The Order of Business is No. 91, motion 7, regarding a vacancy in the membership of Seanad Éireann, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 1, Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019 – Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes on the debate on Second Stage, and Committee Stage and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 2, Wildlife Amendment Bill 2016 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to adjourn at 4 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, entitled Report on Relationships and Sexuality Education, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank the Leader for outlining the business of the day. I apologise that I was not here yesterday for the Leader's response. I had to meet a delegation who were over with the French ambassador. I do not like it when I am not here to listen to the Leader's response and I am sorry I was not here.
In fairness, it is not Senator Horkan's form.
I do not like doing it and I am sorry that I did. I have a couple of points today. I would like at some point for us to have a discussion about the cost of rent, particularly in Dublin. Kennedy Wilson is almost boasting that it is making more money here than it does in Los Angeles, and figures show that 55% of the take-home pay of some Dublin dwellers is now going on rent. It is something we have talked about previously, but property prices have risen significantly. It is difficult for people to get on the property ladder. People trying to buy a house are spending so much on rent that they are not able to save for a deposit. We need to have a look at that.
I would also like us at some point to bring in the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to talk about history as a core subject. There is a suggestion that history is being removed as a core subject at junior cycle level. This particular Minister may be more favourable to bringing it back as a core subject but we have not heard him say that and he has not done it. I would like us to have a discussion on that matter, sooner rather than later.
I would also like us to bring in the Minister for Health on the issue of hospital consultants. We heard at the weekend that there is a significant shortage. I note the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, was not able to attend the conference. Apparently, he had a diary clash. There is a serious shortage of hospital consultants. The figures are there. There are outlined. Between 2015 and 2017, 700 specialists left Ireland to work in Australia, Canada and the United States. Pay parity, equal pay and so on are part of that. The figures now show that 1 million people are on waiting lists for outpatient appointments. It is important that we bring in the Minister to let us know what he is doing.
Finally, I want the Leader to bring in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government as a matter of urgency on the issue of political donations. There was much talk yesterday about how parties were being funded. I would draw the Leader's attention to an article by Mr. Colm Keena in The Irish Times on Friday last, the headline of which was "Legal question over €1.6m left in will to Sinn Féin". The article reads, "The key line [saying it was a will] in a solicitor's offices in Cootehill, Co Cavan, in 1997, says that he is leaving the money to the "political party in the Republic of Ireland known at this time as Sinn Féin."" We need to have a discussion as to what is and is not permissible and what is not permissible and whether the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, may have been asked to investigate that. While that is a particular case, I would like to bring in the Minister as a matter of urgency to discuss political funding and whether that kind of donation is within the rules in this jurisdiction.
I call Senator Lawless.
Sorry, I was distracted.
By the lovely ladies on the balcony.
It is great to be back in this beautifully restored Chamber. I say well done to all involved. The workmanship has been superb. Originally, this was the ballroom of Lord Leinster's townhouse. If the Cathaoirleach will excuse the pun, let us not dance around the issues today and get straight to the point.
I welcome the recent publication by the Government of the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019 to pave the way for a referendum allowing Irish citizens living abroad to vote in presidential elections. We are nearly there. Many of us have waited 15 years, if not more, for this referendum to be put to the people. While I do not want to pre-empt any formal announcement from the Government, most of us who were advocating for this change recognise that we may have to wait a little longer before the question is put.
We have had many referenda in this country that have ended up being debates about issues far removed from the subject of the referendum. We do not want these errors repeated with this vote.
Brexit uncertainty and the looming Brexit deadline of 31 October make the prospect of a campaign in advance of a previously earmarked November date a distraction. Brexit has the potential to become wrongly interwoven in a referendum campaign that should be about empowering our diaspora community, expanding our global reach and broadening our nation's identity. For this reason, I would support a short delay in the holding of this referendum and the Government would be wise to provide for such a delay. We have the legislation in place and we are ready and ambitious for our country. I firmly believe the Irish people want to harness and support their emigrant friends and families so that they too can have a say as to who sits at the head of our State.
Senator Horkan should note that the difference between donations made to Sinn Féin and the Fianna Fáil Party is that donors to Sinn Féin do not benefit. In this case, the donor is deceased. In contrast, the beef tribunal proved there were direct correlations between the amounts of money given to Fianna Fáil and the decisions that were made.
No, there were not.
It is important to put that on record. If others would like to donate to Sinn Féin in their wills, we have very important work to do.
Before you shoot them.
Tell that to Freddie Scappaticci.
Senator Conway-Walsh should elaborate on her party's donation policy.
There is no latitude being given today.
I was addressing Senator Horkan. I know this is likely to keep him awake at night.
He might not be the only one who is awake at night worrying.
Allow Senator Conway-Walsh to continue. She has been on her feet for one and half minutes and she has another 90 seconds remaining.
I want to raise the important issue of valproate, which I have raised in the Chamber many times. Pregnant women were prescribed Epilim when people knew what its impacts were. The Minister promised us a report on this matter last March and we have still not received it from the relevant group. Will the Leader ask the Minister where that report is? Will he also ask him why the historical information on licensing that we seek and require has not made available either through the freedom of information process or any other source? Could that information be made available? A child in this country should not be treated any differently from a child in France. Compensation has been provided to children in France who were impacted by this drug in the same way as it impacted on Irish children. Nothing will ever make up for the disabilities these children are suffering.
An inquiry into this matter is coming to an end in Britain. We need an independent investigation into this issue. We have had enough cover-ups in this country. This is far too serious an issue. Families have been left with children with disabilities as a result of being prescribed a drug, the impacts of which I am certain were known to many people in this country. I want to know who knew what and when.
Arising from what I said yesterday, I ask the Cathaoirleach, as Chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to send me a short note detailing the progress that has been made in removing Standing Order 41. I am afraid this matter is caught in a kind of Sir Humphrey tangle. It was referred to the Dáil committee as a courtesy as the Dáil committee has no jurisdiction over the doings of this House with regard to its Order Paper. We have consistently had complaints from every side of this House about this aspect of our work. This is one area that can be reformed by this House. Yesterday, we had statements on the report of the Seanad reform implementation group. This is one thing we can do ourselves. We do not need to wait for the Government or the Dáil. We can do this and the Dáil committee can then cope with the consequences. That is the way life works outside Sir Humphrey's domain. I ask if the Cathaoirleach would be kind enough to send me a little report to see how we can advance this important matter and at last get one little bit of reform into this House.
The recommendation of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, that history remain an optional subject, a matter also raised by Senator Horkan, bothers me greatly. The Minister for Education and Skills has received the review which he is considering very carefully. History gives us a sense of perspective. Diarmaid Ferriter, who is a professor of modern history, has said we cannot lose this subject and if we do so, the children of the future will not be equipped to be able to understand where we are now and how we got here. That is important because we need to be mindful of the State we have and how we got here. We need to make sure children in the future do not go through what some people in this country went through in the past. We will not be able to do that unless children study our history.
History also gives children the opportunity to have an opinion and engage in discussion in class. It gives people an interest in general knowledge and politics, which is very important. I urge the Minister not to accept the recommendation and to make history a compulsory subject up to junior certificate level at least. That is vital. As many people as possible should engage with the Minister and encourage him to stand up on this issue in which I think he believes. It is vital that everybody has the opportunity to study history. When I was a youngster in the 1980s I went to the UK and I was shocked by the level of knowledge among young people about their history. I remember having a conversation about partition and how it happened, the differences between the North and South of Ireland and figures such as Michael Collins, De Valera and Lloyd George. People of the same age in the UK did not know who Lloyd George was. We do not want that here; we do not want to dumb down our curriculum. It is vital we keep history as a compulsory subject, at least at junior certificate level. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss this issue.
I thank the Leader for including on the Order Paper a motion I submitted on the by-election process. I can move the motion at this juncture if that is in order, as it is to be taken without debate. Is that in order?
If the Order of Business is agreed, I will call the Senator to move the motion.
I will do so at that point. As the motion is to be taken without debate, I had better speak on it now. I take this opportunity to point out that the idea behind this proposal to is to get the by-election process in place. The issue of who the candidate will be is not a matter for me or for the Seanad. It is a matter for others, the political parties and the Independents, to decide who they may or may not put forward. I want to be clear about that. I am not endorsing any candidate, whether from a party or an independent. Senator McDowell and I proposed the motion, the purpose of which is to move forward the process. It is ultimately a matter for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to sign the order. I acknowledge it is the prerogative of the Minister alone to consider this matter and he has up to 180 days to discuss it. We are not, as some people have suggested, moving a writ. All we are asking is that the House pass a motion calling on the Clerk of the Seanad to inform the Minister of a vacancy on the agricultural panel created as a result of the successful election to the European Parliament of the Green Party Senator, Grace O'Sullivan.
It is right and proper that we proceed to have this by-election as quickly as possible within the constraints of the regulations and the Minister's prerogative. The issue of candidates is exclusively and wholly a matter for the political parties. If they wish to run a candidate, that is their decision. How to deal with that within their own parties is another challenge for them, rather than for us.
I express my exasperation about what is happening at University Hospital Limerick where 80 people were waiting on trolleys for beds yesterday. I thank the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, who came down for a surprise visit during the summer. On the day in question, there were 68 people on trolleys awaiting treatment. It is an area about which I am very concerned because, although we are not yet in the winter months, there are large numbers of people waiting on trolleys. The staff at the hospital work really hard in very difficult circumstances and I pay tribute to them. Something must be done. A special case will have to be made. A number of hospitals in the region were closed down and everyone within their catchment areas has been directed to University Hospital Limerick. While there are areas of expertise being opened up in Ennis Hospital, such as the area of cataract treatment, we have to look at ways to bring all the units together to reduce waiting lists and the numbers of people waiting on trolleys.
I was not here yesterday but I know that concerns were raised about Lyric FM and, perhaps, the jobs associated with it. Although it is run from Limerick, the station is listened to across the country. I add my support to the calls to keep Lyric FM.
I will place on record a profound failure of policing in my home county of Donegal. I have agreed with the victim's family that I will give this brief account. There is a long-established housing development in a town in Donegal. A number of years ago, two persons moved into a house in the development, one of whom, a man, has a long criminal record and has been convicted of dealing drugs many times. The other person, a woman, also has convictions for dealing drugs. The local community and residents in the housing development believe that these people continued these activities until recently. A very serious and terrifying incident took place last June. The man in question walked into the green area in the housing development and waved an axe around. He approached a pensioner and threatened to kill him and other residents and to burn them out of their homes. He was taken before the courts and released on bail. In fairness to An Garda Síochána, it opposed bail. It had made arrests previously. My serious difficulty is that I have met residents of that housing development in recent times and they are absolutely terrified of this man. Last Sunday night, a pensioner was violently assaulted. He was treated for a broken nose and broken cheekbone and received 15 stitches to a serious wound in his face and three staples to the back of his head. He was viciously and violently attacked and then left for dead. Even though everyone in the development knows that the criminal in question was responsible, he was not arrested that night. When I asked gardaí the following day - and I have not named any person - why this person had not been arrested, I was told that there was not enough evidence. We should be thankful that the family of the victim had CCTV footage which captured this violent assault. This information has to be placed on the record.
I must admonish the Senator. Sometimes by mentioning particular areas and particular incidents a person can be identified. As far as I know, this man has not been convicted of anything so the Senator must be very careful. This could work in his favour in a court of law.
All I can say is-----
-----that I have seen incontrovertible video evidence. I accept the guidance of the Cathaoirleach. I will wrap up. I thought long and hard before I decided to read this into the record. The whole community in the area in question is asking why this criminal thug, who violently assaulted a pensioner, has not been arrested. The pensioner in question was taken to a Garda station yesterday. His family took him to the station where gardaí were too busy to take a statement. We are now 72 hours on from this incident. The victim has not been questioned and nobody has been arrested. People in this development are living in terror. They have acted in good faith until now. They have put their trust in the Garda and, at times, it has had their back. This Chamber has to be a place where we can speak truth and say what is happening in our communities and on our streets. I took this opportunity with great reluctance. I thought long and hard. I will present this transcript to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. I will ask him and the Minister for Justice and Equality to urgently review the handling of this case from last Sunday until now and to speak to the family in question and the residents of the development about their experiences. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his patience and for this opportunity.
We should always remember that this Chamber is not a court of law. We have to tread warily on matters that are sub judice and which have not yet been dealt with.
Could we have a debate on the HSE's capital plan? We would like an outline of the projects included within it and the timeframes for completing them. I refer in particular to a project at Naas General Hospital, which is in my local area. The hospital has been seeking an endoscopic unit. The project is part of the plan but we would like details on when it will commence. Could we have a debate with the Minister on the HSE capital development plan?
I welcome my colleagues back to the House. I am delighted that we are back in session. I look forward to the busy months ahead. I arrived back in Dublin yesterday from Oslo, Norway. I had been invited to meet parliamentarians and the Norwegian foreign affairs committee about my Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 which, having passed fully through the House with fantastic support, is now before the Dáil for consideration. The week beforehand I was in Santiago, Chile, also meeting human rights organisations, trade unions and members of the Chilean Parliament, who showed great interest in the Bill and our work on this issue in Ireland. It is fantastic to see this interest and support around the world. Many other countries have also invited us to visit. The attention being paid to Ireland as a leader on issues of human rights and international justice is inspiring. I come back to this session more determined than ever to see this Bill pass its final stages and become law.
However, as many of my colleagues will know, one of the biggest challenges in doing so, and indeed in passing many other Bills, is the Government's use of the money message device to veto Bills that have won the support of a majority of Deputies and Senators. Senator McDowell has spoken at length about the extremely dubious legal grounds for this, as have experts in constitutional law from Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland, Galway. I hope the Government is paying attention to these warnings. I have put a lot of time into this issue over the past few months as I feel it is something we badly need to address if our Parliament is to function properly. The Constitution does not hand the Executive an absolute veto over Parliament but, incredibly, that is what is coming to pass. I know the relevant committees on Dáil business and reform will be examining this issue in the near future. I offer my full support for that process. We can fix this quite easily if there is political will to do so.
I echo what Senator Black has just said. In these Houses, the provisions of Standing Orders and the Constitution regarding money messages are being blatantly abused. We look across at what is happening in the UK Supreme Court where somebody has had to intervene to prevent the Executive effectively overriding the will of the democratically elected houses of the UK Parliament yet we seem to be frozen in inaction when confronted by the same issues. I will say two things with regard to the Bill.
It has been suggested by a number of people in the Israeli Government, including Mr. Netanyahu, and a number of their keen supporters here in Ireland, who are by no means representative of the entire Jewish community in Ireland but are ardent Zionists - I will not mention any names - that somehow there was something anti-Semitic in that legislation. There was not. There was not a shred of anti-Semitism in it. The great majority of liberal, decent people of the Jewish religion in Israel, America and in other places recognise that the annexation of the West Bank is nothing to do with anti-Semitism, it has everything to do with Zionist imperialism, as it was reflected by the utterly cynical and totally wrong and dishonest behaviour of Prime Minister Netanyahu in trying to swing the last few votes out of his electorate by claiming that he was going to annex even more of the Palestinian territory in defiance of international law. We, in these Houses, have a right and a duty to protest against that. We have a right to call on our Government to stand up unequivocally for what is right and to make it very clear to those people who are still in office in Israel, despite the fact that they have lost the support of the people at the recent election, that annexation of Palestinian territory, whether it is supported in the White House or in certain quarters around the world, is against international law and that the removal of people and the use of those territories for economic gain is in breach of international law and that it should not be tolerated.
A suggestion was made yesterday in a debate in this House by Senator Norris, who became voluble on the subject, on whether the money message provision was invoked to stop printing. If one looks at yesterday's transcript, one will see he was concerned about this. The money message provision was invoked on the basis that to make regulations, to type them out and put them on a computer screen somewhere and to promulgate them would involve expenditure. That is a disgrace. It is a real mark of disgrace and dishonour on this Government, that it would think of doing that. The use of Civil Service time and a Minister's time to put a signature on a piece of paper generated within an office is no more an appropriation of the public revenues than anything, no matter how trivial, could be. The time has come for us to be honest in this House and to say the Government must stop this charade. The Government is a minority one and I fully accept there are difficulties in keeping control of public expenditure when it is in a minority position, but using the money message procedure in bad faith to frustrate the will of the Members of these Houses to protest against and to make illegal the importation into Ireland of goods manufactured in the occupied territories is a shameful act, the responsibility for which lies firmly at the feet of the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney. They should be ashamed of themselves.
I was alarmed by the report on climate action at the weekend and also by today's report from the EPA on premature death due to pollution, which is said to be at 1,100 and climbing, according to the latest statistics from 2016. Across the EU alone, the figure is up to 700,000 deaths per year, which is a significant amount. The problem is that we have lower levels than those specified in EU regulations, so our air quality passes the test. However, it does not pass the more strict World Health Organization test. Stations are recording mainly in rural areas but the deaths are caused by airborne pollutant particles in urban areas from diesel, coal and fossil fuels. As a result, many people are dying prematurely and there is also an impact on the health service. Going forward, we know that climate action will impact much more on public health. I would like the Leader to invite the Minister to address climate change. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action and we are addressing transport, but we are still buying diesel buses and allowing oil to be drilled offshore. I accept there is a commitment to stop that, but we must act a lot more quickly. Yesterday, I asked the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, to consider inviting Greta Thunberg to address this House. Today, she became a recipient of the alternative Nobel prize. She is leading the climate action awareness strike and is embarrassing us into doing something for her generation. We cannot leave them behind. I urge the Leader to consider putting the matter on the agenda. Yesterday, I asked the Leader to ask Greta to address these Houses.
I spent the morning listening to the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, make its pre-budget submission. What it had to say is quite frightening. This morning, many Senators spoke about hospitals and primary care centres in their areas and they spoke about the health of their communities, villages and towns. We need to start taking the IMO very seriously, especially what it is telling us about public health. I doubt anyone would be able to define what we mean by public health. It links directly into what Senator Devine spoke about in terms of atmospheric pollutants and disease prevention before we get to a hospital at all. It was very interesting listening to the IMO members speak about vacancies for consultants, non-registered hospital doctors, specialist registrars and the doctors and nurses leaving the country. I am not just talking about consultants, it goes right down through the chain. It has to be dealt with through communication. It is fascinating that people are on their phones and they are not even bothering to listen to me. Sometimes, I do not know why we should open up the House again-----
We are multitasking.
No, the Senator is not multitasking at all. This place is supposed to be one where people speak and are listened to and there would be reflection, discourse and argument. One might even change one's mind because of what one heard across the House. One might believe something to be true but when the facts were presented on the floor of the House one might change one's mind. We might as well be talking to the new curtains. I do not suggest people should be listening to me, but I would show respect by listening to other Senators when they get up to speak. However, I will get back to the point I was making to the Leader. We need the Minister for Health to come in here as a matter of urgency to find out about how we are going to tackle the problems, which trickle right down to the territory of every Member and to each town and village in the country. It would be very interesting to hear how people define public health because we do not have a definition and we are not even paying attention to it at any level. I ask the Leader to invite in the Minister. I have been shouting for that for months.
Anybody who has an interest in politics or who has engaged in politics anywhere in the world will have found yesterday a particularly disturbing day, observing what is happening in the United States and in the United Kingdom, which we would all regard as being too great democratic institutions. On one side of the Atlantic, proceedings are being undertaken to potentially impeach a President, the charge being that he has asked a foreign power to investigate a political rival. In the United Kingdom we have the Supreme Court ruling that the Prime Minister broke the law in suspending Parliament. In those two countries it seems that politics is in a very dangerous and disturbing place, where any amount of middle ground discourse is almost impossible. Previously, there seemed to be an ability for people to find common ground in the centre of two opposites but now Brexit has become a religion. What Trump is trying to achieve in the United States has a similar type of religious zeal to it.
Considering that these two great countries influence so much of what is good in democracy, I worry when I see what is happening. While we have been rightly critical of our own political system and institutions for so long, I am thankful that we seem to have been doing reasonably well recently, especially facing Brexit on 31 October. A dark turn was taken a number of weeks ago, however, when Members of these Houses were engaged in whipping up sentiment at public meetings in certain parts of the country using half-truths, mistruths and very poisonous language to try to get cheap votes, cheap rounds of applause and cheap support on the back of particularly vulnerable people.
I spent time as a Minister of State under the previous Government. The reason I have changed my view on the very existence of this House was because of how everybody here at the time and since has come together with one voice to speak on the issue of direct provision. What happened in Oughterard was a disgrace on the political side. We have an opportunity in this House to stand together and show a different side of Irish politics. I encourage the Leader to facilitate this discussion and ask the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to come to the House to discuss the matter again. I acknowledge he has been here on numerous occasions to do so but it is incumbent on us to show a different side of Irish politics and the type of leadership needed rather than opting for the debased politics we see in the United Kingdom and America. The people of Oughterard have been let down terribly by the type of rhetoric used. We have chance to step into the space as a collective and show a little more leadership than was shown in that instance.
I echo that request. If the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is to be invited here, he might also address the issue of Ireland needing a new national action plan against racism. We used to have one as part of our infrastructure of equality and inclusion. Indeed, we used to have a national body to address the issue. I would like the Minister of State to address those topics when he speaks.
I wish to speak specifically about the proposal on the Order of Business to take the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill today. Report and Final Stages of the Bill, which is possibly misnamed as it had many negative implications for wildlife across the country, are to be taken today, just weeks before the climate committee is due to discuss the future of peatlands. The Bill has already passed through the Dáil, where there was what I regarded as an extraordinary extension of its scope at the last minute, not only to cover raised bogs but also blanket bogs. We are to conclude our consideration of the Bill before the climate action committee is to hear from Bord na Móna, the ESB, officials from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, experts from UCD, Earth Matters and the National Park and Wildlife Service, and the peatlands strategy implementation group. A comprehensive set of experts will be presenting on how we should manage our peatlands when the relative legislative document, which allows for the de-designation of what are currently protected areas, will have passed through the houses. It seems extraordinary that this would be the case. It behoves the Minister and, I hope, the Leader to consider removing the legislation from the Order of Business at least for one month until the discussion, findings and expertise of the committee on this issue can be factored in. This Bill has had a long journey to this point. One more month, which would allow for proper consideration and reflection, would be appropriate. I am concerned that the Bill, by its nature, has become somewhat dated. It did not, on Committee Stage, include any reference to climate change, carbon sequestration or any related matter, all of which are deeply important to our peatlands and the decisions we make on their protection or non-protection. I propose an amendment to remove the Bill from the proposed Order of Business.
The amendment was not too clear to me. I am sure the Leader will address it.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that No. 13, the Road Traffic (Amendment) 2015 Bill, be taken before No. 1. The Bill will make it a legal requirement to restrain a dog in a secure fashion when travelling in a vehicle. I hope my colleagues will support my proposal to amend the Order of Business.
Both proposals must be seconded by somebody who has not spoken already. Those are the rules, unfortunately.
I second Senator Feighan's amendment.
Senator Higgins can always oppose the Order of Business by another method if she cannot have her proposal seconded.
I hope the Leader will consider my points regardless.
The Senator has another mechanism to protest, by way of calling a vote at a later stage.
I thank the 16 Members who contributed to the Order of Business. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell might have believed we were not listening to her but I was actually reading the IMO document submitted by those I met this morning so I could give her a response.
I advise Senator Horkan, the acting leader of Fianna Fáil, that Minister of State, Deputy English, will be here tomorrow to discuss housing. I would certainly be happy to allow for the debate on rents. It is an important issue.
Both Senators Horkan and McFadden raised the view of the National Council for Curriculum Assessment on history. It recommended no change to its optional status. As with the two Senators, I hope the Minister will keep history as a core subject. It is important, notwithstanding the 24 outcomes of learning attached to the junior cycle reform programme, four of which relate history, to acknowledge the importance of history to our curriculum. Obviously there has been a movement towards science, technology, engineering and maths, STEM, subjects in recent years but, having been a teacher, I am very much of the view that history is a critical and pivotal subject on our curriculum. It is about reflecting on, recognising and remembering our past but also about understanding our future and moving forward. Are we seriously to say to young people that, at the ages of ten, 12, 13 or 14, their sense of belonging and place has ended and that they are no longer to be inquisitive about the world? I hope the Minister will retain history as a core subject.
Senators Horkan and Marie-Louise O’Donnell raised the issue of the IMO briefing. I was struck this morning by the presentation we received on the issue of public health. I was reading the report we received because consultant status in community and public health needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. As said to me this morning, it is about the critical voice being heard on status within the health profession. The Senator is correct that people would not be able to answer the question as to what public health is. It is a matter we could have a discussion on. I have asked the Minister for Health to come to the House. The IMO briefing this morning, not only on vacancies but also on progression, public health and the two-tier pay scale, is important.
I will be happy to bring the Minister to the House in the coming weeks to have that debate.
Senator Horkan also referred to political donations. In keeping with my good humour since my return, I will not engage in a political row with the Senator or Sinn Féin over who got what from where and how. We have SIPO, an independent body, and it is important that it should do its business and that everybody should comply with the rules and regulations regarding political donations. I will be happy to arrange a debate on that as part of political reform.
That is a very good point. Well said.
I thank the Senator.
That is what I was seeking.
Senator Lawless raised an important issue, which was also raised by Senator Ó Donnghaile yesterday, regarding the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019. There is merit in his suggestion of a postponement or delay in the referendum. There is a need to have an in-depth, detailed discussion on the matter so we can have an informed campaign. Senator Lawless is absent because he had to attend another briefing, but I wish to pay tribute to him. I was in Chicago during the summer and met many people from the political world in the United States. The esteem in which he is held for the work he is doing is to be commended. I saw it at first hand so I pay tribute to him this morning as well.
Senator Conway-Walsh referred to the drug, sodium valproate. As Members will be aware, the European Medicines Agency has restricted its use in recent years. The Senator said it is a serious issue and I agree with her. The HSE held a conference earlier this year and has put in place a patient communication and support structure. Epilepsy Ireland is working with the HSE and a specialist paediatrician consultant has been appointed in Crumlin hospital to deal with medical diagnosis of foetal valproate syndrome, but the matter has to be addressed further. I suggest that Senator Conway-Walsh table a Commencement matter on the issue as well.
The issue raised by Senator Norris is a matter for the CPP. I will let the Cathaoirleach reply to it if he so wishes.
Senator Boyhan outlined the rationale for tabling the motion, which is understandable. I accept it and will not be opposing it.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of trolleys in University Hospital Limerick. She has been a champion in the House of the trolley situation in UHL. The Government is investing in Limerick but I would welcome a debate on why people are on trolleys. To be honest, I believe a political game is taking place at one level with regard to people on trolleys. Patients are being used in some cases so I would like to have a real debate about waiting times on trolleys in hospitals. The Senator also raised the issue of Lyric FM, which we discussed yesterday.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the very sensitive matter relating to Donegal. While it is an operational matter, and I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's comments, I understand the Senator's frustration and the exasperation of the residents. The joint policing committee in Donegal could be used as a means of highlighting the matter. In addition, the community safety fora, which are in Cork and I presume they are in Donegal, can be used. Residents who have legitimate concerns about anti-social behaviour, thuggery and criminality can have their voices heard and I defend the Senator's right to come to the House to lead that. However, it is an operational matter and I am not familiar with the case.
Senator Lawlor referred to the HSE's capital plan. I will be happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the €2 billion to be spent over three years which will provide 480 new beds and see 30 new primary care centres and 58 community nursing units built.
Senators McDowell and Black raised the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has articulated his views on the Bill in this House and the Lower House. Both Members expressed their views on the money message. I refer them to Articles 17 and 28.4 of the Constitution. I will be happy to have that debate at any time. Senator McDowell as a former Cabinet Minister and Attorney General knows well that some Members of the Houses, and I am not saying it is so in this case, put forward Private Members' Bills that impose inordinate spending on the Exchequer. It is the prerogative of the Government to expend money.
Not this Bill.
I did not say it about that Bill.
In response to Senator Devine, I have not read the EPA report on climate change, but I will be happy to arrange a debate on it. Regarding Greta Thunberg, it is a matter for the CPP to make that decision. It is not my decision.
I ask the Leader to put it on the agenda.
I will be happy to have a discussion on the matter at the CPP.
I thank the Leader.
I share the sentiments expressed by Senator Ó Ríordáin on the issues in Oughterard and the language people use. Ours is an island nation of welcome. Many of our people have travelled across the world and we accept and welcome people here as a safe harbour. Direct provision has been in place for more than 20 years and all of us understand the frustrations with it and the need to change the system. As politicians, however, we have a duty of care in how we represent and what we say. Inflammatory language must be condemned out of hand. Equally, there is a job to be done by the Government and State agencies to engage with people in any planning, be it for direct provision, health or whatever. There is a need for proper consultation. However, the language used in Oughterard is unhelpful. We should all be mindful of what we say. We all live in the community and are of the community. People are coming to this country for a variety of reasons, be it fear of persecution or for reasons to do with race, religion and political opinion. I welcome people to my offices every day, regardless of where they are from or who they are.
I will not accept the amendment proposed by Senator Higgins. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 has been before the House for a long time and it must be progressed.
I am happy to accept Senator Feighan's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Higgins has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 2 be deleted from the Order of Business." As there was no seconder, it must lapse.
Senator Feighan has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 13 be taken before No. 91, motion 7." That was seconded by Senator Wilson and the Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.