The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the notification of a vacancy in Seanad Éireann arising from the resignation of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, ráitis maidir le Seachtain na Gaeilge, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.15 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, that to all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, statements on 100 years of women's suffrage in Ireland, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, that to all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, statements on foreign affairs, resumed, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the Minister to be given not less than eight minutes to reply to the debate; No. 5, Private Members' business, International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Report Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to adjourn after two hours, if not previously concluded; and No. 6, statements on Project Ireland 2040, to be taken at 7 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 8.30 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, that to all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the debate not to be concluded but adjourned.
Order of Business
In the aftermath of Storm Emma we have been left with considerable chaos with respect to two topics I wish to raise today. Both relate to shortages, the first a shortage of water and the second a shortage of blood. Regarding water shortages, we have learned from the Kennedy analysis that we have a 57% leakage rate in Dublin. We know that Dublin's pipes are ancient, corroded, full of holes and generally not fit for purpose. We also know that in London, which has leakage rates of less than half of what we have in Dublin, they are replacing their old Victorian water mains. To date, Irish Water has no such plans. Instead it is planning on a mega project to pump water 172 km from the River Shannon to Dublin. No doubt this is a great plan which would give us a sustainable water source into the future, but surely we need to start replacing our old water mains and Victorian pipes at the very least. What is the point in pumping water into leaky pipes? It does not make any sense.
Dublin 12, 8 and 6W have some of the oldest pipes in the city, which corresponds with the fact that Dublin 12, 8 and 6W have some of the oldest and most beautiful homes in the city, and they have been most affected by the water shortages to date. Local shops in Dublin South-Central have literally run out of bottled water, a sight one would not see in Third World countries. There has been some confusion of late in the media regarding the use of the word "demand". People are not using more water. On average, Irish people use less water than households in the UK. The term is being used interchangeably with the term "leakages". The recent weather and the result of freeze-thaw action has seen a further deterioration in old Dublin pipes and drains.
I call on the Government to make a commitment to this House to replace the old Victorian mains in my beloved city. I also want to echo a call made by my party colleague, Councillor Paul McAuliffe for Irish Water to publish daily information on treated water levels in our capital. As our former Taoiseach used to say, "Paddy likes to know".
The second issue I wish to raise is that of the blood supply in this city. With people confined to their homes during the storm, blood donations fell and that has put serious pressure on blood supplies. Many cancer patients know, as do their family members, the importance of blood donation and blood supply for cancer treatment. My father, over the course of his 15 years of illness, would have had to receive litres of blood from generous blood donors throughout the country. The Irish Blood Transfusion Service stated on Tuesday that it has three days' supply of common blood types of regular blood and only two days' supply of blood group O. Its aim is to collect 7,000 donations between now and St. Patrick's Day. If people are suitable donors, I ask that they make their way to their local blood donation clinic. It is very important that we increase our supply, especially in light of the fact that we have 600 people waiting on trolleys to be treated around the country and there is a bottleneck with respect to supply due to the storm. I request the Leader to call on the Minister to make this happen.
I wish to raise two issues, one relates to Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the second relates to the Seanad by-election. I will deal first with the issue of Dún Laoghaire Harbour. For those who may have read today's edition of The Irish Times, they would have seen pictures in it of decimated, bashed up, collapsed concrete in Dún Laoghaire Harbour as a result of the recent storms. That sets the context in terms of other political and financial storms that have affected this harbour. To set the context for this, Dún Laoghaire is one of the biggest harbours in Europe and one of the best harbours in the world, and is recognised as such. It comprises 250 acres within the harbour walls. The piers are each a little less than a mile long and that represents 100 ha. It is an enormous national asset for this country but particularly for sailing.
There has been no commercial activity in the harbour. It was the subject of much debate with respect to the ports policy, at which time the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport - our harbours come under that Department - was the current Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar. A decision was taken to transfer control of small ports of regional significance to the local authorities. It was decided that control of this harbour would be transferred to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Yesterday a very extensive meeting took place with the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councillors to consider an independent due diligence report on the liabilities that would come with that transfer of control.
The transfer is mandatory. That is covered in the legislation. There is no choice. As a result of an independent due diligence, validated by the Department, the council is now faced with a cost of €34 million to cover the liabilities, of which €1.4 million relates to liabilities concerning a pension fund for employees that are on the books. The sum of €34 million is an enormous amount of money. I call on the Government to have a debate on the matter, in particular with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to whom I will speak in the coming days if I can. The Government must set aside a capital reserve to assist the local authority in taking on this asset. It cannot just wash its hands of a State company by handing it to a local authority while it has €34 million in liabilities.
To provide some context, the local authority was informed yesterday that if it were to take on those liabilities the impact would be an increase of 4% in commercial rates and an 8% increase in local property tax next year right across the county. The harbour is unique and special. I appeal to the Leader to arrange to have a debate or perhaps I need to raise the matter as part of the Commencement debate. The issue is an important one and I have been asked by local authority members to raise it, which is why I speak about it this morning.
Could the Leader inform the House whether he has any knowledge of the intentions of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government this week - not next week - to sign and trigger the order to give effect to a by-election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of the outgoing Senator Denis Landy on the agricultural panel? I understand such an order is imminent and I think we should know. If the Leader does not know perhaps he could find out and tell the House later or tomorrow as the information is important and we should know it.
I rise today to talk about the impact of the recent weather on the farming community. I ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine would come to the House to discuss what emergency plan he has put in place, in particular to deal with the fodder crisis, which has been ongoing for some months but because of the weather we have had in the past week the crisis has escalated and it needs an immediate response. The Minister must look north of the Border to examine the funds that were put in place there when farmers experienced hardship. The crisis is not confined to fodder. Sheds have collapsed and people have had to destroy milk. An emergency package must be put in place for farm families which form the backbone of many rural communities.
I also wish to speak about yesterday's meeting of the finance committee which was attended by Commissioner Oettinger who spoke about the EU budget. He told us about the proposed reduction in Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, funding to meet the €5 billion gap that will be created following Brexit. The Commissioner said he has travelled around many member states and the people to whom he has spoken have referred to reductions of up to 30% in the CAP budget. That is absolutely unacceptable. The Commission must look beyond CAP in terms of the gap that will be left by Brexit. It can look, for instance, at reducing the EU militarisation programme. The average income of a farmer in the west of Ireland is perhaps a little more than €3,000 a year and it is not acceptable to expect his direct payments to be reduced while increasing the budget for EU militarisation. That is not what the EU talks about in terms of incorporating the views of all member states and being all-inclusive in its approach. We must stand up for agriculture and agricultural families in this country and for the role they play in rural areas. In terms of food security, we will not know how valuable farmers really are until they are gone. Too many family farms have been destroyed because of Government policies and due to inaction by the EU. We have an opportunity to address that during the CAP review. Currently, 80% of CAP payments are directed to 20% of the highest earners in agriculture and that wrong must be righted in the CAP review as well.
I will move the motion for the Seanad vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Ó Clochartaigh straight after the Order of Business. It is on the Order Paper. Those of us in the Seanad Technical Group are really delighted that Senator David Norris will be joining us.
Hear, hear. Well done.
He has been a tremendous colleague for so many years-----
His transfers worked well.
-----and I am really honoured that he is going to join us, in particular as he is a Trinity colleague.
It is an honour for the House that he has found a home again.
He can vote for Fine Gael anytime.
He is not going to go that far.
I thank Senator Noone. I will certainly not go that far.
Fine Gael is too left wing for me. They are rabid socialists.
Senator Norris tells me that even Labour is not left wing enough for him but of course I beg to differ on that. I think we are perfect soul mates, if I may say so.
I am delighted and I welcome him to the Seanad Technical Group. I also welcome the Supreme Court decision announced today reversing the decision of Mr. Justice Humphreys in the High Court in so far as he ruled on the rights of the unborn extending beyond Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. I listened with great interest to the Chief Justice, Mr. Frank Clarke's summary of the judgment and I look forward to reading the lengthy judgment in more detail, but it is clear from the summary that the judgment does provide the necessary legal clarity to enable us to move forward swiftly to bring in the legislation necessary to hold the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. I look forward to the referendum legislation being before us in this House in early course. If he can, I ask the Leader to provide a suggested timeframe. I accept it is early days yet as the judgment has only just been delivered but it does provide the necessary legal clarity and I welcome the ratio, the key aspect of the judgment.
I also welcome the Leader's scheduling today of a series of statements on women's suffrage to mark the centenary of women's suffrage. The statements will commence at 2.30 p.m. today and I look forward to taking part in the debate. It will give us all an opportunity to reflect on the series of events being run in the Oireachtas to mark what we are calling Vótáil 100, the 100th anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote. It is a very significant year and clearly a very significant centenary and we have a number of very important events of which colleagues will already be aware and will support throughout the year. I welcome the opportunity to have that debate. I think we should also use it to mark the necessity of ensuring that we have increased numbers of women representatives in the Oireachtas in future years and to look at ways in which we can increase women's representation in politics. That is very important.
I have emailed leaders of other groups the draft text of a cross-party motion on Syria. I spoke about this in the House yesterday. The intention is to note the appalling, barbaric bombardment of civilians in east Ghouta at present.
We also signal our support for the work of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement in highlighting that and in calling on the Government to do all it can to push for a ceasefire and an end to attacks on civilians. I have circulated the motion and I would be grateful if other group leaders would come back to me in regard to it. In October 2016 we in the Seanad led the way in agreeing a cross-party motion condemning the bombardment of Aleppo, which we brought to the attention of the Russian ambassador, given the complicity of the Russian regime in Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime in Syria. I thank colleagues for their support in the past on these important cross-party motions on such an horrific humanitarian crisis.
I commend Senator Bacik on tabling the cross-party motion on the appalling and tragic bombing we have seen in Ghouta. I anticipate that we would be happy to support the motion. It is an opportunity for us to send a very strong signal. There will be opportunities to send a further strong signal of recognition for those who have suffered in terms of our motion later today on family reunification for those who have been awarded refugee status.
I rise today to highlight what I believe to be good and clarifying news.
This week, the European Court of Justice ruled that investor-state dispute mechanisms, which have been discussed previously in the House, in particular, the intra-European mechanisms, are incompatible with European law. The court, the highest court in this area, has found that the rulings of arbitration courts to award compensation are incompatible with the European treaties. The specific case on which it ruled this week involved a decision requiring the Slovakian Government to pay more than €25 million to a private company. This is the third significant ruling on this matter. The European Court of Justice ruled previously that the European Commission was wrong to believe it could bypass national state ratification of trade deals. It has also ruled that the Commission was wrong not to engage with a large-scale citizens' petition in respect of trade deals, specifically the investor court system that has been found to exercise a chilling effect in important areas of health, environmental, social and equality regulation in many countries.
Belgium has lodged a case with the European Court of Justice related to the investor court system, which is a new version of the investor state dispute mechanism proposed as part of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA. These mechanisms are clearly not working. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on alternatives to trade deals such as CETA and TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The House should discuss how we can move past this failed model for doing trade and ensure we have trade that works for citizens and not only corporations.
The House will later discuss the issue of suffrage. I am proud to have been part of the Vótáil 100 committee. Will the Leader indicate when the committee on Seanad reform will meet? The committee deals with another important area of democracy. Will it meet before the Easter break?
It is important that the Oireachtas marks appropriately the occasion of 100 years of women's suffrage in Ireland. Before raising a couple of other significant historical events we should also remember, I find it astonishing and highly ironic that Fianna Fáil Party Senators have complained about leaking pipes and water shortages in Dublin. I remind them that the purpose of establishing Irish Water was to invest in water infrastructure and modernise the water network. What did Fianna Fáil do during the general election campaign? It undermined all the progress made in this area in the interest of populist politics. It is a little rich, therefore, to hear Senators from that party complain during a crisis when all of these matters were meant to have been addressed by now.
I raise a significant event and an important person in Irish history. This day 180 years ago - on 7 March 1848 - our national flag, the tricolour, was flown for the first time at the Wolfe Tone Confederate Club at 33 The Mall, Waterford City, by the Irish patriot, Thomas Francis Meagher. In April 1848, Meagher stated: "The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green, and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood." The Seanad should pause and reflect on these significant words which are as relevant today as they were in 1848. This Republic should respect all traditions and religions and we should remember the legacy of Thomas Francis Meagher, a Waterford man.
Another significant point in history was the centenary yesterday of the death of the great Irish parliamentarian, John Redmond. This week a number of commemorative events will be held in Dublin, Waterford and Wexford to mark Redmond's death. As Senators will be aware, Redmond was the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party for more than 18 years and made a significant contribution to politics in this country. He was involved in negotiations with landlords to transfer land ownership to tenant farmers. This legacy endures and should be recognised.
Redmond was often criticised for his interest in the British war effort. In modern Ireland, we have a better understanding of the reasons Irish people fought in the First World War and we must respect those reasons. Whether we agree or disagree with Redmond's views, we should remember and mark his legacy both in Parliament and the country. His life will be marked in Waterford this weekend in a conference featuring a number of important speakers who will do his memory justice.
The scale of community spirit or meitheal was evident throughout the recent storm and is still much in evidence. The Garda, ambulance service, fire service, Defence Forces and other front-line staff rightly received much praise but an entire army of other people, who I would describe as good neighbours and great citizens, also deserves praise. Many people were left on their own, cut off entirely from the family and friends who normally visit but were unable to do so. After four or five days, the solitude and sense of confinement and isolation will have been overwhelming. Let us imagine how those who experience this every day, with no end in sight, must feel. Last year, as part of a campaign to highlight the impact of loneliness a young man, Joseph Lindoe, spent a week alone at home in the United Kingdom to find out what it was like for the thousands of people who go this long without speaking to anyone. Mr. Lindoe did not have access to the Internet or a telephone and did not have any means of communicating with other people. He documented this time on video and in his own words he felt "truly trapped". Mr. Lindoe was able to count down his days until freedom but for many people who are lonely or isolated, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I will post his harrowing video on social media later and I urge all Senators to take a moment to watch it.
I echo the sentiments expressed by Mr. Seán Moynihan, chief executive officer of the Alone charity, with whom I worked on the loneliness task force. Mr. Moynihan has asked all of us to maintain the community spirit evident in the past week. We all have a better understanding now of what it is like for some people all year around who cannot get out, do not have company and lack some of the supports and services they need.
On behalf of my party, I welcome the St. Brigid's home school liaison team and members of other teams from the Coombe area who are visiting the Seanad today.
Some former colleagues of the Leader and myself will once again stand outside the gates of Leinster House today seeking equality of pay in the education system. As everyone knows, we cannot fix the wrongs that led the country on a trail of destruction from 2008 until 2012 or thereabouts. The problem we have is that the salary available will not entice people to enter education. The cost of training has gone through the roof because the period of training has increased to two years and the State provides no assistance. In many of the English newspapers, we see advertisements enticing people to move to England, have their teacher training costs paid for and receive a salary that provides a reasonable living standard. We must do something in education because we are losing the best as the system bites. While I acknowledge the problem cannot be fixed overnight, a clear indication must be given to teachers that better times lie ahead. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the issue.
On the matter of women's suffrage, as the brother of eight sisters, a husband and a father of one daughter and grandfather of one granddaughter, it is great that we will celebrate women's suffrage today. It is also great that we have seen some degree of equality. While I do not like to generalise, it is great that the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is a female and that women are making serious inroads into society. The one area of life in which they are not making inroads is politics. To make it in politics a woman must be better than the best. If we are discussing women's suffrage one hundred years after it was introduced, we should have a look around both Houses of the Oireachtas because we are not there yet. Unfortunately, I will not be present for the debate on women's suffrage as I must attend a committee meeting. We need to start at the top and work our way down, as has been done in the trade union movement where a number of general secretaries are now female. Unfortunately, the number is still not half enough.
Another problem I experienced in my previous role in the trade union movement is that we do not create an environment that makes it easy for women to enter trade union politics or politics in general. I recall women resigning from the national executive of my union because all meetings were held in Dublin and they had to get home to their children by a reasonable hour.
However, meetings of the executive often went on until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Similarly, female Members of the Oireachtas have to return to work immediately after having a child. There is no maternity leave for politicians. We must start looking at how we can be more equal in terms of how our colleagues are treated. Grand statements will be made today but I would love to see some action.
I too welcome the clear and unanimous decision by the Supreme Court this morning which reversed the High Court decision relating to the right to life of the unborn. It is a landmark decision and will allow us to move forward to a May referendum without delay. The only constitutional right to life is that which the Supreme Court has identified: that contained in the eighth amendment. That was unanimously and clearly articulated by the Supreme Court. I urge all Members to accept the judgment in good faith and to move forward in a civilised and respectful manner, as has been the case for the most part to date. We must focus on ensuring that we set a date for the referendum. My sincere hope is for a constructive, factual and respectful national discussion on the issue and for the Irish people to finally have their say.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Noone and urge the Leader to ensure this Chamber does everything required to ensure we do not miss the deadline of the referendum date. I very much welcome the decision made by the Supreme Court this morning.
I wish to raise the issue of a decision last Monday by the board of Trinity College Dublin to introduce a flat fee of €450 for supplemental exams, also known as repeat exams. The introduction of fees for supplemental exams was always going to cause some upset but I do not believe anyone could have expected the outrageous figure of €450. To put it into context, UCD charges €230 per exam, while UCC caps its charge at €245, regardless of how many exams a student resits. Some students already fail exams because of financial uncertainty and instability in their lives as they juggle long hours and part-time jobs. This is a cruel further pressure upon such students. The introduction of the charge will disproportionately affect the students already most at risk of dropping out for financial reasons. When one considers that Ireland has the second-highest third level fees in Europe and that students fork out more than €10,000 for accommodation during the academic year, it is clear this new financial cost will price more students out of an education.
The decision was made against the will of the students' union. In a preferendum held earlier this year, 80% of students voted to oppose fees for supplemental exams. Their voices have been ignored and they have been disrespected in the name of financial gain for the university. I understand the students' union is now considering strike action, boycotting services, protesting in front arch-----
-----and potentially starving the college of revenue by having a sit-in in the library containing the Book of Kells. It has my full support. I urge it to take the strongest possible action to defend its members. Education is supposed to be a public good. This is a grossly unfair back-door charge. There should be a debate in the House on these unacceptable charges.
I wish to draw the attention of Members to this being brain awareness week. Some 800,000 people in Ireland have neurological conditions. The campaign involves organisations such as the Neurological Alliance of Ireland, the Migraine Association of Ireland, Muscular Dystrophy Ireland, Epilepsy Ireland, MS Ireland, Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland, the Parkinson's Association of Ireland, the Huntington's Disease Association of Ireland, Enable Ireland, the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and it is important to name them. Some or all Members know of those organisations and the work they do. The House has dealt with issues related to their work.
People in Ireland may have to wait up to two years to see a neurologist. We have 34 neurologists but should have approximately twice as many. Things have improved over the years but we still have quite a way to go in this area. Specialist nurses is another area in which there are significant deficits.
The brain awareness week campaign is looking for an investment in neurology, which must happen because it would lead to better outcomes for people and a reduction in cost and the suffering endured as a result of the debilitating nature of these conditions. I commend those organisations and groups on organising the awareness week and bringing it to the attention of Members and I request that the Leader organise a debate with the Minister on the matter.
I wish to acknowledge, as have many Members, the efforts made by communities in regard to the recent storm. Public services such as the Garda Síochána, Civil Defence and medical services did a fantastic job but in many ways communities rallied together to ensure older or younger people were safe, which must be acknowledged. I particularly acknowledge the farming community for clearing the roads. In my part of the world, there was snow of up to 2 m in depth and we would be still entrenched in it were it not for the farming community becoming involved.
I wish to raise what is a very important issue in Cork, which is going through a major process of the consideration of an extension of the city boundary. We have also had the 2020 vision for Ireland and must consider what it is we want for Cork. However, the lack of joined-up thinking between the two local authorities in Cork is a major issue which has again been highlighted in publications in the past week in respect of a planning application for a major development in a county council local authority area that is being processed through the strategic housing development route to An Bord Pleanála and to which the city council has lodged a four-page objection. Where is the joined-up thinking? What is the future for Cork if one local authority is objecting to an application for planning permission in another local authority area? This development of more than 600 units is badly needed in that area and has been put forward for strategic funding for social housing by the Government, yet the local authorities are playing petty politics, which is inappropriate. Local authorities in Cork need to work together rather than object to each other's proposals. Transport Infrastructure Ireland has no issue with the development but the city council is objecting to its planning permission. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, must get involved in such issues in Cork and ensure he knocks heads together in order to avoid situations such as this, where one local authority is objecting to planning permission in another local authority area. Action is required. In many ways, it is important that the Minister should intervene so that something can be sorted out in this scenario.
I call Senator Norris and welcome him to his new group.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I rise today to speak as a member of the Technical Group for the first time. It is slightly ironic that I am in the Technical Group because I am probably the biggest luddite in the House. I was very happy to accept the invitation extended by my very good friend and colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik. My principal motivation for joining it was that I thought it wrong that the Labour Party would be excluded from certain speaking rights because of its numbers. The House should consider the situation in that regard.
Senator Norris was always generous.
Yes, to a fault. For example, it is very important to examine the order in which Members are called on to speak. I accept that the Leas-Chathaoirleach is bound by the rules but it is completely unacceptable that people may sit here for three quarters of an hour and a member of another party then floats in, not having been here for the first forty-five minutes, and gets to contribute straight away. That is ridiculous. It would put manners on people if they were expected to be here, sit and listen to others and respect the Order of Business.
Neither the Cathaoirleach nor I have ever left the father of the House waiting.
I am not speaking of myself but, rather, making a general observation. I have never minded being here because I always find it very interesting to listen to what others have to say.
I welcome the Supreme Court's judgment which is interesting. It is remarkable that the entire seven judges agreed in this instance. I deplore the language used in the debate. Who are the "unborn"? Am I the "undead"? Is Dublin the "unLondon"? What does it mean? Why do they not face facts and call it what it is medically, namely, the foetus? I also object to the term "pro-life". I am pro-life; not pro-death. Who are these people to take over these labels for themselves?
It is outrageous. There are significant difficulties for the Government ahead of the referendum. The first is that people will have to have explained to them the motivation and reasoning behind the period of 12 weeks because those on the other side will suggest it is free range abortion and so on. The public needs to be alerted to how this is simply facing the fact that nowadays young women can access abortion pills via the Internet and take them without medical supervision at great risk to their lives. These issues need to be explained in order that the public will know that it is not free range abortion.
We will have an opportunity to debate the legislation when it is brought before us.
Yes. We should be aware of the fact that the general public may take from the welcome Supreme Court judgment the idea that the foetus is now more vulnerable. That is what will be said. We need to be prepared to counter these arguments and-----
The Senator is entering into a debate on the matter.
I know, but we need to keep debating this sensitive issue because we need to have a fully informed debate on it.
I wish to be associated with the remarks made by other Senators in complimenting the local communities, the fire service , council workers and volunteers who played a great role in responding to the major crisis during last week's storm. I wish to discuss a new line of crime that came to light as a result of the storm and was highlighted on radio this morning, namely, the large-scale theft of home heating oil. One lady who spoke on radio told of how, after running out of fuel, she had ordered more from her supplier. He arrived at 2.30 p.m. with 700 litres which cost her €500. Her plumber arrived at 4.30 p.m. to bleed the heating system to get her back up and running, but the tank was dry. There was a two-hour window. It is said people are following fuel lorries around. It is a major problem. I highlight a good initiative being taken for the first time this year by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, under which people can claim fuel allowance in two lump sum payments, with a view to giving them some buying power when buying home heating oil in bulk, which is more economical than buying it weekly. Owing to bulk buying, however, they are vulnerable to thugs. When the Department makes lump sum payments, it is important that it inform its clientele of the risks involved. The oil tank of the woman in question was located in a remote area well hidden behind her house, but someone only needs to click on Google Maps to be able to see into everyone's backyard and find out where the oil tank is located. The perpetrators have vans with pumps and long hoses. The vans which might be marked can be parked 50 yd. up the road. A houseowner could even be talking to the perpetrators in the van while oil is being sucked out of the tank through a long hose. In the case in question, the tank would have been empty had the perpetrators arrived two hours earlier and they knew exactly when to take it. They had followed the lorry and knew who was receiving a delivery that day. We need to get the message out that people need to be conscious of this issue. Being able to receive fuel allowance in two equal payments during the year in order that people can buy kerosene is a great initiative, but it has led to people being made vulnerable.
As a fellow sports fan, the Leader will join me in being deeply concerned and somewhat dismayed and confused, if not offended, by the remarks of the Northern Ireland soccer manager, Mr. Michael O'Neill, over the course of the weekend. In an interview which was published online, subsequently removed and republished in a toned down form he accused the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, of employing sectarian tactics and poaching players from the North. It causes me deep concern, in the first instance, because it pertains to issues related to equality of citizenship, identity and our right as fellow citizens to be full and equal participants in the life of Ireland. It is for the FAI to speak for itself and I would not presume to do so, but I imagine that one of its first comments will be that many of the players from the North who will ultimately end up playing for the FAI do the approaching in the first instance as opposed to it poaching them. I do not understand the rationale behind it and do not know how to take it, as sport should not be brought into the political domain. Focusing solely on the issues of identity and citizenship is concerning.
We must ensure we stand and act as guardians of the right of citizens in the North to be full and equal participants in the life of Ireland, including playing for the national soccer side unhindered and without the incessant and relentless abuse that, for example, has been levelled at people from the city of Derry who have dared to pull on the green jersey and do what I contest is an exceptional job for Ireland on the field. It is not up to Mr. O'Neill or anyone in the FAI to impose a perceived citizenship on anyone else. An easy solution would be something for which we have called in this Chamber, namely, the creation of an all-Ireland soccer team in line with what happens in boxing, rugby, hockey, cricket and every other sport. Another way around it would be for the FAI to engage with young people in the North from an early age in order that these problems and issues will not present in the later stages of people's careers. In many instances, it is not young people's fault that they have to go through the Irish Football Association's structures in the North. That is the system in place.
Let us talk about how to resolve this issue and open up participation in FAI sports to citizens across the country. The reality is that for very many young people in the North, going to play at Windsor Park under the defunct flag of the old unionist regime and having to stand and observe "God Save the Queen" as an anthem is a cold house. They do not want to do it. Many others have an affinity with it. Fair play and good luck to them and more power to their elbow, but we must collectively acknowledge that a growing number of people do not have that affinity and should not be forced to go through these structures. When such a prominent and eminent sports figure like Mr. O'Neill presumes to say people playing for Ireland is somehow sectarian, as guardians of Irish citizenship, we must call it out for what it is.
I raise an issue that has been discussed by many Senators this morning, last week's difficult and extreme weather conditions and their impact on the retail sector. The weather conditions carried a significant cost for the industry in lost sales, employee wages and clean-up costs. It amounted to hundreds of millions of euro and retailers have been left to pick up the pieces, as was evident when listening to Ms Lorraine Higgins of Retail Excellence Ireland on radio this week. She outlined the advertising costs retailers would incur to eke out their losses from last week. I have an issue with the non-existence of cash in post offices, which exacerbated retailers' losses during the extreme weather event. It was reported that post offices in counties Dublin, Louth and Offaly and some in the midlands had been emptied of cash as social welfare recipients queued to collect payments. This posed an additional challenge to retailers who were already facing extreme weather conditions and lost opening times.
Given that no similar problems surfaced at ATMs and banks, did the Government properly plan for the doubling of the fuel allowance? Did it ensure that An Post had enough cash reserves and a satisfactory plan in place? Were cash logistics de-risked to ensure that such threats to cash supply would not happen?
We are all aware that this matter had an impact on social welfare payments because many people did not receive what they were told were their entitlements. Unfortunately, the situation will continue this week and it will continue to have impact on retailers for the coming weeks. We need to debate this issue and ensure that small independent shops in towns do not suffer in this way again. I urge consumers to continue to support their local shops which are key stakeholders in their communities. Only for local shops in many areas, people would have been left high and dry.
Today marks an extraordinary occasion. It is the 170th anniversary of when the Tricolour was first flown by Thomas Francis Meagher. He is probably the most extraordinary Irishman that most Irish people have never heard about.
The occasion has already been mentioned during the Order of Business by Senator Paudie Coffey.
The flag has flown.
Thomas Francis Meagher not only ran for parliament, unsuccessfully, for Westminster in 1848, he was a leader in the rebellion in Ireland of 1848 for which he was put on trial for high treason. He was the last man in Ireland to be sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Prior to sentencing the judge asked him if he had anything to say, to which he replied: "Well your honour, I give you my word as a gentleman that if you do not sentence me to death, I will try again." The judge obliged and sentenced him to death but the sentence was commuted to transportation for life to Australia. He escaped from Van Diemen's Land and travelled to America where he joined the 69th regiment of the Union Army in the American Civil War and went on to become the Governor of Montana. As befits a man who had an extraordinary life, he had an extraordinary death. One evening he was on a paddle steamboat on the Missouri River but the following day he was gone never to be seen again. He was only 43 years of age when he died.
It is important to note that Thomas Francis Meagher gave us the flag and his aspirations for the flag. He said: "I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped, in generous and heroic brotherhood." His message is as true today as it was 170 years ago. I ask the Leader to make a few comments on this historic occasion. Let us bear in mind that this House formally adopted, for the first time ever, protocols for the national flag.
I seek a clarification. Earlier the Leader proposed the Order of Business and referred to the International Protection (Family Reunification)(Amendment) Bill 2017. Did he say he was taking Report and Final Stages?
Does the Leas-Chathaoirleach mean the Private Members' Bill?
Yes, No. 5.
I said Report Stage.
Is he taking Report and Final Stages?
Report and Final Stages.
I thank the Leader for the clarification.
I thank the 17 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business today. I wish first to recognise, as Senators Coffey and Mark Daly rightly said in their contributions, the importance of the flag and what it symbolises. I commend Thomas Francis Meagher on giving us the Tricolour. As Senator Coffey has said, we should reflect on what the Tricolour represents. It is important that we remember Thomas Francis Meagher on this day and, equally, as Senator Coffey has said, the role played by John Redmond. As the country celebrates a decade of commemorations, it is important that we recognise all parts of this country, all sides, all denominations, all people, all religions, all colours and all races. We may be an island nation but we are at the heart of Europe and not on its edge, which gives us enormous credibility across the world. Last week, President Trump designated March the Irish-American month in the United States. Next week, An Taoiseach will travel across America and will represent all of us. It is important that we stand strong as a nation and remember the sacrifices and heroism of so many people who got this country to this point. Like Senators Coffey and Mark Daly, I urge people to remember what Thomas Francis Meagher did today so many years ago and I wish Senator Coffey well when he attends the commemorative events in Waterford.
I join Senators Swanick and Ardagh in welcoming the St. Brigid's home school liaison team from the Coombe area who do Trojan work in this city. I wish to highlight the importance of home school liaison and the significant role that it plays not just in the Coombe area but across the county. The scheme is a vital and important part of the education system. I thank Senator Ardagh for welcoming the delegation to the House today.
In terms of the contributions made during the Order of Business, I started on a positive note and I am reluctant to commence a discordant attack on Senator Ardagh. However, it is ironic that Senator Ardagh unfortunately lamented the fact that water is a challenging issue in the capital city and in some parts of the country when her party played absolute populism with Irish Water. Her party played Molly Bawn with the Irish people in 2016-----
-----and at the Oireachtas committee for a long time. The events of the past week illustrate the need for Irish Water.
It illustrates the need to upgrade and maintain our water infrastructure and its network. I think 111 million gallons of water was wasted yesterday or leaked, but I am open to correction, which is equivalent to the amount of water that Cork city uses on a daily basis.
Irish Water did not need to be set up to do such work. A local authority could have fixed the pipes.
The reality is Senator Ardagh's party was in government for 17 years but never invested in water infrastructure.
At a time when 60% of water went into the ground.
In the city and county that I represent raw sewage was being pumped into Cork Harbour. Are we going to sustain such a situation for the rest of our lives or do we want to get real? I join Senator Ardagh in asking Irish Water to communicate effectively and efficiently with the people affected by the current water crisis. There is a need to recognise the fact that there are water leakages. There is an issue with the water supply in the reservoir but, unfortunately, we cannot do anything about it this time.
We had a 10% increase in the demand for water from Friday to Sunday in the greater Dublin area. Rather than create another political storm, let us all work together to ensure that we allow for investment in the water network, as sought by Senator Ardagh. I would pose the following questions to Senator Ardagh and the members of the Sinn Féin Party, in particular. Who pays for it now? Where will the money come from?
I would love to give an answer. Maybe Apple-----
The job of Opposition is very easy, Senator Conway-Walsh.
It is not easy at all but it is very easy for people who do not pay any tax.
The Senator's colleagues in the North pay for water and pay well, and pay rates.
They get something for it.
Let us get real now.
They get a whole list of things.
Let us not have-----
The Leader cannot stand up and make these statements-----
Not only can I, I am doing so.
-----but not allow us to respond.
That is a cowardly way to do business. I will debate Irish Water with the Leader at any time.
I join Senator Ardagh in her appeal for people to donate blood. Yesterday, the Minister for Health appealed to people to donate blood and made a very strong statement on the matter. The Irish Blood Transfusion Service has requested people to donate. I ask Members of the House to encourage people to donate blood through social media and other means. Senator Ardagh is 100% correct when she said people require blood for a variety of different reasons. It is imperative that we, through this Chamber and our own offices, appeal to people to donate blood. As much as one in four people will require a blood transfusion at some stage of their lives. As Senator Ardagh has said, many people need blood donations now because the blood supply has been severely depleted due to the storm. It is important that blood donors, and those who would like to become blood donors, donate now. I urge people to visit donation clinics. There is information available on this matter. It is important that Senators support the call to donate blood, and I join Senator Ardagh in doing that.
Will the Leader give way so that I can make a point?
Am I allowed? I am happy to take a point.
I am not allowed to take a response to the Order of Business.
The Leader said he would give way.
I appeal to the Chamber to allow the Leader to continue without interruption.
I am happy to take the comment if it is about blood supply.
It is really just to make the point that it came to my knowledge in recent weeks that, if someone from this State was resident in the North during the BSE crisis, he or she is prohibited from giving blood. That applies to people from the North who have moved. I think it is madness. It is crazy and needs to be looked into. Maybe in the broader context of that debate, that can be focused on.
The Leader can respond to that.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach is very kind.
The Senator's point is worth pursuing and I accept that. It is beyond my jurisdiction but I would be happy to support him in that.
Senator Ardagh's point is sincere and important. To put it in context for Members of the House and those watching, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service is aiming to collect 7,000 donations between now and St. Patrick's weekend. We should all support that call. I appeal to Members here to support that too.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of Dún Laoghaire Harbour. I know a meeting was scheduled for yesterday in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. It is an amenity and an asset of huge importance to the State. The issue that the Senator raised is particularly pertinent with regard to the council having to incur the cost. I would be happy to have that debate. As a matter of urgency, the Senator might find it better to raise it as a Commencement matter. It should not be underestimated.
The Minister has not confided in me about the date for the Seanad by-election but I am sure he will inform us all in due course about moving the writ.
I express the view to Senator Conway-Walsh that we were very fortunate that the farming community came to the rescue of so many people during the course of the storm. I apologise if I misinterpreted the Senator's remarks but I hope she was not saying that Europe is bad for Irish farming, because Europe has been very good.
No, not at all.
That was the tenet of what came across to me. Rather than have a row with the Senator, because I know she would not want to have a row-----
I will have a row with Senator Buttimer any time.
-----I was giving her the benefit of the doubt. It is important to recognise that Europe has been very good to Irish farmers.
It is, but the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, review is hugely important.
On the CAP review, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, when he was Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, did a great job in securing a very good deal for Ireland under the CAP review. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Creed, and Commissioner Hogan will always fight for the Irish farmer and put Ireland at the heart of Europe.
With regard to the issue of Storm Emma, the Department and Teagasc are working with the farming organisations to ensure that farmers have access to information, advice, support and help, whether with fodder or payments. The Minister has committed that his Department will monitor and work to ensure that any difficulties which emerge will be addressed. Information is available from a variety of sources. It is important, as Senators Lombard, Daly and Davitt referred to, that farmers in rural Ireland during Storm Emma were at the forefront in helping people. We should thank them most sincerely. There are huge issues for farmers with regard to collapsed sheds, farming, fodder, being able to get back to the land and getting cattle out of houses and onto the land. That will take time. The Minister is vigilant and aware of that and will work to ensure that we do the best for Irish farmers.
I congratulate Senator Bacik on the role she plays with others in the House, including Senators Noone, Higgins, Conway-Walsh and Ardagh, in Vótáil 100. I welcome the events this week in the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is important that we recognise the movement we have made and the journey we have to go on. I commend Senator Bacik on her leadership on the issue and congratulate her on her recruitment, poaching or otherwise of Senator Norris to the Technical Group.
I prefer recruitment.
It is a much nicer term.
I think it is a very good move. I am not sure if Senator Bacik gave him any kind of incentive or a carrot but it is very important.
Goodwill and friendship.
Goodwill and friendship. I look forward to seeing the transfers in the Seanad Trinity panel, if there is one on the next occasion. I welcome that decision. Like Senators Noone, Higgins, Gavan and Norris, I welcome the decision of the Supreme Court today relating to the issue of the rights of the unborn in our Constitution. It is significant that the seven judges agreed. Senator Norris's comments are well-made. There is much information from Senator Norris that we can listen to, reflect on and act upon. I know the Leas-Chathaoirleach has said we will have that debate as part of the Bill. I assure Senator Gavan that, as Leader of the House, I will not delay passage of the Bill. There may well be a very tight timeline to have the Bill passed. At the same time, as Senator Gavan will appreciate, given that we sat on the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, there is a need to allow others who have not participated to have their voice heard as part of that debate, which may present a different viewpoint from ours. That will be a tricky balancing act and may require creativity by group leaders of different groups in the House to ensure that we have ample time to debate the Bill rather than rushing it through. I am sure we can work together on that. The point the Senator makes is that we should not, as a House, be seen to be an impediment or a delay. I entirely agree with the Senator.
I have not seen Senator Bacik's motion yet, but as part of the statements on foreign affairs today, perhaps the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade might have a conversation with the Senator.
In response to Senator Higgins, I have not had a ruling on the European Court of Justice investor-state dispute settlement system come across my desk just yet. We will have a debate with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade today. I know it is not necessarily linked to that but it could be part of it. We will try to have the debate in the coming weeks.
Seanad reform is a matter beyond the remit of my office. It is up to the Taoiseach to decide the composition and chair of the committee. Work on that is under way. As with the eighth amendment, there will be diverging views on the reform of Seanad Éireann. Perhaps the two shall meet. Senator Higgins has one view. Others have a different view. We must try to achieve a balance.
I covered Senator Coffey's contribution with regard to Vótáil 100 and Irish Water. I acknowledge the symposium that took place yesterday for John Redmond.
Senator Swanick has been a champion of and advocate for those who are lonely. He has been so again this morning. I echo the words of Seán Moynihan that it is not just about last week but an ongoing issue for some people.
I agree with Senator Craughwell about pay restoration. There is a need to see accelerated pay restoration for teachers. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has accelerated the pace of recruitment and I welcome that.
Senator Noone, who excellently chaired the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, contributed regarding the eighth amendment. We need to see an informed debate not just in this House but throughout the country, and not just on people's opinions but on fact rather than fiction.
I was not aware of the supplementary examination fee at Trinity College Dublin but I agree with Senator Gavan that we should not be putting in place an impediment or barrier to people participating in higher education or further education. While I am not aware of the situation in Trinity College Dublin, as an educator myself and having gone to college, to increase the fee to the level the Senator speaks about, €450, for those students who have to do repeat examinations does not make good sense. Even if it is done for economic reasons, it puts a hardship on people who are struggling already. There is mental pressure, and the physical act of having to come back and repeat examinations is not a very happy one. I hope that Trinity College Dublin will review that situation. I would not agree with it personally.
I congratulate Senator Dolan on raising the issue of brain awareness. This week is brain awareness week. I congratulate the Neurological Alliance of Ireland which is hosting a conference this weekend. It is a very important issue. I chaired the Joint Committee on Health and we had a number of significant debates on that. I echo the Senator's point that further work needs to be done on the issue of brain awareness and neurology as an entity in our health care system.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of new local government arrangements in Cork. He referred to a particular case, and while I will not get into that, there is a need for joined-up thinking by both authorities.
I join Senator Paul Daly in condemning the theft of oil from numerous homes throughout the country. He is right that there is an issue with thugs and thieves coming on to people's property to steal fuel.
There needs to be away around that to ensure people are protected. We cannot have a garda at every corner of every townland or other part of rural Ireland but the Senator is right. Perhaps the Department of Employment and Social Protection and others should have a mechanism where we can ensure we raise awareness of this problem through the community alert programme or through the Department of Justice and Law Reform to alert people to this issue. Such theft is disappointing and upsetting for people. The case the Senator cited of the person who had got a fill of oil at 2.30 p.m. and it was gone by 4 p.m. is disgraceful. There is more work to be done in that regard.
I will not get into a row with Senator Ó Domhnaill about the issue he raised. Michael O'Neill was being protective of his own players rather than having players lost to the Football Association of Ireland, FAI. The FAI has remained silent on it. Michael O'Neill is a Catholic. He was referring to Catholic players being signed up for the Republic. I do not believe he was being mischievous other than looking out for his own players. We are all involved in sport and we must protect our own, but I would certainly hope he was not being sectarian. I will not get into a row on it but it is important that we allow for players to choose whichever side they want to play for.
The irony of Senator Davitt's contribution is that some of his colleagues in Fianna Fáil were criticising the fact that we did not announce the double week for the social protection fuel allowance earlier. The logistics-----
It is not a reflection on that. It is on the post offices and their management of money.
Yes, but the logistics are that-----
We are in here every day of the week crying about the preservation of post offices-----
I know, but the logistics are that money was supplied at one level but I agree with the Senator that there is a need for all of us to support local post offices, enterprise, restaurants, coffee shops and suppliers, especially post-Storm Emma. Those people need our support and our help, and I join the Senator in expressing that. It is a matter we need to see resolved-----
For future events.
I thank the Leader.
Finally, I referenced Senator Coffey instead of Senator Mark Daly regarding the anniversary of the Tricolour today.