The Order of Business is No. 1, Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 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.
Order of Business
I wish to raise two issues, the first of which is the recent Garda scandal and the second is the protection of cyclists on our roads.
How the Government has dealt with the recent Garda scandal is incredible. Most notably, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality has failed to appear in the Dáil today and has, for all intents and purposes, gone to ground. Some 937,000 false breath tests have been registered on the PULSE system and there have been more than 14,000 wrongful convictions. This is the most recent scandal affecting the Garda Síochána, demoralising the force and bringing it to its knees. There has been an inadequate response from the Government. Instead of answering questions and uncovering facts, we have been accused of being "Political" with a capital "P". Responses, or the lack thereof, by the Taoiseach in the Dáil today and the Commissioner, and the deafening silence from the Tánaiste, have been wholly inadequate. It is incredible that the Tánaiste has not attended the Dáil. Both she and the Garda Commissioner must attend the joint justice committee to give a proper and detailed explanation of the wrongdoings. There must be accountability for one of the largest miscarriages of justice in volume terms in the State. Albeit relating to minor offences, this constitutes a significant wrongdoing.
The presumption relied upon in many District Courts around the country that a fixed penalty notice is deemed to have been served correctly is being challenged by judges, undermining the criminal justice system and putting it on the back foot. This is only one of the many repercussions that the scandal is having on the criminal justice system. At a point when we are not too far from the previous scandal and the force is on its knees, we need to know what steps the Commissioner and the Tánaiste are taking to unveil the truth. The culture and morale of the force are at an all-time low. We in Fianna Fáil believe that a Northern Ireland Patten-type commission needs to be established to improve the force and boost morale. We acknowledge the hard work of the majority of gardaí, but this scandal is effectively taking away from them. We need transparency and accountability. It is not credible that the Commissioner did not unveil the content of this revelation to the Policing Authority when they reportedly met six times in the past year. Will the Tánaiste attend the House to make a statement and answer questions on these matters?
The second issue relates to the deaths of three cyclists on our roads in the past two weeks.
Yesterday, a lady in her late 30s was killed on Templeville Road, and I extend my thoughts and prayers to her family on my behalf and on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group. We need to start taking seriously the deaths of cyclists on our roads. We need to ensure more protection is given and there is an awareness campaign so motorists take heed of cyclists. If three murders had taken place in this city over the past two weeks, there would have been uproar. Three cyclists have died in the past two weeks and not enough has been done about it. The Government needs to take action on this.
I want to raise the question of the appointment of judges. We have an increasing number of judicial vacancies and it would appear the legislation which was the subject of some pre-publicity has not materialised. The court system is becoming increasingly overburdened due to the absence of judges and, most importantly, the outlook is very poor.
The role of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on legislation on the appointment of judges is causing grave concern, because more and more the line is being taken that somehow our present Judiciary is failing the country, is not of adequate quality, needs to be changed and is the product of cronyism. The Constitution gives to the Executive of the State the right to nominate people to be appointed as judges in our courts. This is an important function for the Government. Nobody in his or her right mind thinks this can be abdicated without a change to the Constitution. It is a function of the Government and the responsibility of the Government. The choice of people for appointment to the Judiciary is a governmental decision.
It is also sometimes stated appointments should not be political. If this means party political I agree completely, but if it means political in the other sense I disagree fundamentally. The persons put on the Supreme Court are chosen for their outlook, their ideology, and by reference to a number of issues which are political in another sense. It is to the Government of the day the function of making nominations falls.
In the United States of America we can see that a highly party-politicised appointments system to the Judiciary exists, but nobody thinks Ruth Ginsburg, for instance, was appointed to the US Supreme Court other than on the basis she was a legal liberal. It was the entitlement of the US President to make an appointment in this respect.
Not a bad idea though.
The simple fact is the composition of our Supreme Court is so important there is only one organ in our Constitution which is vested with the responsibility for it and that is the Government. Efforts to hem it in and prevent it from making appointments are, in my view, very misguided.
I notice the general secretary of the Law Society advocates drawing our Judiciary from a broader spectrum of society as an end in itself. I have a different perspective. I say what we need to do is have excellence in the Judiciary, but nobody in the current debate, especially the Minister, Deputy Ross, is talking about the need for excellence in our Judiciary.
They all talk about petty political criteria for putting people on the bench. The quality of judicial appointments has, unfortunately, declined in recent times due to a number of economic factors.
If we allow the quality of the Judiciary to decline, we will suffer economically and internationally in the long run as far as our reputation is concerned. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Tánaiste whom I know has plenty of other pressure points to come to the House to deal with the fundamental question of how we keep excellence in judicial appointments as the first criterion for appointment.
I extend my sympathy and that of the Sinn Féin Party to the families of Captain Mark Duffy and Captain Dara Fitzpatrick. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam dílis. I commend the continuing efforts of all those involved in the recovery of R116 to reunite Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith with their families. I hope that will happen before too long. I am proud of my local community in Blacksod Bay on the Erris Peninsula for their hard work and solidarity with the families of the crew of R116 in the past 14 days.
This week there has been yet another dent in public confidence in An Garda Síochána. People are completely bamboozled by how the figures for breath tests could have been exaggerated by 937,000 and how 14,700 people could have been wrongfully convicted of motoring offences. If this was a one-off systems failure that could be dealt with in an efficient and transparent manner to reassure the public and restore confidence, we could live with it, but the fact that the Garda Commissioner is already at the centre of the Charleton inquiry and had knowledge of the latest debacle since 2014 is utterly unacceptable. Sinn Féin, through Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, has made several attempts to strengthen the powers of the Policing Authority, but it has been blocked by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I am ask the Leader, as a matter of urgency, to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to make a statement to the House in order that we can hear first-hand why she is refusing to implement section 11 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and why she thinks it is acceptable that the person in charge is not accountable. How much more does the integrity of An Garda Síochána need to be eroded before a change in leadership is necessary? It is absolutely urgent that the Minister come before the House to explain why she is taking a hands-off role in the latest debacle. We know that there will be many more debacles.
Everybody in the House is in a state of shock and amazement at what is happening in An Garda Síochána. There is a substantial crisis of public confidence. We have listened to commentators say it was carelessness or a systems failure and give many other excuses. What we have is a management failure. I am seeking to amend the Order of Business to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality called into the House to make a statement and take questions on the issue. In my mind are the 14,700 citizens who were not believed when they appeared before the courts. We have all read in local newspapers about people who said they never received notification and were never written to. The court system told them that they were telling lies.
I have been breathalysed 1 million times.
It is not good enough to let it drift on and not to have a statement made in the House. I call on Senators to support the Labour Party's proposal that the Order of Business be amended to enable the Minister to come into the House to make a statement and take questions. That is the least we should do. There is an onus on us to do this for the public and the citizens who have been accused and been called liars in the courts. They probably made fools of the judges also. I ask the Leader to accept the amendment proposed to the Order of Business to ensure the Minister will come to the House today to take questions from Senators.
It is the least the citizens of this country deserve.
I would like to clarify whether the Senator's amendment encompasses both matters - the exaggerated drink-driving claims and the 14,700 errors.
It does, indeed. The 14,700 errors and the almost 1 million falsified breathalyser tests.
I support Senator McDowell and I agree with his comments on the Judiciary. Excellence should be the aim at all times. It is both a populist and dangerous road that we are currently going down when it comes to the Judiciary.
It is a sad and costly reality that Ireland is on the road to becoming the fattest country in Europe. I was encouraged and delighted to hear that many Departments have installed healthier option vending machines in their offices at the request of employees who want to choose such an option. It is imperative that schools, workplaces and hospitals, in particular, follow. It makes no sense that hospitals have vending machines laden with sugary drinks and foods. Obesity has become one of the greatest public health challenges Ireland faces and many patients are in hospital because of obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease. They and other patients should be encouraged to eat healthily and those who wish to should find it easy to do so. It is difficult to find healthy options when visiting hospital tuck shops. Although there have been conscious decisions and plans have been put in place to address the State's obesity issue, we need to keep the ball rolling. I was encouraged by this move by Departments but we need to actively encourage workplaces, especially within Departments, to enforce these policies.
I call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to bring the parties together for discussions and negotiations on the Bus Éireann nationwide strike. It is imposing major hardship throughout the country on workers, employers and everybody else who is badly affected. This strike has the potential to escalate with Dublin Bus and school transport services in danger as well. The Minister should not be in on the negotiations but he should use his position to request or direct all parties to suspend the strike and to sit down and negotiate. I am long enough in the Oireachtas to recall that a previous Fine Gael Government under Garret FitzGerald and Jim Mitchell abolished Irish Shipping. This left ships throughout the world, which were seized. For an island nation not to have Irish Shipping was------
And they swindled the employees out of their pensions.
The Senator, without interruption, please.
Exactly. The danger in this regard is serious. I was told by people, who are concerned, that Bus Éireann will become insolvent and then be privatised, and then there will be no nationwide service. I appeal to the unions also to wake up and go back to the negotiating table. Mr. Kieran Mulvey is from my home town and he is one of the greatest industrial relations negotiators the country has ever had. He has resolved many strikes. I appeal to the Leader and to the House to suggest to the Minister the nomination of Mr. Mulvey to come back and bring the parties together as a neutral, independent arbitrator in this dispute. With his knowledge and experience, he could resolve this issue sooner rather than later. It is extremely grave.
I support the proposal made by Senator Humphreys because it is right and important. It has gone too far in respect of the Garda Commissioner. The gap between the number of breath tests the Garda claims to have carried out and the number identified by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety coupled with the extraordinary interview on "Morning Ireland" earlier have to raise widespread concerns about the way the Garda does its work, which certainly does not instill any confidence.
First, I support Senator McDowell's comments on judicial appointments. The kernel of the issue put forward by the Minister is somewhat spurious and I do not think it is helpful.
I would like to join in the expressions of sympathy to the families of both Captain Mark Duffy and Captain Dara Fitzpatrick who lost their lives. I hope the two others lost in the same rescue can be found as soon as possible. I join with the comments commending the people of Erris who have shown their true grit and humanity in responding to and supporting the search and rescue operation that is still under way.
I rise in particular on the matter of the Bus Éireann strike. As a general principle, I agree with the Minister's position. The State has industrial dispute resolution mechanisms and they are there for a reason, but there are many bigger issues here that warrant the Minister to move on the matter in some fashion.
First, it has to be clear that there is a management issue. It has been said that Bus Éireann has made a 41% increase in the losses on Expressway in the period of one year. Staff are being asked to take considerable cuts in their wages. Is management taking any wage cuts? I understand they are not. In an environment when this should have been well anticipated, why are we now at crisis and facing insolvency? If there are issues around management, faced with what we are faced in Bus Éireann, some action is required on the part of the Minister. This is in the context of public transport provision to rural areas and its commercial viability, in particular the people using bus passes on Expressway. It is suggested that Bus Éireann is not being properly compensated for the use of bus passes even though it is being asked to operate as a commercial concern.
There are a lot of questions there and the bull needs to be grabbed by the horns. I ask that the Minister would do that.
I want to talk about the emotive topic in Ireland today that is eviction. Now, when I read the newspapers, it feels like we are turning back to the late 1800s where tenants were being evicted from their homes by rack-renting landlords but now the landlords are the foreign vulture funds and in some cases domestic lending agencies.
Hear, hear, well said.
In rural Ireland, farms are being repossessed and lands that have been in families for generations are being sold off by vulture funds. Some banks are selling off agricultural debts to multinational property asset companies which subsequently demand immediate payment of moneys owed. Fears are growing that an entire generation of farmers could be wiped out, stalling hopes of a sustainable rural recovery. Vast tracts of lands are now in the hands of vulture funds and farmers are under immense pressure. When farmers lose their land, they not only lose an asset but also their income.
The stress and anxiety experienced by these farmers has led to countless suicides. We need to highlight the number of suicides that are directly linked to financial pressures from banks and financial institutions chasing their own debts.
Last weekend the Sunday Independent published the findings of a national survey of the mental turmoil associated with debt, which were just scandalous. It talked about how 44% of participants felt depressed either all or most of the time. Over 30% said they had had suicidal thoughts in the previous four weeks, while 22% admitted they had active plans to kill themselves, which is shocking. A total of 45% indicated they consumed harmful levels of alcohol. The situation cannot be allowed to continue. Does the Government have any plan to implement strict legislation to regulate vulture funds, the activities of which will wipe out a generation of farmers? Young people lose interest in farming when they see the stress and anxiety their parents are suffering. It will spell the destruction of rural communities and be a further drain on mental health services. Banks are acting in a manner that is not acceptable in piling stress and misery on embattled farmers. They are destroying viable farms and undermining recovery in rural areas.
Another serious issue which is emerging is the refusal of banks to release sites to the sons or daughters of farmers who are paying off a loan. Evictions are not confined to rural areas. A friend of mine lost a job last October. She has a five year-old son and with her husband who is working has been served with a notice to vacate their apartment since it is being sold. They are entitled to receive housing assistance payments but no landlord is willing to take them. Their only alternative is to go onto a housing list and be given accommodation in a hotel which is totally unsuitable, as their child will not have play facilities and they will not have cooking facilities. There is a feeling of devastation in having to move into such places. Can legislation be introduced to force landlords to accept housing assistance payments
Tá mé ag ardú ceiste inniu a bhaineann leis na tithe máithreacha agus leanaí agus go háirithe cás Thuama. I was talking to Ms Catherine Corless over the weekend. She is the lady who brought the issues around the Tuam Mother and Baby Home to public attention. Both she and the representatives of the survivors of many such homes are being frustrated by local authorities who are not allowing them access to very important public records on public funding that should be available to them to continue the research they are conducting. I know that this issue is being debated in the other House and that there is going to be a vote on it this evening. However, I am perplexed and dismayed that an amendment is being brought forward by Fianna Fáil to amend Sinn Féin's motion to try to block people from having access to files. It will not preserve the site which we are trying to have preserved, with all other mother and baby home sites and those at Magdalen laundries and industrial schools. I am absolutely dumbfounded that Fianna Fáil is trying to block this. One must ask the question: "Why is there such reticence on the part of some political parties and the State to allow people to see the historical archival files?" In Galway, for example, we want to see records of the public moneys paid to those homes, including State funding and payments from organs of the State such as Galway County Council for the upkeep of the homes, as well as other documents. I understand they are available on the websites of other local authorities. I would like the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to come to the House to see if it is possible to have a certain degree of homogeneity in order that all local authorities would have to make these records publicly available. People might then find the truth and join the dots of a very complicated jigsaw puzzle that is the history of these institutions. I call for a debate with the Minister on this issue.
I would also be grateful if the Leader updated me on an urgent issue I raised last week related to implementation of the International Protection Act 2015, the questionnaires being circulated and the issues connected with the direct provision system. The Leader indicated that the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, would come to the House to discuss the issue. It needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Last Friday, with many other public representatives, I was shown around the most beautiful mental health facility, Deer Lodge on Mill Road in Killarney. It is a wonderful facility which was constructed at huge cost, but it is lying idle. It has been ready to be opened for some time. It has been designed as a replacement unit for the very old O'Connor Unit, as it is known.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan will know it on the site of the old St. Finan's Mental Hospital which has been disused for a long time. The facility will take 40 patients and have 62 staff and people would relish being transferred there from where they are at the moment. However, on foot of a problem I do not understand, this unit is not being utilised. It was built at a cost of I do not know how many millions of euro on the site of the old St. Anne's Isolation Hospital and is ready for use, but it is not being used. People involved in mental health in Cork and Kerry are very concerned. We are crying out for better mental health facilities because we need to look after people but this is an instance where a model building in a glorious setting in beautiful Killarney is being allowed to lie idle. It is absolutely crazy.
It is in view of Fitzgerald Stadium, if I am correct.
I did not want to go there today.
It is very disappointing and dispiriting to learn of a yet another collapse in the talks in Northern Ireland on the formation of an Executive on foot of the Good Friday Agreement. Unless wiser heads prevail, we are looking at a third election in the North in the space of a year or so or, even worse, the reimposition of direct rule from Britain. This is at a time when the North faces major questions, not least of a budgetary nature and specifically in the context of the overarching worry of Brexit now and into the future.
The people of this island endorsed the Good Friday Agreement and in doing so created a number of expectations on an awful lot of people. In the main, those expectations rest on the shoulders of the political parties in the North. When we were negotiating peace, in which, thankfully, we succeeded, the politicians in the North received fantastic support and goodwill from various Taoisigh, Prime Ministers and US Presidents. Is it expecting too much of them now to step into the breach themselves and do what politicians are meant to do, namely, work things out? I ask the Leader to keep the House briefed on developments in the North and, if he can, have the Taoiseach to attend to brief Members. We are all politicians and I will not point the finger of blame at any particular party. When it comes to it, however, the national interest, in this case in the formation of a Government in the North, is far more important than the preoccupations or vanities of any particular party.
Colleagues will remember that I raised previously the unilateral and unjustified closing down of the bank accounts of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign by the Bank of Ireland at the behest of the Israeli Government. Last night, I spoke at a TED Talks event in Trinity College before which there was a sponsored reception in the on-campus premises of the Bank of Ireland. When a spokesperson for the bank talked about encouraging the exchange of ideas and freedom of speech, I shouted up to ask why, in that case, the bank unilaterally closed down the accounts of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. While I was then love-bombed by the staff of Bank of Ireland, I subsequently discovered the students were contacted and told their sponsorship might be withdrawn. It is a most extraordinary thing. This morning, I contacted the TED Talks people in Trinity to find out the amount of the sponsorship so that I could cover it in the event that the bank withdrew it. I was told, however, that the matter was covered by confidentiality clauses. So much for Bank of Ireland, freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas. This hypocrisy richly deserves to be exposed.
I have two issues to raise, the first of which is the Bus Éireann dispute.
I know many of the workers who are out on strike. It is extremely worrying for them.
My only reservation is that people who speak for the second time - I am trying to be lenient - have only one issue to raise. The leaders can raise two.
Then I will stick to this issue.
If the Senator is brief I will let him in, but I have to be fair too.
I always attempt to be brief.
Attempting to be brief and being brief are different things.
With a large pinch of salt.
The brief politician is an oxymoron.
I hope that common sense will prevail. People need to be talking to each other to find a resolution. I am on record as saying that I feel the business model under which Bus Éireann has been operating, particularly with the Expressway routes, is effectively an unfair model. Up to 60% of its passengers are people who avail of free travel, whereas the private operators are not required to take those who qualify for free travel. It is almost impossible to compete when it is not a level playing field. Everyone, including the workers, is aware that change is required. We cannot lose sight of the fact that many of these workers are people with young families and mortgages. They are under pressure. I ask the Leader to convey our hope that talks would get under way as quickly as possible to find a resolution so that we can have a balanced public transport system involving Bus Éireann.
My final point relates to Irish Cement. Limerick City and County Council has granted permission for a new plant to burn alternative fuels. Many people in the area have serious concerns over pollution and yet it is still not licensed by the EPA. We need to look at the law. Before planning permission is granted for any physical infrastructure, the EPA should first be required to grant a licence. I think it is the cart before the horse.
I also raise the issue of Bus Éireann and call for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House, although I suspect it will not help us. I was on the picket line yesterday with workers in Limerick. I welcome that there has been support from all sides of the House on the issue. I also welcome Senator Kieran O'Donnell's comments to the degree that he recognises there are issues of Government policy regarding how the company is structured.
I will cite two issues. The PSO was drastically cut back between 2009 and 2015. It is not sufficient to support the public services that are needed at the moment. There is a €17 million deficit on the reimbursement for the free-travel scheme. The last time I raised this in the Chamber, the Leader said the company was losing €50,000 a day. That is because it is not being funded properly. The point is that it is not possible to solve an industrial relations issues when key issues of Government policy are underpinning the problem.
I say this with respect, Fine Gael has the power to fix this. It is that party that is in Government and it is being supported by Fianna Fáil. The workers are out on strike because the Government, for all Fine Gael Members' kind words, is not taking action to deal with it.
Those workers do not want to be on strike. I was with them yesterday. They had no choice but to take this action. It is time that Fine Gael Members took responsibility and told their colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ross, what needs to be done. The issues of Government policy have to be dealt with. I remind Members of this House that we are talking about workers who have to wait 20 years to earn the princely sum of €624 a week, which is less than half of the salary Senators get from the outset.
Fine Gael should face up to its responsibility for its failures in Government policy. It has spent six years trashing this company financially.
Otherwise it will, as Senator Leyden said, kill our public bus service, just as it did Irish Shipping.
I support what has been said about Bus Éireann. Across this House, we have been raising this issue and the issue of Dublin Bus for a number of months. SIPTU has announced that it is balloting its members in Dublin Bus and Irish Rail. The Minister has known this was coming from the first day of his appointment, it cannot be a surprise to him.
From what was said on the radio this morning, I am quite sure the Minister is delighted with the fact that there is widespread support for his interest in changing the judicial appointments process. That is all very well and good but that is not his job. His job is to be the Minister for transport. The Independent Alliance now seems to be running around the place and getting very excited about the latest controversy with An Garda Síochána. At the same time, its senior Minister, who presents himself as the leader of the Independent Alliance group, is responsible for the transport policy of this country. On the day of his appointment, he knew there was impending industrial unrest in Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. As someone with the responsibility for the purse strings of the Department, he has an opportunity to set out a three to five-year strategy for transport policy in this country. Senator Nash and I made this point as part of a Labour Party motion some months ago. There is deafening silence from the Minister unless he wants to post a selfie of himself going to work at 10 a.m. on a bus that, according to him, bizarrely seemed to be somewhat lacking in passengers. Most people who go to work at 10 a.m. on a weekday would probably find the bus slightly less packed than the good Minister, Deputy Ross.
Not to get personal about it - having just got personal about it - but people have to take responsibility for the jobs they hold. This is the same Minister who has written scurrilous article after scurrilous article in the Sunday Independent when he had the opportunity to write them, saying very personal things about the trade union leadership and now he has the responsibility as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Trade to set out a vision for public transport in this country and he has failed in the most categorical way possible to do so. I join with others in this House in respectfully asking the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to possibly stop taking selfies in the bus, worrying about issues in the Department of Justice and Equality, to take responsibility for his own job in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and to come into this august Chamber and discuss with us how he sees the coming weeks and months progressing. One could ask what will happen in a couple of weeks' time if we have a Dublin Bus strike or a rail strike or the school buses do not run. Will he come in at that stage and admit that perhaps it is part of his portfolio? I respectfully support the contentions made by my colleagues across the House on this matter.
I wish to follow on from what Senator Noone said about obesity. I read an article today in The Irish Times about type 2 diabetes. Between last August and September, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, my cholesterol was 7 and my blood pressure was crazy. I was told that I could get a long-term illness card that would give me all my medicines, which was a huge cost to the State. I went to the chemist and came out with a massive bag of tablets. I said to myself that at my age, which I will not be telling the House, I am not going down that road. Last September, I started to eat a proper diet and began to exercise again, something I had not done in a long time.
Senator Butler is looking very well.
Two weeks ago when I got my bloods done, my cholesterol had reduced from 7 to 3.3, my diabetes had gone from 42 to 32, my blood pressure is perfect and I am tablet free.
I thank the Senator. The amount of people with type 2 diabetes who do not know they have it is unbelievable. I felt absolutely perfect and would not have known but for the fact that I got my blood pressure checked. One of the girls in the office bought a blood pressure monitor in Lidl and checked my blood pressure and it was crazy so I went to the doctor and that is how it all started.
Senator Butler is over the limit.
A significant number of people have type 2 diabetes and they are basically killing themselves. There is a huge cost to the State. I call on the Leader to bring the Minister to the House-----
I call Senator Mullen.
-----so that we can have a debate on the issue. Perhaps we could offer incentives to people, such as free blood tests.
Senator Butler should please conclude. He is well over the limit. I call Senator Mullen.
I compliment Senator Butler. It is always good to hear good news, which is rare enough.
It was reported on Monday that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is considering expanding the definition of a television set under the broadcasting legislation to include laptops, computers, and possibly iPads. The Minister has the power to do this under legislation of 2009 but it would be a drastic move, tantamount to bringing in a broadcasting charge. Virtually every person in the country has a computer, a laptop or an iPad, either for work purposes or day-to-day communication. Whether they watch television or not, every person in the country could be obliged to pay the licence fee if the Minister makes such a change to the law. There has been a lot of confusion in recent years about the possibility of such a charge. In July 2013, the then Minister, Pat Rabbitte, made a clear commitment to introducing a broadcasting charge by 2015 and by the time that date arrived his successor, Alex White, told this House that he believed a public service broadcasting charge was inevitable, though not during his term. Last year, our current Minister, Deputy Naughten, told the communications committee that the charge would not be introduced but should not be shelved completely. At the same meeting, Deputy Timmy Dooley of Fianna Fáil seemed to agree in principle with the idea of a charge. I do not like the idea of a broadcasting charge being introduced by stealth and I certainly do not like the idea of it coming in by the use of a statutory instrument.
We heard a bizarre interview on Newstalk with the new director general of RTE, Dee Forbes, who told us the licence fee would be good value even if it was doubled. She walked back any suggestion that she was seeking a doubling of the fee but it suggests that some people in RTE management are on a different planet. It is time to discuss the issues around the threatened broadcasting charge and the licence fee and I call on the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to come to the House. I have been critical of RTE, in particular in relation to the significant ongoing cost to the taxpayer of funding it, and it is now time to decide whether RTE should be scaled back to a public broadcast core or privatised. RTE confirmed in 2015 that two of its presenters were paid between €400,000 and €500,000 per year, with two more earning between €200,000 and €300,000 per year and seven contractors earning between €150,000 and €200,000. Five staff were earning between €200,000 and €300,000. Is there any parallel for a taxpayer-funded organisation paying such massive salaries without any scrutiny or control by representatives of the people? Some countries have no television licence fee at all and others, such as Portugal and Greece, have very low fees.
The Senator is way over time. I call Senator Ó Donnghaile.
RTE is unique in having two sources of income and it is time this was discussed, especially given that it has 2,000 staff on average earnings of €53,000 per year.
Senator Mullen should show more respect to the Chair. He had two minutes and used three. One of these days I will walk out for 30 minutes and abandon the Order of Business because Senators on all sides are showing less and less respect for the Chair.
I apologise, a Chathaoirligh.
This week has been a particularly challenging time for members of my party, our supporters and most people across this island and beyond, following the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Martin McGuinness. Members made statements in the House last week but, unfortunately, I was not able to attend. I was in Derry with Martin's clan and I was very proud to stand with them. I pay personal thanks to the Cathaoirleach for travelling to Derry with the many tens of thousands who came to show their appreciation, thanks, respect and love for Martin for his work over many years.
I wonder whether the points raised by Senator O'Sullivan earlier arose from the fact that he and his party are so removed from the situation in the North. I suspect there are more cynical reasons but there is no one in this House who will accuse members of my party of not having stretched themselves, reached out the hand of friendship and in some cases put our lives on the line, not least in the form of Martin McGuinness, to advance this peace and political process and to ensure there is respect, equality and integrity for all our citizens. We certainly will not take any lectures on this matter.
For once I agree with Senator Ned O'Sullivan because we need the Taoiseach to address us on this very important issue. The negotiations have not yet reached a conclusion, but I am encouraged by the remark of our leader in the North, Michelle O'Neill, that we want to continue to talk. That is important and what the people want. What they want, expressed most clearly in the election, are institutions that will function on the basis of commitments and agreements already reached. The Government signed up to the institutions and are co-guarantors. If it cannot stand up for Acht na Gaeilge and a Bill of Rights and face down a negative veto on the grounds of national security by the British Government that is prohibiting investigations from taking place into and conclusions being reached on matters such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the case of Pat Finucane and the McGurk's Bar bombing, I am not quite sure what its role as co-guarantor entails. The British Secretary of State has said in the House of Commons today that he is considering all options in the process in the North. It is past time that we heard from the Government on the options it is considering.
As Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile said, there is a narrow window to agree to power-sharing in the North. As the political leaders have still not resolved their differences, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. James Brokenshire, could call another election or reintroduce direct rule. I understand all parties are working as closely as possible, but I am disappointed. I was at the funeral of Martin McGuinness last week when there was a symbolic political moment when the people in the church on the Bogside gave a very warm welcome to and applauded the leader of the DUP. It showed a huge degree of dignity and grace and I hope that good will and good feeling can be carried into the negotiations. We still have to work together.
Bill Clinton thanked the Taoiseach for what he had said in the United States on St. Patrick's Day on behalf of the undocumented Irish. It was incredible that we had an ex-President who was very close to the peace process acknowledging the Taoiseach's role. I repeat that the media in the Republic of Ireland did a great disservice to the words of the Taoiseach in the White House. The story eventually broke when Channel 4 in the United Kingdom and the New York Times reported on how significant it was. Where were the members of the Irish media? They had one agenda, which was to say the St. Patrick's Day visit to the United States had been a failure. It was not; it was one of the great successes. The Taoiseach spoke on behalf of the undocumented Irish and great progress is being made on their behalf in the United States. I hope it will continue to be made.
I read something in the local newspapers today that concerned me. It is a concern I have expressed for years through the local authorities. Some €63 million in compensation has been paid in the past five years by the four local authorities in Dublin. This is a massive issue for those of us who have worked in them during the years and have been calling for extra funding for improvements to footpaths, roads and services. We have been told there is no money available, but we are now at the stage where €63 million has been paid in compensation in five years by just four local authorities and I believe the figure is on the increase. I am asking for the relevant Minister to come to the House to address us and put funding into the local authorities in order that people will not be left in a position where they will fall and trip because works are not being carried out as a result of the Government not providing enough funds for services that the people need.
I join others in expressing concern about the Bus Éireann dispute.
Much of the debate has focused on whether the Minister should get involved. The Minister is involved and is the major funder, along with the Government, of Bus Éireann.
The point was made during a previous debate with the Minister in the House that this is an area of investment. We do not ask whether our schools are profitable. The areas under dispute involve public infrastructure and investment. The driver behind restructuring and the proposals that are on the table clearly send a message around the erosion of the subsidy and investment provided by the State for an essential public service. Dividends are not available on its profit sheet but, rather, in the social cohesion and all that it brings to Irish society in terms of making transport available to and engagement by all of our citizens in public life possible.
The Minister is involved. Therefore, it behoves him to be responsible for that involvement and talk to us about how he plans to manifest that involvement and take appropriate action in respect of it. I support those who spoke on the issue.
I want to highlight another issue. I am concerned about the comments of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, over the weekend. He is responsible for an important Department, namely, the Department of Social Protection, and has sent out messages regarding taxation. As somebody who has seen the importance of investment in our citizens through the social protection system, I am concerned that he seems to be prioritising a message in respect of the cutting of taxation which may make crucial investment more difficult.
I want to draw attention to one line of his comments because it is relevant today. He said, "We have allowed society to be divided into one group of people who pay for everything but get little in return due to means-tests, and another who believe they should be entitled to everything for free and that someone else should pay for it." That is inaccurate because we know those in receipt of the lowest incomes pay a large amount through indirect taxation and VAT – in many cases, it is a larger proportion of their income than others pay. Others contribute through care.
An Oxfam report which was launched today entitled Opening the Vault, showed an extraordinary degree of tax manipulation and evasion. Some 76%-----
You are over time.
I and many of my Oireachtas colleagues attended a briefing with University Hospital Limerick and the HSE mid-west. It was very enlightening. I welcome the €850,000 that will be invested in the surgical day care unit in Limerick. People will now be able to come to the hospital on the morning of an operation or be assessed outside of the unit and will not take up unnecessary hospital beds overnight. Operations can be carried out on the same day.
I also welcome that the new accident and emergency department, which will be three times the size of the current one, is due to open at the end of May. It will have state-of-the-art equipment. Some of the equipment that is due to be supplied will be the among the best available in hospitals in Ireland. It will be able to communicate and send results, and is very advanced.
I agree with the comments on the significant contribution that Bus Éireann drivers make to our society. It has to be borne in mind that they are ambassadors for our country. They provide a significant level of assistance to those visiting our country, in particular the west coast of Ireland, on a daily basis. They provide information on tours, advice on places to visit and so on. They make a social contribution to our country and I hope the dispute can be resolved.
As someone who uses public transport all the time, I must say that those who work in our public transport infrastructure are fantastic.
Last week I attended, as did many others, a briefing by the Irish Postmasters' Union and much of what was said made sense. All payments such as the payment of fines and motor tax should be done through the post office. I cannot understand why that is not the case and I would like the Minister to come in here at some stage and explain it. I would go a step further and suggest that there should be a new public service obligation for post offices in areas where a post office will not make money because it is not possible for it to make money. Similar to the transport system, there should be a public service obligation contract for post offices in areas where they are needed.
I agree with my good friend, Senator Mullen. A debate on the future of public service broadcasting in this country in essential. It is true that people are watching television on their mobile phones, laptops and so forth, but I believe that RTE has done a phenomenal job in public service broadcasting as a whole, if not all the time. However, we need a re-evaluation and definition of what is public service broadcasting and what is balanced broadcasting.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
I rise to welcome the report of the Irish Kidney Association on the increase in transplants last year. A total of 298 transplants were performed, which is a 12% increase from 2015. A total of 600 people are awaiting these life saving transplants, whether it be of the heart, liver, kidney or pancreas. Organ donor awareness week commences Saturday and the Irish Kidney Association is calling for a donor organ registry, which we have previously discussed in the Chamber, to be set up in line with the HSE consent policy to help increase donations from deceased persons. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is to prioritise this and I call on him to fast track it and to develop legislation to provide for an opt-out system where people would be regarded as having consented to organ donation unless they have specified otherwise. I encourage people to become aware of and use the organ donation card until the legislation is enacted. Apps and other systems are available for people to opt in but it is hoped that we will get the opt-out system soon enough.
I thank the 25 Members for their contributions on the Order of Business. The Cathaoirleach made a point about the number of items raised on the Order of Business and the fact that many Members do not wait to get the reply. I might join him in walking out some day and giving no reply.
That is unfair.
It is only Tuesday.
We should respect the Chair.
I thank Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, Humphreys and Boyhan who raised the Garda Síochána issue. All of us are united in considering the issues to be most disturbing and corrosive to the morale of An Garda Síochána and the way in which it is perceived by the public. This needs to be arrested and reversed. Government has committed to an external and thorough review of An Garda Síochána. Public confidence in An Garda Síochána should not be waning because every day many fine men and women do a huge job in difficult and dangerous situations. There is a culture within the Garda that needs to be changed. The revelations last week are disturbing. No one can stand over a misrepresentation of data or misuse or manipulation of statistics. I am sure the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner are committed to rectifying matters. The Tánaiste has met the Garda Commissioner, and the chair of the Policing Authority, Josephine Feehily, is also to meet the Garda Commissioner.
The Garda Commissioner will come before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality on Thursday. In that context, it is important for the Oireachtas to have a thorough discussion to probe the situation with regard to An Garda Síochána as we find it. It is important to recognise that gardaí have seen changes, particularly during the last Government's term in office. What has happened has been most unacceptable. The Taoiseach has said today that he is "very unhappy".
I will be happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business that has been proposed by Senator Humphreys. I propose that the debate in question should take place at 8.30 p.m. The Tánaiste will be in the Dáil this evening. I propose that we accept the amendment and that we have one speaker per group with the Tánaiste in the House this evening. To be fair, the Business Committee of the Dáil was discussing its plans as we were speaking on the Order of Business here. The Tánaiste will be in the Lower House this evening. In light of the business and the commitments we have in this House, I am proposing that we have a debate at 8.30 p.m. One representative of each group will engage with the Tánaiste on the matter. I think I am proposing a fair accommodation, given that the issue was raised in the House this afternoon.
Senators Leyden, Mulherin, O'Donnell, Gavan, Ó Ríordáin, Higgins and Conway raised the issue of Bus Éireann. I join Senator Conway in saying that, in my experience, Bus Éireann's drivers and those who work on the buses in Cork are tremendous ambassadors for the company. None of them wants to be on strike. As I have said previously in the House, it is incumbent on all sides to engage, re-engage and emerge into talks. A resolution is required, not least for the staff of Bus Éireann, the company and the members of the travelling public who have been discommoded. We all accept that the current Bus Éireann model certainly has difficulties. There is an issue with the Expressway service. Equally, as Senator O'Donnell said, there is an issue with the amount of money being made available under the public service obligation, PSO, scheme. Private companies do not have to take the free travel pass. All of us who live in the real world recognise that changes are required. People are committed to wanting to see this dispute resolved. I appeal to all sides to engage and re-engage. We can all go down the line of politicising this dispute and trying to be populist and to score points against the Minister, Deputy Ross. A fair number of people here are good at tweeting and taking selfies.
The Leader is not shy himself.
That is a fair point. The Minister is as eager as anybody to have the matter resolved.
Is that why he is doing nothing about it?
It is important that we get a balance in regard to the dispute. It is also about efficiencies and about a model that involves having a secure public-----
What about Government policy?
I did not interrupt the Senator.
I ask Senator Gavan to allow the Leader to continue.
I want to have a public transport system that serves the commuters of this country. As Senator Gavan knows well from his experience of being involved in activity, cheap talk will not solve this.
Cheap talk is Government policy and the Leader knows it.
It will not be solved by the Sunday Independent either.
The Leader should take responsibility for his party's part in six years of failed Government policies.
I fully understand the personal impact this dispute has had on Bus Éireann workers. As I have said, this is about having a bus company. Government policy is supportive of the PSO model. That is why there has been an increase in the amount of money provided. Some €230 million has been provided to Bus Éireann across the PSO through free travel, capital programmes and school transport programmes. As Senator Gavan knows quite well, that figure was increased again in the most recent budget. Mar fhocal scoir on this issue today in this House, I appeal to all sides. I think there is a meeting of minds in this House. We want to see the dispute resolved. It will not be resolved by being on the national airwaves, on local radio or in the print media - it will be resolved by re-engaging. That requires the management and the unions to sit down and engage.
And the Minister.
Then, when we have this matter resolved, I am sure the Government and the Minister, Deputy Ross, will be very happy to talk to all sides as well.
Will he not come in before it is resolved? Is the Leader genuinely serious?
Senators McDowell, Noone and Mulherin-----
That is unbelievable.
That is Fine Gael.
That is absolutely unbelievable.
Allow the Leader to respond, please.
Sorry, a Chathaoirligh. It is unbelievable.
The Leader is telling the House that he will not bring in the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport until this strike is resolved.
Senator Ó Ríordáin, please, resume your seat.
I did not say that.
Please, resume your seat.
He did. That is exactly what the Leader said.
I did not.
That is exactly what the Leader said. When that is resolved, he would bring in the Minister.
Senator Ó Ríordáin.
That is unbelievable. What is the Leader waiting for?
Please, resume your seat.
Is the Leader waiting for a Dublin Bus strike or an Irish Rail strike? Is he waiting for a school bus strike?
Please, resume your seat, Senator.
Allow the Leader to respond. If there are issues to be clarified, it can be done tomorrow morning on the Order of Business.
Nobody mention Deputy Alan Kelly.
I will clarify what I said for the benefit of Senator Ó Ríordáin.
It would be privatised if it was not for Deputy Kelly.
Please allow the Leader to respond.
The Senator is not on the stage on the Gaiety now. Let me respond.
I am responding to what the Leader actually said.
Senator Ó Ríordáin, please, allow the Leader to respond.
Would the Leader like me to ask if the record could be read back?
Let me clarify it for Senator Ó Ríordáin again. What I said was that once the matter was resolved, I would assume that the Minister, Deputy Ross, would engage with Bus Éireann and the workers to have viable public transport. To give a definitive answer, the Minister has been here twice in the past couple of weeks and I would be happy to have him come in again. I have no problem with that. I just wish to clarify that point.
As long as the Leader makes sure the Minister does not come in just to talk about the Rugby World Cup.
Or judicial appointments.
In response to Senators McDowell, Noone and Mulherin regarding the issue of judicial appointments, the Bill is in gestation. I note the remarks of the Law Society this morning. It has changed its position and is now in support of at least having a lay majority on the judicial appointments commission. I know this puts it at a difference with the Bar Council. What is important, irrespective of one's viewpoint, is that we have been well served by our Judiciary. At the core of that is an independence that we must ensure is preserved. I agree with Senator McDowell and others who have spoken that there must be a continuation of excellence in regard to our Judiciary. In tandem with that, its independence must be maintained and preserved. We have been well served by our Judiciary and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.
Senators Ned O'Sullivan, Ó Donnghaile and Feighan referred to issues relating to the North and the Assembly. On Senator Ó Donnghaile's comments, to be fair I do not think Senator Ned O'Sullivan was lecturing. He was saying what many people are thinking, that the elections are now over. A mandate has been given to all political parties in the North to enter into government in the Assembly at Stormont and to act responsibly on behalf of all people in the North of our country. That is the point that I took from Senator Ned O'Sullivan and that is the point that I would make as Leader of the House and as somebody who is as committed as anybody to seeing the peace process continue. In the words of former US President Clinton last week, our legacy must be to ensure that the peace is brought home. It is important that, irrespective of whether it is Michelle O'Neill or Arlene Foster or whoever, there is a political responsibility to sit down and to govern on behalf of the people. The last thing that anybody wants to see is direct rule or a further election. That requires all sides to remember that the election is over. It is now time to govern.
The problem, and where the problem rests, must also be named. It is important to call a spade a spade.
Senator Ó Donnghaile, the Leader-----
There must be something in the water today.
Leader, one second.
There are many agitated people here today.
We have good cause to be agitated.
Respect the chair. The Leader sits patiently here and listens to, sometimes, 20 or 25 contributions. He tries to answer. Sometimes the answer might not be what Senators would like, but he is entitled to respond. If the answers are inadequate, tomorrow morning Senators can come back in and say that they are not happy. Do not, however, continue interrupting the Leader. I have been in this House for almost 17 years and I have never seen such a lack of respect for a Leader of any party. Let him respond. He is entitled to that.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. We should acknowledge Senator Feighan's point that it was a symbolic and wonderful gesture by Arlene Foster to attend the funeral last week. Equally, we had statements here last week. The Leader allowed for that to happen if the Senator did not know.
I referenced that in my own remarks.
Let the Leader respond.
To clarify for Senator Devine, and for the record, there is no precedent for that happening in the House.
The point I am making is-----
The other point I want to make is that equally-----
-----that Arlene Foster got the reception she got and then did not go to the talks on Sunday. She was not there. That is the problem.
What is the Irish Government doing?
Senator, that is another issue and you can raise it another way.
Equally powerful was the handshake between Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster.
Arlene Foster did not go to the talks on Sunday.
She did what?
Finally, as Senator Ned O'Sullivan said, it is time to work things out and get it done. I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, will be in the House on Thursday to have a debate on the matter.
Senator Norris should take his seat.
That is exactly what I am doing. I would never have thought of sitting down without your advice.
Arlene Foster should turn up to the talks, a Chathaoirligh.
I hope the Minister will be in the House on Thursday to have a debate on the matter. To be fair, both he and the Secretary of State, Mr. Brokenshire, have been involved and engaged. The Senator made a comment about Arlene Foster. I understand there was an issue regarding not being engaged on Sunday.
The Leader should not be feeding into that. They have engaged previously in negotiations on a Sunday. I do not know if the Leader's party and Fianna Fáil have been at the talks-----
Senator Ó Donnghaile, please allow the Leader to respond.
He is providing enough cover for Fianna Fáil and now he is going to provide cover for the DUP as well. It is nonsense.
Senator, please, respect the Chair.
These issues are too important to try and play party politics in this House.
That is a humdinger.
The person playing politics today is the Senator.
Nonsense, and if the Leader had any political backbone he would speak up for citizens in the North.
I have long been doing that.
You have not, and certainly not in here.
I ask the Leader to respond.
The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has been silent and so has the Taoiseach.
Please, respect the Chair. This is not an argy-bargy between Senator Ó Donnghaile and the Leader.
Tell us how James Brokenshire is. It is a scandal.
Senator Ó Donnghaile, if you interrupt again I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes. You have interrupted seven times in a row. It is total disrespect to me in the Chair. If you are not happy with the Leader's answer, you can raise it in another way tomorrow.
I will do that.
I try to be fair to everybody. We have gone 20 minutes beyond the proposed time and we are sitting late tonight, and then people ask why there is a delay in the Chamber. Let us have a little calm and allow the Leader to respond.
Senator Ardagh raised an important point. I join her, on my behalf and on behalf of the House, in offering sympathy to the families of the cyclists who were killed, including in a tragedy on the streets of our capital yesterday. The safety of cyclists and those who use our roads is an issue we take very seriously. A Private Members' Bill has been published by Deputy Ciarán Cannon which provides for prohibiting passing cylists at a distance any closer than 1.5 m. It is important that we highlight this matter. Equally, it is incumbent on all those who use the roads to offer due care to cyclists and pedestrians. Any death is a tragedy and the death of three cyclists is entirely too many. I will be happy to invite the Minister to the House to debate the matter.
Senators Noone and Butler raised the issue of obesity. I join them in encouraging all State agencies, particularly Departments that have a responsibility in this area, to play their role in reducing the incidence of obesity. I commend Senator Butler on his work with regard to diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is an important issue that must be addressed and I will be happy to schedule that debate in the House.
Senator Black raised the matter of evictions. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy English, came to the House last week to discuss the progress report on Rebuilding Ireland. I did not catch the reference the Senator made in terms of the evictions but my information is that the number of evictions of people from their homes is decreasing. I will invite the Minister to the House to discuss the issue of landlords and private rented accommodation. All of us are anxious that people have security of tenure in their housing.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised a matter regarding the Tuam mother and baby home. If he gives me the details, I will refer them to the Minister. I have been in discussions with the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, with regard to the International Protection Act and direct provision. He is away this week and I hope to schedule that debate next week or during the week before the Easter recess. It is on the list. As the Senator knows, I have worked with him in the past to have issues resolved, so I am hoping to have that done either next week or the week after.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the very fine facility in Deer Lodge on Mill Road in Killarney. I agree it is appalling that the home is not open for the 40 patients. It might be better for the Senator to raise it as a Commencement matter, but I will take it up with the Minister.
Senator Norris raised the issue of Bank of Ireland and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. I agree with him that there is a need for Bank of Ireland to be open and frank about the matter. I am not surprised that he was love-bombed in Trinity last night. There is a need for freedom of speech and an exchange of ideas. I would be appalled if a student organisation or group had its funding suspended because it supported a particular action. All of us who were involved in different activities in college will recognise the importance of being able to express one's views.
It was because I said something. It had nothing to do with the students.
It is important that they can have people like the Senator there-----
-----to facilitate a discussion.
Senators Mullen and Conway raised the issue of the broadcasting charge. For the first time ever, I am in agreement with Senator Mullen on an issue.
I have a dim recollection that we have been in agreement once.
I hope the broadcasting charge is not introduced in its present form. I am happy to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to the House to discuss the matter.
I join with Senator Feighan in congratulating the Taoiseach on his performance in the White House again. The Taoiseach's speech has been viewed online by over 30 million people. He has even surpassed Senator Ó Ríordáin's viewer ratings on YouTube.
Surprisingly. I have reached 45,000 followers. The Taoiseach is absolutely brilliant. Up the Dubs.
Senator Feighan asked where the Irish media were. We could debate the Irish media until the end of time but we will not do so today.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of insurance and compensation claims that local authorities must pay, and mentioned that €63 million has been paid out by four local authorities. That is a large amount of money. In my own city of Cork and in County Cork there is a strong compensation claims culture. We need to eradicate such a culture. It is also important that we give local authorities the confidence to carry out work. Funding has been increased. I am happy to arrange a debate on the matter in this House.
Senator Higgins referred to the statements or comments made by the Minister for Social Protection. He is not the Taoiseach.
The Minister expressed his personal view.
Senator Byrne mentioned a briefing by University Hospital Limerick and the HSE. I join with her in welcoming the good news story in Limerick. I am sure that all Senators will join with me, including Senator Gavan, in welcoming the €850,000 investment in the surgical day care unit and the new emergency department. Both units will be fine additions to the hospital and will greatly benefit the people in the area.
Senator Conway made an interesting point about post offices having a new public service contract. I am happy to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to the House to discuss the matter. It is important that we have certainty about post offices.
Senator Conway made an important point about unviable or unused post offices. We should have a conversation on how frequently we use post offices as a society. People talk about encountering faceless banks, particularly when lodging money into their bank accounts, either social welfare, wages or whatever. Perhaps we should reverse the trend away from automation and encourage people to use banks and post offices.
I join with Senator Devine in asking people to support the Irish Kidney Association and organ donation week. I am the former chairperson of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children that commissioned a fine report on organ donation. It recommended that we change the organ donation system. It is incumbent on us that we do so now, as a matter of urgency. As the Senator rightly said, it is wrong to have 600 people awaiting organ transplant when people can be given the gift of new life by people donating an organ. I hope that the Irish Kidney Association can work with all of us to change the system.
I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business. I suggest, because of the Minister's schedule and our business, that we vote on the amendment to the Order of Business at 8.30 p.m. with one spokesperson per group.
I thank the Leader. Senator Humphreys proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Minister for Justice and Equality attend the House to discuss the situation in the Garda Síochána." The Leader has indicated he is willing to accept the amendment. Is the proposal by the Leader to deal with the amendment at 8.30 p.m. agreed to? Agreed. By way of clarification, how much time will be allocated for the principal speakers?
Off the top of my head, I suggest eight or six minutes for spokespersons.
Six minutes per spokesperson.
I suggest six minutes per spokesperson with the Minister to be given five minutes to reply at the end or whatever and for the debate to be completed not later than 9.15 p.m.
This could create a misunderstanding on the part of whoever is in the Chair later. Going by what the Leader has said, one person from each group will speak.
And the Minister will respond.
What about the independent Independents?
I would be happy to accommodate Senator Norris.
I will leave it in the Leader's wise hands.
Six minutes per person and five minutes for the Minister to respond.