I call the Acting Leader, Senator Richmond, to outline the business of the day.
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 9 October, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 – Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 2.45 p.m., if not previously concluded.
I praise the demonstrators who protested outside Leinster House yesterday as part of the Raise the Roof campaign. I hope the Government and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will take heed and acknowledge the seriousness of our housing crisis. I do not think I have ever seen such a large group outside Leinster House. There are 10,000 families, including 4,000 children, in emergency accommodation. There are almost 100,000 people on social housing lists. What we have seen in recent years are failed policies put forward by the Government. I refer to the failed rapid build programme. We were promised 1,500 houses and we got 208. There is the failed repair and lease scheme, a failed local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, scheme and now we are supposed to believe the announcement of the Land Development Agency is going to be the panacea. In the same week as that announcement, the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, announced the sale of the John Player site on the South Circular Road. That should be halted and the Government should intervene.
Another matter I would like to raise relates to a meeting the Minister attended in the constituency in which I live in August. The subject under discussion at the meeting was the land at St. Michael's Estate. Many of us have been reading about that meeting, at which I was also in attendance, recently. During the meeting in question, the Minister announced the launch of a cost rental model. I welcome it. It is a fantastic model, it will be a pilot and it will be replicated in other schemes throughout the country. When I did more research, I discovered that no planning applications have been submitted in respect of this model and that no drawings have been created. In late September I also discovered from Dublin City Council that there is going to be a further consultation process. It will not be finished until 26 November. I agree with the consultation process, but it should have started before any announcement was made on a definitive model. If the process is not going to be finished until 26 November, we will not have plans until, perhaps, January. They might be submitted at that stage, but we all know how long processes of this nature take within councils.
We are talking about plans not even going in until 2019 for a massive site with huge potential to resolve the housing crisis within the city. When the Minister feels he is under pressure, he seems to decide that he is going to come up with another new plan. It is a plan that he is never going to implement. It is just an idea. He finds himself in a corner and decides he is going to come up with another idea to get his critics off his back for a few weeks. Time is now up. We need action. NAMA's sale of the John Player site cannot be allowed to go ahead. The Minister has to intervene and show a proper willingness to tackle this housing process. On the issue relating to St. Michael's Estate, the consultation should happen but the Minister needs to provide a firm commitment regarding when the plans will be submitted and when this is going to happen. I hope I can get a proper response from the Acting Leader.
I have a brief request on social media, which is becoming a huge issue, not just in Ireland but worldwide. Statistics show that 90% of Irish adults own smartphones and that they look at their phones 57 times a day. I wonder how often some of us look at our phones? It is much more than that. It has been scientifically proven that people are addicted to their phones and social media. It is becoming the new issue; it is the new cigarettes of our modern times. I ask the Acting Leader and everybody in the House to support and push for a nationwide social media-free day. It is fine if people need to be on their phones but for that one day we would ask everybody in the country to get rid of social media. That was done with cigarettes and in many other areas. Ireland would be the first country in the world to do this. I am of the view that this collective initiative, not that of just one party but of all of us together, would show a lead in asking the people of Ireland to move away from social media for one day. Let us break the addiction. It is causing mental health issues, bullying and a whole host of issues. I am not saying get rid of social media all together - I do not agree with that - but let us help to try to educate ourselves and the people of Ireland on the damage that can sometimes be caused by the overuse of social media. I would appreciate the support of the Acting Leader and the Government on this. I am also asking all of my colleagues to strongly support this initiative.
I will briefly address supports for the local media in advance of budget 2019 next week. There was a briefing with some 40 representatives of Ireland's local and regional newspapers and other media in Leinster House two weeks ago. The AV room in which the event was held was full to the rafters.
The media outlined the severe pressures faced by their industry in a digital news age.
We know that an informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy. The demise of local and national media would do untold damage to that in an age of fake news, digital manipulation and partisan silos online. As two headlines in the Journalism Matters campaign state: "Strong, Independent Journalism Matters" and "Irish journalism is at a crossroads.” In my own county of Waterford local newspapers such as the Waterford News and Star, The Munster Express, The Waterford Mail, Dungarvan Leader, Dungarvan Observer and Waterford Today still play an integral role in shaping discussions on local issues, highlighting problems and successes and fostering a sense of regional cohesion and community. While online news has threatened old models, it is not as if the newspapers and radio stations have stood still. They have innovated and moved online while still providing news and analysis, despite greater competition. Other EU countries offer considerable supports such as differential VAT rates, indirect subsidies and even direct subsidies to help support a vibrant, competitive and diverse local media environment. With this in mind, I ask the Acting Leader whether the Government has given consideration to the five asks made by NewsBrands Ireland and Local Ireland and which of them might be featured in next week's budget.
Not for the first time I want to raise the issue of Palestine. I was lucky enough to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence to hear a presentation by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, EAPPI. The programme was founded in response to a call made by the heads of churches in Jerusalem. Since 2002, more than 1,500 international volunteers from 22 countries have served as ecumenical accompaniers. The work they do includes monitoring and reporting violations of international law, providing a protective presence, supporting the work of peace groups and undertaking public policy advocacy. The delegation gave us the update on the village of Khan al-Ahmar located in the occupied West Bank, which the Israeli High Court has declared can be demolished.
I raise this issue because the EAPPI made a valuable contribution and outlined practical measures the Government could take. The Government, in fairness, has made some good statements on Palestine but there has been no action. The EAPPI pointed out that we could call for the immediate recognition of the state of Palestine and press for compensation for the demolition of EU-funded aid structures. Most important, we could end the arms trade with Israel. We have purchased 17 million armaments from Israel in the past decade. How can we continue to treat Israel as a normal state? Everyone in this Chamber knows what is happening. Everyone knows that we are witnessing the slow genocide of an entire people. It would be a record of shame for the Government, when it ends, if no concrete actions were taken.
I call on my colleagues in Fine Gael because I have had private conversations with a number of them where they showed genuine sympathy for the Palestinian people, to make their voices heard within their party because the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is simply not delivering beyond words. In the 1980s we heard all the same excuses and reasons that we could not take action on South Africa. It is highly significant that Fine Gael is now out of step with everybody else in this Chamber. Everybody else supports Senator Frances Black's excellent Bill on the occupied territories. Is the Fine Gael Party prepared to let the record show that when the genocide of an entire people was taking place, its members were prepared to sit with their arms folded and do nothing about it other than offer sweet sympathy? That is not good enough. I ask for a debate on the matter. More important, I ask Fine Gael to stand up for human rights values and Palestine.
It is important that everybody in this Chamber realise that without taxpayers next week's budget would be impossible. Compliant taxpayers are the unsung heroes of this country. They pay for nurses, gardaí, teachers and social welfare system, including pensions for older people. I would like to object to some of the rhetoric from Government sources in the past while regarding non-compliant taxpayers or those who avail of the tax exile system. A Fine Gael MEP has congratulated one tax exile on his supposed philanthropic donations to GAA clubs. This individual has decided that his money is not good enough to pay for teachers, nurses, gardaí and pension provisions in Ireland and has decided to reside overseas. We have a Minister of State who visited a convicted tax evader in prison and who made inappropriate advances to the Minister for Justice and Equality to intervene in the case. Now we have a Government that is reliant on the support of somebody with a criminal conviction for tax irregularities. I ask Fine Gael and the Government to realise that without people who do not avail of tax exile status and are proud to pay their taxes we would have no budget and we would have no capacity to pay for the public services that everybody in this country needs.
I again raise the issue of homelessness. In particular, I refer to the disgusting suggestion that homeless people should be housed on a cruise ship docked on the quays of Dublin city. I am glad to hear since the idea was - pardon the pun - floated that the Minister has come out and rejected the idea. The Government should do what the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government did in 2011. When we realised that there was economic crisis, an Economic Management Council was established. The then Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform met weekly to manage the economic crisis and found a way out of it. We are currently in a housing crisis. It has reached such a scale that it is time for the Government to take it as seriously as the economic crisis of a number of years ago and to form a housing management council comprising the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Ministers for Finance and Housing, Planning and Local Government. If this idea of housing homeless families on a boat is the best that Government representatives can come up with or defend on national media, they need to think differently about their strategies. Everybody in these Houses wants the housing, rental and homelessness crises resolved. The establishment of a housing management council would be a practical measure. It would give some comfort to Oireachtas Members and the country that the Government was genuinely taking the matter seriously and not sending out spokespeople to defend a disgusting suggestion that people be housed on boats instead of in houses.
I ask the Acting Leader to arrange a debate on all aspects of primary healthcare. I am conscious that a new GP contract is being negotiated. I am also conscious that a lot of investment has gone into primary healthcare centres throughout the country with many opening as we speak. They are being welcomed by the communities in which they are being established. I have particular concerns about primary healthcare in rural areas. I want to raise one specific example with the Acting Leader and ask that he uses his good office to negotiate with the Minister for Health. The matter relates to the Four Mile Water Health Centre in County Waterford. Some years ago a modern clinic was built there by the HSE. Approximately six months ago the resident GP resigned from his contract and a new GP contract was advertised on 18 June. Four months later, no new appointment has been made, which has caused concern in a vast rural area in County Waterford and south Tipperary. The areas affected include the Nire, Four Mile Water, Ballymacarbry, Newcastle, Touraneena, Colligan and Kilbrien. Patients from all these areas attend this practice which is being manned by the staff and locum doctors. More than a month ago I received written assurances from the HSE that the new contract appointment was imminent, but there has been no progress.
It is frustrating. It is causing uncertainty for patients and not good enough. I ask the Acting Leader to use his influence with the HSE to ensure a GP is appointed as soon as possible.
On a wider issue, the House should have a debate on the future of primary health services.
I would also like to address the housing crisis but from a different angle to some of the previous speakers and a different angle to that from which the debate has been concentrated recently.
It is important that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government come to this House to address how difficult it has recently become to get one-off planning permission in rural Ireland. This has come to my attention through personal experience of conversations with members of local authorities who are at the coalface and conversations with Members of both Houses, from all parties and none. I do not know if this is coincidental or the result of a concerted effort. The county development plans in different areas have not changed and the conditions of local need have not changed. I have had this conversation with representatives of local authorities all over Ireland outside Dublin and it is the same story everywhere. It is nigh on impossible even when applicants tick all the boxes on local need and have their own family site and access to the funds they need to build the house. It cannot be a coincidence that it is getting harder and harder.
The Minister has the final say on this issue. He signs off on when county councils or local authorities draw up their county development plans or area development plans. If they want to include a variation with which he is not happy, it will not be included. The Minister has wrongly been publicly critical of local authorities for not delivering on houses and not building houses. There is a lack of communication between his Department and local authorities to free up people who are prepared to build houses. When people are refused planning permission in their native, local, rural areas, despite having the financial resources to build, they are forced into other settlements. They buy whatever house comes up for sale and that takes that house out of the market for somebody else who does not have the facilities, the land, the site, the local area knowledge or ties to build a house in a rural area. The Minister must come here and address this issue. By virtue of the fact that councillors select Senators, there are not too many Senators who would be unable to give him case by case examples of it happening in every local authority area.
Without wishing to rehash yesterday's heated saga and debate in the House with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, I note that Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has been transferred to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. This morning the staff and chief executive will have access for the first time to the full accounts and exposure. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council had a council meeting last night at which I met a number of councillors. I still stand over the figures I put into the domain of this House. There will be another debate on another day about that issue.
I mentioned yesterday the issue of protected disclosures. I spoke to an officer dealing with protected disclosures in the Minister's Department to ascertain and understand the extent of protected disclosures in a general context. I will continue to explore a number of avenues. I will bring to the Minister's attention my intention to pursue the matter. I stand over what I said about the weakness of corporate governance. It is wrong and inappropriate to saddle a local authority with these matters.
I welcome the Acting Leader, Senator Richmond, a former colleague of mine on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I ask him to arrange for statements on the issues of whistleblowing and protected disclosures. I understand the Minister for Finance is, or was, involved in initiating a review of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. The Act came into full effect in 2015. There have been two, possibly three, annual reports about it. It needs to be revisited and I wish to raise a number of detailed issues about it. I would welcome a debate in this House about protected disclosures as soon as possible.
As we enter winter, I encourage people to avail of the flu vaccine which is being offered through all health centres throughout the country. It is important that people of all ages, and especially people who meet others on a daily basis, avail of the vaccine. This will help bring down the numbers of people presenting to accident and emergency departments of hospitals with pneumonia and flu and occupying beds.
Edwards Lifesciences, a pharma company, announced 600 jobs for the mid-west a couple of months ago. The company has a temporary base in Shannon Airport. It has announced its permanent location in Castletroy in Limerick. This is good news for Limerick and the mid-west. One of the things that influenced the company's decision was the standard of education and the skills of the workforce and training that people have had. It is good news when a company of this size locates itself in Limerick and it will have an effect on other companies that are looking at the mid-west as a location.
I want to talk about the hidden cost of autism and the report that was produced in the last couple of days about the cost to families of children and adults with autism. A cost of €30,000 was cited for private therapies, speech and language or occupational therapy, transport and everything connected with it. There are huge extra costs for families with people with disabilities, not just autism. It is not right that they are made to jump through hoops to get any assistance that is available. There are so many gaps in the system it does not meet the needs of adults and children with autism. There is a lack of respite care and other cares services that are needed. It speaks to a failure of the heath, education and transport systems that these services and supports are not available.
I particularly want to talk about the lack of residential places and the Government's refusal to approve, or delay in approving, places where residential care is needed. Families will always try to look after their children, young adults and adults within the home setting. There are cases where that is not possible and the behaviours of the person with autism are such that the health and safety of those living within the family setting are endangered. People with disabilities like autism are being intentionally criminalised by the health service because they are being referred to the Garda. Families and carers are being told to call the Garda. The Garda station is alerted to respond immediately to a call from a specific house. That is not right. I want the Garda and the Garda Representative Association to state this cannot continue. Why are we criminalising people who have behavioural difficulties and disabilities? It is crazy and wrong. I want the Minister to come to the House to talk specifically about this issue.
I want to respond to Senator Ardagh's opening statement about the protests yesterday. I acknowledge that there is a housing crisis, but it is unfair to expect a Minister or the Government to provide the thousands of required houses overnight.
I live in Ballaghaderreen on the Mayo-Roscommon border and we are affected by the housing crisis also. I had reason last summer to check the number of vacant houses in our area which has a population of approximately 2,000 people. There were 352 vacant houses or apartments, including those in ghost estates. In the early 2000s and days of the Celtic tiger, tax incentives were given to build houses that were not needed. Could Senator Ardagh explain to me the recklessness of that period? If that had not happened, we would not have had a protest outside Leinster House yesterday. There must be a bit of balance brought into the debate and a history lesson to illustrate the reasons the crisis has come about. I have no doubt it will be sorted, but it cannot be done overnight.
I strongly support Senator Gavan's comments on the village of Khan al-Ahmar. It is a Bedouin village I visited two weeks ago with my former partner, Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who is a very strong defender of Palestinian human rights. It is proposed that this village be demolished illegally. The people there were removed from their homes 70 years ago and formed this village, which is a pathetic construction. A school has been built on motor car tyres. It is proposed to demolish the village and move the people either to a garbage dump or a sewage facility.
It is shameful.
It is absolutely disgraceful and a violation of every form of decent human rights. I will also speak to another form of abuse of human rights related to the former Clerys shop in the centre of Dublin. It was bought by a woman rescued by the Irish taxpayer, but she failed to honour the pension obligations to Clerys staff. She turfed them out on their ear, including people who had been there for 40 years. Now she has made a profit of something like €30 million on the backs of these workers. It is the unacceptable face of capitalism.
I will comment on the state of British politics. God almighty. First, there is the buffoonery of Boris Johnson and then there is the geriatric gyrations of bloody Mrs. May. Thank God for Jeremy Corbyn, a man of intelligence, sensitivity to human rights and idealism.
Hear, hear. Absolutely.
Without somebody like Mr. Corbyn, British politics would be in an appalling state of chaos. The sooner there is an election and a Labour Party Government in Britain, the better it will be for everybody.
A second referendum.
And a second referendum.
Can we restore a bit of decorum to the Chamber? It will be hard for Senator O'Reilly to follow that.
Absolutely. It is virtually impossible and I will not attempt to emulate Senator Norris. I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity. I formally support Senators Gavan and Norris in their comments on the Bedouin village. It is very important to do so.
I ask the Acting Leader to facilitate a debate as soon as possible on Brexit readiness in the agriculture sector. Before getting to the substance, I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Creed, has opened new markets and increased direct payments in the last budget. Today we saw Kuwait opened for poultry and Qatar was opened recently for beef, with China opened earlier. He has had great success in opening new markets and direct payments were increased last year. More needs to be done and we should discuss agriculture in this House in the context of Brexit, with a fodder shortage and pricing difficulties.
We need to restore to pre-2008 levels the single farm payments in areas of natural constraint. This is in what were traditionally known as severely handicapped areas where farmers labour under particular difficulty with respect to soil type, weather conditions and a range of matters that make it difficult to farm and have much higher costs of production. Direct farm payments must be increased in those areas. It is important particularly in the Border context, including in Cavan and Monaghan, as we prepare for Brexit. There is a crisis in the suckler cow sector, specifically premia for suckler cows. The Irish Farmers Association held a very well attended protest about this yesterday in Dublin. We must increase the premia as the numbers of farmers engaging in suckler cow farming are falling dramatically quarter by quarter. This issue needs to be addressed.
We need a debate on readiness for Brexit in agriculture, as well as how the sector can cope with fodder shortages and pricing issues. There must be an increase in the single farm payment in areas of natural constraint and suckler cow premia should also be increased. I hope we can have that debate very soon.
With the economy in good health again there seem to be many in the Government and the cosseted semi-State sector who seem to think public money ought to be thrown around once more like confetti on various pet projects instead of being spent on various projects with people in urgent need or even returned to hard-working taxpayers who earned the money in the first place. Relevant is the question of funding of public broadcasting, particularly RTÉ. As we know, earlier this week the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, called for RTÉ to get a €30 million increase in annual funding "at a minimum", citing significant challenges in a rapidly evolving media industry. That was the reason given for the taxpayer to prop up this money drain. The BAI even stated there may be a case for increased funding in excess of €30 million and, unsurprisingly, the chairman, Dr. Pauric Travers, requested that the Minister and the Government urgently address the financing required for public service broadcasting.
This is at a time when the Government is struggling to keep the national homelessness figure below five figures and we have a national debt equivalent to 68% of the country's GDP. RTÉ received €186 million through the licence fee in 2017, and that is taxpayers' money going to an organisation that recorded a deficit in six of the past nine years and only avoided one in 2017 because of cash generated from selling land.
The Senator could boycott it.
Is the campus at Montrose a listed structure or something? Is there a compelling reason RTÉ must continue to sit on this expensive landbank? Given the improved technology available and improved motorways, would it not be just as reasonable and would it not create a better urban-regional spread if RTÉ operated in the future from somewhere in the midlands such as Longford, Westmeath or Offaly?
The land has massive value. TV3, recently renamed as Virgin Media, has its entire operation in an industrial estate on the edge of the city. It gives the organisation space for new studios and expansion, whereas RTÉ is hemmed in on some of the most valuable land in Dublin. Perhaps we should have the Minister of State responsible for the Office of Public Works in to tell us whether the campus is a listed structure or there is a compelling reason the land cannot be disposed of to save the taxpayer some money. We should also have the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in to speak to the matter, as RTÉ must restructure its operations. The capital released from moving would allow the company to purchase new facilities and clear its debt. In the knowledge or expectation of an unrestricted cash flow, it seems instead to be following the example of many by having no incentive to reduce costs or any serious attempt towards a more efficient use of resources.
I support Senator Byrne's comments on the administration and uptake of the flu vaccine. It is important not just for the general population and I urge all staff of the Health Service Executive involved in healthcare - there are more than 120,000 of them - to get the flu jab. We spread it ourselves and it causes much more sickness for staff, leading to contamination of patients through contact.
I want to comment on the zero capacity for landfill. I know that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is to address the environment conference at Croke Park and will outline Ireland's approaching emergency with regard to waste if we exceed projections. In 2011 Ireland had 127 working landfill sites. Now there are just four with two taking the bulk of the country's waste. We know that too much food and organic waste ends up in our black bins. The Minister is to argue that Ireland is still producing too much waste. Could the Acting Leader facilitate a debate on the memorandum the Minister will bring to Cabinet outlining a zero tolerance approach to single-use plastics in Government and State-funded buildings? I note this House has done its bit in switching to recyclable cups for which I commend it, but we need a full discussion on this matter because it will be a crisis in a year or two.
It was with disappointment that I heard the announcement about housing homeless people on boats. I have made a recurring speech in this House about Airbnb. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government now agrees that we would get 1,000 units back into the rental market if legislation or regulations were introduced. These 1,000 units are badly needed in the housing sector. The Minister promised action in June, July, August and September. We are now into October. The last commitment was that he would bring forward proposals in September.
When the Tánaiste was Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, he made a promise that we would see a start on the Poolbeg West site in 2017. It is now 2018. I received a letter this morning from An Bord Pleanála related to Poolbeg West. Let me remind the House that this site will house up to 8,000 citizens. The letter informed me that due to what I would describe as incompetence, An Bord Pleanála needed further information on design, public grounds, community facilities, parking and traffic management. It goes on and on. I previously received a letter from An Bord Pleanála about this site on 2 August. It told me that because of resources and backlog, An Bord Pleanála was unable to deal with it. Let me point out the reasons for the problems with resources and the backlog. The Minister made a decision that any application for more than 100 units would go directly to An Bord Pleanála, but he did not resource it to actually deal with the increased workload. The outcome was that many planning applications were withdrawn and then upscaled to more than 100 units causing more and more delays. Senator O'Mahony spoke about historical issues. This all happened within two years. The Government refused to accept that we had a problem with short-term lettings until after two years of it being constantly highlighted in this House. The Minister would not accept that there was a problem with the Poolbeg West site because of a lack of resources, an issue that had been raised in this House for two years. We still have no agreement on the 900 units of social and affordable houses and affordable rental. Discussions are still ongoing, which results in further delay so instead of seeing ground being broken in 2017, we will be lucky to see ground by 2022.
My last point affects the Acting Leader's neighbours. There are thousands of apartments in this and other cities that have legacy issues related to construction during the boom. Residents are facing possible eviction because of fire issues. I can say quite honestly that there is a template in the Department for how this is dealt with. I was involved in setting up that template when I was in government. It is not acceptable to see thousands of citizens evicted because of problems with fire certificates when there is a template for fixing this. They are not asking for charity. What they are asking for is access to funding at a reasonable rate - not the 7% or 9% that was being offered. We will see thousands of citizens being evicted on health and safety grounds because of inaction. This issue has been raised for the past two years. There is a template in the Custom House for how to deal with this issue. Ministers are actually refusing to meet residents with this problem. The prospect of possibly thousands of citizens being made homeless is totally unacceptable in the middle of a housing crisis. We need action on this issue. There was a large march yesterday. We do not need history lessons. This has happened in the past two years. There is a mechanism to deal with this issue, but the Government is refusing to use it.
A report was produced by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence on Irish Aid and its effectiveness. I call for a debate on the report in the near future. I know that there was a debate in the Dáil, but it was truncated. There are members of the committee here who would like to see that.
I noticed that funds have been made available for rural and urban regeneration. The town hall in Naas is an historic building that was built in the mid-19th century. It was the former jail and is now being put to community use. There are exciting proposals for its development as a library and further community facilities, particularly for those of us from rural areas who enjoy going to country markets every now and then. I am not talking about farmers' markets. I am talking about country markets selling the real produce developed locally. Perhaps the Minister for Rural and Community Development might come to the House to give us some ideas of where that funding is going to go and how we can get local authorities to apply for additional funding through that scheme.
I thank the 17 Senators who raised a plethora of issues, particularly those who have stayed behind to receive a response. I will begin with the issue of housing which was raised in various guises by Senators Ardagh, Ó Ríordáin, Paul Daly, O'Mahony and Humphreys. I take on board what Senator Ardagh said about the two sites in the constituency of Dublin South-Central - the John Player site and St. Michael's Estate. I acknowledge that the Raise the Roof protest yesterday was not just sizeable but impactful, although I would remind her of the protests under Fianna Fáil, including that of the pensioners who marched outside Leinster House when Fianna Fáil took away their medical cards.
I agree that it was right that the Minister rapidly dismissed, and I know Senator Humphreys mentioned it, the notion of housing people on a ship. This is something that was, pardon the term, floated in the UK as a way to house prisoners. When I was a poor intern in the European Parliament staying in Strasbourg for a week, a cruise ship always sailed up the Rhine and that is where we were put. The suggestion is not fit for purpose. It should never be seen as accommodation. If somebody wants to holiday on a cruise ship or join the merchant navy, well and good, but it is not a response to the housing crisis and I was relieved the Minister dismissed it in such a wholehearted manner this morning. The suggestion of a housing emergency committee-----
He is still looking for a floating vote.
There you go - possibly. The suggestion about a housing emergency committee is valid. We are all keenly aware of the issue with housing. The Government is on record as stating it is the number one issue, but I will bring the suggestion to the Minister's attention.
In response to Deputy Paul Daly's remarks about one-off housing, he might be shocked to hear that it is also a massive issue in my part of the world involving the Dublin Mountains up towards Glencullen, Ticknock and Tibradden. In my seven years on the county council, I sat in many a kitchen as someone went through the process to try to get a home for their son, daughter or other family member on land that could easily accommodate it. Each county council has a different approach to this issue. I know that we sat on the regional assembly together in a former life. Each regional authority has a different approach to this issue. It varies from county to county, but it is something that could solve many of our issues. However, it must be done properly. Building one-off houses without proper planning or consideration for the overall county's needs is not responsible, but there is a need and I will bring the Senator's suggestions to the attention of the Minister.
Why has it become more difficult across the board?
I agree. It is in every county. Regarding Senator O'Mahony's comments about vacancies in Ballaghaderreen, we need to work on making sure people know that this country is not Dublin-centric.
Senator Humphreys discussed a number of key issues involving Airbnb. He has consistently raised this issue in this House and I commend him on the progress he has achieved by his continuous lobbying. The Senator also mentioned the delays in respect of Poolbeg West. I came to the Chamber this morning from a meeting of apartment owners in Beacon South Quarter in Sandyford, which is the latest development to be affected by legacy issues. The owners are facing bills of €10,000 to €15,000 for remediation works. It is a two-year process. A number of suggestions are going through the Finance Bill which I hope might be able to alleviate that problem. I will bring up the matter with the Minister in due course.
Senator Ó Céidigh raised the issue of social media and the suggestion of a social media-free day. I would struggle to get through a social media-free hour. While I acknowledge the many issues the Senator raises, including addiction and cyberbullying, it is also important to acknowledge the great benefits that social media bring, for example, the ability of grandparents to connect with grandchildren on the other side of the world through Facebook or Skype. The vast majority of people who follow my Facebook page are well into retirement. They may only have 17 friends, but I am sure the picture of their grandchild on a beach in Sydney warms their heart, even though the family are further away.
Both Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Mullen mentioned two issues affecting traditional media. On the issue of local media, I appreciate the in-depth briefing given by local media providers last week and the Government is taking into consideration all five of those requests. I would love to tell the Senators what will happen in the budget next week. I do not know and I am not sure if the Minister knows yet, but they are being fed into the process.
Regarding Senator Mullen's lengthy contribution on RTÉ-----
The acting Leader should not leave out "learned".
Self-praise is no praise.
It is all one will get around here sometimes.
It is important that we have properly funded public broadcasting. It provides a vital service for the State. In the past year there have been severe weather incidents in the State, be it a hurricane, a snow storm or a major drought, and the role RTÉ television, radio or online played-----
Or the Pope's visit, which got blanket coverage.
I did not propose abolishing RTÉ. I was just saying it could move to somewhere more cost effective.
With respect, I believe the investment in RTÉ is merited. Whatever anyone's public gripe with RTÉ might be, that cannot be overlooked. Of course, RTÉ does not simply own the site in Montrose. There is one listed building on the site, but RTÉ also owns a site in Galway, from where TG4 broadcasts and where our former colleague, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, now spends his days. There is also the site in Limerick.
Senator Mac Lochlainn would be surprised; it is former Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.
I am sorry; it is Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. Of course, RTÉ has a site in Limerick from where Lyric FM, my favourite radio station, broadcasts.
President Higgins had an involvement there.
In response to Senator Mullen, I will put in a request for a debate, but I remind him that TV3 no longer exists. It is now Virgin Media One.
To respond to Senators Gavan, Norris and Joe O'Reilly's comments on the situation in Palestine and the presentation made by the EAPPI to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade last week they mentioned, I received a similarly detailed briefing on the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs six months ago. I raised the key issue of sites and buildings owned by the European Commission directly or funded by it that have been demolished by the Israeli state. I agree that there should be compensation for those losses.
I reject the suggestion Ireland is doing nothing in this region. As I mentioned in a previous debate on the Middle East, Ireland is obsessed with the region. The Government has invested more than €8 million in the past year, be it through peacekeeping operations or directly in overseas development aid to the Palestinian people. I have sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people and I do not say that lightly. The conditions in Palestine are horrendous, be they inflicted by the aggressive, inappropriate and illegal actions of the Israeli state or the domestic terrorism of Hamas. We all need to work together on this issue. It is welcome that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Taoiseach, as well as President Higgins, met the Palestinian President, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, last week. I hope we continue to be obsessed with the Middle East. I hope some day there might be an element of relief for this most deprived part of the world.
Senator Ó Ríordáin also mentioned the issue of tax evasion and the comments on individuals. The Senator has left the Chamber and I need not go into the full detail. I agree that everyone has the responsibility-----
We are interested also.
We are in the House.
Everyone has a responsibility to pay all the taxation for which he or she is liable and I encourage people to do so. Tax evasion in any form should always be condemned.
Regarding Senator Coffey's concerns about primary healthcare services, particularly in respect of the Four Mile Water healthcare centre, I will bring to the Minister of Health's attention that we need a debate on the issue of primary care.
Senator Boyhan made reference to the debate last night on Dún Laoghaire Harbour, to which I contributed. I share many of his concerns. I met some of the Fine Gael group of councillors in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown following their special meeting last night that ran concurrent with our own debate. I agree with the Senator that many questions remain. There is need for statements on the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. I will raise the matter with the Minister to see if it can be facilitated.
Senators Byrne and Devine raised the important issue of the flu vaccination and the need for all people to get it, particularly those who are at risk, young or old and those working in the HSE. It was the best investment I ever made or for the Department of Education and Skills. The Houses of the Oireachtas will organise a day-long for all Members and staff of the Oireachtas to get the flu jab. I took advantage of it last year. It was the best investment I made for the princely sum of €17. I did not get the flu all winter. It does not matter if one is scared of needles; it is worth doing.
Senator Byrne also raised the important issue of the creation of 600 jobs by Edwards Lifesciences. It is not only a good news story for Limerick or the mid-west; it is a good news story for the entire country. It demonstrates the importance of Ireland as a world player in the pharmaceutical sector. Many new jobs are being created outside the Dublin region in the mid-west, Galway, Cork and in between.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the hidden cost of autism, respite care and residential care. The delays in residential care have reduced to a matter of weeks. This is impressive, given where we were. I agree with the Senator about the need to have a debate on this issue.
Senators Norris and Joe O'Reilly also mentioned the state of British politics in respect of Brexit. I will not comment on the state of domestic British politics because I have got to go on BBC again at 10.40 p.m and I will save it for that. All Members are welcome to stay up. On the question of Mr. Jeremy Corbyn M.P. and a second referendum, we have no role in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom. However, Brexit is an absolute disaster for everyone, particularly Ireland. It is our responsibility to make sure that we can limit the damage of Brexit and I look forward to the ongoing debates.
Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the issue of Brexit preparedness in the agrifood sector. The Government has made a €25 million investment. The Senator will be delighted to hear that the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union will have a meeting on 10 October with the relevant officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It will be open to all Senators. The meeting will focus solely on Brexit preparedness, particularly in the plethora of areas in the agrifood sector the Senator mentioned and the importance of homegrown industries such as Lakeland Dairies in his home town of Bailieborough.
Senator Devine also mentioned the zero capacity for landfill report that was released this morning. I will request that the Minister come to take a debate. That is a welcome and timely request and I thank the Senator for raising it. Much has been done in reducing our reliance on waste. The Government has been proactive on it, but every individual can do more. Simply getting a KeepCup or a plastic straw is not enough. Much has been done. I commend my colleague, Senator Noone, for her work to highlight this issue. I also commend Senator Devine's work in that regard. It is important and timely that we have a debate on the issue as soon as possible.
Senator Lawlor raised issues in the report on Irish Aid. We had statements on the report in recent months, but that was prior to the Senator's election. As someone who worked in the overseas development aid sector for two and a half years, as Senator Lawlor did in the lights of Vanuatu, I will request that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Cannon, come to the House for statements on that issue and the importance of rural regeneration not only to towns such as Naas but others such as Bailieborough, Ahascragh or Kilternan. It is vitally important for all of us. It is timely that we have a debate. I look forward to welcoming the Minister for Rural and Community Affairs to the constituency of Dublin Rathdown where he is launching a new community centre in Kiltiernan on the Church of Ireland parish site and funded by this and the LEADER programme.
While I congratulate Senator Richmond on his excellent reply to the Order of Business and thank him for referencing the great village of Ahascragh, nonetheless it has been customary in this House - I am not sure whether it is covered by Standing Orders - not to refer to Members who have left the Chamber or who are absent from the Chamber. I do not blame Senator Richmond for it. It is something that has crept into the proceedings of the House. The absence of Members from the Chamber is referenced in the context of whether an extended answer is given to the issue they raised on the Order of Business. Without in any way targeting Senator Richmond, whose response was excellent and thoughtful, I ask the Cathaoirleach to rule on this matter. Those who are here are also interested in the issues raised. The key issue is what is placed on the record of the House and whether the Senator who asked the question is absent has no relation to whether he or she checks what is given by way of reply afterwards.
I thank the Senator. I get his drift.
I ask the Cathaoirleach to restore an honoured tradition.
It is not a matter for me to make a ruling on the issue. Normally, it is at the discretion of the Leader if he refers to somebody who has left or not. It was not meant in any way to be derogatory. The acting Leader covered the questions that were asked extensively.
Senator Richmond did very well. Can we all do it in the future then? All bets are off.