The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re conferring compellability powers on the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, Criminal Records (Exchange of Information) Bill 2019 - All Stages, to be taken at 3.45p.m. and to conclude after 45 minutes by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government, the contribution of group spokespersons on Second Stage shall not exceed five minutes, and all other Senators shall not exceed three minutes, and the Minister shall be given no fewer than five minutes to reply to the debate and Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 3, Civil Law (Costs in Probate Matters) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill 2019 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3, and to conclude within 60 minutes, if not previously concluded, by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government; and No. 5, Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019 - All Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 4, and to conclude after two hours by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government, the time allotted to group spokespersons on Second Stage shall not exceed eight minutes, and all other Senators shall not exceed five minutes, and the Minister shall be given no fewer than five minutes to reply to the debate and Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken immediately thereafter.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank the Deputy Leader for outlining the business of the House. I wish to raise the issue of insurance, the Government's inaction on it and any proposals it might have to ensure people are paying the correct amount for insurance and that insurance companies are not price gouging and price fixing, which is a concern we all share given the stark increase in the cost of insurance over the past decade.
At this time of the year, homelessness is all the more prevalent for people who do not have a home in which to celebrate Christmas and who have no likelihood of getting one. This bizarre reality has happened under a Government that at one time was the largest property owner in the country. It sold thousands of homes to vulture funds and on behalf of banks when its own citizens needed them. Could the Deputy Leader explain why that was the case?
This month is the 99th anniversary of the partition of Ireland receiving royal assent. Does the Deputy Leader agree that we should have a debate about that issue in the new year given that the election results in Scotland and the debate that is happening there will have an impact on Northern Ireland and in light of the election results in Northern Ireland where, for the first time ever, unionist MPs were returned as a minority from Northern Ireland to Westminster?
The other issue, which was on the Order Paper for some time, is that the report compiled by the all-party Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement entitled, Brexit and the Future of Ireland: Uniting Ireland & Its People in Peace & Prosperity, which is the first report commissioned by this House and in which I was involved as rapporteur, has not been debated by this House. The 17 recommendations have not been implemented by the Government, which has said quite clearly that it is not making any preparations to try to achieve the main aim of the State. Brexit has transformed the landscape in Northern Ireland and the debate has moved on. The place where the debate is not happening is inside this House. It is not happening in the Dáil. The Taoiseach has said that a border poll is not a risk but is too important and sensitive to be dealt with in the national risk assessment. What is the Government's policy on trying to achieve the main aim of the State? At the McGill Summer School, the Taoiseach spoke about how Brexit has transformed views among some people across the community divide regarding the constitutional issue. Two Attorneys General have said that the achievement of a unified Ireland is a constitutional imperative. There is an obligation on the State and all agents, including Members and the other House, to strive to achieve it. They cannot choose not to achieve it yet this Government is choosing to do exactly that, which is a breach of its constitutional obligation. I ask the Deputy Leader that if nothing else, we be allowed to debate the issue.
As Senator Daly was lifting up that green book, I was wondering whether this is why we need a printer in Leinster House or whether it is worn out from that. I acknowledge the work of the Senator in respect of his report. He has been consistent and committed in his work.
I congratulate the Chairman, Senator Richmond, and all members of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The committee has completed its work and issued its final report. I expect it will be stood down in a matter of days. It expires on 31 December. I wish the committee members well and thank them for their work. It was important work that brought a certain focus and international attention to some members of the committee, which was not a bad thing. It gave Irish representatives in the Seanad, particularly the Chairman, an opportunity to state the case so it was an important piece of work for which I thank all those involved.
I had intended not supporting the Order of Business today. I indicated this to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government stating that I would seek to have the Order of Business amended so that he would come to the House to explain his position on a public consultation.
The Leader may or may not be aware that on 9 December the Minister published a public consultation on the proposed housing and planning development Bill 2019, particularly regarding the Aarhus Convention and European directives and obligations. The issue of attention for many NGOs is the issue of judicial reviews. The Minister reflected on that and our conversation, and on matters that were discussed this morning at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. I understand he has now extended for a further two weeks that public consultation until some time near the end of January. I welcome that. I am glad that I played some part in that. I acknowledge the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for agreeing to do that. I thank him for that.
I will be here to vote tomorrow but I will not be here to speak on the Order of Business. As we come to the end of the year, I take this opportunity to thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach, the Clerk of the Seanad, Mr. Martin Groves, and Bridget and all the staff of the Seanad for the work that they do. I also thank Ms Orla Murray and the Leader. It is not always an easy place to be chairing, administering and leading the House and it is important. It has been a difficult year for some Members of this House. It has been a difficult year for people in politics.
Take a bow.
It is easy for people outside this House to take cheap shots at the body politic but it is a tough, hard and demanding job that requires full focus and attention. I was reminded by something I read last night and I want to say this and finish. It is a little quote from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, "Reflect upon your present blessings - of which every[one] ... has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which all [of us] ... have some."
I am glad Senator Boyhan did not oversell it because he might not be believed.
I do not want to get the Leas-Chathaoirleach too emotional.
I know how well Senator Boyhan meant.
We have a range of talent in here, do we not?
I want to pass on my condolences to the family of Cormac Ó Braonáin and to the Labour Party. I did not know Cormac. My colleague, Senator Warfield, will talk further about him on the Order of Business, but his tragic death at the age of 19 over the weekend is something that shocked us all. I just want to pass on my sincere condolences to both the Labour Party and to his family. It is a terrible tragedy to happen.
I congratulate all of the successful candidates in the elections in Britain and in the North and wish them well in the challenges ahead, and acknowledge all of the candidates who did not get elected and hope that they are all okay as well - even Mr. Nigel Dodds. I congratulate in particular my party's team. We have come back with seven MPs again. I welcome Mr. John Finucane MP to his position in North Belfast. It was a considerable achievement. It is a testament to the man that John Finucane is and the MP that I know he will be. I suppose what the elections in the North tell us is that, above anything, and all kinds of analysis is done on it, we must be in charge of our own destiny and the responsibility we have across all parties and none to make sure that we do that. Even with the reports of Mr. Dominic Cummings stating that he could not care less if the North of Ireland fell into the sea, it is clear to everybody across the board now that we must be in control of our own destiny. To that end, I would ask again that the Government here would set up the architecture for that in terms of the discussions that need to be had. They need to be had within a framework that ensures mutual respect and everything else that is required, namely, a safe space for people to be able to discuss our future in a mature way, learning from the past but not being controlled by it.
I commend today's important report on Brexit by Senator Richmond and the committee, including Senator O'Reilly. It forms the basis for the set of discussions that we need to have. I would like to see each of its elements being fully discussed within the Chamber, not just for a couple of hours. We should use it as a tool to inform our conversations. The Seanad will have a big part to play in all of this in the future.
I thank the Senator for those kind remarks on Cormac Ó Braonáin, who sadly died on Sunday morning in a tragic accident involving a Luas. He was the chair of Labour Youth, but that was not just what Cormac was - he was more than Labour Youth. He was a great scout leader, a fantastic musician and huge advocate for the Irish language. Recently, he was out campaigning for Gaelscoileanna in Dublin Bay South. By his own account, he was a great footballer. I was not too sure, as he would have a wry smile.
Too often, we undervalue the contribution that young people make to political life and democracy. Cormac was certainly a fantastic member of Labour Youth and the Labour Party. He packed so much into such a short life. He will be truly missed by the Labour Party. Even at this early stage, he had been marked out by many people in the party as a future leader of it, and possibly the first Labour Party Taoiseach. He was of that quality. I do not say that lightly. One need only have met this young man to see his leadership qualities. He could mix with people of all ages and groups. That has been reflected in recent days in what members of all political parties, in particular young members, have had to say about him. He had great respect across all parties. On Sunday night, when there was a short remembrance ceremony in his primary school, members of political parties and none came together in an outpouring of grief in solidarity with his parents. His parents really appreciated those expressions of sympathy, especially from what he would have called his competitors in the political sphere. He certainly enjoyed his politics. He made a mark in Irish society and would have made a far greater one, had he been blessed with a few more years.
I thank the Senator and all political parties for their expression of sympathy to the family and party. He will be sorely missed.
I wish to be associated with those comments. It is difficult when a person is taken away so early in life. All young people, no matter what age they are, have achieved something. I listened to Senator Humphreys, who has highlighted someone who had significant potential. It is sad to see a young life being taken so tragically.
Yesterday's report from the Central Bank highlighted the cost of insurance that we are all paying for through our premiums. The headline was the insurance companies' profits but it was stark to read into the report and see the legal costs associated with insurance claims. On average, a payout under the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, is €22,631 with a legal cost of €753. When a claim goes through litigation in the courts, the average payout is €45,390. The legal fees associated with that are €23,034 or 63% of the costs.
Of those under €100,000, the average payout is €23,199 but the legal costs are €14,684, which is 63% of the overall number. During the summer, though we rushed through it, we passed the Judicial Council Act. Part of that was about the personal injuries guidelines committee. The Chief Justice announced its seven members. In fairness to Fianna Fáil in the Dáil, it implemented a timeframe of six months after the committee was established for a report to be produced. The problem is that the clock has not started ticking yet because the Chief Justice has not instigated the first proper meeting of the committee.
Our clock is ticking.
I know and I appreciate that. Could we get the Minister for Justice and Equality in to explain why there is a delay in this? It affects all of us, whether we are in a small or large business, have a car, or run a farm. Can we get the Minister in to discuss the reasons why the clock is not ticking on the committee?
I join with the sympathies for Cormac Ó Braonáin on behalf of Fianna Fáil and of this House. It is such a tragic end to a wonderful future. I read about him and our President's beautiful tribute to him. I lost my best friend, Gerry Minor, at 19 years of age and I can relate to the feelings of his friends and family. It brings back the memory of my friend. His mother said to me at the time that Gerry has a very cold bed tonight. That is a lovely, sad thing but it is true.
I do not think the House will agree with this but I will suggest it anyway and it is a matter for the House to decide. I would like to send congratulations to Mr. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, on a wonderful election result for him and the Conservative Party, with a majority of 80. I will be clear that I never envisaged another referendum in Britain about its membership of the EU. Now there is a clear decision and the agreement has been made with the support of our Taoiseach, who was most helpful in this regard. It is a very good deal as far as Ireland is concerned. It is as good as we could get. It means that a united Ireland will be achieved sooner than later because there will be no Border in Ireland, between North and South, and Ireland will be detached from the UK because it will be one country trading together. That is progress. It was noted that £46 or £47 billion sterling is being transferred from the UK to pay the EU for commitments the UK made. I will not get agreement on this but I would like to send my congratulations to Mr. Boris Johnson in that regard. I also congratulate Mr. Colum Eastwood and Ms Claire Hanna, the partners of Fianna Fáil in Northern Ireland. We are very proud of that.
The Senator is a minute over time.
I send particular congratulations to Mr. John Finucane, MP. His father Pat was assassinated by the UVF in collaboration with the British Government and MI5. I was delighted that he was elected. He is a wonderful MP. I wish them and all the people elected in Northern Ireland well. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence. I do not think there will be a unanimous decision on sending best wishes to the British Prime Minister.
I bore with the Senator because of some of his content.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach might join me.
We can send him a Christmas card.
I am in the Chair.
I join with the words of heartfelt sympathy across the House to the family of Cormac Ó Braonáin, a brilliant young man. It is such a tragedy. I offer our sympathy to his colleagues in the Labour Party. He is a great loss to Ireland and more particularly to his family. We need idealistic young people like him.
I congratulate Mr. John Finucane on his election in Northern Ireland. I was a guest of his on a committee visit recently in his capacity as lord mayor when we were in the North with a group from the Oireachtas. I was very impressed by the way he received us, his welcome and his remarks, and I wish him well. I also congratulate both Mr. Colum Eastwood and Ms Claire Hanna. The SDLP has suffered a lot in the Northern Ireland context but it has been a very consistent voice. It is good they have recovered.
In case I do not get to speak tomorrow, I want to join in the felicitous remarks to all the staff and Members of the House.
I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to the House in the new year to discuss the climate change agenda with special reference to rural Ireland. I am thinking of two very important issues that are clear in places such as Cavan and Monaghan, where I come from, and throughout rural Ireland. The first is the question of rural transport. If we are to move away from diesel cars and carbon emitting vehicles, we need a better rural transport infrastructure and better connectivity between small towns. In consultation with the Minister, Bus Éireann needs to deal with that. We need a better rural transport system. While Irish Rural Link is doing well, we need to supplement it and work on the area of rural transport.
If we are moving away from fossil fuels, people throughout the country, and specifically in rural Ireland, need practical support through grant aid to bring their houses up to the condition whereby they can cope with the new energy regime. That is important in regard to old houses in particular. We need a fuller grant scheme to deal with that and I ask the Deputy Leader to address that.
I hope we can have that debate on rural Ireland and climate change, and branching into the agricultural sector as well. All of that needs a thorough discussion in the House in the new year because we cannot have a climate change agenda that puts rural Ireland in a bad position.
I have raised the issue of education and the need for more schools in my constituency and many other urban areas quite a bit in the past 12 months and before that. I have been talking to a few councillor colleagues. I believe there would be a benefit if the Minister would consider putting together a forum, at least on an annual or six-monthly basis, between the Department and interested councillors so they can inform the Department of the needs within their own areas and keep abreast of what it has planned for their areas. In towns such as Balbriggan, Swords, Rush, Lusk and Skerries in Fingal, there is a significant need for more schools whereas, in other areas, the issues could be of a different nature. Just like we have a HSE forum for councillors that meets on a regular basis, I believe there would be value for councillors to have access to such a forum with the Department of Education and Skills.
It would help inform the Department of the needs in the area and inform its policy decisions, and allow us to predict with greater certainty what is happening, in particular given recent demographic changes. As in the past, houses are built, families move in, children are born and they attend school five years later, and people can see what is happening.
However, with our current housing situation and the movement of people, we have many families arriving already complete into areas such as Skerries, Balbriggan, Rush, Lusk, Swords, Malahide and Portmarnock. They already have children of secondary school-going age, which makes being able to predict the demand a little more difficult for the Department, and I accept that. The bottom line, however, is that we now have a crisis in north Dublin in that we have families unable to say where their children will go to secondary school next year. One instance in Skerries involves fourth-generation Skerries people on both sides of the family going back through parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. This is utterly unacceptable and must be addressed. The Minister was very good to come to visit the school and meet the people affected. However, there is very much a case for the Minister, first, to meet parents' representatives from the area and, second, to come before the House to discuss with us how we might put such a forum together in order to avail of the on-the-ground knowledge many councillors have and could contribute.
As we all know, Christmas is next week, and I wish the children of Ireland and their families a very happy Christmas, no matter where they are. I wish to discuss children today. I would like the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills before the House to tell us what he is doing to support schools around the country in accessing grants to feed their pupils. I read in the newspaper last week that almost 11,000 vulnerable children miss out on their meals each day because eligible schools, DEIS and non-DEIS, are not accessing the State-funded school meals scheme. I am aware that the Committee of Public Accounts has already called on the Minister to write to the school boards in question to query why they are not accessing funding from the school meals programme, which aims to provide regular nutritious food to children. It seems 71 invited schools have failed to join the programme, which leaves the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection with an €8 million unspent portion of its budget. This is incredible. I would call the Minister in myself but I seem to have difficulty getting the relevant Minister to address my Commencement matters. We sometimes seem to have that issue here. Recently it has been a massive issue for me, but that is for another day. Barnardos has cited the shocking statistic that one in nine children goes to bed hungry because of a life lived in poverty. There is a way to get these children some food. We need to figure out where the breakdown is. Some 33 DEIS schools and 38 non-DEIS schools qualified for the scheme. I would like the Minister to explain to us the reason for this and why these schools are not drawing down the funding. Lots of schools in Carlow are crying out for this funding. Is there a lack of communication? What is the answer? The matter is urgent, and I ask for a serious answer to it from the Minister.
I wish to be associated with the messages of sympathy to Cormac Ó Braonáin's family and the Labour Party. It is a huge loss at such a young age.
I wish to raise the report just published by the National Office of Clinical Audit. While there are a lot of negative comments on the health service in this country, it is interesting that the report shows that the number of people dying from heart attacks, stroke and pneumonia in Irish hospitals has reduced drastically over the past ten years. There has been a 35% reduction in heart attacks, in respect of which the number of people admitted has fallen from 74 to 48. Stroke is down by 38%. Pneumonia is down by 28%, which is a huge achievement by the healthcare sector and all those who work in it. A lot of the commentary we see is very much on the negative side, as if there is a total disaster in healthcare, whereas this report is clear evidence that the 135,000 people who work in the HSE, whether backroom or front-line staff, are doing their best to provide the best-quality healthcare that can be provided. This is clear evidence of major improvements in these areas.
While I am dealing with this issue, it is also important to acknowledge that while all of us will be off over the Christmas period, all the nurses, doctors and care assistants will provide the same level of care throughout our hospital and healthcare sector over those few days. It is important we acknowledge their work and the contribution they make on a day-to-day basis.
The ambulance service will also be fully operational in the Christmas period. It is important we send our heartiest congratulations to it on the work it does and wish the people there well over the Christmas period. Mr. Paul Cullen of The Irish Times wrote today's report and it is important we mention good news as well as all the distorted and negative stories that we see printed about the health service.
Like others, I send my condolences to everybody in the Labour Party and its movement following the tragic loss of Mr. Cormac Ó Braonáin. I did not know Cormac personally but I spent much of Sunday night reading about his life, his musicianship, his involvement with Scouting Ireland and his political leadership. His loss is clearly devastating for his family and friends but it is also a loss for the left in Ireland. I have had the privilege of serving as the national chair of Sinn Féin Youth, Ógra Shinn Féin, and it has shared its condolences. The thoughts and prayers of everyone in Sinn Féin are with his family, friends and comrades. Above all else, from what I read on Sunday evening it seems he was a gorgeous human being. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I would also like to be associated with the messages of sympathy for the late Mr. Cormac Ó Braonáin. He was such a young man, at 19, to have made such an impression across so many different levels of society. It is a huge loss to the Labour Party and politics. It is amazing to think of the difference for good this young man could have made to our country or further afield if he had got a grip in politics or life.
The United Kingdom election took place and I send my congratulations to Mr. Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party. It was an election that finally put to bed exactly where we are going with Brexit, although we will see what happens in the next few weeks. The Labour Party in the United Kingdom must think seriously about where it is going. One would think that in opposition the Labour Party would have done extremely well. We are in a very interesting position and it is quite clear Scotland and England are going their separate ways. That will have major repercussions for the island of Ireland.
I congratulate Mr. Colum Eastwood and Ms Claire Hanna from the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP. I am delighted to see an SDLP nationalist voice in Westminster. I know many people from Young Fine Gael and Fine Gael who canvassed in both those constituencies for those two wonderful candidates. I send my congratulations to Mr. John Finucane, whom I met when he was mayor of Belfast. I wish him well. It was a stunning victory in north Belfast as that seat has been held by unionists for 128 years. This was not a good election for Sinn Féin or the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP. The real winner of the election in Northern Ireland was the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. It is not 50:50 any more but rather 40:40:20. This is a most amazing breakthrough for the Alliance Party, which is the middle ground. This will have major repercussions.
It is the wrong time to have a border poll despite everybody talking about it. Nationalists are correctly talking about an uncomfortable conversation that must be had. Nationalists in the Republic of Ireland will also have to partake in uncomfortable conversations about the relationship we will have with the United Kingdom. I mentioned in this House many times our association with the Commonwealth of Nations. We must have those uncomfortable conversations if we are to have an Ireland that will accommodate 1 million unionists who want to be part of that agreed Ireland. It has to be not just an agreed Ireland but there must be more links between Ireland, the United Kingdom and the European Union. I look forward to the challenging and interesting times we will experience in the coming years.
Before moving on, I welcome to the Gallery a former Deputy and Senator, Mr. Hugh Byrne.
I again wish to raise the issue of teacher supply across the country. School principals continue to voice their frustration at the time and effort required to find a substitute teacher for either a long-term or short-term absence. I was contacted by a school principal who has been in the job for many years. Throughout that service the school principal has fought consistently to ensure that a qualified teacher would stand before every classroom in schools throughout the country. That is the way it should be. Every child should be assured that there is a qualified teacher standing in front of the class. Now, however, the situation has become so bad that school principals are glad to see anybody with a semblance of qualification in teaching be a substitute teacher for a short-term or long-term absence. Principals tell us how much they dread getting a telephone call in the morning from a teacher who will be absent because of illness or for some other reason. That starts a process, which can take hours, of getting on the telephone to ring or text people or send WhatsApp messages in an effort to find somebody to cover for that period of absence.
The Minister for Education and Skills needs to get a grip on the situation. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister to the House early in the new year to advise us on what plan of action he has to tackle the lack of teachers in the country. It is deeply frustrating for the nation that when we educate our young people to be teachers, nurses or doctors we then watch them go to the airports to leave the country with those qualifications. It is an issue the country must resolve.
I join my colleagues in extending sympathy to the family of Cormac Ó Braonáin, who was chairperson of Labour Youth. I also extend my sympathy to the Labour Party. It is very difficult when it is somebody so young and particularly in those circumstances.
I wish to raise two matters. The first is about insurance. I note the Central Bank's report yesterday which showed that the insurance companies were making a 9% profit on motor insurance. Representatives of the insurance companies appeared before the finance committee on two occasions, in June and October, and during those hearings I did some primary research that examined companies' turnovers across the insurance sector. The expected margins they needed were 5% or 6% but when I did the calculations I found that five of the six companies were earning profits of almost 10%, on average. They were making super profits. I am glad the Central Bank, which is able to do detailed statistical and empirical analysis, has come up with 9%. My calculations were done on the day and I was amazed at the level of profits they are earning. While we want reform of the insurance sector in terms of reform of the book of quantum and other measures, the insurance companies have a part to play too. They cannot fleece customers. That is why I would like to see motor insurance premiums coming down. Furthermore, the companies need to provide cover across a range of sectors.
The second issue is the current difficulties for Limerick Football Club. It is a proud soccer club in Limerick city and has just emerged from an examinership. I hope ways can be examined at the city, the local authority and Government levels to see if a structure can be put in place to ensure the future of senior soccer in Limerick. That might take many forms. Many clubs have a community based structure that goes back into the heart of a city. We should explore every opportunity. It is critical that senior soccer in Limerick FC continue in Limerick city. It is part and parcel of what we are and it is something on which there must be careful consideration.
I want to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the family of the late Mr. Cormac Ó Braonáin. Cormac was the chairperson of Labour Youth and I know that the Labour Party family will miss him greatly. I offer my condolences on his death.
The second issue I wish to raise is the recent British election. I congratulate all of the MPs who were elected, particularly in the North. There are some new faces now, which I very much welcome. However, this week the focus of attention must turn to Stormont. One message coming from last week's election, particularly in the North of Ireland, is that the political paralysis caused by the lack of institutions in the North cannot continue. The voters gave a clear message in that regard, with votes for Sinn Féin and the DUP down on the previous election. There is a real need to get the institutions back up and running in the North before the deadline of 13 January 2020. On the ground, schools do not have budgets to meet basic requirements such as special needs assistants and hospital waiting lists are increasing. We think we have problems with the latter down here but the figures in the North are spiralling out of control. People are waiting for years. There are real issues about which people are concerned in places like Magherafelt and Maghera that must be addressed. The only way they can be addressed is through democratic and accountable decision-making at Stormont, rather than having civil servants running day-to-day operations in the Six Counties, with no decisions being taken, effectively. Sinn Féin has been arguing over the Irish language issue and while I agree with its position, the fact that Stormont is not up and running means that Foras na Gaeilge is not even operational. Basic requirements can only be resolved by getting the institutions back up and running. In that context, I commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney on his work. It is essential that both the Irish and British Governments put as much pressure as possible on the parties in the North to get the institutions back up and running, for once and for all.
I now invite the Deputy Leader to respond.
I thank those who raised issues on the Order of Business. I wish to join others who expressed sympathy on the death of Cormac Ó Braonáin. At 19 he was young, active, vibrant and full of promise and his death is a real tragedy for his family, particularly at this time of the year. Our thoughts are primarily with his family but his death is also a huge loss to the Labour Party. I extend the condolences of everyone in Seanad Éireann to Cormac's family and to the Labour Party.
Senator Mark Daly raised the issue of insurance, as did several other Senators. The report to which he referred made stark reading but certain measures have been put in place and a lot of work has been done in this area. Senator Kieran O'Donnell took a forensic look at this issue and as he said, insurance company profits are completely over the top. While there are issues around legal costs and awards, insurers' profits really are something else and something must be done about that. I have dealt with insurance companies a lot in the legal world and I know that they are completely and utterly profit driven so in that context, we must introduce measures that will reduce insurance costs overall. The fact that we have now passed the Judicial Council Bill is a help and I note Senator Lawlor's comments in that regard. I know that the committee met at the beginning of December. I chaired a committee in this House a few years ago which met in private session initially to get its ducks in a row but once the first proper meeting happens, the time does then run. I would imagine that will happen from the beginning of January but I will relay the Senator's question to the Minister because it is an appropriate one.
Senator Mark Daly also raised the 99th anniversary of the royal assent. It is obvious that he would raise this issue in the House now and a debate on same would be timely, once Brexit has been sorted. I do not want to sound like Boris but timing is important.
Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about a framework within which to have the discussion and I agree with that. Timing, however, is everything in life. It is important to have the framework and the discussion but the timing needs to be right on that front. It would be irresponsible to push that agenda too much at this particular point in time. The size of the report alone suggests that it is something which should be discussed in this House. The implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is something which is close to everyone's heart. I suggest we have a debate on that.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the report of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. I give all credit to Senator Richmond and the other Senators on that committee for the amount of work they got through. It has been a very useful and helpful piece of work. Senator Conway-Walsh suggested that we hold a constructive debate on the findings of the report. That is a very good suggestion.
Senator Conway-Walsh also spoke about the elections in the North and in the UK. As I said, I agree with her point about the framework but timing is everything. I have already mentioned the report on Brexit. That would be a good discussion to have. It would be wise for this House to be to the forefront on this issue given that the report was compiled by a Seanad committee.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of Cormac Ó Braonáin, which I have addressed. Senator Lawlor made a point about legal costs, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, litigation and the judicial council committee. He has done a lot of work in this area. I have already addressed his question. The question of when a result in this regard is likely should be put to the Minister. Regardless of all the talk of committees and judicial councils, we really just need to see results with regard to the level of awards. I agree with the Senator in that regard.
Senator Leyden spoke about the elections and congratulated Boris and others. Senator Reilly congratulated many of the Members of Parliament who have been elected and requested a debate on the climate change agenda with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in the new year, which would be timely. This would be a useful debate, especially with regard to rural Ireland. A general debate on climate change in the new year would be timely. I canvassed in Senator Reilly's constituency and the issue of school places was often raised. There is a growing population in the area. The HSE-type liaison group for education he suggested would be a good idea.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of DEIS schools and others that have been awarded moneys for school lunch programmes that they have not used up. I find that very difficult to understand. I would be grateful if we could have a debate on that in the new year. If certain schools are not using it, it should be allocated to other schools.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of the health service, on which he does a lot of work, and the very satisfactory results in many areas of the health service. We get a wash of negative commentary with regard to the health service but all of us know people who cannot speak positively enough about the health service once they actually access it and receive care from nurses, doctors and all concerned. I acknowledge the work doctors, nurses and all healthcare workers will do over Christmas.
Senator Warfield also paid tribute to Cormac Ó Braonáin. Senator Feighan raised the issue of the elections and made a point about the timing of the border poll. Senator Gallagher raised the issue of the supply of qualified teachers. A few issues regarding education were raised today, so we should have the Minister for Education and Skills in early in the new year.
I have already addressed the first part of what Senator Kieran O'Donnell had to say. The issue of Limerick FC is very important for young people and older people in Limerick alike. It seems that all need to come together to ensure a satisfactory outcome. I have no doubt that the club will come through the process it is going through at the moment and that the Senator is working very closely with it.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of the absence of the institutions.
That is at the crux of what happened in the North. The people in the North want a voice in Westminster and in their own area. That was very evident during the election in any discourse that I heard. The 13 January deadline is looming. All signs seem fairly positive that Sinn Féin and the DUP are coming to this with more purpose. I hope we have the institutions up and running in the new year.