The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on housing, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and that 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. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, has warned that the economy could fall into recession next year as a result of Brexit, although we all hope that will not happen, and that an additional budget could be needed if that is the case. If Brexit goes okay, people and businesses that have deferred decisions may all decide to put their foot to the floor, which may cause further overheating in certain areas of the economy. It is important we all acknowledge, as we do, that Brexit remains highly uncertain, with a great deal of risk. I do not doubt that the Minister for Finance pays attention to what the ESRI indicated in respect of the budget. Our spokespersons, such as Deputy Michael McGrath, are involved with the Minister in advance of the budget, which will be published in less than two weeks. There is such uncertainty and we need to be cognisant of bodies such as the ESRI when they publish reports.
I raise the issue of moral hazard if the rainy day fund is used. It is not so long since we debated the legislation on the fund and it would be unfortunate if almost as soon as we have invested the money, we remove it. What the Department officials stated in their notes, namely, that using the State's rainy day fund for Brexit planning would lead to a moral hazard, is fair. The fund was set up for very exceptional, one-off events. While Brexit is very unusual in one way, we are now more than three years into the process and we know it will happen, irrespective of how bad it may be. I would be more comfortable if we did not use and deplete the rainy day fund only months after we invested the initial money therein.
I welcome the fact that the Attorney General has granted a fresh inquest into the deaths in the Stardust fire in 1981. The decision is welcome for the families, despite it being so long after the event. I was only a child when it happened but I remember the wide outpouring of grief. It was such an appalling tragedy, with 48 deaths. Many of the families in question believed they would never get justice. I hope the inquest will give some level of closure, albeit so belated, to the grieving relatives of so many people.
I raise a matter related to agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine appeared in the Chamber earlier and we discussed important issues such as diversification and the challenges facing communities. In particular, we spoke about the beef crisis, although I do not intend to rehash all of that now. We had a meaningful engagement and discussion. The Minister spoke about developing and appointing new agricultural attachés in a number of embassies. As I was leaving the Chamber earlier, it occurred to me that the Leader might be able to arrange for the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, who has special responsibility for horticulture, to appear before the House when he has a free slot in the next month or two. Important food related matters are traceability, quality and branding, not least in respect of Bord Bia, the expansion of new markets, and the diversification of agriculture, perhaps moving to a lesser reliance on beef.
This week a number of gentlemen who had resided in Tuam visited me with a member of Galway County Council. It was a harrowing and moving experience. The men were farmed out at seven years of age to do hard labour on farms. They were meant to consider it great charity. One of them told me he had been left a small holding but eventually had to sell it. The authorities did not accept that the man had been fostered. Although it was an informal arrangement, his guardians had loved and cared for him but he had to pay all the taxes and was left with nothing. It was very unfair. The men told me they did not have a medical card. They had been broken and destroyed by a system. They wanted independent counselling they could trust - not just the assistance that was given to them - and they needed greater help and support. They asked for health and housing supports. Surely the State owes that to people who come from institutions where it had a primary responsibility and duty to protect them and their welfare.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, should come to the House to update us and to reassure us of what is happening, specifically regarding Tuam. It is important that the people affected know that we in these Houses are advocating for them and will support them. I ask that the Minister outline what the State can do in terms of providing medical cards for these people. What can we do in terms of housing for these people? What can we offer them in terms of independent counselling and support to allow them to get on and live their remaining years? How can we address the issue of inheritance from people who may have been their guardians and cared for them, people who stepped in as their parents and gave them a job, even if it meant picking potatoes or snagging a few turnips at the age of eight, nine or ten? We need to have the Minister back here to have a conversation and to be reassured that these issues are at the top of her agenda.
I concur with what Senator Horkan said about the Stardust tragedy. Some of us here are old enough to remember the events of 38 years ago. There was no social media and hardly any telephones then. As a young woman I remember listening to the news getting drip-fed through to us. A fog of sadness and shock fell over Dublin. There were no answers at that time. The families and those who survived have fought for 38 years. This is a momentous day and a good decision by the Attorney General to reopen an inquest on the basis of new evidence available. I have raised the matter repeatedly. This is the time to congratulate the ordinary people of Dublin. They held steadfast and did not give up. They want the correction of the record which has already been corrected to say that it was not arson, but the correction that this inquest will bring to honour their loved ones, ordinary working-class people on the north side of Dublin. We need to embrace them and thank them for their tenacity in keeping the issue alive. This is an injustice that needs to be righted.
I wish to raise the issue of children with autism in the education system. The right to an education is one of the few rights enshrined in our Constitution, yet we continually deny it to children who have extra needs. I welcome the opening of seven classes in the Dublin 15 area under legal notices sent by the Minister, who is doing the right thing. The teachers and principals have difficulty with training, capacity, space, etc. We need to uphold and abide by the Constitution. Payment for home tuition for these autistic children is being delayed. Reduced hours are being offered - perhaps only one hour a day. In one case, the parents are often called to come in and take the child. When the child has issues and engages in acting out behaviour due to their diagnosis, the advice is to call the Garda. This is a six year old child. We should not be criminalising our children. I welcome this measure, and I hope we will speedily see provision of education for all in their communities and not 100 million miles away.
I join others in welcoming the announcement on the Stardust inquiry reopening. I am one of the people old enough to remember that awful tragedy and the appalling day when we heard the news. I was a teenager and it was horrific. I express my utter admiration for the families who have worked so hard for so long and have been so eloquent in their advocacy for the children they lost. It is heartbreaking to listen to them. I am so glad the Attorney General has taken this decision on which I commend him.
I support Senator Boyhan's call for the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to come to the House to discuss the Tuam issue.
This morning I spoke alongside the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, at the launch of a new Women's Aid report, Unheard and Uncounted. This is a very important report on women and domestic abuse, documenting ongoing issues and failures in our criminal justice system, notably the lack of data on cases of domestic violence and how they are dealt with through the system, and the lack of joined-up processes between the criminal courts and the family courts regarding women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.
As pointed out at the launch, we have legislated in recent times to improve processes through the Domestic Violence Act, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act and also the Judicial Council Act which will allow for sentence guidance. However, there are ongoing problems for women trying to achieve justice through the courts. I ask for a debate on domestic violence looking at the recommendations in this important report and seeking to uncover where we can make improvements through legislation and where we can get commitments from the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, on improvements to processes. I seek that debate as a matter of urgency.
Yesterday during our very stimulating debate on the Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill, Senator Ned O'Sullivan pointed out the need for legislation on hate crime. A number of us have been pressing for that for some time. There is a good deal of research and a review is ongoing. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, referred to that review during the debate on the Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill. It would be very useful for this House to debate how we might best seek to legislate against hate crime in future, building on the existing research and the work of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and others.
In July, as we commenced the summer recess, the HSE informed organisations providing rehabilitation programmes that an allowance that had been paid to those starting on the programme was being abolished. There was no consultation or review of effectiveness; it was simply a diktat. The response among students who were getting the allowance was very strong. They know the value and are pressing very strongly for its restoration which will not affect them. Key is the impact on people with disabilities who are just leaving school, moving into a new world of training and, we hope, independence. It also has an impact on people with mental health difficulties, brain injuries and others getting an opportunity to return to work.
The programme is successful. Students grow in confidence and learn to be independent, get a job or go on to further education. These are people who have already had it tough, and removing the allowance is making it tougher. The Minister for Health, the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disabilities and representatives of the HSE have all said the savings being made will be allocated to day service. Day service is a separate, distinct and necessary programme; it is not either-or. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, said the abolition of this allowance was about equality and equity. We need to remember that the disability allowance is an allowance to keep body and soul together for these people. The rehabilitative allowance is to respect and support the commitment of people to undergo learning to move into employment independence in the community and away from reliance on the disability allowance. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State to the House as soon as possible to explain his perverse notion of equality and how he justified robbing one group of people with disabilities to plug a funding gap in this year's budget.
In a related, but more hopeful and joyous development regarding disability, today is Make Way Day. Last week, the Garda assistant commissioner with responsibility for roads policing, David Sheahan, joined the Disability Federation of Ireland to ask that drivers consider the needs of people with disabilities. He went on to make some very pointed remarks. Footpaths are for pedestrians. Drivers who pull up on footpaths are breaking the law as well as blocking the path for people with limited mobility.
Someone in a motorised wheelchair must either go home or risk his or her life on the public road getting around a parked vehicle. Neither is acceptable to the Garda. Disabled parking bays are for people with disabilities and able-bodied people parking on them is against the law. These bays assist disabled people in going about their daily business. The Garda roads policing unit will increase its vigilance and lower its tolerance of footpath parking and parking in disabled bays not only for Make Way Day but for all 365 days of the year in support of the campaign.
I commend the Disability Federation of Ireland, the Garda roads policing unit, the local authorities, councillors and a range of public and private bodies who have got behind this. People with disabilities are out on the streets today to claim and reclaim their streets and pavements and to do that freely and easily.
I was not here the other day when the Leader spoke about the death of my beloved brother, Jim, and I thank him for that.
Senator Dolan has all of our sympathies and condolences.
I understand that. Thank you.
Observing scenes from Westminster and the United States yesterday, one can only be alarmed by the direction politics is taking in two of the world's bastions of democracy. Partisanship and populism risk poisoning politics in western democracies and do little to serve the needs of citizens in a time of mounting global challenges.
I ask colleagues to be mindful of these troubling political developments and to ensure the public interest remains at the heart of politics in this country. It is critical that Irish politics is not lured in the direction of petty populism and deceit. As a candidate in the forthcoming by-election in Cork North Central, I pledge that decency in politics will be a central theme in my campaign. Debate based on passion for issues is a healthy part of any democracy. It is important that proper debate is never confused with some of the false propaganda creeping into political discourse elsewhere.
All of us in this House may have different ways of arguing a case or delivering on policy but we are all here to try to better the life of every citizen in the country and we should never deviate from that and certainly never go down the road that the two most established democracies are now travelling. I ask people to keep that in mind and protect the democratic system in this country over the next few months when we face a very challenging time with what is being proposed for the UK leaving the European Union. Now more than ever we need to protect the livelihood of every citizen in this country. It is an extremely important issue and we, in this House and in all the structures of the democratic system in this country, need to be mindful of that over the next few months.
Farmers have been much in the news lately because of the beef price crisis but another group of farmers has been protesting this week. Farmers have designated special areas of conservation and protection on their land and are calling on the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, to properly compensate them for the restrictions placed on them. In a time of unprecedented biodiversity and habitat loss, the 35,000 Irish farmers with set aside private farmland to be designated as SACs or special protection areas are giving this country an invaluable gift not just for now but for generations to come.
This comes at a cost to farmers, not just the opportunity cost of not using the land for farming but unseen costs. For example, banks will not accept designated land as security. If the land is sold, the new owner must be notified, and full planning permission is needed for normal farming activities, such as fencing. The scheme is heavily monitored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service with patrols visiting every two weeks, which must be facilitated and there are serious fines and a jail sentence of up to three years where restrictions are not adhered to.
The farmers are simply looking for a fair scheme of compensation from the Minister. While negotiations have been going on in good faith for over 18 months, the farmers have lost confidence in the Minister's commitment to delivering a workable deal. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to advise it of where negotiations stand now.
There is something terribly wrong when a group of people occupy a building in order to try to force a Minister to come to meet them. We should never get to that stage. I believe the Minister would be willing to discuss and negotiate. I am not sure how it got to the crisis stage it got to a few days ago. Would the Leader please invite her to come to the House in the near future?
This brings me to Greta Thunberg's address to the United Nations last week. I cannot let my first utterance in this House at the commencement of this session go without expressing my deep concern for that child. That we are using a child to further the cause of climate change and sitting back quietly and watching a child break down in front of the world's media is absolutely disgusting. A child should be in her classroom. People have argued with me that the point she is making is that she should be in her classroom. People blame governments. I have had it this morning on social media, that the Government should do this or that. Climate change is at the feet of all of us. Every one of us has to change our lifestyle. We cannot force Government to force me to stop switching on my central heating or driving my car or doing any of the other things. That child is being exploited for adult purposes and adults need to step up to the plate. If people do not like what the Government is doing in respect of climate change, they should do something about it the next time they have an opportunity but for God's sake let us stop using children. I wonder how that girl will be reintegrated into normal life when she goes back to her school.
Who will provide the supports for that child? I will accept all the attacks in the world on it but it is an adult issue and problem and it is up to adults to bloody well deal with it. Stop using children.
It is a problem for us all.
There has been major concern over the past two months in the farming community, particularly in the beef and suckler sectors. We have particular added challenges with respect to Brexit, Mercosur and climate change, all of which will affect this sector more than any others. Farm income in this sector is not sustainable. Farmers cannot continue producing cattle at the current low price levels. Suckler farmers are the lifeblood of rural Ireland but we are losing them. Who will manage this land in the future if the activity of farming continues to mean that farmers have less money at the end of the year than at the start of it? What young farmer will consider entering that sector with such low price levels?
There has been much debate in recent months particularly on improving transparency in the beef market and we absolutely need to see progress on that. We have seen the first producer group set up on a legal basis but that needs to work for farmers in order for them to receive better prices for their animals. We need to have confidence that there is a fair distribution of the value of a beef carcase. The beef exceptional aid measure, BEAM, is worthwhile but it is disappointing that not all the farmers who could have subscribed to it have subscribed.
Like Senator Mulherin, I would like to see an extension of the closing date for the scheme to ensure that the maximum number of farmers can benefit. We should be paying farmers to keep a number of cattle based on farm viability and environmental sustainability. There is a huge concern in regard to a carbon tax on agricultural diesel. This is an important point in the context of the upcoming budget. Unfortunately, there are no electric tractors and no sign of any coming on stream soon. Any increase in agricultural diesel will have a huge impact on farmers. I ask the Leader to have the Minister, Deputy Creed, come to the House to discuss all these important issues, particularly the beef and suckler sector.
On the beef issue, as someone who tried to organise that sector for the best part of two years and will miss the debate next week, I would like, if I may, to make two points now. First, Jim Power, with whom I do not usually agree, made the point that we do not know the profits in the beef industry because a number of the key companies are private unlimited companies. Second - I say this hand on heart - any time we tried to secure a decent rate of pay in those factories, the workers concerned were sacked. The beef factories are gangsters. I speak from first-hand experience. It is a pity that the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, did not work with SIPTU at the time it was trying to organise. It is a pity for all of us, particularly the sector.
This morning, I attended an impressive presentation by early years professionals, highlighting, once again, the appalling plight of our childcare workers in terms of low pay and insecurity. Thousands of them have to sign-on each summer because they only get 38 weeks work. One in two of these workers is leaving or planning to leave the sector. The attrition rate is 25%. One can imagine the impact of this in terms of care and continuity of care. This is the third year in a row that they have asked the Government to introduce a living wage such that every worker in the childcare sector would get that wage as a minimum. I welcome that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has publicly supported that proposal. The ball is now in Fine Gael's court. This can be done. Sinn Féin has costed it in its submission for the upcoming budget. It can be easily done. What is lacking is the will on the part of Fine Gael to do it. I was delighted to see Fine Gael representation at the meeting this morning. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue and, more importantly, I call for action in that regard in the upcoming budget. Let us make sure that childcare workers in this country have a decent future, decent pay and decent conditions.
Shannon Airport is a key economic driver in the mid-west and western region. Yesterday, Ryanair announced that effective January 2020, it will not be operating flights from Shannon Airport to Bristol, East Midlands and Ibiza. January 2020 is only a couple of months away. In December 2018, I raised the issue of European connectivity at Shannon Airport with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. Shannon Airport is the only international airport in Ireland that is not Brexit-proofed in terms of a European hub. The Heathrow hub is effective but post-Brexit, unlike Cork Airport which has the Amsterdam and Charles de Gaulle hubs, and Dublin Airport which has a multitude of major European hubs, there is no European hub in Shannon Airport.
At a meeting between the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the Shannon Group on 6 February, which I arranged, the Minister asked the group to make a submission to his Department on the establishment of a major European hub at Shannon Airport. This took place on 21 March and discussions have been ongoing. In terms of Project 2040 and strategic regional development in Ireland, post-Brexit Shannon Airport must have a major European hub in place. The hub up for consideration is Frankfurt, to which Shannon Airport operates flights in the summer months. My view on the matter at this point is that it is imperative that this hub is put in place.
In 2005, Dublin Airport had 72% of the air traffic. It now has 87%, Shannon Airport has 4% and Cork Airport has 5%. It is imperative for the employees of Shannon Airport and the people of Limerick, who I represent, that Shannon Airport is in a position to service the large multinational base of companies. While Shannon Airport has only 4% in terms of inward passengers, the Shannon, mid-west and western region has an exponential number of multinational companies, well above the norm for Ireland Inc. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the House with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on aviation policy in Ireland. We cannot allow a situation in which Dublin Airport only continues to grow. I accept the need for a strong capital city, but Dublin Airport is chaotic at times. The capacity of Shannon Airport is 4.5 million passengers. Currently, approximately 1.8 to 1.9 passengers pass through that airport, which means the airport is only operating 40% capacity. Given the size of this island, why are we not considering divesting air traffic to Shannon? I have been working on this matter with the Shannon Group, the Minister, Deputy Ross, and his Department for the past year. We have reached the time when the critical decision has to be made. Shannon Airport must be given support to establish a major European hub such that whatever happens in the context of Brexit, about which there is much uncertainty right now, it is secure in terms of European connectivity. Shannon will continue to have the Heathrow hub, but the Frankfurt hub would remove any uncertainty and ensure it can service the large base of US multinational companies and others based in the mid-west and western region, which have located here because of our excellent workforce. Shannon Airport must have connectivity to a major European hub. I reiterate my call to the Leader to arrange a debate in the House with the Minister, Deputy Ross, on aviation policy in Ireland and I call on the Minister and his Department to expedite the decision and to work with and support Shannon Airport to establish a major European hub to ensure it and the region are Brexit-proof.
As I said, I have been working on this project for the last year and will continue to work on. We must have a definite decision on this matter, which has to be agreement to establish a major European hub at Frankfurt, to promote balanced regional development, to support the multinational base in the region and the tourism sector. We must ensure that Project 2040 is implemented in the correct manner such that resources are spread throughout Ireland.
I would like to raise an incident that took last place last Friday night in Dublin city, as reported on dublinlive.ie yesterday. Danilo, a Brazilian gay man, was saying goodbye to his boyfriend after a night out in town at around 3.30 a.m. when a gang of two women and four men, having seen him kissing his boyfriend, set upon him and battered him with a steel bar. He managed to get to his apartment where he called emergency services. He also rang the Garda in Kilmainham but no Garda showed up and it may now not be possible to find the culprits. The ambulance service showed up and Danilo was treated. He has confirmed that he is fine and has received a lot of support from friends but told dublinlive.ie that it is important that people know that this type of crime is happening and that he was not the first person to be attacked and, unfortunately, he will not be the last one.
Danilo is right that these attacks are still common. My own experience is similar. I have raised similar attacks in this Chamber but they often go unreported. In this case, Danilo had to go to Kilmainham Garda Station to make a statement. On numerous occasions, I have called in this House for robust hate crime legislation.
Yet for some reason the Department of Justice and Equality has been sitting on its hands, so to speak, over the past term, despite this issue being the LGBT community's number one priority. We know this because the majority of LGBT people said as much in a comprehensive report that was launched by Deputy Stanton a few years ago. He is now the Minister of State, alongside the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, responsible for doing something about this. How many times do I or others have to come in here and talk about these attacks? How many more attacks must the LGBT community face? I raised this during a Commencement matter with the Minister of State a few years ago, which was reported on by Marie O'Halloran in The Irish Times. He stated at that time that other countries with hate crime law have major problems, but that we do not. We have problems, and he has both the responsibility and the power to deal with them rather than sitting on his hands. I want to see action.
I join other speakers in welcoming the Attorney General's decision on the Stardust tragedy. It is a huge day for the families that have campaigned for many years. It is to be hoped the inquest will go some way to addressing the issues on which they have been seeking answers.
I also join my colleagues who raised questions about childcare workers. When I attended the briefing this morning, I was aware that there were issues, because as my party's spokesperson on children, I have much interaction with stakeholders in the area. It is very important that workers in this area are paid properly. They are often very well-educated and the Government has introduced a scheme to incentivise that, though I have heard anecdotally that it is not always passed on to individual workers. A more fundamental issue, however, is how we as a society want childcare to be and how we wish our young people to be taken care of. The years during which early childcare workers care for children are the most important years in a child's development. We have heard that individuals are finding it very difficult to make ends meet, which was not news to me because I often interact with people who work in the area. They are being paid a very low wage relative to the important work they do, so I hope extra funding is allocated for this. It is important to say that many good schemes have been put in place over recent years and over consecutive budgets. I and others in Fine Gael have tried to prioritise this area and we were the first Government to put a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in place. There have been improvements and while it is important to recognise them, we need to take further steps to improve the overall sector. Improving the wages and job satisfaction of those workers and making them feel valued for the work they do is fundamental to improving the overall system.
Some comments were made in this Chamber about certain types of political work, such as advocacy, being adults' work, and about children being exploited or used by particular groups when they begin to pursue their passion and purpose. Much of the commentary and critique around young women such as Greta Thunberg has focused mainly on her mental health and her Asperger's syndrome. As the mother of a young, passionate and purposeful woman with Asperger's, I can say quite confidently that the only thing that ever negatively affects her mental health is when the world responds to her in the way many people have to Greta Thunberg, claiming she is being used or manipulated and that she should still be in school. That young girl will achieve more for this world through her activism than she ever will by sitting in a classroom daily.
This is something that should be celebrated, facilitated, welcomed, and championed. Her mental health will always be in a good place as long as people facilitate and support her, and acknowledge the big impact she is having on the world, instead of resisting, trolling, and questioning her abilities as a young woman. My daughter became passionately involved in the area of suicide and suicide ideation when she was 12, and instead of telling her where her place was, I facilitated her as best I could.
Some of these comments are coming from a Senator who supported extending the voting age to 16, yet he is now saying that this is adults' work. Senator Craughwell should have some substance and consistency in what he says before criticising a young 16 year old woman for becoming one of the biggest political activists this world has seen in generations. Instead of attacking young girls' appearances or the green movement, he should attack the people who try to dismantle and disenfranchise young women like Ms Thunberg, because that is where his energy will be much better spent.
I take issue with the sweeping and general comments made by my colleague, Senator Gavan, when he claimed that all meat processing plants are run by gangsters. There are a number of family-run meat processing plants in Mayo, such as Jennings in Ballinrobe, which is operated by the Vaughan-----
How many of them recognise unions?
The Senator should allow me to finish. I did not interrupt him when he was speaking.
All the Senator wants to do is agitate. He does not want to hear the truth. These are family-run businesses.
I want rights for workers.
Jennings in Ballinrobe and Dunleavy Meats outside Ballina both provide good work. There were no blockades at their factory gates. They are not the problem. There is a structural problem in the whole meat industry. These people are just trying to run a business, and while they are small players in the industry, they provide valuable employment in their local areas. Many farmers were glad to be able to go to them to get their animals slaughtered during the recent pickets. I do not think generalised statements help at all. We should have more considered debates, given all the rhetoric I hear about inflammatory types of speech that do not help anybody. There are similar family meat processing plants around the country that can stand over their situations.
I know all about them.
I also ask that the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, which is the energy regulator, make a statement on the application by Mayo Renewable Limited for a 45 MW high-efficiency combined heat and power biomass plant. At the beginning of April the regulator was summoned, at my request, before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment to answer questions on inordinate delays in the processing of an application for a renewable energy plant that would provide local employment at the Asahi site outside Killala. At that meeting, the regulator stated that if a fresh application were made, it would be dealt with expeditiously as it was quite familiar with the application at that stage. Unfortunately, though the company submitted an application shortly after that, the process is still ongoing and seems to be running into the same dead ends and unsatisfactory explanations from the regulator, which we thought had been cleared up.
I am asking that the regulator be required to make a statement on the delay in processing this application, given that it stated on the record that it would deal with such an application speedily and in a fair manner. It had not previously done so, on which it was called out. I regret that I have to stand here again and raise this issue. Some common sense should prevail. We are potentially facing fines for not achieving our renewable energy and electricity targets and yet this project is facing all sorts of issues which can be dealt with. It is not satisfactory. Why would private investors, which are being asked to build these power plants and invest in renewable energy projects, hang around if they cannot do business in any sort of timely manner? It is crazy.
Senator Ruane got in ahead of me, but I also want to respond to Senator Craughwell's remarks.
The Senator is entitled to say what he thinks. I have heard some patriarchal and patronising comment in this Chamber over the years, but I raise the Senator's contribution in particular because he lauds his previous role as a representative of a teaching union. What does he think we should be teaching children? Is it to be slaves and not to think independently or be active? I adhere to the school of thought that empowering and enfranchising young people is positive. Pádraig Pearse, in his innovative and pioneering essay on education, The Murder Machine, wrote that one never lowers oneself to the level of a child but one should always raise oneself to the level of a child. With the example of Greta Thunberg, we could collectively seek to raise ourselves to the level of that child and what she is doing for the world.
I also raise an issue that featured last week at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and features again in the media today. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to address the evident increase in immigration checks along Britain's border in Ireland. I have noticed and raised anecdotally in the House previously the number of checks being carried out on public transport, particularly close to Dundalk. The Committee on the Administration of Justice, CAJ, in the North and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, in the South have raised very real concerns and fears about the potential for racial profiling people travelling on buses. The Garda appears to be carrying out immigration checks. The CAJ and ICCL are deeply concerned and ask under what legislation these checks are being carried given that there is a common travel area and other arrangements in place.
Furthermore, what concerns me and should concern us as a society is that gardaí are boarding buses and asking some people for their passports and papers but not others. If I am asked to show my passport on a bus, I am not compelled to produce it. Other people are being asked for passports. That leaves the Garda, and us, on very questionable and shaky ethical and legal ground. There is merit in having the Minister come to the House given the broader context of fears about checks on the Border and the relocation of armed response units by the Garda to areas along the Border. Brexit or no Brexit, it seems to me and to many others, including very reputable human rights advocacy groups, that if one is an immigrant, one is already faced with a hard border in the here and now. That should be a concern for us all and I ask the Minister to come to the House to address it.
Senator Devine suggested that we consider, through the Committee on Privilege and Procedures, inviting Greta Thunberg to address the Seanad. That would be a positive step. Senator Craughwell is not in the Chamber but what I took from his contribution was that he was condemning adults for not doing what this young lady is doing.
That is my view too.
My impression was that he was asking why it should take a young girl like Greta Thunberg to throw light on an issue that adults are neglecting. I am not here to defend Senator Craughwell but that seemed to be the thrust of his suggestion. He was not criticising Ms Thunberg but suggesting that adults had neglected the issue and it takes a young girl of 16 years to highlight an issue that all adults, politically and otherwise, have neglected for some time.
I accept the Chair's point but if I might clarify my own remarks, that may well be a view-----
I accept that. Sitting up here in the Chair, that is what I took from Senator Craughwell's contribution.
I appreciate the Chair's clarity and I see colleagues nodding in agreement with his assessment. While that may well be the case, the claim that this child is being exploited because she is active is an entirely different issue.
The Senator may not have expressed himself in a manner that-----
I agree that we should all follow Greta Thunberg's example. That is my point.
I would not like to see a Senator who is not present being misinterpreted.
Ceart go leor.
My take is that he was making the point that this young lady had shone a torch on an issue that adults are neglecting.
I raise this morning the proposal of the Garda Commissioner to reconstruct Garda divisions. This is an issue that is close to my heart. In my part of the world, this would mean joining together the divisions in west and north Cork. The west Cork vision is based in Bandon and the north Cork division is based in Fermoy. It is proposed to merge the two divisions and base the new division in Macroom. Geographically, this will mean one Garda division will cover a coastline of approximately 1,100 km. As the Chair would know better than I would, the Garda Commissioner is proposing to have an area stretching from Allihies to Youghal in one Garda division. This is an enormous tract of land. Dealing with issues on our coastline depletes our resources. Drugs, in particular, are a serious issue. Major seizures include 1.5 tonnes of drugs found off Mizen in 2014 and six tonnes of drugs found in Courtmacsherry in 2009. How could one Garda division police such a long coastline? This proposal may work in theory but it does not make sense practically given that the coastline the new division would cover is 1,000 km in length. I propose a debate on this issue with the Minister for Justice and Equality because policing our coastline is a major issue for society. How can we have a policy of having one Garda division cover such a huge tract of country? Drugs is a major issue and we need to have a debate on and how we effectively manage the problem.
adfdafaullen to speak now.
Senator Craughwell's point was exactly as the Cathaoirleach described. I heard the Senator too. There is a difference between admiring Greta Thunberg's commitment and concern and being concerned about those who manage her presence in the public forum and for her welfare.
The Senator should be concerned about-----
There is also a tendency not to help young people beyond a position of hysteria in relation to this issue. We are in a serious situation where young people are giving great leadership but we owe it to them always to show that there is hope for the future as well. That needs to come out more in the media.
On a matter of significant public concern, there has been talk about the Government's stated intention to legislate for so-called safe access zones and to prevent any kind of even peaceful and respectful opposition to abortion from being expressed outside abortion facilities. I am glad to tell the Seanad today that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, met a bunch of members and staff, mainly from the Joint Committee on Health, and he advised us of correspondence from the Garda Commissioner. I am happy to say this confirms "the Garda Commissioner's satisfaction with existing public order legislation to adequately deal with any reasonable public order incident that may arise at such centres." The Garda Commissioner confirmed the views he expressed at his recent meeting, presumably with the Minister or his staff, that protests to date at such centres had not contravened the law and had been peaceful. He stated that "no incident of criminality has been reported or observed as a result of a protest placed at or near the vicinity of a service centre." This tells us what we already knew.
On a point of order, the Senator is giving a small slip of a private meeting which does not provide context or accurate information. He quoted the letter out of context.
On further point of order, I support Senator Ruane, as I was also present at the private meeting.
Please allow Senator Mullen to conclude.
I am very happy-----
The Leader, who has listened to all of this, will respond wisely in a minute.
He will be well able to respond.
I would be very happy to have a debate on this issue at this point, given that we have had the clamour from the Government and supporters of abortion to have legislation. The Minister, rightly, disclosed to us the Garda Commissioner's clear advice that the proposed zones are not necessary. The Minister, nonetheless, clings to the view that he still wants to legislate. What is also interesting was that he told us he had not received legal advice that he could not do so. I had to put it to him, as opposed to the Minister acknowledging, that there is a considerable body of European convention and European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence which would very much defend freedom of expression, in particular, peaceful freedom of expression. I also drew his attention to the fact that the precedent of the case of Open Door Counselling and Dublin Well Woman, in 1993, may well incidentally protect women where they might feel conflicted, pressurised, harassed or rushed to approach an abortion, and that they would have a right to receive information that might be peacefully and respectfully on offer.
I am sorry to say that while the Minister proposes to talk to gardaí and abortion providers, he refused, when I asked him to do so, to commit to talk to people who advocate best practice in terms of peaceful witnessing to positive alternatives to abortion. I held a briefing to which everybody here was invited some months ago, where we heard from Alina Dulgheriu from the Be Here For Me organisation. She told how when she approached an abortion facility in Britain she only wanted somebody to tell her that she could cope. She did meet such a person in the context of a peaceful witness to positive alternatives to abortion.
The Senator is over time.
Now Ms Dulgheriu is doing the same good Samaritan kind of work herself.
The Senator says that every day.
It is really unfortunate that the Minister for Health and his staff are not interested in meeting such people. Instead, they seem to be in hock to the abortion industry and only interested in depicting opposition to abortion, publicly expressed, as something that is somehow hostile or denigratory when what is clear from the Garda Commissioner's letter is that it is very much the opposite. It is peaceful and it is not a threat to public order. I would be grateful if we could have a debate on the matter in order to flesh out the Garda Commissioner's advice and to discover why there is advice that seems to run so contrary to the stated intentions of Government at this time.
I thank the 17 Members who contributed to the Order of Business.
The Cathaoirleach's intervention in the context of defending Senator Craughwell, who is not here, was timely. I know that matters are a bit different this morning but I ask Members to reflect. First, I ask them to watch the contribution made by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, MP, earlier. I know I can be political but I reiterate that our language is important. Increasingly, people are tuning in to watch Oireachtas television to hear what we say and how we say things. I appeal to Members, as we start the new term, to be conscious of where we are, of who we represent and of the people watching.
Senator Horkan referred to the ESRI report. This is a very important report. I heard Dr. Kieran McQuinn speaking on "Morning Ireland" earlier. The uncertainty relating to Brexit is just that - uncertainty. Every day we think that we have a roadmap to somewhere but a different blockage is then put in place. The shenanigans and language used in the House of Commons and the level of change is unprecedented. The Minister for Finance has stated that, thus far, he has no plans to have a supplementary budget. As Senators will know, he has been planning for two versions of the budget and has come up with a no-deal budget that will be introduced in two weeks' time. It is important to remember that we do not want another recession. Members have come in here with shopping lists as long the county hall in Cork. We must be conscious that we have €700 million to spend and that there are vulnerable small and medium-sized businesses which rely on the UK and which we must protect and support.
The Senator made an interesting point about the rainy day fund and inquired as to what constitutes an extraordinary situation. To be fair to him and the measured contribution he made, this is an important issue. I would be happy to have a debate on the rainy day fund. Next Tuesday, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will be here to discuss a number of matters, including Brexit. The debate will be an opportunity for Senators to discuss the fund.
I join with Senators Horkan, Devine, Noone and Bacik in welcoming the decision by the Attorney General to initiate a new inquiry into the Stardust tragedy. All of us of a certain age remember that Saturday morning in 1981 when we work up to the tragedy of 48 young people having died the night before. The Attorney General has made it clear that there are new circumstances in terms of justice and obtaining answers as to why he had granted a new inquiry. I commend him on his decision. All along, the families of the Stardust victims have had one constant message and one request. None of us in this Chamber can even attempt to understand the anguish and pain that they continue to suffer and that is why it is important that we have an inquiry. I commend the families on their perseverance. As Senator Devine stated, this is about standing in solidarity with the people today.
Senator Boyhan referred to the importance of diversification in agriculture, particularly the area of horticulture. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will be here next Thursday but we will endeavour to have him come here for a further debate in due course.
I commend Senator Boyhan on his contribution in respect of the men affected by what happened in Tuam. There is an obligation to ensure that the support of the State is embraced and wrapped around those people. I would be happy to have the relevant Minister come to the House. The Senator should table a Commencement matter on the subject. I would be happy to talk to him about the issue further in due course. Senator Devine raised the issue of children with autism and their access to education. The Minister for Education and Skills, in light of the use of reduced timetables in schools, issued a statement that schools be required to work with and notify Tusla, the educational welfare service, whereby there is a reduced timetable being put in place. Also, schools will be required to set out the rationale for the use of a reduced timetable and have a plan for the child's full reintegration into full-time day school. The key phrase is "full reintegration into full-time day school". The basic tenet of what we are trying to achieve is as follows. All pupils who enrol in a school should remain there for the whole day. I have been involved with special needs education and I was a schoolteacher. I am of the view that school is the place for children irrespective of their abilities. They should be in an educational setting for the whole day unless they are exempt for particular and specific reasons. I am happy to arrange for the Minister to come to the House. I have a very simple viewpoint, namely, a reduced timetable should not be used by a school as a behavioural management technique or as a de facto tool of suspension or expulsion in the case of children with special needs. I say that as somebody who has been involved with special education through my family. I have been in schools where I got a clout from a young man or young girl because he or she lashed out due to a behavioural issue. We owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers and those who work in special needs schools for their commitment and dedication every day. That is why it is important to ensure that there are more places and more special needs assistants. I accept that more work needs to be done and I would be happy to arrange for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senators Ruane mentioned Greta Thunberg, as did Senator Craughwell and others. I must inform Senator Ruane that I honestly did not take the same inference from Senator Craughwell's contribution. I thought, as the Cathaoirleach stated, that he spoke from the point of view of care and concern but I might have taken him up wrong. I might have to defend him but I did not think that is from where he was coming.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of domestic abuse and I know she made a fine contribution at an event this morning. As she stated, we have done a job of legislative work. We have allowed for the reporting of old cases, we have become more aware as a society and the Garda has brought forward different elements of support. We have a way to go regarding the recommendations and the level of ongoing need. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter. The Senator is right that there is a fundamental need to have joined-up thinking in respect of the criminal and family courts. I fully concur with her on that.
Senators Bacik and Warfield mentioned the issue of hate crime. Incidents like the one that occurred last Saturday night in Dublin when a young man was attacked have no place in our society. We have moved a long way forward as a society. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has work on hate crime and I would be happy to have the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House. There was a review on hate crime legislation but I am not sure whether it is finished. I am happy to invite the Minister to come here to discuss the matter as well.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of the abolition of the training allowance. My information is that the payment does not affect existing persons who are attending and that it is for a four-year period.
I acknowledge that
The payment was tied up with the FÁS training scheme placement. In saying that, I have received correspondence on the matter. I met the parents of those who have been affected or who feel they have been affected and I met the individuals involved themselves. It is important to ensure that whatever is the intended consequence, it is not an "misconsequence". Despite what the Senator said, it is important to allow for day-care places to be extended and to work in tandem with the Department. I am happy to talk to the Senator about the matter and to have the Minister come to the House.
It is a matter that has an implication, and the import cannot be a negative one. I take the Senator's point on that.
I like that.
The contribution around disabilities and reclaiming the streets and pavements is an interesting one. We need to have a real conversation about this from a national perspective, a local government perspective and from the citizens' point of view, in how we see our streets and streetscapes. There is now a proliferation of street furniture, bikes, prams and buggies competing for space on pathways and pavements. Some years ago in Cork a very good exercise was done where able-bodied people were put into wheelchairs or blindfolds and had to try to walk through the streets. It was an interesting exercise. I would be happy to pursue the matter with the Senator Dolan.
I again pass on our sympathies to Senator Dolan on the sad passing of his brother Jim.
Senator Colm Burke's contribution was important. He spoke of the need for protecting democratic systems. We can never allow populism to rise or for easy rhetoric to become part of our discourse. I commend the Senator on that.
Senator Craughwell referred to the farmers and set-aside farmland. Negotiations are under way with the Minister, Deputy Madigan, and with the farmers. I would be slow to bring the Minister to the House while those negotiations are under way and ongoing. I have confidence in the Minister, Deputy Madigan.
Senator Hopkins raised the issue of agriculture. The Senator has been a very fine exponent and advocate for the farming community.
Senators Gavan and Noone raised the issue of the childcare briefing this morning, the survey and the importance of childcare workers. The attrition rate has been evident for a long time. We have seen changes made by this Government and through the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and the previous Government. Despite what Senator Gavan might say, there has been a very positive change in childcare provision. I would be happy to have that debate as part of the pre-budget discussions. I hope too that Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, will be in the House on budget night. I will endeavour also to have Minister Devine here. I apologise, the Senator may be a Minister Devine soon, with the support of the House.
With lots of interventions.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell referred to the issue of Shannon Airport and the importance of it having a European major hub. This is an important point. Obviously we are from competing counties, with regard to Cork and Shannon, but Senator O'Donnell made the point that aviation policy should be made irrespective of where one is from. Dublin has now become the overriding part of aviation policy, which is not good for our country. Any of us who travel and use airports recognise that it has become almost unpleasant to travel through Dublin Airport. This is not because of the staff. It is due to the volume of people going through the airport. It is my view that we cannot have an overdependence on Dublin Airport. I would happily have the Minister come to the House to discuss aviation policy. As Senator O'Donnell has rightly said, aviation policy has an impact on balanced regional development and on tourism. I would be happy to have that debate. I note that the managing director of Cork Airport, Mr. Niall MacCarthy, appeared yesterday at the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Mr. MacCarthy spoke about Brexit readiness and about having no need to panic. It is critical that we understand the importance of Cork and Shannon airports and that they are the key economic drivers of regions. I would be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, come to the House to discuss that.
I have responded to Senator Warfield and Senator Noone. Senator Ruane also referred to Greta Thunberg.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of the regulator and the statement today. I believe the Senator has made a good point in that the regulator should make that decision if we want to see investment in renewable energy. Obviously, it is beyond my remit or that of the House, but if we want investment in renewable energy and if we want to retain and achieve our targets, then it is important that decisions are made.
Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to immigration checks at the Border. I am not familiar with that issue, but it is disconcerting if there is a pointed and concerted attempt at investigation and checking of people, which I hope is not happening to the extent the Senator has said. I am not saying that it is not happening but it is important there is commonality of approach. Again, I would have the Minister come to the House to discuss that.
Senator Lombard spoke of the new Garda policing model being unfurled today and announced by the Garda Commissioner. The Senator referred to the amalgamation of the west and north Cork Garda divisions, which does not make any sense to me. Cork city was a pilot in the new community policing model, which is part of what is being announced today. Senator Lombard and I are from the largest county in Ireland and we know full well the scale of the job, given the geographical distances. Having a division based out of Macroom serving north Cork and west Cork makes no sense. It is important that the resources we have are brought into policing on the ground.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of the meeting to create safe zones. I am aware that the master of the National Maternity Hospital wrote to the staff about a particular protest that is being held. Whether one calls it a 40-day prayer vigil or a protest, that is a matter for people themselves. I put it to Senator Mullen that I do not believe that it is appropriate for anybody - whatever their view - to protest outside a maternity hospital or anywhere close to it.
The Minister's official said it was a peaceful prayer vigil. That is how she described it.
That is nonsense.
Senator Mullen made comments in the House yesterday about tolerance and respect of views in the context of a debate yesterday. Perhaps Senator Mullen might do the same, please.
I always do. Perhaps we could introduce the tradition of asking to give way courteously, as they do in the House of Commons. I always give way to the Leader.
I am merely articulating a view that irrespective of one's opinion or view, I do not believe a prayer vigil or a protest - whatever it is - should be held outside a maternity hospital, north, south, east or west.
The Garda Commissioner does not believe legislation is required and we should engage with that.
The Garda Commissioner is entitled to his view, and I have no difficulty with him having his view. The point I make - again - is that the Minister for Health is committed to bringing forward, and has said he will bring forward, legislation regarding safe zones around maternity hospitals. I happen to believe that he is right. The Garda Commissioner can have his view, and if he wants to express his view, that is his entitlement. He is the head of our independent policing force and I have no problem with that.
I am always delighted to hear the Leader's view.
I do not think the Senator is, though.
I asked the Leader if he would facilitate a debate. It is Senator Buttimer's role as the Leader to tell us whether he would facilitate a debate.
I do not believe that Senator Mullen ever wants to hear my view.
We always get the Leader's view, but will he answer the question I asked?
Senator Mullen comes in here on the pretext of that, but he actually does not-----
No. The Leader does not have to turn every response into an attack. I asked the Leader for a debate. That is all I asked.
I was not attacking the Senator.
I will shortly put the question-----
I will conclude. To help Senator Mullen, I would be happy to have the debate in the House.
I thank the Leader.
Finally, to give Senator Mullen a bit of good news, I do agree with him that it is important that we, as Members of the Oireachtas and as civic leaders give young people a sense of hope for the future. I concur with the Senator completely on that.
And it is not even holiday time.