Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 19 Oct 2017

Vol. 253 No. 14

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Broadcasting Act 2009 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2017, back from committee, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.25. p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given four minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 2, Legal Metrology (Measuring Instruments) Bill 2017, Second Stage, to be taken at 1.25 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.

I rise today to discuss the tracker mortgage scandal which has been one of the most shameful examples of wanton greed and arrogance ever displayed since the foundation of the State. Approximately 13,000 defenceless citizens of Ireland who were mostly in a bad bind already had their positions exacerbated by the very entities for which this State surrendered its sovereignty in order to support and prop up. None of us expect charity from banks but to inflict misery and pain needlessly on the coping classes is not acceptable, either in 1917 or 2017. This was not the work of middle ranking bank managers or clerks but a systemic attempt by senior managers to rob and evict their own customers. I am calling on the Leader and his smiling Taoiseach to come out from the bankers' shadows and lead on this issue. We need some leadership.

Senator Davitt must not be reading the newspapers.

I am reading them all right. I have seen the Taoiseach jumping down off ladders, looking into holes but -----

Please do not allow the debate to disintegrate.

Urgent measures are needed to ease the pain and suffering and to rectify the financial problems caused for all victims. I am calling on all banks to put an auditor and senior management team in place to liaise with and recompense all affected customers forthwith. I am also calling for the resignation of any board members who knew that these underhanded practices were in use. Those board members would not last in Ryanair or any other Irish listed company.

The Taoiseach must do us a favour, get down off the ESB man's ladder and tackle this problem. He must turn his pearly white teeth on the banks and their self-assured board members.

They are very personal and intemperate remarks.

I am telling the truth. This is a serious matter that has been going on and on. It has been going on, under Fine Gael, for the last seven years. I am telling the truth.


I was referring to the Senator's very personal remarks.

I do not think the Senator said anything particularly derogatory. Senator Craughwell is next.

I am very interested to hear about Taoisigh being up ladders. The last time I recall one being up a ladder was when Charles Haughey was shaking hands with a window cleaner in Galway-----

The Senator should look to the gentleman sitting beside him.

-----who happened to be on the dole at the time. Let us leave that aside-----

Senator McDowell is a good man.


In terms of the tracker mortgage issue raised by Senator Davitt, one of the questions we must ask ourselves is why someone is not taken out of a bank in handcuffs. Why is nobody in jail? What the banks did is outright fraud and they knew what they were doing. They set out to take money from citizens of this State, knowing what they were doing was wrong. Having being caught out, they have not been man or woman enough to actually repay what they have taken.

The Central Bank does not have sufficient powers to take these people on. More importantly, I believe we should be urging the acting Garda Commissioner to go in there and see exactly what happened. We need to know how it happened, when it happened, who took the decisions and who sanctioned them. We must get to the bottom of this.

We had a period in this country from the late 1990s until 2007 when bank managers were incentivised to throw out loans like confetti. At the end of the day, did anybody really pay a price for that? Did anybody really hurt as a result of that? The only people who hurt in this country of whom I am aware are ordinary, everyday citizens.

I listened to people on the radio this morning and to witnesses who appeared before the Oireachtas committee last week. One man spoke about having a stroke and his wife having a nervous breakdown. People were talking about having to take on second jobs. This morning I heard a woman on the radio who spoke about paying €1,600 per month when she should only have been paying €800 and that was after they tried to fix it.

I do not believe this is an issue for the Government alone; it is an all-parties-and-none issue. We in this House have a responsibility to those who put us here and the same applies to the Dáil. I do not believe anybody in this House wants to make political capital from this. We all want to come together and we all want to see this matter fixed quickly because it is unfair.

There is one further point I would like to make about our famous banks. I know of a couple who wanted to buy an apartment. They had paid €87,000 over seven years in rent and had a deposit of €30,000 that was given to them by their parents. The bank said "No" to them because they did not have any savings record.

They paid €87,000 in rent. They had shown a capacity to repay far more their mortgage. It is time the banks of this country started to behave like citizens and treated the people of this country right.

Tá ceist agam maidir le cursaí diaspora. I have been calling for a debate on diaspora issues for quite a while. I raised an issue last week relating to the budget, which states in respect of budgetary line for the diaspora that it purports to serve our people at home and abroad and to promote reconciliation and co-operation. A total of €4 million in current and capital expenditure has been taken out of that budget. I have asked for clarification on this and I have not received it. I seek clarification from the Leader on this or will he ask the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to come to the House for a debate in order that we can find out what is happening? My understanding is that this strand of the budget provides for the emigrant support programme and other programmes run by Irish organisations abroad.

Statements have often been made in the House about the undocumented Irish in the US and how the US Government should act, etc. We have had a great deal of debate about Brexit and what the British Government needs to do and about Scottish independence and what the parliament there should do. I find it extraordinary that there is such resistance to us having a debate on the issues in Catalonia. Serious situations are unfolding. This morning, the Spanish Prime Minister indicated that his government will meet on Saturday to put the wording together in respect of article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would rescind the powers of the Catalan Government. There will be many knock-on effects. For us as a Parliament to say that is not an issue for us means we are putting our heads in the sand and to think this will not have a knock-on effect on every member state is absolutely preposterous. However, on the broader issues of human rights and civil rights, including the right to free speech, the right to assembly and so on, we need to have a voice and we should certainly have a debate. If we only considered this from an EU perspective, Catalonia has a massive, thriving economy. There are concerns and I understand Spain's credit rating has been downgraded because of this ongoing controversy. To think that will not have a knock-on effect on European economies, including the Irish economy, is to deny that there is an issue whatsoever. I do not know who is dictating to the Government. We should not be dictated to by other governments, no matter where they are from, as to what we can discuss in this House. No group in this House should allow that to happen but there is certainly a strong sense that the parties in this Chamber do not want to discuss the issue of Catalonia and Spain and the call for international mediation.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we take No. 41, motion 16, on the Order Paper today and that we ask one of the relevant Ministers to come to the House to discuss the Sinn Féin motion tabled regarding the constitutional status of Catalonia.

The proposed amendment is: "That No. 41, motion 16 be taken before No. 1".

Here we go again. Met Éireann has just issued a status yellow weather warning for the coming weekend and, in addition, a status yellow rainfall warning. The Government sought reductions in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2020 in Luxembourg earlier this week. It is slinking away again from our commitments to our European and global partners. We know from Met Éireann and Professor John Sweeney that the intensity of hurricanes, storms and bad weather patterns will increase as time passes as a result of greenhouse gas-induced global warming. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment - or so-called climate action because we are not seeing a lot of it - to come to the House to explain the impact climate change and global warming will have on the economy and businesses and on society and communities in respect of flooding, droughts and so on? The Taoiseach said this is the number one issue we have to deal with in this country and we are not facing up to it. The Minister and the Department go to Europe and they slink around and use double speak while cutting poor deals for this country. The people are experiencing storms and the impact they are having and we need to face up to the reality before us. I would like the Minister to be called to the House once again to discuss climate change, global warming and its impact on Ireland.

This time last week, the Chamber passed the sectoral employment order for the construction industry without debate. The order emanated from a Labour Court process, which was undertaken over the past few months and involved the Construction Industry Federation and construction trades unions coming together to engage on a proposed sectoral employment order that would introduce basic minimum terms and conditions and a 10% pay increase for 50,000 construction workers. That is supported by construction trades unions and the major construction employers' body. Earlier this week, the order was passed by the Dáil , as is required under legislation, without debate. I implore the Leader to make contact with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to implore her to sign that order urgently. There is nothing preventing her from doing that straightaway.

Under the legislation I introduced in 2015 to provide for sectoral employment orders, the orders have to go through a process. This order has gone through that process and it has scaled all the legislative hurdles in the way. It is, therefore, up to the Minister to sign it and to ensure the pay increase for 50,000 construction workers is introduced without further delay. This is something the key employers' body in the construction industry wants as well. I ask the Leader to urgently contact the Minister on behalf of the House to sign that order and give it statutory effect without further delay.

It would be remiss of me not to offer my condolences to the family of the late Eamonn Campbell. He was, at least in the public mind, a legendary Dubliner but, in fact, he was a proud son of Drogheda and a very good friend of my family. He had a close connection with my late grandfather who was also a musician of some renown. I want to put on record my condolences to the Campbell family, in particular, Jacko, Frankie, Emma Jane, Niamh, Ciara and, indeed, Eamonn's wife, on their sad loss. Eamonn was a great character a tremendous musician and somebody who many Members met over the years. He has a remarkable legacy in Irish music.

The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution has voted not to recommend the retention of the amendment in full. I am puzzled as to why this was decided in advance of hearing all the witnesses it was intended to hear before the end of the year. How much of the constitutional protection does the committee propose to remove and how much does it propose to retain? How much extinguishment of life is it envisaged will be permitted?

The question of how many unborn children will lose their current constitutional protection is an important one, with probably none more important. In early course, perhaps the Leader will permit a debate on the matter. I appreciate that he may not be able to or want to answer me.

Do not presume. The Leader will deal with it in his own way.

I have to give him latitude.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 10 be taken before No. 1.

I concur with my colleagues' comments on the banks and the manner in which they have treated their customers. It is difficult to comprehend that they would do such a thing. The ordinary person on the street is legitimately asking who is in charge of the banks. It is time that the Minister attended the House to answer that question so that citizens can be assured that it is the Government that is running the country and not the banks. The manner in which banks have turned their backs on rural Ireland and closed services is deplorable. Nevertheless, this criticism, which is rightly directed at the banks, is in no way directed at the men and women who stand in our branches the length and breadth of this country. It is time that the Minister attended the House to address us on this subject and the future of banking.

We have discussed a matter in great detail this week, namely, Storm Ophelia and its consequences. Not that long ago, the House discussed the plight of people in Inishowen. Last year, we discussed the plight of people living along the Shannon and elsewhere in the west following the type of adverse weather conditions that we are experiencing now. The farming community is one of those worst affected by such events. This year has been a particularly wet one, with farmers unable to get their second cuts of silage done. For those who have been able to get a second cut, the quality of the silage leaves much to be desired. Many cattle are being housed much earlier this year than is normal. Given that there was the potential for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to seek funding in the rural development plan to compensate those farmers who found themselves in financial difficulty, it is difficult to know why he did not take that opportunity. The plan, which runs from 2014 to 2020, can still have funding invested in it to provide compensation for farmers. Believe me, a serious situation is coming down the road, with farmers short of fodder to feed their cattle and the quality of that fodder leaving much to be desired.

I second Senator Ó Clochartaigh's amendment regarding Catalonia, and I will tell the House why. I spent a week on a private visit to Barcelona that included the day of the referendum. I witnessed what happened first hand. I am not interested in getting too involved in the internal affairs of Spain or other jurisdictions, but I will share with the House that I witnessed intimidation and severe violence against innocent citizens of the European Union. It is incumbent on the EU and all of its other member states to at least articulate their concern about the violence of that day. Every day, I made a point of engaging at some level with various activists in the referendum. Whether it was official or unofficial is an internal matter, but business people, many students from all of the five universities in Barcelona and thousands of ordinary people - men, women and children - with a particular view were there. They were behaving in a democratic way. They congregated at the city parliament. They wished to articulate a view in a peaceful way. It is not necessarily my view, but they wanted more autonomy within and control over their region. They wanted to send less tax to Madrid and retain it in their local economy. They wanted their unique culture to be respected and recognised. They wanted to play a real role in the self-determination of their people and their economy. These are fair and just causes.

It is a sad indictment of the EU and its member states-----

-----that they stood by and allowed such violence and anti-democratic behaviour to be carried out in the name of a cohesive, good and upstanding union. For that reason, it is important that we support the call for statements in the House next week. We have time in our schedule next Thursday. It would be a good time to have a debate.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh wants the debate today.

I am happy to go along with that.

In response to the first speaker, he is busy in the Chamber, but if he threw his eye over to the other Chamber occasionally, he would have heard the Taoiseach's comments about tracker mortgages, the Government's exasperation with same and the time for action. In that context, last week I mentioned Sparkasse in Germany. It has been in business for 200 years and is a community not-for-profit bank that is anxious to help set up a bank in Ireland, one that it would not own but would be run by Irish people. It would be interested in talking to credit unions regarding their role. In Germany, it offers mortgages and loans at 1.1%, although that rate would probably be 1.5% in this country. The Department of Finance has had a report for the past two years. It is time that it be released and action taken on this matter so as to afford businesses the opportunity to borrow from a third party.

One of my reasons for speaking today is to highlight a scam that many people have experienced. It involves phone calls from Africa. I have already received some from Morocco, Chad, Comoros and elsewhere.

People are phoned, the call cuts off before they can answer and, when they ring the dialler back, they are put straight through at an exorbitant rate to an answering machine speaking in an Arabic tongue somewhere else. People everywhere are being caught. The operator, 3, has blocked the number, so I wonder what the other operators will do to protect customers from this scam. The best protection is knowledge. If anyone who rings from an unrecognised number is interested in talking, he or she will leave a voicemail. Otherwise, do not return the call.

I also received one of those phone calls. I thought it was going to be a great surprise. I did not ring back. I just wondered where it came from. They must be making a fortune. They were pushing out calls all day yesterday.

I wish to discuss the Irish League of Credit Unions, ILCU. There are 235 million credit union members worldwide, with 3.6 million in Ireland. Our credit unions have €16.2 billion in assets divided between €13.6 billion in savings and the remainder in loans. I met the ILCU at this morning's launch of international credit union day, but I have also met it in recent weeks. There is fear among local communities about mergers and the idea of super credit unions being formed and not matching their remit of helping those without great incomes or in financial difficulty. We have been chatting about this matter.

Credit unions cannot do anything with the €13.6 billion that is resting in their accounts. Since 2014, they have been willing to fund the building of much-needed social and affordable housing. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House to provide us with a necessary update on the Central Bank's intentions, EUROSTAT and when the negotiations are expected to be concluded and recommendations expected to be issued? We need clarity on the Government's intentions and commitment towards the funding of social housing by credit unions.

I send my condolences to the family of Eamonn Campbell, who was a fantastic man and musician. He was a charismatic and wonderful personality.

He will be sadly missed in the music industry in Ireland and also by me.

I wish to raise a point about the schedule of the House. Yesterday we received the agenda for next week and, for the second time in a month, Thursday has been left blank. Not a single debate or motion is listed. We are supposed to sit on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it is not good enough just to cancel one of the days.

The Senator is wrong on that.

We are here to do a job - to introduce and scrutinise legislation - so why has another day been left blank? Many Senators have Private Members' Bills waiting to go, just waiting on a slot. We have very limited chances to introduce legislation and, again, when time is tight, it is not good enough that days on schedules are left blank. I know I am harping on about this, and forgive me for doing so, but from my perspective, the reality is that we do not know when the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will come back before the House. I thought it was coming back this week, I thought it was coming back last week and now I do not know when it is coming back. It has been over a year since it was last debated. During that time more than 1,000 people have died from alcohol-related issues. I again apologise for harping on about this but I go to funerals weekly and it is really upsetting that we cannot get this legislation back in here and sort it out once and for all. We need to ask the Minister for Health to update the House on the progress of this Bill.

This is my first opportunity this week to address the House. I was stuck in Cork in the aftermath of a very unfortunate storm. It really was an amazing incident for those involved. In my part of the world the schools are still closed and the villages and towns still have no water. Approximately 15,000 people have no water and approximately 135,000 people have no power. We are not expecting power in my part of the world until the weekend at the earliest. Dairy farmers, businesses and communities do not have power, water or communications. Mobile telephone coverage does not exist at present. It was an amazing incident, in particular in the southern part of Ireland. No offence to Dublin or this part of the world but I do not think people here realised exactly how ferocious a storm it was. It was a frightening event for those of us involved. Great credit must go to the people who went out to ensure that things worked afterwards. I was speaking to the ESB crews that went out that evening. They were involved in really treacherous stuff. I compliment the people in the local authority, those in the ESB and the general communities that have worked together. The real message is that it is not over. We have another few days to go. There will be no power in places such as Minane Bridge until, according to what we have heard, the weekend at the earliest. Other areas are affected and from Skibbereen to Wexford were absolutely hammered by the ferocious gales, and it was unbelievable to see a gale coming in the daytime. We will have to ask an awful lot of questions afterwards, in particular about the lack of off-grid generators and generating stock. We must consider this not only from an industry perspective, specifically in respect of agriculture, but also from a community perspective. We must look at generators and the lack of generation. In many ways we have moved with the times but we now need to move in respect of the plant to ensure we have the ability to generate.

I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Gallagher. I also endorse the comments of Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Boyhan regarding Catalonia. While I am not in a position to support the motion on the Order Paper in this regard, I urge the Leader through his good offices to try to come up with a consensus on the present difficulties in that part of Spain. This is not to suggest we wish to interfere in the internal affairs of another country. However, if we are to go by that logic, perhaps we should not be attempting to rectify the occupation of our own country. The Six Counties are recognised internationally as part of the United Kingdom but I do not recognise that, even though I respect it under international law.

I also endorse the comments of my colleague, Senator Coghlan, regarding the joint committee to consider the eighth amendment and to make proposals in that regard. I am disappointed that it did not wait until all the evidence was heard before proceeding with its vote, in particular on foot of last weekend's Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, at which a motion to retain the eighth amendment was overwhelmingly endorsed by the membership of my party. I am disappointed that this endorsement was not reflected in the vote taken yesterday. With those few words, I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.

I wish to raise the issue of our policy on trying to assist the airports outside of Dublin and trying to increase traffic flow in and out of those airports, whether it be Shannon, Cork or Knock. A problem has arisen that has been brought to my attention by a number of people. I refer to the prices Aer Lingus is charging people flying out of Cork. For instance, if I were to book flights for two people to Munich in February, it would cost me €1,000 more to travel from Cork Airport and back than it would cost flying from Dublin. This is not a booking next week; it is a booking next February. I then found when I looked to book a flight last week from Cork to London on Wednesday, coming back on Friday, that it would cost me €700 return - over €300 to fly out, over €400 to fly back. It is outrageous that an airport such as Cork, where Aer Lingus now has increased the prices, is charging such amounts. As a result, people are now deciding to travel to Dublin to get flights out of Dublin rather than travel out of Cork. It is not helping the flow of traffic through Cork. We need to have the Minister in here to see what can be done about unfair pricing levels regarding the airports outside of Dublin. Dublin already has huge numbers of flights, so there is no need for this type of policy. We need to take this up with the Minister and the Minister then needs to take it up with the carriers, particularly Aer Lingus.

Regarding some of the remarks passed earlier, I too, like many others, was deeply upset by the violence we saw in Catalonia on our television screens. However, I will raise one point by way of observation: it is strange that in this House and this country, there should be such active support for the right of a north-eastern portion of any country, which is more prosperous than the rest of that country, to secede. I will just make the point that there is a particular irony in that, especially when the Sinn Féin Party gets active about the right of people from a north-eastern corner to secede from their country-----

It is the right to self-determination.

We should have the debate then.

The point I wish to make concerns the local property tax. I note in today's newspaper that a small one-bedroom worker's cottage in Colliers Avenue in Ranelagh sold for over €300,000. That is €1,000 per square foot. I looked at comparable prices - what one would get for that kind of money - in the midlands of this country on one of these property sites and noticed one house with six bedrooms, loose boxes, a one-acre paddock and tarmacadamed driveways for the same price in the midlands. I will not mention where it is because I do not want to wreck the prospects of whoever is selling it. That a tiny cottage - and it is tiny - could attract the same liability in taxes to support local government services as a very extensive house with outhouses, paddocks, loose boxes and six bedrooms in the midlands underlines the unfairness of the local property tax to people who live in Dublin.

The Government is talking about reviewing the local property tax and such a review is more than overdue at this point. Due to no fault or action of their own, it is getting more and more expensive for people in some areas to live in very modest homes. Those individuals are entitled to some justice. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, come before the House to explain why he thinks the local property tax is working out fairly. I think it is deeply unjust.

I welcome the fact that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, recently met transgender and non-binary young people. She said that she felt so inspired listening to these young people who are so articulate, self-aware, insightful and brave. She said that even though they have been hurt by their experiences, they are optimistic and witty about and even compassionate for those in our society who do not yet appreciate what it means to be trans or non-binary.

This House passed legislation, proposed by Sinn Féin, recognising the rights of transgender young people. The Gender Recognition Act provides for a review - which should have begun in September - to be completed within a year. Has the Minister begun putting the review group together? Have its terms of reference been released? Has the Minister met members of the trans community yet? Two years on from the Act, trans young people continue to live unrecognised by their State, while those under the ages of 16 and 17 face a process that is invasive, problematic and gruelling. We can do better. This House set the example for that review group.

This is all becoming increasingly important with President Trump picking off certain sections of society. It began with a suggestion that President Barack Obama was not an American citizen and continues with President Trump's bar on transgender people serving in the military. It is most important now that Ireland goes in the other direction and that our response is to be truly inclusive. I would like the Minister to address this House and tell us where the review stands and whether trans people will play an important part in it.

I wish to raise awareness of a report compiled by Professor Emer Smyth of the ESRI in respect of the transition of students from primary to second level. It found that students who like maths in third and fourth class settle in to secondary school better than students who do not have a love of maths instilled in them. Two thirds of 13 year-old girls and 57% of boys surveyed were found to be happy. The report also showed that it all boiled down to relationships with their teachers, friends and parents. The Department of Education and Skills is now looking at the mindfulness and well-being programme. The findings of this research have to be taken on board in terms of keeping students happy and calm, as well as enhancing their friendships and teaching them how to make new friends and be kind to one another.

I have been reading news reports in the past few hours about the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, reneging on the commitment he inherited from the Tánaiste when she held his position in respect of funding a successor to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland study. This made me angry but also extremely sad. We have only begun to scratch the surface in respect of understanding the experience of those who have been victims of sexual violence. We need to know the reality of these experiences in order that we can properly respond and invest in front-line structures. It is appalling and disgusting that the Minister would take a step backwards with regard to such an important study. In the context of our national budget, it is a drop in the ocean. It would have cost €1 million to fund, which is only one fifth of the budget provided for the strategic communications unit. We really start to see where people's priorities are when they pull money for such important studies in the area of sexual violence. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister to address the Seanad in order that he might justify this decision and state whether he will consider honouring the commitment made by his predecessor by making the relevant funding available in the forthcoming finance Bill.

We all received CSO figures this week. Campaigners are calling for flexible careers for Irish women to prevent a decline into poverty after the CSO statistics revealed that 98% of carers and those carrying out household duties are female. More than six out of ten, or 61% of nearly 200,000 carers are female while 30% of those women carers provide 29 hours or more of unpaid work weekly, which limits their potential to earn and progress into careers. That is absolutely true. This is 2017 and there should be equal opportunities for men and women. We should also have equal wages for men and women, an issue that has been addressed lately and on which people have been campaigning. It is not good enough. We need to highlight this and us women need to stick together. I can guarantee that we work every bit as hard as men if not even harder. These figures need to be addressed.

I give my support to the 13,000 people who have been taken off their tracker mortgages. I will be calling on the Taoiseach to come in to the Seanad to address this. We need accountability. One's home is one's castle and that is the reality. It is unacceptable that there are 13,000 people in this position.

I thank the 18 Senators who contributed. I join Senators who paid tribute to the late Eamonn Campbell on his sad passing. We will all remember him for his part in The Dubliners. Senators Nash and Black paid eloquent tribute to him; he was a very fine human being. On behalf of all Senators and of the Fine Gael group, I extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

I agree with Senators Davitt, Craughwell, Murnane O'Connor, Gallagher and Reilly on tracker mortgages. The behaviour of the banks is nothing short of scandalous. The banks have a responsibility treat their customers in a due and proper manner by refunding them and giving them recompense. We all have friends, family members or people in our own communities who have lost everything in terms of physical health and well-being and financial loss. What the banks did to our country is absolutely appalling. As I said yesterday, the Government has lost patience with the banks. I would say to Senator Davitt that the Taoiseach has made matters very clear. I am not sure whether the Senator read the Taoiseach's remarks.

This tracker mortgage scandal has been going on for ten years. Fine Gael has been in power for the majority of that period.

Allow the Leader to conclude.

I did not intend to be political in respect of this matter but if Senator Davitt wants to have a debate about his party's stewardship of the banks, I would be happy to facilitate that any day.

This did not happen on our watch.

I remind Senator Davitt of one thing: regardless of whether he likes it, the banking system collapsed when his party's regime was in power.

It was due to the same guys who are still there.

The fundamental point is that we are all united in our condemnation of the banks and their failure to look after people and treat them fairly.

That is why the Government is bringing the banks in next week and it is the reason the Taoiseach made his very forceful comments. I understand that the Central Bank is independent, but if it needs more power, let us provide it. I am happy to support any action on behalf of citizens who have been treated appallingly by the banks. As a country, we bailed them out and they have an obligation and a duty to work with people, whether businesspeople or farmers who are going about their daily work, to maintain businesses and create jobs, or the private householder who has been absolutely decimated by the banks in some cases. I would be very happy to have a debate on that in the House and to support any measure to address the issue.

I am disappointed that Senator Davitt considered the Taoiseach going out to thank ESB and local authority workers a PR stunt when it was in fact a fine gesture by him to express appreciation and gratitude to the men and women who have been out since last Monday to clear up our streets and communities. It was a very good gesture for the Head of Government to go out and thank them in person. I am sure the Senator agrees.

I would have no problem if he had not got on top of a ladder for a photo opportunity. He did not have to put on the gear and go to the top of a ladder for a photo opportunity.

I ask Senator Davitt to respect the Chair.

I am being honest.

Senator Davitt, please.

He cannot win. If he had not gone out, Senator Davitt would be in here giving out about him.

When the Leader is responding, there should be no argy-bargy. He has listened to 19 Members this morning without a murmur. He is entitled to respond, so please allow him to do so. Some people may not like it but they should let him off.

The Cathaoirleach is a very patient man. On a serious note, I thank on behalf of the House everyone who was so proactive in the recovery from the storm. I thank local authorities, the ESB, Met Éireann, our first responders, the Army and everyone else who has been involved, including volunteers. Senator Lombard understated the damage done to his property and we lost three people, which we should never forget. We could have lost more of our fellow citizens and should be mindful of the families in mourning today. Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to the code yellow alert, which I will come back to. It is important that people remain vigilant.

While I agree with Senator Craughwell that it is extraordinary that no one has been put in prison, we have a judicial system with which we cannot interfere. It is something we need to look at.

I do not have the answer for Senator Ó Clochartaigh on the budgetary matter. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to come to the House. He has, unfortunately, been away for the past couple of weeks, but it is on the agenda to have him attend. I would love to be able to facilitate the Senator's debate on Catalonia today, but the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, is not available. It is somewhat premature to have a debate on Catalonia at this stage given that it is an evolving situation.

If I may, Brexit affects us specifically as a country and as an island.

This could also affect us.

A decision has been taken on Brexit but no decision has been taken in Catalonia as of yet, at least not by the Spanish Government.

There absolutely has been.

My point is that rather than divide the House, we should accept that the Minister is unavailable. I understand the Senator's motivation in seeking the debate. If he wants to have it without the Minister, he can do that this afternoon, but it will not serve what I think is his purpose. If the Senator withdraws his proposal to amend the Order of Business, we will endeavour to facilitate a debate next week or, if that is not possible, the week after we come back from the mid-term break. I have checked for the Senator and it is genuinely the case that the Minister is unavailable.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to climate change. We have already had a debate in the House on that and have four further debates coming on the national transition standards and with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment itself. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, will be in the House. The Minister has gained in the budget an increase in funding for energy efficiency and the move away from diesel and petrol to electric cars. He is taking renewable energy very seriously as part of our plan to meet emissions reduction targets and he is very committed to meeting our commitments, not to renege on them. I would be happy to have him come to the House to discuss the matter Senator O'Sullivan raised. She referred to the status yellow warning for the weekend. It is another issue that is not going to go away. We are going to have more severe weather alerts and events as a consequence of global warming. Senator Warfield referred to President Trump and there are other Members of the Oireachtas who think global warming is not here when it is. It is not going away. As a nation, we have a duty to work to ensure our environment is protected and that we mitigate the effects of global warming to improve our outcomes. I would be happy to have that debate.

I will come back to Senator Nash with the signature of the Tánaiste on the order. He will have that. The issue the Senator raised is important as it is about construction workers. However, I do not have the answer for him now.

Senators Coghlan and Wilson raised the issue of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which met yesterday. The committee's work is continuing to the end of the Dáil and Seanad terms on 20 December or thereabouts. Yesterday, the committee decided to have a vote, but some members of the committee were not of that view. However, we decided as a committee to vote in a modular manner. It is a very complex and sensitive matter and there are differing viewpoints. I challenge and urge all Members to read the papers presented to the committee. It is fine to have a predetermined outlook, but the whole purpose of the committee is to have an informed debate on a very complex matter which has bedevilled our society. There are differing viewpoints which we must respect. What the committee took a decision on yesterday was to vote not to retain Article 40.3.3o. The committee is continuing to examine the matter but no decision has been made by it on the question to be put to the people. What was decided was that there would be a referendum in which the people will decide. That is all that has been decided. Ultimately, the people will vote "Yes" or "No" in whatever way they want.

But not to retain it in full.

It is the people's decision. The Government has decided that there will be a referendum and the people will vote on it. Senator Coghlan will have an opportunity, as will everyone else, to vote as he chooses. That is the principle of democracy which we fought to have. It is the right to delete or retain. That is the prerogative. The debate will happen at a later time in a referendum campaign in which I am sure the Senator will play a full and frank part.

I am happy to accept Senator Gallagher's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has been before the House to deal with the fodder crisis issue in the past. I am happy to have the debate as the point the Senator raises is a valid one.

Senator James Reilly referred to Sparkassen banks and also to the fraudulent phone calls issue. The advice is not to return the calls and I welcome the fact that 3 has blocked the number. It is important to provide a mechanism whereby vulnerable citizens are prevented from having to return those calls.

Senator Devine referred to credit unions on international credit union day. I do not have the information on the specific issue she raised to hand but I will be happy to have the Minister revert to her.

Senator Black referred to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. I know she had to leave but it is a pity she did not talk to her colleagues. We hope to have the Bill back in the House after the mid-term break. The sittings of the House are a matter for the House and it ill behoves Members to come in and be critical of what we do. There are enough people doing that. We do not have to sit three days, two days or one day. It is for us to determine our schedule. We do not mirror the Dáil. If one looks at the timetable or agenda for the Dáil, one will see that there are built-in set pieces around Question Time, Leaders' Questions and the Order of Business which we do not have. If one strips that away, what happens in the Dáil is no different from what happens here.

As Leader, I have met with the group leaders every week to agree business. We have made provision for additional Private Members' business. We have tried to be inclusive. If Members have other ideas, that is fine. There is no point enacting legislation that is flawed and going nowhere. That would not serve the House well. The alcohol Bill is important. It is not being blocked or held up by me or the Government. We must ensure that the Bill as drafted can be passed and enacted to benefit people. I agree with Senator Black on the need for a collective response to the issue of alcohol and the misuse of alcohol.

I have already responded to the points raised by Senators Lombard and Wilson.

Senator Burke raised the important point of costs in relation to flying out of Dublin. I agree it is an issue on which we need to have a debate.

In regard to the point raised by Senator McDowell, I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the local property tax. I note that the matter was the subject of a newsletter issued to people the Senator purports to represent. However, the point raised by the Senator is an important one and I would be happy to ask the Minister to come to the House for that debate.

On the point raised by Senator Warfield, I do not have information on the status of the review. This Government, like the previous Government, is committed to the rights of transgender people. I am happy to discuss with the Senator how we can have that matter progressed. It is to be welcomed that we have a Minister who is so supportive. Equally, the work being done by Senator Warfield is commendable.

Senator Byrne raised the issue of the ESRI report produced by Emer Smyth. It is an important report which points to the importance of mindfulness and well-being in our schools and the relationships and synergies that can be built up.

In regard to the point raised by Senator Ruane, I was not aware that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, had made those remarks. The Government is committed to legislating for and funding initiatives to tackle sexual abuse and violence. Legislation in this area has been already passed in this House and there is further legislation coming down the tracks. While I can follow up on the matter, the Senator might get a quicker response if she tables it for discussion as a Commencement matter. I am happy to discuss the matter further with the Senator.

On the point raised by Senator Murnane O'Connor, we are all agreed on the need for equality of opportunity for men and women although the Senator raised the issue of women in particular in terms of pay and so on. I would be happy to work with her to advance that issue.

I would appreciate it if Senator Ó Clochartaigh could defer his motion because the Minister is not available today.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 41, motion 16, be taken before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?

I note the Leader's comments but I am concerned that if we do not have this debate soon, the urgency will be missed. I am concerned also that there is a mid-term break coming up. I would expect to see this matter on the schedule for next week, as otherwise it will not be taken for a very long time. I am willing to withdraw the amendment today but if I do not see the matter on the agenda for next week, I will be pushing for it on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

I am not trying to be awkward. The Minister is not available today and he may not be in the country next week. I am not sure of his schedule - he may be travelling - but I will endeavour to have the matter scheduled for debate next week. If not, I will put it on the agenda for discussion when the House resumes.

The Senator can liaise with the Leader.

In that case, it will be about a month before we get to it.

The Senator has the prerogative-----

I cannot schedule a debate if the Minister is not available.

I will push it next week.

We can have the debate today without the Minister, if the Senator wishes.

No, I want the Minister to be attend.

I thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for his understanding. He may table the matter for discussion again next week.

We have a very tight schedule next week but I will expect to see it on the schedule.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Gallagher has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 10 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.