tí. Bhí mé an-sásta cloisteáil go raibh an Seanadóir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh ag labhairt ar ball ó thaobh Gaeilge a úsáid mar is í an Ghaeilge an chéad teanga atá agamsa.
I had to learn English which means that English is my second language. People sometimes say to me that they know from the way I speak English I grew up speaking Irish. I do not know if that is a compliment or otherwise. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht an deis labhairt ar feadh nóiméad nó dhó. In this House I feel like a square pin in a round hole or whatever because I come from a different space. I am still working my way around, but I have learned two things. First, there is tremendous passion in this room and I feel very privileged to be part of this group. Senators really mean what they are talking about and are totally passionate, which will make a difference.
Second, as Senators, we come from so many backgrounds. I do not want to pick out one person, but it is really important that we have somebody here to represent the diaspora and that person is Senator Billy Lawless. I hope someone in the media is listening to me. Senator Billy Lawless has employed not only my daughter but hundreds of sons and daughters of people from all over Ireland. Fair play to him. Not only that - it has not just been him - other Irish people living abroad back each other up. Sometimes I ask the following question. Could we not back each other up a little more on this island? It is for that reason I believe I can work with everybody in the Seanad and hope everybody here can work with me. It is not really Seanad reform that I seek. I want it to be reinvented, which goes a little deeper than reform, because we can and will make a difference. For me, the measurement of whatever length of time I will be in the Seanad, will be asking myself what little contribution I made and what did we do as a group to make a real difference.
I ask the Cathaoirleach to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to address two issues. The first is the drop-out rate at third level, with many people who take the leaving certificate examinations and go on to third level dropping out within 12 months. In some third level institutions the rate is 25%, while in others it is around 12%. That is a huge loss to the economy and the country and I would like to know why it is happening and what can be done about it.
The second issue relating to education, about which a number of people have contacted me, albeit not recently but in the middle and more distant past, is the level of depression and stress among secondary schoolchildren. This is significant in the context of fighting depression in adult life. Teachers, particularly career guidance teachers, should be supported and equipped to deal with it in the first instance. I would appreciate it if we could invite the Minister to address the House on these issues.
As this is my first time to address the House, I extend my congratulations to the Cathaoirleach on his election and Senator Jerry Buttimer on his selection as Leader. I also join other Senators in expressing my sincere sympathy to the families of the victims of the recent tragedies in Orlando and Paris.
Senator Terry Leyden raised the very timely and important issue of the upcoming referendum in the United Kingdom on its continuing membership of the European Union. This is vitally important and I echo the Senator's call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, to come into the House to take statements on the issue, although I know that they are both travelling today. It is my strongly held view that membership of the European Union has been a wholly positive experience for the people of the United Kingdom, Ireland and all other member states.
I hosted a briefing this morning on opportunities for young graduates within the European Union. A huge amount of EU funding is available for groups all over the country. However, the Erasmus+ programme only receives half of the number of applications that it should owing to the difficulty of the application process which is implemented by Léargas and other bodies. In that context, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to the House to take statements on the process of applying for Erasmus+ funding and to resolve the issues involved in order that more groups in Ireland will be able to avail of this much-needed funding.
I ask the Leader to use his good offices to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide extra resources for the Passport Office which is under extreme pressure, not only at this time of year but also throughout the year, to provide passports in a timely manner. I ask that extra resources be provided because this is an essential service, particularly at this time of year when many people are going on holidays and need passports at short notice. In that context, I also ask the Minister to ensure the Passport Office will do as the motor taxation office does and text people a month or two before their passport expires and send them a reminder by post. This is not rocket science. People can forget, particularly as passports last for ten years, that their passport is out of date and it is only when they have a journey to make that they become aware that it has expired.
I welcome the comments made today on Seanad reform. As I said last week, everyone here has a part to play in reforming the Seanad. I welcome, in particular, the legislation introduced by Senator Michael McDowell, and my party will be making a contribution to the debate on same. I also welcome other parties making contributions and bringing forward motions, particularly as they campaigned vigorously to get rid of this House. If they had their way, the Seanad would not be in place to be reformed. In order for it to remain, there is an obligation on us to reform the Seanad and not leave it to others to do so.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election and express my sympathy following the recent outrage in Orlando.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come to the House to debate the crisis in child care. There is a massive crisis, at the root of which is funding. As an illustration of how bad the funding position is, as a percentage of GDP, we spend 0.2% on child care. We are not just at the bottom of the European league; we are at the bottom by 1 million miles. The next worst is the United Kingdom which spends four times as much. It is clear we are in trouble when the Tory Government spends four times as much as the Irish Government on child care. Three crèches have closed in Limerick in the past week. In one case, at Tic Toc crèche in Westbury, the workers had to sit in to get their rights to redundancy payments. At the heart of the crisis is funding. Typical pay for a child care worker is €9.80 per hour. That is how little we value child care, despite all the rhetoric, and it is an indictment of the last and previous Governments in the past ten or 20 years. That it was not addressed during the Celtic tiger period is an absolute disgrace. Child care workers on the front line are voting with their feet. People who are qualified with doctoral and master's degrees are leaving to take up child care posts in America, Britain and other countries where they are paid properly. We need a debate on this issue. We need to address the crisis. I am proud to be a member of SIPTU which is working hard to address it with its Big Start campaign. It deserves support and recognition from the Department. The workers who are on the front line need to be at the heart of the solution to the child care crisis. I would appreciate it if that request could be made.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his new post. He is a kind, good and fair man and comes from a great part of the county, Sheep's Head, which I love dearly.
I convey my condolences to the people of Orlando and the LGBT community. I ask the House to bear with me. I am a little nervous, as this is my first time to speak in the Seanad.
I wish to highlight the issue of the misuse of alcohol in Ireland. It is an issue about which I have been concerned for many years. I have spoken openly about my recovery from alcohol misuse. Following my recovery, I became an addiction therapist and have seen the issues that have arisen and how we are losing young people to alcohol misuse. We are losing them not only to drug problems and gambling but also to alcohol misuse. I highlight the devastating impact of alcohol misuse, drug misuse and gambling on families. I have worked with such families for many years and witnessed the devastation caused. Family members can have mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, stress and worry. There is not a family in the country that does not have somebody in their lives who may have an alcohol misuse problem. I am not talking about the final stages of addiction but rather alcohol misuse. We have a huge binge drinking culture, which is scary. It is connected to many issues such as road deaths and suicide. Alcohol is a depressant and causes depression. After people binge drink at the weekend, the devastation and depression they experience during the week is beyond the beyond. I would like to think the House would debate the alcohol Bill and bring it to the next Stages. I hope we can also work on the impact alcohol misuse has on families.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach, both as a colleague from the legal profession and as a person from Cork, and wish him every success in his new role. I compliment him also on the role played as Leas-Chathaoirleach in the last Seanad when he was always fair to everybody in every debate. I also congratulate another colleague from Cork, Senator Jerry Buttimer, and wish him well in his new role as Leader of the House. I look forward to working with both of them.
I wish to raise an issue about health care.
There is a perception that hospitals are not providing the services we require, but it is interesting to consider the figures that were published recently. In 2015, there were 3.5 million outpatient attendances - 60,000 per week or 12,000 per day. That includes services such as day case procedures and outpatient departments. It shows the dedication and commitment of the nurses, staff and all the people who are working in the HSE. I compliment them on the valuable service they provide. The figures of 12,000 people per day and 60,000 per week attending as outpatients are sometimes not mentioned. My colleague in Sinn Féin raised the issue of bed closures. The health service has moved from a situation where many procedures required admission to hospital to one where many of them are now day procedures.
There is also the issue of general practitioners. Many GPs seek to deal with certain areas of health care which were traditionally referred to a hospital. It is extremely important that the contract negotiations between GPs and the Department of Health be progressed and concluded. There is no point in returning, three or four years hence, to negotiations that should have been concluded. It is time for the Department to move on this matter. It is also time for it to include all the representative bodies for GPs in these negotiations, which means not only the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, but also the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP. As these negotiations are important, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to outline the progress that has been made on the matter in the past 12 months and whether there is a timeline for making progress to bring it to a conclusion. GPs can then provide additional services and be adequately remunerated for them. It will also encourage more people to come home to this country to work in the service. The more GPs working in the service, the fewer referrals there will be to hospitals. That is extremely important for trying to progress and provide a comprehensive health service. Will the Leader deal with this issue and ask the Minister to outline the current position on it?
I wish to be associated with the condemnation of the atrocious events in both Orlando and France and extend my sympathy and that of my colleagues to all concerned.
Will the Leader ask the appropriate Minister to visit the House to outline the whereabouts of the proposed national wind energy guidelines? Recently, Westmeath County Council introduced a variation to the county development plan which was supported unanimously by all parties and non-party members to include the equine industry in the noise sensitive receptors. As somebody who is very involved in that industry, I welcome this. Unfortunately, however, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, made a submission stating the council was contravening the existing wind energy guidelines. The current guidelines are outdated and archaic with regard to the modern wind turbines proposed.
I am not opposed to wind energy projects, but the equine industry is a major one in this country. While we all probably have an eye on the soccer matches this week, the Royal Ascot race meeting is also taking place and every newspaper one opens carries plaudits from people all over the world for our horse breeding industry and the performance of the Irish thoroughbred. Thoroughbreds are extremely sensitive to wind turbines. Owing to the large equine industry in County Westmeath and also with an eye on the national industry, Westmeath County Council introduced the variation I mentioned, but it has been ruled out of order. When one tries to inquire about the proposed new wind energy guidelines, not only does nobody know what shelf they are on but also nobody appears to know which Minister is responsible for them. Today, it could be an energy matter but on another day it could be a planning issue. Will the Leader invite the appropriate Minister or Ministers to the House to inform us of the whereabouts of the new guidelines and when they will be announced? Perhaps we might then have a debate on the matter.
On this first full sitting day I wish the Cathaoirleach well for his term. I also wish the Leader and the other Members who have been elected leaders and Whips well.
I will start today as I mean to go on, as I did in the previous Seanad. A total of 43 Members of this House have been elected by councillors and it is important that we look after the welfare of those councillors. I listened to some of the contributions in which the issue of mental health and well-being was raised. There was a tragic incident during the Seanad election campaign in which a councillor took his own life. During that campaign I met scores of councillors suffering from stress and anxiety. They are unable to handle the case work they have been given; they do not know where or to whom they should guide people and they have nobody to whom they can turn to look after their mental well-being. I have checked this matter out with various local authorities. There are welfare officers in each local authority in the country but, believe it or not, they are not available to councillors. This issue must be addressed, and I hope it will be done quickly during this term. It requires a little common sense and the intervention of the Minister. It probably requires a special service to be put in place.
I sat in the kitchen of a councillor's home for two hours - I will not say where in the country it is located - during which time he explained the cases with which he was dealing. They included people who were facing bankruptcy, people who were being put out of their homes and people who had marriage difficulties. He asked me how he was equipped to deal with these issues. He said he was not and that he was not even equipped to listen properly. Gone are the days when a county councillor attended a meeting once or twice a month and dealt with a few housing issues and perhaps some medical card issues. The workload of councillors has increased dramatically as a result of what has happened in this country. I commend my colleagues, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Victor Boyhan, for tabling the motion, to which I will propose an amendment relating to terms and conditions. This is about well-being. This week is Men's Health Week and this issue has been shoved under the carpet. Nobody wants to talk about it and some people are embarrassed about it. We normally take action after an event has happened. In this case, unfortunately, the event has happened. Obviously, I will not say where, as we all know what happened. It is the result of what I have just mentioned. On the first day the Minister comes to the House to discuss local government, he should address this issue.
I join the speakers who expressed sympathy following the horror and human tragedy in Orlando.
The specific issue I wish to raise is Mr. Justice O'Higgins's report. The report which is excellent has generated an enormous amount of coverage on all national media, including social media. That is reasonable, given that it is a huge and important report. One element, however, that has received no coverage is very important for Garda morale, well-being and the provision of a Garda service. The Garda station is identified by Mr. Justice O'Higgins as being an old RIC station from 1870, to which a flat roofed area was added around 1970. The judge uses terms in the report such as "not fit for purpose", "deplorable conditions" and "not sound" to provide Garda services. He says that while it is not the only reason there were problems, it was a huge contributing factor. It is a relevant issue for the Leader to address. Perhaps he might get a response from the relevant Ministers on what will be done about accommodation for gardaí in Bailieborough. In the previous Oireachtas I lobbied the relevant Ministers - former Deputy Alan Shatter and Deputies Frances Fitzgerald and Simon Harris - intensely. I am aware that a site has been acquired for a new Garda station and that the legal procedures are ongoing. Will the Leader find out whether that process has concluded and if there is a timeframe for when the new station in Bailieborough will be built?
It is a regional headquarters, of which this is an important element. I will provide the Leader with the relevant pages of the O'Higgins report which chronicles all of the deplorable conditions in five pages, including the various rooms that are not available and reception areas. I do not propose to read it, but I will hand it to the Leader later. The situation is chronic and immediate action is required. I need to know that there is a commitment that the legalities in acquiring the site which I gather is imminent have been concluded and that there is a timeframe for building the station.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and wish him the best in his new post.
I know that Senator Diarmuid Wilson was a member of an all-party committee that carried out much good, stable and common-sense work on councillors' terms and conditions. Given my seven years experience on a county council and five years on a town council, I know that there has been an immense increase in the workload of county councillors. This House needs to examine the issue. I would appreciate it if the relevant Minister attended the House for a debate on it.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election and the Leader of the House, Senator Jerry Buttimer, on his appointment.
Reference was made to Seanad reform. I think Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh spoke about how this Chamber was very diverse in terms of Members' array of talents. Seanad reform is key, but the items the House deals with are more fundamental than this.
This is National Carers' Week. Senator Colette Kelleher spoke about people being cared for in their homes. We need to look at the fair deal scheme to see how it could be adapted in terms of providing care in a home setting. Putting someone in a nursing home is seen as a last resort by most people, regardless of whether they have a disabled spouse, disabled children or elderly parents. It should be seen as a last resort. We need to look at providing proper day-care services.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come to the House? Ireland is recovering but, in the area of public procurement, I have come across a number of small family-owned businesses which had public contracts for the past 20 years but which have been unable to tender for them because they do not meet the size requirements for public tendering. As we need to consider this issue, I ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come before the House to ensure that if a family business is doing a good job, it will not be at a disadvantage because of its size.
I share all of the sentiments expressed about the tragedy in Orlando. I compliment Senator Billy Lawless because he brings a perspective on the holding of guns in the United States. I hope this will be a watershed, that common sense will prevail in the United States and that we can learn from what happens outside the country which has had issues with gun crime. We should learn from it and look at the legislation.
The role of this House is to question legislation and decisions being made and for Members to operate collectively as a group. This Seanad has an opportunity to do things in a slightly different way. I look forward to it being a debating Chamber. I take Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's point. I was not aware that someone could order shoes on the Internet, but her basic point is relevant - that this is a debating Chamber and that we should have robust debate. We do not have to agree on everything, but it is important that everything be discussed to the proper degree.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Leader and wish them well in their roles. I congratulate all Senators on being elected to the House. I am very honoured and privileged to be elected and be among the fine body of people I see in front of me. I compliment all Senators on their contributions. I compliment, in particular, Senator Frances Black whose contribution was very much from the heart and related to her personal experience and journey. If we are honest, every family in the country could tell a similar story. It is an issue we need to explore in more depth. I ask the Leader to ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to see how we can look at online gambling and the constraints we can introduce because it is a serious problem that is getting worse, among many others.
Harking back to my past, many Senators mentioned the role of county councillors. I was elected as a town councillor in 1999 and as a county councillor in 2004. I would like to think I speak with some authority on the issue. The abolition of town councils was a serious mistake. It has done nothing for towns in rural Ireland and must be addressed. The workload has increased. Based on my experience - I do not say this lightly - that workload is unbelievable. It has reached the stage where very few people will be able to enter politics because the role of a county councillor is a full-time job if it is to be done properly. This issue, including that of terms and conditions, must be addressed at a time when we are trying to get more people, including more women, to become involved in politics. In removing town councils we have taken away the first tier of local government and the first step on the ladder. That is a mistake. The relevant Minister should come to the House to address all of these issues.
I thank all 39 Senators who spoke on the Order of Business. In response to Senator Diarmuid Wilson, the time limits in dealing with Private Members' business are ten minutes for the proposer of the motion and six minutes for the seconder. Other speakers will have six minutes each and the Minister will have 15 minutes in which to respond. The time limits have been fixed by the House. Today, like many Senators, I have my "L" plates on and tá mé an-neirbhíseach.
I thank all 20 Senators who spoke about what had happened in Orlando. As a member of the LGBT community, I was left numb on waking up on Sunday morning to and watch and listen to the television and news coverage of the depraved killing of 49 people. I say this as somebody who uses and sees night clubs, gay pubs and community venues as havens and a place of refuge where men and women of all ages can feel safe and secure without fear of being attacked, verbally or physically, let alone being gunned down, and where those within that community have a sense of belonging and acceptance. I join all other Senators in sending our sympathy to the husbands and wives, partners and families of those killed and ask the Cathaoirleach to send our deep condolences to the US ambassador. This is an act that took place during Pride month and to those who ask why Gay Pride continues, the events in Orlando and others across the world where people kill others in the name of religion show why it is needed. It comes 12 months after the referendum in this country when we acted as a beacon across the world. This week, across the country in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and other cities, a vigil is being organised through GLEN, LINC and the Gay Men's Health Service. It is an example of why we must continue our work and ensure no person who is born this way will be afraid to come out and live the life he or she can.
I know that it is not a day for political statements, but I agree with Senator Billy Lawless that the issues of gun control and the right to bear arms in the United States of America are ones we must collectively try to change. I hope that, through his good offices, the Senator will be able to help in bringing about that change, irrespective of political ideology. That a person under surveillance can walk into a gun shop and buy two types of weapon and a couple of days later do what he did begs a serious question. It is a lesson we must all consider. I hope that following the events in Orlando we can send a message to our sons, daughters and friends that it is okay to come out as gay and live a normal life. If we do not do this, we will go back to the days when they were suppressed. I appeal to those of other religions not to see this as western values versus those in the Far East or wherever else. Those of us who are gay are men and women of value, principle and integrity. We must all work to ensure our society and world will be better and kinder places.
Seven Members mentioned that this was carers' week. Last Monday morning I was fortunate to be with Senator Alice-Mary Higgins in University College Cork where she made a fine speech on carers at the launch of a new study conducted by people at the university. It is important that we collaborate to ensure the national carers strategy is implemented. There are parts of it that can be put in place without cost. It is important that we, in this House, with Deputies, set up a cross-party group, as we did to deal with the issue of mental health. We should not just pay lip service to the national carers strategy; we must ensure it is put on a footing, with implementable action plans. I look forward to working with Members on the issue.
I am happy on behalf of the Government to accept Senator Michael McDowell's proposal on Seanad reform. To the eight Members who spoke about the issue, we on this side of the House will not stand in the way of reform. It is important, if we are serious about the issue, that the legacy of the Twenty-fifth Seanad be bringing about change. We may have different views on how to achieve the end result, but as part of the process, it is important that we begin a discussion on how we can implement the Manning report which is central to the programme for Government. I have already spoken to the Taoiseach about this and he will make his views known in a couple of weeks. It is incumbent on us, in a cross-party manner, to bring about reform of the Seanad which encompasses all views.
Senator Catherine Ardagh raised a number of questions. It is important for us to consider the issue of waiting times. The Minister for Health will be in the House next week to discuss health issues.
Senator David Norris, in a very fine address, and Senator Ivana Bacik referred to the eighth amendment of the Constitution. The Taoiseach has proposed the establishment of a citizens' assembly. I share Senator Ivana Bacik's view that it is important we have Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas as part of that assembly. I say this as someone who served on the Constitutional Convention which brought about profound change in the country. Those who decried the convention should read some of the scholarly articles written by Professor David Farrell and others in which it was described as mould-breaking. It allowed citizens and elected public representatives to come together to discuss matters of sensitivity and political policy and reform. A citizens' assembly is the way to go in dealing with the eighth amendment. For those who propose abolition, there is a hiatus and, for those who seek retention, the answer is not kept for those who want to get rid of the eighth amendment. It is important that we take the issue away from the body politic and the heat of the political process. As a former Chairman of the health committee that dealt with the protection of health during pregnancy legislation, I see it as important that we handle this issue in a sensitive and careful manner. It is about the lives of people and there are different views. It is important, therefore, that we hear from all sides, not just the extremes, whatever our own views or ideology may be.
Senators David Norris and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, a former Minister of State, raised the issue of direct provision. I commend the former Minister of State for the work he did on it. I have already spoken to the relevant Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, about it, as, despite Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's view of politics and constituencies, it transcends such constituencies. In my city of Cork there are a number of centres-----
It is a national problem.
It is important that we hear the views of people who have rights and entitlements and deserve our respect; we have a duty of care towards them. The Minister of State is visiting direct provision centres and I hope he will, in time, come to the House to discuss the issue.
I agree fully with Senator David Norris on the Living City initiative. In a number of budgets the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, referred to the scheme for those living over shops, if one likes to use such a term. It is an issue that should be considered by the Government in order that we can not only preserve the buildings mentioned but also attract people to inner city areas in cities such as Cork and Waterford. When Senator Paudie Coffey was a Minister of State, he worked very closely with the Department, councils and the construction sector to ensure we had people moving to cities. In my city of Cork there is a lot of space over shops and businesses where there could be apartment dwellings, as there are elsewhere in Europe. I hope we can also have a debate on that issue.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh spoke about waiting times in the health service. I am pleased to point out that the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive are working on a dedicated waiting time initiative. The Minister for Health will be in the House next week when we can discuss the issue further.
With respect to the Moore Street monuments, I will ask the Minister responsible, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to come to the House for a debate on the issue. I do not have the exact answer right now, but I will revert to the Senator with it.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins referred to the need for us to get ready for full employment. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will be in the House tomorrow when we can debate the issue further. I hope we will be able to have a series of discussions about employment. If Members are on the list to speak when we reach the end of the time allocated, as Leader, I will be happy to ensure the debate will roll over as it is a very important issue. In the course of the last Dáil we saw the unemployment rate fall from 15.9% to 8%, which was a tremendous record, given the economic decline we had experienced. It is an issue we need to address and, as Senators, we have a role to play.
The report on domestic violence is shocking and significant action must be taken to deal with the issue. The Istanbul Convention should be examined. I will certainly take up the matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality on behalf of Members. The report presented this morning was very upsetting.
Senator Ivana Bacik raised the issues of gun control, a matter I have already addressed, domestic violence and the eighth amendment, on which I hope we will see movement with the establishment of the citizens' assembly.
Senator Michelle Mulherin raised the very important issue of flood defences, with particular reference to the minor works schemes. I agree that the Office of Public Works and local councils should prioritise the provision of flood defence mechanisms. To be fair to the previous Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, there has been work done. He worked with councils in many parts of the country in developing policy and the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme.
Senator Billy Lawless spoke convincingly about the issue of gun control and the events in Orlando. I welcome him to the House. His is an important voice, not only for the diaspora but also for Irish-Americans in general, as he will play a key role in articulating our views. I agree with Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh as we have all benefited from friends in America giving us jobs. I spent a summer there on a J1 visa when my cousin found me a job; I would not have found it without him. Every summer we receive requests from many people looking for jobs in America. In that regard, some of the commentary is unfair to Senator Billy Lawless. He will bring an important dimension to the House and I look forward to working with him in building a cross-party approach to illegal immigrants and Irish America. It is important that we continue the link with America where many of us have family members and friends. Although there has been a change, I know of people who left Ireland because they were gay. They are living open and happy lives in America.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to the marketing of life insurance policies. I will be happy to have the Minister responsible come to the House to discuss this important issue. The Senator has indicated that the companies involved have a duty of care to those who buy their products. Sometimes the small print is not read or pointed to.
I agree with Senator Michael McDowell's comments on the issue of Seanad reform. The Government will not challenge the amendment proposed to the Order of Business.
It is important, however, that we take our time and get it right rather than rushing to be the first to provide for Seanad reform. It is important, as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said, that we speak with one voice and work together. It is also important that we cast aside our political differences on various issues because new politics is not about opposition the whole time but working together. As Leader of the Seanad, I hope we will have a business committee to run the business of the House. I met some of the leaders yesterday and will be meeting the leaders and the Whips together again in order that we can order the business of the House in a collaborative way. On a personal level, it does not serve us well in the House when we have divisions every day on the Order of Business to bring a Minister here to discuss A, B or C. If we can operate in a mature manner, work together to ensure we run the business of the House properly and in a manner that will ensure Members will have a fair say and their voices heard, that will serve us better not just in the Chamber but also in the eyes of the public.
Bhí an Seanadóir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh ag caint mar gheall ar úsáid na Gaeilge. Níl an Ghaeilge go líofa agam ach tá mé ag foghlaim. Chleacht mé í uaireanta sa Dáil. I hope we can have debates in Irish and that we will be able to speak as Gaeilge, no matter how good or bad we are in our native tongue.
The Senator also spoke about waste, but he knows that the polluter pays principle applies: the more one uses, the more one pays. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, to come before the House to speak about the matter.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to carers. I agree with her on the need to have an all-party committee and have said we should work together on the matter, as there is a consensus within the House. As we saw in the previous Dáil and Seanad, where there were cross-party working groups on many issues, from symphysiotomy to mental health, we can bring about change and affect how the Government and the world sees us.
The former Minister of State, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, spoke about health and criminal justice matters. I agree with him. We need to take a twin approach to the problem of drugs. It is about justice, health, education and employment and it is important that we speak with one voice. I agree with the Senator that the McMahon report marks the beginning and that it is important that we bring about reform because, as I said, there are young children, in particular, who are very badly affected. We meet them every day in our constituency offices and constituencies as we walk about. Their parents cannot work and they are being treated like second-class citizens in terms of their ability to live their lives. It is important that we see reform.
My colleague, friend and former Minister of State, Senator Paudie Coffey, spoke about the skills deficit. He is right; there is a deficit in many areas. When we see the tourism figures increasing and advertisements for chefs abroad, it poses the question as to why the training of chefs was stopped in the country. I agree that we need to discuss the skills shortage, not just in the construction sector but also across the entire economy. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, in his previous life, launched a national skills strategy. It was an important beginning, but the strategy cannot be left to gather dust on a shelf. We must see its active implementation. I agree with Senator Paudie Coffey. I remember that he raised the issue in a previous Seanad and it is one to which we need to return.
Senator Terry Leyden, with Senators Neale Richmond and Niall Ó Donnghaile, raised the issue of Brexit. It was my hope to have a debate on it this week, but both the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, and the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, are away. I hope we will have it next week because it is a very important discussion that we need to have. We need to urge Irish voters in the United Kingdom, including the North, to vote to remain. From an economic point of view, the United Kingdom is of critical importance to us. I urge all Members, if they will have an opportunity to do so, to travel in person to the North to canvass at the weekend or use social media to advocate a vote to remain. It is not about us interfering, rather it is about us, as Irish citizens and citizens of Europe, asking our fellow countrymen and women to vote to remain.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell spoke about getting off on a bad foot. I look forward to working with every Member to ensure this will be a productive, meaningful Seanad. We cannot produce legislation just like that; there was a hiatus in the other House. I have, therefore, asked that some legislation be initiated in this House. It is important that we try to achieve some measure of balance in this regard. I do not agree with the Senator regarding constituencies. We all represent the people and it is our duty to advocate on their behalf. The issue he raised about medals for the men and women who served the country should be looked at and I will take it up with the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe.
Senator Máire Devine referred to Cloverhill Remand Prison. I do not have the answer to her question, but I will take up the matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality. She might also want to raise it in the Commencement debate to give her an opportunity to articulate her viewpoint. I agree with her about the men and women who are midwives and nurses. They do great work every day in hospitals. When I was in college, I had the pleasure to work as a porter in Cork University Hospital when I saw at first hand the work they did every day. The Senator might write to the health committee to ask it to take up what is an important issue. I do not have the answer to her question, but I will take up the matter on her behalf with the Minister.
Senator Frank Feighan raised the issue of hotel rooms and prices. He is right. As one of its first acts, the last Government cut the VAT rate on the basis that we would see an increase in tourist figures and that is what happened, but now we are seeing greed or profiteering in hotels starting to raise their prices. The Senators who stay in hotels in Dublin will have seen the increase in prices over a five-year period. It is not just about that however; it is also about the tourism product we are selling and ensuring the country remains viable and attractive from a tourist perspective to encourage people to come here. If they see escalating costs, I am afraid of what will happen. We will take up the matter with the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism and sport, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, who has strong views about bedroom prices in Dublin and across the country.
I thank Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell for her kind remarks and compliment her on pursuing the issue of end-of-life care. It is an important topic, to which I hope we will again see a cross-party approach which she has been spearheading and which we, as a society, have not addressed. It is one on which we need to continue to work. In the last Dáil I was Chairman of the health committee and the pleasure of being involved in the work we undertook on the issue. I am glad that the Senator has taken it up. It is important that, as a collective, in both Houses, we work to ensure we devise a strategy to deal with it.
Senator Colette Kelleher also referred to carers, with particular reference to the fair deal scheme. I fully agree with her. It is important that we see a change. The Senator brings to the House the benefit not just of her work with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland but also of her work with the Cork Simon Community and the Cope Foundation in Cork and in the disability sector.
Senator Martin Conway spoke eloquently about how we could eliminate bullying or peer pressure. Thankfully, in the previous Dáil two former Ministers, Ruairí Quinn and Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, introduced major changes to the curriculum to tackle homophobic bullying and bullying in general, from which I hope we will see much better results. It is important that we continue to see the education system and the curriculum reflecting a more modern society.
Senator Keith Swanick referred to the old district hospitals. I remind him that the last Government had a capital investment programme for district hospitals which I hope we will see continue. He is right that they are a resource we can use to provide step-down facilities before allowing people back to their homes. I pay tribute to the former Minister, now Senator James Reilly, who was instrumental in bringing about change. The Minister for Health will be in the House next week. I hope to arrange debates on health issues, including mental health services.
Senator Victor Boyhan referred to the infrastructure fund. I hope the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, will come before us. The Government has prioritised housing provision, in which a significant investment has been signalled. A stand-alone Department for housing has been created and it is a crisis we need to see resolved. My colleague, Senator Paudie Coffey, when Minister of State, was very strong and pivotal in relaunching the housing policy.
It is important that this work continue. I will certainly ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of Brexit. He also referred to the European Championships and sport in general. We can work together on the proposal made and I would happy to be meet the Senator to discuss it. Sport unites people. I am very happy that Lee McLaughlin has been found and join the Senator in sympathising with the family of Darren Rodgers. I thank and compliment the Irish supporters who paid tribute to him during the championships.
I wish our team every success in the remainder of the championships in France. I think we all saw them play on Monday night - I know that I am digressing a little, but Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin raised the point - and there was a great uplift among people, perhaps not at the end of the game which ended in a draw, but the team certainly got off to a reasonably good start. There is now confidence that we can feel and it is important that we support each other. I would be happy to talk to Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile about the matter in question.
Senator John Dolan's remarks were clear and strong about people with a disability and carers. The Senator has huge background experience. I worked with him in the past and look forward to working with him again in the future. It is good that we have individuals such as Senators John Freeman, Collette Kelleher and John Dolan in the House in the interests of people - I will not say sectoral interests - because they come with first-hand knowledge. I know that Senator John Dolan is very persistent and I look forward to working with him.
Senator Catherine Noone raised the very important issue of obesity and stated that unless we, as a nation, tackled this problem, particularly as it related to juveniles, we would be in serious trouble. I commend the Senator for her tremendous work in the previous Seanad, for I which pay tribute to her. I also acknowledge former Senator Eamonn Coghlan whose Steps for Life programme is one I hope will come to fruition. We have the Healthy Ireland umbrella and I hope that, as part of Seanad's programme of work, the Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, will come before the House to discuss this very important issue.
Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor referred to carers. She also referred to the Tír na nÓg respite care services in Carlow. I do not have an answer to her question, but I will certainly be happy to speak to the Minister responsible on her behalf about the matter. As I know the town of Carlow quite well, I will be very happy to ensure whatever the Senator requires is pursued. Deputy Pat Deering has also raised the issue with me. It is one that requires work and if the Senator gives me the details, I will be happy to take them to the Minister.
Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh raised an issue similar to that raised by Senator Paudie Coffey about the importance of education. There is a concern about third level dropout rates, particularly in the first year of college, either as a result of lack of information or students choosing the wrong course. It is about providing proper information and guidance. It is important to look at how students can be kept in suitable courses. Equally, if a student drops out of a course, he or she and his or her family should not necessarily be penalised all of the time. The Senator is correct on the level of stress among students at second level. I look forward to bringing the new Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss the second level curriculum and the level of stress among students.
Senator Neale Richmond raised the issue of Brexit. He also raised the issue of European funding for the Erasmus+ programme. I will be happy to take up the matter with the Minister for Education and Skills. I compliment the Senator on the role he plays in the pro-European movement. It is important - I repeat what I said earlier - that all Members become active in promoting a vote to remain in the Brexit referendum.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson's suggestion in respect of the Passport Office is a good one. If he was to go by what happens in my office, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade would be aware that there was an issue with people submitting their applications late or forgetting about the expiration date on their passports. The Senator is right that people receive reminders about the late payment of different bills. This is a matter in which they might benefit from receiving reminders. What the Senator said made common sense. Sometimes the common-sense approach is the best one to take because it means that people can avoid a great deal of hassle, fear and panic. All of us in the House have received requests for assistance in having passports issued.
Senator Paul Gavan raised the issue of child care and funding. It is fair to request the establishment of a committee on children, but it is important to recognise that the previous Government established Tusla, provided child care services for an extra year and changed the child care landscape. However, it is also important that we work with the child care sector to ensure remuneration levels and conditions of service are improved. The zero-to-three or even the zero-to-five year age group is important. It is vital, therefore, that we invest adequately in child care services because if we do not, the cost will be paid later in life. We look forward to receiving any proposal the Senator wishes to make. It is important to prioritise the early years sector. The Senator will find no issue with me in that regard.
I compliment Senator Frances Black on her very personal and important contribution. She is correct to highlight the issues of alcohol abuse and gambling. Concerns about online gambling need to be addressed. I had the pleasure of working on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which is on the Government list for publication. It is an important Bill because, as a nation, we have an issue with alcohol consumption, not just in terms of the volume consumed but also in terms of binge drinking. In recent weeks we have heard many sports people speak about their gambling addiction. It is easy for someone to pick up his or her mobile phone and use a gambling app. With the press of a button, he or she can spend X amount of money, perhaps without even realising it. That might be a simplistic view, but it is an issue on which we need to be very vigilant. I look forward to working with the Senator on it.
The issue of health care was raised by Senator Colm Burke. He is right that the talks between the Department, the HSE and the two doctors' groups - the IMO and the NAGP - need to come to fruition because the primary care system is dependent on doctors playing a pivotal role. I hope to see that change happen. On hospital attendances, I hope the hospital groups will see a change such that there will be a better and improved system by which the issue of waiting times can be tackled.
Senator Paul Daly referred to national guidelines for wind energy projects. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, who is responsible for the planning element for the energy sector and the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Deputy Denis Naughten, who is involved in the other element to come to the House to discuss this important matter.
Senator Paul Daly also raised the issue of thoroughbreds, a topic on which I have also received representations and to which consideration should be given.
Senator Denis Landy spoke about councillors who are not just responsible for electing many of us to this House but who also play a very important role in local government. The Senator is correct that the role of councillors has changed considerably. We need to reflect on how training and resources can be provided to improve how they do their business. I was very pleased when Senator Paddy Burke tabled a Commencement matter on the topic earlier. I know that the Fine Gael group had a meeting yesterday on it to see how the cause of conscience could be advanced. It is important that all Members work collaboratively on the issue. I know that Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Victor Boyhan have a motion on the Order Paper and that Senator Aidan Davitt has also raised the matter. If Members speak with one voice, rather than being half-cocked, a better return might be achieved for councillors who are, in many cases, working full-time in their positions, with little or no remuneration or few resources. It is important that this be acknowledged.
Senator Joe O'Reilly referred to Bailieborough Garda station. From speaking to him, I am aware that this is a very important matter about which he is extremely concerned. I will ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW to communicate with him on it. If he requires a debate on it in the House, we will be happy to facilitate him.
As I mentioned, Senator Aidan Davitt raised the matter of local government and councillors. I fully agree with what he said and hope we will work together on the issue.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell spoke about public expenditure reform and procurement. This is a concern for many small and medium-sized enterprises that are locked out of the procurement process because of the tendering procedures that apply. It is important that we debate the matter with the Minister responsible. I will try to organise such a debate as early as possible.
Senator Robbie Gallagher joined Senator Frances Black and others in commenting on the role of councillors and referring to concerns about online gambling. It is important that we also debate these issues.
Senator Michael McDowell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.