The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, the National Housing Co-operative Bill 2017 – Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and if not previously concluded to adjourn after 105 minutes; No. 2, Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 3, motion 35(24), Private Members' business, to be taken at 5 p.m. with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I raise an issue that I raised in this House before and that is the dangers of cycling on our roads. So far this year five cyclists have died on our roads, including the much loved principal of St. Louis Senior Primary School, Mr. Pádraic Carney. Last week he died on his way to work at the age of 53. Earlier this month the international consultancy firm, Copenhagenize, removed Dublin from its index on the world's 20 most friendly cities. Cycling is increasingly popular in this city. The explosion of community bike schemes, such as Dublin Bikes and BleeperBikes, have added to that. Cycling is healthy, inexpensive and environmentally friendly. We, in Fianna Fáil, believe that this type of sustainable transport needs to be supported properly, which ultimately means more investment. The UN recommends that 20% of a national transport budget should be allocated to cycling and walking yet this Government spends just 2% of its overall transport spending on them. We need to ensure that the capital's roads are safe for anyone who wishes to cycle and make cycling deaths a thing of the past.
I wish to refer to the social media app called Snapchat. The app allows people to send messages or pictures to each other that disappear after a certain period. Snapchat has added a new modification called Snap Map. I ask parents to be vigilant with their teenagers and children who use Snapchat and, more particularly, Snap Map. Essentially, Snap Map allows users to locate a person on a map in real time. Snap Map will broadcast one's exact location to anyone on one's list of friends each time one opens the app. In reality, we know that many users of Snapchat, especially children, will have people on their list of friends who they do not know or have never met in reality. I am concerned that this new technology may put children in a very vulnerable situation where they inadvertently broadcast their location. The function clearly has the potential to put children at risk. I encourage parents to urge their children to use the opt-out option for Snap Map so that their children's welfare is safeguarded and protected.
I would like to raise three issues today. The first issue relates to Stormont and the looming deadline for power sharing with the DUP, principally the DUP and Sinn Féin. Second, I wish to refer to the Irish seafood sector, particularly because Seafest 2017 will be launched tonight. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will host a special conference in the Radisson Hotel in Galway tomorrow morning. I shall attend the conference and I have no doubt that other Senators will also attend. Third, I want to briefly talk about the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017.
I shall kick off by discussing the Irish seafood export market. I ask the Leader to organise statements on the Irish seafood exports strategy. The Irish seafood industry is worth over a phenomenal €1 billion annually; I got the figure from the Department yesterday. Also, approximately 2,000 registered commercial sea fishing vessels traverse Irish waters and there are 161 seafood processing countries within Ireland. All of that proves it is a huge sector. The top five countries that Ireland exports fish to are Nigeria, France, the UK, Spain and Italy. There is a need for us to home in on the seafood export strategy so I ask the Leader to arrange a debate or statements on the subject.
As we all know, the deadline for crucial talks on Stormont is tomorrow. There are issues with the Irish Sign Language, equality issues in terms of same-sex marriages and other stumbling blocks. There is also the issue of having a bill of rights for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that all of the issues can be overcome. They are important issues for us in the South and, equally, they should important for us in the North of Ireland. I wish all parties every success with the talks. A successful outcome is in everyone's interest, in particular the island of Ireland's interests.
Finally, I wish to discuss the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017. My colleague, Senator Billy Lawless, has been very proactive in terms of the Bill and has asked me to raise the matter yet again. I know there was an oversight yesterday in the schedule. I ask the Leader to confirm what Stage the Bill has reached and when the amendments will be published.
I thank Senator Boyhan for his comments about how important the Stormont negotiations are at this crucial stage. Obviously we want agreement. As the late Martin McGuinness said from the beginning, we want an agreement based on equality, parity and fairness. That is what we are fighting for on an hourly basis with the hope the institutions can get back up and running again to do the job that they need to do for all of the people across the North.
Today, I want to raise the issue of waste charges, which is an issue that the Sinn Féin team raised in the first weeks of this term. Sinn Féin tabled a motion that would prevent a situation whereby households would be forced to switch over to a new charging system that would result in dramatic price increases. We also asked for the retention of bags and labels for anyone who disposed of very little waste. We did so because we viewed a one-size-fits all per kilo weight charge as impacting on lower income families more severely.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has mentioned in his departmental press release that there had been an increase in waste sent to landfill in the past two years. There was no mention of the need for industry to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. There also needs to be a reduction in waste produced at the wholesale level.
Those responsible for producing massive amounts of packaging need to pay their share. It is clear that domestic households cannot be entirely responsible for such a large increase in the volume of landfill waste. Sinn Féin's motion contains protections for those on low incomes. It has all happened in the context of the announcement that bands for charging, rather than a flat rate, will be introduced. There are many families with large numbers of children, including children in respect of whom additional waste is produced, who are worried about what this will mean for them. They have been left to rely on competition within the private sector to ensure they will not see an increase in their waste disposal charges. I urge the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, to re-examine this issue and provide the necessary assurances. Will the Leader ask him to come to the House to discuss this important issue and the measures that can be introduced to protect low income families?
First, I draw the attention of the House to a report which was recently laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas by the Joint Committee on Social Protection, of which other Senators and I are members. It is an important report which deals with the position and treatment of lone parents in Ireland. Will the Leader provide time for a debate on it and its concrete recommendations? Members will be aware of the information emerging on the Bessborough home. As acknowledged in the report, the State has a poor historical record in the treatment of lone parents and their children. It is important that this be recognised and that we ensure current policy is serving the best possible outcomes for lone parents and their children. As we know, we are currently not delivering, given the extraordinary high levels of child poverty among lone parent families. The report makes concrete recommendations which reference the provision of support, rather than conditionality, in terms of engagement in employment; an extension of eligibility for the jobseeker's transitional payment until a child reaches 18 years of age; access to education; case worker support; monitoring and setting real targets for education completion; a reduction in poverty among lone parent families and, importantly, proposals in respect of the payment of maintenance. The unfortunate reality in Ireland is that many lone parents live in fear that their payments will be reduced because of the non-receipt of maintenance payments. We need to move away from this towards an efficient and appropriate State system. As I said, there are concrete proposals made in this excellent report which has received cross-party support. I reiterate my request to the Leader to provide time for a debate on the report and the constructive proposals made therein on supporting lone parents and their children and how we might move forward in that regard.
On the sustainable development goals, a ministerial meeting on the issue is scheduled to take place towards the end of July. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to update us on the position Ireland will be taking and the messages it will be sending on its delivery of and in support of other countries' delivery of the sustainable development goals. The Leader might allow a brief debate in advance of the high level meeting.
I inquire about the status of the School Admissions Bill. On the anniversary of publication of its school admissions Bill to deal with the baptism barrier, the Labour Party is dependent on the Government to allow Government time to allow the Bill to proceed. It is not offering a perfect solution in dealing with the baptism barrier but it would prioritise geography over religion in school admissions. The Government's Bill is a classic case of bending the knee to powerful interests, including the Catholic Church and the fee-paying school body, in that it completely side-steps the baptism barrier issue and allows the continuation of the right of children of past pupils of fee-paying schools to attend the school attended by their parents.
In its Bill the Labour Party proposes that 10% of the school body be made up of such students but Fine Gael believes the figure should be set at 25%. Any rational thinking person would not allow such a provision to be included at all. It is unbelievable a school would demand that a particular number of children of past pupils be accommodated. How is a student whose parents did not attend second-level education to gain admission to a school? Such students should not have to compete for a place with a student who has an absolute entitlement through a royal blood line to attend a school. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the status of the Government's watered down School Admissions Bill and the Labour Party's Bill which was published this day last year and would deal in some way with the baptism barrier? While it would not do so to the satisfaction of many, it seeks to improve the position by prioritising geography over religion. This is an issue that affects a huge number of children in the State. When it comes to vested interests, Fine Gael always bends the knee. There is no reason the Labour Party's Bill cannot proceed to the next Stage. I implore the Leader, therefore, to encourage the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to enable us to discuss the matter further.
I welcome the announcement made by the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, on free access to cultural and heritage sites for all children under 12 years. This is a very positive move. Children are the future of the country and it is important from an educational point of view to instil a love of culture and heritage in them. I would like to see other organisations which offer the same type of service, be they private or public, similarly allow free access to young students to encourage a love of culture and heritage.
I raise the issue of farm safety in the context of the regrettable decision to slash the farm safety budget for 2017. The decision taken by the Health and Safety Authority to cut the budget by 25%, from €384,000 last year to €287,000 this year, is alarming and very hard to fathom when one considers that, so far this year, unfortunately, there have been 13 fatalities in the agriculture sector. Of the 45 fatalities last year, 16 were in the agriculture sector. Those of us who grew up on a farm know that it is a great place in which to grow up but a dangerous place in which to work. As I said, the decision by the Health and Safety Authority is regrettable. Will the Leader raise the issue with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine with a view to having it reversed?
I congratulate everyone involved in the John West Féile Peile na nÓg hosted by counties Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh over the weekend. As Members will be aware, it is a club football competition for all children under 14 years of age and more than 6,500 children and their families visited the three counties mentioned. I compliment and congratulate the GAA clubs in the three counties for the hospitality showed to their guests. I have spoken to a number of guests from different parts of the country and they were extremely happy with the event. The weather was good and they had a very enjoyable time.
I second the proposal made by Senator Rose Conway-Walsh on bin charges. It is regrettable that one year on from the last controversy there is total confusion about what the charges will be for consumers. The Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, needs to get his act together and come to the House to explain how much extra people will be charged. He has admitted that there will be additional charges, which is regrettable. As there is a great deal of confusion and anger about this issue, will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to update us on the matter in order that we can update our communities?
I want to raise two issues.
I would like a guarantee from the Leader of the House that the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017, perpetrated by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, will not be guillotined in this House. If I do not get this guarantee I will call a vote in the House on it today. It is a very serious Bill, which has caused extraordinary disarray between the Judiciary and politicians. It is absolutely outrageous. It might have been done on the precipice of a wing, in the sense that Fine Gael had nowhere else to go with it and had to commit to it. It is not coming from a centrality of purpose, at least I do not feel it is, but that is for my argument. I would like a guarantee from the Leader that it will not be guillotined. I do not care if it does not come here until September or October or whenever, but whenever it does it should not be guillotined.
Equally as serious, and anybody living on the other side of Longford should listen to this, the former chairman of the Western Development Commission, Mr. Paddy McGuinness, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs he was resigning because of frustration with Departments, the Government and the commission. He was not given his enhanced rule. There were turf wars. There has been no board in place since February 2014. He said what is happening is absolutely appalling. He said in spite of the good work done by the Western Development Commission the region is actually failing and falling further behind and things are not been delivered.
He said the final straw was the handling of an allocation of €2 million in 2015 to develop a pilot strategic regional development office. We all speak about the development of the west of Ireland. Here is a man who was the director of the commission and who has resigned. The moneys were appropriated as capital expenditure. The proposal did not need nor could use capital expenditure, but over 18 months of representation he failed to have the funds transferred to current expenditure. As a result, no progress has been made on an exciting initiative, and to date not a cent of the €2 million has been spent. The Minister, Deputy Ring, is without portfolio but is supposed to have a portfolio for rural Ireland. I ask that he come to the House and tell us exactly what is going on with the Western Development Commission. What will happen Mr. Paddy McGuinness? Who will listen to him? What happened when he was the director and what is going on? As far as I am concerned it is all window dressing and no reality.
I concur with Senator Gallagher's remarks on Féile. My secretary brought a young team to Féile and he was in Derrygonnelly in Fermanagh. He waxed lyrical about the great welcome they got. It is nice to hear such goodwill being spoken about.
On many occasions before Brexit I raised the issue of the European Medicines Agency located in Canary Wharf in London, and that if Brexit happened those 700 or 800 high-quality jobs would have to move away from the UK. I have called for this for the past year. The financial regulator and the European Medicines Agency must come to the island of Ireland. I also believe they must come further west, exactly what Senator O'Donnell has said, and I call for the 700 jobs to be located at the MBNA facility in Carrick-on-Shannon. This is where they should go. I ask the Minister to come to the House and give us an update on where those jobs will go. Are they coming to Ireland? Does he envisage they will go west of the Shannon where they are badly-needed in Carrick-on-Shannon?
It is something I do not often say, but I totally and utterly concur with what Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said about the Western Development Commission. I was at the committee meeting and she is absolutely correct. We certainly need a hearing on it.
Bímid anseo ó lá go lá agus muid ag labhairt as Gaeilge. Bíonn an fhoireann bhreá díograiseach i Rannóg an Aistriúcháin ag obair linn ag cur leagain Bhéarla ar fáil don dream nach dtuigeann Gaeilge ó dhúchas, ach tá fadhbanna sa rannóg sin, de réir cosúlachta, maidir le cúrsaí foirne agus mar sin de. Sílim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfaighimid ráiteas ón Aire atá ag plé le Comisiún Tithe an Oireachtais maidir le céard atá ag tarlú ansin. There is an issue with the translation department, it would appear. There are a number of unresolved HR issues. There are implications as regards the translation of the legislation we pass in the Houses. It is important that we get an update on the implications of the translations, or the mistakes allegedly made in translations, as to how that actually-----
This issue is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Service. It has nothing to do with the Leader or the Government.
But the actual translation of the Bills we are passing certainly does.
I accept that, but there is a system and it is not appropriate. It is a HR issue and the Leader is not in a position to respond, as I understand the rules, and the Government has no responsibility for it. It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Service. I do not know how the Senator can raise it.
It certainly has impacted on the work of the Houses and I raise it as an issue-----
I do not deny that, but the problem is the Leader cannot answer on it.
The point I am making-----
I am trying to protect him.
I take the Cathaoirleach's point and his guidance on it. The point I was making before he interjected was that there are implications as regards the translations of the legislation coming through. We are told mistakes have been made in the translations. These are legal documents based on debates-----
The Irish version takes precedence.
Yes, in certain cases and clarification is needed. I ask the Leader to give us clarification on what implications there are for the legislation that has been passed. How many mistakes have been made? What are the legal implications if people were to try to vindicate their rights to the courts?
Bhí go leor cainte ann maidir leis na cainteanna ó Thuaidh agus aontaím leis an tSeanadóir Boyhan. Ceann de na príomhrudaí atá á éileamh ag Sinn Féin sna cainteanna ó Thuaidh ná Acht na Gaeilge. Tá Acht na Gaeilge á lorg ag daoine eile - pobal na Gaeilge ó Thuaidh agus mar sin de. Cá seasann an Rialtas ar Acht na Gaeilge ó Thuaidh? Where does our Government stand on trying to have an Acht na Gaeilge as part of the ongoing negotiations in the North? Will the Government make a positive statement in this regard? I congratulate the new Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Deputy Joe McHugh, on his appointment. I would welcome a hearing with him, possibly before the summer break if possible ar cheisteanna na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta agus, go háirithe, ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla.
The Constituency Commission Report 2017 has been published.
It is only recommendations and legislation will be introduced by the Government.
I accept that, and from my vast experience-----
I do not want a debate on it today. I am making this clear.
From my experience here there will be no changes. That is what I have seen over the years. There is profound shock in north Roscommon and the Boyle area as 7,800 members of the population will be brought into the constituency of Sligo-Leitrim. The area has 18 electoral divisions that will go from Roscommon to Sligo-Leitrim, including urban and rural Boyle, Ballyfarnan, Keadue, Cootehall, Crossna, Rushfield and Rockingham. This will break up and divide our county. It is against the principle of the commission. It breaks all the rules. The commission has brought the constituency of Mayo back to one county. It states it received submissions. There will not be another review until 2021.
I represented Roscommon in 1981, which is 36 years ago, when County Roscommon was brought back into one constituency, along with an area of east Galway. Efforts have been made in the past by Governments to divide the county with regard to transferring Monksland to County Westmeath. This was thwarted by the will of the people of Roscommon.
I do not think we can change these recommendations, quite frankly. They have all been accepted. On behalf of the people of north Roscommon I am gravely disappointed. It is an area that will be disenfranchised from the rest of the county with regard to developments, progress and representation in Dáil Éireann. It is a blow, let us be quite frank about it. It is the area of County Roscommon that elected Count Plunkett in 1917. It has a proud tradition of electoral support and it created the first Sinn Féin independent Member of Parliament. The people feel very let down, aggrieved and disappointed at what has happened. One Member of the House has already stated he will run in another area, but that is another day's work.
Sin scéal eile.
I raise the issue of a survey carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health, which revealed that four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people's mental health. Instagram has been pinpointed as the most damaging to young people's mental well-being.
According to the survey of almost 1,500 people it is deepening young people's feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, insomnia, loneliness and fear of missing out. The survey concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five, only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact and the other four platforms were deemed to have a negative effect. According to participants they can exacerbate the body image worries of children and young people and worsen bullying.
As legislators we must ensure social media firms take more responsibility for their users. Measures such as pop-up images to warn young people when they have been using the Internet a lot should be introduced. With Instagram and similar platforms, young girls in particular who are comparing themselves to unrealistic and digitally manipulated images should see a pop-up alert indicating that these photographs have been "photoshopped", along with other measures. In the next few weeks we will perhaps be trying to get legislation finished, but I ask the Leader that in the new term he would prioritise discussion on the effect of social media on our younger people.
I call Senator Norris.
Thank you. I thank the Leader.
I am sorry if I surprised you.
I have gotten rather deaf, I am afraid, so I did not quite hear my name. I thank the Leader for providing me with Private Members' time, in which I will introduce the National Housing Co-operative Bill 2017. It deals with the biggest problem to face this country, and people have not yet woken up to it. There will be an enormous number of people dispossessed from their homes by vulture funds unless the Oireachtas acts. I ask my colleagues, even if they have not considered speaking, to come and speak briefly to show support for this Bill. In the interests of the Irish people it is time we put a stop to evictions.
I support the comments of my colleague, Senator Boyhan, on the power-sharing and coalition talks in the North of Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, has concluded an agreement with the British Government and the party is now hanging fire over the Irish language Bill. An increasing number of people in Northern Ireland are enthusiastic about the Irish language. It is good and it does not do the slightest harm. I do not know what the DUP's problem is with it. Apparently it wants to introduce parallel measures for what I can only describe as Orange slang, as it is not really a language at all. If that keeps the party happy, why not do it? Why would Sinn Féin not accept it if the Presbyterians wish to gabble at each other with these funny words? Away with them, as it does not do anybody the slightest bit of harm. There is no excuse whatever on the part of either Sinn Féin or the Democratic Unionist Party not to get an administration up and running in Northern Ireland.
The outstanding issues for finding a resolution in the North include an Irish language Act. We should remember there is a Welsh language Act and a Scottish language Act in place. Along with the bill of rights, these are issues outstanding from the Good Friday Agreement that we all speak of but which has not been implemented fully. There is also the matter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights. I have watched with great interest the response of the British media and commentariat, who have all of a sudden discovered the policies of the DUP in recent times. It is those very policies that we wish to deal with and ensure we can have a genuine rights-based society in the North of Ireland. I hope we can achieve that.
I rise to speak about the report of the expert panel on concrete blocks. I am sure the Leader is familiar with this report and the topic was covered again on RTE's "Prime Time" in recent days. According to the report, up to 5,000 private homes - I believe it could be more - in Donegal could be affected. It is devastating. The home is the biggest purchase by a family or individual and it is repaid over decades but these homes are falling apart. There are hundreds of homes in Mayo affected, as well as the homes and council houses in Donegal. It is a profound crisis. As the Leader knows, there is a very good precedent in the pyrite redress scheme.
I ask for a debate as this is a very important issue. It is correct that there were many debates in the Dáil on the pyrite problem and that culminated in the redress scheme. I ask the Leader to set aside time in this Chamber for a debate on this report. We need a redress scheme for families. There was a profound failure in building control and in the self-regulation of the building sector. The State failed our citizens profoundly and we cannot walk away and let the houses crumble in front of these people. It is a devastating matter. Not a week goes by in which I do not speak to a family in my home county about what is happening. I can also tell Members about similar problems in Mayo. Will the Leader confirm today he will set aside time for a debate on this very important report? Will he bring the Minister before us and impress upon him the urgent need for a redress scheme?
I support Senator Norris and his Bill. I am not necessarily supporting the Bill completely but it is an issue with which we must deal. There are over 32,000 families with difficulties repaying mortgages. Their financial position has not changed a great amount in the past few years and we now need to deal with the issue. We have a new problem in that with the flotation of shares in AIB, the bank is going to come under much pressure over the next 12 to 18 months to offload mortgages so as to look after its new shareholders. We have an obligation to householders and I specifically mean people's family homes; this is not where it is a second or third house. We must have a serious debate on the matter and I welcome the Bill. Unfortunately, I will be tied up at the health committee as we have representatives of the Health Service Executive before us once every three months. I also want to hold them to account today as there are a number of issues where I am not happy with the replies I have received. I may not take part in the debate on the Senator's Bill but I thank Senator Norris for bringing it forward.
There will be an hour and three quarters of debate on the National Housing Co-operative Bill proposed by Senator Norris. There will be time enough this evening, which is the point made by the Senator.
I raise the matter of farm safety which, coincidentally, my colleague, Senator Gallagher, raised already. This is indicative of the severity of the matter as we did not communicate before we raised it. Unfortunately, in Clare yesterday evening there was another farm fatality and I take this opportunity to extend our sympathies to the bereaved. This farm accident brought to 14 the number of deaths on Irish farms this year. Recent Health and Safety Authority statistics state the risk of fatality working in a farm place is ten times that of any other occupation. I am aware that under the chairmanship of the Cathaoirleach and with Senator Conway as rapporteur, there was a report completed by a previous Seanad. I do not know where that report is sitting and it is high time for us to address the matter again. We had a cross-party Seanad committee on Brexit and we have cross-party arrangements or meetings on various matters. If there were 14 fatalities in six months - unfortunately, it is an annual pattern - in any other area, we would all be up in arms. For example, how would we act if the deaths were a result of terrorism? There would be committee meetings, legislation and action taken.
Farm Safety Week will be upon us shortly, the Minister will come in and we will all get the opportunity to make statements. We will pay lip service and when Farm Safety Week ends, we will all appear to move on. At the same time, there will be 14 fatalities in a six-month period. We need to address this very important issue and I would like the House to lead on it. It may follow up the previous report. Reports are fine but they seem to end up on shelves. We need an action plan to see what can be done.
Senator Gallagher mentioned the farm safety budget and it is disgraceful that it has been cut. I do not condone the cut but it is not always about money. The existing budget was not working so perhaps money is being spent in the wrong areas. Perhaps it is not being spent efficiently and there may be cheaper ways of tackling the problem through awareness campaigns and education. It is a very important matter. As I stated, if 14 Irish people were killed by means other than farm accidents, we would hear much more about it.
I want to raise the issue of Grenfell Tower again. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said this morning that there is no situation in Ireland that is directly comparable to Grenfell. What does "directly comparable" mean? This morning the chief fire officer of Dublin Fire Brigade said that the local authorities are best placed to carry out building control inspections but that there are no resources within the local authorities to do so. The reports of inspections by all local authorities of multi-storey units are due by 19 July, with recommendations. The national directorate for fire and emergency management is charged with the co-ordination of this process. The directorate was also responsible for the audit of fire safety compliance in Traveller accommodation in the wake of the 2015 Carrickmines fire in which ten people and one unborn child died.
Never again should this country allow light-touch building regulations or safety self-certification as we did in the time of the boom, much to our disgrace. We prioritised profits over the safety of families in their homes. We will not give in to lobbyists.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to the House to provide an update on fire safety audits, to discuss the requirement to fix buildings that are non-compliant, vulnerable and which pose a fire risk, to outline what resources will be needed for same and where they will come from.
The leaving certificate and junior certificate examinations have just finished and I wish candidates all the best with their results. I am concerned about a recent statement issued by the State Examinations Commission to the effect that there is a serious shortage of examination markers or examiners, particularly in mathematics, Irish and language subjects in general.
In a different life, I was a leaving certificate examiner and most of the people I worked with would have been experienced teachers of the subjects they were examining, as well as being experienced in actual examining, for which they were well trained. I note that the advertisement for examiners now states that retired and newly qualified teachers are eagerly sought by the commission. While I have the absolute height of respect for retired teachers and young teachers who are just out of college, it is worrying that leaving certificate students would not be exposed, in the marking of their papers, to high-quality, experienced examiners.
The shortage is directly attributable to the very low rates of remuneration for examiners and the huge workload involved. It is a very serious task. It involves a number of days at a training conference and around three weeks' work during the summer months. It is very tough work and it is very poorly paid.
Our students deserve the best and should be given every chance to succeed and to receive proper marking. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of Education and Skills to make a statement on how this situation has arisen and why it was not forecast. It seems to have come out of the blue. The leaving certificate was just finished when this shortage was flagged. I am sure that many students and teachers around the country are quite worried about it.
I wish to speak about the boundary changes. Many of us had been worried about the boundaries but I welcome-----
We have already-----
I just want to welcome-----
Hold on for one second, please. I have already admonished Senator Leyden about this because it is not appropriate. This is just a recommendation. Legislation has to be introduced by the Government, which may not happen before the next general election.
I can see that Senator Murnane O'Connor has a smile on her face because of the boundary change but-----
Yes, the recommendation is there and I just want to welcome east Carlow home.
I will allow the Senator to do that.
Thank you. The second issue I want to highlight is-----
I do not want to spoil the Senator's joy but I had to make that point.
-----the new pay-by-weight system for waste that will be introduced from 1 July about which I am very disappointed. Over a year ago we spoke about this system but we urged the Department to conduct an awareness and information campaign. We said that it would be important to produce leaflets and to let people know how important it is to reduce the amount of waste produced. We all understand that landfill sites are filling up. We also spoke about the possibility of the introduction of a waiver scheme for elderly people, for large families, for families with young babies in nappies and so forth but none of this was mentioned by the Minister.
This is going to cause trouble. A lot of people out there are very angry. I know this from dealing with people in my own constituency. I note that a notice of motion was unanimously passed by South Dublin County Council against the pay-by-weight system and this is only the start. The lack of information is appalling. This was not even mentioned in the past year and now, all of a sudden, we are being told that on 1 July, the new system will become operational. It is not good enough and a lot of people are very angry about it. We need to take this issue seriously.
I thank the 19 Senators who contributed on the Order of Business. Senator Ardagh began with the issue of cycling on our streets and, in particular, in our capital city. I join her in extending our condolences to the families of the people who have been killed and injured on our roads. I know that the Government has prepared a Bill dealing with minimum passing distances which will come before the House soon. The Government is committed to investing in cycling as a sustainable alternative to motorised transport. The Senator is correct that there is a need to spend more on cycling infrastructure to ensure that we have proper networks, similar to those in many other European capitals. I would be happy to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter further.
I share the concerns of Senators Ardagh and Noone about social media and Snapchat in particular. It is an issue about which we must have a conversation. Social media can have very harmful effects in terms of putting pressure on young people. I am happy to have a debate on the issue in this House.
I must apologise to Senator Boyhan, who I inadvertently omitted yesterday in the context of a response on the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017, sponsored by Senator Lawless. The situation regarding this important legislation is that the Department is working on the Bill. My office has been in contact with the Department to ensure that the Bill comes back to this House before the summer recess. I cannot give the Senator a definitive date as to when it will come back but it is being worked on as we speak. I am anxious to honour the commitment I gave to Senator Lawless regarding the Bill. It is important that we bring this Bill to a conclusion and that we have it either passed or rejected by the House.
In fairness to Senator Lawless and to former Senator Imelda Henry, who did a lot of work on the Bill too, this is very important legislation. It deals not just with the sale of alcohol on Good Friday but is also linked to the wider sale of alcohol Bill. It is important that we would have that debate concluded before the summer recess. I assure Senator Boyhan that we are working on it. We are not trying to thwart the passage of the Bill but are putting pressure on the Department to bring it to a conclusion.
Senator Boyhan also made reference to the issue of the Irish seafood sector and the very important festival that is taking place. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is very committed to that sector. I would be happy to arrange a debate on seafood exports, the seafood sector and the wider maritime area with the Minister as soon as possible.
Senators Boyhan, Conway-Walsh, Ó Clochartaigh, Mac Lochlainn and Norris all raised the issue of the talks in the North today and the importance of Acht na Gaeilge. Those of us who are republicans in this House recognise the importance of an Irish language Act. While I cannot speak for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, it is important that we would have an Irish language Act in the North of our country. It should be possible for citizens of Northern Ireland to be educated through Irish, to be able to speak Irish and to be supported in their use of the Irish language, while also respecting other traditions and cultures.
It is important that we do promote the Irish language. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, is in Belfast today. I spoke to him last night. The deadline is looming. I appeal to all sides and, in particular, to the DUP as the largest Unionist party to engage in a meaningful way and to reach out so that we can have devolved Government and a decision-making process in the North. The Minister is committed to resolution of this matter. Members will be aware that the Taoiseach spoke to Prime Minister May yesterday. It is in all of our interests to have power-sharing. The Irish Government will not be found wanting and I know from my engagement with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that he is committed and wants to see the matter resolved satisfactorily and in a manner that will be of benefit to the people of the North. It is important this matter is resolved regardless of how long that takes. All sides must come together to ensure that we have power-sharing rather than direct rule.
Senators Conway-Walsh, Murnane O'Connor, Gallagher and Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of waste charges. I took the liberty of pre-empting that this issue would be raised on the Order of Business. I can confirm that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, will come to the House next Wednesday following the Order of Business to discuss this matter. It is important we have a full debate on the matter and that we understand the complexities of the issue.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised the issue of the Joint Committee on Social Protection report. As a House, we should look at how we can debate committee reports. Having previously been a chairman of a committee I know that committees are an industrious, productive and constructive part of our work as Members of the Oireachtas. Sometimes reports are published, they get one or two headlines in a newspaper, or none, and they disappear into the ether and are forgotten about. I would like if we could set aside time in our schedule to debate Oireachtas committee reports. A former Ceann Comhairle, Seán Barrett, was very supportive of Oireachtas committee reports being debated in both Houses. I would be happy to facilitate Senator Higgins's request. I am equally happy to ask a Minister come to the House to discuss the sustainable development goals. Senator Higgins is correct that it is important that we live up to our expectations and that we do not only sign documents and aspire to get to that point buy go beyond it.
Senator Ó Ríordáin asked about the status of the Schools Admission Bill. I do not propose to engage in a row with the Senator on the matter. The Bill will be before the Dáil next week. I am informed that the Minister will propose a number of Committee Stage amendments following which the Bill will come back to the Seanad. Also, I congratulate Senator Ó Ríordáin on his selection as a Dáil candidate for the next general election.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, of children under 12 being allowed free access to cultural and heritage sites. Last week, I had the pleasure of having two visitors in Ireland from the United States. We visited a number of OPW sites. The OPW heritage card, which costs approximately €40, covers adult admission to many wonderful sites. Everyone should have one. The visit to the Rock of Cashel was tremendous. The work being done by the OPW in terms of upgrading and preserving key parts of the site in Cashel deserves to be commended. I commend all in the OPW for the work they are doing.
Senators Gallagher and Paul Daly raised the important issue of farm safety. Senator Daly made the very good point that while the budget has been cut the current allocation in respect of farm safety is significant. As stated by the Senators, farming is the highest risk category in terms of accidents and deaths. Any death is regrettable and any accident is hugely problematic. We sympathise with the people who have died and their families. We must ensure we are getting value for money. If the case is made for an increase in the budget it will be considered. It is important that the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, has the power to carry out inspections. I have experience in this area, having had a family member involved in an accident on farm. This year, the HSA will carry out inspections around animal handling, machinery and work carried out at height. The farming organisations and farmers need to work together to ensure the risks are reduced. The Senators are right that a lot of work remains to be done. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter.
The Seanad Public Consultation Committee, and Senator Conway as its rapporteur, produced a report on farm safety that needs to be built on. As I said earlier, it is important that we learn from reports and recommendations. While I do not wish to be critical of anyone officials can put all sorts of barriers in the way of initiatives. There is a need for leadership in regard to some of the issues that have been raised by Senators Daly and Gallagher today. I will be happy to schedule a debate in the House on those issues.
Senators Gallagher and Feighan congratulated the volunteers of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael on their handling and hosting of Féile na Gael in Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh. As a former Cork county youth officer I know that Féile na Gael is the weekend all young boys and girls aspire to participate in. I thank the host families and the men and women of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael for their tremendous work last week. It was clear from some of the photographs I saw over the weekend and on Monday morning that there was huge celebrations across the country in many clubs. I thank everybody who was involved.
Senator Marie-Louse O'Donnell referred to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. As the Senator will be aware, the schedule in terms of debate on the Bill by the Seanad is not available yet as the Bill has only commenced proceedings in the Lower House. This matter was also raised yesterday on the Order of Business, when I said that I do not envisage the guillotine being imposed but I cannot confirm that it will not be imposed. I said yesterday in response to Senator McDowell that the Seanad has a constitutional obligation to scrutinise legislation, to amend it if necessary or to allow it remain as drafted. I do not propose to rush passage of the Bill through this House. The matter will be discussed by the Leaders and Groups meeting, as has always been the case in regard to legislation since I became Leader. I also said yesterday that we cannot allow a situation whereby one, two or three people grandstand and filibuster such that the Bill will end up in the ether. Equally, I will not fast-track the Bill through this House. As I said, that discussion will be had at the Leaders and Groups meetings. As members who attend that meeting will know, I am reasonably flexible and I work with people. It is a two-way street: I give and there is take. I will come back to the Senator when I know the Government's intent of amendments, if any. I cannot give a commitment today on the matter but I am prepared to work with the House to ensure we have a real, meaningful debate on Second, Committee and Report Stages.
In regard to the Western Development Commission and the resignation of the chairperson, I will be happy to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, come to the House for a debate on that issue. Senator Feighan raised the issue of the European Medicines Agency. Former Minister of State, Deputy Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy, along with the Minister, Deputy Harris, were very involved in trying to bring the agency to Ireland. This matter was raised previously by Senator Colm Burke, who want it relocated to Cork, Senator Richmond who wanted it relocated to Dublin and Senator Feighan who wanted it relocated to the west. What is important is that it is located in Ireland.
In regard to the issue raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh, as stated by the Cathaoirleach, I do not have any jurisdiction over translation services although the Senator is correct that any issue that impairs the work of the House must be resolved. However, that is a matter above my pay grade. The Senator also raised the issue of an Acht na Gaeilge, which I have already addressed.
Senators Terry Leyden and Jennifer Murnane O'Connor referred to the constituency boundary commission's recommendations which the Cathaoirleach said would be debated in the House. I congratulate and thank the members of the commission which held ten meetings. There are different views on the outcome of the report. I certainly have mine which have been well documented as I made a submission to the commission. It is disappointing that there is to be no change in Cork but c'est la vie. It is, however, a missed opportunity and it is a matter to which I will come back when the report is debated by the House, if we are still here. We may not be part of the next general election at all. Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor may have to go into a part of County Wicklow, but that is another day's work. Senator Terry Leyden said people would be disenfranchised, which will continue to the case in the city of Cork, which is disappointing. Bishopstown has been divided in two. The Senator was correct to highlight the fact that communities have different voices, but there is no unity, which is disappointing.
Senator Catherine Noone referred to the Royal Irish Society public health debate and raised a very interesting point. Social media have become an integral part of the lives of young people, whether it be Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook or whatever the new fad is. This is putting pressure on them. I will be happy to have a debate on social media.
Senators David Norris and Colm Burke referred to the Private Members' Bill to be debated today. It is important that it not be allowed to vanish. I implore all Members to speak to it as it is an important Bill. None of us wants anyone to lose his or her home and be discommoded or evicted. To be fair to the Senators, they have raised very important and interesting points about how we should work together to ensure people will not have to face the ignominy of losing their homes or being evicted. It is important that people work together and that the institutions of the State and the banks work with them. I am very anxious, therefore, to ensure the Bill will not vanish today and implore all Members to support Senator David Norris.
Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn referred to the Irish language Act, an issue I have addressed, as well as the very important report of the expert panel on concrete blocks. I have asked the Minister responsible to come to the House to discuss the issue which was raised by Senator Michelle Mulherin two weeks ago. The request has been submitted. The Senator is correct. It is an issue which has vexed residents in counties Donegal and Mayo, in particular. The Senator's constituency colleague, the Chief Whip, Deputy Joe McHugh, has already spoken to me about the matter in the context of redress. The Senator was correct to raise the matter today. We dealt with the issue of pyrite and we can do the same again in this instance. It is a matter of finding a way around things.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the Bill before the House and the need to hold people to account, such as in the case of the HSE. I agree with him.
Senator Máire Devine made reference to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I gave a comprehensive reply yesterday when the matter was raised on the Order of Business by a colleague, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh. None of us can be complacent on the issue of safety, whether it be in high rise units or multi-unit accommodation. Other than Priory Hall, we do not seem to have a litany of buildings being condemned, but if I am wrong, I will come back and retract my remarks. I would hate people to think we have had no controls or standards in buildings in the past decade. The Minister was speaking on a radio programme about buildings in Ireland not having the same density as those in London. We must ensure we speak with one voice when we say there can be no dilution of standards or shortcuts. We learned from the fire which occurred on St. Valentine's Day in Dublin in 1981. We must now learn from the fire that occurred in London. I agree with the Senator in that regard. The report to be issued on 19 July must be acted on. I do not buy the line that resources are not available to carry out inspections. They are happening. We must ensure the reports from each local authority and the Residential Tenancies Board are acted on, if deficiencies are identified. We cannot err on the side of finance. We must prioritise the lives and safety of all those affected.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to examinations and correctors in the context of the State Examinations Commission. The issue was not highlighted after the junior and leaving certificate examinations; rather, it happened during the recruitment process. Like the Senator, I was an invigilator and corrector and wish all of our colleagues well as they get their sample papers together to hand to superintendents. The Senator is correct. There is a need for integrity in marking and the highest of standards must prevail in the correction of examination papers because the lives of so many students depend on the outcome. I share the Senator's view in that regard. If the State Examinations Commission and the Department of Education and Skills need to carry out a review of remuneration, correctors and the process involved, we should examine that possibility.
I cannot give my good friend Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell a definitive answer, but I will be happy to work with all Members of the House to ensure there will not be a quick passage of the Bill and alacrity in dealing with. That has not been my form. As the Senator knows, we have only had to use the guillotine on one occasion for a particular reason. I am quite happy to allow a debate, provided we do not have grandstanding or filibustering.