The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on health services, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. and conclude not later than 6.45 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply. As Members will note from the Order Paper and the schedule, I propose that immediately following the Order of Business we have expressions of sympathy for the late Jo Cox, MP, who was tragically shot and killed last weekend. As we have limited time, I propose that we confine contributions to five minutes per group spokesperson and that members of groups may share time, if they so desire.
Order of Business
I refer to the gun attack on a young man on Monasterboice Road in Crumlin during the early hours of yesterday morning. This latest gun attack in the heart of my constituency, just a short distance from my office, is of concern to me and the Fianna Fáil group. Less than half way into the year, seven people have lost their lives in the bloody war between two feuding families in this city. While the circumstances surrounding yesterday's shooting remain unclear, it is clear that the measures introduced by the Government are failing miserably in curtailing gun attacks across Dublin.
I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to set out and explain the actions she intends to take to provide the Garda with the resources and manpower it needs to effectively put the people running around the capital city with guns out of business. It is unacceptable that any community is living in fear and waiting for the next gun shots to ring out. I firmly believe the Minister and the Government have failed to comprehend the seriousness of the gun attacks in the capital city, the first of which took place in January, and that they have since failed to resource and support the Garda effectively in tackling crime head on. It is for that reason that I call on the Minister to attend the House. While I acknowledge arrests were made at the weekend owing to the increase in the level of surveillance, I also note that the armed response unit, for which €5 million was announced in February, has yet to be set up. I ask the Minister to examine the introduction of stricter sentencing legislation for the possession of firearms and perhaps the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for such offences.
The issue I wish to raise is bin charges. The major mistake made was providing for privatisation. It was an absolute disaster. We all know what happened in Italy. The Mafia controls the collection of rubbish. What did we see happen here? A while ago we had bin companies attack the lorries of others and burn them out in car parks. That is pretty close to the activities of the Mafia. The companies involved are not even registered in Ireland; they are registered in the Isle of Man and because of this we do not know whether they make a profit. We pay for the collection of bins through the bin tax; we pay for water through water rates; we pay for roads through road tax, but for what is the revenue from property tax used? I think it is used to pay off the gambling debts of the German and French banks. We now have a situation where, as we heard this morning, 86,000 people have had money taken from their pension payments and other sources of income without their consent to pay the property tax. Some 3,000 people were sent to the sheriff to have their goods distrained. That is appalling. This takes us back to the 19th century to rack-renting where if a peasant dared to improve his or her holding, the landlord shoved up the rent, which meant that he or she was punished. What is now being done is exactly the same.
Some 40 years ago I bought a house on North Great George's Street for £25,000. I have spent hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of euro on it. I started the North Great George's Street Preservation Society and rescued No. 35. I was involved in the transfer of ownership of many houses and although we rescued the street, what has been the result? We have been punished. The property tax has been increased, which is unspeakable. People should not be taxed on their homes. One's home should be inviolate. I said the same about mortgages, that there should be a Minister with responsibility for home security to make sure Irish citizens would be able to stay in their own homes.
I look forward to the debate tomorrow because there is an awful lot more to this issue; there are some very shady takeover deals between the companies involved. I do not believe they have been monitored properly by the authorities. The situation is appalling. It is part of a mass privatisation programme by the Government and I hope it will be stopped in its tracks and that the process of privatisation can be reversed. If half a dozen companies can make a profit, I do not know why Dublin Corporation could not at least run it on an equal basis. Until recently in my area there were five or six refuse companies operating and every bloody day of the week we had bin lorries travelling up and down street at all times of the day and night. As I said, I look forward to tomorrow's debate, but I use the opportunity to call on the Order of Business for something to be done about this matter.
I raise the issue of Brexit and its effects here because it will be too late to raise it next week. I appeal to Irish people living in Britain and our comrades in the North of Ireland to vote in favour of staying as part of the European project.
I make this appeal because of the consequences of Brexit which have been outlined, not least the reinstatement of the Border and the impact this would have on the Thirty-two Counties. There is learning in this issue for all of us because it shows how much the all-Ireland economy is dependent on relationships between Ireland and Britain, across all issues, including agriculture, fisheries, rural development, health and the economy. The House could play a part in setting out a vision for how to integrate an all-Ireland strategy with all of the work we do. While I welcome the increased co-operation between Ireland and Britain, it must continue and we must further examine developments in the British economy. The most recent ESRI report indicates that Ireland will not reach the rate of growth forecast for next year. The interdependence of the two states needs to be at the forefront of everything the Seanad does. Above all, I encourage people to use their franchise later this week for the betterment of the Thirty-two Counties and the United Kingdom.
As we approach the end of the 2015-16 academic year, the Cassells report which was due for publication eight months ago has still not been published. The higher education sector is at crisis point. Students are being charged a steadily increasing fee to attend college under the guise of a contribution charge. These increases and the corresponding decrease in State funding for higher education have had a noticeably negative impact on the quality of education. We are seeing poorer graduate outcomes and a diminished global reputation, two crucial factors in attracting a diverse range of students from across the country and around the world. The outputs of third level institutions provide €10 billion for the economy and international students make a further economic contribution of €1.3 billion. While increasing investment in higher education has a major social impact, it also has a strong, noticeable and positive economic impact. The wealth and progress of a country rely heavily on the level of educational attainment of its population. The benefits of a publicly funded and accessible higher education system clearly outweigh the benefits of education enjoyed by the individual. However, this is not reflected in State investment.
When one moves to commodity education, universities are transformed into training centres influenced by industry which then requires a faster return on investment. This commodification was exactly what was proposed to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in a recent document prepared by departmental officials. The move towards a €4,000 annual fee, supported by a student loans system, would put higher education further out of reach of those who need it most. The document in question also refers to the expected drawn out nature of the introduction of a student loans system. If we intend to expend energy and valuable political capital in resolving the higher education funding crisis, we should look towards a strategy that would benefit higher level institutions and students equally and would not bury young people in debt. In a period of economic recovery it is time the State reinstated third level education funding to pre-crisis levels, possibly in the next three budgets. Indebting young people limits opportunity and choice and pushes graduates into employment to meet loan repayments rather than pursuing the career they want to follow or changing employments as they wish. We must continue to treat education as a public good.
It is now more crucial than ever that we see publication of the Cassells report, the findings of which will provide the future framework of third level education. The report has been delayed for eight months and the new academic year will start in a short time. While some of the report's contents have been leaked, third level students deserve to know its full contents, but they are being left in the dark about the future of the third level sector and their financial commitments for the coming year. In recent years it has become almost a given that the State can no longer afford to publicly fund third level education, but this is not true as it is becoming increasingly clear that the State cannot afford not to fund third level education. This issue needs to be debated in the House before the next academic term commences.
I take the opportunity to ask the Leader to obtain some information for the House on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. A lot of work has been carried out on the Bill and I would hate to see it slip off the radar at this stage. Former Deputy Anne Ferris did a huge amount of work on the legislation which is very important.
I also request information on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill. There was all-party agreement on the report compiled by the justice committee. The Bill passed through all Stages in this House following a set of strong contributions made by many Senators and had commenced Second Stage in the Dáil. Will the Leader ascertain what the current status of the Bill is and when it will be reintroduced? It will be a very important Bill in protecting sex workers and dealing with the issue of criminalisation. I would be grateful if the legislation was brought forward.
On the comments made by Senator David Norris on bin workers and waste charges for the lifting of bins, I, too, look forward to the debate tomorrow. Those who forced the issue and in the process moved the service away from local authorities by engaging in a daily protest and the encouragement of people not to pay waste management charges to their local authorities are the very ones who generated the privatisation of the service. As soon as the private sector companies moved in, I did not see one protest against them. When local authority workers provided a very good public service throughout the country, the very same people were at the forefront of the protests and demonstrations and in the locking of bin lorries into yards, thus not allowing them to collect refuse in this city and many other parts of the country. Therefore, I very much look forward to tomorrow's debate. It will be an opportunity for us to hear the views of Members of different parties, but let us remember the forced privatisation through a non-payment campaign against the local authorities.
Last weekend I noted with great interest the celebrations to mark what would have been the 125th birthday of John A. Costello. As Senators will know, he was leader of Fine Gael, a Taoiseach and also in 1949 declared Ireland a republic. Up until that time, it was an active member of the Commonwealth. Relations are now at an all-time high with the Commonwealth that has a population of 2.2 billion and comprises 53 countries, of which 33 are republics. Since 1971 the Queen has had only a titular role in the Commonwealth. As there is support for world peace, liberty, human rights, equality and free trade, it would be a good time to have a debate on whether the Republic of Ireland should consider rejoining the Commonwealth. Many members of the Irish diaspora live in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand; we should not, therefore, fear rejoining.
I did not see that mentioned in the Fine Gael manifesto.
This is a mature republic. We must seek a debate to discuss the economy and the fact that there are 2.2 billion people in the Commonwealth. It is time we took our place again within it. The Republic of Ireland should consider the matter.
We will see how Brexit goes first.
I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to attend the House to discuss the soaring cost of car insurance. There is a need for a review of the workings of the Injuries Board that was established in 2004. It is a State organisation that contributed initially to a reduction in premiums and the cost of claims. At this stage compensation awards are soaring. I refer, for instance, to compensation levels for soft tissue injuries. In a case involving whiplash the average compensation payment is €15,000, compared to a figure of £5,000 or thereabouts in the United Kingdom. There is a big difference in claim costs.
There is also a significant number of fraudulent claims.
Government action is needed in this regard. Fraud is widespread, with accidents being arranged and organised. The damages awarded are soaring and the insurance companies have increased premiums by up to 50%. This is making it very difficult for young people, in particular, to obtain or retain motor insurance.
We have all come across cases of abuse of the insurance system. I know of one case in which an individual got a scrape on his car and received €4,500. Six months later he discovered that he had soft tissue injuries. The doctor said it was fine and no problem because the claim had been submitted. The insurance company did not carry out a detailed examination or investigation of the individual concerned, even though he had submitted numerous other claims. It settled for a sum of €10,000 or €15,000 because it did not want to incur the cost of obtaining medical advice, senior and junior counsel or solicitors. Companies will just settle claims, but who pays? The person who pays the premium is the one who carries the can at the end of the day. It is about time action was taken. I, therefore, ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue. We have Members with a wide range of experience. Many of the professions are represented in the House, including medical doctors, senior counsel, junior counsel, solicitors, lawyers and so forth, and they could give their views on the matter. We want fair settlements and insurance premiums, particularly for young people. We are paying for the Quinn Insurance collapse, uninsured drivers and so on. These issues are all connected, but who is paying? Young people who want to drive a car are being victimised. I ask the Leader to consider arranging a debate on the issue.
I join Senator Terry Leyden in calling for a debate on the cost of motor insurance.
I heard a victim of cyber harassment on radio, an interview which colleagues may also have heard. I was shocked to hear how the young woman concerned had endured an outrageous violation of her privacy when explicit pictures and a video were posted online by a disgruntled ex-boyfriend. She was completely unaware that she was being filmed and that the film was online until somebody pointed it out to her. The investigation and prosecution of this activity are very poorly provided for under Irish law. This leaves the Garda with limited scope to act in such circumstances. Thankfully, Irish legislation is very strong for child victims, especially in the case of the distribution of child sexual images. However, protections are far weaker for adults who have been seriously victimised on social media or online, including being depicted in intimate private photographs and videos. Last year the United Kingdom passed legislation which made it illegal to disclose a private sexual photograph or film without the consent of the person depicted. In the United States 34 states have revenge porn laws in place, while Australia and New Zealand have also recently introduced state laws criminalising it. Recent amendments to the 1951 Post Office (Amendment) Act which criminalises the use of a phone for harassment purposes include text messages sent by phone. However, it is unclear if suspect activity on social media conducted online via a smartphone is covered by the legislation. Because of the lack of prosecutions, there is no case law. It is totally unacceptable that there is no legal deterrent in this country for anyone who wishes to violate another person's privacy in the most explicit way. I am calling for the introduction of legislation in line with that recently introduced in the United Kingdom to provide adequate protection for adults from the scourge of cyber harassment and revenge porn. This affects women, men and teenagers and should be taken more seriously.
I refer to the treatment of workers. There was a lot of discussion in the House when Clerys vanished off the face of the earth leaving hundreds of workers unemployed. My colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, introduced good legislation in this area when he was a Minister of State. Members of the IMPACT trade union who work for Childminding Ireland have been on strike since 7 June because they were served with compulsory redundancy notices without any meaningful talks taking place.
The proposed redundancies are unnecessary. Childminding Ireland is a State-funded body which is not experiencing financial difficulties and management has failed to produce a business case to justify the job losses. IMPACT believes Childminding Ireland is illegally threatening redundancies to force administrative and specialist staff out of their jobs before replacing them with others. Childminding Ireland has refused to engage seriously in consultation or conciliation organised by the Workplace Relations Commission, although it has misleadingly told journalists that it has conducted a four-month consultation process. In fact, according to the union, no consultation has taken place. Childminding Ireland has had plenty of opportunities to explain why it thinks restructuring and redundancies are necessary, but it has consistently failed to do so. It is clear that no business case has been made because there is none. Although management has stated existing staff members will be able to apply for as yet unspecified new roles in a restructured organisation, the union believes the new roles are being constructed to exclude such persons. It remains available to resolve these issues through negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission. It is trying to protect its workers before some fly-by-night dumps them on the street as happened in the case of Clerys. I am not saying the State-funded body in this case is wrong in its belief that redundancies are needed, but there should be some way of compelling it to go before the Workplace Relations Commission to justify what it is looking for. It should be required to enter into meaningful negotiations. It is outrageous that the workers are protesting out on the street today. I ask the Leader to address this issue with the relevant Minister.
Senator Terry Leyden raised the important issue of increased insurance costs, but he did not refer to the profits of insurance companies. We got rid of the jury system a number of years ago in deciding on the level of damages because we thought such a move would lead to cheaper insurance. We then set up the Personal Injuries Assessment Board because we thought it would result in cuts in legal fees. The insurance companies now want further cuts because they are still not satisfied. Nobody is talking about the profits being made by insurance companies or the need for them to be upfront on the reason insurance costs so much in this country. There is a need for an honest debate on the matter. It is important to recognise that every time we pay insurance premiums, it costs us all more because of bad management within an insurance company, Quinn Insurance, where moneys were used wrongly.
I understand a committee has been established to deal with the ten-year health care plan, but there is no reference to any Member of the Seanad being on the committee. It is important to emphasise that Members of this House could make a contribution to the debate on the plan. I ask the Leader to seek clarification from the Minister for Health on the inclusion of Members of the Seanad in the committee when it discusses the ten-year plan.
Eight months ago in this House the former Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, gave me a commitment that a report on the review of the fair deal scheme, particularly as it applied to farmers, would be made available in June 2016. I ask the Minister for Health to make that report available as we need to have a debate on the matter. It is extremely important that there be a level playing field for everyone under the fair deal scheme.
I also want to refer to Childminding Ireland. I attended the protest at lunchtime today and have to say I was shocked to hear about the treatment meted out to workers like Bernie Griffiths, Jacquie Donnelly, Fiona Turner and Anne McCourtney, who have given over 60 years of loyal service to a company that is funded by the State through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Despite this, when IMPACT wrote to the Minister-----
The Senator should not name people in the House who are not here to defend themselves. He should be careful not to do so.
I am here to support them.
Either way, they make take issue with it. I am just cautioning the Senator.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh; I accept your point. We have heard much about new politics and have a new Minister in place. However, when the union wrote to her, she appeared to sit on her hands, saying it had nothing to do with her. Her Department funds the child care facility in question. It has made the people in question redundant and, at the same time, told them to reapply for their jobs, if they like to do so. Does the House see this as acceptable behaviour in the 21st century? None of us should and I believe none of us would. The issue is urgent. The people concerned are in their third week on strike and we need a response from the Minister. Will the Leader urgently ask her to address the issue?
I am deeply concerned about the process through which school building projects are progressed through construction and the order in which they appear on the final list. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Skills, or a representative on his behalf, to outline the procedures involved to the House? The new school building project at Coosan national school in Athlone is close to my heart, as it was for my late sister Nicky McFadden. For more than 16 years we worked to have it included in the new school construction list. It was approved, completed stage 2B and was to proceed to construction in 2016. We have been informed that 66 buildings will proceed to construction this year, but our school is not one of them. There is a school in my locality which came on-line only two years ago, after Coosan national school, and where construction will start next week. While I welcome the development, there is an unfairness in the process. I would like to see some transparency in the process to understand how and why some projects are jumped up the list. Up to 65% of the pupils in Coosan national school are in prefabs. Vital work is required on the existing school building over the summer which will not be cost effective if the project is to come on-line in 2017. Will the Minister for Education and Skills explain to the House how one school which has been in the process for 16 years can suddenly be dropped, while the project at another school which has only been involved in the process for two years can suddenly proceed to construction?
In most of the media today there have been comments that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is proposing to instruct local authorities to introduce charges at civic bring centres. This is rather odd, as it is meant to be Government policy that we allow and empower local authorities to make decisions on their affairs and operate within their budgets. This is one of the common problems with the property tax because no one quite knows what they are paying it for or understands the autonomy of local authorities to manage their affairs in a professional way. I believe in water and waste charges. The difference lies in having fair water and waste charges, with the services being provided for people explained to them. There is a massive fiasco about waste, with many people jumping for headlines and publicity, stating they are against this or that. We have to pay for services. People need to get real. It seems to be the in-thing to say one is against everything. I am in favour of water and bin charges. One gives a good service and explains the cost, while not ripping people off. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister, when he comes into the Seanad tomorrow for the debate on waste charges, to explain his intentions in suggesting or directing local authorities to charge citizens who take the trouble to manage their waste and take it to a civic bring centre? These are the ones who are proactive in segregating and managing their waste. I would be against any charge for such a service.
I raise the issue of commercial business rates for small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. Recently, I was asked to attend the local courthouse to see three businesses being dragged before the court like common criminals because they were in arrears in paying their local authority rates.
This is happening all over the country, not just in my area but in everybody's. As the economy improves and grows, more local authorities are putting the boot down. Businesses have survived during the past five or six years through a disastrous economic crash and should be put on a pedestal for keeping their doors open, but instead they are being crucified. Politicians have done nothing to address the issue. The rates Bill dates back to the 1800s and its only provision is that people must pay. We all put on the green jersey two years ago when social and GAA clubs needed help on the rates issue. We introduced legislation, which was fantastic and right. I appeal for politicians in this and the other House to do something about our draconian rates legislation. Business owners who have employed people and paid their taxes, including VAT, are being dragged before judges like paupers. We need the legislation to be changed and must debate it in the House. We need to see if companies in the past five years have broken even or lost money. If they have broken even or lost money, we should consider helping them and, in some cases, wiping the debt. In some cases, the debt has been wiped and favouritism has come into play in certain local authorities, whereas in others they have gone the whole hog and collected the money. We should help SMEs by introducing legislation which should provide for calculating rates based on profits rather than the square footage of a premises. A premises in a small rural town where five people might pass the door in one day might pay the same amount in rates as a premises in the Blanchardstown Centre where thousands of people pass through the doors. It is ludicrous. I call on the Minister to come to the House to debate the issue and help those who have kept their doors open and helped rural communities but who are being slaughtered and dragged down. What I see happening is disgraceful.
Éirím chun tacú leis an méid atá ráite ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Conway-Walsh. I support the contribution made by my colleague, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, and ask the Leader to maintain the pressure on his Government colleagues and all Members of the Oireachtas on the Brexit referendum. I will leave this institution on Thursday after the conclusion of business to travel back up the road to vote in the referendum. When I was travelling to Leinster House last week, I sat across from two young American tourists who were heading from Belfast to Dublin. They asked an elderly gentleman in the carriage whether anybody would stop them at the Border to check their passports and papers. I interjected by saying, "Not yet." This is a fear and concern, among many others, not least about the impact on the economy, infrastructure, the agriculture sector and the longstanding and important contribution the European Union has made to the peace process, as well as the political process, in the North through institutions and the very significant funding streams to build peace and justice initiatives. I ask the Leader to maintain this pressure. The Government has played a very proactive role. The Taoiseach and other colleagues have been to the North, which I welcome. They have also travelled across the water to Britain to encourage the Irish community there to vote. I ask Members to maintain this pressure and that, if they have friends, colleagues or relatives in Britain or the North, to ensure they use their vote on Thursday. I say this as an individual and a party member who has many concerns about the European Union, as it stands, not least about the democratic deficit and the erosion of national sovereignty.
I am amazed at and shocked by Senator Frank Feighan who is no longer in the Chamber. I hope he is outside reflecting on what he proposed. If I am worried about the democratic deficit in the European Union, I would certainly be worried about a democratic deficit in the British Commonwealth.
I am amazed that in 2016, 100 years after the Easter Rising, when the ideals and visions have not yet been fulfilled, that a member of Fine Gael would come into the House-----
He wants County Roscommon to join the Commonwealth.
I ask that Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile be allowed to conclude without interruption.
If Senator Frank Feighan does, he would ask us to doff the cap, bend the knee and crawl back into the British Commonwealth. It was a shameful contribution and I hope we will all treat it with the contempt it deserves.
It might be an April Fool's joke or something.
This is a democratic institution in which every Member can make a comment, although Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile may not like it.
I support Senator Ray Butler's call on SMEs and the rates they must pay. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House to discuss the provision of incentives for small companies to set up? I acknowledge that they work with LEOs and that a number of small companies have been set up in recent times, mainly in urban areas,. There is more positivity among SMEs, but we must work with and encourage them to develop.
It is great to see the new politics of Fine Gael coming around to Sinn Féin policy, particularly on the issue of rates, because for the past five years Sinn Féin has been calling for a change to rates in order that they would be calculated on the basis of profits and the size of businesses. I agree with Senators Maria Byrne and Ray Butler that a debate is needed on the issue and it is good that they are finally coming around to our way of thinking.
Tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeadh díospóireacht againn maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Bhí caint ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla sa Rialtas deiridh a bhí ag dul ag cúlú ó thaobh na gcumhachtaí a bheadh ag an gCoimisinéir Teanga. Bhí feachtas pobail ann ag cur an choinne sin. Tá an straitéis 20 bliain titithe i dtraipisí. Níl dóthain acmhainní á cur ar fáil agus níl dóthain tacaíocht á thabhairt don teanga. Tá Údarás na Gaeltachta ag fulaingt de bharr easpa maoinithe. Níl me soiléir cén treo atá sé ag dul ó thaobh spriocanna fostaíochta, cúrsaí forbartha pobail agus mar sin de. Ba mhaith liom go ndéanfar plé arís ar thoghchán Údarás na Gaeltachta mar ní dóigh liom go bhfuil an daonlathas ag bord Údarás na Gaeltachta agus a bhí.
Bhí go leor oibre ar pholasaí oideachais Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta déanta ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna ach ní fhaca muid fós an Bille nua atá chun oideachais Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta a thabhairt chun cinn. Cá bhfuil sé sin? Tá comhchoiste nua le bunú ó thaobh cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Caithfidh muide sa Seanad cinntiú go mbeidh ballraíocht ón Seanad ansin. Sílim go gcaithfidh muid coiste dár gcuid féin a bhunú le sin a chinntiú. Ó thaobh mhaoiniú na n-earnálacha trí chéile, tá buiséad na Gaeltachta gearrtha siar arís agus arís eile. Dá bhrí sin, bheadh sé fíor-thábhachtach an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Kyne, a thabhairt isteach leis na ceisteanna seo a phlé agus go mbeadh muid chun tosaigh ar an bproiséas buiséid le gur féidir linne, mar Sheanadóirí, brú a chur le go gcuirfear airgead dóthanach ar fáil do chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta sa bhuiséad a bheas le teacht.
I highlight the shoddy attitude big business can have to the ordinary man and woman and what it is getting away with it. I refer on this occasion to insurance companies, not banks. An elderly woman in my home town was unable to pay her car insurance premium by postal order. She sent a postal order to the insurance company, but it was returned and the company demanded that she pay by credit card. Ultimately, she had to get a family member to supply a credit card number. There is a cohort of older people and people from a certain socioeconomic background who have limited options when making payments. It is scandalous that an insurance company will not accept a postal order, for which a person has presented cash to the post office. This undermines the services provided by An Post. I can give someone a postal order to pay a bill and he or she can lodge it in a bank similar to lodging a cheque. I am bewildered that the insurance company in question would not accept a postal order. This demonstrates haughtiness and the fact that it can get away with it. I would like the new Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House to discuss issues affecting post offices, including that of sustaining the network, which is always topical.
I previously raised the issue of trying to stimulate more commercial business for the post office network to make sure it had a future and that it could engage in activities to provide a service for the community.
We want the excellent post office network to remain in place. The Bobby Kerr report was commissioned in order that avenues could be explored and developed to make this happen. I would like the Minister to come before the House to outline the progress made within the working groups and, in particular, to pursue the issue I raised of post offices being allowed to process and handle driving licence applications on account of the new tender procedure being pursued by the Road Safety Authority. This would bring it into line with the system for processing passport applications and create new business. It would be another way to sustain post offices. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House because this is an issue that affects the entire country, throughout which the post office network is spread.
I support Senator Michelle Mulherin's request that the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources be invited to come before the House to discuss post offices. She raised two very important issues, namely, business being taken away from post offices and the fact that postal orders which are part and parcel of post office business were not being accepted by insurance companies, which is outrageous.
The Senator also referred to driving licences. As we know, there are only one or two locations in each county where people can obtain or renew a driving licence. When the licence process is put out to tender, the post office would be an ideal partner for the centres that issue driving licences. Post offices could process licence applications and then forward them to the licensing authority or office. This would eliminate the need for people to travel 40, 50 or even up to 100 miles to get to a centre where they can renew their licences. In remote parts of the country the post office would be an ideal place in which to process driving licence applications. People would be able to go there with their photographs and applications and have them sent to the licensing authority, with their licences being issued to them in a couple of days or a week. I fully support Senator Michelle Mulherin's request that the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources be invited to come to the House to discuss the viability of post offices throughout the country.
There is concern among people about the VAT rate for the tourism industry. Businesses in Dublin might not need it, as evidenced by the huge increase in the rates charged for hotel rooms here. I admit that there are not enough hotel rooms in Dublin and hope there will be expansion in the number through another building programme. I am concerned about areas beyond the Pale and ask the Leader to use his good offices to make representations to the Minister for Finance on the matter. If it can be afforded, I hope the Minister will be able to ensure, in the forthcoming budget, the VAT rate to which I refer will remain in place. This is very important for the future of the tourism industry. I do not want to refer to Brexit; we will wait to see how matters turn out on Thursday. I would hate to think of what could happen to the tourism industry if the British were to leave the European Union. The value of sterling would decrease; visitors from the United Kingdom are getting great value here at present and we know what would happen otherwise. I hope Britain will remain in the European Union.
There are 32,000 homeowners with mortgages that are in arrears for more than two years. It is the elephant in the room for people with homes. I ask the Leader to arrange for the relevant Ministers to come to the House for a wide-ranging debate on whether the insolvency regime is fit for purpose. An appeal mechanism was introduced to allow people to appeal decisions to the Circuit Court. I have heard anecdotal evidence that many homeowners are not availing of this mechanism. Why is that the case? We should have a debate on the matter in the House as the family home is very important. This issue of people not paying their mortgages for more than two years is extremely important. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange for the relevant Ministers to come to the House for a debate on the matter.
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an gCeannaire maidir le deis a bheith againn díospóireacht a bheith againn ar chursaí Gaeilge go ginearálta, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge, an teanga dúchais agus na céimeanna atá á ghlacadh ag an Roinn chun na spriocanna atá leagtha síos sa straitéis a bhaint amach. Ba mhaith liom dá bhféadfadh an díospóireacht sin a bheith againn roimh bhriseadh an tsamhraidh. Chomh maith le sin, the summer economic statement published today makes for positive reading. However, it does not take into account some of the risk factors for Ireland, one of which was mentioned by our Sinn Féin colleague - Brexit - but there are many others, including the financial regulation of banks and many other institutions, some of which were highlighted in the banking inquiry. There are financial, economic, demographic and political risks facing the country. Year on year, we are overspending in the area of health, yet we are unable to meet, from the perspective of the public purse, the demographic challenges posed by an ageing population, whereby up to 4% of the population will need nursing home care by 2025. I, therefore, call on the Leader to facilitate a debate with the relevant Minister or Ministers across a range of Departments on the plans being put in place to meet the challenges posed and ascertain the level of risk across each Department. It might mean many Ministers having to come into the House, but we should be looking at the issue in the context of a five or ten year spending plan. The medium-term objective announced today makes for positive reading, in that it recognises a fiscal space of around €3 billion in 2019. Some of the money will be put into a savings scheme similar to the National Pensions Reserve Fund, but it is not a great deal of money when the challenges mentioned are brought into the equation. I ask that we look at the challenges facing the country and that the Leader consider the best way to debate the issue.
I join in the call made by the Fianna Fáil group leader, Senator Catherine Ardagh, for a debate on crime. This city has been ravaged by the recent gangland assassinations. We all need to be on the alert to and highlight the issue. The Minister would be welcome to come to the House for a debate on it in the near future and I call on the Leader to facilitate my request.
I also call for a debate on tourism. It is an opportune time to have such a debate, given that the weather has been reasonably good in recent weeks and many more people are visiting the country. I note the concern expressed by my colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, about Brexit and the potential detrimental effect if the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union. The tourism industry is going well, but we cannot become complacent in any circumstance. I commend RTE for its programme on the Wild Atlantic Way. The scenery is phenomenal and the programme showed the authentic Ireland. The production should be made available to other channels to be shown throughout the world. The programme broadcast last Sunday night was incredible. Tourism has the potential to create thousands of jobs in many parts of the country. We, therefore, need to up our game constantly to ensure the services and facilities provided for those who visit are second to none, that the experience is kept authentic and that we do not destroy it. I would like in early course, perhaps before the end of term, given that we are in the summer season, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to hear statements on tourism over a couple of hours and to outline his vision for its potential development, both in rural and urban areas, in the coming years.
I thank the 24 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business. Senators Catherine Ardagh and Martin Conway raised the issue of crime, particularly in Dublin's inner city. The success of Operation Thor has shown that crime levels have fallen throughout the country. Any loss of life is to be deplored. I commend members of An Garda Síochána for their vigilance and surveillance last weekend when they apprehended criminals in and around Senator Catherine Ardagh's constituency. The Government is committed to recruiting more gardaí. It has reopened the Garda College in Templemore. There are new gardaí at work, with a target of recruiting 15,000 gardaí by the end of the Government's term of office. Equally, there have been additional resources and moneys for Garda overtime, vehicles and equipment. I agree with the Senators that we cannot be complacent. We must work consistently to tackle crime with all stakeholders. Only yesterday I attended a meeting of the policing forum in Cork city, where the level of crime is down by 53%, which is positive.
Tomorrow the Sinn Féin motion on refuse charges will be discussed. Senators David Norris, Kevin Humphreys and Victor Boyhan raised the issue which we need to see being addressed and redressed. There is no way we can allow gouging or the rip-off of customers by any of those involved in the industry. To be fair, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, has been working hard since the issue was politicised by some. All of us on this side of the House, as well as those in Fianna Fáil, are concerned to protect the consumer. The model of waste disposal must be changed. As I said last week in the House, we cannot allow a situation where a customer, no matter who he or she is or where he or she is from, has his or her bills increased. Senator Victor Boyhan is correct. People must be cognisant that they have to pay something somewhere and that there is nothing for nothing anymore. That is a fair comment.
Senators Rose Conway-Walsh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Frank Feighan, Paul Coghlan and Martin Conway raised the issue of Brexit. I join all of them in calling on all those of us in favour of a vote to remain to ensure it is realised in the coming days. It is good that all of the political parties represented in the Chamber today are in favour of that side of the argument. In particular, it is right that we address the North-South issue. Those of us of a particular era have no wish to see the return of Border posts. We have changed and the country is now a better place as a result. The issues of trade, commerce and connectivity are important. The issue of North-South relations is relevant, be it implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, British-Irish relations or working in the institutions. Everyone will benefit from the United Kingdom remaining within the Europe Union in the context of the continuation of the peace process. I hope that in the coming days all of us in the Chamber will exhort a "Yes" or "Remain" vote. That is critical. Again, I implore people to use whatever means they can to urge such a vote. The all-Ireland strategy is one that I embrace and wish to see pursued.
Senators Lynn Ruane and Gabrielle McFadden raised, in different guises, the issue of education. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, is prepared to come to the House once he receives the Cassells report. I understand it has not yet been concluded and presented to him. I agree with Senator Lynn Ruane on the funding of higher education in that the issues of expenditure and funding are linked. I note that the provision of resources, in the context of universities seeking funding for research and development, has become part of the business plan. The other point made by the Senator is also important. We cannot recreate barriers to third level education and must be open to allowing people to continue to become part of the post-primary school education system.
Senator Kevin Humphreys referred to the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. My understanding is that it is working its way through the Dáil where it is awaiting the appointment of select committees. We can raise the issue of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill with the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Senators Terry Leyden and Colm Burke raised the issue of insurance.
Senator Terry Leyden is right. We will facilitate a debate on the issue. Senator Colm Burke made a very important point. He was a member of the body that reported on the issue of medical indemnity insurance. The Government is very concerned about the rising cost of car insurance. The Minister for Finance has engaged with the Central Bank and other stakeholders in examining the issue and is to report back to the Government.
Senator Catherine Noone raised the important issues of cyber harassment and revenge porn. Listening to "Today With Sean O'Rourke" this morning one could not but have been struck by the powerlessness of the strong victim interviewed. Having initially overcome the distress caused, she became empowered and took the battle to the person who was harassing and abusing her. The Law Reform Commission has submitted a piece of work to the Government, but all of us in this House need to see some movement on legislation because this is not just about women; it is also about men. In the era of social media there are cameras on smartphones throughout the world and the issue highlighted by the victim mentioned is one on which many families can testify and to which the Government must have a response.
Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Paul Gavan raised the issue of child care and in that context referred to the workers before the Law Reform Commission. It is important that those who engage in any process on behalf of the State engage fully and properly. I will take up the issue with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, on the Senators' behalf because it is important that workers, particularly in this sensitive area, receive a hearing and that a solution be found.
I thank the Leader.
Senator Colm Burke also referred to the committee established to consider the ten-year health strategy. I raised the issue last week in the House. I have spoken to the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and hope the other party leaders will write to him with a view to having representatives from Seanad Éireann as part of the committee to have a joint approach taken by the Houses to the ten-year health strategy. This is an important issue and it is important that this House be represented on the committee.
Senator Gabrielle McFadden referred to school building projects. I suggest she submit a Commencement matter on the issue. I agree with her that there is a need for transparency in the school building programme.
I thank the Leader.
Senator Ray Butler referred to small and medium enterprises, as did Senator Maria Byrne. I will ask the relevant Minister to come to the House for a debate on the wider issue of business costs. It is not the case that Sinn Féin has created a policy, rather it is following ours.
Not at all. We called for a review of rates.
Ours is the pro-enterprise Government party that has worked to create jobs and help people to get back to work.
What did the Leader's party do in the other House for the past five years? It sat on its hands while businesses closed.
The Senator should look at the employment figures from the time it took office to where we are now.
The Leader's party did nothing on the issue of rates.
The Senator should ask his local authority members to work with us and our colleagues in government and local authorities to reduce the cost of business.
It needs to finish the rates review first.
What we do agree on is that small and medium enterprises are the country's lifeline-----
The Leader is all talk and no action.
Unlike the Senator's party, the Government has always been-----
It closed down rural Ireland during the past five years.
If the Senator and his party had their way, they would tax them to the hilt and not create jobs.
That is nonsense. It is not happening in the North of Ireland.
We should be serious about creating jobs. If the Senator wants to create jobs, let us do so. The Action Plan for Jobs is testimony to the commitment of this and the previous Government to job creation.
I ask the Leader and Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh to respect the Chair. They should not have a-----
I will happily have a debate on job creation because we have a very strong record in that regard.
I will bring the Senator to Clifden where he will see all of the closed shops.
Senators Michelle Mulherin and Paddy Burke are right to raise the issue of post offices and to refer in that context to the Kerr report. I agree fully with Senator Paddy Burke that we should be creative in the way we use post offices. I see nothing wrong with his proposal that they be able to issue driving licences It is a very good suggestion.
Senators Paul Coghlan and Martin Conway referred to tourism and in that context what was happening beyond the Pale. I concur with them on the issue of VAT. I stated in the House last week that we had a very good tourism product, the proof of which was provided in the fine programme on the Wild Atlantic Way shown on RTE last Sunday night. The programme was the essence of public service broadcasting.
We should all commend John Creedon and the production crew for the way in which they sold Ireland.
In tandem with that, there is the important point that the rising cost of hotel rooms in this city and other parts of the country will detract from all the good work being done. The 9.5% VAT rate was introduced to incentivise the tourism industry. Tourist numbers have gone up and it does not endear the travel or the hotel industry to anybody that the cost of hotel rooms is increasing. It makes no sense. I appeal to the tourism industry in that regard. I will bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House at the earliest time that is convenient for a discussion on the issue.
Labhair na Seanadóirí Ó Clochartaigh agus Ó Domhnaill mar gheall ar chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Bhí mé ag caint leis an Aire Stáit nua, an Teachta Kyne. Tá suim mhór aige teacht isteach sa Teach seo chun cúrsaí Gaeltachta agus ár dteanga dúchais a phlé. Tá súil agam go mbeidh a leithéid de díospóireacht againn roimh na laethanta saoire. I hope we will have a debate before the summer holidays on the Irish language and cursaí Gaeltachta. I applaud the Senators for raising the issue.
It is important that there be a proactive campaign on Brexit. I appeal to Senators and would appreciate it if they mobilised people to ensure a "Yes" vote to remain in the European Union.