The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the European Council establishing the Internal Security Fund, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on the proposal for an electoral commission, to be taken at 12.45 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.
Order of Business
In the past few days my office has been inundated with reports of very aggressive burglaries and street muggings. Very worrying young people, I would call them thugs, in packs and gangs are targeting women with bags on the street. It is not just confined to the evening but there are instances of muggings during the day. We hear repeatedly of increased numbers of gardaí, but I do not see them on the beat. We should ensure there is a scheme in place so that community gardaí are more visible and more funding goes into direct community policing. The people who are living their lives and going to bed at night, wake up to find that their back door has been smashed in but do not find that the Garda is protecting them. We need to give more resources to the Garda Síochána because at present the resources seem to be spent on dealing with the gangs in the city. We see road blocks but we do not see community gardaí out on the beat looking after ordinary citizens. I would like to hear the comments of the Minister for Justice and Equality on the increase of neighbourhood crimes in our city.
My second point relates to mortgages. Many people do not know the benefit of switching mortgages and the savings one can make if one switches. I encourage people to examine their mortgage and see if they can save by switching. In the majority of cases when one is not locked into a mortgage one can save. Consumers need to be made a lot more aware of the savings available in the market.
I welcome the imminent introduction of legislation by the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, that will enable the safe termination of pregnancies up to 12 weeks.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come to the Seanad to debate the national ports policy. This policy is presenting difficulties in various ports around the country and it needs further teasing out. This is ultimately a matter of responsibility for the Minister. Given the pressure points that are coming on a number of harbour authorities and the impact it may or may not have on their local authorities, we need proper accountability. We need an explanation for some of the things that have been happening in the past few weeks. I request that the Minister be invited to this House to give his side of the story and I hope we will have an opportunity to put questions to him.
I acknowledge the presence of ten people in the Houses of the Oireachtas with the word "OWL" printed on their T-shirts. These ten people with intellectual disabilities are participating in an Oireachtas work and learn programme and will be placed across a variety of the services in the Houses. This is a really important initiative and I want to thank the Cathaoirleach, the Ceann Comhairle and the various officials in Leinster House who make these things happen. It is important that we embrace diversity. It is a positive story coming from Leinster House and I hope we can learn more about the programme and what these people are doing here. This is the first parliament in the world to have done this and as somebody said to me, this programme will enable young people gain real transferable work skills and we all look forward to working with them. Today, if one meets a person with the word "OWL" on the T-shirt - Oireachtas Work and Learn programme - one will know why they are here. I wish them well and acknowledge the people behind the scenes, including the offices of the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle for making this happen. It is a positive story.
I request the Leader to ask the Minister of State at the Department of Finance to inform the Seanad of the position in the implementation of the recommendation made in the report on the cost of motor insurance.
We need a review of the status of the recommendations and the progress made to date. What is the status of the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Bill and how can it be speeded up through the Houses? What part can we play in that regard? I would also welcome an update on the heads of the Bill for the fraud database legislation which is to be introduced. The legislation is urgently required. Despite the figures that are given to us about reductions in car insurance premiums, we all know from our constituency offices that there are still extortionate rates of premium being demanded of people for mandatory insurance. That must become a priority for the Government. It is a priority for many political parties, certainly for Sinn Féin. We urgently require the Minister to come to the House to give us a full and frank update on the status of the recommendations and the legislation.
We had a meeting with the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, this morning on the investment that is needed in healthcare. We must listen to the IMO and to clinicians within the system. We do not need to bring in external consultants who have a hands-off approach to the system and pay them millions of euro. We must listen to people inside the system. The three nurses working in the accident and emergency unit in Mayo General Hospital could tell us what the solutions are. They know they are doing the work of seven nurses. The registered doctors know what needs to be done within the system. It is worrying to hear the IMO say that, unfortunately, the Government has shown little commitment to date to even the minimum investment required. The National Development Plan 2018-2027 provides for €10 billion for a number of major investment projects but they are not being done. We need a multi-annual investment plan to provide the 2,600 extra beds that were promised. We are wasting money all of the time because people cannot get their procedures and operations done because the hospital beds are not available. I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Health to the House to specifically discuss the 2,600 beds.
I welcome yesterday's launch of the campaign to re-elect President Michael D. Higgins to the Áras. He has served an exemplary term of office of seven years with enormous respect and support from all over the country. I look forward to working hard during the campaign to secure his re-election.
I also welcome the announcement by the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, that he is bringing the legislation to give effect to the referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment to the Cabinet. It is anticipated that the legislation will be before the Dáil next week. I reiterate what I said previously on the issue, namely, that I hope we will have the Bill before this House as soon as it comes through the Dáil. I think you indicated previously, a Chathaoirligh, that that might be following the mid-term break. It is incumbent on all of us to give effect to the clearly expressed wishes of the people to ensure that services are available to women from 1 January 2019 and that the legislation passes without delay in this House. I look forward to working with all parties and all colleagues on that legislation.
Will the Leader also provide a debate on higher education? I attended a briefing from the Irish Universities Association yesterday, as did many other colleagues. It is important that we take note of its call on the Government to increase core current funding for universities, specifically by €130 million, given that State funding for students has fallen significantly by 50% since 2008. The representatives present at the meeting told us how concerned they are at the impact the reduction in funding has had and will have on the quality of education in a sector that we badly need in order to drive forward the economy. The association supplied us with a quote from the Taoiseach from June 2017 when he said: "We need to drive this sector forward, give it autonomy and resource it adequately." That is very welcome. I hope we can have a debate on the issue and that we will see the funding increase in the budget.
On a university theme also, I commend the Trinity College Historical Society on last night's debate, which I was delighted and honoured to chair, on the right to die. The guest speaker was Tom Curran, whose partner, Marie Fleming, died tragically of MS after a long campaign in which they took cases to the High Court and the Supreme Court seeking recognition of a right to assisted suicide in this country. That is an issue on which we have never legislated but the justice committee is due to report shortly on the issue and a potential amendment to the 1993 Criminal Law (Suicide) Act to provide for assisted suicide. It is urgent.
Another person present at last night's debate was Gail O’Rorke, who remains the only person ever prosecuted under section 2 of the 1993 Act for assisted suicide. She was acquitted, but her case illustrates the difficulty we have with the current law, the lack of compassion it shows and the need to ensure that we legislate. I call on the Leader for a debate in this House on the justice committee report when it is published. Last night's student debate was instructive to me in illustrating the various issues and concerns that arise, in particular to ensure safeguards against abuses in any legislation, but to ensure that we act with compassion to meet the needs of people with terminal illness and others whose needs are currently not being met in this country.
I, too, support Senator Bacik's call for a debate on assisted suicide. It is important that we would have such a discussion, look at how other countries deal with the issue and get the perspective of individuals who have different views.
I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, to the House for a debate on renewable energy. We have targets to meet by 2020. Greenhouse gas emissions are supposed to be reduced by 20% and renewable energy is supposed to be increased by 16%. Each and every one of us is paying a public service obligation, PSO, levy for our electricity usage and virtually all of the money is going to big business. I spoke to the IFA yesterday and it would like to see 20% of the levy being diverted from big business to community and farming organisations. There is huge potential in the farming sector, as farmers have sheds and facilities which could accommodate solar panels to generate electricity.
As far as I can see, the problem is the inability of ESB Networks to allow those involved in microgeneration to access the national grid. We could debate that issue with the Minister. Small operators are delayed in getting access to the grid. ESB Networks has a lot to answer for in causing such a delay. Not alone does it not allow microgenerators to connect to the national grid, but it alsos delay the connection of other developments around the country to it. Something must be done to address the issue because the people involved are overpaid for what they do and we need to get more production from them.
I welcome the Minister's introduction during the summer of a pilot scheme to support microgeneration. I would welcome further details of that and how it is progressing. We must also examine a scheme whereby the agricultural community could add to our renewable energy targets by allowing it to access the PSO levy. Perhaps the Leader might ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the entire renewable energy area.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House to discuss a matter of grave urgency. I understand that last night the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, signed an order consenting to the necessary statutory instrument to transfer Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Significant due diligence has been done by the county council liaising with the harbour company on the costs involved. It is estimated that up to €33 million in liabilities will be transferred across by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the local authority with no reference to date to compensation being provided.
As of 7.30 a.m., I understand the matter still rests with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and I do not know whether the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has signed the order at this stage. Senator Boyhan raised the matter this morning on the Commencement and in his contribution on the Order of Business. It is not acceptable for a local authority to be asked to take on such debt. It is extremely urgent that we examine the matter and that a local authority would not be expected to take on an existing harbour company with very significant liabilities that arise out of pension liabilities, contributions and other ongoing maintenance issues.
I do not see the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport transferring Dublin Airport and its profit-making business to Fingal County Council, much as the latter might like to have them, but he seems to be quite happy to transfer a loss-making entity from his Department to a local authority without the compensation required to leave the local authority at least in the position it was in beforehand, notwithstanding that it will have management issues and other problems to deal with if it takes it over. The local authority of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has two constituencies, Dún Laoghaire and Dublin Rathdown. The Minister is a Deputy representing one of those constituencies, as are the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor. It is their constituents who will suffer if €33 million for services currently going into parks, playgrounds, roads, libraries, swimming pools and so on will have to be rerouted. This needs to be addressed urgently, ideally before the Minister signs off on it. I propose amending the Order of Business to bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House today to discuss this matter. I do not do this very often, but I would appreciate if the Leader could have the Minister come to the House.
I second the proposal.
I support my colleague, Senator Lawlor, in asking the Minister to come to debate renewable energy and our obligations in that regard. He and I have raised on several occasions the many wonderful sheds around the country that could be covered with solar panels and photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. A lot of work has been done in Germany in using land with elevated platforms for solar panels, while still getting 80% productivity from the land.
In three days' time it will be a year since the legislation on plain packaging passed. As a wash-out period of one year was allowed, from this Sunday on, all tobacco products must be sold in plain packaging, as designated by the Government. I thank all those who supported the Bill and those who supported various non-governmental organisations and the Government in standing up to big tobacco and its attempt to bully our sovereign state into submission. Every year, 6,000 people lose their lives to tobacco. That is 6,000 families rent asunder, loved ones lost, and further countless hundreds of thousands who suffer ill health because of this poison that we sell. I commend all those who were involved.
I request that we ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to debate and outline his plans for the new land agency and lay out how it can help us address housing policy. Reverting to the solar energy issue, the selfsame Minister needs to bring in regulations as a number of local authorities are using the lack of national guidelines as a reason for refusing planning applications from farmers who want to install solar panels. I know of one farmer in Fingal who had to go to An Bord Pleanála to get planning permission. This is a spurious argument. The Minister needs to make a statement on it and give clarity to local authorities.
I wish our comrades in the Abortion Rights Campaign well for their march on Saturday. To restate Sinn Féin's position, we believe in full abortion rights in both the South and the North. We will make that point clearly as part of the march on Saturday. We need equality and choice throughout this island.
I raise the issue of adult literacy. I have met the National Adult Literacy Agency a couple of times now and it has been very impressive in its submissions. I am conscious that we are just a couple of weeks away from the budget and I want to make a plea for additional funding and request a debate on the matter. To be fair, I do not think people fully realise, as I did not, the extent of the challenge in respect of adult literacy. One in six people struggles with everyday texts like a bus timetable, instructions inside a packet of paracetamol or reading medical prescriptions. That is over 500,000 people. One in four struggles with everyday basic maths, such as working out 20% discounts on shopping items or helping their children with maths homework. That is 750,000 people. Despite that, the budget currently allocated to adult literacy is just €31 million, which equates to 0.3% of our total education budget. That sends the message that if we cannot achieve adult literacy through primary and secondary education, that is more or less it. Surely all of us can agree that the figure of 0.3% needs to be raised substantially in the coming budget.
I urge colleagues to read the pre-budget submission made by the National Adult Literacy Agency. It contains some excellent ideas on developing blended and distance learning courses, developing family literacy and financial, health and media literacy programmes, bridging programmes and so on. There is so much more that can be done. All that is lacking is the funding. Adult literacy strikes me as being another of the poor relations at budget time. For that to change, we need voices across the Chamber, in particular in the Government parties, ahead of the budget to demand the financing that is required to make a real difference to adult literacy.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Horkan in respect of the transfer of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Commission to the council and the consequences of that decision.
Yesterday, the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, had a briefing for Members of the Oireachtas at which it put forward a very strong case for support in the forthcoming budget. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to the House to discuss the issue. As everyone is well aware, farming has gone through a very difficult period this year with the extreme weather conditions in spring and summer and the fodder crisis. Now the price of suckler cows has dropped sharply. If a farmer does not have suckler cows, he will not have calves or the method of producing our stock. Of all times, now that we are facing into Brexit we have to keep our stocking levels up. Being based on a farm, I can tell the House that the prices for young weanlings are less than they were a year ago. People who have kept them for a year are facing losses between the cost of fodder and all the other issues.
There is a proposal to make a targeted payment of €200 per suckler cow to farmers this year, which would be a major boost. For sheep farmers, it is also proposed that there be a €5 payment per ewe. These are genuine requests by the IFA. They are very good lobbyists and we had a very good lobbying session yesterday at the Alex Hotel in Dublin. I am putting forward some of the urgent issues that arose. We would have a better opportunity if the Minister would come to the House. Most Senators have a direct interest in the farming community, including our spokesman and I am confident the Leader of the House will arrange it in the next few weeks if possible.
I draw the attention of my colleagues to an app that was launched by the mid-west skills forum in Limerick yesterday. The app deals with apprenticeships and informs students about what is available. These apprenticeships can be anything from two to four years' duration and involve work-based learning. The app provides a connection between the employer and the student and provides information on the range of apprenticeships. Ireland and the Department of Education and Skills are striving to double the number of apprenticeships in the next few years. As many of them are now recognised by third level colleges, the students end up with a degree.
This is a very important app. It was designed by Appiercom, led by Declan Hayes and his team. I pay tribute to them because they put an awful lot of work into it. The app makes much information available to those who download it onto their phones. The more we can promote apprenticeships and skills, the better, especially among students who feel they do not want to go on to third level education. It is very important that we draw attention to the issue and that people are made aware that the app is available.
I want to follow up on yesterday's Order of Business and can confirm that the nurses' unions have recommended that their members reject the disappointing Government pay proposals which do not address the emergency of recruitment and retention in the health service. Members will be balloted over the next three weeks with a further ballot about industrial action. That is always a serious and significant step for nurses who are responsible for people's lives and well-being.
It is welcome that the text of the abortion legislation will be before the Cabinet today, endorsing the wishes of more than 66% of the people in the May referendum. I note the need for separate legislation for safe zones to prevent women being intimidated when seeking services. It is a phenomenon that is often seen in the USA and that I hope it will not occur here. I ask Members of both Houses who campaigned to retain the eighth amendment, some very vocally, to publicly state that such harassment and threats to women seeking health services are unacceptable and insupportable.
I join Senator Ardagh in calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House at the earliest possible time to discuss the increase in anti-social behaviour not only in the capital city but also throughout the country. It is something that is unfortunately happening in all major towns and gardaí do not seem to be around to deal with it.
I would also like the Minister, when he comes to the House, to address the cut in the budgets of the Garda divisional districts. Those budgets have been cut, in some cases, by up to 80%. They are struggling to provide a skeleton policing service in most parts of the country. I appreciate there is a gangland difficulty in this city. While that needs to be stamped out and requires a huge amount of resources, it should not be to the detriment of districts like Cavan and Monaghan and other Garda districts throughout the country. I look forward to the Minister coming to this House and addressing the situation. It is an unfortunate fact that the Garda does not have the resources to carry out the day-to-day duties necessary to protect the ordinary, law-abiding citizens of the State.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus guím tráthnóna maith ar an gCeannaire.
I congratulate the Government on the announcement of its proposed Getting Ireland Brexit Ready events. It includes a series of engagements to take place across the State, one in the Leader's home place in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork, one at NUI Galway, one at the Four Seasons hotel in Monaghan and one in Croke Park, Dublin. It is a glaring omission that there is not going to be one of these events held in the North. I have written to the Minister and expressed my disappointment. I raised it with officials last week also. The Irish secretariat in Belfast will host a book launch later today. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade held important and significant interventions and events during the decade of centenaries to mark the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the 1916 Easter Rising, the Battle of the Somme, etc. All of those events were positive and it is right that they took place. I cannot understand what practical barriers there are to the Irish Government hosting an event of this nature which does profess to get Ireland Brexit ready, not just part of Ireland. I encourage the Government to reconsider and host an event that would accommodate the 1.5 million Irish citizens in the North. Many organisations and individuals want to engage with the Irish Government. The Leader will recall that the British Government's advice to businesses and others was to go and talk to the Government in Dublin about Brexit. It would be a positive intervention on the Government's behalf if it would reflect on that and hear from the entirety of the country.
October is upon us and we are at a crucial juncture in Brexit negotiations and the Council of Europe meeting. At the end of the last term, we discussed having statements on Brexit and the negotiations, and the Leader committed to doing that as early as possible in this new term. I appreciate the sensitivities and dynamics involved and I am not seeking to undermine them in any way, but the Minister could come to the House to update us as to the current state of play.
I thank the 12 Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business. I agree with Senator Ardagh that people who perpetrate attacks on innocent citizens are thugs; short and simple.
Senators Ardagh and Wilson raised the issue of crime. It is important to recognise that, under this Government, the Garda Training College in Templemore was reopened. More gardaí are being put in place. Issues of recruitment, modelling and community policing have been addressed in the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, chaired by Kathleen O'Toole. As a member of the Cork city policing forum, I attended a meeting last Monday which heard from the chief superintendent that there are now plans to recruit more community gardaí.
In addition, the Government's response to crime, particularly burglaries, has focused on two key objectives. The first of those is investing in the capacity of An Garda Síochána to tackle criminals and enforce the law efficiently and effectively and updating and strengthening the law where necessary. In tandem with that is Operation Thor, which was introduced to tackle the threat of mobile burglary groups and there has been significant investment in An Garda Síochána in ICT, overtime and the purchasing of high-powered vehicles. I note the remarks of the Garda Commissioner regarding overtime, but the Government has committed extra resources to the Garda. It is important to recognise that the numbers of burglaries are down 24% from 2015.
In saying that, I also draw Members' attention to the fact that last week at the ploughing championships the Minister for justice announced details of a text rebate scheme where €150,000 is available for communities in Cavan-Monaghan, Dublin, or Cork, to run a local text alert scheme.
The points made by Senators Wilson and Ardagh are ones about which we must be vigilant. We must be working to reduce crime levels. We are told at policing forum meetings that criminals are mobile in some cases, coming down the motorway to Cork or up the motorway to Cavan and we need to establish a system whereby people can assist An Garda Síochána by giving it information. The points the Senators make are very relevant.
Senator Ardagh is also right about the issue of switching mortgages and the importance of being aware of what is available to mortgage holders. I agree with her.
I join Senators Ardagh, Devine and Bacik in welcoming the Cabinet's decision to publish the Bill to give effect to the referendum result that people voted in their droves to support. I also join Senators Gavan and Devine in welcoming safe zones.
They are important. We have seen people in other jurisdictions killed, injured or harassed. We should not have that in this country. A woman who goes into her hospital to have a pregnancy terminated does not do so lightly. She deserves the support, respect and resources of a very caring environment when going in to have her wishes - in whatever shape or form - carried out. I know that all of us, as public representatives, will uphold the law and will support and stand by women. It is important at the beginning that we do not allow a situation to arise in which that becomes part of the norm. As I said, it is a very sensitive and personal choice and we should support women and their families in that situation at all times.
Senators Boyhan and Horkan referred to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and the ports policy. Senator Horkan had to go to another meeting but if Senator Wilson, as the Fianna Fáil Whip, or Senator Ardagh, as the leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad, will accept it rather than divide the House, I will endeavour to have the Minister in next week at some point. As he is at a Cabinet meeting, we cannot get an answer, but I will endeavour, as I have done in the past in other areas, to have the Minister come to the House.
I join Senator Boyhan in congratulating the participants in the Oireachtas work and learning programme. It is a wonderful programme for those young men and women with intellectual disabilities. I commend the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle on their initiative and on driving this programme. I hope we can all support people who come into this House to work, to learn and to be educated. They will also help us as part of our life and work.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of insurance. We had the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, in the House on a number of occasions. I would be happy to have him come to the House again in respect of car insurance and in respect of health and the INMO briefing. I would be happy to have the Minister of State come back in again in that regard.
Senator Bacik, in a very partisan way, made reference to the presidential election. As Leader of the House, I wish not just one of the candidates but all of them well in the campaign. I really hope-----
Senator Bacik is non-party.
I know that. I accept that. I did not say she was-----
I am leader of an inter-party group. That is true.
Níor chuala mé an méid a dúirt an Senator.
I am trying to protect the Senator.
It is welcome that there is a presidential election. It will endorse the tenure of the new President. I wish all of the candidates well. I hope the debate will be healthy, respectful and tolerant.
The Leader will be one himself in seven years' time. That is my prediction. I mean a candidate, not a President.
I look forward to Senator Wilson and renewing our friendship. As an aside, 35 years ago, Senator Wilson and I kindled in our friendship at college. We are still friends 35 years later. We are a few hairs lighter on the top, but we are still friends.
I will sign for the Leader.
That surprises me.
It should not surprise the Cathaoirleach because we are both very well measured people.
We are well trained in theology.
We are well trained in theology, yes. I join Senator Bacik in expressing the view that I hope the legislation, when it emanates from the Cabinet to the Dáil and on to this House, will be dealt with in a very positive and expeditious manner-----
----while being debated thoroughly.
It has been very well discussed at this stage by the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution during pre-legislative scrutiny and also in the referendum debate. I hope it happens quickly.
I commend the Irish University Association on its briefing in Buswells Hotel yesterday, which I attended. It made a number of explicit asks of Government in the budget in respect of core funding, capital development and being able to hire staff. I also thank Senators Bacik and Lawlor for raising the issue of the report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality on end of life. I look forward to having that debate as part of the next term in the Seanad.
Senators Lawlor and Reilly raised the issue of renewable energy. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, is available and will come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Horkan has returned from his meeting. I am sure he will be briefed by his colleagues. If he will allow me to have the Minister in on a date next week, I will endeavour to do so.
I will respond when the Leader has finished.
I commend Senator Reilly on his stewardship of the legislation on plain packaging as Minister and welcome the new regime that will be put in place in respect of plain packaging. Tobacco kills. We should try to move away from smoking in this country. I certainly hope all of us will promote an alternative to smoking.
Senator Gavan raised the very important issue of adult literacy. I join him in having that debate. As a former adult education director, I commend the National Adult Literacy Agency, NALA, on its advocacy and the work it does. I know that it had a new campaign last year called "Take the first step". It is important that we all support people - our friends, neighbours and work colleagues - who have a difficulty in reading and writing. In some cases they do not recognise that difficulty and in others they do not have the confidence or freedom, in their own minds, to go and take that first step. The Senator is right about what we should be trying to do. I commend all involved. We all know people who have returned to education, started from a very furtive, nervous beginning and blossomed. I want to be associated with the comments made. I certainly hope it will be recognised in the budget.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of support in the budget for farming. The Minister For Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, was not available this week because he was in Austria and came back yesterday to a series of meetings. We have, however, put a request in to have a debate on agriculture. I look forward to having it.
I thank the Leader very much.
I join Senator Byrne in praising the new apprenticeships app. I know that the Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Halligan, is due to come to the House to discuss the issue of apprenticeships. We have an issue with apprenticeships. The Government has taken a variety of initiatives in respect of the national apprenticeship scheme, but also in respect of the hospitality skills oversight group report which clearly shows that there are deficiencies in the hospitality sector. We need to promote and advocate for that sector more.
Senator Devine raised the issue of the ballots of the nursing unions yesterday, which were disappointing. We need to have an honest conversation about what is available in terms of the amount of money we can spend. We agreed a public sector pay agreement before the summer and we cannot go cherry-picking at this stage. The Government has a finite amount of money. This is about taking a prudent approach to the public finances while improving pay for, in this case, nurses, who do significant work every day and who participate in and enhance the health service. It is important to recognise that there needs to be an alternative put forward in terms of how we fund all of the public sector pay demands. We have a public service stability agreement and it behoves all of us not to undermine it. We need to ensure we recognise and value those who work in our public sector. That is what Government is trying to do. It has recommended, through the Public Service Pay Commission, a 20% increase in the location and qualification allowance for nurses along with accelerated promotion in terms of senior positions. The unions have a right to make demands and to put forward their own proposals. I am for that, but it should be done as part of a conversation about the prudent management of the nation's finances.
I addressed Senator Wilson's remarks. I am not familiar with the issue which Senator Ó Donnghaile raised around the scheduling of the meetings on Brexit preparedness. I am sure meetings are being held in the north of the country, close to the Border. I am not sure of the logistics of going beyond the Border. I am not personally against the idea.
In saying that, it is important that we be Brexit ready. Equally, I would be happy to have statements on Brexit in the coming weeks because the Senator is right; as the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, has said, we are now in the endgame.
I commend the Tánaiste on his work on and in handling our negotiations on Brexit. We need to see a resolution. As I have said in the House many times, and this needs to be said more often, there is no good outcome from Brexit. It will be a net loss for us. It has been foisted on us by a decision of the people of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, we will be the net and the biggest loser, apart from the UK. The Government is committed to getting the best deal for Ireland for the future. I will be happy to have the debate in the coming weeks.
Senator Horkan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on the proposed transfer of responsibility for Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
No. I apologise for having had to step out for a few minutes but I heard from my colleagues in this respect. I do not seek to divide the House and do not propose an amendment to the Order of Business very often. However, there is a very pressing and urgent nature to this matter. I hope the Minister will not sign the order for transfer before he comes into this House because he needs to be aware of the consequences of doing so without adequate compensation being paid. I certainly accept the Leader's bona fides on it and perhaps Wednesday of next week would be a good day for us to discuss that matter with the Minister.
As the seconder of the amendment, I support its withdrawal. I take the opportunity to welcome the members of a delegation from Strokestown, who are guests of Deputy Eugene Murphy, namely, Brother John and Mrs. Murphy. I hope they have a very nice day in Leinster House.
My grandmother was from Strokestown and I support it too.
This is the Order of Business, take two.
We have very important people here from County Roscommon.
I join in welcoming the visitors from County Roscommon. They had a very good summer on the Gaelic football field until they ran out of steam.
I advise Senator Horkan that my office will communicate to the office of the Minister, Deputy Ross, the immediate importance of what the Senator has said. I am sure the Minister will take notice of what we have said. I will endeavour to-----
And sign it as quick as he can, but anyway.
I will endeavour to organise for the Minister to come to the House on Wednesday. As I said - I apologise for labouring the point - the Minister, Deputy Ross, is at a Cabinet meeting.
I accept that and the Leader's bona fides.
Is the amendment to the Order of Business being withdrawn?