The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m.
Order of Business
Is there a terminal time?
There might be a fatal time.
The public library service makes an enormous contribution nationally. Public libraries have been the focal point for many communities in Ireland for more than 100 years and used as a safe haven for schoolgoers, college students, the elderly, the homeless and active retired people. The friendly and professional staff in our libraries have formed part of the social fabric of many communities with many movements and community organisations having started life in the public library setting. The move towards staffless libraries is a bad one for the country. The schemes have been rolled out in Dún Laoghaire and counties Offaly and Sligo have been rightfully met with discontent by members of the community and staff. It is understood 12 and possibly more counties plan to introduce staffless libraries. This move should be blocked and discouraged. Statistics for the staffless libraries in counties Offaly and Sligo show that the use of the library is down when no staff are present. Many vulnerable members of our community may be less willing to use a staffless library because of safety concerns. Having friendly and experienced staff in a library tends to create a non-threatening community space that all can enjoy without fear or anguish. Any savings that may be created will be diminished by the decreased use of public libraries and the loss of the innumerable hidden gains that staffed libraries provide. In a move towards less face-to-face contact in libraries, banks and other front-line services, it is understood the area office in Crumlin village will also be closing. This is a very distressing move for members of the community who rely on many of the services provided by Dublin City Council, with other area offices around the city closing also. Less face to face contact with service users will make this a more insular society and create even more social problems at a higher cost to the Exchequer.
I emphasise that what I say about water being brought from the River Shannon to Dublin is not based on any concern about the effect it would have on the River Shannon or about farmers seeking compensation for wayleaves across their land. In the past couple of days I have received correspondence from a Ms Emma Kennedy, suggesting the State is making what she considers to be a major mistake in commissioning the Dublin-River Shannon pipeline. Her thesis which is an elaborate is that Dublin aquifers and underground water sources would be quite adequate to serve the city of Dublin. The point she is making in her report which she has sent to some Members of the House and the Taoiseach is that the total expenditure on the River Shannon-Dublin pipe system would in of the order of €1.2 billion. Her thesis is that there is plenty of subterranean water and plenty of sources in Dublin to make the pipeline redundant and to service Dublin's projected needs for water much closer to the city. As far as she is concerned, the data on which the River Shannon-Dublin water project were decided are faulty and the analysis underlying it is faulty also. I am fully in favour of getting ahead with infrastructure if it is the right option. However, the Houses have not debated whether this thesis of there being plenty of water available in the Dublin region through using different technology to extract it from the earth has been adequately examined. Will the Leader ask the Minister with responsibility for this matter to make himself available to discuss it with the House. That is not the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, but the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, because responsibility for the water issue was given to his Department. It is a huge piece of infrastructure which will cost €1.2 billion. If it has to be done, I am fully in favour of it. However, if there is a significantly cheaper alternative, somebody in this or the other House should raise the issue of whether we are making a mistake, bearing in mind the information that has been furnished to Members of this House. Will the Leader ask the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, to come to the House to brief us on whether it is the case that the River Shannon-Dublin water main idea has been fully considered in the light of alternatives, including aquifers closer to the city of Dublin?
Ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt go bhfuil réiteach gearr-thréimhseach sroichte ar an ngéarchéim a bhaineann leis an tseirbhís farantóireachta go hInis Mór. I recognise that there has been a temporary reprieve in the Inis Mór ferry service scenario, but there really needs to be a knuckling down to make sure it is settled on a longer term basis.
I concur with the sentiments of Senator Catherine Ardagh on staffless libraries. We had a presentation in the AV room on the issue two weeks ago. I concur completely with the Senator that we do need a debate and I think I called for it at the time on the role of library services and how they are going to be impacted on by the staffless library system.
I cautiously welcome the announcement made by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, on bin charges. This House can take credit for bin charges being kicked to touch for six months, owing to issues we raised in a number of debates with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney. I do not believe, however, that kicking it to touch for six months is the best scenario. Going into the summer period, we will have issues with bags and dumping, particularly in tourist areas where bags cannot be bought and tourists will not know where to dispose of their refuse. There are also still issues in some areas with monopoly services being run by some companies.
There is a lack of consistency in pricing policy throughout the country. Prices are different in almost every constituency to which one travels. Sinn Féin is in favour of going back to local authority delivery of service. However, it would be a good idea for this House to have another debate on bin charges with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, as opposed to waiting another six months to see how this issue can be resolved, and to bring forward positive proposals.
At this time of year, many of us will go to Christmas parties and restaurants, but I have been contacted by a number of workers in the hospitality sector, particularly in Galway, who are being abused within that sector. I am hearing about cases of verbal abuse and payment and tips being withheld. I am also hearing about cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse that go unreported. People are afraid to report them in case they get sacked. Those in temporary employment arrangements certainly find it difficult to do so. There are two sides to the hospitality sector. It is positive to see the improvements in the sector, but we need to examine the related workers' rights issues. It would be useful to have a debate on the abuse of workers in the hospitality sector in which we could examine all of the issues. I would look to raise more such issues during the debate.
Last Saturday I was invited to speak at an event organised by my colleague, Senator Lynn Ruane. It was called Tallaght Talks and the emphasis was on mental health issues. There were a number of great speakers present on the day, but what had the greatest impact on me was the response from the people attending the event, which was very emotional. One man shared his experience of depression. He spoke about how difficult life was for him and how he might not make it to Christmas because he felt so low and that he might end up taking his own life. His story was one of many. Another woman pleaded for help because so many of her family had died by suicide. One young lad asked how he could support a friend who had lost a loved one to suicide. There were numerous such stories on the day. The overwhelming feeling in the room was one of abandonment and lack of support services. People felt unrepresented by the Government. In recent years communities were being commended for their contribution to the country by suffering the austerity measures imposed on them. The advice at the time was that everybody had to tighten his or her belts in order that we might get over the crisis. The old saying "No pain, no gain" was put forward. The people in the room on Saturday had felt the pain of austerity and had not benefited from any gain. They were not looking for gain in any selfish way but in the form of proper support for the less well-off in the community. They felt totally abandoned. Suicide is one of the major problems facing society. The reports that 16 people had died by suicide in Cork county in a two-week period should ensure that all party-political concerns are put to one side and that a concerted effort is made to tackle this issue by means of the provision of all the necessary supports. I ask the Leader why a state of emergency has not been declared in order to support the thousands of people who are struggling with mental health issues and who believe they have nowhere to turn to for support, the families who have lost loved ones to suicide and the large number of children who will be homeless this Christmas. People do not see any urgency in tackling the problem of suicide and they are disillusioned with a system which continually refers to tackling the homelessness issue but which will not introduce rent certainty. The less-well off in society need to be a priority. It should be a case of looking after the people in question first and putting their needs before those of vested interests. Our society should be judged on how we look after the poorest, not on how the rich are getting even richer.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business if it is appropriate to do so that the Convictions for Certain Sexual Offences (Apology and Exoneration) Bill 2016-----
The Senator is proposing that No. 14 be taken before No. 1.
It will be a matter for the Leader to decide, but I understand the Senator's request.
It is an issue about which the Leader is enthusiastic. I am pleased to see that Fine Gael is not engaging expensive media monitoring firms because when I appeared on "The Pat Kenny Show" this morning, the Leader engaged by tweeting a very welcome comment. I acknowledge his role in making Ireland a more equal society. I congratulate him and hope we will have Government support for the legislation when it is introduced and debated in January.
On more mundane matters, last Friday morning staff at the SuperValu store in Drogheda showed up for work as normal, but they were locked out of the premises and the doors were closed for good.
Out of the blue, the company which ran this particular store for more than 20 years ceased trading. Almost 30 staff, some of whom had worked there for almost 20 years, were left without work this side of Christmas.
We know that businesses fail every day. We all feel a sense of sorrow when businesses do fail and people are let go. Nobody puts more work into a business than the business owners. However, this is a tragedy for everyone involved. When a firm is careering towards insolvency, is in difficult trading circumstances and ends up being liquidated, everyone will agree that there are better ways to treat staff than to merely shut the door in their faces and leave them depending on statutory redundancy at the expense of the taxpayer. In a normal collective redundancy scenario where a business fails, there is a requirement on the employer to engage in a 30-day consultation process with employees to discuss enhanced redundancy packages and so on. No such requirement falls on a business owner where his or her business ceases trading and goes into liquidation. When the Drogheda SuperValus of this world decide they are going to close their doors, it is the State which is on the hook for the payments.
There is a solution to this problem. After the Clerys scandal, I worked closely to engage with experts to understand how the law could be changed to better protect workers in such insolvency scenarios. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has an expert report, the Duffy-Cahill review. It was initiated by me and developed by Mr. Kevin Duffy, former chairman of the Labour Court, and an expert company lawyer, Ms Nessa Cahill, to identify ways in which workers could be better protected in scenarios such as this. The Minister has, however, been sitting on the report. The public consultation on the report has concluded, yet we see staff in SuperValu in Drogheda and Pumpkin Patch in the Blanchardstown and Liffey Valley shopping centres experience the loss of their jobs last Friday as the doors of their companies were closed in their faces. There is a better and fairer way of doing this. It is high time the Minister introduced legislation to give effect to the proposals made in the Duffy-Cahill report to better protect workers in insolvency scenarios.
Next week the European Council meets for the last time this side of Christmas. It will discuss the important issue of the future of Europe, especially focusing on child and youth affairs. Will the Leader invite either the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to take statements on this issue in order that we in this House can share our vision for the European Union, both in the short and medium term, as well as taking into account the many changing factors across the European Union?
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 29, non-Government motion No. 9, be taken without debate before No. 1. The motion pertains to the investment by the National Treasury Management Agency and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund in equity holdings in three separate tobacco companies. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in this country. As Professor Luke Clancy said, it is unconscionable to think the State would invest taxpayers' money in the tobacco industry and contribute to its commercial viability. I formally wrote to the Minister for Finance over six weeks ago about this issue. Some 500 people have since died from smoking-related illnesses. I also have had constructive dialogue with non-governmental organisations such as the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society and ASH Ireland. Smoking-related illnesses cost the health care system over €500 million a year, with up to 6,000 people dying because of them. It is estimated that there are 31,000 hospital admissions due to smoking-related diseases every year. Each admission costs €5,400, which comes to an approximate cost of €170 million per year. It is an important issue. I had prepared legislation in this regard. Unfortunately, because of the constitutional constraints on the House, I was unable to push that legislation. My colleague, Deputy Sean Fleming, will be taking up the issue in the Lower House.
I highlight yet again the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise. Following the tragic preventable deaths of infant babies in the hospital in the past few years, HIQA produced a report setting out hundreds of recommendations to restore safe and quality services. An updated report, published in the past few days, stated some progress had been made, but there remain serious concerns about the provision of services there. The hospital is dangerously understaffed and there is a distinct problem in recruiting non-consultant doctors and midwives. Given the tragedies that occurred in the hospital, it is shocking that there are still only 32 midwives working in the maternity area where there should be 52. That is indefensible and the Government, with the Department of Health, has to take full responsibility for it. Listening to the response of the CEO of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group was alarming, to say the least. Stating the updated report contained no surprises and was balanced and fair, while making comparisons to other hospitals nationally which face similar challenges, simply does not cut it. This attitude is almost accepting defeat and will also accept the inevitable tragedies that occur into the future at this troubled hospital unless determined leadership is shown and a clear long-term strategy is put in place. The uncertain future of Portlaoise hospital is compounding the problems, with rumours and counter-rumours leading to recruitment issues and low morale among existing staff. I call on the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to publish the action plan for the hospital which has been submitted to his Department to ensure the services in the hospital are sufficiently staffed to prevent further tragedies and to make a statement to this House confirming how and when the problems in the hospital will be rectified for the safety of mothers and babies.
I will start with Senator Keith Swanick's issue and then return to the previous-----
Describe the Senator.
I am sorry - Senator Michael McDowell. Pardon me. I dare say it was a senior moment.
Senator Michael McDowell raised an interesting point about aquifers. I would like to see the report and consider its accuracy. We have had a lot of discussion about the matter in north County Dublin where there is a large aquifer, but the information I had at the time was that it certainly would not be sufficient on its own to meet requirements. Nonetheless, the Senator's point is well made.
I endorse and support Senator Keith Swanick's request for a motion. This is an area in which I have been very interested for quite some time. I raised it with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, when I was Minister for Health and subsequently again, if memory serves, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I have written to the Minister more recently to find out what is the up-to-date position. In fairness to the Minister, at the time the moneys concerned were quite small and he certainly intimated to me that there would be an orderly wind down of investments in the tobacco industry. I believe it is questionable to have investments, as such, with an industry that has caused so much misery, hardship, hurt, harm and death right across the globe.
Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate with the appropriate Minister on the report of the Athlone boundary review committee which was published recently? Some 28,000 people objected in County Roscommon to the extension of the boundary from the Athlone urban area to County Roscommon in the Monksland-Bellanamullia area, which was a land grab by another local authority. I commend the chairman, all members of the committee, all of the councillors in County Roscommon and all of the Oireachtas Members who fought to ensure part of our beloved County Roscommon would not be annexed and included in County Westmeath.
Senator Terry Leyden to continue, without interruption. No love-bombing today.
The situation is unsatisfactory. The report's summary states: "Roscommon and Westmeath County Councils should provide to the Minister a Joint Implementation Plan within 6 months of the publication of this report to indicate their proposals and timelines for completion of these tasks..." It goes on to state if they do not co-operate, the Minister will extend the boundary into County Roscommon. That is the threat made in the report and I want to see it being withdrawn. I want the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to come to the House and state categorically that Bellanamullia-Monksland will remain an integral part of County Roscommon.
There is a case to be made for naming the area as Monkstown or another suitable name and to turn the area into a town as opposed to a townland, which would give it more authority. The western side of Athlone is the most neglected part of County Westmeath. It would be more practical to extend the Roscommon boundary to the River Shannon, which is the natural boundary between the west and the east. Part of Athlone on the western side of the river is in Connacht whereas the other side is in Leinster. I am happy to retain what we have and not to make any grab for County Westmeath, but I would like a debate on the issue. If the Minister will not come to the House, I will seek a Commencement matter debate in that regard. The fight continues. This is only a fob to fight the next general election to ensure Fine Gael will gain a seat.
The Senator should not meander like the River Shannon.
Fine Gael had two seats one time when it promised to retain the emergency department in Roscommon County Hospital, but the party broke that promise.
There will be no history lessons now.
One Deputy withdrew and the other went independent and now he is a member of the Government.
Last Saturday would not constitute history. It was UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister of State with responsibilities for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, said the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would not be ratified by the end of the year. Every party and political entity that took part in the general election was insistent that the convention would be ratified by the end of the year or as quickly as possible. In November of last year the outgoing Administration committed to having it done by the end of this year. The commitment is contained in the programme for Government. Last June,the Minister of State, in reply to a Commencement matter I had tabled, confirmed that it would be ratified by the end of the year, which would be important to trigger the road to progressive implementation. It is a serious matter for 600,000 people with disabilities, 200,000 carers and their families. I expect the Taoiseach to come to the House as soon as possible to explain what is the position. We are told that there are backlogs in producing legislation. At the end of 2016, 100 years from a particular event, are the people concerned not valued in this nation? Surely, ratification should have been undertaken. Priorities continue to slip and change. This is a massive issue and people are losing faith with everybody involved in the political process because priorities continue to slip. I strongly seek ratification on behalf of the people in question.
A claim has been made that licences to shoot the highly protected red deer in Killarney National Park and its vicinity are being sold for substantial sums. A detailed report on at least one alleged instance where a red deer stag was shot by a hunter tourist who had paid thousands of euro to a commercial company for the experience has been made to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The stag was shot out of season under a permit issued to a landowner under strict conditions which allegedly had been obtained by a commercial company. That is a serious matter, if it is true. If any culling is to be done, it should only be of the non-indigenous sika species, not red deer. Only aged or infirm red deer should be culled. That species was down to 60 in number in 1970, but now there are more than 600 in the herd.
My information is that the Department does not issue so-called section 42 licences to non-Department wildlife personnel other than landowners who are suffering crop damage on their own lands. Only ten are in existence under very strict conditions. We all know that deer can be dangerous and can wander onto roads and so on. On the western side of Killarney, with which I am very familiar, it is largely sika deer which have been hit a few times by cars and could cause an accident. There are signs everywhere warning motorists.
They cannot hear.
It is a very serious issue. The Senator should not make light of a matter of huge ecological importance.
I am calling on the Leader to have the Minister attend the House to have a debate on this matter and deer in general. The matter should be investigated and I presume it is being investigated. Perhaps we might have more information shortly and can take up the matter with the Minister.
Will a deer be shot on Christmas Day in Killarney?
I do not know from where those statements are coming.
I support the senior Senator for County Kerry, Senator Paul Coghlan, on this issue because I am also very concerned about reports which seem to suggest the hunting of the Killarney red deer has now become a purchasable pleasure. The Killarney red deer is a subset of the red deer and, as the Senator said, an internationally protected species. It appears one can now obtain a licence to shoot them for the sum of €5,000. I do not know how exactly this developed. It seems that the only people who are entitled to shoot deer are forestry and wildlife staff for appropriate reasons. This is a new departure. It is an offence to hunt, stalk and shoot these deer. It is reprehensible that wealthy Americans - in this case - can come over and shoot them to stuff them or, even worse, cut their heads off and mount them on the walls of their dens, drawing rooms or clubhouses. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, should come to the House and speak to us about this issue, tell us how this occurred and reassure us about what she will do to make sure it does not happen again. She should assure us that if people are breaking the law, no matter how wealthy they are, they will be subject to the rigours of the law.
I have not had a chance to digest the statement that issued from the Cabinet this morning on pay-per-weight bin charges, but I am somewhat concerned about what I have picked up on. I want the Leader to know that in County Kerry we have been operating a pay-by-weight system for refuse collection for quite some time. It is very successful. My gut instinct is that the Government is stepping back because of the debacle over water charges, out of which no party has come with any kudos. All the main political parties have succeeded in making a bunch of extreme Trotskyites look good. People who think it is good politics to lock two defenceless women into a car for four hours are looking good now because of the way we have handled water charges. I presume the Minister is afraid the bin charges will go the same way. I say this as a taxpayer on behalf of middle Ireland and the coping classes. I do not mind those who cannot pay, but we will be paying for those who will not pay. Will we now be paying the bin charges and the refuge charges again for those who will not pay? Undergraduate politicians with megaphones are going around shouting down people and it is very worrying.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an gcomhaontú agus an réitiú atá déanta, tá súil agam, ag muintir dhúchais Mheiriceá Thuaidh. I cautiously welcome the apparent resolution to the protest at Standing Rock by the Sioux tribe. The Leader will know the protest has been ongoing for a long period against the proposed Dakota access pipeline.
The pipeline involves a 1,200 mile link between North Dakota and Illinois which, as proposed, would threaten the native people's water supply, cultural heritage and burial sites. There appears to be a resolution to the protest and the permission to finish the pipelines has not been granted. There are, however, many concerns among the Native American tribe because of the President-elect and his associations with the company responsible and the resolution may be short-lived. In this country we know the importance of environmental indigenous heritage sites and the danger that a capitalist agenda partnered with a compliant government can pose to such sites. Through the Leader, I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, when he is engaged with colleagues in the United States, to ensure Ireland's voice is very clearly heard in support of those standing in defence of Standing Rock. He should ensure a message of solidarity and support for the Sioux tribe will go from this Chamber.
I note with concern that there is a decision to help to increase the price of a postage stamp. The Minister has asked the Cabinet to remove the price cap in order that An Post can continue to carry out its five-day postal service. Last week I sent a letter to another European country that had to go overnight and it cost me €33. An Post is under pressure, but it should not be subsidised in such a way. I have raised the issue before at the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission of how Deputies and Senators used to receive an allocation, with Deputies receiving 1,200 or 1,300 pre-paid envelopes every month five or six years ago, and Senators receiving much less. I worked it out that it was less than €2 million per year. Whoever did the deal on behalf of this Parliament ten or 15 years ago got a discount of 1 cent per envelope. In effect, we paid 54 cent in advance. The cost of postage was 55 cent. All of the envelopes, even those on which people woite, were prepaid. They were paid for three or four years ago. In the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission we reduced the cost by nearly 50%. We helped to save this Parliament and taxpayers more than €1 million per year, but more could be done.
Nonsense. Some of us need the envelopes.
We do not need that many.
We certainly do. It has gone down from-----
Senator, le do thoil.
Many Deputies and Senators do not realise the envelopes were paid for by the State four years in advance. We received a discount that was next to nothing.
The Senator has made his point.
If anybody operating on behalf of the State is to pay money upfront for pre-paid envelopes, he or she should at least obtain a better discount that would help to ensure taxpayers' money was well spent.
That is a matter for the commission eventually, should it decide on it.
I will speak about the banking whistleblower, Mr. Jonathan Sugarman. I speak in the wake of Senator David Norris who brought up the issue in 2010. Mr. Sugarman was the risk manager at Unicredit Ireland and went on to-----
Bí cúramach. The Senator cannot mention the names of whistleblowers or anybody else. In doing so she might bring the Seanad into disrepute. She should be ve very careful.
I have a reason for mentioning the name and will come to it.
I again advise the Senator not to do so.
The particular individual was ignored by his bank, our banks, the regulator and political parties. People can say it is in the past, but it is not and it will not be in the past for 40 years. It is certainly not in my past because it brought about a decrease in my salary and pension in the form of the universal social charge which is applied to everything we earn. Therefore, it is not in our past. The man in question was not allowed to speak at the banking inquiry. Through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, I would like to invite the particular gentleman whom I am not allowed to name in the Seanad.
Since the man could not speak at the meetings on the banking crisis and he has not spoken in the Dáil, I would like to bring him here because I want to ask him a lot of questions. I would like him to tell us why he has not been able to find a job for the past eight years and what happened when he was in Ireland in 2007. I want him to tell us the truth. I am asked almost every day, or it feels like it is every day, about the financial crisis. I want to know what is going on with the public that has left them disengaged from politicians and feeling angry. The disenfranchisement and financialisation of people's lives is one of the reasons people are angry. We will soon have to pay for air.
I ask the Leader to invite the gentleman who I am not allowed name but who everybody knows because they have heard him on radio and television to attend the Seanad in early January. It would afford us an opportunity to speak to him, for him to speak to us and then we could question him since he was not allowed to comment at the banking inquiry and has not spoken in the Dáil.
I cannot speak for the banking inquiry. The only way people can be invited here, which is the protocol, is with the agreement of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
Yes. I request that the gentleman be invited to attend the Seanad. I have let all of the Senators know.
I suggest the Senator formally write to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges..
If I were allowed to ask Senators to vote on the matter, I am sure they would vote with me. Since I am not, I wish to announce that I will ask the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to invite the gentleman in question.
In order for the Senator to do so, she would have to change the Standing Orders and the rules of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.. It is the Committee on Procedure and Privileges that grants approval and if it agrees, the invitation will come before the House where Senators can vote on the matter.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. As members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges are sitting here listening to me, at least I have started an argument on the matter.
The Seanad is not the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I suggest the Senator formally write to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges with her request. The matter will be considered in due course and as early as possible.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
Since my experiences in the last presidential election, I could hardly be described as an admirer of the journalistic trade. However, I think what has happened in Independent Newspapers is an utter and absolute disgrace. Yesterday I attended a protest at the O'Callaghan Alexander Hotel. There are people who have spent decades in the service of Independent Newspapers and who are within six months of receiving their pension but who have been cut off with virtually nothing. Their pensions have been absolutely savaged. I refer to a company that is in profit. We have seen the case of Clerys where there was absolutely disgraceful behaviour. Somebody had the cheek to erect a Happy Christmas sign in the window of Clerys and I felt like throwing a stone through it the other day.
There is a defect in the law. Will the Leader to contact the Government and ask it to produce legislation to deal with this matter? In England a company that is in profit is not allowed by law to walk away from its obligations to pensioners and that is what should happen in this country.
I ask for a debate on transport, particularly in the city of Dublin. The city manager of Dublin has made the moronic suggestion that cars throughout the city should only be allowed to travel at 18.5 mph. If that were the case, cyclists could pass cars. The call has been made because the people in charge of Dublin City Council, formerly known as Dublin Corporation, hate motor cars. They do everything they can to create danger all over the city and are a liability in Dublin. I refer, in particular, to the spikes at the back gate of Trinity College, dublin and having two bus lanes but only one for cars on Pearse Street. Everything is done to stop people from using their cars. Also, due to work on the Luas system, the streets have been dug up all over the place. The new Luas system was an idiotic proposal. In the beginning, there were two separate lines that were totally unconnected and there was no spur line to the airport. I tried many times and we nearly got the powers that be to create an underground system.
I listened to Mr. Paddy Cosgrave from the Web Summit. He was asked how the summit in Lisbon had gone and his first reply was that it had been absolutely brilliant because there was an underground system at the airport. He said the underground system had made the difference between holding the summit in Dublin or Lisbon. Can we debate the need for an underground system? The matter has been masked. People have placed a veil across the matter and claimed there can be no underground system owing to safety concerns. That is absolute rubbish. It is the hatred of the two principal officials of Dublin City Council for the motor car. The real cause should be exposed as such. Citizens have a democratic right to use their motor cars, particularly those who live in the inner city like me. I can scarcely use my car because there are so many one-way streets and areas blocked off and because of the bicycle. It is absolute rubbish - here's to the motor car.
Keep the red flag flying.
I am delighted to see that representatives of the Defence Forces and the Reserve Defence Force have been presented with a specially commissioned medal to mark the role they played in the 2016 centenary year.
The presentation was made by President Higgins last Sunday. The medals are in recognition of the role played by soldiers, sailors and Air Corps personnel in the 1916 Rising commemorative events this year. The presentation is very welcome and a fitting tribute to the role played by the Defence Forces this year, one of the most important years in our history. Throughout the year members of the Defence Forces played a vital part in many large and small events in every part of the country. One function that stands out for most people is their involvement with primary schools. Teachers and parents have told me how much the students enjoyed the presence and involvement of the Defence Forces when they visited their schools. It brought an important and serious ceremonial dimension to events. Children, many of whom had never met Defence Forces personnel previously, were enthralled and impressed by their visitors. We should also recall the vital and necessary functions carried out by the Defence Forces each year, including their peacekeeping activities across the globe. Their work in humanitarian peacekeeping is a matter of global citizenship and enhances the reputation of the country. They do their duty without the right to take industrial action and do it willingly and without rancour or complaint. It is fair to say the credit they received last weekend was long overdue. It is great to see them finally being recognised.
In addition, it is welcome that the Garda Representative Association voted yesterday to accept the Labour Court's recommendation. I understand the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors is meeting today and hope it will follow suit. The lesson to be learned from this sad debacle is that the closely connected Ministers should stay in touch with the unions to ensure situations such as this will not arise in the future.
I second Senator Gerald Nash's proposal.
There was an incredible turn of events in this Chamber last week. For over a week, Fianna Fáil led us to believe its Senators would support a Sinn Féin motion urging the Government to fulfil the call of the Constitutional Convention to hold a referendum to change the Constitution and allow people from the North and the diaspora to vote in the next presidential election, which is due to be held in 2018. I thank the Senators who supported the motion, particularly Senator Billy Lawless who explicitly supported it. There was great expectation that this nationally and internationally important motion would be supported and that it would be carried, but at the eleventh hour the leadership of Fianna Fáil dramatically changed its position and supported Fine Gael's amendment which, at best, delays the constitutional referendum and, at worst, buries it until after 2018. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, said, on the one hand, that it was a priority for the Government but, on the other, that he could not foresee any movement until 2019, three years from now. That would be five years after the recommendation being made by the Constitutional Convention. What is the reason for the delay? The Government could sort out this matter in the morning. However, there is a lack of will to do so and this must change. Tens of thousands of people across the North and similar numbers across the world are keen to vote for the President in 2018. What does the Government say to them? What does Fianna Fáil say to them? What has Fianna Fáil to state to its supporters after doing a U-turn on supporting the motion? I spoke to many Fianna Fáil activists over the weekend and they could not believe what the party had done in not supporting the motion. Why has Fianna Fáil ditched its party policy on this crucial issue? Last week was a missed opportunity. However, all is not lost. I call on the Government to change course on this matter and Fianna Fáil to revert to supporting the right of people in the North and the diaspora to vote in presidential elections. I call on the people to organise in support of the campaign to have voting rights in presidential elections extended to people in the North and the diaspora. The relevance of this House to Irish citizens in the North and abroad will be judged on how sincere Members are about prioritising presidential voting rights for Irish citizens, regardless of where they live. Make no mistake - the battle for the equalisation of Irish citizenship will continue.
The question is when is a property right a property right? Why is it always the working class that pays? Why do the same fat cats always win?
I am raising the issue of Independent News & Media, but I may well be talking about Aer Lingus, decent public servants who have seen the abatement of their pension schemes. Was it a property right when they received it? It seems that other people who can claim property rights are untouchable, but the property rights of the working classes are never untouchable. I hear today of people who are taking a 70% cut in their pension payments. Surely, the Oireachtas could do something, send in some inspector to see why shareholders are about to receive a dividend after so many years when the pension payments of the poor old guy who built the company with his sweat and blood and the journalists who went out and tracked down the criminals of this country are being cut to the bone, leaving them desolate and with nothing in their old age. Why can they do it? They can do it because they know that the State will pay the allowance if they are broke. They also know that the State will have to fund them in hospital if they are broke. It has gone beyond a joke. Since 2008, workers have been crucified, yet the same God-damned names keep appearing and they are making millions on the backs of the people. It has to stop. We have to do something about it. For the life of me, I do not know what to do about it, other than to run them all out of the country. I do not suppose we can do that, but we must do something. Perhaps we should have the Minister for Finance come to the House for a debate on the matter. A pension right is a pension right and should not be touched by anybody.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Keith Swanick, who is to be lauded for his efforts in that regard in the past few months. It is unfortunate that the National Treasury Management Agency and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund have been investing taxpayers' money in three tobacco companies, while at the same time, tobacco companies have been threatening to sue the State as a result of the efforts it is making to stop young people from taking up this deadly habit.
I support the call made by my colleague, Senator Terry Leyden, that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment be called to the House to discuss the particular issue he raised of the potential breach of the boundaries of County Roscommon and the urgent need for a constitutional referendum on the Lower House in order that there can be positive discrimination towards rural Ireland. The sooner that is done, the better. If the population growth continues to occur on the east coast and in the major urban areas, rural Ireland will end up with very few Members of the Dáil and the Seanad. I urge that we debate this issue as soon as possible when we come back in the new year.
I wish to clarify an issue raised by Senator Rose Conway-Walsh for the benefit of the House. She is correct and I apologised to the Sinn Féin Whip, Senator Paul Gavan, on Wednesday last. I indicated to him that the Fianna Fáil Party would support his motion, not a Bill. However, on closer examination, it was indicated to a colleague of mine - unfortunately, I was not available for personal reasons that afternoon - that we would prefer to examine in more detail a definition of the diaspora and set the cut-off point. Would everybody with an Irish passport and someone who might never have been on the island of Ireland have a vote in a presidential election? There were concerns. I apologised to the Chief Whip of the Sinn Féin Party and will do so again in the House as he is not to blame.
There was a concern that we should look at the motion, rather than a Bill, in more detail. That is why it was decided that we should vote in favour of the amendment. That is the situation and there was no hidden agenda. As a party, we are still totally committed to giving votes to the diaspora, but it is important to identify who exactly are the diaspora before we go any further.
That has been done.
The Constitutional Convention did it.
I am sure Senator Diarmuid Wilson's apology is noted, as is his integrity.
I thank the 21 Members who made contributions on the Order of Business.
Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to the movement towards having staffless public libraries. As someone who served as chairperson of Cork City Council's library sub-committee, I am aware that it is a matter for local authorities to fund their own services. The staff certainly play an integral and strong part in our experience of libraries. I might have the Minister responsible come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Michael McDowell spoke about the water pipeline between the River Shannon and Dublin. I will be very happy to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to come to the House to discuss the issue. There have been problems with the water supply and particularly water pressure in Dublin. Those of us who stay in hotels when we are in Dublin will have seen water conservation notices in lifts and the public areas of hotels. It is important that we have a debate about how to ensure continuity and safety of supply in the Dublin area. The Senator mentioned that he had received a paper from Ms Emma Kennedy on the issue. Perhaps he might circulate it to Members as a reference paper as it is important that we learn and broaden our horizons. To that end, I will get the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh also referred to libraries. I join him in recognising the excellent work of the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, in bridging a solution to the ferry problem last weekend. I thank him for intervening, thereby showing his power and ability to bring people together, but the Senator is right when he says a long-term solution is needed. We have been given a reprieve until 4 January, but we cannot have a sense of déjà vu or Groundhog Day on that date. The point the Senator made about bin charges is to be welcomed. I will come back to that issue.
The fundamental point made by the Senator is that all Members of the House should play a part in helping to eradicate the mistreatment of the men and women who work in the entertainment and hospitality sector, including bar staff, waiters, waitresses, glass collectors, doormen and doorwomen, taxi drivers, nightclub DJs and band members. We enter their workplaces when we go to restaurants and public houses and they deserve to be treated properly and with respect and decorum. I hope that, as public officials, we lead the way by ensuring those in our parties and groups treat them with respect and courtesy as they do their day's or night's work. Senator Billy Lawless plays a strong role in the hospitality sector in Chicago. It is important for us to stand up for and with those who work in the sector.
Senator Frances Black referred to mental health services. Everyone in the House has a role to play in promoting positive mental health, wellness and well-being, to which the Government has committed funding. It has become a popular cant to blame the Government or public bodies for difficulties in the mental health sector. Like her predecessors, former Deputies Kathleen Lynch and John Moloney, the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, has demonstrated her willingness to prioritise mental health services, in which an additional €115 million has been invested this year, which represents an increase of 20% since 2012. There has also been a recruitment and advertising campaign. I was in Cork City Hall yesterday when the Lord Mayor, Councillor Des Cahill, held an informative and important briefing on the issue of mental health and suicide in the city of Cork. We all have a role to play in that regard. It behoves all of us, therefore, to ensure mental health services are prioritised. I join the Minister of State in trying to do so.
I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Gerald Nash. Many Members of the House, including Senator David Norris who has left the Chamber, are playing a role in making our society more equal and progressive. While it might not be as simple as Senator Gerald Nash thinks to achieve the aims of the Bill to which his amendment relates, we should collectively sign up to support it as a means of ensuring we can send a message to those who were persecuted and treated badly by the State and their families.
I join him in condemning the treatment of workers in Drogheda who have been locked out, in some cases without recompense or by-the-by, after 20 or 30 years of service. Certainly, the Duffy Cahill review is one to which we can come back if we happen to have the Minister responsible in the House.
Senator Neale Richmond referred to the European Council meeting on the future of Europe. He is right. There is a need for dialogue on the future of the European Union, not least in the context of Brexit, the outcome of the vote in Italy at the weekend and the implications for the European Union, particularly in terms of fiscal stability. The growth of certain populist trends throughout the European Union is also an important issue.
Senator Keith Swanick proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 29, non-Government motion No. 9 re the National Treasury Management Agency, be taken before No. 1. I am happy to accept the amendment and commend the Senator for his strong words on and actions against the tobacco industry. I also commend Senator James Reilly for the role he played in that regard when Minister for Health. All Members of the House can send a collective message to the effect that we do not want to see people dying from smoking-related diseases. If we can progress measures to protect the health and well-being of the nation, any stepping stone in that direction should be approached by everyone with acclamation.
Senator Máire Devine referred to the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise. It is an important matter on which we should not play politics. I chaired the previous Joint Committee on Health and Children which dealt with the HIQA report. Some of the families affected appeared before it. It is important to recognise that steps have been taken on foot of events at the hospital. It should also be noted that it was the bravery of women and their families that allowed us to reach this day when we have another report on services at the hospital. I must have listened to a different radio programme this morning because I thought the chairperson of the group was clear and strong on the need for a strategic plan. The plan is with the Minister for Health to be implemented. He has emphasised that we need to protect and ensure the safety of women and their babies and that this concern is paramount at all times. I agree fully with the Senator that we must see a strategic plan being put in place as we must safeguard the lives of women and their children and also protect staff. That is why there has been an increase of 18% in Government funding for the hospital, something to which the Senator did not refer. It is also why there are an additional 16 midwifery posts, as well as two additional midwifery management posts, and why an arrangement is being put in place with the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.
It has not worked.
It is important to state the Minister has asked the HSE to address the issues identified as a priority and to ensure the hospital is supported appropriately. No one wants to see anyone being treated badly or dying in hospital. It is important to record our thanks to the women and their families who have come forward and acknowledge their bravery. However, we must also give recognition to the Minister and the Government, as well as the previous one, for the increases in staffing and funding, something to which the Senator did not refer.
Senator James Reilly reinforced the messages of Senators Kieth Swanick and Michael McDowell.
Senator Terry Leyden raised the contentious issue of the Athlone boundaries. I join him in hoping Senators Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins and Gabrielle McFadden will be in the next Dáil. I hope he will join me in supporting their election to the next Dáil because they are three fine public representatives from the area.
I hope they will all be in the next Dáil.
What is wrong with the Seanad? Why will they not coming be back here?
Senator Terry Leyden was referring to the constituency boundaries.
I do not recall making that point.
The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.
The Leader was wishing them into the Dáil. He is a naughty boy.
That might be their aspiration.
What about loyalty to Seanad Éireann?
I do not recall that part of my speech.
The Athlone boundaries review-----
I recall promises being broken about the hospital in Roscommon.
Will the Senator, please, allow the Leader to respond?
You cannot allow the Leader to misrepresent what I said.
The Senator had his chance.
Senator Terry Leyden is well able to misrepresent what he himself said.
I need not add any more. I will go back to the point made by Senator Terry Leyden which I accept. It was an important one about the review of boundaries. In my city of Cork a boundary review committee is examining the matter and it is an anxious time. It is fair to say the findings of the review may not receive universal approval, no matter where they come from or what conclusions are arrived at.
They were approved in County Roscommon.
The recommendations made in the report included a call for a unified vision for Athlone and a joint local area plan, with a retail strategy which I imagine we all agree is needed and of which Monksland would be part.
Officials in both counties have six months in which to reply and present a view on a joint implementation plan. It is important to hear from both sides of the debate. I am not familiar with all of the arguments, but I will be happy for the Minister responsible to come to the House to discuss the issue.
The Leader has been very well briefed on this complex issue.
I do my best. There are very good Fine Gael and Independent councillors in County Roscommon with whom we will work.
Time is passing. There is the very important Social Welfare Bill to be discussed.
I commend Senator John Dolan for his work. Last Saturday was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability services, Deputy Finian McGrath, will issue a statement later today on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I understand from the remarks made by the Senator and the Minister of State that the convention will not be ratified by Christmas because the passage of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 has an impact on its ratification, but all sides must aspire to having it signed into law. I hope that will happen before the end of the first quarter of 2017. I will be happy to invite the Taoiseach to come to the House at a later date.
Senators Paul Coghlan and Ned O'Sullivan mentioned the red deer in Killarney National Park. It is a very serious matter. Many of us have a very uneasy feeling about hunter tourists. The matter is being investigated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service which is meeting the Wild Deer Association of Ireland which has made the allegations. The culling licensing period runs from 1 September to 28 February. I am told that permission is only granted where there is evidence of danger and that a person can only obtain a licence on a case by case basis and must outline the reason culling should take place. The Senators might submit a Commencement matter to discuss the issue or we can invite the Minister responsible to come to the House to discuss it, whichever the Cathaoirleach decrees.
Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the matter of pay-by-weight waste collection services. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, has announced that it will not happen at the start of next year but in the middle of 2017. There will be no dual pricing system in that period. There will be an opportunity for us to have a debate on the matter in the new year and I will be happy to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss it. As Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said, it showed the importance of this House that we could have a debate at an early stage and inform the Minister of our shared experiences.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill referred to the North Dakota pipeline. I will be happy to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade raise the matter with his relevant counterparts in the United States.
Senator Frank Feighan referred to the cost of postage stamps. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell asked if a particular gentleman whom I cannot name could be invited to come to the House. That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the Cathaoirleach has given a ruling on it. I will be happy to have it debated at the committee.
Senators David Norris and Gerard P. Craughwell spoke about the funding of pensions at Independent News and Media. It is disappointing and upsetting for people who have paid into a pension scheme to be suddenly faced with a cut in payments of 70% or whatever the percentage is.
Legislation is needed.
When a fund is in profit, it is important to recognise that there is a need to protect workers. I will be happy to invite the Minister responsible to come to the House to discuss the matter.
We need to discuss the abatement issue.
It is a debate that is much wider than giving a reply to points raised on the Order of Business. I will be happy to have a debate on the matter in the new year.
Senator David Norris also raised the matter of transport in Dublin. I will be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Deputy Ross, come to the House to discus it. It is important that we promote alternatives to use of the car within cities, including the use of bicycles under the shared bike scheme or public transport. I do not necessarily share the Senator's view that bikes are here and there.
There are bicycles on footpaths knocking down pedestrians.
I agree that some of those who cycle on the streets of Dublin should do so with more care for pedestrians.
I know that motorists are often paralysed by fear in turning left or right, or even in driving straight on. One is nearly afraid to move because one could be taken out by a cyclist or because of the look one might get. I am sure the Senator is brave enough to cope with cyclists.
Just mow them down.
I would not advise the Senator to do that.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the matter of members of the Defence Forces receiving the medal of honour in recognition of the role they played in 2016. I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the flag raising ceremony yesterday at City Hall in Cork when the flag was flown to mark the end of the year of commemorative activity. I thank the men and women of the Defence Forces who brought great colour, dignity, decorum and pageantry to the ceremonies held during the year. One of the highlights of the commemoration of the 1916 Rising for students in schools was a member of the Defence Forces coming with the flag. I thought it was a tremendous idea.
They always do a great job.
I commend the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, for her role and how she played her part in the ceremonies.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh referred to the debate held last week. There is a view being expressed by Sinn Féin Members on the right to vote in elections, but they do not have all of the answers. It is not as black and white as the Senator said it was. Therefore, she has to reflect. I will not allow anyone to criticise or castigate Senator Diarmuid Wilson-----
No, because the Senators are all very cosy together.
-----because he is a man of honour and integrity and someone I have known for a long time.
Will the Senator just listen for one second? She does not know everything.
Neither does the Leader.
She comes into the House every day to oppose and fight against everything. I want her to listen now.
Please respect the Chair.
It was the Leader who opposed it.
We proposed it. The Leader opposed it.
Let us just be clear. I served as a member of the Constitutional Convention and did not miss one weekend. I was one of the few Oireachtas Members who was present for all of its hearings.
The Leader must be as frustrated as we are.
The Government's job was not necessarily to agree with everything said at the convention but to report back. I accept that, in some cases, the Government was tardy in reporting back. Perhaps the Sinn Féin Members might go back and listen to the remarks made last week by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, and reflect on how we could end up with the result we all want - increasing the franchise. That might mean Sinn Féin might have to compromise with everybody else. However, coming into the House to lecture us all will not get us to where we want to go. Let us do it now.
There were no lectures.
There were no lectures.
It is the Leader who is good at giving lectures.
As the Leader was not here for most of the debate, how would he know?
I actually spoke in it.
The Leader did, but there was-----
Please respect the Chair.
I make the point that there is a cosy consensus within Sinn Féin that Members must be in the Chamber for every debate. The Senator is only in the House for less than 12 months and still learning. He will not spend all day every day in the Chamber.
The Leader should not talk down to me. We are here on the same basis as him.
Please allow the Leader to conclude. Time is up.
What I was saying was-----
I will certainly not be lectured.
What I am saying is you will not spend all day every day in the Chamber.
Through the Chair, please.
The Senator should not expect Members to spend all day every day in the Chamber.
The Leader should reflect the debate accurately.
The Leader should not be defensive.
I am not.
The Leader is.
I am not.
That is not being defensive.
The Leader should reflect the debate accurately. That is all I am saying. I do not think it is too much to ask that-----
Please allow the Leader to conclude.
May we speak one at a time? I have great difficulty in hearing everything.
Let us re-establish the Seanad-----
Will the Senator, please, allow the Leader to conclude, or else I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes which will delay the taking of the Social Welfare Bill. Senators are being most unruly today, which is unfair on the Chair. I also ask the Leader to, please, respect the Chair.
I do, as the Cathaoirleach knows.
I ask the Leader to, please, respect the Chair so as not to have a cross-party argy bargy about what happened last week.
Absolutely. I want to protect the Members who make contributions in the Chamber. To be fair, we actually had a very good debate on the matter last week. I ask Members to reflect on what the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, said and then come to me when we might have another debate on it.
I discussed the matter raised by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, but we should have a debate on it.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson spoke about rural Ireland. He is right - there is a need to have a debate on the need for growth in rural Ireland. I know that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, might take the approach of introducing a second national spacial strategy, with the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys. It is an issue we need to consider. The Senator is right in what he said about the boundaries for local elections in that they positively discriminate against those living in rural Ireland, as do the constituency boundaries for Dáil elections. They should be looked at because it should be about representation of the people.
I am happy to accept the amendments proposed to the Order of Business.
Senator Gerald Nash has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 14 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.
Senator Keith Swanick has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 29, non-Government motion No. 9 re National Treasury Management Agency, be taken without debate before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is willing to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.