Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Forensic Science Ireland Laboratory
 Header Item Hospital Services
 Header Item Tourism Policy
 Header Item Ireland Strategic Investment Fund Investments
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage
 Header Item Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014: Committee and Remaining Stages
 Header Item National Mortgage and Housing Corporation Bill 2015: Second Stage

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 243 No. 2

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.

Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I have received notice from Senator Catherine Noone that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, she proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline the position regarding the provision of a purpose-built forensic science laboratory on the previously identified site in Kildare following her correspondence to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in this regard.

  I have also received notice from Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh of the following matter:

An gá atá ann go ndeimhneoidh an tAire Sláinte, i bhfianaise fhíorasc an chróinéara i gcás an tseachtain seo caite (sonraí tugtha), cé na bearta a rinne, nó a dhéanfaidh, an Roinn, FSS agus Grúpa Ospidéal Saolta chun a chinntiú nach dtarlóidh a leithéid de chás arís.

  I have also received notice from Senator Lorraine Higgins of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to consider pursuing a tourism strategy which would allow for the development of additional tourist trails off the Wild Atlantic Way in order to optimise the tourism potential of towns and villages within close proximity of the successful driving route.

  I have also received notice from Senator Marc MacSharry of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Finance to confirm the interest rate that is being charged by ISIF-backed funds for housing in the joint venture Activate Capital.

  I have also received notice from Senator Colm Burke of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to review the current procedure whereby the three-year rule does not apply to a person who has an income-generating asset such as a family farm.

I have also received notice from Senator Fidelma Healy Eames of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to state why the patient information leaflet is not distributed as part of an informed consent process to parents of all young girls being offered the HPV vaccine Gardasil and to comment on the alleged adverse health effects arising in the case of 106 Irish teenage girls in relation to this vaccine.

  I regard the matters raised by Senators Noone, Ó Clochartaigh, Higgins, MacSharry and Burke as suitable for discussion on the Commencement of the House. I have selected the matters raised by Senators Noone, Ó Clochartaigh, Higgins and MacSharry, and they will be taken now. Senator Burke may give notice on another day of the matter he wishes to raise. I regret that I have to rule out of order the matter raised by Senator Healy Eames on the grounds that it is a repeat of a similar Commencement matter raised on 3 November.

Commencement Matters

Forensic Science Ireland Laboratory

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I welcome the Minister of State to the House. She will see that the motion reads that there is "the need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline the position regarding the provision of a purpose-built forensic science laboratory on the previously identified site in Kildare following her correspondence to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in this regard." I have been contacted by someone in Dublin West who works in this laboratory and is very familiar with the state of play.  I thank the Minister of State for coming here to discuss the matter. The need for the provision of a purpose-built forensic science laboratory on the previously-identified site in Kildare is well established. In a letter last April to the chairman of the justice committee, Deputy David Stanton, the Minister outlined that the facilities are outdated and in need of modernisation. We know the provision of a modern, fit-for-purpose laboratory has been under consideration for some time. As such, could the Minister outline the current position in respect of the provision of this facility? The estimated cost of the project is €30 million to €40 million over a three-year period, or approximately €12 million per year over three years, and it seems there could be scope to bring this project forward at the earliest practical opportunity. I welcome the Minister of State's comments.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. Forensic Science Ireland is one of the most important bodies for which the Minister is responsible. It celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and the Forensic Science Laboratory has played a major part in some of the most significant criminal trials and investigations in the history of the State. Working closely with the Garda Síochána, Forensic Science Ireland plays a crucial role in the investigation of crime. The vision of Forensic Science Ireland is "science supporting justice" and that sums up very concisely the unique and vital role this body plays in the criminal justice system and in providing evidence to the courts.

  The staff of Forensic Science Ireland is mainly composed of civil servants who are highly qualified in various aspects of forensic science, including the analysis of drugs and, of course, DNA analysis. In the recent budget, the pay element of Forensic Science Ireland's budget was increased by €1.3 million, which will allow for the recruitment of extra specialist staff to meet the demands of an increasing, and increasingly diverse, workload, including in relation to the DNA database. Forensic Science Ireland will play a crucial part in the operation of the DNA database. This database, which is a long-overdue tool in our fight against crime, was provided for in the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014. The secondary legislation and practical preparations required to operate the database are almost complete and the Minister intends to launch it very shortly.

  The Senator raises an important point about the need for a modern, fit-for-purpose laboratory to replace the current facilities. There is no question that such a facility is required. Plans were first drawn up by the Office of Public Works to develop state-of-the-art facilities for Forensic Science Ireland on a site in Backweston in County Kildare during 2009. Unfortunately, the very difficult economic circumstances suffered by the State in recent years meant it was not possible to proceed with the project. The Minister was very happy, therefore, that in the recently announced capital expenditure programme an amount of money was allocated to this end. I cannot reveal the exact amount for familiar reasons of commercial sensitivity, given that we need to ensure value for money in all public building projects, but I can assure Senator Noone it is sufficient to ensure a completely new state-of-the-art facility is built. While the recently published capital programme does not envisage building beginning until 2019, the Minister wishes to make clear that the projected start date will remain under review, given the importance of this project and the pressing need for these new facilities. The Minister wishes me to advise the Senator that if an opportunity arises to bring forward the start date of construction at Backweston, this opportunity will be pursued.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I thank the Minister of State. It is not fair to press her on it, because she will not be familiar with the ins and outs of the project, but there is not much news in this for me, in that it will be, on the face of it, 2019 before construction actually begins. The money seems to be there in the new capital programme and I welcome that, but really I am none the wiser. I will correspond with the Minister on the matter.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch While I am not familiar with the capital programme in respect of justice, I think it works exactly the same way in all Departments. What is essential is that the project has been given the go-ahead. There is always an amount of work to be done in terms of design, ground works, and so on. It is very clear from what the Minister is saying that if there is an opportunity for an earlier start date, that will be pursued. The Senator should keep that in mind, because there are certain projects which might be announced, but which would not be capable of going ahead. If this project were in a position to move more quickly than others, there is always the possibility of things moving faster. It happens in respect of schools and primary care centres, for instance. It is about being ready to take the opportunity. This is something that needs to be done and something that is worth doing.

Hospital Services

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Fáiltím roimh an Aire Stáit. Táim ag ardú cás iontach brónach, cás Aibha Conroy, as Gabhla i gConamara, a bhásaigh go tragóideach cúpla bliain ó shin. I am raising a very sad case with the Minister of State, the case of Aibha Conroy, of which she may be well aware. It was the subject of a number of pieces on "Prime Time" recently.

  Aibha was the daughter of John and Kathleen Conroy and in 2010 they noted that she was not well. She was brought to University Hospital Galway with suspected hypoglycaemia. She was discharged after a couple of days and was brought in again a couple of months later. She was seen by the same doctor, had a similar episode and was discharged once more. A little later there was an outpatient appointment where her mother raised issues. She was very concerned about her daughter's health and her situation. Perhaps a month or so later the child was hospitalised again. She was in a very serious state and was transferred to Temple Street hospital, resulting in her death, at six years of age, on 14 December 2011.

  This was obviously very traumatic for the family concerned, but the issues I am raising now relate to the issues they have had since then in trying to find out what happened and to bring some kind of closure to the situation. They made complaints to the Medical Council in 2012, as far as I understand, and they felt there was a case to be heard. They were moving forward to try to have that case heard with the Medical Council and then the Corbally High Court ruling kicked in, which would have changed the terms of reference of any hearing that could have been held. They felt their hearing was then fast-tracked by the Medical Council and a finding was made before the Corbally High Court decision was made and, therefore, they are not happy that they got a proper hearing.

  They felt they had no other recourse to justice than to go down the route of the Coroner's Court, so in the last two weeks, the coroner returned a verdict of medical misadventure in Aibha's case. The family said at that stage that they felt vindicated in their campaign for answers regarding Aibha's care and treatment during her short life. The coroner said the verdict of medical misadventure takes into account risk factors that arose in evidence during the inquest into Aibha's death and he identified the lack of critical blood samples to determine whether Aibha had an underlying metabolic or endocrinal issue as a risk factor and noted that the cortisol test could not be relied upon. The coroner also said there were only two verdict options open to him: medical misadventure or a narrative verdict. He is quoted in the media as saying:

At inquests we are not concerned with what might have happened, we are concerned with what happened. The critical tests were not performed.

The solicitor thanked the coroner on behalf of the family, because it was a very long sitting of the Coroner's Court. I think it was the longest one in the history of the State.

  The solicitor talks about the Conroys' challenge being akin to climbing Mount Everest. They really felt they were battling against the system to find answers. Even after all that, they bear no ill-will towards any of the medics. The solicitor said at the time that the family knew none of the doctors or nurses intended this to happen. It seems to point to a systemic issue, that where certain tests were done or not done, or results should have been picked up on, that did not happen. I spoke to Kathleen Conroy recently and the family really wants to make sure something like this cannot happen again, that the systems at the Department and the Minister are taking on board what the coroner has said in his findings that the systems issues that were there, which may have led to the death of Aibha are being sorted out and that these types of things cannot happen again.  They will probably not rest assured until they see that is the case and that no other family is placed in the same position as them. I look forward to the response of the Minister of State.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I am not certain what language one should use when someone loses a child, because it is probably everyone's worst nightmare, especially when a child is of an age at which he or she is an integral part of the family. He or she would have entertained the family and driven them mad from time to time. More than anything else, he or she was a living, breathing personality. Through the Senator, I would like to convey not just my condolences but those of the Minister for Health. The loss of a child is a most tragic event whatever the circumstances, but in circumstances in which families feel it could have been avoided it is even more tragic. This week's events in the courts brought that home to us more clearly than anything else.

  I am assured that, as the Senator said, a comprehensive and detailed inquest took place into this very sad death, and medical and nursing staff from Galway University Hospital fully engaged with the coroner in that process. In addition to the sworn evidence from hospital staff, I understand that the coroner was also provided with the testimony of an independent expert and that this assisted the coroner in reaching his verdict. Given the comprehensive nature of the inquest, I am informed that it is not the intention of the hospital to carry out any further review at this stage. However, I am advised by the Saolta University Health Care Group that the inquest findings will be reviewed at the next serious incident management team meeting, which is to take place on 18 November. Once the findings have been examined in detail, the group will immediately develop an action plan to identify all potential improvements in care pathways and processes. Any recommended changes will be implemented without delay in order to minimise the risk of a similar future event. The group is also in the process of recruiting a consultant paediatric endocrinologist to provide additional specialist expertise for Galway and surrounding areas. Interviews for this post, which will be based in Galway University Hospital, will take place in the coming weeks.

  The delivery of health care is not without risk - I believe the Senator stated that himself - and the very understanding attitude of the Conroys shows that they accept that as well. It involves risk because, although it is improving, the science of medicine is far from perfect. The challenge we face is not the achievement of perfection but the development of a service in which the risk of harm and medical error is minimised and the capacity to identify it when it does occur is maximised.

  It is equally vital that we establish the steps that need to be taken to prevent a recurrence of adverse events by ensuring that lessons are learned from situations in which error occurs and that these are shared across the system to improve the quality of care. The HSE and State Claims Agency open disclosure policy, which is designed to ensure an open and consistent approach to communication with patients and their families when things go wrong in the provision of health care, is one such system. It is important that patients and their families are kept informed and that feedback is forthcoming on investigations.

  The HSE has now begun implementing the policy across all health and social care services. As the Senator will be aware, it is not just about acute hospitals. Things can happen outside that realm. Patient safety remains a key priority for me and for the Minister for Health, and we will do our utmost to support the HSE in any way possible in regard to the implementation of any additional measures arising from the outcome of this very tragic case.

  I often think that even in the event of a tragic ending, it is how it is handled rather than the event itself that has the greatest impact. I know the Conroys are anxious that everything be put in place in order to ensure that no other family will face this event. I hope their efforts, together with the coroner's report and the establishment of the implementation team to ensure this does not happen again, will constitute a fitting tribute to their child, although they never wanted that. Who wants such a tribute to their child?

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I concur fully with the sentiments expressed by the Minister of State at the end of her contribution. The hospital does not intend to carry out any further review at this stage and will discuss it at its serious incident management team meeting. Based on that, and because the hospital group was involved in the whole case, does the Minister of State not think there is a case for the carrying out of an independent review by the Department of Health to examine the findings of the coroner and make sure that everything that needs to be implemented will be implemented so that this type of thing cannot happen again?

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch An expert witness from outside of the State advised the coroner, which I have always believed is essential. I have never believed that we should investigate ourselves. Such independent expertise from outside the State is crucial. The answer reads badly in so far as it appears as though the case has been investigated and we are moving on. That is not quite what will happen. A whole new process is now in place to examine critical incidents or things that should not have happened to make sure that lessons are learned and that, in the event that any other child or adult presents in such circumstances, a process is in place to ensure that everything is picked up on. It is not simply a case of the matter being discussed at the next meeting. It is a process, and different processes will be put in place to ensure this does not happen again. As I have said, none of us can guarantee the future, something on which we can all agree. In the event that it is possible to ensure that events such as this do not happen again, the process is now being worked on.

Tourism Policy

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, to the House.

Senator Lorraine Higgins: Information on Lorraine Higgins Zoom on Lorraine Higgins I thank the Minister of State for taking this Commencement Matter and welcome him to the House. The issue I am raising is very important for rural revival and the survival of rural towns and villages, particularly in my constituency of Galway East. I request that the Minister of State consider pursuing a tourism strategy that would allow for the development of additional tourist trails off the Wild Atlantic Way in order to optimise the tourism potential of towns and villages in close proximity to the successful driving route. It is time to develop tourist routes off the Wild Atlantic Way in order to bring destinations of special amenity, cultural and tourism interest into the frame and showcase all that we have in our rural communities.

  As the Minister of State is well aware, visitor numbers have been very strong year-on-year, with an increase of 12.5% in overseas visits to Ireland in the first nine months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. We must examine the massive success of the Wild Atlantic Way, which is something of which we should all be very proud in the west of Ireland. However, we should develop it further and include towns and villages of special interest within close proximity of the driving trail, adding them as appendices to the map of the route.

  It is important to give tourists choice when they are exploring new pastures. Routes could be designated as special historic, geographic, literary or cultural offshoots of the Wild Atlantic Way, thereby offering something to the more discerning traveller along the way. In particular, for places such as Gort in south Galway, which has a world-famous Yeats connection, with Thoor Ballylee and the link to Lady Augusta Gregory, it would be foolhardy, to say the least, not to optimise these connections in this way. It has to be said that the local community in Gort has done Trojan work in putting their town on the edge of the Burren on the map. I was delighted to see recently that the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, approved funding which will help bring the town to another level. The people of Gort, who are working very hard, need further rewards to spurn them on to greater things.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I thank the Senator for raising this matter. However, I should point out the respective roles of the Minister and the tourism agencies. The Minister and I set national tourism policy in order to grow a competitive and sustainable tourism industry. While my Department provides the funding for investment in tourism, it is not directly involved in the administration of funding programmes or in the development of experiences. In this context, Fáilte Ireland has operational responsibility for tourism product development, including the development of a small number of experience brands - such as, for example, the Wild Atlantic Way - that will make an impact in international markets.

  The Senator is familiar with the Wild Atlantic Way and the impact it has had but it is worth reminding ourselves that the project was born out of the need to address the dramatic decline in international visitors to the west in the past decade. The route is a device to sell the unique experience of the west coast to an international market. The main objective of the Wild Atlantic Way project is to motivate more overseas visitors to visit the west, give them reasons to linger for longer and encourage them to engage with the landscape and communities along the route. As a visitor experience, the Wild Atlantic Way is all about experiencing where the land meets the sea and how the sea has shaped and influenced what happens on the land. The essence of the route is wildness, so it focuses on the wild Atlantic, hugging the coast wherever possible, and avoids dilution of the concept by straying too far inland. That said, the way is not simply a touring route, but a means to guide and attract visitors to particular areas. All villages, businesses and areas in close proximity of the route are, in essence, part of the geography of the Wild Atlantic Way. The purpose of the way is to guide visitors to what is to be seen on our western coast and to provide easy access to a range of experiences along and near the route. Communities on and near the Wild Atlantic Way are already using the route to generate more tourism traffic and revenue.

  The route was developed using a collaborative approach in which regional steering groups were convened to inform the work. The process involved an extensive study of the coast and an evaluation of various route options, as well as a comprehensive process of stakeholder, community and public consultation. In total, 366 feedback submissions were made containing 862 individual comments. The eventual agreed route was the subject of capital funding in 2014 and 2015. This was initially directed towards route signage and developing the 188 discovery points along the way, including the 15 signature discovery points. Most recently, this involved the installation of "photo points" and interpretation panels at all 188 discovery and embarkation points.

  Fáilte Ireland has advised me that the next phase of development of the Wild Atlantic Way includes the development of loops off the way's main spine to maximise the opportunities presented by it. Hopefully, this will spread visitors farther and encourage a more sustainable management of the environmental quality of the coastal routes. This work will involve all stakeholders in each loop, including local authorities and tourism businesses. The project is only at an early stage and the criteria for the loops, which need to ensure that they remain true to the brand of the Wild Atlantic Way, have not yet been finalised.

  As someone from a rural area, I am committed to strong regional tourism through Fáilte Ireland. It is vital for the sector to increase the geographical spread of activity and the Wild Atlantic Way has been a great success in doing that. While the route is still being fully developed, it has already become a central part of our overseas promotion. That said, given how long it takes to get on the international travel map, I expect that it will be take much more time before the route starts getting the widespread recognition among potential tourists that it deserves. However, I am satisfied that it will continue bringing more overseas visitors to the west, including the Senator's county of Galway.

Senator Lorraine Higgins: Information on Lorraine Higgins Zoom on Lorraine Higgins I thank the Minister of State for his response. He has undoubtedly done a great deal of work with tourism initiatives in his county of Mayo, on which I commend him.

  The Wild Atlantic Way has been a major success. Anyone caught in a traffic jam between Kilcolgan and Kinvara understands that. I welcome the consideration of adding loops to the route. They would be beneficial for areas involved. Something of a loop is already in place in Gort in the form of the Lady Gregory and Yeats heritage trail. It should be included on a map of loops. Even an extra page on the Wild Atlantic Way's website would be an ideal reference. The Minister of State's response was welcome.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring The Senator was correct to say that the Wild Atlantic Way had been a great success. It allows areas that visitors have traditionally not found to be discovered. The Senator mentioned Mayo. Let us take Erris as an example. It was a hidden gem and no one knew of its beauty, but more visitors are discovering it because of the Wild Atlantic Way and now it is flying.

  I have discussed the points raised by the Senator with Fáilte Ireland. We want communities to work with it and local authorities. As the Senator correctly stated, that the route passes an area by does not mean that we cannot build facilities there to attract visitors from the way. This is what the Wild Atlantic Way is about. We are promoting this product heavily and it is beginning to win awards internationally, for example, at the recent World Travel Fair, but developing it will take ten years. We are doing something on it every year. Local authorities, communities and everyone else must buy into it. Where they have done so to date, the way is working well. Even those areas with traditionally strong tourism are finding more visitors arriving.

  As the Senator stated, this will be the best year for tourism ever, not just since the recession. Last year, 7.5 million people visited Ireland. This year, we will welcome 8 million visitors. For a small country, that is brilliant. I compliment Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, my Department and local authorities. Communities have bought into the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and tourism, which is where jobs will be created in rural Ireland. I will seek the Senator's support in ensuring that the Government gives us funding as well as the chance that other areas have been given. Dublin is flying, which is creating problems in terms of prices, etc. We want to disperse more people across rural Ireland to give those areas an opportunity as well.

Ireland Strategic Investment Fund Investments

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I thank the Minister for taking the time to deal with this motion. I did not believe that it would be him who would be present.

  This motion is in connection with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. As the Minister undoubtedly knows, part of the Government's two-pronged approach in the budget to the housing crisis was NAMA's programme to build a certain number of houses between now and 2020. Being from outside Dublin, I am concerned that some 90% of those houses will be in Dublin. It is not that Dublin does not need housing. However, more houses are needed across the country as well. We have heard this on the news constantly in recent weeks.

  The second part of the approach is the ISIF offering loans to encourage investment through the private sector with a view to starting residential building throughout the country. Under the management of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, the ISIF has joined together with KKR to establish Activate Capital, which allegedly will focus exclusively on lending to the Irish residential sector.  My concern about this is that the interest rate to be charged is as high as 14%. While that is consistent with what some of the commercial high street banks are seeking, and they are only prepared to lend up to 60% or maybe in some instances 70%, Activate Capital may consider lending up to 90%. That loan-to-value ratio would certainly be positive, but a rate of 14% is prohibitive in a market where we are not getting enough product out. I never thought I would say this, but we probably do not have enough active developers out there at the moment. Some fellows are caught up with NAMA or bankruptcy, while others are finished because their credit ratings are down and so on. That aside, however, even to encourage or breed new developers at 14%, it is not at a rate or terms that are now necessary to kick-start the market.

  Can the Minister clarify whether, in fact, the rate is as high as 14%? If so, can it be revisited through the National Treasury Management Agency and its work with KKR? While we certainly want a return for the taxpayer in terms of the €500 million to be invested here, we also want to be strategic about it and ensure that we get the desired output. We do not just want to make profits for the NTMA or KKR, the private sector aspect to the fund; we also want to see housing built and developments throughout the country, whether in Limerick, Sligo or with additional resources in Dublin where we know they are much needed. It will be done at rates that take a margin for the State but also make it sufficiently attractive to breed new development and new developers to get much needed housing throughout the country.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I thank Senator MacSharry for raising this important issue. Senators will be aware that Activate Capital, known as Activate, is a new and innovative non-bank financing platform that has been established by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, and the global investment group KKR. Activate Capital will invest on a commercial basis in residential development projects in Ireland, which will help to address the current supply shortages in the main urban centres. Activate is focused exclusively on lending to Irish residential projects and will target, in particular, new residential development in the greater Dublin area, Cork, Limerick and Galway, all of which have been identified as the areas of greatest demand. However, outstanding activity is not confined to those locations.

  Activate is a €500 million fund, which is financed through a €325 million loan note provided from ISIF and a €175 million loan note provided from KKR. The ISIF's investment is fully consistent with its mandate to invest on a commercial basis to support economic activity and employment in Ireland.

  The €500 million represents the peak funding outlay at any one time, but as borrowings are repaid this will create additional lending capacity over and above the original €500 million. It is estimated that Activate will, in this way, be capable of financing the construction of over 11,000 new homes in Ireland.

  This is clearly a very important initiative given that new housing output continues to fall short of demand. It should be noted that, in addition to its direct impact, Activate is also introducing competition to the market for development financing and should, in this way, result in more competitive and attractive terms for borrowers across all lenders in the real estate sector.

  House building of the scale envisaged under the Activate initiative is expected to support approximately 1,900 direct and indirect jobs in the house building sector, which will further underpin measures that have been introduced to return construction output and employment in Ireland to more sustainable levels so that it is capable of meeting the growth needs of the Irish economy.

  Activate uniquely will provide up to 90% of project funding and will provide funding for both the acquisition of land and to bring projects through the planning process. Irish banks will currently not lend for site acquisition or to fund project design and planning processes.

  It is useful for Senators to note that Activate also offers the advantages of both deliverability and speed of execution. The Activate model is capable of substantially quicker credit turnaround times than average timeframes currently in the market place given the requirement, typically, for project promoters to deal with more than one lender and sometimes multiple lenders.

  On the issue of lending rates, the ISIF informs me that the Activate base lending rate is in the order of 10% approximately. As would be expected for projects of this nature, there is participation in equity upside if projects are successful so that the fund, and by extension taxpayers, share in any gains alongside the project promoter.

  The pricing for Activate facilities reflects the provision of up to 90% of overall development costs compared to typically up to 60% provided by the traditional bank capital, and the fact that it is, in effect, taking a combination of debt and equity risk. The alternative for project promoters currently is to seek debt and equity funding, if available, from a number of different lenders.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I thank the Minister for that clarification. The base rate and actual rate are two different things. Sometimes the old bankers are very good at telling us the APR and so on. I ask the Minister to query it with his officials because I do have concerns that it is higher than 10%. Second, where possible, we should encourage more imagination in terms of taking equity in projects and maybe letting finance out there a little bit cheaper. It will be better for the State as well. It is not to make profit for developers but ultimately to get activity in the market so that we get what we want, namely, housing for people.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The strategic investment fund is obliged by law to lend commercially and get a commercial return on its lending. The base rate is 10% but in individual projects the rate would be higher than that. In addition, if one has a successful project and allows for the fact that there is participation in profitability because they are providing equity, it grosses out at around the figure the Senator mentioned. However, we will keep it under review. The decision will be for the fund itself and for the NTMA ultimately, but they know the situation and they are not in the business of trying to make enormous profits. They simply want to lend commercially to provide the kind of credit facilities that are necessary and we now have.

  Sitting suspended at 11.18 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.

Order of Business

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins The Order of Business is No. 1, Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to adjourn at not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those from all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; No. 2, Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn at not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, National Mortgage and Housing Corporation Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien We all condemn the attacks on our emergency services and front-line staff over the weekend, particularly the fire brigade and ambulance crews. The attacks became acute over the Halloween weekend, particularly in Dublin. Unfortunately, it happens all year round, and those staff are putting their lives on the line for us. Those front-line staff include gardaí, fire crew, ambulance staff, prison officers and nurses. Three years ago Fianna Fáil published legislation by my colleague Deputy Dara Calleary which would make it a specific offence in law to assault an emergency worker, with a minimum sentence of five years. That is something the Government should consider. It is a particularly grave crime if people who are there to assist the general public are assaulted and attacked by thugs. I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality and ask her to look at the legislation produced by Deputy Calleary in 2012.  If the Government were to give an indication that it intended to work towards introducing measures similar to those proposed in the Bill, it would go a long way towards deterring some of the thugs involved in this activity. Attacks on ambulance and fire crews would stop if people convicted of such attacks were given harsh sentences. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

The position in the health service has moved from crisis to catastrophe. We read in today's edition of the Daily Mailthat a couple who are both 90 years of age waited for two days on trolleys in Tallaght Hospital. Figures from the trolley watch website show that in the first ten months of 2015, almost 80,000 patients admitted to hospital were left on trolleys. The health service is going from bad to worse and what is most frustrating for me and many of those to whom I speak is that the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, appears to believe he is a commentator. For example, he speaks on radio about how terrible and awful the position is while it continues to worsen on his watch. There is no plan in place and no action is being taken. A supplementary budget of €800 million will probably be needed for the health service. The Minister is throwing money at the problem to pay for the introduction of additional temporary beds and staff over the winter months. People are suffering. It is disgraceful in this day and age that a couple in their 90s were left for two days on trolleys. In the week before last, Beaumont Hospital again announced that it could not admit additional patients. The number of outpatients waiting for an appointment has increased by 300%. The Minister is not doing his job.

This issue deserves immediate Government attention, rather than the current sticking-plaster approach. Incidentally, the current problems cannot be blamed on economic developments because the Government had four and a half years to address them. During that period, two Ministers have been responsible for a further degradation and drastic disimprovement in the health service. The Minister for Health must come before the House to make a statement and answer specific questions about accident and emergency departments. With that in mind, I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that he come before the House today to inform us of his plans to ensure that no one - particularly elderly senior citizens - is left on a trolley for two days. The current position is disgraceful and the Minister should be ashamed of his stewardship of the Department of Health. I am formally tabling an amendment to require the Minister to come to the House to answer questions.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik All Senators will wish to join me in expressing sincere condolences and sympathy to Gillian and Ronan Treacy, the parents of the little boy, Ciarán, who was killed in a dreadful incident last year. It is worth speaking a little about the case, which involved an individual who had been driving while drunk and who was sentenced yesterday at Portlaoise Circuit Court. I commend Judge Keenan Johnson on his strong words, in a general sense, in condemning any tolerance of drink-driving. While driving drunk is already a criminal offence and the subject of strong moral disapproval, we have seen from the publicity surrounding this case a real strengthening of the culture of zero tolerance for drink-driving. If anything positive can come out of this awful case, it is that.

  In calling for a debate on housing and rent certainty, I commend Senator Hayden on the strong and robust comments she made on this matter on "Morning Ireland".

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Will they make any difference?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I also welcome the announcement that numerous new facilities will provided for emergency accommodation for homeless persons in Dublin city.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien What difference will they make?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik In particular, we heard yesterday an announcement of a welcome new facility on Thomas Street. I also welcome the proposals in respect of modular housing. Clearly, however, these measures are only part of the resolution to the homelessness problem. I am conscious that Senator Hayden has been calling for a comprehensive debate on housing and rent certainty for some time. I would like the House to have that debate in due course.

  I also call for a debate on prisons in light of the report published yesterday by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, on the culture in Irish prisons. The report contains some serious and worrying findings regarding the gang culture that has, to some extent, been tolerated and allowed to develop in prisons. We also need to debate the report in the context of the comments made by Judge Reilly on a culture among Prison Service staff. While he commends most of them on the tough work they are required to do, the report makes some worrying comments on some aspects of conduct by prison staff.

  I welcome the establishment of an interdepartmental task force to examine claims of exploitation in the fishing industry, about which Senator O'Keeffe and I spoke yesterday. We all note comments from representatives of the fishing industry in Castletownbere and other ports strongly disputing the claims made in The Guardian newspaper. It is clear that an investigation is required into the extent of exploitation and abuse taking place in the fishing industry and serious concerns that people are been trafficked into exploitative labour in the industry.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I congratulate Congressman Paul Ryan on his election as House Speaker in Washington. This is a most important part of parliamentary democracy. Congressman Ryan follows in a very proud tradition of Tip O'Neill and other Irish-American Speakers and I wish him well. I understand he visited Ireland a couple of months ago to reconnect with his Irish roots.

  I also congratulate the Irish hockey team on qualifying for the Rio Olympics next year. Its achievement ranks it in the top 11 field hockey teams in the world, a feat not accomplished since 1908. This is an occasion for great celebration.

Senator Hildegarde Naughton: Information on Hildegarde Naughton Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton I raise the issue of injecting rooms, which drug users in Galway will be able to use from next year onwards, according to the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. It appears that two sites are under consideration for housing these injecting centres. While I am not objecting to the plans per se, full consultation is required as opposed to having a decision taken and followed by supposed consultation. If it is the case that two sites are under consideration, the decision must almost have been made. I am not aware of any consultation taking place in respect of either site. It is unsatisfactory that it remains unclear where the proposed centres will be located. The lack of consultation is causing a significant amount of unease in Galway regarding the Minister of State's plan and the possible location of these centres. While I fully agree that it is preferable to have supervised injection rooms, proper consultation is needed in respect of this process. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State to come to the Seanad to discuss the issue of injecting centres.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn There has been an interesting development in Britain regarding efforts to address absenteeism. I noted some figures from Ireland which show that the direct cost of absenteeism to small businesses, particularly those with sick pay schemes, is more than €490 million per annum. Under the radical new scheme introduced in Britain, anyone who has been sick for more than four weeks will face a fit for work test aimed at stamping out the sick note culture. A person who has been sick for four weeks will have to visit his or her doctor. Every year, more than 1 million people in Britain take sick leave for more than one month, costing the economy more than £9 billion.

  The position regarding absenteeism in Ireland is similar to that in Britain, particularly in the case of small firms. It is a scandal to the extent that some doctors automatically give sick leave certificates to people who no longer wish to work. While I am not sure what is the solution to the problem, we should at least examine the British model to ascertain whether there is something we can do to address absenteeism. The ability of small firms to survive is affected when employees who take sick are not as ill as they maintain. I believe we can do something about this problem.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy Last May, Senator Whelan and I tabled a Private Members' motion on the National Library of Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland and so forth. I understand from media reports today that the National Library has indicated that a lack of funding is preventing it from fully carrying out its functions. When Senator Whelan and I raised this issue in May, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, acknowledged that additional funding was required and informed the House that she would endeavour to secure it in the next round of budget allocations. The budget has been announced in the meantime. Administration costs in the National Library account for only 20% of its income, which is probably one of the lowest ratios in the State.  It operates with a reduced staff and a massively reduced budget. The time has come to return its budget. The boat is lifting and the National Library, which holds all the national records, needs to be assisted. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House next week to discuss the proposals she has put on the record for the future improvement of the National Library?

Senator Michael Comiskey: Information on Michael Comiskey Zoom on Michael Comiskey We all welcomed the good news in the budget that road tax for trucks would be reduced to €900 from 1 January, but in recent days an issue has come to my notice with regard to hauliers who want to tax their trucks and whose tax expired on 31 October. A truck can be taxed for only three months, and one would imagine it could be taxed at the old rate for November and December with the new rate kicking in for January. Counties in the north west are not abiding by this rule and are charging the old rate for the three months. This is very unfair and must be clarified immediately. We are a few days into November and it is important that truckers are allowed to tax their vehicles and would not be running them without tax. It is unfair for the old rate to be charged for the month of January.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien on accident and emergency departments, but we need to examine how we deal with them. I spoke to a junior doctor who is now based in Perth where the system for dealing with accidents and emergencies appears to be totally different. Another person I spoke to recently was admitted to hospital through an accident and emergency department. The person was in the accident and emergency department for eight hours. Everyone knew what was wrong with the person and that a bed was available in the ward, but they had to wait for test results to come back from the laboratory before the person could be moved from the accident and emergency department to the ward. This sounds like a total lack of organisation and structure. We should look at how we manage accident and emergency departments. We also need to look at the times consultants are on. We need expertise on the shop floor, particularly at weekends, and this does not appear to be happening. This has gone through three or four different Ministers at this stage. We have had problems in accident and emergency departments but have not done any restructuring. Work has been done in one or two hospitals, in Kilkenny in particular, but in other areas we have been continuing with the same process for the past 20 years and we do not seem to have learned any lessons. It is time to look at this. There must be a better system. We should look at how other jurisdictions and hospitals deal with it and bring about the change required rather than leaving people there for 24 hours and 48 hours, which is totally unnecessary.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I second the amendment to the Order of Business. While I do not doubt anybody's commitment and wish to see the situation in accident and emergency departments throughout the country improved, how regular is this story? What is the problem? We seem to be investing a lot of resources but we are always running under budget. One wonders about the need to look to the future at all times. We need to look to the past in one way, which is in the context of the general management of hospitals. When we had a matron and a county surgeon, one individual was all powerful and reached into every department and facet, whereas these days administration is administration, domestic is domestic, clinical is clinical and management is somewhere else, and perhaps the solution is within this. There can be no excuses not to have a debate. We are at a critical stage. It is not about political blame when we face into January and February and the months which are traditionally difficult with flu and other illnesses.

  I call for an urgent debate, as I did last week, on the development, or decline, of rural Ireland. The debate needs to be on the protection of our culture. When we look around our nation today, one item of news really captures what is going on, which is that Bank of Ireland will prohibit over-the-counter cash withdrawals under €700. Representative groups of the elderly community have said this is of serious concern. We are moving away from our entire culture. Rural Garda stations and post offices have been closed, but far from saving money we are murdering our very culture. Cultural decay and rural decline are endemic throughout the country. It is a paperless, cashless and, it would seem, a peopleless economy where Bank of Ireland is taking the lead and expecting people of all ages to make lodgements to machines. We need to look at the value of our culture and not just the cost. A debate in this regard is urgent.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I join Senator Bacik in welcoming the announcement this morning of the annual cold weather initiative which will be in place from now until the end of April, with 175 additional beds being provided. This is on top of the 250 emergency beds provided last year. There is a Government commitment that nobody who wants or needs a bed in this crisis will be without one over the period of this winter. This is a very important commitment.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Government has failed miserably.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I commend the additional number of family units being brought into play. These are not short-term but long-term units, with 14 in Glasnevin, 25 in Ballymun Plaza and 80 at a location where Dublin City Council has acquired a number of units. An aspect of the plan which is most welcome is the fact the children and families homelessness action team run by Focus Ireland will raise its staff capacity by 25 project workers to respond to the needs of families living in emergency accommodation. Arrangements are also being put in place whereby Tusla and HSE public health nurses will provide services in emergency accommodation, where they should be provided. The aim is to provide a whole-of-State approach to the crisis. As everybody is well aware, I have my views on how the crisis can be prevented, but we must acknowledge we are where we are with the emergency situation and we must ensure the damage is limited to the greatest extent possible.

  I congratulate the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on the serious achievement it has brought about in bringing these additional units into play in such a difficult crisis. It is also important to bear in mind that 739 families exited homeless accommodation in the first nine months of this year, which is a remarkable achievement in the current situation. A large number of organisations, including the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, Threshold and the four local authorities, should be congratulated on the achievement of bringing about this initiative.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Like Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden The public is being asked as part of this initiative that where they encounter somebody who is homeless or vulnerable, such as a younger person or somebody in need of medical care, they act by contacting the emergency services or the local authorities. It is very important that we all play our part in this crisis.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I was struck by a meeting we had in Galway City Council last Friday with Oireachtas Members where the city manager pointed out that he needs to find €2.5 million for essential developments. The reason I raise this is because we need an urgent debate in the House with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the funding model for local authorities. The way it is set up at present means 87% of funding to run our cities and counties needs to be raised locally through commercial rates and local property tax. What councillor will vote in favour of these against the local people? Our city is starved of resources, with only a potential 13% available from the Exchequer. The city is spoken about as being starved of human resources as it is down 100 people.  A person cannot be buried in Galway city on a Sunday because they do not have enough money to pay the premium rates for Sundays. They are starved financially. There are 20 presentations of families per week seeking homes. We are talking about an emergency. Mark my words, there is absolutely no recovery when it comes to the funding of local authorities. There is a murder machine because of the cover-up job, with people saying everything is okay because of the local property tax. Galway is a very important city and a counterpoint to the east.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames We are talking about regional and western development. Neither I nor anybody else in the Chamber, I would wager, wants to see local authorities falling down because of the model of funding being applied by the Government. I seek an urgent debate on the issue. It is appalling that a person cannot be buried on a Sunday in Galway city because of the lack of human and financial resources.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien If they do it on Monday, is there a problem?

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I agree that we need a debate on the health services, if for no other reason than to give people some comfort by letting them know there is at least a plan and efforts are being made. I encourage the Leader to arrange for the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to come to the House at the earliest opportunity and go through the contingency plans in place to deal with the winter upsurge in the numbers of people availing of accident and emergency services. It is very regrettable that our fantastic nurses throughout the country feel they have no option but to take industrial action. I call on the Minister to engage with the nursing organisations to see if common ground can be reached to prevent this action. I know the Minister has significant good faith in the area and he is extraordinarily committed to resolving the issue. He has told me that directly.

  It is also a pity that midwives and nurses in the maternity hospital in Limerick have felt it necessary to go on strike as well because of an absolute starvation of resources. Their industrial action will be on 27 November. Again I call on all parties, including the HSE and the Minister, if necessary, to engage and try to provide extra midwives. I know ten more will be appointed, if they have not yet been appointed, but that is clearly not enough. I have been in and out of the maternity hospital in Limerick, visiting friends with children on numerous occasions in recent years, and the staff is doing phenomenal work under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

  This House has a role to play in engaging in discourse to encourage the finding of a path to resolution of these problems which affect citizens who find themselves unwell. I encourage the Leader to facilitate such a debate with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, at the earliest possible opportunity.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I raise the issue of debt investors or vulture funds. I am concerned about the activities of Pepper Asset Servicing and other credit servicing firms, particularly their activity since the onset of the financial crisis. I am sure Senator MacSharry will have heard much about these firms. We have heard from all the main banks on their management of people in mortgage distress, but we have nothing from these debt investors or vulture funds which have acquired a large number of bank loans at a discount. Often loans that are in distress will have had credit servicing firms appointed to them to have the loans managed on behalf of a bank. Thousands of home owners and businesses deal with these firms but we have not heard from their representatives. One entity, Pepper, has bought debt directly from banks and is a debt investor. It also acts as a credit servicing entity for other debt investors and may provide an insight from two perspectives. It was reported last May that one of these firms had a house owner committed to prison for failure to honour a court order relating to repossession of a family home. These entities have largely escaped any political review, which is not good enough, and that is why I raise the matter.

  I congratulate and compliment our inspector of prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, for the very fine report he delivered yesterday, to which Senator Bacik referred. I echo the Senator's concerns about some of what he had to report. Perhaps when we are in a more reflective mood down the line, we could deal with the issue and it could be suitable for debate. I will leave that with the Leader.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I join my leader in requesting an urgent debate on the crisis in the health system. I very much hope the Leader will be able to accede to the request. I also support very much the comments from my other colleague, Senator MacSharry, on today's announcement from Bank of Ireland on restrictions to be put in place on the amount of money that can be withdrawn or lodged manually within branches. It is unacceptable and this is only the first bank that will make public such a decision. Anybody dealing with the other main banks can see they have not been people-friendly for quite some time.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Hear, hear.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson This relates not only to the way in which they deal with customers and the serious position in which they landed the State but even their policies beforehand. They have not been people-friendly for many years in their customer service and it is only a matter of time before the other main banks make the same announcement.

  I welcome that Senator Feargal Quinn has put together a Bill that would see this country introducing an honours system, meaning we would have the capacity as a State to recognise people who make a major contribution to their communities and other areas of society or life. This is long overdue but the issue raises its head from time to time. We have the opportunity - I hope Senator Quinn does not mind me mentioning it - to pass this legislation and send it to the Lower House. It would be appropriate that in time for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, we would, as a State, recognise our own citizens who have made a contribution to communities and society.

  I also take this opportunity to welcome to the Gallery Dr. Keith Swanick, our candidate in the forthcoming by-election.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins I join my colleague, Senator Bacik, in extending our sympathy to the Treacy family following their ordeal arising from the death of their son, Ciarán, in a drunk driving incident. I certainly hope that yesterday is a turning point in our attitude towards drink-driving. I applaud the very strong and emotional comments made by Judge Keenan Johnson yesterday. To continue highlighting this issue, I ask the Leader for a debate in this House in the coming weeks on road safety, with particular reference to drink-driving. It can no longer be acceptable that anybody would sit behind the steering wheel of a car and put the lives of people at risk, having consumed alcohol. We need zero tolerance in this regard.

  I support my colleagues on the other side of the House who have called for a debate on the banking system and attitudes following the recent announcement by Bank of Ireland on plans to deal with customers. We all accept that technology is the way forward and we want to maximise the benefits in continually improving technology, but not everybody is comfortable using it. Those people want human contact in banks when they want to transact business, and that wish must be respected. On a number of occasions I have spoken about the attitude of the banks to small customers as well as to the business community with respect to lodgements and how they are accepted. We need to discuss the matter.  The only banking organisation that seems to have any interest whatsoever in serving customers is the credit union movement. I want to see that sector strengthened such that it is in a position to provide a broader service to the public.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien That will not happen because of the regulations the Government has introduced for credit unions.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins As far as I can see, the only service that will be provided to smaller customers such as elderly people will be given through the credit unions. That issue needs to be included as part of a discussion on the banking system.

  I join Senator Barrett in extending my congratulations to Congressman Paul Ryan on his election as Speaker of the House of Representatives. His election proves once again the very significant influence of Irish people and Irish-Americans on politics in the United States.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I wish I could share the Senator's enthusiasm for that appointment. However, anybody who knows the newly elected Speaker will know he has set his face against any form of immigration reform, which is impacting Irish families and is contrary to consistent Irish Government policy. As such, I do not welcome Mr. Ryan's appointment one little bit, despite his Irish heritage.

  I welcome Senator Mullins's call for a discussion on the credit union sector. The conversion of Members opposite to the credit union cause is rather belated considering that our spokesperson, Deputy Michael McGrath, has tabled several motions on the matter in the other House, each of which was defeated by the Government. We continue to seek a roll-back of the imposition on credit unions. Anybody who has a credit union in their area, as I do in my home town of Drumshanbo where an excellent new premises has just opened, agrees these restrictions are inhibiting credit unions' ability to expand their business. It seems crazy, at a time when we are talking about banks' failure to lend, that the billions of euro on deposit in credit unions cannot be used because of the new regulations.

  Yesterday afternoon, thanks to the Cathaoirleach, I had the opportunity to raise concerns regarding the Gardasil HPV vaccination programme with the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. Later in the evening, the Minister dealt with a similar motion in the other House which was brought forward by Deputy Michael Moynihan of my own party and Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. To say I am surprised by the Minister's attitude on this matter and his response both to my motion and that tabled in the Dáil is to put it mildly. I am not referring necessarily to the content of his responses, but to the dismissive manner in which he, as a Minister of Government, treated my Dáil colleagues and me on this issue. It was very surprising, especially given that I had considered myself, at least on a human level if not on a political level, to have a good relationship with the Minister. However, he was absolutely hostile in his attitude and seemed resentful that I and Dáil colleagues were raising this important issue, which Deputy Fidelma Healy Eames has likewise raised in this Chamber.

  This issue is gathering force and it will not go away. After the debate yesterday, I heard from some of the parents of the unfortunate girls who have suffered as a result of this vaccination programme. One of those parents pointed out that when the initial programme was rolled out, there were to be three stages of vaccinations but, in the past 12 months, the HSE has reduced the number to two because, apparently, a number of the girls who have suffered side effects did so after receiving the third round of vaccinations. I intend to inquire about this and I ask the Leader to do the same. The clear implication is that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has set his face against any form of investigation of the linkage between this vaccine and the trauma, physical, emotional and mental, tragically being suffered by girls within days of receiving it. He refuses point blank, as does the HSE, to accept there is any causal link. My colleague, the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, Senator O'Brien, has been instrumental in bringing this issue to the fore, initially because it affected people in his constituency. It has since affected people in my constituency and those of Senator Healy Eames and others. Notwithstanding my having raised this issue on the Commencement debate yesterday, I intend to discuss with my colleagues the possibility of putting a full motion before the House in order that Members on all sides of the House can be drawn out on the matter. It is an issue that is not going to go away.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an bhfoireann náisiúnta hockey and wish the players every success in qualifying for Rio next year.

  I welcome yesterday's Cabinet decision to establish an interdepartmental task force to examine the wide range of issues that have emerged regarding the treatment of workers on board Irish shipping vessels. The exploitation of workers must not be tolerated, irrespective of their nationality. All workers must be treated equally and fairly and paid a just wage. The task force includes representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as well as representatives from the Attorney General's office. The task force, to be chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, will formulate a co-ordinated and effective cross-Government approach to ensuring there is no exploitation of workers in this country. I wish the members of the task force every success in their deliberations.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I support my colleague, Senator Mooney, on the important issue he raised. I was in the Chamber for the Commencement debate yesterday and heard the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, responding to the matter raised by the Senator. To put it mildly, the Minister was very flippant in his response to the Senator and to an adjoining matter I raised concerning the health sector. That arrogance and flippancy are not going unnoticed. The Minister has an obligation to challenge the situation in the HSE rather than blaming that body. After all, he is ultimately responsible, as Minister for Health, for deciding the executive's budget. The escalation of waiting lists is another issue about which there is great concern. In addition, as referred to by the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, we have a crisis in hospital emergency departments. A constituent of mine had to wait 36 hours in the emergency department of a Dublin hospital after getting ill at the weekend. The Minister says there is no issue within the Department of Health but there clearly is. He must come to the House to respond to our concerns and I hope the Leader will agree to issue that invitation.

  My colleague, Senator MacSharry, referred to an issue regarding Bank of Ireland. The problem is that regulation of the banks is not really happening at the moment. We have retail banks effectively going into corporate banking and being interested only in services on which there are high margins, like the mortgages for which they are charging over the odds. The regulator must challenge the banks on their actions. If Bank of Ireland gets away with this, all the other banks will follow if there is profit in it for them.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Hear, hear.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill Eventually, we will be in a situation where elderly people who have small sums of money to deposit will have to keep that money in their own houses, which will encourage more burglaries. This problem relates not only to banking but also raises other societal issues. The culture of banking is changing, as Senator MacSharry noted, and is not being challenged or supported by the regulator. The Minister for Finance has a responsibility to protect taxpayers. The banks have been supported by the taxpayers. It is now time for the banks to provide a service to the taxpayer. That is not being done and it must be challenged. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Finance to the House to discuss the current status of retail banking in the State and what his Department is doing to support ordinary customers? The banks are riding roughshod over customers throughout the country.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I join Senators Bacik and Mullins in extending my sympathy to Gillian and Ronan Treacy, the parents of Ciarán. We are all appalled by Ciarán's needless death.  I join Senator Bacik in mentioning Judge Keenan Johnson, who spoke very eloquently and sensitively about this matter. He imposed as strong a sentence as we might have expected in this country but there is a need to go towards the position in the United Kingdom. We need to treat cases such as this much more seriously. I acknowledge that younger people, for the most part, do not even think about drinking and driving nowadays but, clearly, we still have a way to go because drink driving is occurring. For it to occur once is too much, as illustrated in the case in question.

  In the United Kingdom, there is a mandatory period of imprisonment of 14 years where drink driving causes the death of another individual. There is also an unlimited fine in those circumstances, a ban from driving for at least two years - in Portlaoise, the driver was disqualified from driving for 20 years - and an extended driving test before the offender's licence is returned. While I commend Judge Keenan Johnson on his judgment, I believe that in Ireland, in general, we need to move towards a mandatory and more serious sentence for drink driving that causes the death of another individual.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the question of attacks on members of the emergency services, particularly fire brigade staff over Halloween, and also attacks on prison officers in their homes in recent months. He asked that a specific offence for such attacks be considered and that I relay this to the Minister. I certainly will do so. It is absolutely despicable that any member of our emergency services would be treated in such a manner. Strong, stringent sentences, mandatory if necessary, should be in place for people who attack members of our Defence Forces or emergency services. The word "respect" has gone from the vocabulary of so many people. There is no respect for members of the Defence Forces and emergency services among some people. The latter should suffer as a result of their actions. They should suffer a lot more than they are suffering currently. I will certainly bring this matter to the attention of the Minister.

  Senators Darragh O'Brien, Colm Burke, MacSharry, Conway, Wilson and Ó Domhnaill referred to health services, particularly accident and emergency services. The latter point was raised by Senator Darragh O'Brien. It is totally unacceptable that a couple in their 90s would be on trolleys for a night or two nights. This applies to everybody, irrespective of age. Tackling emergency department overcrowding is a priority of the Government. The Minister convened the emergency department task force in December 2014 to provide focus and momentum in dealing with the challenges associated with overcrowding in accident and emergency departments. Significant progress has been made to date on the overall emergency department task force plan. Delayed discharges are reducing steadily. The waiting time for fair deal funding has been reduced from 11 weeks to between two and four weeks. Last year, this was a major issue raised in the House. Transitional care funding supporting almost 2,000 people who have been approved under the fair deal scheme is available to move them from acute and non-acute care while waiting for their long-term placement. Over 1,200 additional home care packages have been provided. Some 238 beds have been opened in 2015, including 149 additional public nursing home beds, 24 additional private contract beds in Moorehall in County Louth and 65 short-stay beds in Mount Carmel. Therefore, progress is being made on these issues.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien No progress has been made on accident and emergency services.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry It is getting worse.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins These provide a mix of rehabilitation and transitional care for patients who require assisted convalescent care before returning home or entering long-term care. Additional funding of €18 million was provided in July for a winter initiative that will include the provision of approximately 300 additional hospital beds in November and December this month and next month. The first of these are being opened. For example, the Leben building in the University of Limerick opened yesterday. A further 137 beds, which were closed for refurbishment for infection-control purposes in 2015, are to be reopened by the end of this month. Some 34 have already been reopened.

  The director general of the Health Service Executive, who is co-chairing the emergency department task force implementation group from now until March 2016, has taken the decision to take over this himself to ensure all relevant parts of the health services, including acute and social and primary care services, are optimising resources to deal with the challenges outlined by several Members. The task force held its most recent meeting yesterday. It reviewed progress on the implementation recommendations of the task force action plan. As I stated, significant progress has been made over recent months. Admittedly, there are problems, but everything possible is being done by the Minister to address them.

  I am not accepting the amendment to the Order of Business but I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, to come to the House soon to address the issue of accident and emergency services.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien If the Leader would not mind.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins The Minister was present for a Commencement debate earlier this morning and he is to be here for a couple of hours to discuss the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill today. Let us be fair about it. I will certainly ask the Minister to come in, and I am sure he will accede to that request in early course, but the debate cannot be held today.

  Senators Bacik, Noone and Mullins extended their sympathy to Gillian and Ronan Treacy, the parents of the young boy, Ciarán, who was killed tragically in a road accident. This highlights what Senators have said, namely, that drink driving is just not acceptable. I will not comment on sentencing in regard to the tragic event, but Senators have commented on the judge, who dealt with the family very sympathetically, as he should. Members have asked for a debate on sentencing previously. I have tried to have such a debate and I hope we can have it soon with the Minister for Justice and Equality. Given the number of justice Bills that will be taken in the House over the coming weeks, we will have the opportunity.

  Senator Bacik referred to the report of Mr. Justice Reilly, the Inspector of Prisons. Senator Paul Coghlan also referred to it. I will certainly endeavour to have a debate on the report in early course.

  Senators Barrett and Mullins congratulated Congressman Paul Ryan on his election as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

  Senators Barrett and Brennan congratulated the Irish men's hockey team on their qualification for the Olympic Games. As has been mentioned, it is more than 100 years since an Irish hockey team qualified for the Olympic Games. We wish the team every success in its endeavours.

  Senator Naughton raised the matter of the injection rooms proposed for Galway and the need for greater consultation with the community and all involved there. While the Senator certainly recognises it is better to have properly supervised areas for injecting, she believes there is a need for consultation.

  Senator Quinn raised the question of absenteeism and urged that the Government examine the UK system. In many workplaces, even in the public service, one must have a sick certificate if one is missing for two days. Whether doctors give certificates to their patients is another question but I do not believe doctors go out of their way to give certificates if people are not sick. It may have happened in the past but doctors have got the message in this regard.   Senator Landy referred to the current problems in the National Library of Ireland, which were highlighted on radio programmes this morning. I am confident that the Minister will take action to ensure adequate funding will be put in place for the library. I understand she will make an announcement to that effect soon.

  Senator Comiskey highlighted an anomaly in road tax rates that apply to heavy goods vehicles. He pointed out that people who are taxing such vehicles for three months are not allowed to pay the new rate for January. It is something he should table for a Commencement debate or raise with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe.

  Senator Colm Burke called for the reform and restructure of accident and emergency departments nationwide and Senator MacSharry said that the general management of hospitals should be reviewed. This is the same theme again.

  Senators MacSharry, Wilson, Mullins and Ó Domhnaill spoke about Bank of Ireland's proposal to prohibit lodgments of less than €700 in cash. I have spoken about this previously. I think the banks have lost the run of themselves altogether.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Hear, hear.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I do not think they realise that many people in the population do not have computers or iPhones. I suggest that the banks do not want to serve people or speak to people anymore. It is an absolute disgrace.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Hear, hear.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senators may be sure that other banks will follow. People have the remedy themselves. If their bank plans to do this and they are not happy with it, they can move to another bank.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames It is not that easy.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins They can make a point of telling the people in the bank in question why they are moving.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames There is a lot of work involved in moving banks.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins That might make others, and the banks themselves, think about this approach.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Leader has made a fair point.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I do not have Internet banking. I should probably have it. I still like to go to the bank and do my business there by speaking to a person on the other side of the counter.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Leader can always talk to the Chief Whip.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins They can give out to me if they wish. Of course, I meet my constituents as well.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill Hear, hear.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Hayden welcomed the provision of additional cold weather beds. Indeed, more than 700 housing allocations have been made this year to assist people who were in emergency housing. The Senator complimented the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on its efforts and we would all join her in that regard. She made the important point that any homeless person who wants a bed will have one.

  I note the point made by Senator Healy Eames about local authority funding and the whole local authority area. This has been the subject of several debates in this House.

  Senator Conway referred to the need for extra resources at the maternity hospital in Limerick. He mentioned that significant resources have been put in place there already. The Senator, like other people, wants more. I am sure they will get more, but it is not going to happen overnight.

  Senator Paul Coghlan raised the question of debt investors or vulture funds. I am sure the points made by the Senator can be reiterated during the Private Members' debate on the National Mortgage and Housing Corporation Bill 2015, in the name of Senator Barrett, which will be discussed this evening.

  Senator Wilson mentioned Bank of Ireland and praised Senator Quinn on his proposed legislation, which I have not seen, regarding the establishment of an honours system. I am sure we will have a good debate on that in the House.

  In speaking about the banks, Senator Mullins complimented and praised the credit unions and called for a wider service. As Senator Mooney said, they have billions of euro on deposit. They want to get into the mortgage lending area as well.

  Senator Mooney suggested that significant side effects are associated with certain vaccines and made some comments on the Minister. I do not intend to get into any personal remarks that may have passed between Senator Mooney and the Minister when this issue was raised as a Commencement motion. I am sure the Senator got a good reply. I note his points and his belief that this is a matter that will not go away. It is obvious that a problem exists. There is no question about that. Young girls, in particular, are experiencing side effects. I cannot definitively say whether this is happening as a result of the administration of this vaccine. However, there is no question in my mind that there is a case that should be examined.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I thank the Leader.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Brennan welcomed the establishment by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, of a task force to deal with the alleged abuse of migrant workers in the fishing industry, which is an issue that was raised by Senators Bacik and O'Keeffe yesterday. The Minister is to be lauded for his swift action in this regard.

  Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke about banking and health services. I think I have dealt with those matters.

  Senator Noone referred to the sentences that are imposed in cases of drink-driving causing death. She suggested that we should have mandatory sentences, as is the case in the UK. That is a debate for another day. It is certainly a debate we should have. In recent days, many people have spoken about mandatory sentences for various crimes. I would agree that there is a need for a debate and for a review of sentencing in Ireland.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on his plans to ensure no person, and especially no elderly person, is left on a trolley in an accident and emergency department for two days be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien It is.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 29.

Information on Sean D. Barrett   Zoom on Sean D. Barrett   Barrett, Sean D. Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana.
Information on Thomas Byrne   Zoom on Thomas Byrne   Byrne, Thomas. Information on Terry Brennan   Zoom on Terry Brennan   Brennan, Terry.
Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P. Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm.
Information on David Cullinane   Zoom on David Cullinane   Cullinane, David. Information on Eamonn Coghlan   Zoom on Eamonn Coghlan   Coghlan, Eamonn.
Information on Mark Daly   Zoom on Mark Daly   Daly, Mark. Information on Paul Coghlan   Zoom on Paul Coghlan   Coghlan, Paul.
Information on Fidelma Healy Eames   Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames   Healy Eames, Fidelma. Information on Michael Comiskey   Zoom on Michael Comiskey   Comiskey, Michael.
Information on Marc MacSharry   Zoom on Marc MacSharry   MacSharry, Marc. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Paschal Mooney   Zoom on Paschal Mooney   Mooney, Paschal. Information on Maurice Cummins   Zoom on Maurice Cummins   Cummins, Maurice.
Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh   Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh   Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor. Information on Jim D'Arcy   Zoom on Jim D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Jim.
Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Ó Domhnaill, Brian. Information on Michael D'Arcy   Zoom on Michael D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Michael.
Information on Darragh O'Brien   Zoom on Darragh O'Brien   O'Brien, Darragh. Information on Aideen Hayden   Zoom on Aideen Hayden   Hayden, Aideen.
Information on Feargal Quinn   Zoom on Feargal Quinn   Quinn, Feargal. Information on Imelda Henry   Zoom on Imelda Henry   Henry, Imelda.
Information on Jim Walsh   Zoom on Jim Walsh   Walsh, Jim. Information on Cáit Keane   Zoom on Cáit Keane   Keane, Cáit.
Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid. Information on John Kelly   Zoom on John Kelly   Kelly, John.
  Information on Denis Landy   Zoom on Denis Landy   Landy, Denis.
  Information on Fiach Mac Conghail   Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail   Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  Information on Marie Moloney   Zoom on Marie Moloney   Moloney, Marie.
  Information on Mary Moran   Zoom on Mary Moran   Moran, Mary.
  Information on Tony Mulcahy   Zoom on Tony Mulcahy   Mulcahy, Tony.
  Information on Michael Mullins   Zoom on Michael Mullins   Mullins, Michael.
  Information on Hildegarde Naughton   Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton   Naughton, Hildegarde.
  Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.
  Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  Information on Susan O'Keeffe   Zoom on Susan O'Keeffe   O'Keeffe, Susan.
  Information on Pat O'Neill   Zoom on Pat O'Neill   O'Neill, Pat.
  Information on Tom Sheahan   Zoom on Tom Sheahan   Sheahan, Tom.
  Information on Jillian van Turnhout   Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout   van Turnhout, Jillian.
  Information on John Whelan   Zoom on John Whelan   Whelan, John.
  Information on Katherine Zappone   Zoom on Katherine Zappone   Zappone, Katherine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Order of Business agreed?

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien No.

Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 33; Níl, 10.

Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Thomas Byrne   Zoom on Thomas Byrne   Byrne, Thomas.
Information on Sean D. Barrett   Zoom on Sean D. Barrett   Barrett, Sean D. Information on David Cullinane   Zoom on David Cullinane   Cullinane, David.
Information on Terry Brennan   Zoom on Terry Brennan   Brennan, Terry. Information on Mark Daly   Zoom on Mark Daly   Daly, Mark.
Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm. Information on Marc MacSharry   Zoom on Marc MacSharry   MacSharry, Marc.
Information on Eamonn Coghlan   Zoom on Eamonn Coghlan   Coghlan, Eamonn. Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh   Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh   Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
Information on Paul Coghlan   Zoom on Paul Coghlan   Coghlan, Paul. Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
Information on Michael Comiskey   Zoom on Michael Comiskey   Comiskey, Michael. Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú   Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú   Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin. Information on Darragh O'Brien   Zoom on Darragh O'Brien   O'Brien, Darragh.
Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P. Information on Jim Walsh   Zoom on Jim Walsh   Walsh, Jim.
Information on Maurice Cummins   Zoom on Maurice Cummins   Cummins, Maurice. Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid.
Information on Jim D'Arcy   Zoom on Jim D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Jim.  
Information on Michael D'Arcy   Zoom on Michael D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Michael.  
Information on Aideen Hayden   Zoom on Aideen Hayden   Hayden, Aideen.  
Information on Fidelma Healy Eames   Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames   Healy Eames, Fidelma.  
Information on Imelda Henry   Zoom on Imelda Henry   Henry, Imelda.  
Information on Cáit Keane   Zoom on Cáit Keane   Keane, Cáit.  
Information on John Kelly   Zoom on John Kelly   Kelly, John.  
Information on Denis Landy   Zoom on Denis Landy   Landy, Denis.  
Information on Fiach Mac Conghail   Zoom on Fiach Mac Conghail   Mac Conghail, Fiach.  
Information on Marie Moloney   Zoom on Marie Moloney   Moloney, Marie.  
Information on Mary Moran   Zoom on Mary Moran   Moran, Mary.  
Information on Tony Mulcahy   Zoom on Tony Mulcahy   Mulcahy, Tony.  
Information on Michael Mullins   Zoom on Michael Mullins   Mullins, Michael.  
Information on Hildegarde Naughton   Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton   Naughton, Hildegarde.  
Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.  
Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.  
Information on Susan O'Keeffe   Zoom on Susan O'Keeffe   O'Keeffe, Susan.  
Information on Pat O'Neill   Zoom on Pat O'Neill   O'Neill, Pat.  
Information on Feargal Quinn   Zoom on Feargal Quinn   Quinn, Feargal.  
Information on Tom Sheahan   Zoom on Tom Sheahan   Sheahan, Tom.  
Information on Jillian van Turnhout   Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout   van Turnhout, Jillian.  
Information on John Whelan   Zoom on John Whelan   Whelan, John.  
Information on Katherine Zappone   Zoom on Katherine Zappone   Zappone, Katherine.  

Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Darragh O'Brien and Diarmuid Wilson.

Question declared carried.

  Sitting suspended at 12.56 p.m. and resumed at 1.02 p.m.

  1 o’clock

Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to provide for the preparation by the Child and Family Agency of aftercare plans to provide for the giving of assistance by the Agency, subject to the resources available to the Agency, to meet the needs of certain persons who have been in the care of that Agency; to provide for the inspection of premises in which it is proposed to provide early years service; and for those and other purposes, to amend the Child Care Act 1991; the Children Act 2001; the Health Act 2007; the Child and Family Agency Act 2013; and to provide for related matters.

Senator Tony Mulcahy: Information on Tony Mulcahy Zoom on Tony Mulcahy I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage

  Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce the Bill to the House and I look forward to engaging in a constructive debate as the Bill proceeds through the various Stages. The Bill proposes to amend the Child Care Act 1991 and the provisions have three distinct elements relating to aftercare, early years services and technical amendments on foot of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013.

  The Bill provides for an explicit requirement to prepare an aftercare plan in respect of a specified cohort of children and young people as they transition from State care. The Bill places an absolute obligation on the Child and Family Agency to implement national standardised structured aftercare planning provision. Although operationally the agency has been moving significantly in that direction, the Bill clarifies and copper-fastens the requirement for an aftercare plan. It puts such planning on the same footing as other statutory obligations on the agency. It guarantees that the progress made to date will continue. The Bill also provides for amendments to the Child Care Act 1991 to enable the Child and Family Agency to visit premises where it is proposed that an early years service will be provided, before such a service has been registered with the agency, to ensure they are fit for purpose. In addition, the Bill provides for technical amendments to a number of Acts on foot of the commencement of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013.

  Aftercare is the term used to describe the planning and support put in place to meet the needs of a young person who is leaving statutory care at 18 years of age and to assist in making the transition to independent living. It is essential that all young people leaving care are provided with the type of transitional support that their individual situation requires. The most important requirements for young people leaving care include continuity of relationships and secure suitable accommodation as well as further education, employment or training. Current aftercare provision incorporates advice, guidance and practical support. Other crucial elements of an aftercare service include advocating on behalf of young people to support their development as fulfilled adults in their community and, when necessary, linking them to targeted adult services. The aftercare planning process is a natural extension of the care planning process. It is a necessary step in supporting and enabling the transition to independent adulthood, a change which can be challenging for many young people.

  Between 450 and 500 young people leave care annually upon turning 18 years of age. Overall, of approximately 6,400 children in State care, some 93% are in a foster care family placement. On reaching 18 years of age in foster care, a sizeable number of young people remain living with their foster carers either full-time or part-time, if they leave home to continue in third level education. The Child and Family Agency supports these aftercare placements by way of an aftercare plan, in addition to a support worker and financial assistance.

  Young people who do not have family support from a foster carer or family base are assisted in finding accommodation in supported lodgings, sheltered housing or independent accommodation and encouraged and supported financially in furthering their training and education. The Child and Family Agency has advised that, as of the end of March 2015, there were 1,720 young people aged between 18 to 22 years, inclusive, in receipt of aftercare service. Of those, some 1,012 or 59% were in full-time education.

  Under existing operational policy arrangements an aftercare plan is prepared, in partnership with the young person, to identify supports that the young person requires. In preparing the aftercare plan, some of the supports required will fall to be delivered by the Child and Family Agency and some by other Departments and agencies, for example, income support, health services, education and local authorities, in respect of accommodation. The voluntary youth sector has an important role in supporting young people while in and leaving care by working with local statutory providers in creating a supportive network for young people. By proactively including young people in their programmes and activities, further benefits for these young people may be gained. One of the key objectives of the national youth strategy 2015-20, which I recently launched, is to support young people at critical transition points in their lives. The strategy commits to promoting a stronger role for youth services in supporting young people as they transition from statutory support services, including care arrangements and residential services, to independent living.

  The legislative provisions relating to aftercare are being strengthened in response to concerns that there was insufficient focus in this area and that such planning was not taking place on a properly structured and consistent basis. We all remember well some years back some of the terrible tragedies that occurred to children or young adults leaving care. The approach adopted is to impose a statutory duty on the Child and Family Agency to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child or eligible young person. This will create an explicit statement of the agency's duty to be satisfied as to the need of the child or young person for assistance by preparing a plan, in consultation with the young person, which identifies their need for aftercare supports.

  The Bill builds on the existing provisions of section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 and provides for a statutory entitlement to an aftercare plan. I am keen to be clear on one point. The Bill does not, nor was it intended to, provide for any change in statutory entitlement to services. The provision of services to which those leaving State care may be entitled is governed by the existing statutory and administrative criteria of the relevant schemes and programmes. As Senators will be aware, all State bodies are obliged to have regard to the resources made available to them in the provision of such services. In this regard, my Department has held meetings with other key Departments in respect of the supports those Departments offer to young people leaving State care. There has been widespread recognition that such young people carry a particular vulnerability.  Discussions are ongoing on how to best support these young people to transition to independent living, and I am glad to say the response from our partner Departments has been positive. The heads of the Bill were considered by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children last year, and representatives from my Department, the Children's Rights Alliance, Focus Ireland and Empowering People in Care, EPIC, attended the hearing. The Bill I am bringing forward today has benefitted from the recommendations in the committee's report, and I thank all those involved.

The general outline of the aftercare provisions of the Bill allow for: the preparation of an aftercare plan for an eligible child before he or she reaches the age of 18; preparation of an aftercare plan, on request, for an eligible adult age 18, 19 or 20; and review of the operation of an aftercare plan where there has been a change in the adult’s circumstances or additional needs have arisen. A key factor in achieving success is ensuring assessment, preparation and planning for leaving care begins in the years prior to leaving care and continues as part of the care planning process. This work is based on collaboration with the young person, his or her carers and partner agencies to generate an aftercare plan that is specific to the individual young person’s needs. The language used will be suitable for the individual concerned.

I will outline the provisions of the Bill. Section 1 of the Bill provides for the definitions required in this Bill, defining the principal Act as the Child Care Act 1991 and the Act of 2011 as the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2011. Section 2 amends section 2 of the Child Care Act 1991 to provide for additional definitions within that Act of those eligible for an aftercare plan. A child who has spent 12 months in the care of the State, with either the Child and Family Agency or the HSE, in the five years between the ages of 13 and 18 years, will be eligible for a statutory aftercare plan. The criteria employed to determine the eligibility of an adult - a person aged 18, 19 or 20 - for the purposes of an aftercare plan requires such a person to have spent 12 months in the care of the State, with the Child and Family Agency or the HSE, between the ages of 13 and 18. Where a child or adult has been in care for any period of time between the ages of 13 and 18 and has also been accommodated under section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991, any periods of time spent in such accommodation and that spent in care can be combined to meet the 12-month threshold stipulated.

Section 3 provides for the removal of a reference to section 45 in section 23J of the Child Care Act 1991. This reference is no longer valid on foot of the new aftercare provisions. Section 4 provides for an amendment to section 23 of the Child Care Act 1991. The Child and Family Agency will be obliged to produce guidance on the assistance that may be provided in accordance with an aftercare plan in instances where the person to whom the plan relates has been the subject of an interim special care order or a special care order and is an eligible child or eligible adult.

Section 5 provides that the agency shall prepare an aftercare plan for the eligible cohorts of children and adults, detailing the assistance that may be provided, once such a person has reached 18 years of age. The core age range for such support is 18 to 21, other than in the case of education where the agency may continue to provide assistance until the completion of the course in which the young persons are engaged or until the end of the academic year in which they reach the age of 23, whichever is the earlier. This section incorporates elements of the current section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 and provides that implementation is subject to resources. Section 6 provides that an assessment of need will be carried out in order to identify the supports and services appropriate to an aftercare plan and sets out the domains to be considered in such an assessment.

Section 7 provides for an aftercare plan for an eligible child who is in the care of the agency or an eligible child who is no longer in the care of the agency and sets out what an aftercare plan will contain. Regarding a child who is in the care of the agency, following an assessment of need, the agency shall prepare an aftercare plan setting out the assistance required to meet the needs identified in the assessment, upon the child turning 18. An aftercare plan will be prepared at least six months in advance of the child attaining the age of 18 years or within three months of that child having become an eligible child, whichever is the later. An eligible child no longer in the care of the agency or a person acting on that child’s behalf – a parent, guardian or person acting in loco parentis- may request an aftercare plan from the agency. Upon receipt of such a request, and following an assessment of need, the agency shall prepare an aftercare plan setting out the assistance required to meet the needs identified in the assessment, upon the child turning 18. In the case of an eligible child who is no longer in the care of the agency, an aftercare plan will be prepared within three months of receiving a request, or at least six months in advance of the child attaining the age of 18 years, whichever is the later.

The child or young person will have a central role in the development of the aftercare plan. This is very important and appropriate. The agency shall also consult, in preparing an aftercare plan, with all relevant bodies playing a role in the provision of services and supports required for the aftercare plan. As part of this process, the agency must have regard to resources available to it in implementing an aftercare plan. Where the agency cannot ascertain the views of the eligible child, an aftercare plan shall still be prepared by the agency. The agency shall consult with specific people, mainly those in loco parentis, in preparing an aftercare plan, other than in such circumstances as the agency deems it not in the best interest of the child to do so.

Section 8 provides that the agency shall prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible adult where none had been previously prepared and sets out what an aftercare plan will contain. The agency shall, following a request from an eligible adult or a person authorised by that adult, carry out an assessment of need for the eligible adult and prepare an aftercare plan setting out the assistance required to meet the needs identified in the assessment. The aftercare plan for an eligible adult will be prepared within three months of a request for such a plan and the agency shall consult, in preparing an aftercare plan, with all relevant bodies playing a role in the provision of services and supports required for the aftercare plan. In preparing the aftercare plan, the agency must also have regard to resources available to implement the aftercare plan. The agency may consult with all people who, in the view of the agency, would be of assistance in preparing an aftercare plan for the eligible adult. Such consultation can only take place with the consent of the adult concerned.

For the avoidance of doubt, where the agency is providing assistance to a person under the original section 45, it will continue to do so as if the section had not been amended. In addition, if the person satisfies the eligibility criteria for an “eligible adult”, he or she may make a request for an aftercare plan. In all cases, for an eligible child in care, an eligible child no longer in care or an eligible adult, in preparing an aftercare plan, the assistance identified will comprise supports and services that may be provided directly by the agency in addition to assistance in accessing other supports and services for which the person may be eligible.

Section 9 provides that the agency shall conduct a review of the operation of an aftercare plan on request by a young person or someone acting on his or her behalf if any of the following conditions are met: there has been a significant change in the circumstances of the young person; the assistance being provided under the aftercare plan does not meet the need identified; or additional support requirements for the young person have arisen. Such reviews are to be conducted within three months of receipt of a request. The agency will, in conducting any reviews, have regard to those service providers for whom any such review would have relevance, and consult accordingly. The agency may also, with the consent of the young person, consult with individuals who the agency considers may be of assistance in reviewing the plan. Aftercare plans may be updated following a review. Any such updating shall have due regard to the resources available to the agency to implement the updated plan.

Regulation of early years services is provided for under Part VII A of the Child Care Act 1991. In particular, this new Part of the Act introduced new powers for the Early Years Inspectorate regarding registering providers of early years services, removing providers from the register, or attaching conditions to a registration. Revised preschool regulations are being finalised. In the meantime, I am taking the opportunity in this Bill to give early years inspectors the power to visit preschool services premises before they open, in order to advise the provider on layout, and generally to check the premises are suitable for running the service.  While it is likely that providers would welcome such a visit, there is no compulsory provision for it currently and the inspector would have to rely on the consent of the provider.

  I am satisfied that these provisions will form an additional safeguard to ensure that preschool premises are fit for purpose and will support the care and education of the young children in the service. The provisions will also facilitate preschool providers in understanding what is required of them in terms of the provision of appropriate facilities.

  Section 10 amends the Child Care Act 1991 to allow the Child and Family Agency to refuse to register a proposed provider who refuses permission to an authorised person to enter a premises for a pre-registration visit. Section 11 amends the 1991 Act to allow the agency to cause to be visited premises where it is proposed to carry on an early years service to ascertain if the premises comply with Part VIIA of that Act. Section 12 amends the Act to permit an authorised person to visit premises where it is proposed to carry on an early years service in order to ascertain if the premises comply with Part VIIA of that Act.

  A number of amendments of a technical nature are required by the enactment of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 to a number of Acts that were amended by it. Section 13 and Part 1 of Schedule 1 provide for technical amendments to the Child Care Act 1991. Section 14 and Part 2 of Schedule 1 provide for technical amendments to other Acts. Section 15 and Schedule 2 provide for a small number of repeals.

  This Bill underpins significant initiatives and reforms that have taken place in recent years, which have been developed with the goal of improving aftercare services so as to deliver better outcomes for young people leaving the care of the State. A key focus of the Child and Family Agency service reform and improvement is the continued enhancement of leaving and aftercare services, which began with the development of a national leaving and aftercare policy in 2011 in co-operation with the key stakeholders, including the voluntary sector agencies representing children in care and those services involved in aftercare provision. There have been significant improvements in the delivery of aftercare services since the introduction of that policy. In implementing it, the agency has prioritised the development of dedicated aftercare services in each area, the standardisation of a range of financial packages, the introduction of interagency aftercare steering committees at local level and the further development of the provision of information on aftercare services. The Child and Family Agency continues to review its current policy to reflect legislative changes. In so doing, it will continue to work in partnership with those that represent the views of children in care and foster carers.

  In examining our care and social services, we all too often focus on the negative, a deficit reporting model, as it were. It is this form of negative outlook that, while in many cases based on fact, is transmitted for public consumption. However, it is fair to say that progress is being made in the provision of aftercare services. As one example of good practice, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, recently found the aftercare service provided to young people in the Galway-Roscommon area to be excellent. In its inspection report on the foster care service in that area, HIQA found that the outcomes for children leaving care were excellent, with some remaining with foster carers and others placed in supported lodgings. Every young adult in aftercare had an aftercare worker and a written aftercare plan that was of good quality. Almost all of those in aftercare were attending third level education or training of some kind. This is the standard to which we aspire for all young people leaving the care of the State and tangible proof that the changes made to date are progressing as we would wish. I remind the House that, one decade ago, the delivery of aftercare services was unstructured and inconsistent. We have made significant progress in the interim. This Bill builds on that success.

  Overall, the Bill attempts to take account of the need for a degree of nuance in planning for leaving care for young people at a time that is appropriate and sensitive to the young person's particular needs. The intention is to ensure that these preparations take place in good time to allow a young person to participate in the preparations, which is critical, ensure that the young person can prepare himself or herself for changes that may be occurring and ensure that the necessary supports can be identified and, subject to availability, put in place.

  I thank Senators for their support for and engagement with the Bill. I look forward to our debate and I commend the Bill to the House.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I welcome the Minister to the House. Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill. It is a step in the right direction towards the goal of a legal entitlement to aftercare services for all young people leaving care. The Bill imposes a statutory duty on Tusla to prepare an aftercare plan for such young people. However, we regard this only as a first step. The Department cannot use the legislation as a ruse to distract from the wider issue of adequate service planning for aftercare. It is welcome that Tusla has been given a legal obligation to provide young people with an aftercare plan, but we have some concerns, in that the Bill does not go far enough in obliging Tusla to put a full service framework and necessary resources for aftercare in place. It gives Tusla the "as resources allow" opt-out clause in section 8. Therefore, the Bill will not oblige the organisation to put in place fully resourced aftercare plans that are tailored to the individual needs of all vulnerable people leaving care.

  The debate on the Bill allows us to discuss a related issue, that is, who has statutory responsibility for homeless young people and children. Tusla has no statutory duty to provide all children in emergency accommodation with in-reach plans that would ensure practical access to education, recreation, health and social services. The Bill presents an opportunity to oblige the agency in this regard so as to co-ordinate services for families in emergency accommodation and reduce the risk of long-term damage on a child's upbringing and development that might result from a period of homelessness.

  In the context of aftercare plans and services for young care leavers, it is essentially to safeguard these vulnerable people who lack the traditional supports on which young adults fall back. Research conducted on permanent care by Empowering People in Care, EPIC, to which the Minister referred, and others has shown that young care leavers are more likely to leave State care with poor coping mechanisms, poor educations, poor life skills and a lack of support and friendships, which leaves them more at risk of feeling isolated, suffering mental health problems, engaging in risky behaviour, self-harm or suicide and becoming young parents. Between 450 and 500 young people leave care annually upon turning 18 years of age. Last year, 1,698 18 to 23 year olds were in aftercare. Of these, an impressive 56% were in full-time education.

  While the Bill obliges Tusla to provide an aftercare plan, it gives the organisation an opt-out clause. From my experience in the House down the years, "as resources allow" is an opt-out for Governments of all colours because it places no legal obligation on the State to provide those resources. It is a worrying and vague opt-out clause and undermines all other provisions in the Bill, including Tusla's statutory obligation to provide an individually tailored aftercare plan to all young people leaving care.

  Currently, Tusla has a statutory obligation to investigate all child protection and abuse claims in a timely manner. Last Monday, however, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, revealed serious deficits in protection and care systems for children administered by Tusla. In his audit, Dr. Muldoon found that Tusla had managed to deal with just one fifth of all reports of child abuse in a timely manner last year. By any measure, this is a gross systems failure on the part of the Minister's Department and Tusla's management. Tusla was set up with the purpose of strengthening the child protection system, but it is failing significantly to investigate child abuse claims immediately. The new agency's failures to protect vulnerable young people is widespread across its service remit, with the ombudsman making the appalling disclosure that children with mental health issues were still being accommodated in adult psychiatric wards. Dr. Muldoon found that, due to bed shortages, many of these children in distressful situations were simply being put on suicide watch instead of being given the care, compassion and specialist treatment that they required. The opt-out clause will not oblige the organisation to put in a place a fully resourced aftercare plan, which is the thrust of the Bill.

  We have concerns about whether Tusla will be able to implement the Bill.  Giving Tusla a statutory remit is not the same as putting in place a fully resourced system of aftercare and supports for all young people leaving care. It cannot be denied that since its inception Tusla has been grossly underfunded as a service organisation. We welcome the additional funding in budget 2016, and I applaud the Minister for that. Despite the somewhat difficult and straitened economic circumstances he managed to get an increase, but is relatively small and it is required for services just to stand still rather than improve. Last year, Tusla was at least €18 million short of meeting day-to-day expenditure for the provision of social worker services alone. Other community programmes that receive their budget from Tusla, including family resource centres, school completion programmes, domestic violence community groups and rape crisis groups, including SAFE Ireland and the Rape Crisis Centre, received savage cuts last again this year.

  It also remains to be seen whether the relatively small increase to which I referred for a very underfunded organisation will be enough to rectify service gaps in social and child welfare services provided directly by Tusla as well as providing funding for community programmes that are on their knees because of an annual 5% reduction in their budgets since 2012. HSE and Tusla funding for domestic violence services has been cut by 70% since 2012, although it remained the same last year. Funding for the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crimes domestic court accompaniment service has been reduced by 26% since 2012. Support agency funding for counselling services has also been reduced by 47% since the Government took office.

  Funding required to support these services is tiny compared with the protection and solace they offer to women and children in difficult situations. The same happened under previous Governments. For some strange reason, when it comes to budget time, a sum of money is taken out of the system which, if it were allowed to stay, would help a large number of organisations and individuals. When one tots up the figures, a measly few million euro is involved. I am sure the Minister, in fighting the good fight for an increased budget, has probably used those arguments. It would be interesting to hear his comments.

  It is unclear which organisation has responsibility for the 1,600 children currently living in emergency homeless accommodation. It is shocking that Tusla does not have a statutory remit to co-ordinate care and in-reach plans for these children. There are currently ten homeless families with children for every 100,000 people in Ireland. By comparison, there are only three homeless families for every 100,000 people in England. It is shocking that Tusla does not bear any special statutory responsibility for putting in place in-reach plans to promote normal development and reduce the risk to the welfare of children in emergency homeless accommodation.

  The response of the Minister effectively denied that his Department has any responsibility to children who are homeless, in that he stated, "Young people who are homeless, either singly or as part of a family unit, and not falling within this category, are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and local authorities." Tusla should be taking a lead and front-line role in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. This Bill is an opportunity to oblige the agency to put in place in-reach plans for co-ordinating and integrating services for vulnerable homeless families, as well as managing and reducing the risks to ensure a period of homelessness does not have a long-term and damaging effect on a child's upbringing and development. Overall, we welcome the Bill as a first step in the right direction, but there are inherent flaws in it, in particular relating to the "as resources allow" portion of section 8.

Senator Imelda Henry: Information on Imelda Henry Zoom on Imelda Henry I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him and his officials for bringing this important Bill before the House. I commend him on his foresight in recognising the need to strengthen the legislative proposals regarding aftercare and on responding to concerns that there was insufficient focus on this area and such planning was not taking place on a properly structured and consistent basis. As he said, there are three important and distinct elements in the Bill, mainly dealing with aftercare but also technical amendments on foot of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and the provisions regarding the inspection of premises for early years services providers prior to registration.

  The Joint Committee on Health and Children, of which I am a member, carried out pre-legislative scrutiny on this Bill and published a comprehensive report. It did a large volume of work, consulted stakeholders and reviewed numerous submissions. We are pleased to have the opportunity to feed into this critical Bill. It allowed members to be fully informed, and enabled us to provide meaningful input into the Bill and make observations and suggestions in the initial stages of the Bill.

  There were many discussions in the House and in the media on support services for children who leave care. Unfortunately, these debates usually arose when young adults failed to cope with the reality of life when they left care and in many cases they did not have the support of a family. Many young adults found themselves homeless or had problems with drugs and mental health issues or simply could not cope when they were out of the care of the State which had been the caregiver. Young people in care, like their peers, can face an accelerated transition into adulthood, putting them at greater risk.

  Up to now, provisions made for children in care when they reached the age of 18 were not statutorily based. Children in long-term foster care who had settled with a family for a number of years were more likely to stay with them and receive support for third level education and planning for their future. However, this varied in different areas of the country and there was no guarantee of funding from year to year. On the whole, children who had successful long-term placements with foster families had better outcomes and were more likely to go on to third level education. Even if they did not go on to third level, they had support within the foster family after they were 18 years of age.

  Unfortunately, the children who were in and out of foster care and the care of the State did not fare so well. Children who were in care for short periods or numerous short periods often fell through the system and were reluctant to re-engage with State agencies. Young adults were often delighted to be cut off into the working world and tried to be independent. As often happens with young people, however, when they had to be self-sufficient and the harsh reality of the pressure of working and providing for themselves hit home, they realised they might have been better off going on to further education or getting support, whether emotional or financial, from the State.

  It was difficult in the past to re-engage with State agencies when children reached the age of 18 and had broken contact. This Bill changes that and places an explicit obligation on Tusla to prepare an aftercare plan for eligible children and adults where such needs as identified. A child who has spent 12 months in the care of the state with the Child and Family Agency or the HSE will be eligible for a statutory aftercare plan, which I very much welcome.

  As the Minister said, the criteria employed to determine the eligibility for a person aged 18, 19 or 20 years of age for the purposes of the aftercare plan require that he or she has spent 12 months in the care of the State between the ages of 13 and 18. Where the child or adult has been in care for any period of time between the ages of 13 and 18, that time spent in care can be combined to meet the 12 months stipulated. This will help children who have been in and out of care for short periods, as often happens. The aftercare plan will be drawn up six months before their 18th birthday and in consultation with the child. It will incorporate their education needs and care needs, which is very important.

  Each year approximately 500 young people move from a care setting into an aftercare service. A number of stakeholders highlighted the wide range of aftercare supports which may be needed by these young people. According to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the aim of aftercare services is to provide continuation of services to assist the varying needs of young people leaving care to enable them to achieve a successful transition from their placement to independent adult life in the community.

  I am very pleased to welcome this Bill. I am confident there is great goodwill to provide very good levels of aftercare. Stakeholders have highlighted the socioeconomic benefits associated with the proper provision of aftercare services and I am confident that children leaving care will do so with as much support as they require.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I welcome the Minister to the House. This Bill is very welcome and I will work with the Minister to ensure we can get it through the House. We all know an election is coming up and the Bill needs to be passed, but I have certain concerns similar to what Senator Mooney outlined.

  I would have liked the Bill to go further. For example, it is not a wholesale revision of the now outdated Child Care Act 1991, as was once promised. However, being an active member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I participated in the hearings we had and I acknowledge that several of the issues that came out of the hearings have been addressed within the scope of the Bill. I thank the officials in the Minister's Department who provided a briefing to Senators yesterday afternoon.

  On registration, supervision and inspection for early years services, from my first reading of the Bill, I am a little bit concerned that the language around it is very severe and negative.  I want to know is it a case where services are refusing inspections for registration or is similar language used for other types of inspections. It seems quite severe language. My understanding is services really want to be registered. They want to be able to say to parents that they have been checked and inspected. Perhaps we will look more deeply into that on Committee Stage.

I will focus mainly on the issue of aftercare. We are moving from a discretionary model to a statutory model, albeit a statutory model where one will get a plan and not necessarily the resources. I heard what the Minister said in that regard. That has to be welcomed because change is incremental. To begin to include this in legislation is very welcome.

Obviously, the difficulty is that there will be gaps in that provision. Senators have quoted figures provided by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service that approximately 500 children leave the care of the State and go into aftercare each year. When one drills down into those figures, 80%, or 400 of them, were reported as having an allocated social worker. If one drills down further, 90%, or 360 of those 400, are in some form of stable accommodation. That really worried me because it means there are 140 children who leave the care of the State who we are failing. I agree with the Minister that we have 360 children for whom we are getting it right. It is happening naturally. They are probably in foster care. They are probably in more secure environments. The difficulty is, when one looks at these figures, there are 140 children who are either in unstable accommodation or have no social worker. Those are the children I will be trying to focus the lens on when we look through this Bill to strengthen it to ensure the continuity of care that is so important for children.

In preparing for today, I re-read the report of the Independent Child Death Review Group by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon and Ms Norah Gibbons. In the summary of concerns, the report states:

In some cases no aftercare at all was provided to young persons who left the care of the [then] HSE. This is a very serious cause for concern. In other cases aftercare was offered but solely at the option of the young person. Such an abdication of duty on the part of the HSE [as the Child and Family Agency was then] is unacceptable, and fails to properly meet the welfare needs of these vulnerable young people. Whilst the age of maturity of a young person for legal purposes is clearly defined it does not necessarily accord with the actual maturity of that young person.

That is where we need to move. I understand some of the caveats in the Bill but the difficulty is that while the young person has a right to refuse, that must be a considered and informed choice. There must be an obligation on the State to ensure that such is a considered and informed choice and it is not done because of the precarious situation that they are in at present.

  I am also concerned about certain groups of children who may not be captured in the scope of the Bill. I refer to children in detention schools who, merely because of their pathway, whether they went down the justice pathway or the welfare pathway, have ended up in a detention school rather than in care. What will happen those children?

  There is also the requirement of other public bodies to meet the needs of the care leaver, for example, the right to housing. What scope will the Child and Family Agency have to access those? Will there be a prioritisation of the need of that young person or will he or she be put in the queue with every other person?

  On the assessment of needs, I welcome the much wider scope in the Bill. That is really good, but I wonder should certain issues, such as mental health, disability, or immigration and family reunification, also be part of that consideration. I want to look at the wording to ensure that those issues are part of that consideration.

  As I stated at the briefing yesterday, I am concerned that the Child and Family Agency "may" rather than "shall" continue to provide assistance to the young person. We should be saying "shall" clearly.

  I am also concerned about the upper age of 23. The reality of these young people leaving the care system is that in the majority of cases they are considerably behind their peers in terms of educational attainment. Many have had disjointed education. Many need to resit junior and leaving certificates or complete PLCs before, hopefully, going on to third level education. Given that masters degrees are the new undergraduate degrees, the levels of young people not in education, employment or training, and the spiralling rent prices throughout Ireland, it is not uncommon for young people to remain in the family home until their mid to late 20s. According to EUROSTAT, the average age of a young person in Ireland leaving home is 25. Surely, these young people, for whom the State has been parent, should have a similar provision. I would like to see us, not necessarily in law, looking at such flexibility where that young person is making a concerted effort and requires continuing support. How do we ensure that the plan is in place?

  Although sometimes it is due to the difference between legislation, regulations and policies, the reference in section 45(5) of the principal Act to "subject to available resources" regarding the aftercare plan worries me. We develop a plan, everybody agrees it is a great plan but it is subject to available resources. I refer to the consequences of not providing those resources to an individual young person. There is no other safety net for them. There is nowhere else for them to turn. The consequences are quite severe and at times can be fatal, as the child death report clearly showed us. How do we ensure that, where possible, those resources are provided? I welcome that the plan is in place six months before, but what about those first set of children to whom I referred who, at 16, are in stable foster care. Why can we not provide them with that plan at age 16 so they will know when they turn 18 that it is there? I understand the legislative basis on which the six-months period is provided for. I am merely concerned that such people will then have to wait six months before getting their plan.

  I have met too many of these young people who are dreading their 18th birthday who feel that blowing out the candle on their birthday cake extinguishes their supports and overnight they will become adults who must stand on their own two feet. The Bill goes a considerable way to address that. I want to ensure that those young people know it is not only a piece of paper but that the State really believes in them and really wants to ensure that the safety net is there, those supports are there and we are taking on our responsibility of being the parent for them.

  I could obviously say so much more but I have got the signal from the Chair. I will bring up any issues I have on Committee Stage. I am concerned, for example, that out-of-hours services are not available and whether they will be available for these children who are particularly vulnerable.

Senator Marie Moloney: Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney I welcome the Minister, Deputy Reilly, to the House. He seems to be a regular visitor here these days but we will never complain about that.

  Like Senator van Turnhout, I will concentrate on the aftercare but, first, I will refer to the revised preschool regulations which are being finalised. I very much welcome this. It seems incredible that the inspectors would have to rely on the consent of the providers to carry out an inspection. However, I heard a radio programme in which a preschool provider and crèche stated that there were not enough inspectors to carry out the inspections and sometimes the inspections were years apart or may not have been carried out. I merely wanted to ask the Minister whether there are enough inspectors in place to provide these inspections to preschools. With the provision of the second preschool year, I have been speaking to some providers who say they do not have the accommodation to provide the second year and it will pose a problem, but that is another day's work.

  I welcome the Bill. This is a much-needed Bill which puts aftercare on a statutory footing. With this Bill, the aftercare provisions for eligible children who are transitioning to eligible adults will be strengthened and enhanced.

  While this Bill may not have all the answers, it certainly is a definite step in the right direction. Now young adults who have been in foster care or residential care will have a defined care plan which will help them with their future and their induction into adulthood, which can be quite daunting for many, especially those who may not be in a sustainable family unit.

  Those first few years of adulthood are vital and can mould one's future. Now the Child and Family Agency is obliged to put in place, on request, an aftercare provision to assist young adults of 18, 19 and 20 years and for those who are in further education whose provisions can continue up to the age of 23 or the end of the academic year. As it has been stated already that there are 400 or 500 young people leaving State care every year, it is good to see that 1,720 young adults are still availing of the service and 59% of them are in full-time education.  I have heard that in some cases children were transferred to a different county - in one case this happened in the middle of their leaving certificate - because the follow-on care plan was going to be in that county.

  I pay special tribute to all the foster parents throughout the country who have opened their doors to provide a family setting for many children in State care who are in need. I understand that 45% of children who have been in foster families remain as part of those families when they become adults. This is a testimony to the care and love they have received in foster care, and credit is due to their foster parents in this regard.

  Young adults who do not remain in a family setting or who leave residential care have additional needs. It is imperative that a detailed and constructive plan is in place to help them take steps into adulthood and assist them to become independent adults who will be able to provide for themselves in future life. As the Minister has said, the Child and Family Agency will carry out assessments of each individual's needs in education, financing and budgetary matters, training and employment, health and well-being, personal social development, accommodation and family support. These vital elements are needed to support a child transitioning to adulthood or independent living.

  The Minister also said that cross-departmental support is required, and I understand that he is meeting personnel from various Departments. We look forward to the outcome. It is vital that every child or young adult must be involved in the preparation of this plan. Many of us who have children who have gone to college know the importance of the family unit in supporting and guiding them in their life choices and helping them to become independent young adults. Those of us whose sons or daughters attended college in a different county know how much they looked forward to coming home at the weekend to a warm house with a home-cooked meal ready for them. For some, however, these simple things are not available as they may have no home or family to return to. It is vital, therefore, that this Bill goes through as quickly as possible in order that each person who wishes to avail of aftercare services can do so.

  We must remember that many of these young people living in residential care came from dysfunctional families. Some would not have the life skills for independent living and many would not know how to prepare a cooked meal. They may not know how to maintain tidy and clean accommodation nor be able to budget or manage their finances.

  There are those who on reaching 18 may feel they have had enough of State care and dealing with State agencies and may therefore want to disengage at that stage. If they change their minds six or 12 months later, however, it is good that they can re-engage and will be guaranteed that a care plan will be ready for them within three months. That is to be welcomed.

  This country has always required a national strategy to provide a co-ordinated approach in order that no matter where one lives, one will have access to the same level of service. Sometimes services can be better in one area than another, but we want the same level of service throughout the country. We need a national policy devised to provide pathways for young people to transition from residential care to independent living. We also need to provide for different types of transition to suit the needs of individuals. This Bill is certainly going in that direction to provide these strategies.

  While it is all well and good to put legislation in place, we must have the funding to make it a reality. For example, due to cutbacks in Kerry we lost the aftercare support worker service, which is not in place now. Funding must be put in place to recruit the necessary personnel to make this a reality.

  Support must be put in place if a young person returns to the home, including a dedicated aftercare support worker and psychological services for the family and young person involved. It can be difficult for a young person who has had to leave the family home due to difficulties to go back and live full-time again with their families. Supported lodgings are required to enable young people to experience independent living while still having a supervisory element in their lives. This could be someone, not a foster parent, who would flag up problems to the appropriate quarter before things go seriously wrong. Centres could provide a step-down, short-term placement for young people, helping them to move on to fully independent living. Young people could avail of advice in drop-in centres, for example, on parenting skills, peer support and counselling. Dedicated aftercare support workers could link in regularly with young people.

  When young people reach 18 years of age they are referred to the adult services, so perhaps those services could be extended.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout It is often up to 16 years of age.

Senator Marie Moloney: Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney Could we, in conjunction with this Bill, work to extend these services to young adults up to 19 and 20 or 23 as the case may be? Some of the more disturbed children can and do end up on the street. Some of them are pregnant and addicted to drugs or alcohol, but with the right help and available services, much of that can be avoided.

  In welcoming the Bill, I ask that adequate funding be made available to make this strategy a reality and to make it work.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn The Minister is very welcome and it is good to have him looking after this Bill. He has attended the House before and has shown his interest in this topic. I am loath to speak on this, particularly after Senator Moran and Senator van Turnhout who are such experts in this area. However, I have five children and 16 grandchildren and therefore I feel I know something about this area. We have not given enough attention to aftercare, so I am delighted that the Minister is doing something about it.

  Last year, I was at a level crossing when the gates came down. Suddenly, a young man who was probably about 12 years of age collapsed in a panic on the ground inside the level crossing. Two of us jumped out of our cars, ran and were able to rescue him. We found out that he was in an aftercare home from which he had escaped through a window. When we went there and handed him over, they said he was in his room. In fact, however, he had got out the window and escaped. It is a reminder to me of how difficult a task aftercare is. This was not an 18 year old but somebody much younger. It is a reminder of the tasks the Minister faces

  I am glad we are once more addressing the area of child care. The Bill focuses on the aftercare aspect to a strong extent and will introduce a statutory right to aftercare. We have seen the Government do a great deal of legislative work in this area. This Bill is another piece of a quite complicated jigsaw.

  It is worth pointing out that the group entitled Empowering People in Care, EPIC, says it would like to see this Bill address the fact that there is no right to appeal the needs assessment for the aftercare plan carried out by Tusla. I would be pleased to hear the Minister's comments on that. It is a valid point. We are trying to create a system whereby the viewpoint of all is at the very least taken on board and given due consideration. Ideally, the child's viewpoint, no matter what that may be, should be taken into consideration and an appeal should be possible, as in other State bodies.

  The new section 45B(5) as inserted by section 7 of the Bill reads: "The Child and Family Agency shall prepare an aftercare plan ... at least 6 months before he or she attains the age of 18 years, or ... within 3 months of that child having become an eligible child". There is some concern over the timeframe of six months before a young person turns 18. The EPIC group would like to see specific mention of the need for aftercare preparation to begin years before a person turns 18. I would like to hear the Minister's view on that. Planning is very important no matter what sort of business or service one does. I tend to agree that starting the plan at the earliest possible stage would be the ideal route. Perhaps that recommendation should be included in guidelines to foster this important emphasis on early drafting of the aftercare plan.

  Will the Minister indicate whether Tusla has adequate funding? Senator Mooney was quite concerned about this when he mentioned it. Some concern has been expressed about this aspect, so I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

  Apart from that, however, this Bill is another positive step from the Government. I hope that such positive steps will continue to be implemented. I am delighted to see this Minister handling it. He is showing the effort and enthusiasm that will be needed to ensure the Bill becomes law.

Senator Hildegarde Naughton: Information on Hildegarde Naughton Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton I, too, welcome the Minister. This is welcome and progressive legislation and the Minister and his officials are to be commended. When enacted, the legislation will ensure aftercare plans will be put in place for all eligible children and young people leaving State care. This is the first time, as far as I am aware, that children and young people will have the right to an aftercare plan, which will ensure the smooth transition from State care to independent living. Of course, independent living may also include returning to their families. It is an important development in our child care legislation.

  In the normal course of events, the transition to adulthood is difficult for most people. According to a study by the Dublin Institute of Technology, there are three distinct types of transition from residential care: those who had a smooth transition; those who had experienced an unstable transition but whose circumstances improved over time; and those whose transition was volatile or considerably more problematic and who are still mired in precarious social circumstances. The transitions highlight the diversity of the participants' experiences in such a way as to emphasise more clearly the supports that enable a successful transition and the barriers that lead to social exclusion. The findings indicate that the participants' outcomes upon leaving a residential setting were ultimately dependent on a number of factors, such as the level of preparation given prior to leaving residential care, the level of the young person's involvement in the leaving care process, the type of post-care housing and accommodation offered and the availability or absence of resources and supports after residential care. It is, therefore, obvious how important are the issues being addressed in this legislation.

  While I welcome the proposed plans for aftercare living, they do not replace the need for proper resourcing. This is a very good first step and I know we can rely on the Minister to ensure, as far as possible, that the words here are followed up with actions. Once the Bill is passed by the Oireachtas, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, will be required to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child or young person. This is recognition of the particular challenges facing young adults leaving State care.

  In respect of early years services, the legislation will enable the Child and Family Agency to visit the premises where it is proposed to carry out an early years service prior to the registration of the premises, in order to confirm that the premises complies with the requirements under part 7A of the Child Care Act 1991. That is a most welcome development. There is no point in having a service available if it is substandard. All the evidence points to how successful early years services are but they depend on quality, and quality includes the physical environment.

  This legislation is very welcome. It recognises the special position of young adults leaving State care, sometimes after spending a considerable part of their lives within it. This legislation provides help to those young adults who have no family or social network to support them. We have come a long way from the Magdalen laundries and the workhouses. I commend the Minister and his officials on bringing forward this legislation.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I welcome the Minister back to the House. It was only a few weeks ago that he was here with another Bill that also received widespread support from this House. I am pleased to give my party's support to the Bill before us today. It has enjoyed support even though there are some aspects of it which we will seek to improve on Committee Stage.

  The Bill is very welcome. In the past, I, as a public representative, have dealt with a number of children who were in State care and who left it when they turned 18. For some of those children - or adults, as they were at the time - the aftercare was good and for some the supports were not so good. Unfortunately, some of them got themselves into difficulties that they might not have got into if proper supports had been in place. I understand the issues and fully support what the Minister is trying to do with this Bill. Along with my party colleagues, I welcome the introduction of the Bill. Given the State's track record - this is not a criticism of the Government; I am just talking about the State historically - on the protection of vulnerable children and on dealing with the relevant issues, as I said in respect of the previous legislation the Minister introduced, we are learning a great deal. We are moving on. We are putting in place much better and stronger protections for children. That is very important and significant and the Minister should be commended for what he has done in this area. There are some shortfalls, which will need to be addressed on Committee Stage, but I see the Bill as a step forward.

  Existing provisions set out in the aftercare programme have fallen short and have been at the discretion of many different parties for too long. Management and overseers who make decisions around the implementation of aftercare policies have at times been casual in many respects. The intention behind the Bill is seek to prevent this happening in the future by placing aftercare on a statutory basis. That is to be welcomed. The Bill should be used to tighten up the position in this area. Indeed, aftercare for children, especially the most vulnerable, is a top priority within the legislation.

  People have referred to funding issues and some would have policy concerns in respect of Tusla, but in my view it has neglected its aftercare programmes and policies in particular since its inception and many vulnerable children have fallen through the cracks as a result. A clear and concise aftercare programme, which is child-led and provides a sense of ownership to the children in question, could go a long way towards providing these children with a stable foundation which, furthermore, would allow them to live an enjoyable and fruitful life. I welcome the addition of some practical and real-life situations in the form of allowing young people to engage with aftercare programmes after the age of 18 and in the context of their making the decision to re-engage with such programmes. From my experience, these young people tend to be cast aside. Hopefully, the Bill will limit that and be as inclusive as possible.

  Amendments will be required to address some of the provisions in the Bill that need to be strengthened or to insert new provisions which we believe are necessary. The language used in the legislation indicates that although there is broad commitment to aftercare policies and the implementation of such policies, there is no wholehearted commitment to these policies in some areas. I would fear that a culture of passing the buck or making excuses could arise on the back of this. My party will be putting forward amendments on Committee Stage in order to hold the Government and Tusla to account and to ensure we have proper responsibility and allow for recourse in circumstances where neglect is found in the future. Sometimes people fall through the cracks. This may not be the responsibility of individuals within organisations but if the aftercare programmes and the policy are not right, that is what happens. It is good that we are addressing this issue now and I hope that we will deal with the shortcomings that were identified in the past at some point in the future.

  I could say more but I will wait until Committee Stage to do so because I have given wholehearted support to this Bill and I welcome the Minister's commitment in respect of the matter to which it relates. He has done great work. It is fantastic that another Bill that strengthens the rights of vulnerable children and deals with how this State deals with situations where children are either victims of abuse or might be abused because of the lack of supports has been brought forward. We are talking about very vulnerable children. I welcome what the Minister has done in this area.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe: Information on Susan O'Keeffe Zoom on Susan O'Keeffe I thank the Minister for being with us and for introducing this legislation. It is always good when there is cross-party support. The Bill is clearly a step in the right direction. As others have said, the State's record regarding vulnerable children has not always been good. In such circumstances, this legislation is welcome.

  I commend colleagues on the health committee on the work they did prior to the legislation being brought before the House. In a similar vein, when she was before the House yesterday, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, commended the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on the pre-legislative scrutiny it gave to National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015. It is good to see committees working hard before legislation is formally introduced, bringing in experts to discuss some of the detail and giving feedback to Ministers and their officials, all of which makes the system more efficient.

  I share with my colleagues, particularly Senator Moloney, the obvious concern about how this will be funded. The idea of offering proper support systems for vulnerable young people is, of course, welcome and funding will be the crux of the matter. Will the plans drawn up for these young people include information on the means by which they will be funded and delivered? We can write plans but it is how we deliver them that matters.

  I share with my colleagues, particularly Senator Moloney, the obvious concern of how this will be funded. The idea of offering proper support systems for young people who are themselves very vulnerable is, of course, welcome, and the crux of the matter will be in the funding. Will those plans that are drawn up for these young people identify the means and the manner of the delivery of those plans? We can write plans, but it is how we deliver them that really matters. I understand that is something the Minister particularly  I understand that the Minister wants to see this happen, but I do not know how far the plans will go in that regard.

  Are structures being put in place to offer the correct training and support to Tusla and the people on the ground who draw up aftercare plans? Under the Bill, young people over the age of 18 years can request aftercare plans. Is there a way of ensuring that they are aware of this right? There could be an information gap, with a young person never asking because he or she is unaware that it is an option. That would be a shame, given the fact that the right has been extended to them.

  That we are moving from a discretionary situation to a statutory one is welcome. I share Senator van Turnhout's concern about out-of-hours care. While that does not fall within the specific remit of this legislation, it remains an issue.

  I join colleagues in thanking those who offer foster care to the many young people in question. Given the latter's vulnerabilities, there is always an issue when they leave any kind of care, but foster care has proven to be a very good way of looking after those whose own families are dysfunctional or difficult. I do not know whether foster carers can provide their knowledge and observations on the question of extending aftercare, as I was not involved in the pre-legislative stage. How might their input into the Bill or its activation upon enactment be taken?

  The compulsory inspection of preschools is to be welcomed. Senator van Turnhout and I share the view that many, if not all, preschools want to do the best and be places where young children can be cared for in a good and safe environment. Will there be an increase in the number of inspectors made available to do this work? Someone might inspect once and disappear for three years. The people running preschools would press for more inspections than once every three years or so.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly Many issues have been raised. Since some relate directly to my Department and some relate to other Departments, I will confine my comments in so far as I can to the former, given the time I have.

  Senator Mooney referred to an opt-out clause. Under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, Tusla is responsible for its own budget and how that is allocated. Therefore, we must leave that as a matter for the agency. It does not apply in the HSE either. We can indicate to it the important areas. The intent of the clause in question is to recognise that fact, not to serve as a mechanism by which the agency would seek to avoid its responsibilities. In a general way, there is always pressure on the Exchequer. Therefore, to start conferring statutory rights to specific services would result in our constant argument about ring-fencing funding for one area of the budget when that money must come out of another area because of the situation in which we found ourselves.

  I wish to address an issue that a number of people have raised, namely, the underfunding of Tusla. Tusla was set up in 2014. I will go through it seriatim but, at the risk of being confrontational, which I do not want, I was disappointed by the cynicism of Senator Mooney's contribution. Last year, Tusla got an extra €20 million plus. This year, it got €38 million on top of that plus €20.7 million to address current deficits, legacy issues, etc. It is a new agency and is doing sterling work, but it must find its feet. I decided that we would fight as hard as we could to get it the money it needed to do the job required of it.

  In the context of unallocated cases of children at risk, Tusla has put together a three-year business plan. Many Senators know my next point, but I wish to put it on the record again. No child at immediate risk is left without a social worker. If a teacher is concerned about a child in a classroom today, a social worker will be on the case before that child leaves school. There are priority areas, however, and some of the children involved, while falling into those areas, are not in immediate danger. This is not satisfactory, but Tusla put together a three-year business plan and told us what it needed for the coming year. We met that need, so it is for the agency now to deliver. That is a challenge. I emphasise the point because this problem has not been addressed by successive Governments over many years. To expect Tusla to address it in one year is unreasonable.

  My next point must be taken in context. I made it to the Senator's colleague in the Dáil. When Fianna Fáil was in charge of this country and Ireland was awash with money, there was no structured support for aftercare. Consequently, there were numerous tragedies. Like us, the Child and Family Agency has made serious progress and will continue in that vein. While I thank everyone, including Senator Mooney, for supporting the Bill, it is the case that, during the previous Government's term, Deputy Shatter raised the issue of children dying in State care and had a hell of a job getting any information out of the HSE or that Government. We are in a different paradigm now. We would all love for matters to move more quickly than has been possible, but we are moving strongly.

  This brings me back to the economy. We need a strong economy as the engine to provide the range of resources necessary to support our children, child care, parents and families. This year, Tusla has been given a considerable amount of extra funding and is consequently in a position to deliver its core services. There will always be a need for more funding. There will always be legislation, such as this, that Tusla believes might require additional funding. Let us see how that situation progresses.

  Senator Mooney compared the UK with the Republic of Ireland, but the main difference is that the UK did not have Fianna Fáil to wreck its economy. Tusla and my Department co-operate with many other Departments, in particular, Education and Skills, the Environment, Community and Local Government in terms of homelessness and Health. Some of the Senator's contribution seemed to suggest that my Department should take over the entirety of those Departments in order to ensure the well being of children. That is not how we operate. Rather, we co-operate with and encourage many other Departments and highlight the needs of children in their policies.

  Senator van Turnhout was concerned about the language being negative to services. That is not the intention but, as others have pointed out, we cannot allow a legal loophole through which we do not have the right to inspect a service before it sets up.  I am a great believer that prevention is better than cure. Let us ensure the service is right before it opens its doors. We do not have the legal right to do this. It is important. This is not to say most people would not like to be registered and inspected. I doubt anybody goes into this service without the best intentions. Senator van Turnhout inferred from the figures we gave that 140 are in unstable accommodation. We have made great progress on this and will make further progress on it. The Senator mentioned the fact that time spent in detention schools is not included in the assessment of duration spent in care. A person might be in detention for a purely criminal activity and have no other issues, and it would not be appropriate to include this as time spent in care, whereas for those who have a care history, it would absolutely feed into the assessment.

  The question of "may" versus "shall" brings us back to the statutory rights issue. Although the average age of leaving a home is 25, many people leave home long before this age. Maybe, in an ideal world with unlimited economic resources, we could aspire to offering support up to the age of 25 in the future. Hopefully, with the ongoing financial recovery, it might be possible sometime in the future. The Senator suggested giving children in care over 12 months a plan at the age of 16. Although we considered it, things can change so much, and the plan must be made again. It is far too early. One would have to consider the situation. The six months out gives plenty of time, and the three months relates to those who have been away and return to care, and who would not have qualified until they did so.

  I am happy to say there is additional money in this year’s budget for more inspectors. Tusla will have more inspectors. Senator Moloney raised an issue regarding a child with difficulties being moved to a different county during his or her leaving certificate exams. It strikes me as bizarre, and I will investigate it if the Senator will give the details. Extending CAMHS to 23-year-olds would be a major decision for the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. In the past, we had terrible difficulty with children moving from age 16 to 18, particularly in my constituency, with different parts of the service saying they did not look after people of that age. Children were falling through the cracks. I do not want it to be repeated. With proper co-ordination, co-operation and greater coherence of approach, we can improve outcomes for our children, especially those in care.

  Senator Quinn mentioned an appeal mechanism. There is no need for an appeal mechanism, given that it is reviewed within three months if the person is unhappy. This is a de facto appeal. The Senator raised some other issues which EPIC raised, which I did not quite hear. I have met EPIC on a number of occasions and while Jennifer Gargan does fantastic work with young people who have been in care, the people who have been in care are the real resource there. They are phenomenal young people who feed back in a very meaningful way about their experiences in care and the issues they found difficult and which we would seek to address, including continuity with their social workers. They have produced a wonderful little book for children going into care, which is very clever. Although it is ostensibly geared at the child, it is also geared at the adult giving the care and makes one think about what a child who is going into care is experiencing. I thank EPIC and all those children who have been in care who have gone back to help others who have been in care and who continue to contribute.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout Hear, hear.

Deputy James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I have covered the budgetary issues. Senator Cullinane referred to shortfalls, and I am very pleased with his party's support on it. It is unfair to be overly critical of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, which came into being less than two years ago and has made much progress in many areas, although I acknowledge that more needs to be done and will be done. Senator O’Keeffe referred to ensuring young people are aware of their rights. This will be done. The issue is about placing an onus on Tusla to chase people who may have left care and with whom it has lost contact. It would be unwise to do this in legislation. Although I could talk further, we will have an opportunity to do so on Committee Stage.

  I thank all the Senators for their support for the Bill, which is critically important. I echo what people have said about the less than admirable history of our care of vulnerable children and I hope our generation will be seen as the one that sought to address and redress it. Again, I thank all the wonderful people who are involved in foster care and who give such great care to the children in their charge. It is evidenced by the fact that so many stay with the families afterwards and continue to be supported by them. It is a tribute to our system that such a high percentage of children who are in care are in foster care rather than residential care. We would all prefer if none of them were in care but were at home with their families enjoying a happy and memorable childhood.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Marie Moloney: Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney Next Tuesday.

  Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 10 November 2015.

  Sitting suspended at 2.25 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.

  3 o’clock

Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014: Committee and Remaining Stages

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I welcome the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to the House.

  Section 1 agreed to.


Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Government amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
" " 'Agency' means the National Treasury Management Agency;".

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar This introduces a new definition for the agency, to mean the National Treasury Management Agency.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 2:

In page 3, line 21, to delete "Council, pursuant to section 43A" and substitute the following:
"Agency, pursuant to section 8A (inserted by section 12 of the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Act 2015) of the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000".

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

  Section 3 deleted.

  Sections 4 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

  Section 8 deleted.

  Sections 9 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.


  Government amendment No. 3:

In page 7, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
"Amendment of National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000

12. The National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000 is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 8:
"Additional function – specification of minimum levels of indemnity for classes of medical practitioners

8A. (1) The Agency shall, by notice in Iris Oifigiúil, specify, having regard to the criteria set out in subsection (3), and after consultation with the Medical Council and any other person that the Agency considers appropriate, the minimum levels of indemnity applicable to classes of medical practitioners.

(2) The Agency shall, as regards the minimum levels of indemnity specified in a notice referred to in subsection (1), specify, in that notice, a date or the occurrence of an event from which such levels of indemnity are to take effect and different dates or events may be specified for different classes of medical practitioners.

(3) The criteria referred to in subsection (1) in respect of a class of medical practitioners are—
(a) the level of risk generally inherent in the medical specialty practised by the members of that class,

(b) the level of risk, from any act or omission of a member of that class, to the health, safety or welfare of any person to whom a duty of care is owed by the members of that class in their capacity as medical practitioners who fall within that class,

(c) the risks identified by providers of indemnity as particularly associated with the medical specialty practised by members of that class, and

(d) the level of awards or settlements made in proceedings where the cause of action arose out of an alleged breach of duty involving a member of that class in his or her capacity as a medical practitioner who falls within that class.
(4) In this section—
(a) "indemnity", "medical practitioner” and "minimum level of indemnity" have the same meanings as they have in the Medical Practitioners Act 2007,

(b) "medical specialty" means a medical specialty recognised by the Medical Council under section 89(1) of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 and includes any subset of a medical specialty.".".

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 12 agreed to.


  Government amendment No. 4:

In page 3, lines 7 to 9, to delete all words from and including "to" where it firstly occurs in line 7 down to and including "healthcare;" in line 9.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Title, as amended, agreed to.

  Bill reported with amendments and received for final consideration.

  Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank the Minister for coming to the House. As he is aware, I have been involved in the Bill and the previous Minister, Deputy James Reilly, introduced a Private Members' Bill on this matter back in 2009 or 2010. At the time a commitment was given to him by the Department that this would be brought forward. The Bill concerns the necessity for professional indemnity insurance. In 2012 I introduced a Private Members' Bill. I am delighted to see this Bill is being passed and will come into law. It is extremely important at a time when we have so much movement of medical personnel coming to and leaving the country.

  The big area affected is that of cosmetic surgery. People come to this country and provide a service and then, unfortunately, do not have adequate insurance. As a solicitor I cannot practise without professional indemnity insurance and no individual can drive in this country without car insurance, but when I started this process in 2012 a doctor could practise without having professional indemnity insurance. While I know all of the people in the HSE and anyone who contracts with it must produce evidence of insurance, people still provide a service in this country without adequate insurance. From this point of view the Bill is important to ensure medical practitioners are protected and, if something goes wrong, the general public is also protected.

  We need clarification for people offering services who are not aware their insurance is inadequate, particularly GPs. I have heard of cases of GPs and others providing scanning services. I know of a GP who intended to offer such a service but found the existing insurance policy did not cover it and the premium required would not make it a viable proposition to provide the service. It is important to have insurance and to ensure it adequately covers people for the work they do.

  We need to deal with the cost of professional indemnity insurance. The Department is dealing with it from the point of view of the cost of professional indemnity insurance in hospitals. Recently I heard that a particular private hospital cannot employ an orthopaedic consultant because the premium required is more than €104,000 per annum. As a result the position remains vacant. It would cost €2,000 per week for the person to provide the service.   I suppose we have to look at the whole courts system as well. Are we doing enough? We brought in the Personal Injuries Assessment Board to deal with car accidents and industrial accidents, but we did not make any major fundamental change in the area of medical indemnity that would deal with the claims that arise when mistakes are made. We need to do something to bring down the costs in this area. People are leaving this country because of the cost of insurance. The moneys they are able to earn are not adequate to pay for insurance. It is something we need to look at.

  I am delighted with this legislation. The Minister and the officials in his Department have worked to bring it forward. I am pleased that it will be in place in a very short time. I thank the Minister for his assistance on this matter.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I welcome the Minister. I apologise for being a little late; I had another engagement. I concur with my colleague Senator Burke in welcoming this legislation. It is something that all general practitioners across the State will welcome because it will give them a certain level of protection. We have to recognise the Trojan work being done by GPs throughout the country, east to west and north to south. They often work in difficult circumstances to deal with emergency situations and so on. The thrust of this bill will give them a certain cushion and allow for medical indemnity insurance to be made available.

  Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the concerns of GPs, particularly in the north west, with regard to an issue I raised here recently. I refer to the absolute logjam in referrals to hospitals by GPs, particularly Letterkenny General Hospital, where waiting lists are continuing to increase. I am aware that many GPs, some of whom I have met in recent weeks, are more than concerned. I am not having a political shot at the Minister. I know there are management issues. I heard what the Taoiseach had to say in the Dáil today about the management issues in hospitals. This needs to be dealt with at management level within hospitals. Each hospital receives a budget. Perhaps that system needs to be totally overhauled down the road.

  I absolutely agree with what was said in the Department of Health's publications in 2012 about the need for a mechanism that ensures the money follows the patient. In other words, hospitals should be paid for their current activity rather than for the work they did last year. I suggest that until that happens, we will not have the performance incentives within hospitals to make them efficient and effective and to improve outcomes for patients. I do not doubt that the Minister is aware of this major issue, which is a source of frustration for many GPs, particularly in the western group area. I am thinking specifically of the north west and of Letterkenny General Hospital, which is geographically isolated from the other hospitals within the group. While there are major issues in that regard, I do not want to take away from the thrust of the Bill.

  I welcome the Bill and what has been said about it. I know that GPs appreciate the work that has gone into bringing this Bill to fruition. I acknowledge the work of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, in that regard. I do not doubt that in light of his background as a GP, he was able to bring expertise to this agenda as he drove it forward. I hope he will show similar initiative in driving the agenda that seeks to achieve a reduction in waiting lists. I do not suggest that the difficulty in that regard lies within the Department of Health. As legislators, we have a responsibility to raise the difficulty that exists and that needs to be addressed regardless of where it lies. It is wrong that politicians often play politics with the health sector. We should not do that. There are major issues and vested interests that need to be dealt with. Many Ministers for Health have tried to face this challenge. All Ministers for Health need to be supported in their efforts. I will support any effort that the Minister makes to try to deal with the issues that are causing the logjam in our public hospitals.

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Seanad for the speed and efficiency with which it has completed Committee, Report and Final Stages of this Bill. I did not think we would get through it so quickly. I recognise that Senator Colm Burke took the lead on this important patient safety legislation some time ago. This Bill, which will require all doctors who are registered in the State to be appropriately insured and will ensure they are so insured, is important because we need to know patients have some recourse when things go wrong and we need to be sure doctors are properly insured for the work they do. I thank my officials, Mary Jackson and Kara Prole, for their work on this Bill. I would also like to thank the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for its work. The Bill will now go to the Dáil.

  I would like to pick up on two points. I will take on board Senator Ó Domhnaill's comments about waiting lists in the north west. I am very aware of this issue. Additional resources have been provided to hospitals across the country to make sure nobody is waiting more than 15 months for an outpatient appointment, or any procedure, by the end of the year. I am getting a few examples of cases in which people have been waiting for that long. When those cases are looked into, it seems those people have not been waiting for that long; however, that is beside the point. It is something we are working on. When we run into difficulties, it is often a question of a specialist not being available, as opposed to a financial issue. It is something I am conscious of. I know the Senator takes a genuine interest in it. I appreciate the bipartisan manner in which he raised it today.

  On the wider issue of the high cost of indemnity for doctors in Ireland, a number of reforms are in train. We are working with the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on legislation that will introduce periodic payment orders. This will ensure there will be smaller settlements that can be reviewed over time on the basis of the changing needs of a patient, instead of big lump-sum settlements of €10 million or €12 million. Earlier this week, I received the approval of the Cabinet for the inclusion in that legislation of protection for open disclosure so that hospitals, doctors, midwives and others can give full information and apologise where something has gone wrong without having that used against them in court as an admission of liability. It can often take many months after something has happened to find out what really happened. We want hospitals, doctors, midwives, nurses and others to be enabled to make apologies and to give full information without having it then used against them in court, which is unfortunately what can happen.

  Separately, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, is bringing through the Legal Services Regulation Bill, which provides for pre-action protocols that will ensure cases happen more quickly and legal costs are reduced. That has had some success in Great Britain. We envisage that all of this legislation will have been passed by the time the Dáil and Seanad are dissolved. I hope that will happen. If it does not, the legislation can be revisited in 2016. When the State Claims Agency is defending claims on behalf of the HSE, it is more frequently offering mediation. I would like to see more people resolving their cases by mediation. The take-up from the side of the plaintiffs has been pretty low, unfortunately. I imagine their legal advisers are telling them to have their day in court, rather than going for mediation. I think that is regrettable, quite frankly. I would like to see mediation happening a little more often.

  I would like to make a final point on the cost of indemnity. Obviously, there are two costs. The cost to the taxpayer of compensation claims, which is very large and is increasing, is my main concern. The secondary cost is the cost of insurance for consultants operating exclusively in private hospitals. I think we should bear in mind that it is an anomaly - and a little bit of a privilege, in fact - that the State covers any of the costs of people who work exclusively in the private sector. I am not aware that the State covers any of the insurance costs of any other group of professionals in society who work exclusively in the private sector. Perhaps that is a debate for another day. I thank the Senators for their support for this important Bill.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.

  5 o’clock

National Mortgage and Housing Corporation Bill 2015: Second Stage

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

  I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to the House. I thank the staff of the Bills Office, the Seanad Office and the Leader's office for their unfailing courtesy in their dealings with me on this legislation. I thank, too, my assistants, Dr. Charles Larkin and Ms Ursula Ní Choill for their invaluable help. The background to these proposals is the twin crises in the financial sector and the construction sector in this country. My intention in bringing forward this Bill is to seek to address some of the issues arising out of those crises and thereby ensure the Seanad has an input into this important public debate. These matters have been a topic of conversation on the Order of Business on many occasions. There is a great commonality of spirit among Senators in this regard.

  The problems we are dealing with are not new and have caused untold levels of hardship and humiliation at both the personal and national level. We have heard all the evidence at the banking inquiry as to how the financial crisis developed. The bank-State-property nexus that was the framework for that investigation highlighted over and over again the many distortions that existed in the market for residential and commercial property in Ireland and how a standard house went from costing two and half times average income in the 1970s to 12 times average income in recent times. Using Central Bank rules and the guideline that monthly mortgage repayments should not be more than one third of income, a house of €227,000 is all that is deemed affordable at present. However, the average house price in Dublin is €317,917. The consumer price index, CPI, has risen sixfold since 1976, but the price of a house has risen fourteenfold in the same period. Shelter, a housing charity in the United Kingdom, estimates that if house prices and chicken prices had been indexed together, a chicken would now cost over £50. In Ireland, while all other sectors of the economy have shown productivity increases and improvements, the residential and commercial property sectors have underperformed over time and combined to put housing out of the reach of more and more people. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we in this House and our colleagues in the Dáil can develop measures to deal with the dysfunctional housing market.

  The Bill I have brought forward does not offer a quick-fix solution to the current problems. It is concerned solely with residential property and does not deal with the commercial property sector. The property sector requires a suite of programmes to fix the problems that persist. Many distortions have built up in the sector over several decades which have brought us to our unhappy present. My time on the banking inquiry showed me how important it is address policy towards the long term and acknowledge underlying issues early. The housing crisis is multifaceted. Affordability, availability of housing of all types, the ability to build and support social housing, and the epidemic levels of homelessness are difficult to address individually, let alone simultaneously. Any solution must bear in mind the big picture and acknowledge there is no panacea. Solving the problem is like eating an elephant; it must be done piece by piece.

  The reality of the property market is that we have seen an upward trajectory in prices since the early 1970s, following a sustained period of modest increases. This was partly to do with credit availability factors, partly related to regulations and partly a consequence of fiscal expediency. The expansion of credit allowed prices to rise as the elasticity of income was not constrained. So long as asset prices increased in a virtuous cycle, we could expand the availability of credit. As long as credit was accessible cheaply from global sources, the conveyor belt was kept moving. Government regulations, with little mind to how they would work out in the long term and the impact in terms of increased costs and rent-seeking opportunities, allowed the price of accommodation generally to increase and created a situation where consumers and even some producers were disadvantaged. Finally, and most importantly for the average citizen, the fiscal system turned the property sector into a financial vehicle. From the point of view of taxpayers, it was tax efficient to buy a house, expand a house or buy another house, and the additional transaction revenues were lucrative for the Exchequer and easy to administer. Property-related tax expenditures were politically expedient and popular. The result was a willingness to ignore the ingredients of a healthy property sector, which are that housing should be abundant, affordable, adequate and appropriate.

  The property market is now creaking under these collective bad decisions. We have an acute accommodation crisis in Dublin. Rents are beyond the reach of most professional wages, let alone unskilled and semi-skilled wage packets. New prudential lending rules from the Central Bank, which are necessary, further complicate the possibilities for people to purchase apartments or houses. On the supply side, there is limited development taking place. With supply constraints and a Central Statistics Office, CSO, figure for natural wastage by depreciation of 10% of housing stock, household formation demand will outstrip supply for the foreseeable future. I propose to address one aspect of this system, namely, the ability to finance mortgages and create a sustainable system of finance to ensure the provision of social housing and that people on lower incomes have access to mortgages. This country made a political decision in the 1930s to become a country of property owners. There are ways and means to continue that tradition, the proposals in this Bill being one component of that. The legislation is not a silver bullet. Much work needs to be done in other areas, but it is a step in the right direction.

  The Bill proposes to create a national mortgage and housing corporation for the purpose of ensuring fair access to home ownership, addressing the accommodation shortage and ensuring the smooth operation of the property sector in Ireland. As of 2015, the affordability of accommodation for residential purposes in both the private rental and purchasing sector remains in doubt. In fact, Professor Ronan Lyons of Trinity College, Dublin has estimated that as many as 90% of households would require some form of subsidy to purchase a newly-built two-bedroom apartment compliant with Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government building regulations, Central Bank financing guidelines and the ready-reckoner rule that accommodation should cost no more than one third of disposable income. Models of Government-actor mortgage agencies in Canada and the United States show it is possible to modify market behaviour such that prices are tempered, social cohesion objectives are achieved and a more stable market is created.  The national mortgage and housing corporation is a body similar in design to the Government National Mortgage Association, Ginnie Mae, in the US and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in that country. The legislation draws heavily on those legislative models and most of it is orientated towards setting up the corporation. The corporation acts as an aggregator that uses links to the Government as a way to bundle mortgages together for the purpose of issuing covered bonds at a much lower rate of interest because governments can borrow at those low rates of interest. This system is in place already for Nykredit in Denmark, Ginnie Mae in the US and the CMHC in Canada. Rules governing the issuance of mortgages are strict to ensure the quality of the final asset is high. The process will ensure the price of funding will be exceptionally low. This reduces in part the cost of housing. As an additional component, the platform created in the Bill allows for constraints on prices in the housing market. In economics we call this the power of monopsony. The corporation and the platform will act as the dominant actor in the housing market for the purpose of investment and regulation. The result is that it can exploit the position to manipulate market prices such that it can begin the process of driving down housing prices. The basic analysis is that this will result in the redistribution of the consumer and producer surplus in the market. This additional economic credit accrues to the platform and the platform then uses that to engage in social cohesion actions for social housing and to facilitate low-income households to gain access to the property market.

  In the main body of the legislation, I outline provisions to enable the national mortgage and housing corporation to perform mortgage aggregation and mortgage provision actions similar to those performed by Ginnie Mae and the CMHC. The rationale is that it would have access to especially low-cost funds due to explicit Government guarantees provided by the State. This does not require a drawdown from the Exchequer since it acts as a guarantee and, as such, results in a large non-explicit subsidy to the corporation for the purposes of financing. The design of the corporation and its subsidiary bodies includes fail-safes to protect taxpayers from bailing out the corporation. These rules are there to keep the corporation from getting into the same trouble as our now defunct banking system did.

  This legislation needs to address regulatory problems. Ireland has ignored the regulatory impact of legislation and statutory instruments. Regulation adds thousands to the cost of a house in Ireland. Professor Ronan Lyons estimates that constructions costs are as high as €1,800 per square metre in the Republic compared with €1,000 in Northern Ireland. The lack of competitiveness in the construction industry is something we have not faced up to and this measure is designed to correct that. The legislation allows outside bodies such as mortgage brokers to package mortgages and sell them to the corporation. This would allow other mortgage originators to avail of low-cost financing through indirect market access as long as they operated within the parameters and rules of the corporation. The purpose of those rules in the Bill is to channel the mortgages into average and below average housing markets in order that building societies and banks do not invest in commercial property or push up the price of trophy homes as they did in the past. There will be explicit rules for the bank but that is a matter for discussion between the Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank. Those rules will act as a brake on house prices in Dublin with respect to the rest of the country. These proposals are compatible with EU competition policy and state aid and are the best way to proceed in terms of income distribution. It will have a large number of social benefits. Discussions between the Minister and the European Union would be positive because the failure of the financial sector in Ireland and the development of a hugely expensive construction sector could be tackled with the assistance of the European Union in these matters. We can be compliant with the rules.

  By creating the national mortgage and housing corporation and constructing a lending platform that can aggregate mortgages and subsidise social housing and low-income access to housing finance, we can begin to correct some of the worst excesses of the property market for the average citizen. This sounds like a radical action. It is radical but some radical action is necessary. The monopsony power of such an entity could be used to drive down prices. We should try to find a way to fund social housing in a fashion that is less dependent on the Exchequer. By making the cost of financing cheaper and putting in place support structures for those at lower incomes, we can try to achieve a goal of the 1930s for people to own their own houses. That is what I propose. This legislation can begin to fix a sector of the economy that has brought destruction and misery to Ireland. In that spirit I commend the Bill to the Minister and to the House.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I congratulate Senator Barrett on this Bill and I welcome the Minister of State. I know he is a great listener and will pay attention to what is being said here. One of the great things we can do in this and the other House is to look around the world to see if we can learn anything from other parts of the world. That is what Senator Barrett has done in this case. I welcome the Bill. It is yet another of his very sensible contributions. This Bill is founded upon similar mechanisms that have worked in the US, Canada and European markets. However, the proposed national mortgage and housing corporation would be dissimilar to bodies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which engaged in reckless practices a number of years ago. They gave mortgages to people who should never have got them and a great number of those people defaulted on the mortgages after the crash of 2008. Subsequently, millions of homes were foreclosed in the United States. The figure could be as high as 4 million repossessions. Although it is quite difficult, I have gone through it a number of times now. The new national mortgage and housing corporation would act as something like a permanent building society. I am not talking about the Irish Permanent Building Society but a permanent building society. It would be considered a public good as it would help to address the massive housing shortage by allowing people to access cheap credit to buy their own homes. There is a social goal of this proposed mechanism, which would be founded upon prudent financial policy.

  I welcome more competition in the Irish banking system. Banking experts point to the fact that there is no normal and properly functioning banking market in Ireland. It is clear there is no real competition within the banking sector in Ireland. As we have seen since 2008, there is reluctance at political level to tackle the banks head on. Today Senator Barrett has shown us what we can do. It will not be easy and I am sure there are technical problems with it, but an institution like the national mortgage and housing corporation would mean that the Government would be de facto stoking competition in the sector, which is good for the customer. Mortgages are a vital issue for people. I recently drafted the Central Bank (Emergency Powers) (Variable Interest Rates) Bill 2015 to empower the Central Bank to get banks to reduce variable mortgage interest rates. This is exactly what Senator Barrett will achieve with this. A variable interest rate would mean that when ECB interest rates go up, so too does the mortgage interest rate. Equally, when the ECB rates go down, so do the mortgage rates charged by the banks.

  This has not been the case. The Minister for Finance is well aware of the bad behaviour of banks in this respect but has not yet been able to find a solution to it. Earlier in 2015, KBC Bank, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank ruled out, at one stage or another, cutting their variable mortgage interest rates. This is shameless profiteering by banks and something has to be done about it. One of those banks decided to give a lower rate to new customers but not to existing customers. That is not good business. A bank should look after its customers. It will hope to get new customers but it should not do it that way. However, I welcome KBC's change of tack announced last month to cut its variable interest rates.

  We must remember that 300,000 people in Ireland are locked into high mortgage rates and cannot escape from them. To give an example, someone with a €300,000 standard variable rate mortgage with Ulster Bank is paying almost €650 a month more than someone with a tracker mortgage. That is nearly €8,000 every year down the drain that could be spent on something worthwhile such as a child's education. There are a massive number of people suffering and the Government should try to help them. We have a solution here. It is based on what has been done in other countries but that is the point of it. We should do that more often.   Measures such as this Bill need to go in tandem with other steps to address the housing shortage. For instance, we should be introducing measures to ensure better conditions for those who want to rent rather than buy. Let us consider the housing sectors of our European neighbours. According to EUROSTAT, approximately 40% of people rent in France, while in Germany the proportion is approximately 50%. Renting is seen as very normal in those countries, unlike in Ireland. We still have many problems when it comes to renting. For instance, a great number of landlords favour short-term contracts, meaning it is easier for them to throw people out quite easily when their contract has expired. In Belgium, the standard rental contract is nine years. In Germany, leases are for an indefinite duration. Tenants have very strong protection and, provided they pay their rent, they are virtually immune from eviction or major rent increases. These sorts of lease periods seem long but the thinking is that many people rent for the whole of their lives.

  We should realise that Dublin needs to convert some retail property or vacant property into housing units. The Government should remove red tape and ease planning regulations so vacant and underused buildings can be used.

  Senator Barrett has shown us a way in which we can get something done. We can get it done easily. I hope that the Bill will not be defeated. I hope the Minister of State will accept it or say that, although there may be some steps to take, they will be taken. I congratulate Senator Barrett and his team on being able to put this Bill together. The Senator has given us light at the end of the tunnel showing that the objective can be achieved. I urge the Government to pay careful attention to the legislation and ensure we learn from it.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I thank Senators Barrett and Quinn for bringing this Bill to the House. The issues of housing and finance are obviously very important to the country. I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters in the House. First, I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, as he could not be present. He would like to have been able to take part in the debate. I am speaking on his behalf. He sends his apologies and will certainly be listening to the debate and take on board many of the comments made. I thank Senator Barrett for all his efforts and the work of his team on bringing the legislation to the Seanad.

  Mortgage credit is a large and key component of the overall banking system, and when problems arise in this area it can pose significant problems for financial stability and the wider economy. I do not need to outline to anyone in this House the impact that the Irish property bubble and the subsequent banking crash have had on the Irish people. They caused significant difficulty for many households but, of course, the difficulty was particularly acute for people who took out large mortgages and who then faced genuine difficulty in meeting their repayment commitments on those mortgages. Many of them were young people with young families, and they are still under immense pressure trying to meet repayments and cope with arrears. In light of this experience, we should always be open and willing to examine the circumstances and practice in other countries to determine whether there are better ways of solving problems in Ireland and, even more important, to avoid getting into such problems in the first instance.

  The Long Title of the Bill makes reference to government mortgage agencies in Canada and the United States. It is appropriate to consider the circumstances in other countries, and Canada is a country that can provide information and guidance to assist us in efforts to improve our mortgage and housing markets. In particular, Canada's financial system has worked its way through the global financial crisis in a more successful manner than that in most other countries. Indeed, it successfully avoided the worst of the financial problems encountered by other countries. For example, Canadian mortgage arrears and non-performing loans remained at very low levels throughout the financial downturn. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity presented by this Private Members' Bill to examine the Canadian system to determine whether there is any particular insight that could be of benefit to the Irish system.

  However, we should also recognise and accept that, due to their fundamental character and historic backgrounds, the housing and mortgage markets of countries will differ from one another, and often in a very significant way. Ireland and Canada have different legal, financial, regulatory, political and social characteristics, not least through our membership of the European Union, and these factors need to be taken into account when considering any proposal – such as the one before us – to provide for a significant change to the institutional framework for Irish housing and financial services.

  This is a very complex Bill and there was only a short time available for its consideration. We recognise the considerable work done on it by the Senator and his team. A preliminary analysis shows there are many significant issues arising from the legislation and I regret that the Government cannot accept the Bill as proposed in its totality. Nevertheless, I do look forward to listening to and contributing to the debate and to considering whether there are elements of the proposal that could feasibly be investigated for consideration at a future point for incorporation into the Irish system. As I stated at the outset, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, will take a genuine interest in this and follow the debate thereon.

  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is clearly an important institution in Canada and it has a number of important functions. It was established in the 1940s around the end of the Second World War and it has been central to the Canadian Government's housing policy since then. One of its core functions is to provide assistance to low-income and other disadvantaged households to meet their housing needs, and to that end it provides funding for social housing.

  Of course, there is also an unmet social housing requirement in Ireland. This is fully recognised and accepted by the Government. Primary responsibility for policy and the provision of social housing and, of course, housing policy more generally, rests with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly. In that regard, the Minister, through the Government's Social Housing Strategy 2020, has returned the State to its central role in the provision of social housing through a resumption of building on a significant scale and putting in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future demand for social housing supports. Over €1.7 billion in Exchequer and local authority self-funding has been committed to the strategy in 2015 and 2016 to support the provision of over 33,000 units in that period. The Government's capital plan goes beyond 2016 and commits €2.9 billion towards social housing out to 2021. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is supported in this task by his Department, the Housing Agency, local authorities and other relevant bodies. However, it is not clear what added value would be provided to this existing institutional framework by the adoption of the proposed new national mortgage and housing corporation, as provided for in this Bill.

  The Housing Finance Agency, HFA, plays a key role in raising finance to enable local authorities to meet their statutory functions. In the area of housing, it advances loan finance to local authorities and the voluntary housing sector to be used by them for any purpose authorised by the housing Acts. The HFA plays a particularly important role in securing new funding sources for social housing. For example, in February 2015, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State with special responsibility for housing, Deputy Coffey, formally announced a €300 million housing investment programme, jointly backed by the HFA and the European Investment Bank. Such funding enables the HFA to offer 25-year fixed-rate funding at very competitive interest rates, currently 1.5% and 3.25%, to local authorities and approved housing bodies.

  However, I note that some of the functions proposed to be assigned to new national mortgage and housing corporation in this Bill would appear to be already carried out effectively and efficiently by the HFA. The Bill, as presented, does not propose to replace the HFA and it would, therefore, give rise to the duplication of public agencies involved in the raising of finance for social housing purposes. I would have serious concerns about such a development from an efficiency and effectiveness perspective, and this provides an example of the concerns and risks that would arise in seeking to transpose a particular framework from another country directly into the existing Irish framework.

  More generally, Ireland has now a well-developed legislative and regulatory framework governing the provision of financial services, including the provision of mortgage credit. It now has more intrusive legislation and practices to regulate the providers of mortgage credit and other financial services. Much of this overall financial services regulatory framework now derives from our membership of the European Union. A further enhancement of this framework in the area of consumer mortgage credit, and which has been designed to provide minimum protections to consumer mortgage borrowers across the European Union, is the mortgage credit directive. Earlier this year, the Minister for Finance made decisions on various national discretions contained in that directive, and these were subsequently published on the Department's website. Work is now at an advanced stage on the transposition of this directive into Irish law with a view to ensuring that it will come into full effect from March next year. There is now a significant corpus of national and EU legislation in the area of financial services but, unfortunately, this proposed Bill does not appear to address this issue and outline how its provisions should be read in conjunction with that legislation.

  Another key function of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is in relation to mortgage loan insurance. As a public mortgage insurer, the corporation has a mandate to provide service in all parts of Canada and for a range of housing forms. Accordingly, it is the largest mortgage insurer in the Canadian market. This approach suggests that the Canadian Government stands behind the full amount of the corporation's mortgage insurance obligations and, as such, it could represent a significant contingent liability for its public finances.

  It is not apparent from the proposed Bill if it is intended that the Irish national mortgage and housing corporation would have a function in the provision of mortgage loan insurance in Ireland. In Canada, we understand that such a function essentially derives to the Canadian authority from the National Housing Act, rather than the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act. It is somewhat similar to this Bill.  Ireland's Housing Acts do not contain any provision to provide mortgage loan insurance to regulated banks, either with or without a State guarantee. I assume, therefore, that it is not proposed that the relevant Irish body would have a statutory role in the provision of mortgage loan insurance. Perhaps that matter could be clarified by the Bill's proposers at a later stage in the debate.

  The sustainability of any mortgage system ultimately rests to a large extent on the underwriting policies and loan criteria applied to mortgage credit applications. While the provision of mortgage insurance in itself does not remove the risk associated with the extension of mortgage credit, it would have a bearing on who would bear the losses consequent upon a mortgage default and subsequent foreclosure and repossession of the secured property. In the absence of significant oversight of the mortgage credit creation process by a mortgage insurer or regulator, there is always the risk that mortgage insurance could, over time, encourage and facilitate the adoption of more risky mortgage lending practices by creditors. In any public policy consideration of the merits or otherwise of mortgage insurance, it should be noted that the provision of mortgage insurance would not act as a direct means of protecting the mortgage borrower. Rather, it would act to protect the lender, often with the cost of the premium being passed on to the consumer.

  As Senators will be aware, the issue of mortgage insurance was a matter under discussion around this time last year when the Central Bank proposals for macro-prudential measures for residential mortgage lending were the subject of a public consultation process. The role that mortgage insurance could play in a proposed new macro-prudential environment was one of the specific questions posed for consideration by the Central Bank.

  As Senator Barrett will be aware, the issue of mortgage insurance was also the subject of a report by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform last December. Following its evaluation, the Central Bank considered that the most appropriate and effective way to secure sustainable and safe mortgage lending would be achieved by the adoption of sound underwriting practices in the first instance, as opposed to utilising insurance that would seek to cover for risk after the event. The Central Bank, which has a statutory and independent mandate to safeguard financial stability, did not consider an exemption from the loan-to-value rules for insured mortgages to be an effective practical amendment at this point. While it noted that mortgage insurance schemes have had varying degrees of success in other countries, often backed by a government guarantee, as in the case of Canada, this does not remove the risk of losses on mortgage lending. Instead, it transfers those risks and potential losses to the insurer. An insurance system would, therefore, continue to leave insurers and the State where it acts as a backer to the system vulnerable in the event of widespread falls in housing prices, as occurred here during the crisis. In this regard, it should also be noted that the Canadian Government has recently taken steps to reduce the contingent risk that could arise from mortgage loan insurance and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's mortgage securitisation programmes. Nevertheless, if it is decided that it would be appropriate to revisit the issue of mortgage insurance in Ireland at some future point, it is possible that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation framework will be worth evaluating. However, even if such a scenario were to arise for consideration at a future point, the Minister for Finance has indicated that the State should not assume any ultimate backstop responsibility for such an insurance system.

  I also have some other concerns about the provisions of the Bill, if adopted. The legislation, which proposes in section 21 that the corporation could borrow up to €15 billion for its statutory purposes, could be regarded as a Bill that would fall within the scope of Article 17.2 of the Constitution. If so, it would have to meet the particular constitutional requirements associated with a money Bill.

  I also note that the same section in the Canadian Act has a borrowing cap of CAD $15 billion. This borrowing cap represents slightly more than 1% of the overall Canadian residential mortgage market. The Bill also proposes a €15 billion cap for the proposed equivalent Irish body. However, in Ireland, such a cap would equate to approximately 11% of outstanding residential mortgage credit. This would have significant implications for the overall Irish mortgage market and the State's balance sheet. While it is not clear if it is proposed that the Irish mortgage and housing corporation should have a much greater role in the mortgage market than the Canadian corporation, if that is the case, the matter would require significant evaluation and consideration. By way of a comparison, it should be noted that the total outstanding loan book of the Housing Finance Agency is approximately €4.1 billion and this figure includes agency loans for non-residential purposes.

  A number of other drafting and legal issues would arise if the Bill were progressed further. One of these is the proposal to give the new corporation the power to exercise and perform all rights, powers, functions, etc., of the Minister for Finance under any contract entered into. This would constitute a significant delegation of a Minister's power and responsibility to a statutory body. In the corresponding Canadian Act, it is noted that it is the powers of the relevant Minister under the housing Acts or any contract entered into under those Acts that is transferred to the particular Canadian corporation. No such limitation applies in the Bill before us, and even if such a limitation were to apply, the Minister for Finance would not, as a matter of course, enter into individual contracts under the Housing Acts or otherwise have a significant range of statutory powers under the Housing Acts to delegate to this body.

  Having outlined a number of reasons the Government does not support the Bill, I nevertheless fully accept the genuine merits behind the proposal and the real public service that is being demonstrated by raising such an important issue for discussion and consideration by the House. The housing and mortgage issue is one of significant importance to the Government, the Oireachtas and the public at large. However, the key step that is now required is to provide additional homes to meet existing and growing demand for housing. The Government is conscious of this requirement and public initiatives are needed to stimulate the provision of new housing. Accordingly, in budget 2016 the Minister for Finance outlined plans by the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, to deliver a target of 20,000 residential units before the end of 2020. Approximately 90% of these units will be in the greater Dublin area and approximately 75% will be houses, mainly starter homes. NAMA will deliver these units by working with developers. This commitment will require funding from NAMA of the order of €4.5 billion.

  The Government remains open to considering new initiatives and funding sources to assist in the provision of housing. Senators will be aware that a commencement order in respect of Activate Capital, which will provide a fund of €500 million and will be capable of financing the construction of more than 11,000 new homes, is also before the House today.

  I again thank the Senators who proposed the Bill for the opportunity to discuss the legislation. The Government has an obligation to carefully analyse any financial legislative proposal that comes before the Oireachtas. I am aware the proposal is well-intended and will be of much benefit in the more general consideration of measures to improve the housing and mortgage markets. However, I hope the proposing Senators and others will appreciate that my contribution to this debate and the Government's reasons for opposing the Bill are equally well-intended. For the reasons I have outlined, it is regretted that the Government cannot support the Bill proceeding from Second Stage to Committee Stage. Nevertheless, we will take much from both the proposal and the debate and will consider this in the ongoing evaluation of housing and mortgage policy issues. I thank the Senators again for introducing the Bill. They will appreciate that, given the timeframe involved, we were unable to fully analyse and consider this wide-ranging Bill. I have outlined some of the Government's concerns and set out a number of issues that we can discuss during this debate and when other opportunities present.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I commend Senators Barrett, Quinn and Crown on their introduction of the Bill. Senator Barrett, in particular, did much work in drafting the legislation. The Fianna Fáil Party fully supports the legislation, although I have a number of questions which I will raise presently. The Minister of State also raised a number of concerns in his somewhat disappointing contribution setting out the Government's response. The purpose of this debate is to have the Bill pass Second Stage in order that it can be tweaked or amended on Committee Stage by the Government, other parties or Independent Members. The Minister of State referred to the legality of aspects of the proposal, and I do not dispute the points he made in that regard. However, most of us agree that the Bill is a good idea. Rather than allowing the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage, the Government has instead chosen to allow it to die on the vine.

  I will first address certain aspects of the Bill on which all sides agree. Many people will know Mr. Michael Dowling, the chairman of Mortgage Brain Ireland, from his role as a radio commentator. Mr. Dowling has stated that in his 25 years in the industry, he has never seen a more dysfunctional mortgage market. We all agree that profit and competition are the only things the banks understand. A vehicle such as the corporation proposed in the Bill - in other words, another lender in the market - would assist in this regard.

  Senator Quinn outlined the substantial variations in the variable mortgage interest rates that the banks are charging customers and compared them with the rates at which lenders are borrowing money. AIB, for example, which is not the worst culprit in the variable mortgage market, raised a five-year bond of €750 million for lending purposes at a rate of 0.66%. The pillar banks and the small number of other banks operating here - namely, Ulster Bank and KBC - will not act unless there is competition in the market. Senator Barrett's Bill would introduce further competition to the market.  I wish to ask about the point that Senator Barrett made. He mentioned the differences with transferring the functions of the Minister for Finance to the new agency or bank, and that they seem to be different from what the Canadian Act is doing. I am referring to the last paragraph of the Minister of State's script on page 6. It appears that what Senator Barrett is proposing would go further with this corporation in taking some of the functions from the Minister for Finance, and that it would be issuing loans on behalf of the Minister. It mentions giving the proposed corporation the power to exercise and perform all rights, powers and functions of the Minister for Finance under any contract entered into. I would be surprised if that were the case, but perhaps the Minister of State could clarify the position.

The Minister of State mentioned the Housing Finance Agency, and his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, has announced €300 million in new lending in that regard. The forecast for this year was about €4.2 billion in mortgage lending, but we will fall well short of that. Those figures are from Davy Stockbrokers. Up to the end of the first nine months of this year we have been at €3.2 billion for new mortgage lending. House building in Dublin is grinding to a halt now. The small amount that was being built is faltering. Fewer than 4,000 units have been built in Dublin, which is way below what is required, not to mention the rest of the country. One of the reasons for that concerns the new deposit rules that have been introduced by the Central Bank with the approval of the Government. They are too stringent, and I said so at the time. Prudence is required and a 10% deposit should be more than sufficient if one can prove ability to repay and not allow over 40% of net take-home pay as a maximum of what the mortgage payment is. We all know people in this position. I was talking to couples last night who are paying €1,400 or €1,500 per month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment, so there is no ability to save. A bank should be allowed to take into account a regular schedule of rent repayments, as was allowed under the local authority affordable housing scheme. Under that scheme, if one proved that one was renting for a certain amount on a regular basis it would effectively go towards a mortgage application.

A 15% deposit is required for mortgages up to €220,000 and it is 20% over that figure for first-time buyers, but it is unattainable for people. That is why 50% of all properties sold in Dublin city and county have been either to cash buyers or investors. The problem is that people cannot get into the market, so a whole generation is condemned to renting. Renting may be fine in some European countries and I hear people equating it with what happens in France, Spain and elsewhere, but it is different here. I am not getting into the whole Minister Kelly and Minister Noonan argument over rent certainty, which is not going to happen. It is a complicated issue but we do not have many institutional investors, as in the United States, who will sign 15 or 20-year leases with people. That is never going to happen here.

The reality is that most people want to buy. However, even if professional couples, nurses or gardaí have the requisite salaries they cannot obtain a mortgage to buy a standard house in Dublin or most other parts of the country. That is because they have to come up with a deposit of €60,000 for a €300,000 house, not to mention furniture, realtor fees and solicitor's fees. It is impossible, so the market is not working. We regularly debate other issues, including homelessness and repossessions.

As regards the Minister of State's summation on page 7, I bet my own house that NAMA will not in 1 million years reach 20,000 houses delivered by 2020. No one believes that will happen. There is not a chance of it happening. Even now, NAMA is continuing to sell apartment blocks and houses en blocto investors for rental purposes. In my own area, 27 apartments were sold like that to an institutional investor. Therefore, people seeking to buy an apartment will have no chance of doing so. They should forget about it.

What Senator Barrett has proposed works in Canada. I would question the percentage figure for overall mortgage lending in Canada. He said it was only 1%, but is that on new mortgage lending or on the total book? It is probably the latter. I could be wrong but I cannot imagine that CAD $15 billion is 1% of the new mortgage lending in any given year. If he is equating that to 1% of the overall mortgage book, he is skewing the figures a bit.

There is a lot of good in what Senator Barrett has brought forward. I hope that the Minister for Finance will genuinely look at this because the market is not working. It will not work if we leave it to AIB and Bank of Ireland. I have a great deal of regard for the Minister, Deputy Noonan, but he is very pro-bank. He is their biggest cheerleader. I understand that profitability had to come back into the banking sector. I also understand that one needs a profitable institution for the taxpayer to get the money back from AIB, but look at what Bank of Ireland is doing. I have been talking about the restrictions on withdrawals but look at what Bank of Ireland has been doing to variable rate customers. AIB is not the worst culprit, but it is all profit for the banks and nothing for the punter. That is the problem unless the banks get real competition.

If this Bill was enacted and a corporation like this was established, we would see variable mortgage rates tumble because the banks would want a bit of that business. Competition and profit are what they understand. If they are losing profits and see a competitor who is eating their lunch, to use a famous phrase from the past, they will change. If they are allowed free rein, however, they will not do so. That is why this Bill is necessary. Senator Barrett and his staff have put an immense amount of work into producing a very comprehensive Bill. There is a lot of merit in it. I had hoped it would have been allowed through on Second Stage to show in a tangible way that the Government is willing to look at this. I know the Government is, because we all agree that the market is not working.

I commend Senator Barrett for bringing forward this legislation which has prompted our debate. I would welcome answers to the couple of questions I posed in order to obtain clarification.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I thank Senator Michael D'Arcy for giving me the first space from the Government side.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien He is such a nice man.

Senator Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy Zoom on Michael D'Arcy No comment.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden In particular I also wish to thank the proposers of this Bill, Senator Barrett and his team, for their comprehensive work and for having raised this important matter. I fully support the Senator in his efforts to provide affordable finance for home ownership in Ireland. The current financial system is not fit for purpose. We lack competition in the market, which is evidenced by the fact that Irish mortgage holders pay significantly more than the European average on variable rate mortgages, if they can get them. I have yet to hear any credible reason that is the case.

  The past three decades have seen the effective removal of mutual societies from the Irish financial landscape. I support the concept of the mutual, of which in the past there were many fine examples in Ireland established by groups such as teachers to enable access to home ownership, using the resources of the many. Three decades ago, we also saw local authorities being significant lenders to low-income households. They played a valuable role in securing home ownership for large numbers of Irish people, but are nowadays relegated to a minor role of lending to those refused by three lenders. That ensured they had an impaired loan book in a period when almost anyone could get a home loan.

  Banks are now repairing their balance sheets and let us acknowledge the truth of the situation here, namely, the mandate is not one of social good, but responsibility to their shareholders. I have long suggested that we need to have a significant debate on the idea of a third banking force in Ireland. I very much welcome the issues being brought before us today.

  As many Members know, I have championed and supported improvements in the rental sector for some time, but it is long overdue that we should have a serious debate on the issue of home ownership. Access to home ownership has been central to Irish society for many decades. By 1998, Ireland had one of the highest rates of home ownership in the European Union, yet we are now below the EU average. Although the term "a nation of home owners" has been ascribed to the British, it could also have been ascribed to the Irish.

  Successive Irish Governments have promoted home ownership and it can be argued that for many decades they did so successfully. It is true, however, that the Irish focus on home ownership has left those renting in the cold historically. It has also left a negative attitude to renting with little protection for those who rented privately and little support for the sector.  It has had its impacts, for example, in what we are now seeing regarding renting.

  There are good reasons, however, for supporting the aspiration to own one's own home, not least the fact that home ownership is perhaps the most secure form of housing. Leaving out the level of repossessions in the past number of years, we must remember that the historical rates of repossession in Ireland have been among the lowest in the world. The Irish are less poor in old age than their incomes would suggest because they do not have the same housing costs. We have to acknowledge that the Irish have a historic association with land ownership that cannot be forgotten and will not go away in spite of our recent negative associations with home ownership. In fact, there is arguably a human desire to have the widest possible control over one's environment, particularly one's home, and the Irish are not alone in this regard. In the United Kingdom, for example, after its particularly difficult housing crash in the late 1980s, a survey of those whose homes were repossessed showed that in spite of their experience, the vast majority wanted to own their own home in the future. Even in countries most associated with strong rental systems, the evidence shows that before the global financial crash many of those societies, including Sweden, were moving towards larger home ownership markets.

  No one will argue that the events in the years 2002 to 2008, inclusive, were not a huge mistake. The financial system expanded available finance in an already overheated market. Professor John FitzGerald estimated that there were approximately 200,000 units of unoccupied housing in Ireland in 2006 and yet the average house was costing ten times the average industrial wage. Professor P.J. Drudy coined the phrase "out of reach". That was the reality for many people who bought homes that they simply could not afford in those years. It is often now argued that we need higher house prices and higher rents to kick-start the housing market again but if those years showed us anything, it is that high prices and high rents do not deliver a fair and equitable housing system.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett Hear, hear.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden It could be said that the Irish have paid the price for their obsession with home ownership and while it is widely recognised that the economy is in recovery with many back at work - unemployment is currently below 10% - we must acknowledge the significant and serious overhang in debt, in particular mortgage debt and mortgage arrears. This has, again, been highlighted by the Commission in its country specific recommendations for Ireland for 2015. It bears repeating that, as of the first quarter of 2015, there are 38,000 principal dwelling homes in mortgage arrears of more than 720 days. That is a substantial group and this raises significant concerns. The Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, confirmed to me at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform of which I am a member that approximately 50% of those home owners have already had legal proceedings initiated against them. We must not forget that we have almost 40,000 buy-to-let mortgages in arrears as well and those mortgages are held over the homes of families who are renting, leading to considerable insecurity in the rental market.

  Mortgage arrears is a significant issue not only for those who, unfortunately, find themselves in that situation, but because they are a block on the recovery of the economy. As to whether that means we should not revisit home ownership, we must take a step back before we reach that conclusion. The Irish have paid the price for lax regulation and a dysfunctional housing system, but I would argue that those who have paid the most, apart from those in negative equity and those whose homes have been repossessed, are young people, particularly those between the ages of 30 and 40 who now face the possibility of never owning their own home and living in a rental sector that is unfit for purpose in terms of giving them security.

  The answer is supply but, as I already said, excessive supply in the past did not lead to greater affordability - in fact, far from it. We need to ensure both supply and an affordable housing system which means ensuring that banking, as we have come to know it, is not the only game in town. We have a lot to learn from other jurisdictions.

  I applaud the model Senator Barrett has put before us today, both in terms of its regulatory framework and its robustness. Most of all, I applaud the principle behind his model, which espouses using profits from the housing corporation, as set out in Schedule 4 of the Bill, to fund social housing and to enable low-income households into ownership. The model is simple. It uses State access to cheap money to fund not-for-profit lending for home ownership.

  The Government will not accept this proposal today but I firmly expect that it will be seriously considered in the future when other solutions based on the existing market do not work. We must learn from the past and failing to accept that the housing market in Ireland is subject to failure in a cyclical way is just plain stupid. As Henry Ford famously said, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." In 2003, the economist Jerome Casey pointed out that the proportion of a house that was accounted for by the cost of land in the 1990s was 15% and this had risen to 50% by 2003. That is something we must deal with, but we can also look to the past at what the models of the mutuals and the local authorities brought to home ownership in Ireland. This Bill captures the best of both in bringing the State together with the wider society to ensure access to a home for all. I wish Senator Barrett well.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill This is an important debate and I agree with everything that Senator Hayden said on this issue.

  This is the cutting-edge issue of our time. The debate has been initiated here this evening by Senator Barrett's excellent work. I attended the briefing session this morning and some of the statistics which were brought forward would in themselves suggest that something needs to be done urgently in this area.

  The issue extends to the homelessness crisis as well. It affects everyone in society, including those who own a home and those who wish to own a home. It is an issue about which the Government has received media attention over the past number of weeks, but it needs to be addressed.

  I commend Senator Barrett on bringing forward this legislation which endeavours to bring together a model to provide finance to individuals who want to provide a home for themselves and their families because the banking system is not fit for purpose in this regard. Today, one of the retail banks, Bank of Ireland, does not even want to deal with customers anymore. It sees people as a nuisance. Ultimately, if it is left to deal with the current housing situation in terms of supplying liquidity to build or buy homes, it simply will not happen. The State needs to provide some form of assistance to ordinary people who are struggling, and to whom my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, referred. Often these have been referred to by politicians as the garda and the nurse who cannot afford a mortgage. Unless the State intervenes and cuts the toxicity between the bank and the citizen, and creates somewhere in the middle to provide a safe haven through the corporation referred to by Senator Barrett, we will not deal with this issue.

  As I stated, I attended the briefing and looked at the Canadian model, which is being outlined. The Canadian website is most informative. It provides up-to-date statistics, which are neither commercial statistics nor provided by any financial institution. They are provided by an independent corporation.

  We need such a form of independence in this State also. With the best will in the world, economists are providing statistics on the marketplace but these are being provided through commercial operations. We need a corporation such as the one proposed in the Bill. The Canadian model looks at the issue of housing need and it is helping Canadians access quality affordable homes and helping to develop vibrant local communities. That is what we all are trying to do here - it is what every Member of the Oireachtas wants to achieve - but we need to provide a protocol in order for that to be achieved.

  There is a housing crisis and there is a rental crisis in Dublin. People cannot afford rents. Young people, who once would have come to Dublin from my north-west area of Donegal to obtain work, are going abroad as an alternative now because they cannot afford to rent in the city. That is wrong and something must be done about it.

  The response from the Government this evening is disappointing. It is extremely disappointing that the thrust of this Bill has not been accepted and that the House must divide on an excellent piece of work that provides a roadmap. The Bill may not address all of the issues but it provides a roadmap from the crossroads we have reached towards dealing with this issue.

  There is the usual departmental response, that NAMA will solve all of the woes, that other issues are being dealt with, and that some of the proposal will be considered and it will be looked at somewhere down the road.  This is an issue that needs to be dealt with now. The thrust of the Bill should be accepted, and if there are to be changes, those changes can be brought in on Committee or Report Stage. Senator Barrett referred to Ronan Lyons. He has provided some excellent resources and data on this issue over recent years and some of the information he is providing is very stark. If one looks at a mortgage at the moment, the new lending rules are having an impact. There is no question about that. However, I would be a strong proponent of the new lending rules because of some of the dangerous situations people got themselves into, where it was 100% mortgages and sometimes 110% mortgages. There should be a savings mechanism built into home ownership and the Central Bank.

  However, the Central Bank and the regulator are not doing enough to drive down the cost of mortgages. At the moment, variable rate mortgages are at around 4.5% for a new mortgage. If an individual purchases a house for €350,000 at the moment with a deposit of €70,000 and this person is getting a mortgage of €280,000 over a period of 25 years at a 4.5% annual interest rate, that will equate to a monthly payment somewhere in the region of €1,550. Over 25 years, the cost of that loan will be €465,000 on a home that is valued at €350,000 today and a mortgage of €280,000. That means the bank is making almost €187,000 in interest from that. No wonder they do not want their customers at the front door. No wonder they are looking at borrowing the money at less than 1% and selling it off at 4.5%.

  Banks are fleecing people and the Government has not intervened. Perhaps there is a vested interest since the Department of Finance recapitalised the banks and there are shareholdings within the banks. That is why the framework proposed in this Bill is so vital. It provides a hands-off approach, taking it away from the banks, away from the Department and off the balance sheet, where everyone is a winner but the most important people who win are the people who need housing at the moment. It is terrible to read stories in newspapers of people, and we all know of them as well, in their 30s who have to continue living at home because they cannot get onto the property ladder. That is the crisis of our time. It is an extension of the homeless situation and while that continues to explode, there will be a lack of supply. There must be a tapering on house prices.

  Another issue is the cost of building a house, which currently is probably more than the cost of buying a house. There is an issue that needs to be addressed in that respect and regulations are being brought in by the current Administration which expand on the cost of building. I commend Senator Barrett on all his hard work on this issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, is probably a supporter of this work, but the Minister for Finance should be here if possible and the Government should accept this legislation and allow it to go forward in the spirit of where it is coming from.

Senator Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy Zoom on Michael D'Arcy Many of us who have been here since the start of the debate or the start of this Seanad know the Minister, Deputy Noonan, has always attended whenever he could. I do not think Senator Ó Domhnaill's comment was intended as criticism, but I want to put that on the record.

  One of the issues Senator Barrett and I know from the banking inquiry is that one cannot go chasing the flame. If house prices are €300,000 or €400,000, every sector cannot go chasing it to try to have salaries to match that in order that people can make the payments. Property is too expensive. The criticism I have is that the two pillar banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland in particular, do not have serious competition. We saw what happened when serious competition came in, going back to the 1990s, and we are writing a report on that at the moment. We should not be afraid to look at something new. There have been announcements of the €3.8 billion social fund in respect of construction of social and affordable housing, and there was the NAMA announcement in the budget. I have looked at Senator Barrett's Bill, although I did not get the opportunity to attend his briefing, and I know everything he does tends to be done well. This is something we should look at. I am questioning whether it should be voted down. I would like to see it pass Second Stage and be considered further. It would be something positive from the House and we should consider it.

  There are a couple of facts we cannot ignore. I am glad we are talking about property and housing in terms of affordability. There has been a huge conversation about homelessness and social housing, but that is a portion of the market while this is the greater portion of the market. Within the sector it is not affordable. It is not affordable for a number of reasons, and Senator Barrett has not shied away from that. Regulation is too expensive, and the construction of properties is too expensive because of those regulations. I would question why regulation has to be on every single property. There can be some properties within an estate, 15% or 20%, that meet those regulations, but not every property, because it is too expensive to build a house.

  The data compiled in the briefing document from Senator Barrett exclude land price. As we know, one cannot exclude land price, but one cannot factor it into a figure because it varies, and by God does it vary in Dublin. Senator O'Brien spoke about the garda and the nurse. They are not in the space where they can purchase in Dublin. Everything flows from Dublin. Whether we like it or not, it flows from Dublin to my constituency of Wexford and as far as Donegal. Everything flows from County Dublin. There is a huge displacement. The flow from Dublin has an impact throughout the country. Local authority county development plans that only allow locals to build a house in the countryside push those displaced from Dublin from the rural areas where they used to buy into the urban areas. That has a further impact on people who want to purchase in urban areas in our towns and villages.

  I am not sure there is a coherent policy in the overall context. The Minister of State knows as well as anybody that it is the same in Mayo as in Donegal and Wexford. I would welcome something like Senator Barrett's Bill. I was not aware of Ginnie Mae in the US or the mortgage company in Canada, but they are areas we should not be afraid to look at. As the Minister of State, Deputy English, said, the Central Bank has made moves, but it has also made moves on the 20% deposit and the income ratios. The income ratios are having a bigger impact on the loans than the 20% deposit. To get their house and to get on the first rung of the property ladder, families will find the money somewhere. It could come from parents, family and different sources. However, there is no finding the income ratios in respect of the mortgage amount and it cannot be added in. It is not available. It is something on which this legislation have a beneficial impact.

  I find the pillar banks just about impossible. I want to touch on the NAMA prospect of 20,000 units. I do not know whether it will happen, but it can happen. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, was in the other House when the NAMA primary schedule was brought before both Houses. Unfortunately, NAMA's primary schedule is to get the money back. That is its primary purpose. I am not being political but that was the purpose of the legislation at the time and it is still the primary purpose, whereas with the Central Bank the meat and two veg of the issue is what will happen with these 20,000 units.  I think there should be an alteration in their primary purpose. As 90% of the units are in Dublin so they will have an impact in Dublin. Will the country benefit from the flow from Dublin?

  I wish to refer to NAMA. It was active in my own county and has hundreds of acres in Gorey town which was one of those towns that blossomed during the boom. I would like this legislation to pass Second Stage as it would be beneficial but I cannot give any guarantee as to what will happen beyond that point.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Hear, hear. I am pleased that the Senator has adopted a decent approach.

Senator Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy Zoom on Michael D'Arcy I do not know that the legislation will pass Second Stage but it is something that we should consider with an open mind.

Senator Kathryn Reilly: Information on Kathryn Reilly Zoom on Kathryn Reilly Like other Senators, I thank Senator Barrett for all the hard work that he and his team have put into drafting this Bill. I also thank Senators Quinn and Crown who proposed the Bill. As has been mentioned, the Bill deals with an issue of major social importance but it is also politically and economically important. The aim of the Bill is admirable. It seeks to create a system where housing is not just reliant on the private for-profit sector. The Bill should progress to the next Stage and I ask the Government to reconsider its stance.

  It is important to stress at this time that home ownership is not the most important issue, which is housing. It is a common mistake to treat housing as a speculative commodity whose purpose is to create profit for developers, speculators and investors rather than treating it as structures that serve the basic human need for shelter and sanctuary. We do not have a functioning market and pretending that we do does us and the people that we represent a disservice.

  The extent of the homelessness problem in Dublin and across the State has been well documented and it is a shameful situation. On a daily basis I meet families in mortgage distress, I meet individuals who have banks forcibly selling their homes and I also know families who have lost their homes. People who have applied for emergency accommodation have told me that they have been told that they must wait to join the emergency accommodation process and it is only then that they might have a chance of getting a hotel room or staying in bed and breakfast accommodation. When people ask what they should do in the meantime, they have been told to find somewhere to live because it is assumed it is easy to find accommodation. Hundreds of thousands of people are experiencing this level of damage in this State and it is happening in my own county and in everyone's county.

  We have a housing crisis. That fact is undeniable and even the dogs on the street know it is true. The crisis covers all aspects whether it is mortgages, renting and homelessness. The crisis is not unique to one area or demographic, and affects the young, the old, families, single people and those with work and those without work. Surely at this stage the penny should have dropped that the banks have not looked after people and failed society in many ways. It is apparent that talking to the banks does not work. Appealing to their humanity and moral duty does not work.

  Failure to deal with mortgage arrears, bankers' pay and making the banks play ball in insolvency cases has been well documented. The Government has put banks first. Senator Darragh O'Brien mentioned that the Minister for Finance has danced to the banks' tune but in return, banks have pocketed the gains and have made new demands. This vicious cycle must end. In a stable prosperous society everyone should live in functional, comfortable, warm and affordable housing. Now it is apparent to all that the bailed out banks that operated recklessly prior to the financial collapse have acted appallingly during the mortgage crisis of the past number of years and, unfortunately, such behaviour has been facilitated. It will be forever to the shame of the Dáil and Seanad that this Oireachtas removed the legal protection that would have prevented many family homes being taken by the banks. The code of conduct has been amended so that banks can put even more pressure on home owners and now the Central Bank is able to count repossessions as solutions. We are supposed to believe that things are getting back to normal but things were never normal at any stage. The system has a huge flaw where a credit bubble inflated house prices for workers, while bankers and developers profited. When the bubble burst workers had to pay and we can all see that they are still paying today.

  I recognise that this Bill is an attempt to separate the interest of profit from the interest of citizens who need houses to live in. The legislation has set out to decommodify housing which is essential to avoid housing bubbles. Ireland is in the midst of another housing bubble which has been driven by the commodification of housing and the treatment of housing as an investment. Bubbles are only one part of the market failure in housing. Another major problem is the failure of supply and demand to respond smoothly, especially at the lower end of the market. I welcome that this Bill aims to solve some of these issues.

  The supply side of the housing problem that is at play affects nearly everyone in Ireland. It especially affects young people and people who are average and low-income earners. Addressing the supply side of the problem can only be successful if a property bubble does not exist, especially in the main urban centres like Dublin. Rocketing house prices and countless years without a real growth in wages have resulted in home ownership being unattainable for a lot of people in Irish society. On top of this, the paucity of social housing units has caused a catastrophe in that sector and forced people who should be given social housing into the private rental market. That situation has led to the swelling of the number of people in the private rental market thus creating a rental bubble as part of the larger property bubble which has forced people out of the private rental market and into homelessness.

  The goal of any legislation or regulation should be to prevent housing bubbles and create a sustainable housing sector. Progress on mortgage regulation without progress in the building of social housing, a lack of rent controls and no improvement in the rights of tenants risks creating a trap where people, particularly young people, are unable to save due to the cost of accommodation and also cannot buy due to the loan-to-value rules.

  Sinn Féin wants this important legislation to pass to the next Stage. The legislation is a measured and appropriate response. It is a major step and a necessary move in these extraordinary times. The market has failed people in the provision of homes so intervention is needed to provide a functioning and fair system.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to the House. I congratulate Senators Barrett and Quinn for bringing the Bill forward. I noticed that Senator Barrett said, "Solving the problem is like eating an elephant; it must be done piece by piece." The problem is that the elephant in this sense is very big. The housing policy has some very good parts but is the housing problem so big that we cannot swallow it in one go? The Minister said when he spoke that many issues can be feasibly investigated. I do not want the housing programme off the table if issues remain to be solved. There are issues that can be feasibly investigated but we need innovative thinking to resolve them.

  There are merits in having a housing provision, financing it and administering it in a corporate and businesslike manner. The corporate sector must play an active role in facilitating community development through corporate community investment. However, uncertainty remains on how much the sector should invest without taking over total responsibility and totally influencing policy decisions that were heretofore made by the Minister and at local level by local councillors in relation to local issues. Nobody could be against increased professionalisation and moving towards a more businesslike approach with a larger risk awareness. There was no risk awareness in the past and people just went for it. We are all too well aware where such an approach got us. That approach was to the fore when decisions were made, particularly in the banking sector, and as a result the property bubble got totally out of hand.

  The credit union movement has made a submission proposing that it form a special purpose vehicle which would invest in a State-owned financial vehicle which would put the credit union members' €8.5 billion to a more productive use by lending it to approved housing bodies. I would like this option investigated in conjunction with many of the options recommended in this Bill. The credit union has proposed that its funds be lent to housing bodies to fund the development of social housing. The proposal is not as radical as the proposals contained in this Bill and it is obvious that the credit union movement has thought outside the box.

  In terms of the background to the Bill, we all know and I am sure recognise that the current mortgage market is not working in a suitable fashion at the moment. The Government has proposed a capital plan that will cost €2.9 billion which is opportune in terms of this Bill. It is great that money is now being invested.  We all know money was not given to social and affordable housing because the money was not there. The new 2020 plan and the €2.9 billion to be invested means the scene is changing. We are growing and we can invest. Housing agencies and local authorities had their hands tied behind their backs and, on the whole, cannot be blamed for not building.

  There is the question of how the investment would be made and what the role of the national housing and mortgage corporation would be. Section 18 of the Bill states that all functions vested in any person acting on behalf of the Minister shall be vested in the corporation, and this is the elephant in the room. Would any Minister be brave enough to tell someone else he or she could have the job with the Minister having no input into it? That is what the Bill is saying. It is the big elephant, and the question is whether we can chew it piece by piece. We should be open to looking at parts of the Bill and chewing it piece by piece - taking the best and saying we will not go with most of it.

  Much of the Bill was drawn from the Canadian model. The Housing Corporation in England was abolished in November 2008. I do not know whether it began as the same model as that in Canada. It was split between the Homes and Communities Agency and the Tenant Services Authority. We have the Housing Finance Agency and we could take some of Senator Barrett's good work and examine modelling some of the powers into this agency and devolving some of the Government's functions into such an agency without giving over total control.

  I strongly believe that housing policy should be linked to other policies, including health, education and social assistance. To be successful, a social housing policy should be an integrated component of a broader social and economic policy. The economics of it would work very well, but would it transfer to a social housing policy? It probably would. I do not have the experience to say it would not. Housing policy must be designed not only to improve low income and special needs circumstances, but also to facilitate policy development in other areas.

  All of my life I have spoken about the devolution of functions to local government. This strips another function from local government. True democracy is best served by local government. This is not to say a housing corporation could not work with local government and with the Minister from the top down. Local authorities do not have the powers at present.

  With regard to keeping it off-balance-sheet, I do not think the EU would look at it as a non-explicit subsidy. It would be very explicitly subsidised and be on the books. Perhaps it would not. Senator Barrett knows much more about it.

  The transfer of all of the lands vested in the Minister to the corporation at the stroke of a pen would totally change local and regional development plans, as they would also involve the housing corporation. It is a huge area.

  The Bill is innovative, challenging and well presented. It is an example of thinking outside the box. I congratulate Senator Barrett on it. It opens up the discussion on housing. Perhaps it is too much in one go. I agree with what the Senator said about taking it piece by piece. The Minister of State said it is feasible to examine some of it, but perhaps not all of it.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend my colleagues Senator Barrett and Senator Quinn on this sensible and well-thought-through Bill, which offers a practical and easily implementable solution to many aspects of the housing crisis. It is not a panacea for all ills and all that ails us in housing, where the issues are complex and multifaceted, but it offers a reasonable alternative to the current banking and lending offering from the same banks which brought this country to its knees.

  The Bill proposes the establishment of a national mortgage and housing corporation to act as a vehicle for lending to provide social cohesion mortgages and build social housing. What is wrong with this? It is a sensible, cost-effective approach which offers us a new and innovative borrowing and lending model for home purchase. I welcome the radical thinking and reimagining of the lending model, which would use monopsony power to ensure people on moderate incomes would be able to access mortgages, as at present they cannot get a foot on the property ladder. Two professionals working in the same house cannot get a foot on the property ladder in this town. They do not have a chance in hell. I am speaking about two young professionals on serious incomes.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh Six-figure salaries.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell The Bill is extremely innovative. Many of its key themes are based on similar legislation models in the US and Canada, where they have been highly successful. Why not learn from other countries and replicate what has worked there? I agree with my colleague Senator O'Brien that the Bill should at least go to Committee Stage. What is wrong with bringing it to Committee Stage? It can be debated and we can argue about the various points. We can bring forward amendments and make some sense of the issues people have. By cutting it off now the Government will totally avoid the issue. If we had been a little bit more imaginative before the present Government took office we might not have found ourselves in the situation we are in today. Imagination costs us nothing.

  The Bill proposes to give a national housing corporation access to low-cost funds backed by a State guarantee. This is something that is not new. The previous and present Governments have used State guarantees to help us get out of the mess and the Government is to be commended on the work it has done. I believe in giving credit where it is due. It would not require a drawdown of any funds from the Exchequer, and the Bill includes failsafe systems to protect the taxpayer from ever having to bail out the corporation. This is something we did not get with the famous Bank of Ireland, AIB and Permanent TSB. It would be music to the ears of the citizens of Ireland. We are coming into an election, and I am sure that as the Minister of State wanders around the streets of west Mayo he likes to hear music in the ears of the citizens of Ireland.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring All of Mayo.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Indeed.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Except south Mayo.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I welcome the provisions of the Bill that would allow external bodies to package mortgages and sell them to corporations. The Bill would also allow other mortgage organisations to avail of low-cost financing through indirect market access, provided they operate within the regulations of the corporation. Surely this would be a great thing for us all. The Bill is mindful of the mistakes of the past. If anybody in the room is mindful of the mistakes of the past, Senator Barrett, all credit to him, is more up to date and up to speed than most in the House as to how we ran this country into the ground.

  We still have issues to address regarding the hangover from the property bubble. The hangover is in one part of the country and the bubble has already restarted in another part. In particular, I welcome the provision in the Bill to allow the corporation to outline explicit rules on what can and cannot be done with respect to loans.

  I cannot get on my feet without addressing something said by my colleague Senator Keane, because I always like to refer to her. She spoke about the elephant in the room. She is dead right that there is an elephant in the room, and I cannot for the life of me understand it. It is not just the present Government; going back to the foundation of the State, Governments have steadfastly refused to take legislation from anybody but themselves, believing they are in some way enlightened and everybody else is that little bit different. This is a brilliant piece of legislation. It is complex but brilliant. I will not take up too much more of the Minister of State's time, because it has been a long day and he has worked hard.  However, his own people have stood up in the Chamber today. Forget about this side of the House. I have a difficulty about Government versus Opposition. I am in the Seanad and there is no Government or Opposition. We are all on vocational panels. People on vocational panels from all sides of the House have stated that the Bill should progress to Committee Stage. I ask the Minister of State to take a chance. He is a brave man.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane He is a betting man.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell He should take a chance, allow the Bill to progress to Committee Stage and tell the Minister for Finance that he took an executive decision on the Minister's behalf because, had he been here, he would have allowed it to progress as well. The Minister of State would be hailed all over Mayo. He would probably get a seat in Galway as well.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring It would not go down well with the Department of Finance.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I welcome the Minister of State and compliment him on his efforts, unsuccessful as it turned out, to keep the world's best boxing coach, Mr. Billy Walsh.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Hear, hear.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill Well done.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney What happened was a national scandal. The Minister of State is still involved in discussions on the future. Like us, he hopes that what happened will never recur.

  As my colleagues did, I compliment Senator Barrett on this timely legislation. I am disappointed that the Government is not inclined to accept it. I appreciate that getting Private Members' Bills through is always difficult, but the general sentiment on all sides of the House suggests that it should be agreed on Second Stage at a minimum. As is often done, the Government could then examine it and determine whether there was any merit in its proposals.

  Last Monday, Davy Stockbrokers stated the likelihood that there had been close to €3.2 billion of new mortgage loans in the first three quarters of 2015. However, it also stated that the Central Bank's recent bank lending survey had indicated that financial institutions expected to tighten credit availability in the final quarter. This is consistent with anecdotal evidence that banks have largely used up their 15% allocation of new mortgage loans that are allowed to breach the 80% loan-to-value limit set by the Central Bank. In previous years, mortgage lending in the fourth quarter was distorted upwards by the end of capital gains tax exemptions or mortgage interest reliefs. As such, lending may fall further than anticipated. If so, the final outturn for mortgage lending this year may, according to Davy Stockbrokers, "still fall short of our €4.2bn forecast". Here in black and white is an indication of what it refers to as the dysfunctional nature of the mortgage market.

  There seems to be a general perception abroad that the Government has been given the two fingers whenever it has tried to rein in the banks. It is somewhat ironic that banks that relied on taxpayers' money to bail them out seem to be holding on to their power now that they are in profit. The impression given is that any attempt to broaden access to the mortgage market is being shot down in flames "because, because, because".

  The banks are back in profit. AIB is discussing repaying some of the €21 billion that was given to it by the taxpayer through the Government. It asserts that it will repay all of that amount eventually and will start with €2 billion in the next six months. It has also mentioned floating some of its shares on the stock market. Bank of Ireland intends to repay more money to the Government in the coming months. As such, it is not as if the two pillar banks are in any way cash starved, yet their response to the demand for rate reductions, which is what I am alluding to, has been inadequate. Despite the fact that variable rates in Ireland are more than 2% higher than the EU average, the only bank to offer a straight cut is AIB, including its EBS and Haven Mortgages subsidiaries, whereas Bank of Ireland still has a standard variable rate of 4.5%. The issue has not been resolved. In effect, banks have openly defied the Government.

  I imagine that the way banks are dealing with potential mortgage applicants and current mortgage holders partly influenced Senator Barrett's motives in tabling the Bill. The rates charged are not justified based on the banks' cost of funds. Recently, AIB announced that it had raised €750 million at a cost of 0.66% per annum. This five-year bond deal highlights the extraordinarily low cost of debt for banks on the market. It is driven down by a number of factors, including indirect financial support from the ECB. It shows the extent to which mortgage customers are being ripped off. Keep this in mind. AIB is borrowing money at 0.66%, yet it is charging 4.5% on variable rate mortgages. That is a scandal, a scam and a rip-off. If one saw a story like this on the Internet, one would get on to the local Deputy or Minister to have something done about it.

  The reduced fixed rates are not adequate for customers. Bank of Ireland and KBC have left their variable rates unchanged and only offer reductions in fixed rates for a period of two to five years. This may not be suitable for a large number of customers, as they would not be able to benefit from future rate reductions or lower rates offered by new market entrants. Fixed-rate mortgage holders who want to sell their homes would have to pay a penalty for breaking the fixed terms early.

  AIB and Bank of Ireland have returned to profitability and PTSB is set to do so next year. There has been an extraordinary turnaround in the banking system. These banks were bust. They helped to bring down our economy. Not only are they back in profit, but they are thumbing their noses at any attempt to bring fairness and equity to the market, in particular where mortgages are concerned. We would argue that the need for profitability is not a justification for ripping off mortgage customers. I am sure that the Minister of Sate agrees. Global ratings agency Fitch stated that, if banks reduced the cost of home loans, it would make debt more affordable for the borrowers to service, reduce stress levels on home owners and increase the chance that lenders would get their money back.

  The Bill deals comprehensively with these issues. What Senator Barrett has proposed is balanced between the obvious need for banks to be profitable and the rights of customers to be treated fairly. The Central Bank would be given responsibility for monitoring the level of competition in the mortgage market and the fairness of rates charged. This would act as a strong deterrent to banks from charging excessive rates and would only necessitate Central Bank action where the evidence pointed to a clear market failure.

  Reduced rate offers must be made available to current clients. Banks are engaged in a policy of making certain offers available to new customers only. For example, some current KBC customers with loan-to-value levels of less than 60% are paying 4.3% for their mortgages compared with the 3.4% that is available to new customers. For someone with a €250,000 and 25-year mortgage, this means a difference of €118 per month or more than €35,000 over the loan's lifetime. My friend and colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, showed me the figures. They make for extraordinary reading. At a purchase price of €350,000 with a down payment of €70,000, a mortgage of €280,000 on an annual interest rate of 4.5% over 25 years results in a monthly payment of €1,500 plus and an overall repayment of €465,343. Surely this scandal must stop.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames The Minister of State is welcome. I hope that he has an open mind on this Bill. It is special and good. Senator Barrett has got to the nub of the greatest crisis facing our society, namely, enabling-----


Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I thank the Minister of State and the Senator, but if they would not mind, I would like the former's attention.

Senator Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy Zoom on Michael D'Arcy He asked a question and I was answering it, but Senator Healy Eames does not mind.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I do mind, actually, as I have the floor.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Healy Eames, without interruption.

Senator Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy Zoom on Michael D'Arcy Good.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames This Bill is about enabling the right to housing, particularly at the average price in Dublin. That would be the maximum loan amount, with people being helped into the market at no higher than that level. At the root of the Bill is a social good and fairness and we need to consider it seriously.

  I was disappointed by the response of the Minister of State, Deputy English. He stated that he was unclear on what added value would be provided by the Bill. It gives the impression that the Government is not at the races on this issue.  I do not believe that is the case. Rather, I believe the Bill has not been scrutinised adequately to ascertain what it can provide. Everyone is speaking of rent certainty but housing certainty is what is required.

  Every week, one or two families in Galway present to me as homeless. I attended a meeting in Galway City Council last Friday where I learned that between 12 and 20 families present as homeless every week in the city council area. These figures do not include the county council area. Approximately 40% of the population of Galway relies on the rental sector for a home, which is the highest proportion in the country. The Government's proposals to provide new homes and increase housing supply are welcome. However, 90% of the new housing is to be located in Dublin, whereas Galway city has the highest proportion of population reliant on the rental sector of any city. The Government's approach to housing provision is not correct.

  The other day, I knocked on a man's door and asked him how things were and what issues were important to him. He told me he was fine because he had at last become a home owner, whereas none of his peers owned a home. I would guess he was 39 or 40 years old. For a society that has valued home ownership for so long, it is now beyond people's reach. The Minister of State will know that.

  Mortgage distress has been an issue since the bust. As everyone accepts, the downturn was caused by the previous Government. We have a major crisis and Senator Barrett has providing us with a vehicle for addressing it. His Bill provides for greater competition in the market and would put it up to the banks that are disrespecting us. Many speakers noted the new requirement that withdrawals at Bank of Ireland branches must be at least €700. The other day, I was informed by a person in Oranmore that Bank of Ireland would not allow withdrawals of more than €1,300 in one day. That is the other side of the equation. The person in question wondered why Bank of Ireland was imposing controls on money that did not belong to it. These developments make one think about what may be coming down the line.

  The Bill provides for a new vehicle that would be allowed to borrow at interbank rates, would carry the status of the sovereign and would benefit end users. This tool would enable people to access mortgages for properties that are at or below the average price of a home. It would help address the problem of homelessness. The reason people are becoming homeless is that they are being given notice from landlords who want to raise rents or put their properties on the market. I do not know where I will be able to find housing for people. When I contact the council I find it does not have houses to allocate. Officials from Galway City Council, at the meeting I attended last Friday, expressed concern about the health of staff in its housing section, such is the stress they are experiencing.

  Developers will not build housing because of the current high levels of charges. Many of them are still angry because they believe they lost heavily. They have decided to sit this out because the average increase for a semi-detached house is working out at €25,000.

  As Senator Michael D'Arcy stated, the smart move would be to accept the Bill in principle. None of us is arguing that it is the finished product. The Government should allow it to proceed to Committee Stage, at which point it can be tweaked and improved to ensure it is robust and sound. The questions that arise with regard to EU regulations can be worked out at that stage. The Government had decided instead to shoot the messenger by opposing a Bill that seeks to address the core problem in society. It fails to see the bigger picture. This is not what the Government is about.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, to the House. My simple political philosophy is that people are entitled to live without interference. That is the reason I believe abortion is such an evil. Between 20% and 25% of unborn babies are killed in their mothers' wombs before they get the chance to see the light of day. I also believe youngsters have a right to an education that gears them for life and gives them an opportunity in life. By and large, the State has a good record in that area.

  I also believe people are entitled to employment. By and large, the State has done reasonably well in that regard also, although I am aware that the recent hiatus has caused problems in that area. People are also entitled to housing. Unfortunately, however, we have lost this as a major objective. During the decades I served on local authorities, I used to take great pride in the ingenuity and innovative measures that were introduced to assist people who were struggling to buy a house. Systems were introduced to enable such people to buy a home and we also provided for people who were not in a position to purchase. Unfortunately, this approach is no longer taken.

  Some of the steps taken in the boom years added to the cost of building. These included decisions by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to strengthen building regulations and the introduction of development levies. Levies may have been fine when substantial profits were being made on property but they are having counter-cyclical effects. I could never understand the logic of removing mortgage interest relief. I have argued, even in my party, that people who speculatively bought a property to rent out were allowed to claim mortgage interest relief, whereas those who bought a house to provide for their families were denied this option. I was fortunate to benefit from mortgage interest relief in the past. Denying this option to others defies logic.

  Affordability is the key to the Bill. Having listened to the Minister of State, Deputy English, I wonder about the soundness of the advice he has received from his officials. People believe politics has failed but, unfortunately, the public service has failed miserably over the past 15 or 20 years. A dumbing down has fed into the political system which no longer displays the type of ingenuity and innovation it showed previously. In 2001 or 2002, I argued the case with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for re-introducing certificates of reasonable value, which were the order of the day in the 1970s and early 1980s. These certificates prescribed the value of homes in individual areas and anyone selling a house had to have one. The then Minister told me that the appetite for housing was such that a certificate of reasonable value would not be effective. I told him they were a simple remedy as opposed to the approach of commissioning a report from Peter Bacon who adopted an economic line that homes were economic units and the principle of supply and demand, to which I subscribe, should apply. This principle would not and did not work in housing. Certificates of reasonable value could have been linked to lending. Regulations or laws could have been introduced prohibiting the banks from lending in excess of the value provided for on the certificate of reasonable value or, where they chose to do so, the excess would not be recoverable or an actionable debt due by the bank's clients.

  We had low rise mortgage schemes in the 1970s when the economy was in a much worse state than it is today. These helped many people I know, particular in local authority housing, who were able to access mortgages from the county council and buy their homes. They were given a ten-year, low rise mortgage, which provided for a graduated increase in repayments. I believe they paid 10% in the first year. It is regrettable that public officials and the political system are not making any similar proposals today.

  The National Building Agency was in place at that time and built houses competitively. This Bill provides an opportunity to re-examine that type of system. The first house I bought was from the National Building Agency because it made homes available to people in certain categories of employment. I also obtained a mortgage from the agency. We could learn much from or past experience, without looking at other countries. The model provided for in the Bill looks at Canada, Denmark and, in particular, the Ginnie Mae model in the United States. The Government's failure to see merit in the proposal is indicative of the laissez-faire or lazy approach to tackling the current crisis. As a previous speaker noted, people on very good incomes, including married couples in which both partners are working and earning five or six figure salaries, are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to borrow and purchase homes in Dublin. That issue must be addressed as it cannot be allowed to continue.  The shared responsibility mortgage, SRM, is part of this Bill, and may or may not have been looked at by the officials. It works in exactly the same way as the fixed-rate mortgage with a couple of important differences. First there is a downside protection for the home owner based on his or her local price index. A number of market participants produce local house price indices and the Government can monitor and certify the production of such a house price index on which the downside protection of an SRM can be contracted. SRMs have more to do with insuring the value of the house rather than its affordability and help avoid negative equity. I will give an example; a house worth €100,000 is purchased for €80,000 over a 30-year mortgage with a loan of 5%. The home owner would put down the current requirement of 20% - a percentage I believe should be looked at as it is creating a problem for many people - and the annual mortgage would amount to €5,204. So if that index was to fall by 10% it would mean that the repayment for that year would fall by 10% of the €5,204, which is a reduction of €520 in the year. This could be made up at the end by either paying it back through the capital gain one might make on selling the house, or by extending the mortgage term. These are the types of innovative initiatives we need if we are to really tackle this issue.

  I appeal to the Minister, to the other side of the House and in particular to my Seanad colleague from Wexford, that if this is rejected by the House it can only lead to the conclusion that the Government is simply not interested in housing or that it is just taking advice from its officials, which is wrong. Allowing this Bill to go to Committee Stage is a litmus test. Even it the Bill is not accepted on Committee Stage, by working through it on that Stage good suggestions and ideas will come from that. We need debate on the area of housing. It is a fundamental flaw and a legacy of this era will be that we failed to address the real issues affecting people with regard to the fundamental issue of housing. We have been seen to take the side of bankers and banks. The Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Bill 2015 was totally deficient-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is over his time.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh -----by a Minister who was concentrating on something else other than what he should have been concentrating on, and he was told that in this House. It will have to be addressed. By allowing this Bill to be debated further there will hopefully be some suggestions which come forward which would be taken on board.

  I will conclude. I respect the Minister of State, but I think the line Ministers from the Department of Finance or from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government should be in the House if only to show an interest in the topic being debated.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I welcome Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes. I thank all the Senators who spoke. It is a pity that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was detained elsewhere because he would have found much of interest but I am sure the Ministers of State, Deputies Ring and English, will inform him of what happened here today.

  All the speakers on every side of the House spoke in favour of what we are trying to do in this Bill. I come from the economics department in Trinity College Dublin which has provided the last two governors of the Central Bank, Governor Honohan and Governor Lane, both decisions which I welcomed. The inspiration for this Bill comes from Princeton and Harvard. I recall Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution saying that the problem was too much capital in housing. If one puts too much capital into an item with such an inelastic supply then the result would be the appalling kind of price performance we have had from the sector.

  As the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, has responsibility for agriculture he will understand the UK housing charity Shelter when it says that if a four pint carton of milk was indexed to house prices it would cost £10.48. Using the same index link, a chicken would cost £51.00. Ireland has a sector which is seriously dysfunctional. We are trying to bring to the House measures from Harvard and Princeton, from the two learned gentlemen who are the successive Governors of the Central Bank, and from people in the Brookings Institution in order to tackle the problem.

  Senator Michael D'Arcy and I know from listening to over 100 hours of evidence at the banking inquiry, that we still have a seriously dysfunctional banking system. I disagree with the following sentence in the Minister of State's reply, "More generally, Ireland has now a well-developed legislative and regulatory framework governing the provision of financial services, including the provision of mortgage credit." The banking inquiry has not yet finalised its summary, conclusions and measures to prevent a recurrence of the crisis but what I saw at the banking inquiry was about 50 people destroying a banking system, destroying a country and putting it into a rescue situation. Those people were in the construction sector. I asked Mr. Michael O'Flynn, one of the construction sector witnesses, how he managed to get houses from two and a half times income up to 12 times income. He told the inquiry that yes they had priced themselves out of the market. I listened to his follow up and if he had any proposals on what to do about it. This Bill is proposing to leverage to mortgage aggregation the ability of the Government to borrow at wholesale rates and to give this, as you will see in section 7 of the Bill, to people buying below average priced houses. That is what we are trying to do in the Bill. I appreciate that the Minister has said that it is a very complex Bill and that there was only a short time available for consideration. I disagree that we have this sorted out as we have a lot to say yet. The Minister of State will be aware of comments made by Mr. Frank Browne in his recent witness statement to the banking inquiry.

  There was some praise for the Bill in the Minister of State's speech when he said, "Nevertheless, we can take much from both the proposal and the debate and will consider in the ongoing evaluation of housing and mortgage policy issues." What is lacking from the Minister of State's response is any measure to reform the finance of housing. The Minister of State is sticking with the same banks that Senator D'Arcy and I, along with our colleagues, have been trying to unravel. There is also nothing in the Minister of State's response to deal with how house prices went from two and half times income to 12 times income. If all the other sectors had performed like that, I do not know what condition the economy would have been in. There is no pressure being put on the construction sector which has a huge amount to answer for, as we found. That was what I was trying to deal with in the Bill.

  The Bill annoyed some civil servants. Maybe they should look at what has happened to this country while they have been asleep or fiddling during the crucial period leading into the financial crisis; people cannot afford houses. That is why we need to have open minds over there to look at what other people are doing and not to come into the House and be so dismissive. I do not claim wisdom for everything but a lot of effort by my research team and by economists went into this Bill and I am disappointed that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is allowing people to come into the House to say that the Bill should be thrown out. I want to keep the debate going and it would be very silly to have it thrown out by people who will be whipped up from wherever they are attending party meetings, when every side of the House has spoken in favour of a measure.

  We have to address this issue or we are all going to end up working for financial institutions. One of the figures quoted by Professor Ronan Lyons is that 90% of us will need a subsidy to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Dublin. I know the Government has done great work putting the national finances in order but these are the two sectors that caused the crisis and we have to address it. The ability is there. Just because somebody else thought of it first does not matter, I do not mind and do not have a personal sense of pride like that. However, I would be worried that officials in the Department of Finance have closed minds to anything that they did not think up themselves given that as we found at the inquiry, and it is in the Wright report, 93% of those officials were not qualified at master's level or above in economics. The Bill comes from the same people that gave us two Governors of the Central Bank and from economists at Harvard and Princeton and should not be so casually dismissed as has happened.

  I thank Senator Darragh O'Brien for his remarks and Senator Quinn for being my seconder. There ought to be the attractions of lower interest rates. They are available. Senator Mooney gave figures on how our present system translates into massive excess payments for housing. We want to channel our measures into average and below-average house prices and not give money to about 50 people to go off and buy Aristotle Onassis's yacht and so on, and all the things that happened.

  The current mortgage system is not working. I have no problem if the Minister takes the best from this Bill and leaves the rest. Maybe the Housing Finance Agency can do more. We have heard Senator Craughwell say that we should not rely on those who brought us to this state. We need low cost funds. Senator Craughwell said to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, that this Bill, "would be music to the ears of the citizens of Ireland". We have a hangover from this.

  I welcome Senator Reilly's support. It is probable that not more than 50 people borrowed this country into bankruptcy. The Bill is a measure to prevent them ever doing that again. I welcome also the support for the Bill from Senators D'Arcy and Hayden, two important Members on the Government benches in this House. They should not be whipped under any threats into voting the Bill down.  They are both valuable Members of the Oireachtas and have much to contribute.

  We ought to look at the income ratios and all that has been going wrong in this sector. Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke about a garda and a nurse not being able to afford a house. We also need to examine the independence of the proposed corporation.

  We like home ownership in this country. Sweden is moving towards it. Let us keep the measure alive. It is designed with the best will in the world towards every Member of this House. I would like to report progress, if that is possible.

Debate adjourned.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy Zoom on Michael D'Arcy At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 5 November 2015.

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