Order of Business

Before I call on the Deputy Leader to announce today's Order of Business, I want to refer to an issue that is causing some discomfort for me regarding the way in which Commencement matters are submitted. Standing Orders technically provide that notice of Commencement matters be given in writing to the Cathaoirleach. That is not always practical, however, because sometimes when I am down in my home in west Cork, I do not have access to the Internet and so forth. However, the Seanad Office carries out the administrative work on Commencement matters on my behalf before submitting them to me for selection. I would be extremely grateful to all Senators if they would submit their matters to the Seanad Office where at least five administrative officers will be able to see them, log the time at which they submitted, etc. If there is anything of consequence arising, Senators can contact me and I will try my best to facilitate them but Commencement matters are best submitted to the Seanad Office. If the matters are submitted to me alone, they may never get to the Seanad Office or they may be delayed. It is better to submit matters to the office. At approximately 12.10 p.m. or 12.15 p.m. each day, a member of the Seanad Office staff brings the eight or nine matters submitted for consideration to my attention and I try to select those for discussion as fairly as possible, giving priority to Senators who have not had a recent opportunity to raise matters on the commencement of the House.

That matter of housekeeping dealt with, I call on the Deputy Leader to outline the business of the day.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of referral of Technological Universities Act 2018 (Section 36) (Appointed Day) Order 2018 to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion of referral of the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the European Council establishing the Internal Security Fund, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 6.30 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 No. 4, statements on the scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck screening programme, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons who may share time with colleagues not to exceed eight minutes each and the Minister to be given not less than three minutes to reply to the debate.

Will the Deputy Leader clarify No. 3 as I believe we are only to take Second Stage?

Yes, I believe it is Second Stage only to be taken at this stage.

I raise the issue of sports capital funding and its allocation. I implore the Minister not to repeat the sins of last year in respect of the distribution of sports capital funding. The benefit to communities of sports facilities and sports in general is immeasurable. In Dublin 8 we have some of the highest densities of population and rates of population growth, yet between the Liffey and the canal we do not have a single full-size pitch despite having a population of 50,000. For example, Kevins GAA club in the inner city, which currently fields 18 teams and has a long tradition of GAA in the inner city, has no place to call home. Imagine a home club in an area with one of the densest populations in the country being deprived of a pitch. It would not happen in any other parish in the country. The Kevins club does not serve only one parish, but eight. The Minister needs to take heed of this matter and ensure that adequate resources are allocated to children and sports clubs in disadvantaged areas across Dublin city. It is unfair that children in certain areas have better opportunities when it comes to sports facilities than their contemporaries in other areas.

The second issue I raise is the waiting lists for speech and language therapists and occupational therapists. There are currently 37,229 people waiting for speech and language therapy. There are three lists. Some 15,000 of these people are waiting for a very first assessment. We know that, if they are able to afford it, many parents are able to skip this list and pay for an assessment privately. There are 7,894 people waiting for a first treatment and there are 14,361 people waiting for the further therapy they need. In respect of occupational therapy, there are 31,361 people waiting. Half of these are children, of whom more than 6,000 have been waiting for more than a year. We see those who can afford to pay hundreds and thousands of euro get privately diagnosed and skip into the list for first therapy. This is not acceptable. It is unequal and cannot continue. I hope the Minister will look into this matter and ensure these waiting lists become a thing of the past.

To end on a high, I congratulate my colleague in Fianna Fáil, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, on his local Tidy Towns committee in Listowel, of which he was the founder, winning the overall Tidy Towns competition yesterday. I also congratulate other towns across the country and the national Tidy Towns committee on their hard work in ensuring that we have beautiful towns and cities throughout Ireland.

I join Senator Ardagh in acknowledging the voluntary work done to make Ireland a wonderful place in which to live, particularly by organisations such as Tidy Towns committees.

This morning, I received a telephone call informing me that there were seven masts tied up in Haulbowline last night. That is seven Naval Service ships, of which there are eight. If one is in service in the Mediterranean and the other seven are tied up in Haulbowline, who is looking after the seas? Who is carrying out fisheries patrols and dealing with drug trafficking and smuggling? Who is dealing with the various activities that take place at sea? I am told that we did not have a crew for a single ship. If this is true, we are in dire straits. I am told that senior non-commissioned officers, NCOs, are being asked to board ships and act as able seamen in order that ships can sail. That is unacceptable and simply not good enough. Last week, we had 3,500 soldiers and veterans outside the gate with the wives and partners of Defence Forces personnel. My colleague debated the issue with the Minister to try to secure better terms and conditions for soldiers. The issue is not pay.

Nobody ever joined the Defence Forces to get rich; rather, they joined to serve. It is all fine and dandy having a ship in the Mediterranean and getting all of the plaudits and fine words about the work we are doing there, but if we cannot do the job we are supposed to do at home, it is time to bring the ship back to patrol our seas. We bought a ninth ship but do not have crews to sail eight of them. The Department of Defence is giving back €27 million to the Exchequer, yet some soldiers are on the poverty line. Married quarters at the Curragh are boarded up, but they could be refurbished and put back into use such that service personnel would have an affordable rent and 47 or 50 houses would be released into the private rental market. The current approach must stop.

I am blue in the face discussing the treatment of the Defence Forces. Generally, those in uniform such as nurses and doctors are very badly treated. In recent days every Senator will have received letters about retention difficulties in the medical profession. Likewise, we cannot retain people in the Army. I am sick to the back teeth of hearing about the White Paper on Defence and how it is the blueprint for how the Defence Forces will work. If one looks at it, one will see that the word "retention" is mentioned once and that there is no strategy. There is no plan. It is time to tear up the White Paper and start again from scratch. We cannot have millions of euro worth of ships tied up in dock because there are no crews available. We cannot have young sailors coming back after four weeks at sea and having to sleep on board their ship because we have no accommodation for them. We cannot continue in the way we are going. I am fully aware that there are crises in every Department. I feel for the Ministers who are trying to resolve them because I do not know how they will be resolved. However, the Defence Forces need urgent attention.

I, too, congratulate the Tidy Towns organisation and committees on the huge contribution they make to local communities. I congratulate all those involved in Westport and all of the other towns in County Mayo which won prizes in their categories. We recognise the very hard work that they do.

I wish to mention a four year old girl with a severe neurodisability who is non-verbal and cannot be toilet trained. She has autism and lives in Castlebar. The disabilities section in the Department of Education and Skills is refusing to provide home tuition for her. It is asking this young girl who cannot even respond to her own name to get on a bus and travel 20 km to attend school in Newport. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the House to explain how we are cherishing all of the children of the nation equally when a child aged four years who has autism is refused home tuition and asked to travel 20 km on a bus to school? It is inhumane and beyond comprehension. I have gone through all of the processes in trying to get the Department to appreciate the geography of County Mayo and that there is no ASD unit in Castlebar, to recognise that the supports and services needed are not available and that we need some flexibility in our approach. These are not just numbers but children who deserve far better than this. I also ask the Minister to clarify the standing of the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017, to indicate the Stage it is at and when we can expect it to proceed through the House. There is no point in having conventions to protect the rights of those with disabilities when, in spite of them we have cases such as this. More and more cases are dropping through the system in this very inhumane way.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, on tabling a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. Anyone who has any doubt why Sinn Féin has tabled the motion should look at the short film "Through the Cracks", produced by Ingrid Casey, to hear the personal stories of the children and parents who are homeless in this city, confined to hubs and do not have the security of a home.

We watched this film earlier today in the audiovisual room in Leinster House to hear how we need to have a right to a home and a human right for housing enshrined in our Constitution. I would like the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come to the Seanad to tell us exactly how he will tackle the housing crisis.

It is good to be back again. The budget is coming up in a couple of weeks and I wish to raise two related matters with regard to disability. This is the first budget to follow Ireland's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is an opportunity and a necessity to have a budget that has something for disability across a range of Departments. There was a wonderful launch this morning of a new programme within the Houses of the Oireachtas called Oireachtas work and learn, OWL. The first ten people to partake, mainly young people with an intellectual disability, will be here for one year as interns. Great support is given by the Houses of the Oireachtas services and the staff, which I commend, and the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, CDETB, is underwriting the quality of the training and support.

After the year is up, those people need to move on to what I would simply call real jobs. The Ceann Comhairle said this morning that this is the first parliament in the world to initiate a programme like this. WALK and KARE are the two organisations supporting the programme, and this morning the director of services from WALK, Catherine Kelly, said that only 1% of the people on the intellectual disability database are in real jobs. We have a huge job of work to do. We have pretty much tackled the mainstream unemployment issue in that we are down to almost zero unemployment. It is high time, therefore, that we dealt with this other issue.

I ask the Deputy Leader if the Seanad can find some way to acknowledge those ten interns practically and welcome them. Can we find a way where Members can get to meet them one to one? It is the old-fashioned aspect of contacts and support that will help those people into employment.

The second related point I wished to raise is that tomorrow is the second iteration of the annual Make Way Day where more than 18 local authorities, a number of disability organisations and people with disabilities are going out to point out - largely through a social media campaign - the infringements on the capacity for people with disabilities to be able to walk unhindered through the street and down the high streets. There are cars parked on pavements, furniture from businesses is out on the street and there is refuse and so on. These are all practical things. I congratulate those who have been involved in this campaign. Congratulations also to Listowel for the Tidy Towns result. Ease of access is an important issue in having tidy towns.

I wish to raise an issue that pertains to the operation of small, community pharmacies throughout the State. It will also resonate with each and every Member in the House who understands how difficult it often is for independent pharmacies to survive in this kind of market. I understand new rules have been developed by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland that, if they are adopted through a statutory instrument under the 2007 Act, could seriously restrict the role, function and responsibilities of pharmacy assistants in the State. There are 355 pharmacy assistants, all of whom have particular kinds of qualifications that are recognised. These courses stopped quite a number of years ago. The majority of pharmacy assistants are women over the age of 55. If these proposals manage to migrate into a statutory instrument, which they are likely to in the next short period, these pharmacy assistants could find themselves out of work, with pharmacies throughout the State under severe pressure.

My call today is for the Minister for Health, who I understand would be obligated to sign the statutory instrument, to review this situation and to understand that if this proceeds, it will cause absolute chaos and mayhem in small pharmacies up and down the country. There are people in this Chamber who are better qualified than I to speak about it, but I understand the problems it will cause. We are asking pharmacies to do more work these days. We are asking them to do more complex work and it is important that they are resourced to do that. The worst possible thing we could do is take qualified staff from them. What those staff want is a properly recognised framework for the kind of continuous professional development that they do anyway. I cannot see an upside to this. Nobody is advising to the contrary or as to why this is positive. I ask the Minister to keep a watching brief on this, to be very cautious about how it proceeds and to ensure there is proper engagement to get under the bonnet as to why individual pharmaceutical assistants and the group that represents them are very concerned.

Members will be aware that new illness benefit forms came onstream in the middle of July without, as I understand, any consultation with the National Association of General Practitioners. I met with that association last week and understand from it that a mediation process was designed by the Department and then withdrawn. An eminent industrial relations professional with significant experience was commissioned to assist in the process to develop a framework whereby this issue could be addressed. The longer it goes on, the more delays we will experience in getting illness benefit applications processed. I appeal to those Senators who have influence with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and, to a lesser extent, the Minister for Health, to try to ensure there is an intervention on this issue.

I am very pleased that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has said today at the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection that payment of a Christmas bonus will be made this year to 1.2 million recipients of long-term social welfare payments. The statement that was issued to the committee yesterday was particularly vague and open to interpretation as to whether there would be a payment made at all this year. The Minister has said a payment will be made. However, she has failed to state that the full Christmas bonus will be restored. I appeal to the Minister and her Fine Gael colleagues to use their good offices to make sure we have 100% restoration of the Christmas bonus to lighten the load for less well-off families as we approach the Christmas period.

To take up the previous speaker's point about the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Minister never said the bonus would not be paid. It was disingenuous for anyone to have said that.

I did not say that.

I am not saying Senator Nash did so. It had been leaked and that is where the problem lies. When things are leaked and taken out of context, people are terrorised and frightened. Old-age pensioners were fearful this morning because of a leaked document. It was fake news and I do not think that is right.

I would like to speak on housing, as everybody would. Councillors, Senators and Deputies alike are all frustrated at the housing situation. I do not think anybody can criticise the Government's commitment to housing. The Government is very committed to housing and homelessness-----

It is committed to homelessness, all right.

-----and to housing those who are homeless. I feel there are a few things councils could look at doing. I would like the Minister to come to the House to have a debate with us on the issues. One of the things I am concerned about is the repair and lease scheme. It was instigated by the previous housing Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. It is a very good scheme but it has not been taken up at all. I think only 15 people have taken it up in the last years.

My suggestion is that the councils may not be advertising it and pushing it enough. Perhaps the Minister could put pressure on them to promote it better. I am also worried about staffing issues and the lack of clerks of works. The clerk of works in Athlone and the south Westmeath area works on his own and is under pressure. Perhaps that is another way we could look at it. If we had the Minister in the House, we could discuss this with him.

Sinn Féin's motion of no confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government this evening is a stunt.

It does not have a monopoly on compassion. We all know everyone should have a home. I firmly believe calling for a vote on a motion of no confidence in the Minister will do nothing for the people who are living in hubs or for those who are on the housing waiting lists. Sinn Féin would be better served using its time tonight to come up with suggestions and solutions and trying to help the Government to house people who are looking for housing, instead of calling for votes of no confidence because, to me, such calls are stunts.

Matters that are before the Dáil should not be discussed here. If a Member wants to table a motion before the House, we can have a discussion on it. I would prefer that this issue would not be referred to during the course of the Order of Business.

As others have done, I join in congratulating the more than 880 towns and villages that entered this year's Tidy Towns competition. They all deserve huge credit for their efforts. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, on Listowel being successful in winning the overall prize. I take great pride also today in congratulating Glaslough village in County Monaghan-----

-----on being awarded the prize of being the tidiest village in the country. I invite all my colleagues in the House to visit Glaslough if they get an opportunity to do so as it is a beautiful village that has much to offer. The volunteers who participated in the work in all the more than 880 towns and villages throughout the country deserve great praise. I compliment them on their hard work and effort. These things do not happen by accident. They all deserve great credit. I encourage others to join them in their efforts because the awards are great both at a personal level and a community level.

I would like to spare a thought today for the community of Magheracloone in County Monaghan who yesterday experienced the unprecedented event of having a landslide, which affected the local Magheracloone GAA club and the adjoining community centre. It was a dramatic event for all concerned. There is also a question mark over a number of houses within the vicinity. Many businesses are suffering because of road closures. I spoke to a representative of Gyproc this morning about the incident and stressed the importance of keeping the community updated on developments as they arise. I understand some experts from the UK arrived in Magheracloone this morning to undertake investigations to assess the damage and perhaps the reason for it. Our hearts go out to all those people and we trust that, collectively, they will all work together to ensure that life as normal will return to Magheracloone as soon as possible.

I wish to speak about the National Women's Council of Ireland. The Deputy Leader will be aware that its representatives had a briefing this morning for Oireachtas Members. I attended it, engaged with them and commend them on having a very good, meaningful one-to-one engagement with subgroups. It was very helpful and it was great to have that conversation.

A point that came across clearly to me at the engagement was the disconnect sometimes between organisations such as this one and politics and policymakers. The issues they covered were a women's health action plan, for which it has strongly advocated, and reversing the cuts of crucial payments and services to women. I was particularly taken by their detailed analysis of the investment in social houses and greater security of tenure. They also tracked the figure for women and children who are homeless, which is an alarming and a growing issue for that organisation.

After having had some engagement with the representatives, it struck me that we need to see more women in local politics. All those to whom I spoke in one of the groups said the same thing. We need people of diverse views right across the various spectrums - young, old, straight, gay, bisexual, men, women - and to have a rich sense of diversity. It is important that all of that is represented in Parliament, be it the Seanad or the Dáil, and in local government. I posed the question to the people I spoke why there are not more such people. They cited the issue of childcare costs, of there being a male dominated cabal, as one woman described it, and how confidence was an issue for many women in terms of accessing policy within local authorities and in politics.

I would like to see how we, across the political spectrum and across all parties and none, can collaborate and work together in some way now. Let us not wait for another other five years but rather collaborate on this between now and the local elections in May. I am talking in terms of the next two to three months.

I suggest to the Deputy Leader that we collaborate and look at how we might have a public campaign of engagement. We should have workshops up and down the country encouraging women to be involved in the political movement, whether in political parties or as Independents. I put the idea out there. Perhaps we would all go away, collectively think about that and see how we could get a more diverse mix in local politics and especially more women.

In deference to your comments, a Chathaoirligh, about the motion in the other House I will say only I support what my colleague, Senator Gabrielle McFadden, has said. Sinn Féin is playing the man, not the ball, and would be better advised to come up with policies.

I, too, wish to be associated with the comments about the Tidy Towns competition and the great work that is done by all the communities around the country. I refer, in particular, to Skerries and Malahide which both won gold, Swords which won silver, Lusk which won bronze and the Naul which won a prize for endeavour.

I will also comment briefly on the fake news story on the Christmas bonus. I remind Members that it was Fianna Fáil that scrapped the bonus in 2009 and the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government that reinstated it in 2014. The Government has increased the bonus several times since. I know the Minister for Finance has no notion of reducing it.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has been through this House and is before the other House. It is important legislation. A number of Deputies wish to see the provision on cancer warning labels removed from the Bill. To do so would be inappropriate and ill-advised. We know from our discussions in this House that the World Health Organization, WHO, has determined alcohol to be a class 1 carcinogen. Approximately 900 Irish people are diagnosed with an alcohol-related cancer every single year. Alcohol can cause seven types of cancer, namely, cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast and liver and colorectal colon cancer. More than half of the mouth, head and neck cancers diagnosed in Ireland are associated with alcohol. Alcohol also increases the level of oestrogen in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of breast cancer.

What are we afraid of? Is it allowing the public to know the risk they are subjecting themselves to? We have no right as legislators to deprive people of that information, in particular young people. The earlier one starts to drink, the more likely one is to have a problem. Young people need to know that alcohol is dangerous. When consumed in moderation it can be a great social lubricant but, sadly, many people in this country drink excessively and our relationship with alcohol has been extremely damaging to society at many levels. I know this is the Order of Business but this is something I feel passionate about. I have always been a strong exponent of protecting young people until they are old enough to make their own decisions and ensuring that adults and children alike are informed of the nature of the product they are consuming.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not appear to have heard about legislation introduced by Sinn Féin on rent certainty, protection from eviction and security of tenure. The party introduced Bills in the Oireachtas at least six times. The Government asked for solutions and it was given solutions but they were knocked back and opposed or Members sat on the fence getting blistered bums.

I know I am not meant to speak about the business of the Dáil but what I will speak about is the effect the homelessness and housing crisis is having on children. Five years ago when I was a councillor I helped a woman who lived in a car with her three children. I knew at the time something was happening. I knew there was a tsunami of distraught parents and children beginning to emerge who were left to sleep in cars. That was the beginning of the housing crisis. The child whom I met at that time was seven years of age. The child stopped talking and listening and became incontinent.

My colleague, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, alluded to the short documentary, "Through the Cracks", which I urge all Members to watch. It refers repeatedly to the stories of children who are at risk of homelessness or actually homeless. It is stated all of the children suffer from anxiety and depression. Where is the therapy for every one of them? A woman came to see me yesterday in fear. She has been given notice to quit because the landlord or landlady wants to take back the house. Her child is in this precarious position. He is a small six year old boy with mental health issues. He has become extremely violent because he is picking up on the parents' insecurity, anxiety and depression due to the lack of somewhere to live. There is a psychologist missing in Cherry Orchard Hospital and a two-year waiting list. The child has become violent and his mother has been told to ring the police about her six year old. That is the only solution while she is on a two-year waiting list.

I, too, congratulate the Tidy Towns committees throughout the country on the tremendous work each and every one of us sees week in, week out, which starts at the beginning of the year, to prepare their villages and towns for the task ahead.

I, too, ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come before the House to report positive progress on Rebuilding Ireland. When one looks at the scheme, he instigated an inter-agency group on homelessness. There has been a 40% increase in new home completions. The number of planning permissions is up by 39%, while the number of commencement notices is up 17%. The overall figure for new builds is up by 40%. The Minister is also responsible for developing the Land Development Agency.

I do not want the Senator to-----

I am just highlighting some of the positives-----

I know that, but-----

-----and asking the Minister to come to the House to think about-----

Please, Senator. Generally, I do not mind a Member talking about an issue, but referring to a motion in the other House is inappropriate.

I have not once referred to the motion.

Is the Senator referring to it directly?

I have not once referred to it. I am asking that the Minister come to the House-----

The Senator might not have mentioned the motion, but unless I am hearing him differently, the Senator is rehashing what is happening in the other House.

I am not. I am just saying it is clear that what Sinn Féin is doing is a clear tactic-----

A Chathaoirligh-----

I have already ruled on the matter. The Senator must find another way that is-----

Sinn Féin is constantly being accused of bullying. It will not bully the Minister and it will not bully me either.

Please respect the Chair.

Sinn Féin is not interested in integration but segregation. It refused-----

Really; come on. Kick him out.

It is refusing to allow 900 houses to be developed in south County Dublin.

Please respect the Chair. We are on the Order of Business.

There are 19,000 people homeless in the North of Ireland, the worst figure in the United Kingdom. Who is in charge there? Sinn Féin is in charge.

From where did the Senator get those figures?

No. The Senator's friends in the SDLP-----

There was a Sinn Féin councillor on radio the other day commenting on the fact that it was not about money but about his local authority. As I said - I will not speak for much longer-----

I think this is out of order. The Senator has gone on too long.

I ask the Minister to come to the House to report positive progress on Rebuilding Ireland.

Rebuild Ireland.

We are taking the votes back.

You are not going to get them again.

I join in the congratulations to the 883 Tidy Towns committees the length and breadth of the country. It is appropriate that we mention them in the Seanad because they do Trojan work. Our colleague Senator Ned O'Sullivan was a founder member of the Tidy Towns committee in Listowel, a town which received 339 marks. That said, my village of Castlecoote received 337, which is very good. It also received a gold medal.

Our premises were also commended, which is rather nice. I commend the committee. I will not mention names, but Keadue received 336 marks; Ballintubber, 327; and Clontuskert, 325. They all performed very well. Westport again scored very well, while Portrunny received an endeavour award medal. We should praise the dedication of the people involved. Roscommon town received 326 marks. Our colleague Councillor Kathleen Shanagher is chairperson of the committee. I say, "Well done," to the volunteers the length and breadth of the country for the enormous improvements achieved. Driving through the towns of Ireland one can see that the ones with active Tidy Towns committees look stunning.

I also praise a fellow Roscommon man, Mr. J. P. McManus, who has dedicated €3.2 million to the GAA. That is €100,000 to every GAA county board in Ireland. It is an unprecedented and incredible gesture, and we should praise him for doing what he is doing in Adare. People can criticise him all they like but it is one of the most fantastic gestures of a successful Irishman, with whom we should all be delighted to be associated. I knew his uncle, Owen, who died in 2010, whom Mr. McManus used to visit regularly and bring around the Arignagh village valley in his lovely helicopter. He used to drop in a bottle of whiskey, and he also brought stone from Arignagh to his place. I compliment him, his wife Noreen and his family for a lovely gesture to all the GAA people in Ireland. I say "Well done" to Mr. McManus and may he have continued success.

I would like to be associated with the congratulations to the Tidy Towns committees across the country. Yesterday was a great day for recognising the exceptional work that is done by volunteers through the energy, time and commitment they give to ensuring villages and towns look so well. As Senator Leyden has rightly said, we have had good success in Roscommon. Roscommon town, Castlecoote, Kilteeven, Ballintober, Athleague, Portrunny, Keadew, Tarmonbarry and Cloontuskert have all done exceptionally well. While they may not have received awards, many other towns and villages have also increased their marks, which emphasises that further improvements have been made.

Having been involved in many clean-ups and with Tidy Towns over the past few years, I know that it is important that we see further targeted measures to deal with illegal dumping, particularly in rural areas. I know the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has been proactive in providing funding to assist with major clean-ups where volunteers are unable to access these spots, which is welcome, but we need targeted approaches to deal with prevention rather than clean-ups. Once again, I compliment all who have been involved.

It certainly is the case that the Tidy Towns competition brings out the best of Ireland. Those who are involved at all levels, and volunteers especially, deserve great credit. I notice Cloontuskert was mentioned twice and wonder if there are two Cloontuskerts now in the Roscommon-Galway constituency. Senators Leyden and Hopkins might bring clarity tomorrow as to which one they were referring to.

I can confirm that.

There is a fine graveyard in the Galway one, which I know is well kept.

A strange controversy erupted last week regarding the Committee of Public Accounts hearing into spending at Áras an Uachtaráin, with members of the Government and the Dáil saying the hearing would be "unconstitutional". Several interesting points have emerged from the hearing this morning, however, including details of an annual allowance of €317,000 paid to the President each year which is not subject to audit and the fact that an audit committee set up in 2014 to monitor spending did not even meet for three years.

The Committee of Public Accounts is a Dáil committee only and it is inappropriate while it is in the middle of a debate for us to have a discussion in the Seanad.

I will call for a specific debate about freedom of information.

The Senator might find another way to do it. The Committee of Public Accounts is a specific Dáil committee dealing with this issue. In my view it is still sub judice, it is hearing evidence and it may go on for some time. When it is over we might be able to have a debate on it.

I understand, but my point is about the fake political theatre that erupted last week around this issue.

The President should be above this debate, and the Office of the President can be dealt with, but the Senator should find another way.

The Constitution states the President shall not be answerable to either House of the Oireachtas or to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and functions of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise or performance of these powers and functions. It is clear that it does not say that the President is not answerable to the Oireachtas under any circumstances. It says he or she is not answerable for the exercise and performance of the powers and functions which are specifically mentioned in the relevant article in the Constitution. My point is that it was nonsense for anyone to say examining spending from the Central Fund by the Áras would be unconstitutional. Why then did the likes of Deputies Micheál Martin, Catherine Murphy and Alan Kelly wade in to defend the Government's attempts to prevent this scrutiny on the grounds that it might interfere with the ongoing election? Surely, that is the point. Surely, voters have a right to know in advance of an election. One can imagine what would happen if the Committee of Public Accounts suspended all scrutiny by the Fine Gael-led Government in the run up to the next general election on the grounds that it might impact on the result. Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party would jump up and down in indignation about such a conspiracy.

What we saw last week was political theatre and hypocrisy. There is almost universal agreement that the Presidency should be made subject to freedom of information legislation. All parties in the Dáil are on record as supporting it. If the Government and Opposition leaders consider it unconstitutional for the Committee of Public Accounts to probe spending in the Áras, they must consider that any attempt by the Oireachtas to bring the Áras within the remit of freedom of information would also be unconstitutional. Why have they not made that point before now? The simple reason is that no one really believes this line about unconstitutionality. It was cooked up at the last minute because of unease regarding details of Áras spending in the run up to the election, which the political class has already done its best to stitch up in favour of the incumbent.

I told Senator Mullen earlier, but he continued on, that this matter is sub judice before the Committee of Public Accounts. The Constitution sets out certain parameters and-----

When €7 million is being spent annually on the President, how can we not have accountability?

That is not a matter for us. It is a matter for the Committee of Public Accounts to make a decision on. It may be that when the committee has decided, it could be a matter for debate on another day.

I welcome the announcement by the board of An Post that it will enter the Irish retail mortgage market next year and offer customers a 1% reduction in the mortgage interest rates applying where people take out a mortgage for the first time or switch providers. In due course, An Post will move on to the provision of overdrafts and credit cards. It is clear that the high street retail banks in this country are fleecing people when one compares the interest rates charged with European averages. It is good to see An Post move on a commitment it provided in respect of rolling out further services, including financial services. However, the old chestnut of the closure of post offices remains.

I am very disappointed to have been notified earlier that Ballindine post office in County Mayo has failed the review and will not be allowed to reopen, including by means of giving someone else the opportunity to run a post office there. I question the way in which An Post is applying this protocol. There is no clarity in respect of it. There are more than 1,500 people in the electoral division comprising Ballindine, Garrymore and Irishtown and my understanding is that An Post's aim is to have a post office in place for every 500 people at least. There is no explanation regarding the review apart from a standard letter issued to every person who has made a submission. The letter states that An Post has examined the protocol and is sorry that the post office has not been successful.

An Post's bona fides in applying the protocol are called into question in another regard. When An Post is shutting down a post office, it gives ten to 14 days' notice. If one wants a review, it takes place after the post office is closed. The post office in Ballindine closed on 10 or 12 August and the results of the review have been provided now. I do not think An Post is a bit serious about reviewing or reconsidering anything. I note that three business people in Ballindine made expressions of interest to An Post in August and indicated their interest in discussing the possibility of continuing to provide the services. The people concerned are not doing it for the good of their health. If there is a business proposition there, they will run with it. If there is not, they will not. An Post has not engaged with them in any shape or form, however, which is a disgrace. It is using the protocol as a carte blanche to shut down 159 post offices.

I am not suggesting every post office should remain open. That would be a foolish statement and would detract from the good cases in some communities to retain their post offices. Will the Deputy Leader take this issue up with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten? We have been told that where people want to engage, there will be engagement. However, the engagement with An Post is not a bit meaningful. It will have to be taken to task on this issue.

I acknowledge the Government's remarks at the weekend that it intends to hold the much awaited referendum on extending voting rights in presidential elections in, it is hoped, May next year. This will be an important debate. I will not refer to the ongoing presidential election campaign. The office is representative but not elected by all of Ireland's citizens. It will be an opportunity for us to initiate a further discussion on the kind of Ireland we want, namely, a fairer and more equal Ireland, as well as one that cherishes, empowers and enfranchises all citizens.

The Minister is sincere on this matter. I believe he has worked diligently with officials on preparing the groundwork for this referendum. This will go some way to creating that more equal and representative society for which we long. It is a campaign, a referendum and an issue that is not won, however. To my knowledge, all of the parties represented in this Chamber, as well as those Members who do not belong to any particular party, are supportive of the extension of the voting right to citizens in the North and those who qualify among the diaspora. There is a longstanding desire for this through the Constitutional Convention, as well as the natural outwork flowing from the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

There is merit on that basis for the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, to update the House on plans for that referendum to ensure we can get a better understanding and insight into the Government's option papers. I remind all of my colleagues across the House that we will have to go out and win this referendum. It will afford us an opportunity to have a frank, good, positive and worthwhile discussion and debate about how we want to see Ireland and the Presidency moving forward.

Members have referred to the recent announcement of winners in the Tidy Towns competition. In Limerick, we are proud five communities won bronze medals, Castleconnell, Limerick city centre, Newcastle West, Galbally and Ardpatrick. Adare and Garrienderk were also mentioned for county awards. Birdhill, the winner last year, performed extremely well in the gold medal category. J. P. McManus runs a Going for Gold/Tidy Towns competition for Limerick which has been very successful. I commend him on his support of Limerick hurling and his more recent nationwide funding of GAA clubs.

I support the call for a debate on housing. No Member has all the solutions. This is an integrated problem which needs to be addressed at Department level but also, equally, at local authority level. Many Members have colleagues on local authorities who deal with housing every day. As we know, many of the applications for housing go from local authorities to the Department. Many of them are good applications; some not so good. We need to avoid grandstanding on the housing issue. It is a significant issue in Limerick.

We need to find solutions that will work for the people we represent. People who are listening in are waiting for houses to be built. Houses are under construction in Limerick and many have been built but we need to build many more. We need a mature, considered debate and I ask that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, come to the House as quickly as possible. I would be very interested in hearing proposals from all sides of the House once Senators have consulted their colleagues in local authorities on their views. We need to work collectively on this issue. We cannot afford to turn it into a political football.

I express my frustration at reports of an internal Government row between the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on proposed regulation of Airbnb and who should take the lead on that issue. This matter has been dealt with. While Senators talk about working together on solutions, members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government have been working together on this issue. The committee recommended that we regulate short-term lets, of which Airbnb is the biggest source. Airbnb and the Government spent a year developing a memorandum of understanding that the committee said would not work. The memorandum has been in place for a year and legislation on the matter was introduced by Senator Humphreys. We must not drag our heels on regulating Airbnb. According to independent data, 1,000 units in this city would become available and return to rental stock if we regulated short-term lets such as Airbnb.

There are solutions. Dublin City Council suggested there are 4,000 vacant units within the canals of this city, all of which have connections to infrastructure, schools and transport. It appears, however, that we do not need a vacancy tax and there will not be one in the budget. Sinn Féin is offering solutions. We need a vision and we need to have a conversation about a vision not only now, but about how we future-proof the system - it is not just a market but a system. We need to have a conversation about how, in the future, maybe 30% of that system would be comprised of housing provided by approved housing bodies and social and affordable housing, with 70% being private. That would insulate people from future boom-bust politics.

I agree with my colleague, Senator Kieran O'Donnell, on the need for a debate on housing. We need to have a genuine debate on the way forward. There are many challenges for people who are on the housing lists in local authorities. There are also challenges for people who are caught between not qualifying for the local authority housing list and being unable to buy. We need to seriously look at that area.

There is good news. Last night, Cork City Council approved the building of 112 new apartments and development work to open a site for the building of more than 600 affordable and social houses in my area. I welcome the decision by the council to approve 712 units in one night.

We have challenges. This year, we will build 20,000 new houses, which means that we are turning out 385 new houses per week. We need to bring that figure up to around 700 houses per week over the next two or three years. That process will take time. With 385 houses currently being delivered each week, I am sure that by this time next year 500 new houses will be completed or brought into use each week and that level of output will continue for the next few years. We need to assist people, in particular those who are not on local authority housing lists and are unable to borrow to buy a home. We need to facilitate that group either with affordable housing or by providing for secure long-term letting and a far better rental system than we currently have. We should debate this matter at an early date.

Senator Ardagh raised the issue of sports capital funding. My understanding is the Minister looks at individual cases and that is the premise of the sports capital funding structure and process.

The Senator also raised the very serious issue of waiting lists for speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. I suggest this be tabled as a Commencement matter to get some detail as to the state of play when it comes to those serious waiting lists.

Senator Ardagh also congratulated Listowel and, indeed, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, who founded the Tidy Towns committee in Listowel. As many Senators have acknowledged, it is a brilliant initiative and much work is done by volunteers, which is to be commended.

Senator Craughwell raised the issue of the Defence Forces. I do not believe his information is correct when it comes to the reasons the particular ships mentioned may be in port. Earlier today, as part of its patrol duties, the LÉ Eithne responded to a boat in distress and has taken a recreational vessel under tow to Ballycotton RNLI station. The rota of ship deployment varies and there are a range of reasons that vessels will be in the port. The Minister explained in this House last week what is being done to address the issues of recruitment and retention. Only yesterday, another agreement securing pay increases for members of the Defence Forces was reached for those admitted after 2011. The issues facing the Defence Forces are being addressed within a framework. I understand why the Senator raises those issues, which are of concern, and I have spoken to the people involved myself. It is my understanding, however, that a lot of work is being done to improve those conditions.

Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of a four year old child, which I believe would be better raised as a Commencement matter. She asked about the autism Bill and I will have to get back to her on it.

Senator Dolan, as he so often does, raised issues related to disability. His suggestion about interns and how we might be able to facilitate that process in the Seanad is a good one. It is probably a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which might want to take a look at it to see what is possible. The Senator also acknowledged the work of those involved in the annual Make Way Day. It is only when people are less able to navigate the streets or public areas that they have an awareness of these issues in that they find it hard to get around. The Senator raises a very important issue. Initiatives like the annual Make Way Day are very important for the people he mentions.

Senator Nash raised the issue of community pharmacies. I would have thought this is another issue that could be usefully tabled as a Commencement matter. He also raised the issue of GPs. To my knowledge, the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, and the Department are in ongoing negotiations, which are progressing. We will have to await the outcome of those negotiations.

Senator McFadden put to bed the issue of the Christmas bonus not being made available. This is not a real story. In fact, it is worrying a story like this is put out as it can affect more vulnerable people who are put in fear of not getting that extra bit of help at Christmas time. The Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has no intention of discontinuing the Christmas bonus for any social welfare recipients. As is always the case, there is no provision for a Christmas bonus in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection's allocation for 2018. The decision to pay a Christmas bonus is made at budget time every year. The Christmas bonus was abolished in 2009 by the Fianna Fáil Government. As the economy recovered, it was reinstated by Fine Gael in 2014 at the rate of 25%. This was increased to 75% in 2015 and further increased to 85% in 2016 and 2017. Those are not the actions of a Government that intends to do away with the Christmas bonus. I thank Senator McFadden for clarifying that matter.

The Senator also mentioned issues related to housing.

I will respect the ruling on housing, but I will make a few comments. I do not know how helpful are initiatives such as the motion that will be discussed later but I do not want to dwell on that issue. All I want to point out is that Rebuilding Ireland is based on the same model as the Action Plan for Jobs, which was much maligned. No one thought it would have an effect, but we are practically at full employment and this has given rise to new concerns about actually getting people to work in various sectors. We are in the second year of Rebuilding Ireland, which is a five-year plan. We have turned the corner. All indicators prove this, and I have no doubt but that the plan will deliver. In 2017, an additional 7,000 social homes were put into the system that were not there in 2016. In 2018, 8,000 additional social homes will be put in. Our target is 12,000 a year and 110,000 by 2027. There were 3,000 unfinished housing estates when we entered office in 2011; there are now fewer than 150. Many significant new housing projects have been blocked by those who want to make an issue of this matter later this evening. They recently blocked the commencement of 900 new homes in south Dublin, including social housing, delayed 78 housing units in Coolock and campaigned against housing in north Dublin. There is a great deal of politics being played with this issue. Not one of us sitting here or anywhere else in these Houses or on any council around the country wants to see people without a home. Our time would be better used in a minority Government coming up with solutions that will actually help the situation rather than inflaming it and distracting from the work being done to improve matters.

Senator Gallagher referred to Tidy Towns, as did many others, and an important issue in Magheracloone, where there was a landslide. It is an horrific event for the people who have been affected by it and I hope proper supports will be put in place for the community.

Senator Boyhan referred to the National Women's Council of Ireland. I have not had a chance to go there. I hope to go over to hear what it has to say. It is certainly very active and I agree with the Senator's point regarding more women in politics. It is quite an unattractive profession for many reasons, not least the adversarial and quite negative nature of the discourse on many occasions; therefore, it is not naturally something in which women want to get involved. I think it really comes down to that.

Senator Reilly also referred to Tidy Towns and the various towns in his area that enjoyed good success. He also raised an issue that is close to my heart, namely, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. I am very disappointed that there would be any rowing back on the warnings on alcohol. It is clear from what the World Health Organization, WHO, has stated alcohol is a class 1 carcinogen and it is beyond doubt that we have a broken relationship with alcohol. The amount of binge-drinking that goes on is hugely problematic. I find it disappointing that colleagues are trying to dilute the potential effect of this legislation.

Senator Devine referred to housing, while Senator Lawlor addressed a few matters in response to that issue in general. As stated, we would all have huge sympathy for anyone who is without a home. We should all work together to ensure houses are delivered. On many councils it is not Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or the Labour Party that is in a majority. I think there is a competency issue in many of the councils. We really need to up our level when it comes to the delivery of housing on that front. Senator Lawlor also referred to Rebuilding Ireland. I have addressed that point.

Senator Leyden raised Tidy Towns and J. P. McManus, whose generosity we have to acknowledge. He is a fantastic advocate for the GAA and is certainly very generous to it.

Senator Hopkins also referred to Tidy Towns and the exceptional work done by volunteers in her area.

Senator Mullen referred to the Presidency, a matter on which I will not comment.

Senator Mulherin raised a very important point regarding An Post. I have wondered for years why An Post does not diversify what it does in the sense that people have essentially stopped posting letters to a large degree. Many deliveries are made by delivery companies and An Post seems to make fewer of them.

Clearly, the demand for postal services is diminishing. The idea of An Post getting involved in the retail mortgage market and providing overdraft facilities is a good one. Ballindine post office is close to my parents' home and I know what the Senator is talking about in that respect. The Minister appeared before us last week, but it has since become apparent that the procedures being used to review post offices are not clear; therefore, I will seek for the Minister to return and clarify the procedures or to write to all Members clarifying same.

Senator Ó Donnghaile acknowledged the efforts to extend voting rights. We all agree on that issue. Actually, I should not assume that all of us agree, but I certainly do. Extending voting rights to the citizens of the North will happen. It will just take a little time.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell referred to the Tidy Towns competition and raised the issue of housing. I have addressed that issue.

Senator Warfield raised the issue of Airbnb, which has been discussed numerous times in the House. His point was well made, but regulation needs to be done effectively. A balance must be struck between housing needs in red zones and the more difficult pressure zones in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick and other areas around the country where Airbnb facilitates the tourism product. The need to strike a balance might explain any discussion that is under way between Departments. In referring to the debate between two Departments, though, the Senator mentioned something about which I am unable to comment.

Senator Colm Burke also discussed housing. I will not go into his points in detail, but it was positive to see 712 houses being approved in his area of Cork last night. It is good news. Such decisions have to be made at local level if we are to make housing stock available to people as soon as possible.

Regarding Tidy Towns, I agree with the sentiments expressed by many Senators about the tremendous voluntary work that people do all over the country in villages and towns. In the past 20 years, the Tidy Towns competition and its categories have been a major success. I congratulate Listowel, which is a large town, on winning the overall award. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, who was one of the founder members of the Listowel Tidy Towns festival. Be it in their current or past lives, it is good to see Senators doing society and their communities an important service.

Order of Business agreed to.