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 that.
Senator Dolan, as he so often does, raised issues in regard 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.
Senator McFadden also mentioned issues with regard 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 are but I do not want to dwell on that. 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 situation 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 a 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 over 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, so 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 that 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 and Senator Lawlor addressed a few matters in response to that issue in general. As already stated, we would all have huge sympathy with anyone who is without a home. We should all work together to ensure that houses are delivered. On many councils it is not Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or Labour 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 would 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 done by delivery companies and An Post seems to do 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, so 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 would 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, which I have addressed.
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.