The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the Irish language, to be taken at 1.10 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes in which to reply; No. 2, statements on driving test waiting times, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed four minutes each and the Minister to be given not less than two minutes in which to reply; No. 3, statements on the situation in Catalonia, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, which time can be shared, and the Minister to be given not less than four minutes in which to reply; No. 4, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on Social Protection on the position of lone parents in Ireland, to be taken at 4 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; and No. 5, Private Members' business, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
Before I call Senator Catherine Ardagh, I said yesterday that I would make a decision on comments made in the Chamber about the eighth amendment. I have come to the conclusion that while the all-party committee which is chaired by the Deputy Leader is sitting to deal with the issue and doing its business, following which a report will be presented to both Houses before the end of the year, I will not encourage and will disallow any debate on the matter. It is also inappropriate for members of the committee to direct comments at each other in the Chamber and for others to defend such comments. The committee should be allowed to do its work. I have made that decision and hope it will be respected.
Some people made complaints against a certain Senator. There is a mechanism for the making of complaints against Members of this or the other House. It can be triggered if anybody feels he or she needs to so do. It is not the job of the Cathaoirleach to referee on this issue and I do not intend to do so. I expect the House to come on board and accept my decision.
I would like to raise two issues, the first of which is health care, while the second is leniency in sentencing.
According to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA, the State and the Government are condemning acutely ill patients to unacceptable delays which will result in avoidable deaths in acute hospitals because of a chronic lack of capacity. Speaking at its annual conference in Limerick, Dr. Tom Ryan, president of the IHCA, said the evidence that we needed more acute hospital capacity was compelling. Despite a growing and ageing population, more than 1,400 inpatient acute hospital beds were closed in the past decade. The number of elective surgeries has declined by 50% in the past four years. There has also been a persistent policy from the Government of rationing health care by the State as it has systematically decreased the number of inpatient beds in public hospitals. Successive Governments have failed to address this issue in successive budgets and health capital plans. This is the root cause of waiting lists and the treatment of patients on trolleys. I have previously referred to the delays about which we hear anecdotally, as well as to patients not receiving chemotherapy on time and the rationing of imaging scans in cancer treatment. The Government promised 1,500 more nurses, but the reality is that only 13 of those positions will be filled. There is a serious issue across the public sector in the recruitment and retention of State workers, specifically nurses and members of the Defence Forces. We need to examine it seriously. The State needs to consider how it will recruit and retain staff.
My second issue is leniency in sentencing. It is stated on page 101 of the programme for Government that more serious legislation will be introduced to deal with those who abuse and groom children. This issue is urgent and should be at the top of the agenda. I respect the Judiciary and the discretion judges have. They are given certain guidelines, but it is incumbent on the Government to act on the commitment given in the programme for Government and introduce more stringent legislation.
Another small item I would like to mention is flu jabs. It is the time of year when we should all receive the flu vaccine which is made available to us in the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is incumbent on us to lead by example and have the flu jab because the benefits outweigh the negatives. Herd immunity to protect ourselves and others is vitally important. I, therefore, urge everyone in the House to have the flu jab.
I would like to raise three issues. Teagasc's statement of strategy for the period 2017 to 2020 formed part of a briefing for Oireachtas Members today. The briefing was very informative. It is worth acknowledging the enormous support available, based on science, innovation and research in agriculture, forestry, horticulture and the food sector. What was particularly important about the briefing was how Teagasc shared what was happening in its food innovation hub.
I wish to acknowledge, as Teagasc did this morning, the enormous support given by the Government to fund the food hub. That is positive news and news that we should share.
The next issue I wish to raise is not particularly good news for anyone who listened to "Morning Ireland" this morning. Yesterday, the official bed count showed that 524 people were either on trolleys and, where no trolleys were available, the people were in wheelchairs. The issue was discussed in great detail this morning on "Morning Ireland". I ask the Deputy Leader to raise the matter with the Minister for Health. Senator Ardagh mentioned the flu jab. The reality is we have no flu currently. We have no flu epidemic or major illness. Our climate is pretty good for this time of the year so we have not seen a major demand placed on hospitals. Last night, however, 524 people across this country were on trolleys or, as confirmed on the news, in chairs awaiting beds. The situation is clearly unacceptable and is expected to worsen. I am afraid that we will have to talk about this issue time and again.
Finally, I want to raise the issue of fast-track planning. Last year, the Government referred to fast-track planning legislation in the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. We were assured, as part of this legislation, that people would have the capacity to lodge objections or observations on strategic planning applications with An Bord Pleanála. I spoke to officials in An Bord Pleanála this morning and it was confirmed that the board was not in a position to receive applications online for critical infrastructure applications or even for appeals anywhere in the country because, as I was told, no legislation has been put in place to give effect to the promise in the legislation. I ask the Deputy Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. The option is a very important element. The Minister gave a commitment to this House that critical technology would be put in place that would allow members of the public, and public representatives alike, to engage with An Bord Pleanála. Yet today the board has confirmed that it is not in a position, and cannot and will not accept submissions online. That is not good enough. The matter needs to be addressed.
I wish to raise two issues. First, I wish to refer to yesterday's sentence in the Tom Humphries case. It has been pointed out today that this is not a unique issue just because of its high-profile nature. There is a real issue with the sentencing that is being handed down, particularly to people who have been found guilty of sex offences.
Two years ago I introduced to this House the Sentencing Council Bill which sought to bring into practice in Ireland what has been the practice in England and Wales. I refer to a system where a clear range of sentences is provided to the Judiciary. In those jurisdictions the majority of the councils are comprised of the judiciary but they are also representative of a range of stakeholders in English and Welsh society. However, there is accountability when it comes to sentencing. The judge in question must publish and explain the sentence that he or she has handed down. Most importantly, there is consultation with the public on what is an acceptable sentence for a particular category of crime. Clearly, a wide range of people believe that yesterday's sentence was not in keeping with the wishes of Irish society. I want to again put my Bill forward. It has been reintroduced by my colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Jonathan O'Brien. I would like to see the Bill and the council advanced.
I do not mind the Senator raising this matter. I am concerned about reference being made to a particular case because there is still a possibility that an appeal will be lodged by either the DPP or by the person in question. I clearly understand where the Senator is coming from in terms of a discussion and introducing legislation. That is permissible. I would prefer if Members did not specifically refer to the case yesterday or whatever because the matter is out of our jurisdiction. There may be an appeal, which could throw up a different result, lodged either by the DPP or the defendant. The Senator can continue now but I urge him to be careful.
I respect the separation of powers but I am mindful that the CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre was on the RTÉ "Prime Time" television programme last night, a very respected lady, to comment on this issue.
Of course, yes.
If she is able to do so then Oireachtas Members should have the same right.
The Cathaoirleach will know that every week I have raised the issues of remaining community amenities, sporting amenities and farming sectors that have not been properly supported following the serious floods that occurred in the Inishowen Peninsula two months ago. The Cockhill Celtic Football Club, which is a very senior football and community organisation in my part of the world, was devastated by the floods. Two of its pitches were destroyed along with all kinds of amenities and the damage to the tune of hundreds of thousands of euro was done. Even though the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Chief Whip were on the pitch within a few days, two months later the club has no idea if it will get any money or financial assistance from the Government. It is completely unacceptable that a senior sporting organisation, that fields eight different teams and facilitates 300 young people in my community, has been devastated by the floods and left with no financial support from the Government and has received no clarification after two months.
Swan Park in Buncrana is a vital amenity that was at the heart of my community. It has been destroyed. Again, there has been no clarification issued by the Government about whether funding will be provided. The same applies to Glenevin Waterfall. Potato and crop growers have had their lives destroyed and suffered financial losses amounting to hundreds of thousands of euro. Again, the Government has not clarified what will happen. We had a debate here last week but I heard no specific clarification regarding County Donegal even though I thought we were going to get one. There was supposed to be an announcement made yesterday but, again, there has been no clarification of these issues.
I wish to make it clear that I will continue to raise this issue until the communities that have been devastated in my area get the support that they need, be it the community or sporting amenities. Such a situation would not be allowed to happen anywhere else in this State. Now that the cameras have gone the people have been left behind. There is no way a major sporting or community amenity that has been destroyed in one town should be left without a clarification, two months on, on where funding will come from.
The Leader made promises the last time I raised this issue two weeks ago. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange for a specific Minister to respond to me and tell me what will happen in terms of Cockhill Celtic Football Club, Swan Park and Glenevin Waterfall. Please can I have a specific response to these issues?
Other Senators in the House today have highlighted the issue of sexual abuse and how it is dealt with in Ireland. It is essential that the message goes to the Government, and the Deputy Leader conveys it, that the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, II report, that has been awaited for over a decade, be delivered. Research is long needed into the extent of sexual abuse and violence in Ireland and a report must be delivered. Recently the Taoiseach has commented that the €1 million for research, which is a paltry sum, has been redirected to legal aid for victims. That measure adds insult to injury. It should not be necessary to choose between legal aid and research to challenge the issue across the country. It is not too much to ask that €2 million is provided. By that I mean the Government should give over €1 million for legal aid and €1 million for essential research on sexual violence, particularly as such research is long overdue and promised for over a decade.
I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to expedite the return of the Domestic Violence Bill to this House. The legislation is very much near completion. It contains, as very clearly requested by this House, the specific crime of coercive control. We have seen the horror of grooming in respect of young people. Coercive control is a serious issue that affects many people in society and needs to be tackled. I want us to have an opportunity to tackle it in this House before Christmas.
The main issue I want to highlight is the trial of 11 human rights defenders that began in Turkey today. Ten of them were arrested following a human rights workshop organised by a group called the Human Rights Joint Platform, IHOP. The group brought together exactly what we need in society, the human rights advocates from an Islamic and feminist backgrounds and people who worked for LGBT rights equality. The group facilitated dialogue between all of those interested in rights issues across Turkish society. It reflected the diversity of that interest in Turkish society. The 11 people have been arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. I request that the Irish Government ensures that the Irish embassy observes and pays due attention to the trial. I know that the embassy has a capacity to do so.
I understand other European embassies have sent witnesses to observe the proceedings, and we should do the same.
I accompanied a delegation of human rights advocates from Turkey to Leinster House last week. While they were here, they learned that another of their colleagues had been arrested. I sit on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe where I have seen colleagues discussing the arrest of fellow party members and parliamentarians. Judges, too, are being arrested. In fact, the Council of Europe awarded its highest honour, the Václav Havel award, to a judge who was arrested. The case of Idil Eser, director of Amnesty International in Turkey, has been much highlighted. He is one of the 11 on trial today, along with others from the Turkish Women's Coalition, the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly and the Turkish Human Rights Association. I note that the EU has withheld €80 million in funding from Turkey in view of concerns regarding human rights issues. How, then, can it justify the immigration control agreements signed with Turkey, let alone the similar agreements with Libya, Sudan and others? Civil society is under threat on a global scale, as we saw with the attack in Malta, the arrest of civil society leaders in Catalonia and the clampdown on protest in Poland and Hungary. I urge my fellow parliamentarians to take this issue very seriously.
On two occasions during the Commencement debate I have raised the lack of provision of affordable housing and affordable rental accommodation. Last July, I highlighted the delay in the construction of social housing and the absence of affordable schemes. I understand Dublin City Council is trying to get around the problem and ensure social housing construction proceeds on some of its sites. At the Poolbeg West strategic development zone, commonly known in the locality as the Irish Glass Bottle, IGB, site, the construction of 3,500 units was announced. The planning scheme for the development has gone to An Bord Pleanála, but we still have no affordable housing or affordable rental accommodation at the site. There is an enormous interest in affordable housing among people in my community in Ringsend and Sandymount. Some of these people are living in local authority accommodation, which they would be willing to surrender if there was some certainty regarding affordable housing provision in the area. There have been media reports since July that an affordable housing scheme would be announced within the next two weeks. In September, The Irish Times again reported that a scheme would be rolled out in the next fortnight. Potential users of any such scheme cannot make plans if they do not know whether they will qualify for affordable housing or the rental accommodation scheme, what costs will be involved and how they might qualify.
Will the Leader call the Minister to the House at the earliest convenience in order that he can clarify his thinking on this matter and outline the costs of affordable housing provision under a new Government scheme? We need to know if it will be like the old Part V scheme where there was a 20 year clawback and a 30% to 35% discount on the purchase price. There is growing frustration at the lack of clarity. In the absence of information, people who hope to have the opportunity to purchase an affordable housing unit are stuck and cannot move on with their lives. I look forward to having that debate with the Minister as soon as the Leader can arrange it.
I welcome the good news from President Higgins in Australia, where he confirmed, in an interview with Martin Shanahan of IDA Ireland, that many Australian companies are, because of Brexit, looking to Ireland's mid-west as a potential spot for relocation and expansion, when traditionally their focus would have been on the UK. This development is being described as the boomerang effect, with members of the Irish diaspora in Australia helping these companies with their plans to come to Ireland. I understand up to 45 firms have expressed an interest in locating their business in the mid-west. It is a most welcome development.
You see, Brexit is not such a bad thing. What is all the fuss about?
Yesterday was United Nations Day, an event which is celebrated globally and serves as a reminder of the benefits of multilateralism. Since joining the UN in 1955, Ireland has played an important role in that organisation, from the pioneering work of the late Deputy Frank Aiken, as Minister for External Affairs, on nuclear non-proliferation to the efforts of Defence Forces personnel in the service of blue helmet peacekeeping since 1958, including in such challenging locations as the Middle East, the Congo and west and north Africa.
Sometimes, however, the UN gets it wrong. Early last Saturday morning I read a headline proclaiming that Robert Mugabe had been named as goodwill ambassador by the UN's World Health Organization, WHO. My first impression was that I must be reading an article on the Waterford Whispers News website or that it was some sort of sick joke. In fact, it was true that the WHO's Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebyreyesus, had made the announcement, remarking as he did: "Today I am also honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs [non-communicable diseases] for Africa to influence his peers in his region to prioritise NCDs."
Fortunately, the WHO has, in the light of international opposition, rowed back from the appointment. The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, was right to describe the news as "offensive and bizarre". Mr. Mugabe is in the same league of extraordinary dictators as Castro and Pinochet, people who did not believe in the UN Charter and who rounded up opponents, shot them or had them disappeared because those opponents disagreed with the ideology of the day. What possessed the WHO to do this given the atrocities Mugabe has inflicted on his own people, brutalising human rights activists and democratic dissidents? This incident with Mugabe is a stain on the proud history of the UN and the World Health Organization and one that should never be revisited.
There was a great deal of discussion yesterday regarding the information emerging about the activities of banks in this country. Few in this House can know what it is like to wake up in the morning and realise one is about to lose one's home. I have actually been there, but it happened back in the days when I could walk in and negotiate with my bank manager. I was fortunate that the bank I was dealing with, while taking my house, allowed me to walk away debt free and thus I was in a position to restart my life. I had a call yesterday from a person who worked for one of the pillar banks. I will not name the institution in question in deference to the Cathaoirleach. The caller told me of a manager at the bank who delighted in seeing a tracker mortgage taken from a client, seeing it as a win for the bank. What sort of attitude is that? Most of the people I know working in banks are genuine, decent and hard-working people, but a thug like that needs to be brought to heel. Likewise, the thugs who sit in the boardrooms of the banks of this country, who have stripped those banks of the managers who customers could talk to and cry with, need to be brought to heel.
My request to the Leader may seem somewhat crazy but the reality is that there is only one way to bring these fellows to heel and that is through the courts. Of course, no family in unfortunate circumstances could afford to do that. Why does the State not select a few of these cases and take them to court? We are not just talking about malpractice in respect of tracker mortgages but also in regard to variable interest rates. These people are not happy unless they take a person's blood. God being good, I managed to rebuild my life after losing my home and, just a few weeks ago, made the last payment on my mortgage. I decided to go into the bank and make the transaction in cash because it was the final payment due. I thought surely there would be a red carpet out for me, a bottle of champagne and somebody to shake my hand. There was none of that but I was presented with a charge of €35 to get my deeds back. What sort of God-damned people are these?
Will the Leader look into the situation of the crew of the LÉ Niamh who are currently serving in the Mediterranean and have not been given their overseas payments? Their families are struggling, particularly those affected by Storm Ophelia.
Perhaps the Leader will look into the issue for me today.
I concur with Senator Craughwell on the question of support for the crew of the LÉ Niamh. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, come to the House to discuss pay and conditions for councillors who are struggling to maintain a livelihood. We have lost many councillors recently owing to the heavy workload they face and the absence of proper pay. The matter is with the Minister for Finance and I ask that he come to the House to discuss it.
I also ask that the Minister come to the House to discuss technician pay for Army cooks. Army cooks were awarded technician pay but have not yet received it. Apparently the issue is with the Minister. I have been lobbying for some time on behalf of an individual in my local area who, unfortunately, passed away last week and was buried on Monday. It grieves me that this man, who represented his country and struggled for so long, died without receiving proper pay.
On the point raised by Senator McFadden, it is a pity the Government has not allowed members of the Defence Forces to join a trade union as this would be a much better way to deal with issues of this nature.
As Senators will be aware, I have raised a number of times the use of Shannon Airport by the United States military as a forward base, with particular reference to the war in Yemen. We know from freedom of information records that have been released that there is a pattern whereby aeroplanes are flying from Shannon Airport to the capital cities of the so-called Saudi coalition, which has brought death and destruction to tens of thousands of people. The Government has made us a part of this by turning a blind eye to what is happening at Shannon Airport. I have asked the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue on numerous occasions. It reminds me a little of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill in that it is apparently coming but a slot for it has not yet been arranged. I would welcome a debate on the US military's use of Shannon Airport.
I raise a specific episode which occurred on Sunday of last week. I regularly attend protests at Shannon Airport and on the day in question I saw a peaceful protester knocked to the ground by gardaí. I then saw gardaí drive up to the protest, inspect the protesters' vehicles, set up a roadblock on the main road out of Shannon Airport and single out the protesters by stopping their vehicles and inspecting their tax and insurance details. They did not stop members of the public. When one of our fellow protesters pulled in to see what the problem was, he was immediately issued with a fine for parking illegally on the motorway. This incident amounted to nothing less than Garda harassment. It was disgraceful and I hope no one in the Government will stand over it. I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to explain the appalling behaviour of gardaí in Shannon Airport.
I welcome the Taoiseach's visit to France yesterday and the improving relationship between Ireland and France as a result of Brexit. We must examine all opportunities arising from Brexit. The Taoiseach stated he is seeking associated membership for Ireland of La Francophonie, a group of French-speaking countries similar to the Commonwealth. La Francophonie is a global organisation that deals with culture, science, economy, justice and peace. Ireland is taking its place among the nations of the world, and by increasing our footprint in foreign affairs and doubling the number of Irish embassy staff, we are moving in a different world. I say this because Brexit brings major opportunities and threats and we must work more closely with the United Kingdom. We must also establish more links with Commonwealth countries also and we should not be afraid to do so through justice, science and peace building. We have a shared history and it is incumbent on us to examine all these opportunities.
Not enough is being done by Senators and Deputies to forge relationships with members of the diaspora in Westminster who form an Irish caucus, as it were, and show great goodwill towards the island of Ireland. Between 12 and 15 Senators and Deputies will travel to Westminster on Monday, 6 November, to meet the leaders of all the political groups in the UK, including the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson. The group will be hosted by Tourism Ireland and other Irish organisations. We must do much more of this type of work because we have neglected the relationship with the United Kingdom. The Good Friday Agreement will be 20 years old next year and we should be brave and mature enough to start working on this relationship. We need to do more to bring together Members of the Oireachtas and members of the diaspora in the House of Commons.
I welcome the Taoiseach's decision to ask for associate membership of La Francophonie. It is a good idea. We should not be afraid to examine the possibility of forging new associations with Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada, which is also a member of La Francophonie.
In April 2017, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, announced €1 million in funding for a closed circuit television, CCTV, scheme for each of the years from 2017 to 2019. However, not one community group or organisation has had an application accepted under the scheme. The current Minister, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, indicated the funding is secure for the three-year period in question. This year, all five applications made under the scheme have been returned to the groups concerned seeking further information. This is unfair and disappointing. There must be an issue with the scheme if only five applications for funding have been submitted. A sum of €3 million is available for the three-year period, yet only five applications for funding have been submitted.
One of the reasons the scheme is not working is that the Government will only fund 60% of the cost of a CCTV scheme, with the remainder to be provided by the applicant organisation. This issue needs to be addressed and the scheme must be changed. I call on the Minister to change the scheme because it is not working. It could be used to monitor littering and anti-social behaviour, particularly in rural areas, if the criteria were changed. Many rural groups, organisations and communities are not aware of the scheme. A proper awareness raising campaign must be introduced and the scheme must be changed.
I commend my colleagues, Deputies Denise Mitchell and John Brady, on producing a report on JobPath. Several months ago, I and Senator Ó Clochartaigh, along with a number of other Senators, raised in the House what can only be described as the swindle taking place in the JobPath scheme. I want the Minister to come to the House to answer some straightforward questions on the scheme. For example, why will up to €340 million be given to private companies over six years to exploit - that is the only word I can use - the most vulnerable people in our communities? The scheme gives ownership of these people to the two private companies operating JobPath. In 2017 alone, €65 million was spent on the scheme, which is not working for individuals.
People are being required to bypass their local employment service and travel miles upon miles to centres where JobPath offices are located.
JobPath offices then take complete ownership of the individuals and do not allow them to sign up for any other scheme or anything available to them in their area. I want the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to come to the House immediately to answer my questions. What will be done tomorrow morning if the contract with the private companies is cut off? What are the penalties? Let us have some transparency regarding the original flawed contract which is subject to the height of secrecy. What has been done with JobPath is a swindle; it is one of the greatest debacles of the decade and I thank my colleagues for exposing it today.
I want to raise a very local important issue. It concerns St. Mologa's school in Balbriggan and is affecting 463 children. The school now has 16 prefabs. The children have been in prefabs for years. It is terrible to think that in 2017 children are cold at school during the winter and too hot in the summer. They are on the list for a new school, but there is no firm date and no hard evidence that progress is being made. I congratulate the Minister for Education and Skills on the changes he introduced in the budget to the pupil-teacher ratio and in respect of students with special needs, but these very changes mean that the three extra teachers for the school this year - there will be four next year - will have no classrooms in which to teach the children who represent the future of the country. In a republic of equal opportunities they deserve proper facilities in which to learn and enhance themselves and the country in the future. I, therefore, ask that the Minister be invited to come to the House. I am sure a request is being made to have a Commencement debate on the issue. I will be very happy to share time with other Senators who have a similar interest in it, but it is up to the Cathaoirleach to decide.
One may not have two bites at the cherry. As the Senator has raised the matter today, he may not do so again in a Commencement debate. If he believes it would be appropriate to table a Commencement matter, he should await my decision. I will allow him to conclude on the matter now.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
Many Senators raise specific issues on the Order of Business that it would be more appropriate to raise in a Commencement debate. I examined the matters presented to me this morning. The Senator has raised this matter, as he is entitled to do, but he may not raise it today and again in the Commencement debate tomorrow. If it was possible to do it, there would be duplication all over the place, but I will allow the Senator to continue.
In fairness, I need to take up the matter with the Cathaoirleach on the basis that last week I raised an issue about pensioners on the Order of Business and we had a Commencement debate on it this week. Second, this is an issue that cannot be addressed properly during the course of the Order of Business but which can and deserves to be raised. I hope the Cathaoirleach will reflect on this and extend to the people of Balbriggan, particularly its children, the courtesy of allowing the Minister to come to the House to answer on this very serious and pressing issue in a Commencement debate.
I wish to raise the issue of Garda numbers, particularly in Border counties. I refer, in particular, to comments made by two members of the Garda Representative Association, one from the Donegal division and the other from the Cavan-Monaghan division, in which they highlighted their concerns about Brexit and what might happen in the event that there was a hard border. They were putting the Government on notice that the Garda did not have the numbers to provide an adequate policing service for the community as things stood, never mind in the event that there was a hard Brexit. To highlight this point, they gave a couple of examples. They referred to Clones, County Monaghan, which has a population of over 3,000 people. All it has is one sergeant and two gardaí. Monaghan Garda station recently lost three members, or 10% of its entire workforce, and they have not been replaced. The area from the Cavan border to the Armagh border which covers three counties is patrolled by one patrol car with two personnel on board, if we are lucky. It includes Monaghan town, Clones and the entire countryside. This clearly shows that there is a serious issue with Garda numbers in the Border counties. I would like the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to address it. In addition, he might outline his plans in the event that there is a hard border. What are his plans to strengthen the Garda force in the Cavan-Monaghan division, County Donegal and along the entire Border frontier?
I wish to raise an issue along similar lines. It is not specifically about Garda numbers but about rural crime. To be honest, I had no intention of raising the issue this morning until, about half an hour ago, I received a telephone call from a gentleman who lives within four miles of me at home. He and his wife are both in their 70s. They had a family SME all of their lives and employed at least four to five people, for whom they paid taxes, with their own. Last Friday evening, when they came home having been shopping, they discovered that their business and house had been totally ransacked. This morning the man in question was in tears on the telephone. The couple are now prisoners in their own house. He cannot leave the house unless his wife goes with him and she will not stay on her own. As he said, he is a prisoner in his own house having contributed to society for a lifetime. He also said the lack of policing in rural Ireland was the cause of the majority of the problems. Nobody is aware of how rampant crime is in rural areas and how vulnerable and targeted those in the age group in question feel when in their homes. They worked all their lives for them in order to have a little comfort in their retirement.
I do not know whether we would get all of the answers if the Minister was here. We are recruiting extra gardaí and investing extra resources, but it is a question of how the extra gardaí and resources are being deployed. There is no strategic policing code for rural areas, but there is a need for one, as opposed to a code for policing across the entire country. Policing in urban areas is completely different from policing in rural areas, but this is not recognised. Politicians on every side will say such a barracks was kept open. Barracks in our area were kept open and everybody was taking credit for it. There is a maximum of two gardaí on duty at any one time and they are covering an area that was once covered by three or four barracks, each of which used to have four to six gardaí. That is the root of the problem. The man who telephoned me was in tears and I practically was. I had no intention of raising this issue in the House, but the man's conversation moved me to do so. He is a genuine individual who is now, as he states, a prisoner in his own house. Society should be ashamed. We have to take some action to change it.
I wish to follow what both Senators Robbie Gallagher and Paul Daly said. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Defence to come to the House to have a discussion on the future of the Defence Forces. Yesterday Senator Gerard P. Craughwell outlined some very alarming statistics on the Order of Business. I would specifically like to ask the Minister of State, in the light of and given the unknowns associated with Brexit, what plans he has for the Defence Forces and the security of the Border. A number of years ago the most modern army barracks in Europe, Dún Uí Néill in Cavan town, were closed. I have raised this issue continuously in the House. We were told the barracks had been closed strategically to improve the quality of the Defence Forces.
Almost the entire Border is being left without any Army personnel other than skeleton crews based in County Louth and in County Donegal because the personnel who are allegedly based in both of those barracks are not based in those barracks. They are operating, some of them in this city and some of them in the Government Chief Whip's town of Athlone. It is time we got real here. Our Border is not being secured-----
-----and as a result, it is putting the 26 counties of the State, and indeed, the six counties of Northern Ireland, in jeopardy. We have to face up to that reality.
I thank the Senators who raised a variety of issues. I do not know whether we are going to stick to the rule that one issue is raised per person. Certainly, there are plenty of issues today.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of waiting lists and lack of capacity. Some €75 million has been spent in this year's budget on this issue. While I take the point the Senator is raising, and it is a serious issue, under the 2017 waiting list action plan the NTPF has advised that so far this year 11,797 patients have been authorised for treatment with more than 4,700 patients having accepted an offer of treatment, and over 2,000 of these patients having received their procedure. On 1 October, funding of €700,000 was allocated by the NTPF to roll out an endoscopy initiative for 2017. Approval was given to the HSE on 25 September to drive a national waiting list validation project. This funding will provide for dedicated capacity within the HSE to support systematic and regular waiting list validation and continued focus on scheduled care.
Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of sentencing. I share Members' views on this. There is a certain level of frustration. The House will understand that I cannot comment about an individual case such as the case that has been mentioned. It is important to be aware that sentencing is a matter within the remit of the Judiciary and it is not open to the Minister to intervene directly. The Government published the Judicial Council Bill in 2017. The Bill provides for the establishment of a judicial council, as Senators will be aware. A sentencing information committee will also be established to collate information on sentencing imposed by the courts. The report of the working group, Strategic Review of Penal Policy, published in July 2014, considered the issue of developing sentencing guidelines. Nevertheless, it is an issue that could do with debate in this House.
The flu jab was mentioned by Senator Ardagh. There has been discussion in the media recently about the flu jab. The flu, by its nature, is an evolving virus and it changes based on geographic location. There is much talk about our flu jab not covering certain strains of flu but I would not want that to dissuade people from having the jab because it covers most types of flu that one can get. I would hate for the message to go out that if one gets the flu jab, it will not be sufficient. I can see Senator Swanick smiling at me. Maybe I am not describing the medical reality of it. It is important, notwithstanding any strains of flu that exist in Australia or wherever, that we get the jab that is available in this country.
Senator Boyhan mentioned the Teagasc strategy, and how many patients are on trolleys this morning. I understand the HSE held a weather-ready meeting on Monday, 23 October, which was attended by hospital groups, hospital community health care organisations, CHOs, primary care providers as well as HSE management as part of work to finalise integrated winter plans for all sites for the coming winter. This is part of a pro-active and integrated approach to winter planning in order that the health services are ready for the increased demand for health services, in particular, emergency department, ED, services in the months ahead. The point is well made that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
With regard to fast-track planning, I would be interested to hear from the Minister on that issue. It links in with a point made by another Senator which I will come to. A debate in the area of fast-track planning and planning generally with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, would be a good idea.
The last time I took questions Senator Mac Lochlainn mentioned the issue of community funding. All I can say to the Senator is I will follow up. After the Senator mentioned it on the last occasion, I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Ring, who stated he would come back to me on it. In fairness, the Minister seemed to be interested in the issue. Following on from what the Cathaoirleach stated, and as I stated on the previous occasion, I would say it is an issue for a Commencement debate on which Senator Mac Lochlainn will get a direct answer from a Minister. Perhaps the Senator raised it already but it would be no harm to raise a follow-up one. It would be important that, even if an issue is mentioned on the Order of Business, it would not necessarily preclude Senators from raising it. If it is raised here one day and then the next day the Senator has a Commencement matter, that would be serious duplication, which we should avoid.
Senator Higgins raised the issue of sexual abuse, the SAVI report and the research on sexual violence which is badly needed. The Domestic Violence Bill is being considered by the Department of Justice and Equality at present and it will be back in the House next month. That is fresh off the press. The Senator will be pleased to hear that.
The trial of the human rights activists is a foreign affairs issue. It is something that we will bring to the attention of, and no doubt is already being considered by, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister.
Senator Kevin Humphreys raised the issue of affordable housing. I have already stated that the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, should come into the House to discuss the planning area. It really is a planning issue that Senator Humphreys is referring to because if there was fast-track planning for cases such as this, it would get around the issue which he raises.
Senator Byrne complimented the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on its work when it comes to trade missions. The Senator's comments highlight the value of trade missions, which are perceived to be jollies in a way but which are really hard work. Ministers and representatives from Ireland work hard on those trade missions and I thank the Senator for raising it here.
Senator Swanick raised the United Nations day issue, and the Robert Mugabe comments which I wholeheartedly agree with. In fairness, its has changed its mind. It was unbelievable, and I would share the Senator's thoughts on that.
Senator Craughwell was passionate today about the banks and I can understand why. I share the Senator's frustration. When one telephones a bank now, one cannot get to speak to somebody or one must go around the houses to get to speak to somebody. The day is gone where there is any real customer service in banks. It is, quite frankly, unacceptable. When it comes to those who are in difficult situations, the empathy seems to be gone out of that area entirely. I congratulate the Senator on the last payment of his mortgage. I wish I was at that stage where I was making my last payment on my mortgage. When it comes to the crew of the LÉ Niamh, that is an issue for a Commencement debate. I would suggest that the Senator do that.
Senator McFadden raised the pay and conditions of councillors, which I think we would all agree with. The Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, was in here for a Commencement debate, but it would be a good idea to get him in for an entire debate on this area because it is an issue that interests us all. With regard to Army cooks, that feeds in to - pardon the pun - the wider issue of the Defence Forces. It is a good idea. The Senator is doing good, as it is her area. Given the contributions today, there is a serious need to have the Minister in. Indeed, it will be arranged, probably the second week after we come back, that he will come into the House.
Senator Gavan raised an issue regarding the Shannon. I cannot really speak about it. I do know about the issue to which the Senator refers.
It is certainly an issue that perhaps should be raised. If that is Senator Gavan's information it should certainly be communicated to An Garda Síochána and I would expect that as a Member of the Oireachtas Senator Gavan would be entitled to a response on what the Garda's approach is to a situation as described by the Senator. Senator Gavan could follow it up with the Minister if the response is unsatisfactory.
Senator Feighan does great work and should be acknowledged for his work on Irish-British relations. He has highlighted the recent visit by the Taoiseach to France, and that Ireland would be considered part of la Francophonie group. Brexit is a negative for Ireland but this aspect is a positive part of Brexit; that we must diversify and look to other countries for arrangements, trade and potential. It is good to hear positive talk around Brexit. I commend Senator Feighan for arranging the upcoming trip. Unfortunately, due to other commitments I cannot make it. I hope it is a constructive meeting and that the Members have an enjoyable time with colleagues in the UK.
Senator Murnane O'Connor spoke on community groups and the CCTV scheme. This is an issue for a Commencement debate. It is very specific and I believe the Senator would get great satisfaction from a one-on-one with the Minister on the topic. I do not know the full extent of the scheme and how it operates but perhaps there is a communications issue. If there is, the Senator will need to raise it with the Minister directly in a Commencement debate. That is not to say that I will not communicate it to the Minister, but I believe that would be the best way forward.
I thank the Deputy Leader.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of JobPath. I am sure the Minister would welcome the opportunity to respond to the allegations the Senator has made with regard to JobPath. I do not want to repeat myself but I believe that Senator Conway-Walsh would get great satisfaction from a Commencement debate on that matter.
On a point of order, we had the Minister in to the House for a Commencement debate in December 2016 and there was certainly no satisfaction. I am asking for-----
That is not a point of order.
My request is for a full debate in the House.
By all means. I cannot know about every Commencement debate that occurs in the House, and that was quite a while ago also. There is no reason why a debate could not be facilitated in that area. Perhaps it could be expanded slightly so that this issue could definitely be covered. I suggest expanding it in case there are other issues that Members may wish to raise with the Minister in and around the skills, jobs and training area. I will certainly ask the Leader's office to arrange that.
Senator Reilly raised a local issue around no classrooms. This issue needs urgent priority. The Senator has a Commencement debate down and I hope that he would not be precluded from continuing with that. Clearly it is a matter of priority.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of Garda numbers on the Border. There are many challenges with Brexit and this is another one we really need to keep an eye on. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, would welcome the opportunity to outline plans in this regard, and as it pertains to Brexit.
Senator Paul Daly raised the issue of rural crime. The fear that he described is a reality for many people, especially those who are older or more vulnerable, around the country. The Senator illustrated a very sad and personal situation. I do not want to be party political about the subject but to a degree I have to be. Fianna Fáil closed many of the Garda stations. Since we have had the opportunity we have put significant investment into Garda numbers. I know that is not what the Senator wants to hear but-----
That is not solving the problem. I am speaking through the Chair. To play politics with this issue is not appropriate. We are going back 11 years there.
It is inappropriate of Senator Daly to interrupt.
In fairness, I am making the point but I am not taking from the issue at all. I will certainly arrange a debate in that area. It is a topic that I take an interest in also. I agree with the Senator's point about it not always being about money. In that respect this is a bit like the HSE.
There are no solutions in the Deputy Leader blaming previous administrations. The problem is here and now and we need solutions.
The Senator must allow the Deputy Leader to respond.
I agree with the Senator, I am responding to him. I agree with some of the things he said, and I disagree with other points. I am allowed to do that. I agree that the issue needs attention, that money will not always solve it and that there is a strategy or method for doing things that might work better. It would be good for the Senator to have the opportunity to raise it more fully with the Minister in the House.
Senator Wilson raised the subject of the Defence Forces and the future of the Defence Forces. Senators have brought up issues around the Defence Forces on three or four occasions and I have said that clearly there is a need for a debate in the House on this. I understand that this has been arranged for the week after we return.
This concludes the responses to the Order of Business.