The Order of Business is No. 1, Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m.; and No. 2, statements on Northern Ireland, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and conclude not later than 3.30 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 to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
I would like to raise two issues, the first of which is the supply of rental housing in the market. A report published today by Simon Communities of Ireland shows the widening gap between rent supplement and actual market rents. The report illustrates that 83% of rental properties are beyond the reach of those in receipt of rent supplement. Each year Simon Communities of Ireland supports over 8,300 individuals and families at risk of homelessness. We should take heed of the report because Simon Communities of Ireland is at the coalface of the housing crisis. Ultimately, we need to address the issue of supply in the market because all of these issues are ancillary to supply. There are 2,000 vacant local authority properties lying idle, which begs the question as to why they are not being refurbished. Why have they not been put back into the mainstream local authority supply of social housing? Yesterday I raised issues surrounding the first-time buyer's grant and explained how the scheme was not working effectively. We would not need these cobbled together schemes if we had a decent supply in the market. I ask the Minister to ensure social housing will be built and a proper fund put in place in order that we can start building. I have not been to one sod turning ceremony in my constituency, although I would like to attend one to see such construction.
The second issue I wish to raise concerns funding for drug and alcohol prevention task forces, both in my area and many cities throughout the country. It has recently come to my attention that the HSE has been reducing funding for addiction services in the south inner city. For the past 24 months the south inner city local drug and alcohol task force has been run on a part-time basis with the support of volunteers. Furthermore, members of the task force conveyed their shock to me when they learned that a co-ordinator of a nearby task force was allowed to recruit another HSE staffer when it already had a full-time staff member. I find it shocking and of serious concern to see more cuts in essential services in Dublin South Central. In this Chamber I have previously raised concerns about the concentration of homeless hostels in my constituency and the lack of investment in public spaces and green areas. With a high concentration of homeless hostels, lack of investment in public spaces and cuts to addiction services, it is time to stop using urban areas as a dumping ground for the city's problems and start calling on the Government to begin investing in essential services.
I welcome today's announcement of on-the-spot road checks for the use of narcotics by drivers. It will go some way towards alleviating the numbers of road deaths.
I want to raise three issues - the appointment of judges, the Adoption Bill and local government legislation.
In The Irish Times today and other media we see copies of correspondence and reports on the Government's plans to make appointments to the Judiciary. Some points need to be made on this important matter. Senators will be aware that this House passed a motion and that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality gave an undertaking on the establishment of a judicial council, but that seems to have been lost in the debate. We do not know what the Tánaiste plans to do in that regard. I am conscious of the separation of powers between the Executive and the Judiciary, which is important for all of us to bear in mind. The Judiciary has served the country with absolute distinction. Articles 34 to 37, inclusive, of the Constitution which we all value clearly regulate how the process for making judicial appointments is operated. The President appoints judges on the advice of the Government. In practice, the decision to appoint judges is ultimately made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality. Although there is cause for concern, I accept that it is not the Minister's intention to cause offence or disrespect to the Judiciary. However, that is what is being picked up on and it is the message that is coming across strongly in all of t he reports on these matters. To suggest the Chief Justice could not be chairperson of a judicial appointments commission is stepping over the line. It is an absolute attack on the Constitution which we have a role in defending. The matter needs to be examined. I ask that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality attend the House to explain the rationale and where her proposals stand. More importantly, she should discuss the proposal to establish a judicial council. The Chief Justice has repeatedly made a strong and cogent case to have such a council established. We need to have further discussion on the matter.
On the two other issues, it is my understanding - I would like the Leader to clarify this - the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is to attend the House on 8 February to make a statement on a number of matters related to local government and local councils.
Will the Leader clarify if that is the case, as I have had it confirmed by another source?
Will the Leader indicate when the next Stage of the Adoption (Amendment) Bill will be taken? The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, came to the House the other day for a good conversation and engagement on Second Stage when every speaker made a meaningful contribution.
Ba mhaith liom cúpla pointe a ardú inniu. An ceann is minice agus is tábhachtaí faoina bhfuilimid ag caint ar na mallaibh ná ceist an Bhreatimeacht nó an Shasimeacht, that is, Brexit. I am sure the Leader and all other Senators have been closely following the recent decision of the Supreme Court in London on Brexit. As Senators will be aware, the North voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the European Union and for Ireland, in its entirety, to remain in the Union. There has been much discussion on the form Brexit may or may not take and it is deeply worrying that there is still no indication of what form it will take. We are almost being held to ransom.
In recent months Senators have taken a highly responsible approach to the issue of Brexit. While some of us have differences on the nuances and dynamics involved, we have shown a willingness to work together and stand up for the best interests of the people of Ireland. As part of that dynamic, we have discussed the economy, agriculture, the peace process, tourism and all other aspects of life, on which Brexit will have an impact. I say this respectfully because I want to maintain a spirit of co-operation on this issue. However, the Government needs to up its game and be proactive, rather than simply awaiting the next indication that will come from Mrs. Theresa May's Government. We have moved from a scenario in which we were told Brexit meant Brexit to one in which we are being told that no one really knows whether it will be a hard or a soft Brexit. The only thing we know is that Brexit will be bad for Ireland.
One major dynamic the Oireachtas must discuss and tease out is the core component of the Good Friday Agreement which allows for the reunification of the country. All of the parties in both Houses profess to aspire to unity. Within this climate, while we work to deal with the short to medium-term problems presented to us by Brexit, we also need to credibly and seriously begin a discussion on reunification. That should not be contentious, certainly not in this Chamber, nor should we shy away from it. Reunification should be a core component of any future programme for Government and a responsibility of any Government. In the current climate which has, ironically, been forced on us, we have an unprecedented opportunity to engage in this national discourse and dialogue. The issue of Irish reunification was raised in the Dáil yesterday and I hope the Government clearly heard the case that was made. Ironically, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will come to the House to make statements on the North this afternoon. I hope he will refer to the issue and that he is proactively considering it. It is certainly being considered and discussed by other European states which see the benefit and necessity of reunification, given our clearly expressed political mandate to stay in the European Union, which is being actively undermined.
The Leader will be aware that two years ago both Houses agreed a motion to recognise the state of Palestine. This recognition remains outstanding and the Government's latest utterances on the issue indicate that it is not in any hurry to proceed. In the current international political climate there is an onus on Ireland to stand up not only for the people of Palestine but also for those who are marginalised, attacked, brutalised and facing atrocious aggression daily, wherever they may be. Given the current climate, I am sure it appears to them that things could get much worse.
Some weeks ago a seminar was held in the RDS organised by the Sparkasse institute in Germany and Irish Rural Link on the development of a public banking system in Ireland. It outlined how public banking would fit in with Ireland's existing financial services, the regions it would help to revitalise and how it could support credit unions, post offices and the communities they served. There was considerable expertise evident at the seminar and this expertise has been made available to the State to implement the Sparkasse or public savings banks concept. We have seen economic recovery, particularly on the east coast, but we have not seen it in areas such as the south east. One of the reasons for this is that organisations that previously provided funding for small and medium enterprises, SMEs, for example, building societies and banks when they were located on main streets, have ceased trading or moved online. There is no one for people to meet and SMEs are being deprived of funding. As a result, rural areas are not recovering in the way they should.
The Sparkasse banks are based on a non-for-profit concept where lending is restricted to businesses in the regional economy. These banks would fill the gap left by the demise of building societies and provide a public banking system and suitable vehicle for credit unions to invest the €9 billion they have identified for lending to small and medium enterprises. They would provide credit unions with much-needed administrative support in meeting the increasingly burdensome Central Bank regulations they face. A presentation on this concept of public banking will be made in the audio-visual room next Wednesday. It is in all our interests to attend as it will be highly beneficial and I hope the Government will support it. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, is due to come to the House to discuss the revival plan for rural Ireland. The Sparkasse concept is referred to in action 259 of the plan. I ask the Leader to ensure the Minister will address the possibility of establishing a working group to implement this concept.
I welcome the announcement on Monday by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, of funding of €324 million for regional and local roads. Despite the efforts of some Senators, particularly on the Fianna Fáil side, the issue of local improvement schemes was brought to the attention of the Minister last year when a request was made to ring-fence funding to upgrade and make non-public roads safe for use. There are thousands of such roads in rural areas, for which no money is provided. Local government and local engineers have been told to take money from the allocation for public roads. It is not justified to take money from a small fund for public roads and reinvest it in culs-de-sac and private roads. A ring-fenced fund must be provided for this purpose. I have been contacted by a number of county councils on the matter, most recently in a letter from my local council in County Tipperary, requesting that the Minister specifically allocate funding for this purpose. He has seen fit to invest money in ensuring adequate supplies of salt are available to tackle Japanese knotweed, which is welcome, but he has not provided funding for local improvement schemes. I ask that he come to the House to discuss the provision of funding for these schemes from the vast amount of money available to him annually.
I welcome the action plan to expand apprenticeships and traineeships in the period from 2016 to 2020. I attended the launch of the document this morning with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy John Halligan, and it was a very positive event. During the recession the number of apprenticeships declined by more than 80%. Third level education is not suitable for everyone. The State agencies, in co-operation with institutes of education and employers, must make this programme a success. In 2016 the number of new apprenticeships was relatively low, at only 3,500. The figure prior to the recession was 80% higher.
There are 27 apprenticeships throughout the country, whereas in Germany there are more than 300 apprenticeships and traineeships on offer. We do not all have to be an apprentice. We also have many training centres throughout the country. There will be 50,000 apprenticeships by 2020 and an additional €20 million was provided for 2017. We also have the ambitious target of creating an extra 13 new apprenticeships by the end of the year, which is to be welcomed. It is something which affects every county. SOLAS and the education and training boards run training centres throughout the country. This is a very positive step because it is about getting people back into employment.
This week four years ago 41 year old Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe was shot dead while guarding a cash escort outside Lordship Credit Union in County Louth. A young man from County Cavan, he found himself in County Louth as a member of An Garda Síochána where he embodied everything that was good about the force. He totally immersed himself in his new home and became heavily involved in all aspects of community life. He was a leading light in the local GAA club. He put down roots, met his wife, Caroline, and was raising his two young children. Unfortunately, that is where the story ends. Today I make a special appeal to anyone who may have information on this brutal killing, as a result of which his wife, Caroline, has been left without a husband and their two young children have been left without a father. I appeal to anybody with even the smallest piece of information which he or she might feel is insignificant to come forward and contact Dundalk Garda station or the Garda confidential telephone number at 1800 666111. It should also be noted that the Irish League of Credit Unions has offered a reward of €50,000 to anyone who might bring forward information that would lead to a prosecution in the case. Somebody knows something. As it is never too late to do the right thing, I earnestly appeal to people to come forward. If they are not comfortable contacting the Garda, they should contact someone in authority who might bring forward the information.
The name Walter Hegarty is not known by many of us in the House. He passed away last night. He was the holder of a distinguished service medal from the Defence Forces which he had won in the Congo in the 1960s. He was one of 155 men who were part of the siege of Jadotville. It has taken us the best part of 50 years to recognise these men. However, we have not recognised them in the way they should have been. Slowly but surely they are passing away and being consigned to history. One of the greatest military achievements of the Defence Forces was at Jadotville. How 155 men were able to hold off 3,500 for a period of time under the command of Commandant Quinlan is studied by soldiers in armies throughout the world. I have spoken to people from Jadotville. One of the saddest things for me was last Thursday night when I attended a lecture in Galway. Sitting behind my left shoulder was a colleague with whom I had served at Renmore barracks in Galway. I never knew he had been in Jadotville. I spoke to Leo Quinlan last night. He did his Ranger training with a former veteran who had served at Jadotville. He never knew that he had been there. Such was their level of hurt and embarrassment because the world's political people decided that what had happened at Jadotville was something about which they did not want to talk. They wanted to bury it. They wanted to forget about it because it had been a total screw-up by politicians in the United Nations. The Minister has gone a long way, as has the Government and the previous one, towards undoing some of the wrongs done, but we have not gone far enough. Commandant Quinlan, the commander at Jadotville, named nine people who were to be awarded medals, but none of the nine was ever awarded his medal. A photocopy of the citation awarded - a unit citation - was given to those living and the relatives of the deceased. That is simply not good enough. There is unfinished work. Senator Mac Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and I have tabled a motion that will be brought to the floor of the House and I hope that, as the Upper House of the Oireachtas, we will come together and support it. I ask that we do so. We cannot allow more Jadotville veterans to pass away forgotten and consigned to a blank history.
In 2015 the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland indicated that we were on track to be the most obese nation in Europe by 2030. This is an issue I have raised on many occasions. In the light of these warnings, we need to introduce meaningful change. It is welcome that the Government has indicated a willingness to introduce a sugar tax. Recently I carried out research into the VAT system and was very taken aback to find that a bottle of water was taxed at the standard rate of VAT of 23%, while chocolate milk, which I presume is classed as a milk product, which contained 18.8g of sugar per serving was taxed at a zero rate of VAT. A food product such as Nutella spread which is 50% sugar is also taxed at a zero rate of VAT. A sugar tax needs to be fast-tracked, but we have difficulties with reference to the United Kingdom and when and how we could implement it. When we have such anomalies in the VAT system, we should get them right first. Introduce a sugar tax before we get the VAT system right, when it comes to these glaring anomalies at the very least, seems to be absurd. Naturally healthy products such as bottled water should not be subject to the standard rate of VAT when products such as Nutella or chocolate milk are taxed at a zero rate of VAT. I call on the Minister to re-evaluate and reform VAT rates. It is overdue that we have a review of the way in which we implement and charge VAT on certain products.
I have previously raised the issue of the ownership of Lough Foyle. Recently RTE "Prime Time" broadcast an excellent report on what had emerged with oyster farms. There are 30,000 trestles along the shores of Lough Foyle which have no licence and do not require one. It is a Klondike, with no regulation. I appeal to the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to engage with the British Government as soon as possible to resolve the issue of the ownership of Lough Foyle, which is allowing this farce to continue. The statement by Mr. James Brokenshire that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the United Kingdom has not been retracted. I ask for a focus on this issue and the Leader to contact the Minister Foreign Affairs and Trade to make him aware of and ask him to respond to the issues raised in the excellent "Prime Time" report.
A related issue is the concern of fish producers and processors which was articulated this week at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Their presentation was stark on the impact of Brexit and the taking into control of what were British waters and which have been shared EU waters for all of these years. The impact it will have on the fishing sector is the most worrying I have seen in any sector of society so far. I ask the Leader to bring the presentation to the attention not only of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine but also the Taoiseach. It will have very serious implications.
As the British are claiming control of Lough Foyle, it is related.
I support the points made about local improvement schemes. There is a huge gap in rural Ireland in the provision of funding. Anyone who knows rural Ireland knows that one needs to have some subsidy towards the cost of maintenance of local roads. Its removal has had a detrimental impact and it needs to be reintroduced at the earliest opportunity.
This morning we heard the disturbing news that homelessness levels in Ireland had moved above 7,000 for the first time. Homelessness in Dublin accounts for 68% of this figure. As the report of the Simon Communities of Ireland which was published today reveals, 83% of property in the capital has been priced out of the reach of those in receipt of housing benefits such as rent supplement and the housing assistance payment. Home repossessions are continuing apace, forcing more families from their homes and increasing the number of people in desperate need. Last week my Green Party colleague, Deputy Catherine Martin, spoke in the Dáil about a practical measure the Government coud take to stem this flow of human tragedy. She asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to clarify the position on the recent High Court judgment delivered by Mr. Justice Max Barrett on 21 December 2016 in AIB v. Counihan which seemed to suggest home repossessions in Ireland could leave the State in breach of European laws and lead to it being found liable. These serious concerns were also expressed recently by the Master of the High Court, Mr. Edmund Honohan. Can we be assured all of the people responsible in this area are fully informed of the latest legal developments and properly trained in their legal obligations under EU law? In my county of Waterford we saw the county registrar refusing to proceed with several home repossession cases in the light of this uncertainty. The Court of Justice of the European Union has held that where a consumer contract comes before a court, the court must be satisfied that none of its terms is unfair, even when the consumer has not called on it to do so. As a mortgage contract is a consumer contract where the property is a home, it is vital that county registrars who in reality deal with the majority of repossession applications be fully aware of the implications of the decisions. The Master of the High Court is, however, of the opinion, that county registrars should not be dealing with repossession cases at all. There is a real and justifiable concern that many repossession orders granted in the Circuit Court may be open to challenge as EU law has not been applied. In such a scenario and leaving aside the lenders, it is the State that could conceivably be found to be liable. There is a potential financial risk for the State. Considering the inequality of arms between the thousands of ordinary, hard-working and decent borrowers on one side and lenders on the other with bottomless funds, will the Minister assure families the full range of protections available to persons are being implemented? If the Master of the High Court is correct about what is reportedly and unlawfully happening, the Government needs to take steps to place a moratorium on all such proceedings until it is satisfied EU law is being applied consistently throughout the State. Before Christmas, we heard that the Government was to publish new legislation on home repossessions. Will the Leader assure me that these legal issues will be addressed in any such legislation and that this new measure will be sure to put people first in such resolutions? Will he tell us when the legislation might be brought before the Seanad?
It was announced this morning that there would be a new €20 million development in Cork which would provide 150 jobs and, when completed, accommodate 500 people. It is good news in terms of the number of new developments in the region. However, we need to set out a clear strategy nationally for development and areas we need to prioritise in the provision of services. I raised this issue yesterday in the context of the need for long-term planning in the health service. I know that there is an Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare from which Senators are excluded, but I have very strong views on forward planning. The Minister for Health was here yesterday. The last major public hospital was built in 1998. The population of the Cork region, about which I spoke yesterday, has increased from 410,000 to 542,000. No new hospital has been provided during that period of population increase and the population will continue to increase at a very fast rate in the new few years. In setting out the strategy for the development of the country in the next ten, 15 or 20 years we need to prioritise the provision of health care services. We have 2.8 beds per thousand. The figure in Germany is 8.3 beds per thousand, while in the OECD, it is 4.3 or 4.5 beds per thousand. Even if we were to get the figure up to three beds per thousand, we would have to create an extra 1,500 beds overnight. The issue needs to be given priority because it is something about which we can no longer avoid talking. We need to set out a clear plan and timescale for when it is to be implemented. This is a key strategy we need to develop, instead of putting it on the back burner, as was the case in the past 20 years.
Will the Leader invite the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs and natural resources, Deputy Seán Kyne, to come to the House to talk about inland fisheries? I was interested in what Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said about the difficulty on Lough Foyle. There is a form of apartheid in inland fisheries in Ireland. Yesterday I met the Minister of State and the chief executive and chairman of Inland Fisheries Ireland. Inland fisheries in Ireland are regarded as being free. Tourists can come here and fish, but that does not apply in the midlands where someone can obtain a 21-day permit for €25, a one-day family permit for one adult and three children. There is an adult charge of €45 per year, a charge of €25 for senior citizens and a one-day charge of €10 for juveniles. These charges apply on the Suck, Inny, Brosna, Little Brosna and Camlin rivers and their tributaries. They affect parts of County Galway, all of County Roscommon and parts of counties Westmeath and Offaly. In respect of the River Suck, beside which I live, the tributaries of Lough O'Flynn, Hollygrove Lake in Athleague, Stonehams Lake in Castlecoote, Lough Lung and Blacks Lough in Castlecoote are all affected by these charges, but nowhere else in Ireland are they applied. We are being discriminated against in attracting tourists. I compliment the work of Inland Fisheries in investing the money raised in the area to bring about better services and stocking of rivers. That is fine, but this is a small country. Why should one area be discriminated against when it comes to charges? If they apply in one area, they should apply in all areas or they should not be applied at all. That is my case and I cannot understand why others have not raised the issue. People who own guest houses, pubs and other facilities and pay rates are being affected, yet the visitors they want to attract from Italy and Great Britain, in particular, must pay these fees. People are being told in magazines that fishing in Ireland is free, but that is not the case. I will use this House to bring about a change. Yesterday the Minister of State agreed to look into the matter, but I want to highlight it in a broader forum because in fairness to this House and given the fact that it has been retained, it provides for a wider distribution of information than a press conference in Buswells Hotel.
The Senator's point has been well made.
I appreciate that, but it is not every day one can raise the issue of discrimination against one area of the country and in this republic.
One can fish all one likes in counties Kerry and Limerick and along the River Shannon but not in my area. What am I going to do about this? I am going to raise the matter as a form of discrimination against the people in my area who are trying to attract tourists. They are paying very high rates. Inland Fisheries Ireland is paid for by the taxpayer and it is about time it copped itself on. If it does not and its directors do not address the issue, they should be sacked. No one should be on the board unless he or she knows something about fisheries. That is one issue that is being tackled by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, namely, the cleaning up of boards.
I advise the Senator that my line was at breaking point.
The Cathaoirleach is very patient.
I did not hear Senator Frank Feighan making any comment.
He probably does not realise the seriousness of the situation.
It would qualify for the International Fantasy Award.
I support Senator Victor Boyhan's comments on the importance of having the Minister for Justice and Equality called to the House to discuss the principle of making judicial appointments in the manner proposed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. It is a flagrant attack on the Constitution which gives the power to select judges to the Government which is elected by the people and Dáil Éireann. I was engaged in the process of selecting members of the Judiciary for eight years and did so, if I may say so, with party political impartiality. Selecting members of the Judiciary is a political function and a duty of the Government. What is more, it is a function that cannot be abdicated from. There is nothing more political, with a small "p", than identifying what woman or man should be part of the Supreme Court. It is not a function of a group of laymen or others but a political and a democratically accountable function which must be performed by the body that the Constitution, to which we all owe a duty of loyalty under Article 9, identifies - the Government. This is a misconceived hijacking of the Government by the Minister.
I strongly support what has been said by Senator Victor Boyhan and intend to raise the matter in the Commencement debate next week.
We are sitting in one House of a democratic assembly, one of many across the western world. We also read in our newspapers and hear in the broadcast media today that the United States of America has decided to reintroduce torture of people it arrests around the world. I have studied what went on in Guantanamo Bay, the humiliation, the stripping naked and shackling of people to the floor and daubing them in what was alleged to be menstrual fluids. People had a towel put around their head which was then slammed against a wall repeatedly to see if they had any information. We all know what happened in Abu Ghraib and about the horror of waterboarding. I believe I speak for every Member of this and the Lower House when I say we should protest, in the strongest possible way, about the fact that a country that claims to be a friend and ally of this state is breaching human rights in this repugnant and disgusting way. I register that protest.
I agree with Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's comments on the men of Jadotville who were absolutely forgotten about. I was one of the first Deputies to correspond with the Minister on the way history and the State had mistreated them. I was delighted when they were eventually commemorated at a ceremony in Custume Barracks in Athlone which I attended alongside many of their families. That said, I agree with Senators Mac Pádraig Lochlainn and Gerard P. Craughwell that more could be done. As a House, we must lead the way in that regard.
The news that the grave of the former President and Taoiseach Mr. Éamon de Valera was vandalised is very disturbing and I would like to think it would be utterly condemned by the Seanad. It is wrong and indicative of enormous disrespect for a former leader of the country. It must be condemned in absolute terms.
I take the opportunity to commend the work of An Garda Síochána in the past ten months and particularly in the past week in interrupting the deadly activities of the major international criminal gangs operating in Dublin city which have bases throughout Europe. The activities of crime gangs are feared throughout the city by families and communities who are wondering when the next murder or attempted murder will take place. In the past seven days illegal drugs worth almost €40 million have been prevented from flooding communities around Ireland and bringing misery to families and young people. Such drugs are wrecking lives and preventing children from growing into healthy adults engaged in worthwhile activities and careers. An arsenal of high calibre weapons was seized, preventing further deaths, while almost €500,000 was confiscated. I commend An Garda Síochána and urge it to maintain this level of activity. On behalf of communities, I thank it for making the country safer.
I again raise the issue of councillors' pay having raised it in the House a number of days ago. There is no logical reason the pay increase of €1,000 should not apply to councillors in Dublin, Cork and Galway. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, is due to come to the House on 8 February, but I am not sure if we can wait until then to have the issue addressed. We need to have a serious discussion with him about it. The local authorities in Dublin, Cork and Galway are dealing with and overwhelmed by the problem of homelessness. Senator Grace O'Sullivan has referred to the fact that over 7,000 people were recorded as being homeless last month. In that context, the Minister's decision is unfair and lacks rationale. Will the Leader to bring the matter to the Minister's attention and ask him to devote some time to the issue during our discussions on 8 February, if we have to wait until then to meet him?
I agree with Senator Frank Feighan's comments on the desecration of the grave of Mr. Éamon de Valera which should be condemned by every right-thinking person. It follows the damage inflicted on the grave of Mr. W. T. Cosgrave in Inchicore last year. This year marks the 100th anniversary of a pivotal event in Irish history when Mr. Éamon de Valera, in particular, had his finest hour - his first major electoral success in a by-election in County Clare. He was subsequently elected leader of the Irish Volunteers and Sinn Féin. That the graves of two fine men were desecrated is appalling. I ask the Government to focus on their importance and the wonderful confluence of national interests 100 years ago, long before there were divisions or splits. It was a wonderful time, with the emergence of a national consensus led by wonderful people.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to address the entitlement to public housing of persons in receipt of rent allowance? I refer, in particular, to the rental accommodation scheme, under which persons in receipt of long-term support may qualify for private rental accommodation for which the local authority will pay for a period of time. The local authority will enter into a contract with the landlord on behalf of the tenant. It is a great scheme which has been operating very successfully all over the country. However, there are differences in interpretation of the scheme across counties. In some counties the interpretation is that once a person is housed under the rental accommodation scheme, he or she will automatically come off the local authority's housing waiting list. This is a serious anomaly. Most people would like to have the security of having their own home. For example, I know of a single mother with three children who has been living in rented accommodation for a long time. She needs a bigger house and wants to move back onto the housing waiting list. She would then be prioritised, but in some counties this is not allowed to happen. Will the Leader ask the Minister to examine the issue?
On behalf of the Sinn Féin team in the Seanad, I condemn what was done to Éamon de Valera's grave. It was wholly unacceptable and there are no other words for it.
Senator Michael McDowell spoke about torture. I agree with what he said. We are ever mindful that thousands of young men in the North were interned, many of whom were tortured, which has now been well documented in the case of the hooded men who went through horrific torture. It was a political decision and the Government of this 26 county state was complicit by its silence.
I was surprised yesterday to hear my colleague, Senator Keith Swanick, champion the proposition that there be an annual national holiday on 21 January to celebrate our independence because his party, Fianna Fáil, has been inconsistent in its voting record on the issue to celebrate the struggle for independence and all those who took part in it. In October 2015 Sinn Féin introduced the Public Holiday (Lá na Poblachta) Bill, of which Fianna Fáil voted in favour before the last general election. However, when the Bill was reintroduced in June 2016 and again last November, in the light of the new arithmetic in the Dáil and despite the rise in national sentiment as a result of the various events organised to mark the centenary year, in which the public played a huge role, all of Senator Keith Swanick's colleagues voted against it. I cannot understand why a Bill which was acceptable in October 2015 was deemed to be unacceptable and voted against the following June. I use the opportunity to urge Fianna Fáil to have the courage to agree with Sinn Féin when it matters. We are, of course, flattered by the continuing imitation of many of our policies, but the public would gain far more if Fianna Fáil Members stayed away from the blue abstain button and gave voters the respect they deserve and took a stand on really important issues such this. We saw the same behaviour-----
Do not knock them totally. You might want to be in government with them.
Careful now. I know that we are talking about your lovers on this side but just calm down.
The Senator is over time. She is testing my indulgence.
I will finish on this, a Chathaoirligh, and thank you. We saw the same behaviour from Fianna Fáil only a number of weeks ago when it failed to support our motion to give voting rights to Irish citizens living in the North and the diaspora. I am still looking out for the new politics we were promised.
Fianna Fáil is keeping Sinn Féin awake at night.
Ciúnas, le do thoil. Perhaps a quiet word in the Senator's neighbour's ear in Belmullet might do the trick.
Since Sinn Fein embraced democracy in the recent past, it has come up with some very good ideas.
A little like Fianna Fáil. Remember it had the guns under its oxters.
When it comes up with good ideas, we do our best to facilitate them.
On Senator Keith Swanick's Bill, having an annual celebration of the anniversary of when we declared this to be an independent republic is an excellent proposal. We are not seeking to have the day classified as a bank holiday because that would place an extra burden on employers who have to foot the bill for bank holidays. We are saying it would be an opportunity for schools and other institutions to celebrate an important part of our history. Regardless of from where the idea comes, if it is a good one, it should be followed.
Vote for it; do not abstain.
I am not familiar with the legislation to which the Senator refers. It was a matter dealt with in the Lower House. We are dealing with legislation that has been brought forward by our colleague in this House and look forward to receiving the support of Sinn Féin for it.
Why was the other legislation not supported?
Can we avoid party politics?
I wholeheartedly agree with Senators Victor Boyhan and Michael McDowell on the Judiciary and the mechanism by which judges are appointed. For a senior Minister to call into question whether the Chief Justice of the State is capable of chairing such a judicial body is an absolute disgrace and that the Government is allowing that Minister to continue to peddle this suggestion is also a disgrace. The sooner the Minister is brought to book the better. Governments govern. They are not dictated to or should not be dictated to by Independents. Certainly when an important arm of our democracy is questioned, the person questioning it should be put in order quickly. On the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, wanting to come to this House to debate an issue which has nothing to do with him, he is not the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality - Deputy Frances Fitzgerald is. Granted, he is a member of the Government and there is collective responsibility, but I would prefer if he dealt with the portfolio for which he has direct responsibility, a portfolio of which he has made a hames. He is treating ordinary public sector workers with disdain. He can come here to discuss that issue and let us put questions to him on the area for which he has responsibility.
Before the Leader responds, I would like to point to an issue that troubles me a little. It is not the end of the world, but on Thursdays, because of an arrangement in the Lower House and the unavailability of Ministers, it is unsatisfactory that we are put on hold for an hour and a half in the middle of the day.
You are right.
It is unfair on Senators, especially on a Thursday afternoon, when we lose an hour and a half purely because it does not suit the Lower House. It is wrong. I am not going to resolve the issue, but perhaps we might focus our minds on it because if we did something to discommode the other House, we would hear about it very quickly. That is just a personal view. Perhaps the Leader might reflect on it or talk to the Taoiseach.
Your personal view is reflective of that of many in the House who share your sentiments that we are forced to suspend sittings because of the lack of availability of a Minister. Perhaps the group leaders of all Members of the House, particularly Opposition Members, might speak to their party Whips with a view to having Ministers paired for the time period when voting takes place on a Thursday or even consider allowing them to be deemed to be present in casting their votes because it discommodes Members of this House. It also disrupts the business of this House and the Cathaoirleach is correct when he says if we were to try to change the way we do our business and impose it on the other House, we would not be long in hearing about it and would be told that we could not do it. There is merit in his suggestion. Perhaps it is a matter the Committee on Procedure and Privileges might take up on our behalf, but it is something on which we should definitely reflect. We speak about new politics, but at one level it has ground legislation to a halt, whether as a result of pre-legislative scrutiny which we welcome or other matters. Members of this House are united on the approach to be taken to the issue.
I thank the 18 Members who spoke about a variety of issues. Senator Catherine Ardagh raised the issue of housing and referred to the report of the Simon Communities of Ireland which was published today. I am sure the Senator will join me in welcoming the decision today of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to extend the rent pressure zones across the country. Supply is the issue we have to tackle. That is why Rebuilding Ireland provides for solutions to address the unacceptable number of people who are homeless and living in emergency accommodation. We need to see supply start. I am disappointed that the Senator spoke about not being able to see sods being turned. I would be very happy to bring her to Deanrock in my constituency, where just this week we have seen bulldozers going in and work begin on the construction of new units of social housing. It is important that we see units being built, vacant units being sourced by the Housing Agency and being put back to use and the continued expansion of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme for homeless persons.
I hope the Rebuilding Ireland targets will be met. As the Senator knows, the Minister is committed to coming back to the House to discuss the issue. I thank the Senator for raising the matter because it is important that we keep it at the top of the political agenda.
Senator Catherine Ardagh raised the issue of the funding of drug and alcohol agencies and the task force. The budget includes an additional allocation of €3 million to support drug and social inclusion measures in 2017. The extra funding given to the HSE and local drugs task forces will, I hope, enable them to continue to provide for interventions aimed at improving health outcomes for the most vulnerable. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is from the Senator's constituency. She is both progressive and proactive and I am sure will be happy to work with the Senator in addressing the issues in her constituency. As I said, there has been an increase in the budget and I am sure we will all work to ensure the increases will continue to address the issues raised by the Senator.
Senators Victor Boyhan, Michael McDowell and Diarmuid Wilson referred to judicial appointments. The Government is committed to reform of the system. It is important to recognise that we have been served well by the men and women appointed to a variety of judicial posts. Anybody who wants to investigate or analyse the role and work of the Judiciary will find that it is exemplary. There may have been a minority of judges who acted to the contrary, but that is something one will always have. It is important to put the matter in context. I hope that as part of the discussion on the judicial appointments Bill, common sense will prevail and that what Members of this House will have to say will be listened to. The same applies to what was said at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality yesterday. I have great faith in the Chief Justice, as I had in her predecessors. It is important that we allow for the independence of the Judiciary from the Executive to continue. We are governed by the Constitution. I hope the issue will not be personalised in an attack on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, who has a very hard view on what should happen.
I know and will say what it is.
I cannot answer for the Minister.
Senator Michael McDowell will have a lot of us consulting him.
Senator Michael McDowell might share it with us, if he knows what it is.
Speak out. Name and shame.
I will at some stage.
Yes, in time. The Bill is complex and requires detailed analysis, probing and consideration. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue, but it is important to recognise the significance of the work the Judiciary has undertaken, that the Judiciary has been independent and served the State well.
Senators Victor Boyhan and Máire Devine referred to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. I confirm that the Minister will be in the House in just two weeks, on 8 February. As Senator Máire Devine knows, the changes the Minister has announced to councillors' pay and conditions will be the subject of a regulation to be introduced on 1 July. It must be recorded that, for the first time in 15 years, we have a Minister who is willing to make changes. Whether we agree or if he has gone too far or not far enough is a matter of opinion, but he is the only Minister in the Department who has done anything, despite the views expressed in correspondence and commentary by certain Members of the House. I stand to be tested in saying that, but I know that it is the correct answer. It is a fact.
That is the Leader's opinion. It is not a fact.
The Senator came here-----
I know that the Leader wants to have a go at me. This is his opportunity.
The Senator wrote to every councillor about the former Minister, but I can tell him that the former Minister did nothing and that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has had the courage to try to do something. Whether the Senator disagrees, he should, at least, give the Minister credit.
I will again give the Leader the correspondence I sent on the matter.
In response to Senator Victor Boyhan, Committee and Remaining Stages of the Adoption (Amendment) Bill will be taken next Tuesday. The closing date for the receipt of amendments is Friday.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill referred to Brexit in the context of reunification of the country. Those of us who are republican and wish to see a united Ireland recognise that we are on a huge journey. I must make the point to the Senator that the language we use and the way we seek to achieve our aims are important. Sometimes I wonder about the means some people choose. It is important, in the context of the question raised by the Senator, that we first overcome the issues raised by Brexit and embrace whatever happens in that process, in addition to the election in the North. We can then answer the question the Senator discussed because it is important to allow for the Good Friday Agreement to continue to be implemented. I will also happy to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House to discuss the situation in Palestine.
Senator Denis Landy raised the issue of public banking. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, will be in the House on 9 February when she will be able to discuss that matter.
I will be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, attend the House to discuss the issue of regional and local roads raised by Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. We all welcome the increased funding in that regard. The point made by the Senator about local improvement schemes was worthwhile. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the action plan for apprenticeships and training. I will be happy to have the relevant Minister come to the House to discuss the issue. As a former director of adult education, I note the importance of further education and skills training which, unfortunately, fell from view during the recession. I hope we will be able to have that important discussion. We commend the initiative of the Government today to provide for 50,000 apprenticeship and training places.
Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Frank Feighan referred to the siege at Jadotville. I pay tribute to the late Walter Hegarty and extend my sympathy to his family on his death. This issue has formed part of a discussion here before. As Leader of the House, I am happy to work with all sides to bring forward a motion that will be acceptable to us all. It is fair to say the motion which has been circulated and to which Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn is a party does not, as drafted, reflect some of the things the Government has done. If we can agree on a formula of words, we can bring forward an agreed motion. It is important to contextualise the issue. We are talking about men who served their country and to whom a wrong was done and it is about rectifying it. The Government has tried to do so over time. As such, I hope we can agree on a motion that we can all sign.
Senator Catherine Noone raised the important issue of obesity levels. The Government's umbrella project Healthy Ireland is a means of tackling it. I will be happy to have the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senators Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Terry Leyden referred to inland fisheries and Lough Foyle. Only yesterday the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, said discussions were under way but that there had been no resolution of the matter. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is on record as saying Lough Foyle is part of our territorial waters and that the position has not changed since our last discussion. I will, however, be happy to have the Minister of State come to the House to discuss the issues raised by Senator Terry Leyden. At the launch of the report yesterday the CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, Dr. Ciaran Byrne, spoke about the importance of angling in the context of tourism. It is a very important tourist attraction and I will be happy to have the Minister of State come to the House to discuss it. Equally, work is being done on a new sea fisheries and maritime jurisdiction Bill, although I am not sure how we can marry the two issues, but let us hope we can.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to the courts in the context of repossessions. I will be happy to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, come to the House to discuss the matter. It is important to recognise the independence of the courts in making their decisions. The Minister and the Government generally are very conscious of the fact that they must work to ensure people will stay in the family home.
Senator Colm Burke mentioned planning for the future. I join him in welcoming and congratulating those involved in the €20 million development in Cork city. The huge development which extends from Camden Place to MacCurtain Street is one the Cathaoirleach knows quite well. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, is working on a document to plan for the future of cities. In tandem, I hope the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, will do the same to plan for the provision of health services. Senator Colm Burke referred to the need for new hospital beds. That is an issue that must be seen to be delivered on in the city of Cork through the provision of a new hospital.
Senator Michael McDowell referred to the Judiciary. I join him, in particular, and Senator Rose Conway-Walsh in their comments on the barbaric decision of the President of the United States of America to reintroduce torture.
As Leader of the House, I hope the Taoiseach who will be travelling to the White House on St. Patrick's Day and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who will meet Secretary of State Tillerson, if approved, will on behalf of us all send the strong message that we oppose and abhor the reintroduction of torture. It is outdated, does not work or yield dividends and is contrary to human rights. I hope this House and the nation will send a strong message that we do not in any way condone but condemn the decision of the United States of America and the new President.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh spoke about the North. The State was not complicit in or silent on the torture of those who were interned. I remind the Senator that the Government brought a case to Strasbourg which it won. She might reflect on that point.
That was a long time afterwards.
It is important to note that the State was not complicit in that regard.
Senators Frank Feighan, Rose Conway-Walsh and Ned O'Sullivan spoke about the desecration and vandalism of the grave of Éamon de Valera. As Leader of the House, I join in the condemnation of those who carried out this act. Éamon de Valera was a statesman; he was Taoiseach and President of this country. He played a pivotal role in its history and development. Regardless of one's political viewpoint, his grave is his resting place. It is a place where people go to pray and worship and his family to remember him. Those of us who visit the graves of loved ones join in the calls for them to be left as sacred places.
I join Senator Máire Devine in congratulating An Garda Síochána on its success in recent days and weeks against gang members in Dublin city. It can only work with information that is in addendum to that gained in its own investigative work. As public representatives, I hope we will all ask people and impress on them the need to co-operate with An Garda Síochána and provide information. Those involved in criminal gangs in the capital city are from and living in the communities in which they are known. It is important that the Garda be given information, whether in community policing fora or privately and confidentially. It is important that we work with it to out the people concerned and bring them to justice.
If Senator Ned O'Sullivan has a specific issue with the rent allowance scheme, I will be happy to speak to him later about it. I will also be happy to have the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, come to the House to discuss the scheme.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh referred to Senator Keith Swanick's Bill. I think what he is trying to achieve is a celebration and a commemoration marking the centenary of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil. We should all aspire to achieving that objective. It is, however, a little populist and political to make an accusation in the context of votes for the diaspora. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, gave a commitment during the discussion on the Bill that he would come back to the House with another to recognise the diaspora and those living in the North. It was a political shot because what Senator Keith Swanick is trying to do-----
I know what he is trying to do.
-----is to commemorate the centenary of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil. If we learn nothing else from history, we should learn how key events are commemorated in other states. My point on the Order of Business yesterday was that as we were not all yet independent, it should not be known as "Independence Day" but that we should commemorate the centenary of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil. To be fair to Senator Diarmuid Wilson, he said it was not about it being a public holiday but a date that would be recognised on the calendar.
I look forward to receiving the Leader's support.
The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, will attend the House on 8 February, while the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, will attend on 9 February to discuss the rural action plan and other issues.