I welcome back all Members. I am glad to note that we are still here.
Order of Business
We are in a new session. I wish Members luck in the session and hope we will get some positive work done. I call the Leader to outline the business of the day.
I love the enthusiasm of Members opposite. It is fantastic. New politics are alive and well.
The Order Business is No. 1, Finance (Certain European Union and Intergovernmental Obligations) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply; and No. 24, non-Government motion No. 9 re economic growth, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.
Spokespersons have three minutes in which to contribute on the Order of Business and all others contributors have two. I am certainly going to be much stricter during this term when it comes to Members rambling on. If they have a particular issue to raise or want to engage in a long debate, they should submit a Commencement matter.
It would not be appropriate to do so now. The whole purpose of the Order of Business is to ask a question and elicit an answer. It is not meant for long speeches or debates.
I look forward to working with the Cathaoirleach during this term.
I call on the Minister for Education and Skills to review the process of selecting schools for participation in the DEIS programme. I have been contacted by the principal of the Assumption girls' national school in Walkinstown, Dublin 12 who has raised concerns with me about the process. The school is an island surrounded by DEIS schools. The selection process is not fit for purpose. The majority of indicators for DEIS school selection relate to performance, with only one relating to socioeconomic measures. Therefore, the selection process penalises schools for doing well. A review of the DEIS school selection method was promised in 2005, but nothing has happened to date. In April 2015 the then Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, undertook to conduct such a review, but it has not been completed. As part of the Government's confidence and supply agreement, it was agreed that increased community-based intervention programmes would be initiated. Given the deprivation levels in Dublin 12 and the known socioeconomic problems relating to crime and poverty, the Government is not adhering to that agreement in excluding the Assumption girls' national school. It is not a DEIS school, but it has applied for and been granted developmental status. When it submitted an application for increased class sizes, it did so on the basis of numbers at the end of last term. Owing to the housing crisis and the fact that many parents have taken their kids out of the school to move to other parts of Dublin, the school's numbers will change and it may not be able to achieve the same pupil-teacher ratio. It is currently 30:1, whereas the ideal is 27:1. Will the Minister consider reviewing the DEIS school selection process, not just in Dublin 12 but all over the country? Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí.
I welcome the Cathaoirleach and the Leader back after our short break. I look forward to working with the Leader during the coming session.
In the previous Seanad I spoke in favour of former Senator John Crown's Bill dealing with the issue of forced retirement on a particular day just because one had happened to pass a particular birthday. Unfortunately, that Bill did not complete its passage. I have received a number of queries from the Leader's county about the appointment of the president of Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, who I understand was reappointed by the outgoing board on a five-year contract at the age of 63 years when it knew that there was a statutory bar on him serving beyond the age of 65. Actually, I am not sure the statutory bar applies to him, as I believe it was lifted some years ago. If there is a fault in the process, will the Leader use his good offices to establish that the process was undertaken correctly and that CIT went as far as it could to find a suitable replacement for the president? This is a significant time in the lives of institutes of technology as they move towards technological university status and we do not want to see the old cronyism, for want of a better word, keeping someone in a job in which he or she should not be. I mean no disrespect to the president who, as I am sure the Leader will agree, has done a marvellous job for CIT during his term of office, but we must ensure fair processes are followed across all systems. I appreciate the Leader taking the time to listen.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh is next, or someone from Sinn Féin.
I am Senator Máire Devine.
I am not from Mayo; I am from Dublin, thank you very much.
Normally we have the same leader from each group. That confused me.
Last week I attended a briefing in Leinster House with representatives of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and SIPTU on the lack of implementation of what had been agreed with the Health Service Executive, HSE, on nursing internships. The agreement was reneged on by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and it is leaving the 2011 intake of nurses who trained until 2015 with less pay than the graduates we will see this September and October. The people in question are mentoring, teaching and passing on experience to less experienced nurses who are just about to qualify. One can contrast this with the massive spending on agency staff day in and day out in the HSE. Some €2.2 million is spent on agency staff each week, while the cost of trying to keep the nurses here is just over €4 million. Nevertheless, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is refusing to meet the trade union representatives. It is hypocritical in the extreme to appeal to nurses to come home and have a better career when they will have no such thing. They will have less pay as there are better salaries, terms and conditions abroad. What message does this send when nurses are in such short supply?
I e-mailed the Minister last Thursday and offered to facilitate a meeting between union officials and his Department in an attempt to resolve the issue, but there was no response. I also note that there was no response to an e-mail sent by the unions. The result was that hundreds of union members were forced to take to the streets yesterday in a first show of dissent which has the capacity to develop into further industrial action. We currently have bus drivers on picket lines and it looks like that gardaí will be next. Do we want nurses outside hospital doors also when there is a crisis within the health care system? I appeal to the Minister to sit down with unions to resolve the issue.
I apologise to the Senator. Perhaps by the end of Saturday night she might be glad to be from Mayo.
I raise the urgent issue of fire safety in Traveller accommodation. On 10 October last year ten citizens tragically lost their lives in a fire in Carrickmines. Those who died were Willie Lynch and Tara Gilbert, with their daughters, Kelsey and Jodie; Willie's brother, Jimmy; Thomas and Sylvia Connors and their children, Jim, Christie and six-month-old Mary. In the wake of the tragedy a national fire safety audit of all Traveller accommodation was ordered. The report from the national directorate of fire and emergency management was published in recent days and found that over 80% of the units inspected had no smoke alarm or fire blanket. It also indicated that access for fire services to sites was a concern in just under one third of cases, with separation distances, in other words, overcrowding, a concern in over one half of cases. Furthermore, it noted that protecting people from the dangers of fire was particularly challenging in the confined and cramped conditions in which families living in caravans or non-standard accommodation might find themselves. Unofficial and roadside halting sites were the most vulnerable to lapses in the context of fire safety and inappropriate access. These are the categories which were most likely to be missed in the audit and the real picture is probably worse than the report indicates. Currently, 534 families are living in unofficial, unrecognised and unserved accommodation.
In May 2016 the European Committee of Social Rights found the Irish Government to be in violation of Article 16 of the European Social Charter on five grounds, including the insufficient provision of accommodation for Travellers, and concluded that a number of sites were in poor condition, lacked maintenance and were badly located. According to the director of the Irish Traveller Movement, Mr. Bernard Joyce, with whom I am working, Travellers' quality of life, physical and mental health are linked with the quality of their accommodation. Fire safety protection is a basic entitlement.
Since the devastating fire in Carrickmines, there have been other fires on halting sites and more people will die unnecessarily unless something is done. Rebuilding Ireland commits to an expert, independent review of capital and current funding for Traveller-specific accommodation which is needed, but the plan does not reference the scale of the project or the investment needed to bring it up to standard. I back the call of the Irish Traveller Movement for the Minister with responsibility for housing to prioritise the issue of overcrowding on sites as a matter of urgency and address the issues raised in the European Social Charter. I also urge the Leader of the House to raise the issue directly with the Taoiseach who attended some of the funerals because another tragedy similar as the one in Carrickmines can and must be prevented.
As we face into a new session, I welcome some of the Bills in the legislative programme, albeit a fairly light one. In particular, I welcome the disability Bill and the Bill to establish the judicial council. It is also welcome that we will have the Taoiseach with us tomorrow when we will be able to raise a number of issues with him.
I ask the Leader for a debate on third level funding, when we can arrange one, in the coming weeks. Today I attended, as did many colleagues, an excellent briefing by USI, SIPTU, IFUT and other unions as part of the coalition for publicly funded higher education. This is a matter of increasing urgency. We need to put pressure on the Government to take a decision on foot of the recommendations made in the Cassells report. Many of us will be pushing for an increase in public funding which the Cassells report acknowledges is the primary aim and need. We saw university rankings slip over the summer; therefore, this issue has become increasingly urgent. However, there is good news for the universities. This Friday night we will have a festival of research in Trinity College Dublin. It is called PROBE and being facilitated by the Science Gallery. Senator David Norris will be one of the speakers. The festival will showcase some of the important research being done in universities. It is open to the public and all are welcome. It will show how important higher education is as a sector in Ireland.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the situation Syria in the light of the appalling crisis we are seeing unfolding, with the Syrian Government and Russia effectively abandoning the peace process. There are 2 million people in Aleppo without running water and 250,000 civilians trapped in the rebel held areas which are under constant and horrific bombardment, with currently only approximately 30 doctors functioning in hospitals. I will also be raising the matter with the Taoiseach tomorrow when we have him before us, particularly in the light of the slow pace of the welcome here for Syrian refugees. We had promised to welcome 4,000, but we have only welcomed a very small handful yet.
I also ask the Leader for a debate on the repeal of the eighth amendment. I was among the many thousands who marched on Saturday with the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment and other groups. We are conscious that the Citizens' Assembly has been convened for 15 October, but I ask the Leader to try to establish from the Taoiseach the likely timeframe for a recommendation from the assembly on the eighth amendment, knowing that that is the first issue with which it has been tasked to consider and also knowing that the movement for repeal is really growing, as evidenced by the 25,000 or 30,000 who marched on Saturday.
On Monday, 12 September, a wonderful human being and a good friend of mine, Caitríona Lucas, lost her life while volunteering with the Irish Coast Guard on a search and recovery mission off the coast of Kilkee, County Clare. She lost her life in the line of duty for the State. What she was and had been doing for the previous ten years was heroic work. Like the 3,000 other Irish Coast Guard volunteers throughout the country, she risked her life on search and rescue and search and recovery missions. It is a tragedy for her husband, Bernard; her son, Ben; and her daughter, Emma, to whom I express my condolences. I am sure every Member of the House agrees that what she was doing was heroic. She was the first member of the Irish Coast Guard to lose her life in the line of duty. It is very emotional and upsetting for the people of County Clare, particularly her neighbours and friends and those who knew and loved her. She was an absolutely amazing human being and completely dedicated to her family, neighbours and community. She was involved in many aspects of her community. Her day job was as a librarian - educating and teaching children and getting them active.
She embraced rescue and recovery missions and spent much time training and developing new techniques to enable the people who visited County Clare and the surrounding areas to enjoy our natural beauty in a safe way and to ensure that if they found themselves in trouble, the best possible expertise would be available to help them. I propose that, before the Leader sums up on the Order of Business, the House observe a minute's silence in memory of a courageous and wonderful human being. At a later date, perhaps we might have a debate on the work the 3,000 volunteers of the Irish Coast Guard do. The Irish Coast Guard is the fourth emergency responder after the Garda, the National Ambulance Service and the fire service. In memory of Caitríona Lucas and the wonderful work she did and the fact that she laid down her life in the service of the State, we must consider giving the Irish Coast Guard the same parity of esteem as the other emergency services.
I extend my sympathy to the Lucas family. It was very sad and the whole of Ireland was in shock when we heard it on the news and read about it.
As the Leader is aware, this is the time local authorities to do their budgets. Councils have experienced major changes. The most significant issue for local authorities is the abolition of all of the town councils. Additional issues are the cost of the land aggregation scheme and the loss of rates from the local enterprise offices, LEOs, and utilities such as the ESB, Bord Gáis and Eir. In my local authority, on average, 40% of people are in the €90 local property tax category, another 40% are in the €225 category, while 20% are in the €320 category; in other words, in the three lowest categories, like in many small towns. If the Minister does not give extra capital funding or does not come to some agreement with local authorities, services will be cut, which will affect the normal person in the maintenance of libraries, parks and roads. I have addressed the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, on this issue, but I have not received a reply. It is very unfair for him to compare cities and larger towns, which can take in extra funding using different tools and other local property taxes, with smaller towns which cannot do. I, therefore, ask the Leader to contact the Minister to ask him to return to the local authorities which have been seeking extra capital funding or some agreement in order that budgets can be passed for 2017.
We are all aware of how sport can lift the spirit of a nation and it is the first time we have had an opportunity to congratulate our Olympians and Paralympians on their success in Rio de Janeiro. I congratulate the O'Donovan brothers and Annalise Murphy who won medals at the Olympic Games and all 11 medal winners at the Paralympic Games, particularly Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop who are multiple medal winners at four Paralympic Games. Just as we are aware of this, there have been many issues that have depressed the nation and given sport a bad name. We all know about the ticketing controversy. As I am aware of the commission of inquiry, I do not want to refer to it too much. There is the issue of governance in Irish sport in some of the governing bodies. During the Olympic Games a boxer arrived in Rio de Janeiro and failed a drug test. Was it known before he had departed Ireland? Today a story broke about two boxers who had been disciplined and warned about betting. One of them had placed a bet on his opponent and against himself. The issue needs serious attention.
I understand there will be reviews by the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland. In view of all the instances highlighted, when will the funding for the Olympic Council of Ireland be reviewed? While the Irish Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland will provide reports on these matters, will the Leader, at the earliest and most appropriate opportunity, ensure there will be answers to these questions? We need to have more successes which lift the nation and fewer of the negative issues which only depress it.
Cuirim fáilte ar ais roimh chuile dhuine. Tá súil agam go raibh briseadh maith ag daoine.
Aontaím go huile is go hiomlán leis an Seanadóir Colette Kelleher faoin méid a bhí le rá aici maidir le cóiríocht don Lucht Siúil. I concur wholeheartedly with Senator Colette Kelleher in her well spoken comments on the Traveller accommodation issue.
We previously called for several debates on various matters, including rural affairs, Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht, diaspora affairs, etc. Will the Leader outline if these debates will be scheduled to take place in this session?
We certainly need to have a debate on the future of Irish Water. There was too much toing and froing over the summer by certain political parties which seem to be very confused on the issue. Clarification as to where they stand is important. The Houses also need to debate the future of the provision of water in rural and urban areas and where is Irish Water going and what are the plans for it. It seems that the overwhelming majority of Members elected to these Houses are against water charges. I know that there will be a debate in the Dáil, but this House should have its own on the future of paying for water. Such a debate could be conducted in a reasonable manner, with Members putting forward arguments. When one saw so many again taking to the streets in recent marches, one knew that the matter of water charged had not gone away and neither had the campaign. I would welcome a debate on the issue.
Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor referred to local government funding. I raise the particular issue of the future of libraries. There seems to be an ongoing pilot scheme for self-service libraries, a development which concerns many librarians and people who use libraries. It is really seen as a precursor to cutbacks in library services and staff numbers. Issues to do with health and safety are being raised when people use the facilities, including their abuse, etc. A debate on the future of libraries would be useful.
I refer to farmers, particularly in the west, who are concerned about the difficult weather conditions we had throughout the summer. I understand Teagasc is undertaking a survey to determine the extent of the tillage crisis, looking at how many hectares of barley, wheat and oats are yet to be harvested. There are farmers who have managed to harvest crops, but the yields and quality are poor. I urge the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, to take on board the difficulties farmers experienced during the summer. In the western region I know of quite a number of farmers who had to house animals much earlier than anticipated, with the result that they are dealing with unforeseen costs. This will inevitably to lead to a significant fodder deficit in the future. Many farmers have also been unable to empty their slurry tanks. Will the Minister consider extending the slurry spreading date beyond 15 October? Overall, it has been a difficult time for farmers who are also struggling in terms of their incomes. It is important that the Minister and the Government ensure supports are put in place for farmers during this period of unseasonable weather.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to explain the circumstances surrounding the case of a two-year-old child who was refused treatment by WestDoc in Roscommon last November and brought by very anxious parents to Portiuncula Hospital, bypassing Roscommon University Hospital which has no emergency department? The parents had to drive to Portiuncula Hospital because there was no emergency department in Roscommon University Hospital. Roscommon University Hospital is a very beautiful hospital, but the most basic service in a hospital is the emergency department. I was very proud to make sure it remained open during the Fianna Fáil Administration. It should never have been closed by the previous Administration. It was an absolute disgrace.
The young girl in question has now received-----
The former Minister for Health, Senator James Reilly, and the Taoiseach closed it.
Call in to see it.
The Senator should be very proud. The child had to be brought-----
It is busier and safer than ever before. If the Senator was to call in and talk to consultants-----
All the Senator is doing is prolonging the debate.
This is not a council chamber. It is the Seanad.
It is not nonsense when a two-year-old child had to be brought to Portiuncula Hospital when the situation was very serious. She has received a bill from Intrum Justitia for €100. The family earns €400 per week. The company has been directed by the HSE and seems to be chaired by a Swedish individual called Lars Lundquist, while other individuals on the board of directors include Ulrika Valassi, Synnöve Trygg and Karolina Sandahl. The headquarters-----
It is not fair to name individuals. The Senator has been here a long time. He should not mention names.
I am going to name them because I believe they should be named.
I will not allow the Senator to name them. I ask him to respect the Chair. I have given him a good deal of latitude.
I have a few more names, but I will not give them out of respect for the Chair.
Please do not name them. The Senator is bringing the Chamber into disrepute.
This company has been assigned to pursue a two-year-old child for €100, which is bloody outrageous. It is about time the Minister for Health took control of the health service. He should not allow these bureaucrats to engage an international company to collect €100. The bill was sent to the child, but she cannot pay it.
The Senator's point has been well made.
I am telling my constituents not to pay it in the circumstances because a child aged two years is not liable for a bill of €100. It is outrageous. Senator Frank Feighan can be very proud that the emergency department in Roscommon University Hospital is closed. It is a bloody shame and he voted to close it.
I wish to raise an issue that was a blight on rural Ireland during the crash, namely, legislation dealing with quarries. Now that construction has begun again after the crash, nobody has any problem with progress, but I have seen three or four quarries in County Meath from which companies just walked away. With residents, I viewed one quarry on the border between Longwood and Rathmoylan where a man-made lake was left behind. Acres of desolate land were left behind. There were no safety measures and children were swimming in the lake that was left behind by the company that had quarried limestone. It was a disgrace that there was no legislation to tell the company to come back and clear up the mess it had left behind. There are three or four such quarries in my county from which companies have just walked away. Will the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government come to the House to talk about proper legislation to deal with this issue? It is a huge issue all over the country. I am sure Members in this Chamber have issues relating to quarries in their counties where companies have walked away and just left the areas desolate. A person would think he or she had landed on the moon. When I went to see the quarry and went around the corner, I saw a massive man-made lake that would cost millions of euro to fix. It is a disgrace. We need serious legislation because local authorities do not have the powers to cope with these companies which just walk away. We need to be proactive for future generations and to ensure safety for all. History will not be kind to us if we do not address this issue.
I apologise for having to nip out earlier and thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to speak now. There are many important events about which I could talk today. There are many events that have happened since the House last met. There has been the Apple case, the huge efforts by the Government to hand back the €13 billion and the continuous denials that we have facilitated tax evasion and avoidance on a huge scale. We have the NAMA inquiry and the shenanigans that appear to have gone at it. I call for a debate in the House on the issue.
The real subject about which I want to talk to the Leader today, however, is health. Since we last met, a patient died while waiting on a trolley in Galway. We cannot stand by and let that happen. It was a tragedy for the individual's family and friends and it had happened before, most recently at Tallaght hospital. There are 33 patients waiting on trolleys at Galway University Hospital and the national figure is 396. These are the lucky ones. They are the ones who are actually given a trolley. There has been a continuing saga of vital treatment being postponed because people cannot even be given a trolley or a bed. There are patients who had to go home from emergency departments because there were no beds and they could not be seen.
There is a great deal of amnesia in the House. I agree with Senator Frank Feighan. I remind people of the trolley numbers from 2001 when Deputy Micheál Martin was Minister for Health and Children. In 2001 there were more than 500 patients on trolleys. When former Deputy Mary Harney was Minister for Health and Children, I invited her to come to Mayo General Hospital to look into the eyes of the people who were spending their last days on earth on trolleys and tell them why they could not have a bed or a room, but nothing was done. It was declared at the time to be a national emergency. It continued in 2006 and, again, in 2008, when over 400 patients were left on trolleys and nothing was done. We must be mindful that at the time the country was awash with money, but the problem was completely ignored. Members who talk about health as if it was a crisis that dropped out of the sky in recent months are deluding themselves. I want the Minister for Health to come to the House to tell us what the plan is. I remind former Deputy Mary Harney that she closed, aided and abetted by Fianna Fáil, the hospital in Belmullet.
Former Deputy Mary Harney retired from politics.
She has gone to PD heaven. Privatisation and centralisation have ruined the health service.
I gave the Senator 20 extra seconds. I was very fair.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
Senator Maura Hopkins referred to agriculture and farmers. It would be opportune to have the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine come to the House to discuss the low farm-gate prices farmers are receiving for their produce. There appears to be an alarming disconnect between what customers are being charged by the multiples and what farmers are getting for their produce. I understand work is being considered at national and European level and suggest we ask the Minister to come before the House to update Members on it. There are implications for both rural and urban areas in a situation where the multiples are dictating prices to the extent that co-operatives can only pay a certain rate to farmers for milk. This is a problem and it is something we need to investigate in order to determine what exactly is going on. There has been a great deal of talk about it. This is a debating Chamber and this is a matter we can track from the farm gate to the consumer. Ireland is an agricultural nation. This has implications for farmers, co-operatives, processors and, in many cases, local shops that cannot compete. I suggest we request that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and any other relevant Minister come before us to provide an update on how the issue of the disconnect between farm-gate prices and the price charged to the consumer is being looked at nationally and at European level in order that farmers and others along the supply and distribution chains will get a fair price for their produce.
It is lovely to be back in the Chamber again. The summer recess was far too long and I feel we should all have been back a few weeks ago, getting on with the hugely important issues facing citizens.
Today the Green Party published legislation on microbeads which are small plastic beads found in soaps and cosmetics. They are causing contamination in our marine environment, as well as rivers and inland waterways. The legislation seeks to prohibit the manufacture and sale of microbeads and we hope we will receive support from this House on the matter. The Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Deputy Denis Naughten, said on radio this morning that he would be interested in banning the use of microbeads. The legislation will be brought before this House in the coming weeks when I hope all Senators will support it.
I beg the indulgence of the House to express my sympathy to the people of Israel on the death of Shimon Peres, the former President and sometimes Prime Minister of that country. I met him several times, the first time being 20 or 30 years ago in Jerusalem. I found him to be a man of extraordinary intelligence and wisdom. He pointed to the centrality of the water problem as one of the big issues behind the Middle Eastern conflict. He was impressive and one of the founding fathers of the state of Israel. He was a pupil of David Ben-Gurion and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. He is seen as a dove, but, if so, he was a dove with eagle's talons because he was the architect of the settlement programme which is at the heart of the divisive problem of Palestine and Israel. He was also the brains behind the nuclear programme which provided Israel with nuclear weapons, even though it never publicly acknowledged this. It was with mixed emotions that one learned the news of his passing, but one has to understand the feelings of the majority of people in Israel, even though a Palestinian representative would take a very different view of Mr. Peres. However, he was undoubtedly a man of intelligence and wisdom. I think his loss will be felt by the people of Israel.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources to the House to discuss how we are setting about achieving our renewable heating targets for 2020, which we are obliged to do. As the House will know, we are required to obtain 12% of the heat for homes and businesses from renewable sources by 2020. There are two aspects to the matter. First, we have a carbon tax which was introduced in 2010. That tax was increased in May 2013 and 2014. Second, we should debate how this money is being spent and whether the carbon tax, as applied, is a crude instrument to achieve our targets. This is especially so in the case of heating homes for people who are on very low incomes. They do not have a choice whether to buy coal or oil, although carbon tax is levied on such solid fossil fuels. Such persons cannot afford to buy new heating systems. I compliment the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland for its hard work in improving energy efficiency in old houses. This means that people are using less heat, while the heat generated is better contained. However, where is the money from the carbon tax going? We should also have a renewable heating incentive to encourage people to install woodchip heating facilities both in households and commercial enterprises. It is not currently attractive because a barrel of oil is relatively cheap. In addition, given the advances in technology, solar panels now even work in Ireland, including the west. While this was a problem for quite some time, people could now be incentivised to use solar panels both in businesses and homes.
We could look at co-locating solar energy farms beside wind farms and might get around some of the planning objections that can arise in trying to build renewable energy infrastructure. I ask that the Minister be invited to come to the House for a debate on the issue.
I was alarmed when I read recent media reports on the child care proposals of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, for inclusion in the upcoming budget. No regard seems to be given to families in the squeezed middle bracket who have borne the majority of tax increases and public service cuts in the past five years. When I refer to the squeezed middle, I refer to those earning between €33,000 and €70,000 per annum. These families pay high housing costs, on top of which they pay astronomical child care costs. One parent is often forced out of the workforce because of child care costs and nine times out of ten that parent is the mother. These child care costs continue to act as a barrier to re-entry to the workforce, even after the children have reached schoolgoing age, and this leads to mothers being squeezed out of the workforce. Fianna Fáil has put forward a progressive tax credit proposal which would put money back into the pockets of squeezed middle-income earners. That is the least we can do. Yesterday, I met an Australian MP who was appalled when I explained that families here were not assisted with the cost of child care. In Australia 50% of the cost of child care is covered for families who earn under $100,000 a year.
I urge the Minister to also fund the early child care sector better. This should be taken in tandem with any proposal introduced in the budget. The early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme is chronically underfunded and it is unsustainable as we move forward. We need to start prioritising children and families.
Senators Kieran O'Donnell and Maura Hopkins referred to the plight of the farming community, but there is a major issue with grain growers and the grain sector. The grain sector in Ireland is on the verge of failing and ceasing to exist because of a fourth year of bad weather, bad prices and bad volume. We are looking at a situation, from Cork to Donegal, where grain has not been harvested, prices are as low as €135 a tonne and moisture content is anything up to 30%. It is a massive issue for everyone involved in the agriculture sector. We cannot let the sector slip through our fingers, as it were. We must act. A package of €11.2 million has been put in place for the livestock sector this year, but there has not been one for the grain sector. It is one of the issues about which we need to talk to the Minister. He should come to the House to discuss it because we need to go to the European Union to get an aid package for grain farmers and the grain sector. I met grain farmers from all over west Cork last weekend, from Kilbrittain and Ballinascarty all the way to Roberts Cove, and the story is the same. They are at the end of their tether and need assistance. I hope the Minister will go to the European Union and that we will get an aid package because without that I do not see this sector existing and it would be an awful shame.
Mar a dúirt roinnt daoine eile cheana féin, tá sé thar a bheith maith a bheith ar ais chun na cúrsaí seo a phlé inniu.
I draw the attention of the Leader and Members to the welcome news of an agreement that was reached in north Belfast on outstanding contentious parades between the Crumlin and Ardoyne residents association and local lodges of the loyal orders. On behalf of my party, I commend the two mediators who were involved in those discussions, the Rev. Harold Good and Mr. Jim Roddy, both of whom, with others, have played a key role in navigating what I am sure everyone will appreciate have been difficult and choppy waters in that part of the city relating to the parading issue and what has become known as Camp Twaddell.
The agreement offers the opportunity and has the potential to be transformative both for the specific bespoke issues faced by the community in north Belfast and for those communities dealing with what I stress are the last few issues of contentious loyal order parades. I am, however, disappointed - I am sure Members will share my disappointment - but not entirely surprised that some have sought to rally against this positive agreement. When negativity and regression are one's raison d'être, that really is all one has to offer one's local community. What a sad reflection that is. However, Members should take the opportunity to send a clear message from this House that they support and seek to bolster localised dialogue to seek a resolution to the issue of contentious parades and that they stand ready to support, where appropriate, the facilitation of that dialogue.
As I had intended to raise it, I support the call made by Senator Tim Lombard regarding the grain industry. Consequently, I will speak about something else instead, namely, the protection of the 9% VAT rate for the tourism industry. This is a highly vulnerable industry and since the 9% rate was introduced in 2011, it has been responsible for the creation of many jobs across the sector. There is a fear that were it to be touched in the forthcoming budget, it certainly would have a detrimental effect post-Brexit on many jobs and businesses across the tourism sector. The 9% rate gave great confidence in respect of job creation to businesses in the tourism industry during the downturn. As a consequence of the lower VAT rate, it was one of the few industries in which job creation took place. I, therefore, call on the Minister to retain it.
I also welcome everyone back to the Seanad for this term. I wish to mention briefly the issue of Brexit and note that the Taoiseach will come to the House tomorrow to address Members, which I greatly welcome. I ask the Leader to raise with him my concerns about Brexit which I will outline briefly. Last week, like many other Members, I attended a symposium organised by the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, which I found to be highly informative. Many expert speakers were present to give their opinions on the uncertainty which unfortunately will continue for some time to come. The Leader should bring three points to the Taoiseach's attention. First, it is of vital importance that a senior Minister be appointed to oversee the entire Brexit process. It is a serious issue that will have major implications for the future of the country. Second, the Leader should communicate to the Taoiseach that in negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom he should insist on the presence of the aforementioned Minister to co-ordinate everything that needs to be co-ordinated across all agencies and Departments. I ask the Leader to mention to the Taoiseach that everyone agrees that no country is affected more by the Brexit vote than Ireland and that, on a more micro level, no part of the country is affected more by the Brexit vote than the Border counties from Donegal to Louth. Consequently, I ask that these counties be given special consideration in future negotiations that take place.
I also welcome everyone back for this term. A number of Members have raised the issue of health which is an important one for discussion. While there are difficulties in certain areas, Members should also acknowledge and check out an interesting report that has just been published in the medical journal, The Lancet. Ireland is ranked 13th out of 188 countries in the achievement of the United Nations' development goals on health. There is much adverse coverage on health services, which is having an effect on those who work in the health service.
More people than ever are out of work in the health service because of stress, much of which is generated by poor media coverage. In the past week one newspaper carried an article about an alleged rape and the same article described complaints to the Medical Council. There is a big difference between that criminal offence and complaints to the Medical Council and it is wrong that they were tied in one article. That was not helpful to those involved in medical services.
I agree with Senator Máire Devine on the nursing issue. It is important and can easily be resolved. I fully support what she said about nurses where the difference has arisen and it would not be that costly to resolve the issue. The Leader, Senator Jerry Buttimer, and I attended a meeting with the management of Cork University Hospital and of 50 nurses who graduated this year in Cork, 48 are now employed in that hospital. That is the change we need to get. We still need to bring many people into the service. I agree that we need to remove the dependence on agencies to provide nursing staff and she sooner we do that, the better. We need to make sure it is attractive for nurses to stay here to work. We provide them with an excellent education and people living here should benefit from that education. The Minister needs to take that on board and I ask the Leader to take it up with him at the earliest possible date to resolve the issue in the case of the nurses.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and Eileen on their recent nuptials and wish them many years of health, happiness and prosperity together.
I am not sure that is appropriate to the Order of Business, but I take it in good faith.
The crisis in farming is far-reaching, as indicated by the fact that at least three Senators have already raised the issue. All sectors of the agriculture industry are in a deepening crisis. When the country was in an economic crisis, the agriculture sector came to the rescue. It is the foundation stone on which the economic structure of the country has been built. The family farm is a thing of the past. Unless serious action is taken, it will not survive and it will not be viable for a farmer to raise a family with any quality of life on the farm. Farmers have to take on the top-heavy consumer markets daily. The problems of the grain sector have been compounded by inclement weather and in the horticulture sector 80% of mushrooms are exported to the United Kingdom. The mushroom business is taking an enormous hit because of the Brexit vote. It is imperative that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine come to the House for a full, open and frank debate on the actions that can be taken to help the farmers in crisis and to provide some hope for those who may not be in crisis now but expect it around the next corner because of the way the business is going. It is a matter of priority that the Minister come to the House and we have such a debate. Action has to be taken in the budget. It seems to be the norm as we approach the budget that kites are flown.
Fianna Fáil kites.
There is one flying to suggest there will be a hike in the cost of agricultural diesel. If there is any truth in it, the kite needs to be reeled in immediately.
We are looking for aid, assistance and support for a sector which is on its knees. The largest bill on any farm, irrespective of the mode of farming, is that for diesel. If in the budget we hike the biggest bill, we will defeat whatever other actions may be taken as a token of support. We cannot give with one hand and take away with the other. I plead with the Minister to reel in that kite before the budget is decided in order that the farming community will not be hit with a hike in the cost of agricultural diesel.
Even though I should not do so, I will respond to Senator Terry Leyden's assertion that I should be ashamed of myself with regard to Roscommon University Hospital. I do not like to attack parties, but I have to say the Senator is absolutely right when he says Fianna Fáil spent over €7 million putting in an emergency department.
I am sure the Senator could convey that information to him privately.
It was a little like the film "Blazing Saddles" - they put in a facade but nothing inside.
Rubbish. Absolute lies.
I am so happy I ensured dozens of lives were saved with the air ambulance. The endoscopy unit at the hospital was opened two weeks ago. Over 300 people are employed full time at the hospital. Senators do not need to take my word for it; they can call down to Roscommon and talk to the consultants and the management personnel who will say the hospital is much safer, that people are much safer and that dozens of lives have been saved. I ask anybody who would challenge this to come down.
The Senator voted for the closure.
He is a man of principle.
Is Senator Frank Feighan looking for a debate on the issue?
I am sick and tired of people standing up for the past five years to bring the name of Roscommon University Hospital through the mill. It is much safer and much busier now.
Not if you are dead.
I am happy to make that statement again. I join-----
People have died as a result of the emergency department being closed.
The Senator and I both know that not one person has died because of the closure of the emergency department at Roscommon Univeristy Hospital.
I can name them.
I invite the Senator to come up with the names. Nobody has died.
I can name a lady-----
I can give the names of dozens of people whose lives have been saved.
At the Abbey Hotel-----
The Senator should withdraw what he has said.
She bled to death.
The Senator should withdraw it.
I ask the Senator to respect the Chair.
Senator Terry Leyden is absolutely wrong.
Will the Senator respect the Chair or I will ask him to sit down now?
I will name names. She bled to death near the Abbey Hotel.
We have heard no names. Not one person has died in the past five years because the emergency department at Roscommon University Hospital has been closed. Dozens of lives have been saved.
I ask the Senator to respect the Chair.
Shame on Senator Terry Leyden once again.
If she had been-----
The Senator is long enough in this place to know better.
Shame on the Senator.
Senator Terry Leyden is an absolute disgrace. He should withdraw what he said.
She bled to death.
Just withdraw it.
I ask the Senators to respect the Chair.
I am not going to stand and listen to lies being told in this Chamber.
The Senator knows that if the emergency department had been open, she would not have bled to death.
That goose is cooked.
Senator Terry Leyden should withdraw what he said.
That is the point.
Fianna Fáil could not put the emergency department back together again.
I ask the Senator to resume his seat.
I will leave because I will not be a party to the lies of Senator Terry Leyden who should know better.
I call Senator Paddy Burke.
I want to finish by saying-----
No, I have called Senator Paddy Burke.
As Senator Frank Feighan was interrupted, he should be allowed to continue.
As Senators Terry Leyden and Frank Feighan have used almost four minutes, they can continue their discussion in Roscommon.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to come to the House for a debate on hedge cutting. There have been more fatalities on the roads this year than in other years. The Minister should consider bringing forward the date on which hedge cutting can commence from the current date in September.
What about the rare birds?
I think it should be brought forward to August. Children now go back to school in August, which is earlier than they used to go back. This year there was much more rapid growth in August than in other years. I think the Minister has to look at this from a road safety point of view. There is a need for better co-ordination between local authorities and the ESB and the telecommunications utilities that engage in hedge cutting. The Minister should come to the House with a view to moving the date on which hedge cutting works can start to earlier in the year.
I raise with the Leader the very serious matter of car insurance and the huge increase in cost during the past year. It has increased by approximately 40%, on average. This is extraordinarily difficult for so many throughout the country. In places that do not have trains and buses - large chunks of Ireland - it is a tax on work. It makes it almost impossible for young people and people generally to get to work in these areas. It has become a real difficulty and is a real issue for so many families. It could represent hundreds of euro in increases and is not sustainable. The issue needs immediate action. I am aware of the fact and it is welcome that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is chairing a working group on car insurance to look at solutions. I understand the group will report quickly. I put it to the Leader that we need action on and a debate on the issue. We need a series of actions across a number of Departments. They must happen in the coming months since most car insurance renewals begin in January and the spring. The issue needs resolution in the short term. A range of areas need to be looked at, including the nature of claims. A complete package of measures needs to be looked at. All I am saying is it is an extraordinary hardship and a tax on work. It is very unfair and affects many drivers. A person was talking to me this morning who had an absolutely clean record, yet their insurance premium had gone up by something like €700. The person in question has no record of accidents or malpractice. It is a serious matter. It is probably one of the greatest difficulties confronting ordinary people in trying to go about normal business. I am not talking about leisure driving but about people who are trying to get to work. I hope we can have action and a debate on the matter.
I thank the Senator.
I thank Senator Martin Conway for raising the very poignant case of Caitríona Lucas. Everyone in the House was shocked by her death. As Senator Martin Conway rightly said, she died heroically in the line of duty while on a search and rescue mission to bring a person back to safety. As we resume our deliberations and work, it is appropriate that we pay tribute to the memory and life of Caitríona Lucas and, more importantly, that we remember her for her heroic endeavour and bravery. We commend her and in so doing remember her husband, Brendan; her son, Ben, and her daughter, Emma. To the extended families, we send our deepest sympathy. We also think of her colleagues in the Doolin Irish Coast Guard unit. To all the men and women who work in the Irish Coast Guard, we express our thanks and gratitude. We have seen the television reports, the pictures and the imagery. It is easy to watch television in the luxury of one's front room but putting ourselves in their lives and their way is another matter. I call on Members to stand and in so doing call on them to remember the life of Shimon Peres, whom Senator David Norris mentioned and a man who brought and worked for peace. It is important that we stand at the beginning to pause for a minute's silence to commemorate, remember and say "Thank you" for the life of Caitríona Lucas.
I suggest we do that at the end of the Order of Business.
That is okay and I will be happy to do so.
On a point of order, it would be appropriate to separate the two because people might have different thoughts about them.
That is fine.
During the summer recess Senator Tim Lombard and his wife, Catherine, had the pleasure of having two boys born to them, John and Denis. I congratulate the Senator and his wife on the heroic endeavour on his part. I imagine his sleepless nights have started. We commend him and his wife.
It would be remiss of me, as Leader, if I did not follow Senator Paul Daly's remarks by congratulating the Cathaoirleach and his good wife, Eileen, on their recent marriage. We wish them well. By all accounts, Kinsale survived and is coming back to life after the nuptials.
Senator Catherine Ardagh raised the important issue of DEIS schools, but before I discuss it, I formally welcome everyone on his or her return. Senators have been back at work long before today, but I wish them a productive and fruitful term until Christmas. I hope that in the era of new politics we can all come together to ensure the interests of the people rather than vested interests will be served in the House.
Senator Catherine Ardagh was right about there being a review under way of the selection method for DEIS schools. I am informed that it will be published by the end of the year and that a new action plan for disadvantaged schools will ensue. I join the Senator in expressing the hope there will be an increase in opportunities to participate in education, as well as more positive outcomes for children living in disadvantaged areas. A school in my area has become so successful that it has fallen out of the DEIS band. In that light, it is important to take note of the Senator's remarks in the review. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, will be in the House in the coming weeks to discuss education matters and I hope he will refer to this issue as part of the deliberations.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised the issue of the retirement age in general and specifically the case of Dr. Brendan Murphy of Cork Institute of Technology, CIT. It is my understanding Dr. Murphy received a five-year contract in 2014 and that CIT and the Department of Education and Skills are in dialogue about it which I am sure will lead to the best outcome for CIT. As the Senator knows, the technological university status Bill is being returned to the Seanad. It is important that we reflect on the best outcome for CIT. I am informed that there has been consultation on the specific issue involved.
Senators Máire Devine and Colm Burke raised the important question of nursing and referred to the importance to recruitment of changing different pay rates, as happened in the education sector. I agree with Senator Colm Burke on the cost of agency staff and the need to move away from their use in order that more nurses can be recruited and retained in the health sector. I agree that there is a need for the position to be clarified. The Minister for Health has been involved and I have spoken to him. Senator Colm Burke and I attended a meeting with him in Cork on Monday at which we heard that nurse retention rates in hospitals were increasing. That is welcome, but things cannot be taken for granted. I agree with the Senator that the two-tier pay system must be brought to an end. I will work with him and other Senators to achieve that objective.
Senators Colette Kelleher and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to the report published on Traveller accommodation. The serious threat to life posed by fire and other safety risks to members of the Traveller community is one we cannot take lightly. The relevant Minister and Department must reflect on the report. The local authorities must also consider it in the context of their housing plans and Traveller accommodation committees and work with the Traveller community to ensure that, at a minimum, there is access and egress. There must also be fire blankets available and proper adherence to health and safety measures at halting sites in ensuring accommodation needs are met. I will invite the Minister to attend the House to discuss the issue.
In a wide-ranging contribution Senator Ivana Bacik mentioned education. I commend Trinity College Dublin for its initiative and assure the Senator that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, will attend the House in the next two weeks to discuss education issues.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will attend the House in the coming weeks to attend our debate on Brexit. Perhaps we might also discuss the situation in Syria and the important issues raised by the Senator, not least of which was the saving of lives. I commend our Naval Service personnel who have been proactive in saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea. Those of us who follow the matter closely know that there will be a homecoming this Friday. At a time when the matter has been tied with Brexit and the European Union's response, it is important that we keep up our efforts in debates.
Senator Ivana Bacik also referred to the repeal of the eighth amendment. As she knows, the Citizens' Assembly is due to commence its deliberations in October and the eight amendment will be the signature item at the beginning. Like her, I would have preferred the re-establishment of the Constitutional Convention model, but I understand the need of the Taoiseach to have a citizens' assembly.
I appeal to those taking part in the debate on the eighth amendment to understand language matters. That is to paraphrase what came from the debate in New York this week. In this Chamber and at a previous health committee there were discussions on the protection of life during pregnancy legislation. It is important that we hear from all sides of the debate. I ask those who deride the idea of a citizens' assembly to reflect on the importance of what is being convened. Citizens are informed and although they may not be parliamentarians or invested in politics, they will be versed in knowledge and be able to do their work. They will come back with a set of proposals. The Taoiseach is right that this issue is not black and white. We must take the debate beyond the prism of the usual suspects who are discussing the issue in the media. We must allow the "gnáth duine", the man and woman who will ultimately make the decision, to have their say and be participants in the debate. I hope the Citizens' Assembly will be given the support it needs from a resources perspective and, equally, by us, as parliamentarians, the body politic and the country's citizens. It will do the State a service. As such, we should allow it to do its work.
I agree with Senator Martin Conway that we must have a debate on the role of the Irish Coast Guard. I will be happy to facilitate his request.
Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the funding of local government and referred to the importance of the Government being able to support it. She argued that, equally, local authorities should be able to bring forward mechanisms to support themselves. I know that the Local Authorities Members Association is meeting on Friday in Bantry and that many Members of the House will be present. The importance of this issue will be seen by the Minister in the coming weeks and months when he discusses the many elements under the local authorities' umbrella. I will be happy to have him come to the House to discuss the matter.
I join Senator John O'Mahony in congratulating our Olympians and Paralympians on the joy they gave us during the summer. Sport is a great unifier and the success of our Olympians and Paralympians - I will not name all of them - was uplifting and gave us a sense of importance and who we were. We saw this at the homecoming in the warmth of the reception given to the athletes. The bigger issue raised by the Senator was the importance of the governance of sport and sports bodies. Perhaps we might come back to that piece of work in ouor consultations as the issue of how sport is governed should be addressed. There is also the matter of how the governance of sport complies with different directives. Under Mr. John Treacy the Irish Sports Council is doing a lot work in that regard and I know that Mr. Kieran Mulvey has again moved into a different role. We will come back to the issue.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh joined Senator Collette Kelleher in raising the issue of Traveller accommodation. He also mentioned rural affairs, the Gaeltacht and the diaspora. The relevant Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, has committed to come to the Seanad. He has asked, however, that we wait until the strategy is completed and published before he speaks to us about the Irish language. The other Ministers of State, Deputies Joe McHugh and Michael Ring, have also committed to come before us to speak about rural affairs and the diaspora.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh also mentioned water services. The most important point is that both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fail have changed positions on multiple occasions on the issue.
Not at all.
A commission has been established and we should all make a submission to it. I would be happy to have a debate on the issue after the submissions had been made. It is important to allow the commission to do its work and I will not be found wanting in any way in having a debate on the issue. I will be very happy to hear how the Senator's party will propose to impose more taxes on the people, as articulated on radio this morning by Deputy Eoin Ó Broin.
Absolutely. Water services must be funded properly and in a progressive manner.
I will be very happy to have that debate as the Senator's party has flip-flopped on many issues.
We have not. The Leader is wrong.
It has done it again on the issue of water services and I look forward to having that debate.
The Leader is absolutely wrong. He should check the facts.
The issue of agriculture has correctly dominated this afternoon's proceedings. I thank Senators Maura Hopkins, Tim Lombard, Maria Byrne, Kieran O'Donnell and Paul Daly for highlighting the importance of agriculture to the nation. The Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, is convening a meeting of stakeholders on 6 October with a view to considering all of the options.
As Senator Tim Lombard rightly said, it is an issue that affects all farmers, in particular grain farmers, from County Cork to County Donegal. I hope we will see some package being given to the farming community. The Commissioner, Mr. Hogan, is acutely aware of the issue and I know from speaking to him that he has been spoken to by many Members of the Oireachtas. As Senator Tim Lombard rightly said, this is about the volume and quality of the crop produced and the poor weather conditions. I think we all join him and the other Senators who have raised the issue. Aid should come from the European Union urgently.
Senator Paul Daly rightly made reference to the high cost of diesel and the need to recognise it in the budget. He is right when he states there is a crisis and a need to address the issue.
The farm is not as it was, a fact of which the Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, is acutely aware. Senator Kieran O'Donnell rightly referred to the cost being paid to the farmer for the food being produced. We need to see that issue being tackled. When we see some supermarkets being able to sell vegetables for 9 cent or offer meat or other produce at prices way below what one would expect to pay, I agree that it poses a question.
Like Senator Frank Feighan, Senator Terry Leyden also referred to Roscommon University Hospital. On the case of the two year old child, it is important that the Senator give any information he has to the Minister, the HSE and the hospital authorities in order that they address the issue. It is important that he does not play politics with people's lives and does not scare-monger-----
I am being fair.
I am being fair, too.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised an issue in connection with a hospital in Galway, but she did not do so in the same manner as Senator Terry Leyden. It behoves him, as a senior parliamentarian-----
I am sorry-----
I did not interrupt the Senator. He is an experienced parliamentarian and long enough around here to know that there is a way by which one deals with issues and advocates for and represents constituents and others. I do not think coming into the Chamber and trying to provoke a fight or a row is the way to do it.
In fairness, I have already communicated with the Minister and the HSE.
Please allow the Leader to continue.
I was provoked by Senator Frank Feighan.
Actually he did not provoke the Senator. The Senator provoked him.
As Senator Frank Feighan spoke after Senator Terry Leyden, how could he have provoked him? Nincompoop.
As Members will know, as Leader of the House-----
The less said, the better.
The Cathaoirleach is in good form.
Members know that if issues are raised with me as Leader of the House, I will make representations to the line Minister on their behalf. I may not always get a result, but I do make representations. If Senator Terry Leyden has information, I will be happy to go to the Minister for Health on his behalf on the matter.
He is already informed.
Senator Ray Butler raised the important issue of quarries. It is important that we allow local authorities to be involved. However, the Minister with responsibility for the matter, Deputy Simon Coveney, should also be involved.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the case of a person in University Hospital Galway. I will be happy to raise the issue with the Minister for Health.
The Senator also referred to Apple. We will debate that issue next week in the House.
On NAMA, there is a commission of inquiry under way and there will also be a debate at the Committee of Public Accounts.
The Senator is also right that the crisis in the health service did not just start with the click of a switch. It continued under the watch of some of the Members opposite. When I hear Deputy Micheál Martin speak about the need for fairness in Irish society, I wonder where he was for 14 years when he was leading various Departments, but I will not open a political debate on that issue today.
Fine Gael has had five years in which to fix it.
Will the Minister for Health attend the House to discuss the issue?
I have asked him to come to the House and he has given a commitment to do so.
I commend the Green Party for its proposed legislation dealing with microbeads. I heard the Minister discuss the issue today on "Morning Ireland". There is a knock-on effect, about which we need to have a conversation.
I have dealt with the issues raised by Senator David Norris.
Senator Michelle Mulherin raised the important issues of renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, has been in the House and will return to it.
I join Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee in highlighting the need to discuss a comprehensive suite of measures to deal, in so far as we can, with the high cost of child care. I welcome her to Fine Gael's position on the squeezed middle and thank her for joining us. She is right to raise the issue. There is a group of people who pay for everything and believe they get nothing in return. They are looking to all of us-----
What is the Minister going to do about it?
I will come to that question. They are looking to all of us to give them some hope in terms of cost reduction and value for money.
This poses the issue of who should pay and benefit from the next budget. I look forward to the Minister coming to the House, I hope before or definitely after the budget, to discuss the very important issue of the cost of chid care. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will be in the House during the next few weeks. We also had a pre-budget discussion before the recess. The Senator can raise the issue as part of the discussion with the Minister and the Minister of State. She is correct. As Members of this legislative assembly, we must make every effort to ensure the squeezed middle will be looked after in some shape or form.
Senator Tim Lombard is correct about the grain industry.
Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile referred to north Belfast. I join him and all others in commending the two mediators involved in the resolution of the parades issue. It is important that we all, no matter what our political ideology is, continue to work to bring together both sides in the North. We can see some normality returning in the resolution of the parades issue, for which I commend all involved. I agree with the Senator that it can be transformative and benefit the lives of people in both communities.
Senator Maria Byrne raised the important issue of the 9% VAT rate. In the post-Brexit era it is important that the tourism sector continue to receive a break in order that we can attract visitors from across the world to come to the country. We welcome the increase in passenger numbers at the airports. It behoves me, therefore, as Leader, to repeat the view I expressed here that when hotels in the capital city and across the country increase their rates, it sends the wrong message and defeats the purpose of the 9% rate which was to attract tourists. The Restaurants Association of Ireland is meeting today across the road. It has worked to ensure prices will be kept down by offering a variety of menus. I hope those involved in the hotel sector will continue to work with all of us to keep prices down. If hotels raise their prices, different competitors will enter the market. It behoves all of us, therefore, to ensure this will be the Ireland of welcomes by ensuring prices will be kept down rather than increased.
Senator Robbie Gallagher referred to Brexit. During the coming weeks we will have a series of debates on the issue in which Senators will have an opportunity to discuss it with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and other Ministers. I join the Senator in commending the Ceann Comhairle for holding the symposium on Brexit in the Mansion House last week. It was a very worthwhile and informative event.
I thank Senator Colm Burke for commending those who work in the health service. Ireland is 13th on the table he mentioned. It is important that we continue to invest in health services and try to recruit staff across the various sectors to have people stay in the country and work in the health service.
I join Senator Paul Daly in hoping Ministers and Opposition Members will stop flying kites to frighten people about what will be included in the upcoming budget. The Minister for Finance has said it will not be a giveaway budget, but listening to the Opposition, if one was to include everything that has been proposed, one could fill every stadium in the world. In reality, we have €1 billion at our disposal and a tax and spending ratio of 2:1 has been agreed. If we were all to enter the world of reality rather than the world of make believe, we would do our constituents and those we represent a better service.
I agree with Senator Frank Feighan that Roscommon County Hospital is very strong and progressive and one in which there is much activity takin place.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of hedge cutting. From the limited information I possess, the local county engineer has the power to cut hedges to make roads safe. The Senator is correct. There has been an increase in the number of fatalities on the roads. There is, therefore, a need for better co-ordination between local authorities, Transport Ireland and utilities in how they do their work in the cutting of hedges in rural Ireland. I will be happy to refer to the relevant Department the matter of whether the hedge cutting date should be brought forward.
Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the important issue of the cost of car insurance and referenced an increase of 40% in premiums in some cases. He is dead right that it is an attack on work. The increase is penal for young people, many of whom cannot afford the cost of insurance.
The Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is chairing a cross-departmental committee which is dealing with the matter, on which the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, Deputy John McGuinness, has held hearings. It is important we continue to be mindful of the fact that it is an important issue for many.
Before concluding the Order of Business, I wish to be associated with the words of sympathy on the loss of the Irish Coast Guard volunteer, Caitríona Lucas. As someone who comes from a coastal community and was born on a peninsula, I am acutely aware of the tremendous work done by the Irish Coast Guard, lifeboat, inshore, cliff and other rescue services. It is unfortunate that they are called on way too often. I ask the House to observe a minute's silence in memory of the late Caitríona Lucas.