The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re EU insolvency proceedings, referral to committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion regarding legal acts in the area of justice, referral to committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, statements on the migrant integration strategy, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6.30 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Bill 2016 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3.
Order of Business
I wish to discuss the issue of homelessness again. I would like to discuss the fact that very urgent reform is needed for people who live in emergency accommodation.
On a daily basis there are evictions and the human rights of the people who live in emergency accommodation are encroached upon I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to establish an office or extend the powers of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, to deal with complaints made by people who live in emergency accommodation. These people are without a voice and are continually treated like second and third-class citizens. We have failed them by not providing sufficient housing. We cannot continue to fail them and encroach upon their rights when they are living in emergency accommodation. I ask the Leader of the House to bring this issue to the attention of the Minister. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter.
I would like to discuss the ransomware or malware virus. There has been a massive ransomware attack in the past few days but the virus and its negative effects have been around for the past few years. Many small businesses and large State bodies have been affected by the virus. I shall outline what happened to one small business that employs fewer than five employees. The hacker took a picture of the person seated at the computer and forwarded a message seeking $500, and froze all of the documents and applications on the desktop. Fortunately, the hacker did not attack the company's server. Ultimately, the attack resulted in the computer having to be cleaned and the installation of an expensive firewall.
Small businesses struggle to pay such costs. I ask the Leader of the House to request the Minister to consider establishing a fund to help small businesses cope with data breaches and computer hackers. Small businesses are targeted as well as the HSE and large businesses. Small businesses do not have the same amount of IT support as larger organisations. Small businesses employ the majority of people in this country. Therefore, we should look after them better and help them cope with ransomware attacks.
I wish to raise the issue of the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill and the opening of licensed premises on Good Friday. The legislation was the subject of some discussion in this House prior to the break and passed Second Stage unopposed.
The proposers of the Bill understand that it is the intention of the Leader to make Government time available in the near future to deal with Committee and Remaining Stages of the Bill in this House. It was suggested that the Bill should be amended to cover registered clubs, hotels and restaurants as well as public houses. I ask the Leader to confirm that he will make Government time available for Committee and Remaining Stages. I also ask him to indicate whether the Department of Justice and Equality wishes to draft the amendments or whether the Department is happy to allow the amendments, that have been canvassed to extend the Bill to cover clubs, hotels and restaurants, be drafted by the proposers and to improve the legislation, if necessary, at the relevant Stage.
I ask the Leader to clarify his intentions regarding this matter and to confirm that it will be dealt with quickly and before the summer recess.
We were very disappointed last week not to get cross-party support, particularly from Fianna Fáil, for the motion we tabled regarding the review of the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme. The reason given by Fianna Fáil for not giving its support related to the timing of the motion, which coincided with the deliberations of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. To avoid any excuses this week, I want to inform the House that I will be putting the motion forward for debate tomorrow because inequalities in farm incomes must be addressed. This ANC review is a significant opportunity to ensure that payments reflect the challenges faced by those farming in areas of genuine natural constraint. I look forward to that debate tomorrow and I hope Fianna Fáil will have caught up by then.
We learned today that several universities have tens of millions of euro in private trusts and foundations that they have not declared in their accounts. We learned that Galway University Foundation Ltd., has assets in excess of €57 million while University College Cork has assets of €17 million and the University of Limerick has assets of €15 million. The independent audit also cites widespread non-compliance with procurement rules as well as over-the-top salary payments worth hundreds of thousands of euro. How can we have confidence in any sector in this country any more? It is shocking that external intervention can only take place with the agreement of these universities. If emergency legislation is needed in order to facilitate proper scrutiny of exactly what is going on, then it must be drawn up and the Minister for Education and Skills must put it in place immediately. Once again, we have seen that there is absolutely no accountability and transparency on the part of individuals or sectors - individuals who are paid enormous salaries to manage public funds. This is not acceptable at a time when many institutions are struggling to retain staff and many staff are surviving on term-to-term rolling contracts. At a time when parents are struggling to pay fees in order to send their children to university and are being denied SUSI grants, it is appalling that these institutions would have millions in these trusts and not even show them on their accounts. The Cassells report on the future funding of third-level institutions called for an immediate injection of €75 million in current funding and €30 million in capital funding for universities.
In Mayo, we are witnessing an attempt to downgrade the Castlebar campus of GMIT by stealth. The Minister for Education and Skills continues to sit on his hands while staff at the Mayo campus are pressurised-----
-----to transfer to the Galway campus. I want to highlight the inequalities. The universities in question do not even include these huge amounts of money in their accounts. Meanwhile, what University College Galway has in a loan would keep the Mayo campus of GMIT going for 15 years. This is not acceptable. I want the Minister for Education and Skills to come before the House and explain to us how these universities are getting away with stashing away this money while institutions in other areas in education, such as the Mayo campus of GMIT, are starved of funding and are on their knees.
I note that we will be discussing obesity and autism. In that context, I draw attention to the fact that this is Huntington's Disease Awareness Week. Huntington's is a horrid condition that affects people's motor and cognitive ability and behaviour and causes very severe difficulties for family members. The fact that it is an inherited condition is another issue.
Senator Dolan can make his own contribution.
I am very pleased to mention that this Thursday, 18 May, the pontiff will hold an audience for people and their families with Huntington's disease from around the world. Pope Francis has a particular interest in this disease because a lot of people in certain countries in South America are affected by it. The huntingtin gene was identified by a Galway-born doctor Professor Michael Conneally in 1993 in the United States. I wish the folk who are travelling to Rome the very best on Thursday. I should mention that 18 May is also the birthday of John Bruton. I thought that might be useful to know. It was also the date of birth of a former Pope, namely, Pope John Paul II. Huntington's disease is a difficult condition. Many people have the huntingtin gene and a great many people live with the possibility of the condition. When it hits, Huntington's disease has a significant effect on families because it happens at a time when people are in young adulthood. This is an important issue as we look the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, the budget and things ahead.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on it.
Go raibh maith agat. I seek leave to amend the Order of Business to table the Order for Second Stage for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017.
I raise with the Leader the issue of the ongoing Garda controversy and question marks over the tenure of the Garda Commissioner, senior Garda management and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality. To bring it down to street level, while great emphasis has been put on this controversy, the Garda is dealing with ongoing community issues daily. In fairness to the Taoiseach, when the north inner city was in the media spotlight for violent crime, he made a significant commitment to engaging with the community and established a commission to report on the situation. The Taoiseach was very well received, as was the commission report by Mr. Kieran Mulvey. I ask the Leader to update Members on that report. These issues have faded from the public eye but people still live in these communities. I was a school principal in that area and taught in that community for 11 years. It should not take a killing, a feud or criminal activity for us to notice what is happening in the north inner city. It is a vibrant community. A lot is going on there but the implementation of this report will be very important. While the headlines and the political comings and goings around the Garda Commissioner and other Garda issues in the public domain are very important, gardaí on the ground are doing their best to police a vibrant community in an area which faces major challenges. The commission report needs to be implemented. The chairmanship of that report is I believe still to be determined.
May I pay a tribute to the Taoiseach? The Taoiseach visited my local GAA club, Scoil Uí Chonaill GAA club on the Clontarf Road, which is attended by a significant number of children from the north inner city. He was incredibly well received and to be honest he really was very engaged with the children, the club members and what was happening in that club, which does a great deal of work. In fairness, nobody on our side of the House wishes to question his commitment to dealing with what was happening in the north inner city but at this juncture, it is important for us to see the implementation of the findings of that report. We cannot really wait for the next shooting, the next episode of gangland violence or the next headline before that debate happens in this House. It is at this stage, while we are in a period in which there is relative calm and people are getting on with their lives and want to go to the next level, that we should start talking the rebuilding of communities in that proud area.
May I clarify the Senator is requesting that No. 16 be taken before No. 1?
That can be seconded later.
I wish to raise an issue that appeared on the front page of yesterday's edition of the Irish Examiner to the effect that there were 10,000 complaints of anti-social behaviour to local authorities nationwide over a two-year period.
In that two-year time period only 12 evictions arose. That level of complaint seems to indicate that local authority officials are spending a huge amount of time dealing with this issue. We need to have a debate on whether there is adequate legislation and support for local authority officials in dealing with anti-social behaviour. The vast majority of tenants in local authority houses are law abiding and want to live their lives in a normal way. It might be one out of 500 who causes a particular problem not only for their immediate neighbours but for the entire neighbourhood.
When I was first elected to Cork City Council in 1996, I found that the tenancy agreements people were asked to sign were totally inadequate. The local authorities had very little say in real terms in dealing with this issue. As a result of raising this at the time at Cork City Council and, in fairness, with the support at the time of Deputy Micheál Martin who was the leader of the Fianna Fáil group in the council at the time, amending legislation was introduced. As we are now 13 years on, we now need to ascertain if that legislation is adequate. We need to put in place the necessary supports for people in housing departments in local authorities throughout the country. This amount of money should not be consumed in this way when local authority officials could do much more in trying to provide adequate housing for the many people on the waiting list.
We should have a debate in the House with the Minister. We should also have reports from local authorities outlining the changes they want. Are they getting the necessary support from the courts? We need to look at that issue. I ask the Leader to organise a debate in the House.
I note the disappointment of Senator Conway-Walsh at our voting against an amendment to the Order of Business last Tuesday. I put on record that we voted against an amendment to the Order of Business, contrary to Sinn Féin press releases, etc., stating that we voted against motion. We, in fact, agreed with the main principles of the motion, but we will-----
Fianna Fáil should have voted for it.
-----not be brought into knee-jerk reaction without discussing; it was to be accepted without discussion. While we agree with the main principles of the motion, the wording, as stated, is too narrow.
Sinn Féin brought it in and played politics with it.
The Leader will get to wind up.
Senator Paul Daly was gracious, in fairness to him.
Sinn Féin played politics with it.
The Leader will respond at the finish.
As the Senator rightly said at the outset, I was at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine where I felt duty bound to be, and I expected all the agriculture representatives of the parties would have been, when this kind of political, cynical stroke was pulled last Tuesday evening.
We agree in principle with the motion, but we feel that the wording as it stands is too narrow. The motion ignored multiple biophysical constraints. It referred specifically to mountain and hill areas, which is unrepresentative of the farming community at large. We need a debate on the matter. We got an email on Friday indicating that there would be a proposal to amend the Order of Business again today which we again will not support in a knee-jerk fashion. If and when the Leader can give us a commitment that the Minister will come to the House with the facts and figures as to how the current underspend in the RDP, TAMS and GLAS will be allocated towards the ANC scheme where we can have a full debate and are allowed the opportunity to make amendments to the motion, we will then agree to an amendment to the Order of Business.
Tonight's "Prime Time" programme will feature a piece on the Defence Forces. I commend PDFORRA and RACO on their excellent work on behalf of their members. The Leader will be aware that neither of these two representative bodies has the full rights of a trade union and therefore they are extremely limited in what they can and cannot do. Anybody watching what is going on at the moment hears the harrowing stories of soldiers on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year who are there at times of floods and forest fires, and are there when the nation needs people to work through 24 hour cycles.
We see young men and women who, after they have paid their bills, have €27 per week left over, and that is because they are paid family income supplement. This is outrageous, especially when we see the Department, having sent 75 emails to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, seeking permission to create a new assistant secretary job in the Department at a salary of between €128,000 and €149,000 a year. What do we need the assistant secretary for? The advertisement says he or she is needed to deal with people. They only have 440 people working in the Department. The Defence Forces have their own HR department. We see a ship sold this week for €110,000. Galway County Council and Galway City Council asked for it to be handed over as a museum on the docks. We gave it away for €110,000.
This is not the Government's fault - I am not saying it is - but it is a lack of oversight, and when we talk about oversight, we move into the area of national security. Six individuals are charged with the security of the State. The Defence Forces' network system went down because they had no one to manage it as the soldiers who manage it were on duty. We have 11 bomb disposal officers available out of the 35 we should have. The Defence Forces are running at 36% of their establishment in strength. The Defence Forces' loyalty to this nation is being thrown back in their face, and no one gives a continental damn. At the end of the day, someone somewhere will have to do something for them. They do not have the tools that are available to trade unionists. They cannot go on strike and they cannot withdraw their services, although they never would anyway. We need to start dealing with them and treating them with the respect they are due.
I refer to the issue of the GMIT Castlebar campus, which Senator Walsh raised a few moments ago, and the lack of action on the part of the Minister. It is important that there is a little balance in this debate. The Leader might ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to come to the House to explain the progress on the working group he has set up regarding the GMIT Castlebar campus. He has already visited the campus, and my understanding is that the working group is up and running and that it held a meeting yesterday with the staff and students of the GMIT Castlebar campus. It is important we find solutions and not use the matter as a populist political football. GMIT has a long and distinguished history in Castlebar, and the Minister has given assurances that there is no threat to it. We should certainly get an update on it but we should not kick it around the place for the sake of populist politics.
We have had a very happy start to the week. Fianna Fáil is not happy with Sinn Féin. Perhaps we are threatening them too much, but the bluster on my left-hand side from Fianna Fáil in its attempt to get over its embarrassment and a failure to follow its own policies, as stated by my colleague, Senator Conway-Walsh, is cringeworthy-----
I have just made it clear how we are following our policies.
Senator Daly, please.
I wish to raise two matters. I was at a conference on the values of nursing and midwifery held in Dublin Castle this morning with 500 nurses. I want this House to congratulate the chief nursing officer of Ireland and the HSE on what was a wonderful discussion and workshops on our values. They will incorporate and bring back compassion and care, which has been eroded so much in our health service.
I congratulate the Simon Communities on their hard work on the piece they launched this morning on renting in Dublin. Rents across the country are an issue, but I would focus on rents in Dublin in particular. The report is called Locked Out of the Market. I will support the campaign. It is extremely important that the Minister examine the report. Rent supplement in Dublin city centre for a single person is €660, yet the going rent for a one-bedroom property is €1,130. There are no units available to rent for €660. For couples, it is similar; rent supplement is €1,275, yet the average rent for a two-bedroom property is €2,700.
No properties are available on the market in their range. Neither are there properties for people with children. This is a damning indictment of what we are doing. Among other suggestions, the Simon Communities have recommended the urgent implementation of Rebuilding Ireland and a tax on empty units. I call on the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to attend the House to discuss this report and implement its recommendations swiftly.
Today, the European Court of Justice, ECJ, issued a ruling on the Singapore free trade agreement, specifically on the question of whether it is a mixed agreement or can be negotiated exclusively by the EU. The ECJ's ruling is clear: in any investor-state dispute mechanism, which are the corporate courts that the House has debated, ratification by all member states is required. This important ruling vindicates to some extent the stand that the House has taken. The European Commission told us that it has exclusive competence in this area but it was wrong. It also told us that the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA, between Canada and Europe was entirely legal in EU law. However, we will not know that until it has been tested before the ECJ. The court made clear that today's ruling merely relates to who has the competence to agree and that it does not deal with the question of legality, which will be dealt with by means of separate process. Under Article 218.11 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, Ireland has the power to refer CETA to the ECJ at any time so that a ruling can be made. I hope that someone does refer it so that we can make decisions about ratification that are fully informed by the ECJ.
In the meantime, Ireland will need to decide on whether we want to move the extra step from provisional application, which contains all of the benefits of tariffs and so forth that we have heard about at length, to ratification and bring upon ourselves investor-state dispute mechanisms. There is no time limit on us staying in a stage of provisional application, so we can remain there for as long as we wish. I ask all Senators to consider whether we should be moving to the next stage at this point.
Mr. Barnier was clear that the second stage of his Brexit negotiations will relate to a trade agreement with the UK. We must ask ourselves whether any such trade agreement, which would need to be voted on by every parliament in Europe, would be acceptable or passable if it contained an investor-state dispute mechanism. I suggest that it is in Ireland's interests to ensure that our trade agreements move past the inclusion of these mechanisms.
I wish to raise the issue of air pollution, particularly in the context of what Ireland is doing to incentivise the use of electric cars. I also formally second Senator Ó Ríordáin's amendment.
I was going to do that.
I am sorry. I did not mean to steal Senator Norris's thunder.
Not at all.
Far be it from me to do so.
Senator Norris will be next.
According to health experts, life-----
I have left it too late.
I believe I have the floor.
Senator Noone, without interruption.
According to health experts, life expectancy is being reduced by nine months because of the ingestion of toxins contained in car fumes. One thousand Dublin buses have diesel engines. In London's transport system, there has been a substantial move away from diesel towards electric and hybrid vehicles. We should take a leaf out of Norway's book in this regard. It has been implementing incentives for 25 years, so it will not happen overnight in Ireland, but according to the latest figures, 37% of new cars bought in Norway last January were electric. This represents the highest rate of electric vehicle adoption globally. In Ireland in 2008, we had an ambition of 200,000 electric cars over the course of ten to 15 years. To date, however, only 2,000 electric vehicles are on the road despite the infrastructure having been put in place. Those who purchase electric and hybrid vehicles in Ireland pay a lower rate of VRT, but Norway has many other incentives than this such as, for example, paying no VAT on new cars, free parking in public car parks, driving in bus lanes, free access to toll roads, free road ferries and lower annual road taxes.
In the 25 years Norway has been working on this, the number of electric cars there has reached almost 50%. While I accept that we cannot achieve a great deal over night, we do need to implement, without delay, a lot more policies of the type implemented in Norway.
In London last weekend there was an important meeting of authorities and experts on opera. They voted Wexford Festival Opera the best opera festival in the world, which is remarkable and a great tribute to Wexford and the people who, over many years, have supported this festival. It is an amateur effort set up by the late Dr. Tom Walsh, who had a great collection of gramophone records and so on. It operates from a small 18th century theatre that has been considerably extended and modernised. Many international stars made their debut in Wexford. A galaxy of internationally famous people had their first start in Wexford. They put on operas by great composers that are very rarely performed. It is fitting that Seanad Éireann would congratulate Wexford on this very important honour.
We might go down to see one.
I would like to raise two issues, one of which has already been raised by Senator Colm Burke, namely, anti-social behaviour. In the last few years, there has been a lot of anti-social behaviour that has not been addressed through local authorities. The reason it has not been addressed by local authorities is because there is no mechanism available to families to have it addressed. When a person raises the issue of anti-social behaviour on the part of a neighbour with a local authority, he or she is asked to either keep a record of what is happening or to lodge an official complaint against the neighbour. Families are afraid to do that. They will not do it because they are afraid of their neighbours, which is the reason they take up the matter with the local authority.
The same applies when a person raises this issue with the Garda Síochána, namely, the person is told to either keep a record of what is happening or to lodge an official complaint. The Minister needs to step in and to introduce legislation to protect people who are being victimised by anti-social behaviour. Currently, the only basis on which a tenant can be evicted from a local authority is for non-payment of rent. We need the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to come to this House to address this issue.
I would also like to raise the issue of revaluation of commercial rates across the country.
The Senator knows the rules. She cannot raise two issues.
Other speakers have raised two issues.
I am sorry, Senator, but only leaders can raise two issues.
Everybody who has spoken thus far has raised two issues.
I never get the opportunity to raise two issues.
The Senator is out of time.
On the first issue, I agreed with Senator Burke. The issue I want to raise is the revaluation of commercial rates.
There was a letter issued about this last week. The Senator knows that she is out of order.
This happens to me all of the time. There has been a revaluation of commercial rates in Carlow in the last few months. Commercial rates-----
The Senator has run out of time to revaluate Carlow.
-----have been addressed. What I am asking-----
The Senator will have to raise the matter another time.
No, I feel-----
The Senator will have to raise the matter on another day.
This is the fourth or fifth time the Leas-Chathaoirleach has done this to me.
The Senator must accept the ruling of the Chair.
I have just agreed with other speakers and I now want to raise my own issue.
I am sorry Senator you cannot-----
I am very disappointed.
Senator, you cannot raise the matter now.
I am very disappointed that I cannot raise an issue about which I am seriously concerned.
With respect, Senator, you have gone way over time. The Senator will have to raise the matter another day.
I will raise it tomorrow. I am very disappointed.
We can discuss that afterwards.
Last Friday was a very significant day, as were the other two days of the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla to this country. I was in Glasnevin Cemetery when Prince Charles visited the graves of Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera and James Joyce's parents and unveiled the Victoria Cross. This is very significant, which some people may not realise. I was also in the British Ambassador's residence and it was great to see the leaders of the other parties there. It was very significant that the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, shook hands with Prince Charles. There is a normalisation of politics on both islands. With Brexit on the horizon, we need more of these interactions between the island of Ireland and the island of Britain. It is important that we not let this day pass without recognising the symbolic success of another visit.
Prince Charles has said he wants to come back to most of the counties in Ireland. I believe the people of Ireland are welcoming and it is amazing how things have changed in the past six years since the Queen’s visit. Relations between ourselves and the United Kingdom are at an all-time high. This augurs well in facing the difficult challenges of Brexit.
Well said Senator.
Further to Senator McDowell's proposal to finalise the Good Friday alcohol sales Bill, I remind the Leader he gave a commitment to have it completed by Thursday, 1 June. I hope he will stand by his word.
Eleven months ago, First Stage of the Seanad Bill 2016 was taken in the House and seven months ago, Second Stage was passed. While I do not support every aspect of the legislation, Sinn Féin believes it is of the utmost importance that Seanad reform be prioritised. It is no longer acceptable for this House to be exclusive, unrepresentative and unaccountable. We can and must do better. Nobody else and no other Chamber will prioritise this issue. If and when Senators stand for re-election, will they be content with their work to reform this House? Again, no one else will prioritise this issue. The onus is on us to bring urgency to Seanad reform. Will the Leader update the House on the progress of the Seanad Bill 2016?
Today the media reported about grants which will become available over the next several weeks to encourage people to live outside of Dublin in rural towns and villages. There will be grants and incentives towards the renovation of such homes, particularly older ones. Encouraging people to live in rural towns and villages is to be welcomed. This funding is welcome, especially in the west and other areas, as people have tended to gravitate towards and move to Dublin. I welcome this news.
I want to raise the issue of the so-called welfare cheats campaign of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar. He made some outlandish claims that with this campaign, his Department will have made €500 million in savings so far. My colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, looked into this to discover the savings claimed were based on estimates of what would have been saved over 52 weeks, or in some cases, over 136 weeks, however. In fact, the actual savings were more like €41 million.
This compares with €375 million of moneys owed by employers to the Social Insurance Fund. I have raised this issue in Commencement debates before and have asked the Department to explain why specific companies continue to trade while they owe moneys in this regard. I am still waiting for a response from the Department. When one takes into account the €375 million which the Department is not bothering to chase and the €13 billion owed by Apple which the Minister does not want to touch, it is quite clear that this is a nasty right-wing campaign from a man who wants to brand himself as the future leader of the Fine Gael Party. It reminds me of Norman Tebbit and Mrs. Thatcher. It is mean-spirited from the hard right of Fine Gael which, unfortunately, looks like it will lead the party into the future.
I would like to have the Minister for Social Protection into the House to explain his spurious claims about €500 million in savings. It is a disgraceful and shameful campaign, showing where Fine Gael stands. It wants to tramp on the little people and let the lads at the top off every time.
It is now time to call on the Leader to respond.
How does one follow that, a Leas-Chathaoirligh? I thank the 19 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. I agree with Senator Ardagh on the issue of homelessness and that reform needs to continue in this area to address the availability and supply of social housing, as well as affordability. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House on this issue.
The issue of cyber security gained national and international prominence over the weekend. I commend the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, for their proactivity with the staff of the IT department in the HSE. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, brought a memorandum to the Government this morning setting out the events and the issues in terms of how this country deals with them. The national cyber security centre at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has been proactive and worked strongly over the weekend. I know from talking to people who were brought into work in the HSE over the weekend that the work was taken very seriously. Thankfully, there has been regular communication and contact over the weekend. I used the word "proactivity" and there was strong work done by the HSE. I commend all the staff in the IT department.
Obviously it is a matter on which we must be vigilant. We must work to ensure that all parts of our ICT are safe. At a personal level for all of us, it is about how we can ensure we are not open to interception of our emails or any of our activity online. Equally, there is a collective responsibility on the part of the State in regard to cyber security. We have seen media reports of other interactions in elections in America and the attack on the NHS at the weekend. However, I commend the Minister on his work. The issue Senator Ardagh raises in terms of small businesses is one that requires a whole-of-government approach. She is correct that these people are at the coalface and are not, perhaps, able to tap into the Government, as in the case of the HSE.
We need a director of national security.
There is a need to ensure the impact is limited, that there is a whole-of-government response and that the people in small and medium enterprises mentioned by Senator Ardagh have access to support. I will be happy to work with her in that regard.
Senators McDowell and Lawless raised the Good Friday Bill proposed by Senator Lawless. I hope the Bill will be back before the House as soon as the Department has finished with it. I have been in touch with the Senator and I have liaised with the Department on his behalf. As Leader, I will not delay the Bill from being brought before the House again. From my discussions with the Department I am aware that it is also working on the Sale of Alcohol Bill, which is important legislation. All of us wish to see that Bill brought to the House. Equally, I have given the Senator a commitment in regard to his Bill and I do not have an issue with it returning to the House. I am working with the Department to ensure it will be returned. I am sure the Senator will give me some latitude if it is plus or minus a few days.
Does the Leader want us to draft the amendments or is the Department doing it?
The Leader, without interruption.
Sometimes the Senator's form of drafting could be open to misinterpretation.
We will not have an argument about it here.
I would prefer independent draftspersons to do it. However, as I said-----
We can give the Leader a dig-out if he wishes.
-----I am endeavouring-----
He will take advice from the Attorney General, but that is a position Senator McDowell held.
If Senator Craughwell is in government some day, I perish to think that he will take advice from anybody. I look forward to that day, although not really. However, I am working with Senator Lawless and the Department to bring the Bill back before the House. It is subject to events, but both I and the Minister, to be fair, are endeavouring to have it back here.
Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about a motion she is putting before the House tomorrow and Senator Paul Daly raised the issue with regard to agriculture. I commend Senator Paul Daly on his approach to this. To be fair to him, he did not try to play naked politics last week, as the Senator did. Last week I offered to invite the Minister to the House for the Sinn Féin Members. They refused that offer. I am offering it again now to the Sinn Féin Party and particularly to Senator Paul Daly, because he is right that it is a much broader and wider part-----
They are like peas in a pod.
Sometimes it is good to listen.
Everybody listen, please.
If Senator Paul Daly is agreeable, I am happy to have the Minister, Deputy Creed, come to the House next Wednesday, 24 May, to discuss the issues to which he referred rather than the wider, narrow focus that is in the Sinn Féin motion. It merely seeks to play politics with farmers. I commend Senator Daly on his work and the approach he has taken.
We will not have a debate now.
There are school students in the Public Gallery. What they would like to see is us working together for the betterment of our communities, which is why later I will accept the motion from the former Minister of State, Senator Ó Riordáin. In this case it is the farming community, rather than the narrow prism through which Sinn Féin comes to everything. Sinn Féin is for nothing and opposes everything.
No, we oppose Fine Gael.
That is so populist.
They could well have got what they wanted, but they choose not to.
We will not encourage further debate, Leader.
The love bombing from Sinn Féin gets to me sometimes. It is unbelievable.
They love bombing.
The Senator is right there. On GMIT, I join Senator O'Mahony in again asking about this issue. The Government is committed to a multi-campus provision in all institutes of technology. As Senator O'Mahony rightly said, there has been engagement with GMIT in a genuine attempt to make the institute economically sound and put it on a firm financial footing. An independent adviser has been appointed and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has established a working group with the aim of putting together a sustainable plan for the future development of the Castlebar campus. It is important that we allow that work to be done and brought to a conclusion. The HEA has already made it clear that it is committed to this and the Minister and the Government have a whole-of- government approach to that commitment. The working group's report should be submitted at some point during this quarter. I am happy for the group to be allowed to do its work. We must all ensure that there is a strong GMIT presence.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of Huntington's disease. He mentioned that Pope Francis is hosting a gathering of people with Huntingdon's, the first such meeting with a pontiff, which I think is on tomorrow. I commend the people from Ireland who are travelling. I know from my time as Chairman of the Oireachtas committee on health when we held hearings on issues relating to rare diseases, of which Huntingdon's was one, that approximately 750 of our fellow citizens have Huntingdon's disease. It is a rare disease and one for which we need to develop a strategy and an all-Ireland approach. I would be very happy to work with the Senator on that issue. I also join him in wishing former Taoiseach, John Bruton, a happy birthday on Thursday.
I am happy to take on board Senator Ó Riordáin's amendment to the Order of Business. He raised the issue of the inner city and the Mulvey report and I join him in commending the people of the inner city and that community. He is right that it must not be about gangland crime or the reaction to an event, such as a death or shooting, but about an investment in people and in the community. As someone who has spent a lot of time working with communities and developing them, it is important that, as a Government and as a country, we invest in people. I am confident the Mulvey plan, which is a three-year plan of action, will be driven not only by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, but also by all the stakeholders, including education, community, voluntary and sporting groups. The Senator is right that it is about people making communities, and the Government must deliver and implement that plan. There is a commitment to reopen Fitzgibbon Street Garda station and money has been ring-fenced but I share the Senator's view that there must be staging posts along to the way on the points he raised. I would be happy for the Minister or the Taoiseach to come to the House to discuss this issue.
Senator Colm Burke and Senator Murnane-O'Connor raised the issue of anti-social behaviour and the lack of implementation. I am open to correction but I think the Senator is incorrect and that there is legislation on this matter.
It is important that we allow for city and county councils to take action, if needed, in respect of people who are involved------
The legislation is not working because people are afraid.
It is about fear.
The Senator should raise that matter tomorrow.
I am not quite sure it is about fear. To be fair, I know from my own city council that different interventions take place. Those interventions do not necessarily involve evictions or throwing people out. There can be other points taken in that regard and it is a matter to which we can return. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss that matter.
Senator Craughwell again spoke about the Defence Forces in a very passionate way. As he knows, we will be having a debate on the matter in the House on Wednesday of next week, when the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, will be present. There are different points to be raised and we will debate the matters the Senator raised.
Some of the points the Senator made in regard to Galway City Council are erroneous. It was asked to provide the Minister of State with a fully-costed feasibility study for its suggestion, as he was keen to give it his fullest consideration. As far as I know, the council did not do that. It was estimated that the retention of the relevant vessel between its decommissioning and its sale would have cost the State approximately €370,000 because there would have been a need to assign a skeleton crew. If the Senator looks at the issues of the cost of tug hire and the usage of the vessel, the figure of €750,000 that has been mentioned today is speculative-----
I am not for a moment-----
-----particularly in the context that there has been no offer. The Senator should listen to the remarks made by Dominic Daly on local and national radio today. Mr. Daly is a very eminent Cork-based agent - the Senator mentioned Cork in his Commencement matter earlier- and an expert in that area. There is speculation around the whole cost of the vessel. Let us deal with the facts.
On the points Senator Craughwell made in respect of our Defence Forces, the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, has, to be fair, demonstrated his respect for and absolute pride in our Defence Forces. He is a very proactive Minister of State and he has not been afraid to stand up for and represent our Defence Forces.
Soldiers are living in poverty.
The issue the Senator has raised regarding members of the Defence Forces living in poverty is one of which the Minister of State and many of us are acutely aware. There has been a reduction in terms of the FEMPI legislation and there has been a suite of other measures. I am not sure that the concept of members of the Defence Forces or gardaí being able to go on strike is something I would personally support. As somebody who has been a member of a trade union and who recognises the importance of trade unions-----
They would not do so. No soldier would ever go on strike.
I know. That is a different issue but we will have the debate next week.
Senator Devine raised the issue of today's conference. I join her in commending the Chief Nursing Officer. The previous Government was the first to appoint a Chief Nursing Officer. The Senator also raised the issue of the campaign in respect of rents previously.
I wish Liam Doran well in his impending retirement from his role as general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. He has announced his intention to step down as general secretary at some point this year. In the context of Senator Devine's contribution, Mr. Doran has been a very strong voice for nurses. In my former role as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I found him to be a pleasure to deal with. He is a very straight talker and a very good advocate for nurses. We might not always have agreed on certain points along the way but I always found him to be a gentleman. I wish him and his family well.
Senator Higgins referred to the ECJ ruling on the Singapore free trade agreement. I would be happy to invite the relevant Minister to come before the House to discuss that issue.
Senator Noone raised the very important matter of air pollution and the fact that we can do so much to preserve life and ensure that people live longer. The figures she supplied in respect of ingestion of pollutants reducing life expectancy by nine months are frightening. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House with regard to the matter she raised.
On behalf of all Senators, I join Senator Norris in saying "Bravo" to the Wexford Festival Opera on the warm tribute it was paid by being deemed the best opera festival in the world. It is important to recognise that huge things grow from little acorns. In this case, a renowned opera festival has developed. I join Senator Norris in commending all involved.
Senator Murnane O'Connor referred to the revaluation of commercial rates.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the visit of Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, to Ireland in the past week. I join the Senator in welcoming the couple to Ireland. It was fantastic that the visit was such a success and that Prince Charles enjoyed the garden party at the British Ambassador's residence and the more formal events in Glasnevin Cemetery. As Senator Feighan says, the normalisation of his encounter with the leader of Sinn Féin, Deputy Gerry Adams, and other groups around the country makes it all the better. It is through high-profile events such as this that we can see that the relationship with the British royal family has been normalised. I commend Senator Feighan for his work on promoting relations between the North and the South and also between Ireland and the UK. He has been a prolific member of committees, as has the Cathaoirleach. However, to be fair to Senator Feighan, this event was one of his signature political involvements and I commend him for it.
I have already responded to Senator Lawless on the issue he raised regarding Good Friday.
Senator Warfield asked about the issue of Seanad reform. It is a work in progress. An implementation committee which has been set up is awaiting the appointment of a chairman. It is beyond my remit to appoint that chairman. Members have changed how the House does business. This is evident from the increased number of Senators seconding Private Members' Bills, the business group that discusses the business of the House and the broad-minded way in which I approach issues, although some Sinn Féin Members may not agree with that last point. Members may not ever be in unison on the issue of Seanad reform but I accept that we need to consider how it can be brought about.
Senator Byrne raised the important issue of people being encouraged to live outside Dublin. I join her in welcoming the living grant scheme in towns and villages outside Dublin and I hope it will receive take-up.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of social welfare and the work of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar. The Senator should join me in the welcoming the Minister's campaigns on many issues such as maternity, paternity or, in this case, social welfare fraud.
It is a farce.
It is important that we recognise that the purpose of this campaign is to ensure-----
It is disgraceful.
-----that there is reporting of social welfare fraud so that-----
It is a campaign of hate.
------money can be saved and invested by the State. That money can be invested in different Departments. Every €1 that we save can be given to a person who genuinely needs intervention or support. The Senator may huff and puff-----
It is absolutely no money.
Employers owe €375 million to the Social Insurance Fund.
The Department of Social Protection has an annual budget of €20 billion. The campaign is designed to ensure that people do not abuse the system and that the money saved is spent on people who need it. It suits the Senator to use the rhetoric he has today but it does not serve the purpose of the campaign.
The truth hurts.
I am happy to accept Senator Ó Ríordáin's proposal.
I know Senator Conway-Walsh intends to table a motion tomorrow regarding the review of the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme but I am happy to have statements next week and that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, come to the House as Senator Paul Daly has requested.
Senator Ó Ríordáin has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 16 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.