Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Driver Licence Applications
 Header Item Passport Services
 Header Item Motor Insurance
 Header Item Alcohol Treatment Services
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Sitting Arrangements: Motion
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Summer Economic Statement 2016: Statements
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Summer Economic Statement 2016: Statements (Resumed)
 Header Item Health (Amendment) Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Health (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second and Subsequent Stages
 Header Item Criminal Justice Act 1994 (Section 44) Regulations 2016: Motion

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 246 No. 15

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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 Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I have received notice from Senator Paddy Burke that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to review Government policy on the Road Safety Authority's tendering process for driving licences to allow post offices to act as agents in processing and co-ordinating applications.

I have also received notice from Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to work with his officials in expediting the opening of an Irish Passport Office facility in Belfast to meet not only the regular high demand for Irish passports but also the unprecedented number of applications following the UK referendum on membership of the European Union.

I have also received notice from Senator Maura Hopkins of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Finance to outline the interim measures being implemented to deal with the increased cost of motor insurance while awaiting the recommendations of the review of policy in the insurance sector which is due by the end of 2016.

I have also received notice from Senator Frances Black of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to outline the alcohol support services the State offers and if budgets will be ring-fenced in the future in the light of the briefing from the cross-party group on alcohol harm and the impact of harmful parental drinking.

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

The need for the Minister for Health to establish a forum involving all interest groups in the provision of care for the elderly, including the HSE, the Department of Health, Nursing Homes Ireland, GPs and geriatricians.

I have also received notice from Senator Paul Coghlan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to outline his plans for the domestic tourism industry in the aftermath of the UK referendum on membership of the European Union.

I have also received notice from Senator Máire Devine of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to acknowledge the worsening problem of illegal and legal steroid use in Ireland which is becoming more prevalent in sports clubs, gyms and facilities throughout the country and to outline when legislation will be enacted to deal with the issue.

I have also received notice from Senator Victor Boyhan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to update the House on the proposed cuts to the service and in the funding for libraries in County Sligo.

I have also received notice from Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to outline her Department’s strategy for investment and job creation on the Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal, an area which is larger than County Louth and which has a population greater than that of County Leitrim.

I have also received notice from Senator John O'Mahony of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to discuss the proposed increase in the public service obligation levy on domestic and commercial electricity bills.

I have also received notice from Senator Gerard P. Craughwell of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to address issues of unfairness and inequality in the abatement of pensions for public servants who gain employment in another part of the public service having retired from their first career.

I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion. I have selected the matters raised Senators Paddy Burke, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Maura Hopkins and Frances Black and they will be taken now. Senators Colm Burke, Paul Coghlan, Máire Devine, Victor Boyhan, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, John O'Mahony and Gerard P. Craughwell may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise.

Commencement Matters

Driver Licence Applications

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this Commencement matter. I wish to share a minute and a half of my time with SenatorMichelle Mulherin.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. As a long-standing Member of the House for many years, I am sure he loves coming back to it. I wish him well in his new portfolio and hope he will have a long career in that office.

  The issue concerns the need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to review Government policy on the Road Safety Authority's tendering process for driving licences to allow post offices to act as agents in processing and co-ordinating applications. The issue was raised by Senator Michelle Mulherin on the Order of Business some weeks ago and brought to my attention by Councillor Bernard McGuinness from Culdaff, Inishowen, County Donegal.  We have had discussions and debate on the closure of post offices. I know that the Minister has championed the cause for the retention of local Garda stations, in particular his local Garda station in Stepaside. I am sure the issue of the local post office is close to his heart also. We have seen a number of post offices throughout the country close in the past ten years. That is another service that has been lost by rural communities. Let me give an example from County Mayo. There are two National Driver Licence Service, NDLS, centres where licences are issued, one in Castlebar and the other in Ballina. It is 50 miles from Belmullet to either Castlebar or Ballina. In County Donegal the two areas where the licences are issued are in Letterkenny and Donegal town. It is a long distance from Culdaff, Malin Head and other parts of County Donegal to Letterkenny. The post office network could co-ordinate the licence application, the applicant would complete the application form and have the photographs and the post office would process it and send it to the licensing authority. Were the post office to provide this additional service, this would make the post office more viable in rural communities. We believe this could be taken into account when the tender process for the issuing of licences comes up for renewal.

Senator Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin I thank Senator Paddy Burke for sharing time with me. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber.

  I support the motion. Until 2013, vehicle licensing was under the jurisdiction of the local authority before it transferred to the Road Safety Authority. Arising from the arrangement made by the RSA, licences now issue from fewer offices. This causes difficulties, particularly in rural areas. As has been described, people may have to travel 50 miles to go the NDLS centre, a round trip of 100 miles to apply for their licence. They must attend one office as opposed to the many offices of the local authority. Cognisance needs to be taken of the problems posed by the limited number of NDLS centres. People do not have the option of using public transport. I think the post office network is ideally suited to act as agents in respect of driving licences. It has a large network of post offices throughout the country. It does a similar job in regard to the application process for a passport. There is no problem with fraud or in validating the identity of the person, which is assisted by the Garda verifying the individuals who are applying for a passport and the process being handled by the post offices. This has worked very well. We all know that the passport is an important document.

  We have an opportunity to consider the post office network as an agent for this service. It would be in keeping with Government policy to drive business and stimulate the growth of post offices with real business while at the same time responding to the need in rural Ireland. I urge the Minister to consider this motion, especially in the context of the Road Safety Authority putting the service out to tender.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross): Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank both Senators for raising this very important topic. I thank Senator Paddy Burke for his kind words. I seem to be spending more time in this House during my period as Minister than I did when I was a Member. I hope to come back to the Chamber as frequently as necessary.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I hope we will see a great deal more of the Minister.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I thank the Cathaoirleach. I hope he will. I am sympathetic, as both Senators will know, to the difficulties caused by the closure of the post offices throughout rural Ireland. I was well aware of that during the period of the previous Government. I have not lost that sympathy but this is a subject I have to address in the light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves and what has happened since 2011.

  The previous Government, of which neither Senator Paddy Burke nor I was a member as he was above politics at the time and I was in opposition, decided in May 2011 to move from a system under which local authorities issued driving licences to one where a single National Driver Licence Service, NDLS, would operate under the Road Safety Authority. The Government decision was made because it made sense in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and security, as well as value for money. At the time, more than 30 local authorities were responsible for issuing driver licences and this led to duplication, inefficient use of resources, and considerable unevenness in the quality of service provision. The then Government maintained the new system was able to operate in a more streamlined way, while local authorities were able to reassign staff to areas of more pressing concern to them. I am happy to add that no jobs were lost.

  The NDLS operates with a central unit in the RSA and three outsourced contractors - a front office to engage with the public, a back office to process applications and a manufacturer for the plastic card licence. The point raised by Senator Paddy Burke, namely, whether An Post might act as front office agents for the NDLS, was raised by a number of Members of both Houses when the legislation for the NDLS was being passed during 2012.

  The starting point has to be that the NDLS is about providing a driver licensing service for the public. The three outsourced elements are advertised for tender. The tender processes in each case must comply with rules and guidelines, both national and European. The essence of these rules is that the processes must be open, fair and transparent. We cannot have a situation where tender processes are slanted or prejudged and I am sure no one intends that we should. Government policy on all tender processes remains that they should be open, transparent, and fair. I, therefore, expect the RSA, like any agency of the State, to run fair contracting processes which are designed to select the best proposals for any contractor. The aims of any such contracting process for a service for the public must be to ensure a high-quality service will be provided, that the public will get value for money and that the process by which a contractor is selected is fair and equitable to all those who tender. I am assured that this was the case in all the NDLS contracts.

  There is, of course, nothing to prevent An Post from applying for the front office contract and I understand it did so when it was first advertised. It remains open to An Post to tender to run the service when it comes up for renewal, which I understand is next year or possibly the year after. It is due to come up next year, but it can and probably will be postponed until 2018. As the Senator may be aware, under the programme for Government, the Government has committed to establishing the feasibility of offering motor tax services and other State services in post offices.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is a typical Civil Service answer. Nothing we said could be interpreted as other than wanting the process to be open, transparent and fair. Nobody is suggesting otherwise. How could the fact the post office would process and co-ordinate the application and send it on to the licensing authority be anything other than open, transparent and fair? The process would be the same throughout the country. The applicants would get their application form in a post office and would get their photographs taken in the same way that people get their photographs taken for passports. They would bring the completed application form to the post office, where it would be checked and then it would be sent to the licensing authority. I think that is a very simple process.

  The Minister said the contract would be put out to tender in 2017 or 2018. I hope at this stage that the post office network which is in urban as well as in rural areas will put a tender together to compete for the contract. It would be a simpler process if post offices were allowed to co-ordinate the applications and send them to the licensing authority.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I do not disagree with a great deal of what the Senator has had to say. Let us remember there is a contract that is put out to tender. Like the Senator, I encourage the post office network to tender.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I thank the Minister. I am sure Senators Paddy Burke and Michelle Mulherin will revisit this matter.

Passport Services

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht a bheith anseo linn ar maidin leis an ábhar seo a phlé. Tá fáilte roimhe. Tá a fhios agam, óna ról mar chathaoirleach ar choiste Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta, go bhfuil sé eolach faoina lán cúrsaí ó Thuaidh, cuid de rudaí agus an cineál ráchairte a bheadh ansin ó thaobh na mbásanna agus an idirghníomh polaitíochta anseo i mBaile Átha Cliath.

  I thank the Minister of State for being with us to address this somewhat modest and sensible request for the Department to examine the current provision for passport office facilities in the North. We know anecdotally - I hope to know more factually via a question to the Minister - that there is a very high or significant demand for Irish passports. There are a large number of passport applications from the North. The number has risen quite starkly in more recent times because of the Brexit result. In the constituency I represented for five years in Belfast City Council which is probably one of the most loyal of all loyalist constituencies I am proud to say the post office on the Newtownards Road actually ran out of Irish passport application forms. That tells us something. Community organisations, business leaders and politicians have been calling for a long time for the Department to consider locating a passport office in the North, preferably in Belfast. This has been expedited as a result of the Brexit vote. It would meet the needs of people, particularly those who apply under pressure or in emergency situations, who because of family or economic circumstances may not be able to avail of a day travelling down to Dublin and spending the day there waiting to collect a passport to bring back up the road. It is something I am sure the Minister of State will accept in the spirit in which it is requested. I look forward to hearing about it and working with the Minister of State, his colleagues and officials in the Department to bring it about.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as ucht na ceiste. Ar dtús ba mhaith liom m'aitheantas agus mo chomhghairdeas a thabhairt don Seanadóir as a cheapachán úr sa Seanad. Chomh maith le sin, fuair mé fáilte mhór i mBéal Feirste nuair a bhí mé ann cúpla bliain ó shin. Chonaic mé an sár-obair atá déanta sa cheantar féin. Fuair mé taithí agus uchtach mór mar chathaoirleach choiste Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta. Tá cúrsaí tras-teorainn iontach tábhachtach. Tá cúrsaí sa Tuaisceart agus sa Deisceart tábhachtach agus go háirithe an obair atá romhainn fá dtaobh Brexit. Tá sé sin thar a bheith tábhachtach. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir maidir le sin.

  I will set the context in terms of the current and projected future demand for passport services and then set out the services available to citizens across the island and new initiatives to be introduced in the coming years. The passport service is in peak season, with 44,927 applications in the system as of 11 July. The level of overall demand is very high this year, with an 11% rise in the number of applications this year to date compared to the same period last year. However, the position has improved recently. On 31 May there were a total of 68,009 applications in the system and this has fallen steadily throughout June and July. I pay tribute to the team in the Passport Office who faced an enormous challenge at the end of May. They have been working diligently and effectively in this regard. At the same time, we are seeing a significant increase in queries and applications from Northern Ireland following the outcome of the UK referendum. In June there were 7,045 applications from Northern Ireland and 5,719 applications from Great Britain. These represent increases of 9.5% and over 20%, respectively, compared to the same month in 2015. While it is too early to say what the precise impact will be, I expect that applications from Northern Ireland will increase substantially in the months ahead. However, the numbers need to be taken in context, as the passport service issued more than 670,000 passports last year. The passport service currently provides a comprehensive range of options for citizens to apply for passports and I do not anticipate any impact on the processing times for passport renewals as a result of the referendum and increased application levels from Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

  The vast majority of passport applicants on both sides of the Border submit their applications through the post office network on the island. This is the most efficient and cost-effective way to apply and documents can be submitted at 77 post offices in Northern Ireland. This means that no Irish citizen needs to travel a significant distance to renew a passport. Over 90% of passport applications from the island of Ireland to date this year were submitted through the postal service. To accommodate a relatively small number of people with urgent or sudden travel needs, an appointment service is in operation in the passport offices in Dublin and Cork. This allows customers to book guaranteed time slots, removes the necessity to queue and provides certainty as to waiting times at public counters. The passport reform programme which is well under way will deliver significant customer service improvements to benefit citizens. From early next year it will be possible for adults renewing their passports, whether they are based on the island of Ireland or overseas, to submit their applications online. This will greatly improve convenience and efficiency, and applicants in most cases can avoid having to travel to a passport office or a post office. The passport service plans to have the online service available across the full range of application types, including first-time applicants and children, by 2019. The service will include personal assistance through public offices or service providers, with online applications for those people who lack internet access or technology skills. I expect that the efficiencies generated by the online passport system will result in lower turnaround times, fewer demands on the passport offices in Dublin and Cork and an increase in customer satisfaction.

  Overall, I am satisfied that the range of service options meets the current needs of passport applicants and that the service improvements on the way will allow the passport service to cope with future challenges. This includes an increase in applications from Northern Ireland. Moreover, given the current financial pressures on the Department’s resources, there is no justification, on a value for money or operational basis, for opening any additional passport office at this time.

  There is no need for concern about freedom of movement or entitlements to an Irish passport following the outcome of the referendum. The process of negotiation to enable the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is likely to take at least two years, as envisaged under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, once the article is triggered. During this period, the United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union and its citizens continue to enjoy full rights, including freedom of movement within the European Union. At the same time, the referendum has not in any way changed the entitlement to an Irish passport, including as it extends to those people born on the island of Ireland and those who are entitled to Irish citizenship through parents or grandparents born in Ireland, North or South.

  I am confident that the service options in place provide a sufficient level of access to passport services for citizens, whether they are based on the island of Ireland. The introduction of online services shortly will ensure even fewer people will need to call to a passport office than is the case now. Less than 8% of passport applications were made in person at passport offices so far this year. There is no operational or financial justification for the opening of a passport office in Northern Ireland at this time. My Department will continue to keep service levels under careful review and adjustment will be made to the deployment of resources as needed.

  I urge all Members of the House to join with the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and I in promoting public awareness of the need to apply for passports in a timely manner. When this is done, applicants should have no need to visit a passport office because the post office network throughout the island partners with the passport office in providing an application service.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht an fhreagra chuimsitheach atá sé i ndiaidh a thabhairt dúinn. There is some glimmer of hope in what the Minister of State has said.  The statistics he gave us are welcome. Thus far, by and large, information has been anecdotal and I know that because when I was a city councillor I had to deal with a vast number of passport applications that came through my office.

  I pay tribute to and echo the Minister of State's positive remarks about the staff in the Passport Office. I agree with him that they are extremely professional. Recent events have put them under a huge burden but they have dealt with it very professionally. That said, the number of passport applications will not go away and will probably grow. We are in danger, despite the best efforts of staff, of facing a potential backlog. I have heard from people across the North who are extremely worried that their applications are, understandably given the circumstances, somewhat lost in the system. We need to look at the matter. I am encouraged with the news that a review is under way. The online service is crucial and one that young people, in particular, will avail of in the time ahead. I would not lose sight of the potential assistance that an additional office could bring to the overall process. I am sure, given the cross-Broder nature of this matter, that the matter could be teased out and explored at the North-South Ministerial Council.

  I note the point made that a financial burden would be placed on the Government. It is something that both the Government and the Executive could look at collectively in terms of trying to make this a reality. At the end of the day, the hope and aspiration is not only to franchise more people by supplying them with an Irish passport but to make the process easier and more accessible for the ordinary citizen.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I am taking the suggestion in the spirit that it was given. I do not want to get into a debate about Belfast or west of the River Bann either. I know the Senator was a public representative in Belfast. I know he worked in a very populated area and, therefore, knows the needs of Belfast. We should keep an open mind about a review as time goes on. A number of years ago in this House I raised this issue in connection with the needs of the north west. It is not all about incurring costs and setting up new up new offices. I am sure there is plenty of infrastructure whether it is Belfast City Hall, Derry City and Strabane City Council or Donegal County Council. We have to be mature enough in politics these days to have a conversation at least without boxing ourselves into corners. Just saying something does not mean there will be action and it does not mean that we have committed to something happening.

  The figure of 8% might seem small in terms of people having to go to a Passport Office. It means a lot if one is from Malin Head and must travel to an appointment in the Passport Office in Dublin in the case of an emergency such as the death of a loved one or to avail of a health appointment. Such trips are not a one-day turnaround. Galway to Dublin and Limerick to Cork are one-day turnarounds. If one must travel from Letterkenny, west Donegal or Arranmore Island, going to the Passport Office will necessitate an overnight stay in Dublin which will result in a cost having to be paid. We should keep an open mind. In terms of Antrim, Coleraine and the rest of the region, we should not lose sight of the 8% of people who have travelled here for emergency purposes. I have taken the Senator's question in the spirit it was raised and I want to guard against boxing people in. I would not like to box in the Senator and make this out to be a west of the River Bann versus Belfast issue because I know he is interested in the whole of the province of Ulster.

  Arís, gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir agus leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. Táim buíoch as ucht an seans labhairt fá dtaobh na comhairle thábhachtach fá choinne na ndaoine ina gcónaí in Ulaidh agus sa Tuaisceart.

Motor Insurance

Senator Maura Hopkins: Information on Maura Hopkins Zoom on Maura Hopkins I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I want to raise the issue of insurance costs. The spiralling cost of motor insurance has placed a massive burden on motorists. In the past year increases in excess of 30% have become standard within the sector and that is unacceptable. I am fully aware that the Minister for Finance has set up a task force to examine the issue and undertake a review of policy in the insurance sector. It is important that this report and the recommendations be made available and actioned without delay.

  I know of many people of all ages who have found it extremely difficult to pay their car insurance. It is an issue that disproportionately affects rural areas. Many people who live in rural areas must travel a distance to reach work and do not have the option of public transport. The only mode of transport available to them is the car. Last week, I met a young person who had been quoted in the region of €3,000 for her annual premium. She must pay it to get to work. For every €10 she earns, as much as €1.70 goes to pay her car insurance. This is scandalous and it does not make work pay for her. This issue is also crippling businesses because they are finding it extremely difficult to keep lorries, buses and vans on the road due to the high cost of insurance. The issue needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible because it has had a major impact on overhead costs. If the Government is committed to revitalising rural towns and villages and achieving its target of creating 135,000 jobs outside of Dublin, then it is critical that we tackle the issue of motor insurance.

  I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to ensure that additional resources are diverted to the traffic corps to make sure we have improved enforcement. An Garda Síochána needs to have access to a computer system where the analysis of each number plate will provide insurance details in real time. We need insurance companies to provide verified statistical analysis as to why it is very difficult to receive a quote for cars older than ten years that have passed the NCT.

  Dealing with accident claims through the courts system has proved to be very expensive because the costs have been passed on to the consumer in the form of higher insurance premia. At present, it is far too easy to bypass the injuries board. Mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure the board is fit for purpose and that it limits the number of claims that end up in the courts system. The book of quantum, if used more extensively, would provide standard amounts for specific injuries. I ask the Minister of State to outline what interim measures are being implemented while we await the findings of the task force. I also ask that these findings be actioned as quickly as possible.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I welcome the opportunity to discuss in the Seanad the important matter of the cost of insurance and to highlight the actions the Government is taking to address the issues.

  An adequately reserved, cost-competitive insurance sector is a vital component of economic activity and financial stability. The current high cost of insurance is a concern for the Government. I know it is a concern for the Senator and citizens. I also know that it is an important element for job potential and creation outside of Dublin and all parts of the country.

  While the provision and pricing of insurance policies is a commercial matter for insurance companies, this does not preclude the Government from introducing measures which may, in the longer term, lead to a better claims environment. Different reasons have been put forward by various interested parties to explain Ireland's current increasing insurance costs. Motor insurance appears to be particularly affected, with the cost of premiums increasing significantly in the past 12 months. Reasons often presented include the increased level of insurance claims and the increasing value of compensation awards. Insurance fraud is also considered to be a contributory factor. Others have highlighted that the highly competitive nature of the domestic market for non-life insurance in recent years has begun to impact on firms' underwriting profitability, with underwriting losses reported for a number of high-impact firms. This has been compounded by the fact that investment returns that have traditionally compensated for underwriting losses are currently very low due to the existing low interest rate environment.

  To examine these issues in more detail and assess the options for the Government, the Minister for Finance has established a task force in his Department to undertake a review of various aspects of policy in the insurance sector.  An important element of this review is an assessment of the factors contributing to the increasing cost of insurance. This work will be progressed through a working group on the cost of insurance, of which I will be chairman. The working group consists of representatives from all relevant Departments and agencies and will consult relevant stakeholders. The aim of the review is to try to identify measures that can reduce the costs of insurance in the short term and also on a more long-term basis. Among the issues to be examined is data availability to inform policy in this area, taking into account what information or data are required to be in place, what is currently available and what will be provided through the introduction of Solvency Il and to identify any shortfall. Options such as a national claims register and motor insurance policy database will be evaluated.

  This is a complex area. It appears that there are a wide range of factors contributing to the increased cost of insurance. The purpose of the review is to identify credible and sustainable solutions that take account of the nature of the problem as it affects consumers in the form of higher costs. However, it is also important to develop a solution that facilitates an increase in the capacity of the market. Moreover, it is necessary to take account of the fact that we want a well capitalised and robust insurance sector and this must be reflected in the final outcome of our deliberations. The latter point is essential if we are to avoid the risk of unrealistic competition on price as companies try to gain market share at the expense of their underlying solvency.

  It is my view that even short term solutions to address the cost of motor insurance need to be considered by the review group as part of a comprehensive package of reforms. Failure to do this could compound an already difficult market position, with the risk that Ireland would become a more unattractive place to conduct this type of business if the situation is not fully thought through. The review will be completed in the coming months. I have noted the Senator's proposal for the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, which we will also consider.

Senator Maura Hopkins: Information on Maura Hopkins Zoom on Maura Hopkins I thank the Minister of State for his response. It appears the working group will take the issue of motor insurance costs seriously, as it must if we are to remove all possible barriers for people who are trying to work, which is a major issue in rural areas. The issues around fraud, claims and more extensive use of the book of quantum are core elements in addressing this matter. I look forward to the publication of the report in the coming months. This is a major issue and short term measures need to be put in place to support people. Motor insurance is compulsory; it is a legal requirement. As people do not have options in that regard, we need to ensure it is affordable. The cost of meeting motor insurance requirements is making things very difficult for people.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The work that will be undertaken on insurance costs fits with the programme for Government commitment to a fairer country and a fairer society in Ireland. I know that is what at the core of the Senator's motivation in raising this issue. Certain groups of people are particularly affected by the increase in insurance costs. I can assure the Senator that the working group which I will chair will undertake to conclude its work as soon as possible. Following completion of the review, we will consider what recommendations can be implemented immediately and what recommendations are more long-term in terms of implementation. The working group is tasked with examining what drives the cost of insurance, making short, medium and long-term recommendations and progressing the issue of dealing with increasing insurance costs, taking account of the requirement for an economically vibrant and financially stable insurance sector. I will bring an interim report to the Minister before the end of the year. The Departments and agencies involved in the group include the Department of Finance and, under its aegis, the Central Bank of Ireland; the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and, under its aegis, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and the Consumer Protection and Competition Commission; the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and, under its aegis, the Road Safety Authority; and the Department of Justice and Equality and, under its aegis, An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service. The group will also consult with external stakeholders, including the insurance industry, and those sectors of the economy that are significantly influenced and affected by rising insurance costs. My intention as chairman of the group will be to bring a report to the Minister for Finance before the end of the year.

Alcohol Treatment Services

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to deal with this Commencement matter and congratulate her on her appointment. Alcohol misuse in Ireland is an issue about which I am passionate. For the benefit of the Minister of State, I will repeat the data I gave yesterday on the Order of Business, as set out in the Health Research Board's national alcohol survey. More than 150,000 Irish people are dependent drinkers; more than 1.35 million people are harmful drinkers, and 30% of people interviewed said they had experienced some form of harm as a result of their drinking. The survey also reveals that 75% of alcohol consumed in Ireland is consumed while binge drinking and that we underestimate what we drink by about 60%. There is a massive unmet need in this area. Alcohol-dependent individuals need psychosocial intervention and therapy and hazardous drinkers need brief interventions to minimise the chances of their progressing to dependency. It is important to make that point.

  I would like to provide some more facts and figures from the survey, because they are quite shocking. Some 88 deaths every month in Ireland, or three per day, are directly attributable to alcohol, which is frightening. There are almost twice as many alcohol-related deaths as there are deaths as a result of all other drugs combined. Some 900 people in Ireland are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers and around 500 die from these diseases every year. Alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides in Ireland. We know we have a huge problem with suicide, but the fact that alcohol is involved in half of all suicides is horrendous. Alcohol is also involved in over one third of cases of deliberate self-harm, peaking around weekends and public holidays. More than 14,000 people were admitted to the liver unit at St. Vincent’s University Hospital for treatment due to alcohol dependence in 2011. Every day, 1,500 beds in our hospitals are occupied by people with alcohol-related problems. Alcohol-related illness cost the health care system €800 million in 2013.

  These are a few of the stark figures from the Health Research Board’s survey on alcohol harm. Behind those figures are thousands of family members who require support and guidance in dealing with the stress, anxiety and heartbreak of a having a loved one with an alcohol problem. For a concerned family member or a person identified as having an alcohol misuse problem, accessing services is difficult, which is my concern. The first port of call for people who are anxious that their loved one might have an alcohol problem, or who themselves might have an alcohol problem, is the Internet. The website provided by the HSE, www.drugs.ie, is amazing. I commend all the people involved in its operation. I carried out a search of that website, specifically looking for supports that specialise in alcohol dependency, and found that the only services available in counties Donegal, Galway, Wicklow, Limerick, Cork and Wexford were Alcoholics Anonymous and Alateen, which we all know are peer-to-peer support groups. Based on the startling and worrying facts linked to alcohol misuse, this is a very worrying indication of the lack of support we are offering citizens. In not offering early interventions we are prolonging the agony for the people involved and their families and we are allowing the problem to escalate over time, increasing the heartache for all concerned, as well as giving the HSE a much larger and more difficult problem to deal with in the future.

  A report commissioned in 2007 by the HSE, chaired by Professor Des Corrigan from Trinity College Dublin, found that there is severe under-provision of residential places. The report also recommended that mixed treatment for alcohol and other substances should be considered more or less on a county-by-county basis, with input from service providers. We know the benefits of alcohol-only services over mixed-substance services in some settings. I suggest a minimum number of treatment places be set aside for alcohol services and that the ratio of alcohol-only services to mixed-substance services should be discussed by all involved in treatment. Funding should be earmarked for these services.  The national drug strategy is being rewritten and due for completion by the end of the year. My concern is that if alcohol is not included, it will be forgotten. Funding for that needs to be included in the Estimates being put together in advance of the budget in October. As the Minister of State knows better than I, a great deal of alcohol-related harm is hidden and does not reach the public realm. I refer to self-harm, gender-based abuse, physical abuse, sickness, absence from work and economic desolation. The published harms represent a minimum level; the levels relating to real harms are higher. Will the Minister of State provide an overview on what support the State offers to those who have problems with alcohol and, in particular, their families?

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy): Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy I thank the Senator for raising this matter and acknowledge her good wishes to me in my new role.

  I reassure the Senator that the Government is committed to tackling alcohol misuse and cognisant of the widespread harm and pain it causes. Alcohol is causing significant problems across the population - in workplaces and for children - and is a substantial burden to all in society. The HSE provides services to prevent and treat addiction to alcohol. People who present for alcohol addiction treatment are offered a range of interventions, namely, initial assessment, comprehensive assessment, the Minnesota programme, brief intervention, individual counselling, self-help, peer support or a combination of these depending on the individual. The delivery of these services is based on the four-tier model of treatment intervention and services are designed to respond to the individual’s specific identified needs. This care model implies that clients should be offered the least intensive intervention appropriate to their need when they present for treatment initially.

  Interventions range from community and family-based supports through to primary care services and specialist support services either in the community or residential settings. Inter-agency working involving the HSE, drug task forces and multiple other community, statutory and voluntary agencies forms the basis of this delivery, as the target is to provide services, where possible, in a community environment. Counselling and rehabilitation services provide care to those presenting with an addiction through one-to-one counselling and onward referral to other statutory and voluntary groups where appropriate. The HSE also provides funding to a number of voluntary service providers who treat drug and alcohol addictions. The remit of the drugs task forces was extended to include the problem of alcohol misuse in 2014, in view of the central role they play in coordinating the response to substance misuse at local level. Last year, five drug and alcohol task force areas developed implementation plans to reduce alcohol-related harms, with a further five task forces developing implementation plans in 2016. The Senator will acknowledge that this is something in which she is interested.

  The experience of children living with and affected by parental substance misuse has become widely known as "hidden harm". These children are often not known to services and suffer harm as a result of their parents substance misuse. The importance of recognising hidden harm and ensuring these children are identified and supported at an earlier stage cannot be underestimated. The HSE's addiction services and Tusla have collaborated on the development of a hidden harm strategy statement. The statement which is due to be published shortly will address what needs to happen to create the structures, processes and continuum of care to effectively respond to hidden harm. In addition to providing services to those impacted by alcohol abuse, the Government is working to reduce alcohol consumption and to address the underlying causes of alcohol misuse, that is, affordability. availability and attractiveness. The Government approved the publication of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 and its introduction in the Houses of the Oireachtas last December. The Bill completed Second Stage in the Seanad on 17 December and I expect that it will commence Committee Stage early in the next term. I am anxious that it be prioritised to resume its passage in the next term.

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black I thank the Minister of State. It is welcome that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 will go through the Houses. That is fantastic and it will keep the conversation going. I also welcome the hidden harm report. Implementation is vital, particularly for children who live in homes. Nobody understands the impact of hidden harm. I work with families who have loved ones with alcohol and gambling problems. The main issue is alcohol and it causes devastation within the family. When people want to step into recovery, they find it difficult to access a service. When a family approaches the RISE Foundation and asks where their loved one can go, they find it difficult to access services, particularly if they are in County Galway or County Donegal. People in many counties do not know where to get support. We refer them to the website, www.drugs.ie, but it is still difficult to access a service that deals solely with alcohol abuse.

  We have a significantly unhealthy relationship with alcohol in Ireland. Three people a day die from an alcohol-related issue. It is important that alcohol addiction be tackled separately from everything else. Sometimes it is included with the drugs issue or mental health issues and while there is no doubt dual diagnosis needs to be addressed, the alcohol issue needs to be examined first. Services are vital and more residential services are required. I look forward to working with the Minister of State on this issue. We can work well together on it, but I will not let go of it. That is why I am in the House and it is important that we make changes in this area. I hope we can concentrate more on services in this great country of ours.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy I very much look forward to working with the Senator on this issue because her expertise in this area is acknowledged. I am concerned about the point she raised about the lack of services in some counties. I will follow up on that to ascertain what can be done to fill the gaps she has identified. Every county is affected by this issue. If there are services in one county, there should be services in another county to match them.

  As a society, we have to address our relationship with alcohol. Even 20 years ago, none of us would not have recognised alcohol as a drug and it is timely to have that debate now. It is also time for us to hold up a mirror to society and discuss what we are doing to ourselves, our children and health services. Consuming alcohol in the home makes it become like consuming any other product. It is a specific, separate product and if children are exposed to that, it will become the norm for them. If people are doing their grocery shopping and a child is sitting in the trolley, they will reach for milk on one shelf and alcohol on another. This is the path for the child to view the consumption of alcohol as the norm. This is a challenge for everyone in society. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 will seek to address this. I look forward to working with the Senator on the issue in the passage of the Bill through Committee Stage.

  Sitting suspended at 11.30 a.m. and resumed at 11.35 a.m.

Order of Business

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday and Tuesday, 15 and 19 July 2016, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on the summer economic statement 2016, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 2.55 p.m.; No. 3, Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 - all Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m., with the debate on Second Stage to be brought to a conclusion within 60 minutes, the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; and No. 4, motion re Criminal Justice Act 1994 (Section 44) Regulations 2016, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 and conclude within 40 minutes, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I extend our congratulations to Theresa May on her election as leader of the Conservative Party and the second female Prime Minister of Britain. In the wake of Brexit she will face many challenges in implementing and negotiating a Brexit for the United Kingdom. I hope Ireland can continue to keep its place as one of Britain's main trading partners which we have enjoyed for many years.

  Yesterday I was angered and disgusted to hear the continuing narrative across the airwaves that Ireland had engaged in leprechaun economics. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures published yesterday announced that Ireland had seen a massive increase of 26% in GDP. I cannot imagine that any constituent, represented by this House, has felt this increase in his or her pocket. However, if these figures are true, perhaps the Minister for Finance might stand over them. If it is the case that the figures are inflated because of technology companies' intellectual property, IP, assets and aircraft leasing companies relocating here, it is incumbent on the Minister for Finance to clarify this. If accounting methods are out of date, they must be updated to ensure they represent a true figure of our economic growth. With Brexit on the horizon and at a time when we need to be presented as capable and professional, Ireland is being laughed at by the financial world and is being made a mockery of. In the wake of Brexit, Ireland needs to fight for any upside from Brexit. We need to encourage foreign companies to come to Ireland to do business and to send a message that Ireland is a great place in which to do business and that it is open for business. Ireland needs to show that the economy is stable and that we are the right place in which to locate. Perhaps the Leader might ask the Minister for Finance to clarify the CSO figures and issue a statement on the matter.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence be brought before the House. This is not because I like to pull a stunt. There is a very serious issue about a lieutenant-colonel in the Defence Forces who had applied for promotion to the rank of colonel and was unsuccessful in the competition. Subsequently it was found that the marks awarded to some of the candidates had been incorrectly awarded and that as a result the lieutenant-colonel had not been promoted when he should have been. He had to retire at the age of 58 years which meant he lost out on the rank of colonel salary, pension and gratuity. He could have become the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces at some stage. However, the matter has been ongoing and the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces made a ruling on it. The ombudsman received a letter from the Department in which it states:

I have carefully considered your observations on the case. I do accept there may have been a level of ambiguity and lack of transparency surrounding the award of length of service remarks to candidates in the promotion competition and this is regrettable.

 It goes on to state that in regard to the suggestion a further gesture be offered to this particular lieutenant-colonel: "I am advised it would not be policy nor practice to offer same based on the findings of your office". We are talking about a man who has served this country in Lebanon and Iraq. He was the last Irish officer to leave Iraq before that country became a war zone. He was the last Irish officer in Lebanon when it closed down some years ago. The man has an exemplary distinguished record. He was hard done by and wronged in a promotional competition. The ombudsman found in his favour but there is somebody in the Department of Defence turning around and saying the Department does not agree and it will not look after this guy. On the right of any Minister, are the officials advising that Minister? On the left of the Minister is the ombudsman who is there to advise when a wrong has been done. This man has been dealt the most horrendous blow to his distinguished military career. I regret having to ask the Leader to bring the Taoiseach before the Seanad today. If he cannot do so, I ask him to arrange a debate on the functions and role of ombudsmen generally and, in particular, the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. I am really appalled by this.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I know that many Senators hail from coastal communities around the country and I am from Tramore, County Waterford. I bring the Leader's attention to a serious failure in policy that is having an impact on the sustainability of livelihoods in coastal communities and has implications for biodiversity and marine habitats. Ireland signed up to the EU marine strategy framework directive in 2008 and under the directive, we were required by 2012 to have designated a network of marine protected areas. We have failed to comply. It is time we got serious about recognising the value of our marine natural heritage from an economic and social perspective. If we are to protect the sustainable fishing practices of small coastal communities and sustain livelihoods, we must comply. What is the objective in having these sites? These are the building blocks of marine sustainability. Marine protected areas are essential nurseries for fishing species and it enables them to replenish. Many fish stocks are under threat, as Senators know, and this threat comes chiefly from the presence of super-trawlers depleting stocks. It also comes from our failure to adequately protect the foundations of the food supply chain. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will shortly publish the programme of measures for implementation of the marine strategy framework directive and I ask that we put aside some time in this House to debate the report and have the Minister present for it.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys Approximately two weeks ago I raised with the Leader on the Order of Business a request for the Taoiseach to come before the House. With the settling down of what happened two weeks ago, a serious discussion must be held with the Taoiseach on new politics and how the Constitution is treated. Through sleight of hand, Article 28 of the Constitution, relating to collective Cabinet responsibility, was avoided. The Attorney General's opinion was clear on the legislation. Officeholders have stated they do not care what is in the Constitution and they will vote for legislation even if it is in breach of the Constitution.

  Every time a difficulty or issue is raised, we speak about new politics. New politics is now getting a name for reckless or shady politics, or even no politics. Some officeholders are not carrying out their functions. There has only been one transfer of functions to a Minister or a Minister of State since the formation of the Government and we still do not have a Minister responsible for the environment. I put the Leader on notice that I will be proposing an amendment to the Order of Business next week if he cannot come back with a time and date for the Taoiseach to come to this House and debate what is new politics and explain exactly what he means by the term. The general public is seeing this with every issue that arises. The eighth amendment is being kicked to the citizens' convention and water charges are going to a commission. The school admissions policy discussion is being put back for a year. We now have a Government with no politics or agenda. We have a responsibility in this House to debate, discuss and advise the Taoiseach on what we believe is new politics. I believe it is about moving on this country for its citizens rather than hanging on to office positions without power. I ask the Leader to go to the Taoiseach and ask for a date and time next week to come to this House and explain his vision of new politics. The public sees it as reckless and sometimes shady.

Senator John O'Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I raise an issue relating to water safety, particularly regarding the protection of piers, slipways and harbours. We are at the peak of the summer season, with schools on holiday and tourism numbers at their peak. Tragically, over 140 people are drowned each year for various reasons. Some drown tragically and by suicide but that is not the point I want to make. We all remember the tragedy in Buncrana last April, when five members of the same family lost their lives. That highlights how easily an outing can turn to tragedy in seconds. Everybody would wish that such a tragedy would not happen and should never happen again. I understand the slipway in Buncrana has seen additional protection installed as a result of what happened. We should not have to wait for a tragedy for this to come about. There are thousands of tourists, particularly along the Wild Atlantic Way, who do not have local knowledge or know how easily this type of event can happen. In my county of Mayo, there are 700 km of coast and 78 facilities like those I mentioned. I happened to visit one a couple of weeks ago and saw with my own eyes how dangerous they can be if a person does not have local knowledge. These facilities are public by nature and generally open to the public and it is important that they remain public. Each council has a water safety development officer whose remit is to ensure risks are minimised, but I suspect it would be an impossible task to erect barriers, bollards and gates at every pier, slipway and harbour to prevent cars either accidentally or otherwise going into the water. I assume when additions, extensions and refurbishments are done, safety is taken into account. I ask that at some stage the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is brought before the House to indicate the instructions to councils or the subventions made to carry out this work. We need to have it carried out before we see further tragedy.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I wish to address the leader of the Fine Gael group about a disappointing matter. Three weeks ago I tabled a Commencement matter for the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, relating to the Tír na nÓg respite services. I am very disappointed because on the day I received an insufficient reply. What should happen when a Minister is called to the House to address an urgent issue in one's home town but one cannot contact anybody or get a reply? Yesterday we spoke about reforming the Seanad. I ask the Leader for reform when a Minister is brought into the House to deal with a specific and urgent question. I had another question about the Holy Angels centre, but I received no answer on it either.  We need to have a protocol in place that will ensure we keep in contact with the Minister of State. I understand not everything can happen overnight, but as a new Senator I am very disappointed that there is no comeback or follow-up. I ask the Leader to address that serious issue because, as I said to the Minister of State that day, I will raise it every month until it is addressed.

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black I attended a briefing this morning by an organisation called WALK which works with young people with intellectual disabilities at which I met two amazing young women, Jessica and Niamh. Jessica is a young girl with intellectual disabilities who struggled with depression because she could not find the right work for her or any place to go. Due to her so-called intellectual disability - although, to me, she is a beautiful, inspirational young woman - she ended up having to work in a dry cleaner's, which drove her to attempt suicide. Thankfully, she was not successful in that attempt. Jessica is a beautiful, creative young woman who deserves her rightful place in this world, as does Niamh, a young girl with Down's syndrome who passed the junior certificate and leaving certificate examinations with As, Bs and Cs, which is fantastic. She deserves to be in the workforce. WALK is running out of funding. Its funding will be cut by next Christmas and those two young women are devastated. They deserve to be in the workforce doing normal jobs like everybody else. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, as all of us would wish. It is the responsibility of those of us in Leinster House to make sure WALK receives the funding it deserves. It should not have its funding cut by Christmas this year and it should be allowed to continue its work. I recognise that and also commend the organisation.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Iarraim ar an gCeannaire díospóireacht a eagrú ar stádas na Gaeilge sa tír seo le grinnstaidéar a dhéanamh ar na stratéisí atá in úsáid againn chun an teanga labhartha a fhorbairt agus a mhéadú. Sílim nach bhfuilimid ag baint go leor trialach as an nGaeltacht. Ba chóir cabhair a thabhairt do níos mó daltaí ar fud na tíre - ón nGalltacht, mar a déarfá - tréimhse a chaitheamh sa Ghaeltacht. Tá sé iontach cabhrach do na mic léinn óga, do fhorbairt na teanga agus don phearsantacht iomlán. Is rud iontach é má chothaíonn na mic léinn agus na daoine óga tuiscint ar ár n-oidhreacht, ár stair agus ar shaol nádúrtha na Gaeltachta. Tá mé lán-chinnte faoi seo: ba chóir dúinn níos mó mic léinn óga a stiúradh agus a mhealladh chuig an Ghealtacht. Os rud é go bhfuil feabhas ag teacht ar chúrsaí eacnamaíochta anois, ba chóir dúinn cabhair a thabhairt do na daoine óga dul ann. Sílim go bhfuil sé riachtanach agus ba mhaith liom díospóireacht a bheith againn ar an gceist iomlán sa Teach seo go luath.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I second Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's amendment to the Order of Business. In doing so, I encourage the Leader to ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence to come to the House as soon as possible to discuss a number of issues relating to that portfolio.

  The preliminary 2016 census results which have just been published show that the population of County Cavan has risen by 4% to 76,092 and that the population of County Monaghan has risen by 1.3% to 61,273. I ask the Leader to inquire when a constituency commission will be formed to examine the drawing up of boundaries for the next general election, as it is well known that my county of Cavan was butchered by the commission when it last met. Senator Joe O'Reilly will agree with me.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Absolutely.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I call on the Leader to inquire when the commission will sit. I ask that a practising former politician who knows what it is like to canvass in and represent a constituency be allowed to sit on the commission. The Clerk of the Seanad sits on it and does an excellent job, but I ask the Leader to ensure a former practising politician also be allowed to sit on it to provide the common sense needed in this regard.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Coming events cast dark shadows before.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I wish to discuss a matter of procedure with regard to Commencement matters. This is the ninth morning in a row I have submitted a Commencement matter which was not accepted. That is over three weeks. I have had one Commencement matter accepted since this Seanad resumed. We need to examine the procedures here. Many Senators want to get the benefit of a Commencement matter discussion, but we are not getting it. I ask that some new procedure be adopted under which more Commencement matters would be accepted each morning or, if they are not accepted but are deemed to be appropriate, that the Minister be asked to give a written reply. In that way, at least five or six Commencement matters would be taken each morning. I submitted nine Commencement matters that were not accepted and I ask the Leader to examine the matter. The House will adjourn within the next ten days but it is appropriate that we examine the issue now to ensure all Members of the House will have access to information they require and be able to raise issues that are important to them.

  I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate on the charities sector. In 2013 I put a detailed question to the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the HSE on the charities sector and, interestingly, the information that was to be released to the health committee was released to the media four or five days before the health committee sat. As a result, the Committee of Public Accounts took over the issues relevant to the health committee and advised the committee that we could no longer deal with that issue while it was dealing with it. The Committee of Public Accounts focused on one or two charities, but 2,600 charities receive funding from the HSE. Last year, the total funding from the HSE, including capital grants, to various charitable organisations was €3.72 billion. In that regard, 1,847 charities received less than €100,000, but that still adds up to €34 million. Many organisations receive funding and there is a great deal of duplication, but we need a serious debate on how we can get value for money while at the same time helping these organisations to deliver the service they want to deliver. I am calling for a full debate not only on funding from the HSE but also on funding from other Departments, as well as the charities regulator. I do not believe the charities regulator is adequately funded or that it has an adequate number of staff to deal with the issues arising. The issues that other members of the health committee and I raised as far back as 2013 are coming back to haunt us because we were not given the time to deal with the ones we wanted to address. The way the Committee of Public Accounts dealt with it is coming back to haunt it also because certain people had personal agendas and aimed to take hold of that entire area. That is wrong. It should not have been taken out of the control of the health committee. The Members of this House should have had an input into it.  Many Members of the House have experience and can make a contribution on the issue. We should have an appropriate debate on it.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I refer to the WALK PEER programme in Ardee, County Louth. The group made an excellent presentation in the AV room, hosted by our party leader, Deputy Gerry Adams, earlier today. I have worked with similar programmes. Young people can access employment and further education through such programmes and they are crucially important. It is an excellent model of delivery of employment for people with disabilities, particularly young people. It is a model that needs not only to be supported and financed but to be replicated in other areas. It gives young people an opportunity to access career paths, something they deserve, regardless of their abilities. We need funding for the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. I ask the Minister responsible to come before the House to discuss employment opportunities and how he will resource the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. There is no point in having a strategy unless the resources are provided to implement it.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan Today, 14 July, is Bastille Day and I am sure colleagues will join me in wishing all our friends in France and French ex-pats around the world all the best. They have gone through a very difficult time in the past few years. It is time to highlight that Euro 2016 was a major success, perhaps not for the French football team in the final but for a lot of the participating nations, especially our near neighbours Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the Republic of Ireland. The marching season has taken place in the past few days. Things are a lot better than they were and welcome, as I said three or four weeks ago, the fact that supporters of the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football teams mingled and worked together. It is not a panacea, but it certainly helped. I congratulate all those from the various parties who helped to ensure it was one of the most peaceful marching seasons in recent years and I hope things move forward. I know that the situation is difficult.

  It is interesting that Boris Johnson has been appointed as Foreign Secretary in the United Kingdom, something that brings challenges and difficulties. I again ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House and outline his views on how we can best connect and work together to face all of the challenges that have arisen since Brexit.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan We received an e-mail from the Restaurants Association of Ireland yesterday regarding a matter that, I understand, Senator Robbie Gallagher raised yesterday, namely, the struggle it is having in finding chefs in the country. It referred to a shortage of 5,000 chefs. The name of the organisation rang a bell with me and I wondered what it was. It is the same organisation that called for a freezing of the minimum wage until 2020 and refuses to engage in setting up a joint labour committee, even though legislation has been passed. It is now stating it cannot find staff. Is it any wonder that is the case, when it is doing everything it can to keep down wages and keep people on poverty rates of pay? Rather than focus on the shortage of chefs, I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House to discuss the scandal of organisations such as this receiving large subsidies of €650 million a year, while at the same time refusing to engage with the legitimate organs of the State on the establishment of a joint labour committee to ensure we have proper decency and terms and conditions in the industry.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We are in a rather uncertain period in the aftermath of the UK referendum result on 23 June. I am delighted that the staff complement dealing with Brexit in the Department of the Taoiseach has been seriously beefed up. That is necessary as we head into the crucial negotiations that will take place at EU level. Arising from that, one area that is vital to the economy and which could be adversely affected is tourism. It is vital to every part of the country. In that light, I encourage the Leader to have an early debate on tourism in order that we can hear from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport what plans he has for the domestic tourism market.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I agree with Senator Diarmuid Wilson's analysis of the census report that has been issued this morning. In many ways, it will be very important for Ireland, not just in terms of how political institutions deal with population increases - the population is now 4.6 million - but on an infrastructural level in terms of how we cater for such an increase. My county of Cork has had a population increase of 23,000 people in the past five years, which will have a knock-on effect on infrastructure. It will affect basic things we have discussed in the Chamber such as the Dunkettle interchange and the Ballincollig bypass, as well as Irish Water. The census reports are very important, but we have to build on them and put infrastructure in place in order that we can deliver the services required for the vast numbers of people now living in the country. The population of Cork has increased by 23,000 which will have a major impact politically. Realistically, a constituency commission will probably add another Dáil seat to Cork if the requirement is 30,000 per Deputy. If and when a commission is established it will have to consider such issues, because boundaries will have to be changed. For the first time ever, there may have to be a real change in boundaries in Cork. That may suit some people but not others. It is something we have to look forward to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I spent 40 years waiting for Cork South-West to become a four-seat constituency. Senator Tim Lombard might get his wish.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly In Fingal we have experienced changes that made very little sense to us, with the capital of the constituency and Fingal divided in two at one point. We are now pleased to be back as one unit. I am not sure how one could avoid serial rows and accusations if there were a former politician on the commission. Gerrymandering is something that is strong in everybody's mind.

  It is terribly important that we support charities and the great work they do - the vast bulk do phenomenal work. From my time as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I know that voluntarism in the youth sector is phenomenal. Some 40,000 volunteers support hundreds of thousands of young people in this country. We are unique in terms of the level of participation we have. Whatever we say and whatever regulations are introduced in order to cut out fraud and so on, we need to continue to support charities not just with money but also with moral support for the great people who spend so much of their free time supporting worthy causes. I agree with Senator Colm Burke. When I was Minister for Health I instigated the inquiry into irregular payments in certain section 38 and section 39 institutions, which led to the findings about the Central Remedial Clinic and others.

  I refer to the census. I could not agree more with Senator Tim Lombard when it comes to infrastructure. Fingal has the fastest growing population in the country, a fact underpinned by the census which showed growth of 8%. Therefore, we need to plan for infrastructure. I would like the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to outline the current plans for a metro. I would be grateful if the Leader would invite the Minister to the House in the autumn to give us an update on the current status of the project. It is essential for a young population to be able to access education facilities and businesses that wish to do business in north county Dublin. It is essential for the airport and its further development and it is also essential for international traffic to have quick access to the city centre where people may wish to do business.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I will add to what other speakers said about the boundaries review. I live in the constituency of Dublin Rathdown, as do a number of other Senators, including Senators Kieran O'Donnell, Gerard P. Craughwell and Neale Richmond. Dublin Rathdown experienced the single largest butchering of any constituency the last time around in that it went from being a five to a three-seater. No other constituency lost 40% of its area. For any area to lose that many constituents is unfortunate and unhelpful and it would be better if this was not done in the future. Will the Leader bring in the relevant Minister at some stage to talk about the boundaries review and what the process will be the next time around?

  It is now mid-July, and within a month or so, leaving certificate examinations results will come out followed by CAO offers and the annual search for student accommodation throughout the country but particularly in south Dublin which is one of the most expensive places to find property. Could the Leader bring in the relevant Minister or authority to discuss how we could provide additional on-campus accommodation throughout the country but particularly in the areas where housing need is greatest? The less student accommodation there is, the more private housing is taken up by students, which deprives families and other people of the chance to get into the housing system or onto the housing ladder. It would be helpful if we discussed how we can provide additional on-campus student accommodation, especially in areas where rents are very high. This could offset some of the costs students and their families face.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Ministers come here quite frequently. Invariably, many of the debates are adjourned. It would be good practice for a Minister to be given the last five minutes of every debate in which to respond. The debate on broadband last week involving the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources contained very new and fresh information. The questions put from the floor were very insightful and the debate was cutting edge, yet the Minister did not respond at the end and the debate was adjourned. By the time the Minister comes back, much of the information will be stale and old. We speak about Seanad reform. I firmly believe a key focus should be on amending the way we do business in the House to make it more relevant and fresher. From now on, if a Minister comes here for a debate involving many speakers, he or she should respond during the five minutes at the end of the debate. If we adjourn it, the Minister should come back again. We had a very insightful debate last week on broadband to which the Minister did not respond. That debate was in the other House two hours later and all the work we did here was stale. If we are doing the work, the House is entitled to get feedback and rewards for the effort we put in. This is a very small measure that could yield substantial benefits to the House and the public looking in. I want us to be seen as being increasingly relevant. Debate and questioning here are of a high quality, but they are of no use unless we hear from the Minister on the day.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan That is an issue to be dealt with on the Order of Business on each given day. The roll-over of debates is the exception rather than the rule. As it is not very common, the question of whether the Minister responds or the debate rolls on is a matter for the Leader and the order of the day.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell May I obtain clarification on the point because it is something about which I feel strongly? The Cathaoirleach is saying-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Leader-----

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell It is possible on any one day-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Order of Business is agreed to every day. If the Senator has an issue, he can object to it. That is a matter for the Leader.

  In respect of the point raised by Senator Colm Burke, I have the responsibility for choosing Commencement matters. It is probably not a matter for the Leader but the multiplicity of Commencement matters is extraordinary. An average of 12 or 14 are received and I am only allowed to pick four. At one stage, I thought that we could manage five, but given the way they roll on, it would conflict with the Order of Business, which cannot be permitted. I was quite happy for us to take five instead of four. It used to be three. The difficulty I have is that I must try to be fair to all groups. Some Members come in every week and if somebody comes in every two months or has an important issue, I must give them preference also. I try to be fair, but it does not always pan out. I will never have the ideal, but I am cognisant that the situation was difficult today. The way it panned out was that two Fine Gael Senators were chosen because there was nobody from Fianna Fáil who had tabled a Commencement matter. I tried to balance it and try to be fair. There is no utopian solution. I will take responsibility, but I will talk to Senator Colm Burke privately about it.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke This is not a criticism of the Cathaoirleach in any way. I am just saying that if there is a large volume of Commencement matters, procedure needs to be looked at in order that we can receive ministerial replies in writing rather than having to wait for a reply.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank all 18 Members who raised issues on the Order of Business. Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to the CSO figures. I think we addressed this topic yesterday, but it is important to understand concern has been expressed about the CSO figures for growth and how they have been compiled. The CSO has accepted that there might be a need to look at how it measures and presents them. The fundamental underlying point is that, as a country, we are beginning to emerge into a better space. Employment is increasing and unemployment is on the way down, which means that there are more people back at work. Consumer spending is increasing and there is a feel good factor in the economy. The Taoiseach and the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform have said the Government will not use the figures presented yesterday in the budgetary forecasts and budget preparations. It is important that we be sensible. We all agree that the figures need to reflect the real position rather than a transient or one-off situation. Senator Rose Conway-Walsh also asked yesterday for this issue to be discussed.

  Senators Catherine Ardagh, Diarmuid Wilson, James Reilly, Gerry Horkan and Tim Lombard referred to the preliminary census figures. I congratulate the CSO on its presentation this morning and thank it for the timely publication of the figures which show that there are 4,757,976 persons in the country, an increase of 3.7% since 2011. Members rightly referred to the boundary review commission, which is to be established subsequent to the publication of the figures. It will present an opportunity for the Government to reflect on the size of the population and the numbers of public representatives. I hope the commission will be given sensible terms of reference and that it will be equally sensible in the presentation of its findings. Senator James Reilly spoke about gerrymandering, which is sometimes the wrong word to use. What we saw the last time with regard to members of the commission was a mismatch of everything. Many in this House were affected, but we will not get into that row again. I hope we will have a boundary review commission, see an increase in the numbers in the Dáil and boundaries that will be reflective of community and county boundaries. I thank Senators Diarmuid Wilson and James Reilly for raising the issue of the division of Cavan. As somebody who was affected the last time, I hope the issue in Cork will also be addressed.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Once we get the issue in Cavan sorted out, we will deal with the issue in Cork.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer That is the subject of another debate.

  Senator Gerard P. Craughwell mentioned a case, into which I will not go. On foot of him raising it, my office contacted the Department of Defence. It has been the subject of a Commencement matter. To be fair, the issue is important to him, but I think he will agree with me that the Taoiseach, as Minister for Defence, does not have control over matters such as promotion and hiring and firing within the Defence Forces. Rather than divide the House, I would be happy to talk to the Senator afterwards about how we could reach a resolution to break the impasse.  The matter he raises is important. It illustrates the need for transparency in making public appointments and the interview process, in particular. For all of us who have gone for interview for posts of responsibility and promotion in our jobs, there needs to be a clear marking scheme and a transparent awarding of points in order that we can have confidence in the integrity of the promotion system, whether it be in the Defences Forces, the education sector or even the Houses of the Oireachtas. I will be happy to speak to the Senator again about this issue afterwards if that is okay with him.

  Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to maritime affairs. Commissioner Vella is involved in drafting the maritime strategy framework, on which I will be happy to have a debate in the autumn because it is important. I compliment the Senator on her performance on the RTE maritime programme recently. It was an enlightening interview.

  Senator Kevin Humphreys raised the issue of collective Cabinet responsibility. I will be happy to have the Taoiseach come to the House, but I do not think he will be here before the summer recess. It will not happen next week because his diary and our schedule are full.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I raised this matter with the Leader two weeks ago.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator John O'Mahony raised the important issue of water safety and referred to the role of Irish Water Safety in that regard. It is important that we send a message to the effect that it is important that people take care in harbours and on piers during the summer and that those who use our waters do so carefully and are sensible when using equipment. They should not contemplate consuming alcohol and then going swimming or on the water in a boat or on a hovercraft.

  Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor referred to the protocols for Ministers appearing in the House. I will facilitate any Minister in coming to the House at the request of Members, but I cannot ask him or her to do A, B or C. However, I will raise the issue mentioned by the Senator with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. She could also intervene with the HSE.

  Senators Frances Black and Rose Conway-Walsh referred to the presentation made earlier by the WALK organisation and the role it was playing in helping and working with people with disabilities. It is an important issue and I am sure we can make representations to the relevant Minister on the funding issue raised by both Senators. I pay tribute to the organisation for the work it does.

  Labhair an Seanadóir O'Reilly mar gheall ar chúrsaí samhraidh sa Ghaeilge. Tá na daltaí agus na mic léinn óga atá sa Daingean nó i nDún na nGall inniu ag foghlaim agus ag úsáid na Gaeilge. Tá an ceart ag an Seanadóir go bhfuil sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go bhfuil ár ndúchas á fhorbairt agus á phlé in áiteanna ar nós an Daingin ina bhfuil cúrsaí Gaeilge ar siúl. Tá suim mhór ag an Seanadóir O'Reilly sa Ghaeilge agus sa chultúr. Nuair a bhí mé ag caint leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Kyne, dúirt sé liom go bhfuil suim mhór aige teacht isteach sa Teach seo. B'fhéidir go mbeidh sé anseo tar éis an tsamhraidh.

  Senator Diarmuid Wilson seconded the amendment proposed to the Order of Business, but I hope we will be able to arrive at an accommodation with Senator Gerard P. Craughwell.

  Senator Colm Burke raised an issue about a Commencement matter which the Cathaoirleach has addressed. However, the Senator made a fundamental point, with which I completely agree, about the charity sector and the way in which the committee system was treated. When the Committee of Public Accounts seizes of an issue, every other committee has to stop dealing with it. The Senator is correct that the Joint Committee on Health and Children, of which we were both members in the previous Dáil, had representatives of the HSE before it to discuss section 38 and section 39 organisations. It was the sectoral committee with responsibility for dealing with such matters. Perhaps there might have been a much better outcome if issues had been left to that committee. It is more disappointing that, as part of the quarterly meetings the committee held with the Minister and HSE management, the Senator had tabled a question which was relevant to the matter he raised earlier and received a substantive reply, but it was given in advance of the meeting, deliberately or otherwise, to members of the media, which prevented a proper debate from taking place at the committee because the issue was in the public domain. This issue poses a question about the role of sectoral committees. To be fair, the committee system works well. The committee clerks with whom I have worked are extraordinary people and the commitment of members is equally important. We should examine the issue raised by Senator Colm Burke in the broader context of Oireachtas reform and how sectoral committees do their work.

  Senator Frank Feighan has pointed out that it is Bastille Day. I wish our French brothers and sisters a happy holiday. The Senator is correct that Euro 2016 was a wonderful experience. I compliment France, as the host nation, and pay tribute to the Irish fans.

  I compliment the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and wish her and her Cabinet every success. The appointment of Boris Johnson is certainly interesting. As a campaigner on the "Leave" side, he will play a key role in developing relations, not just with Ireland but also with the European Union and other countries. It is important that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade who came to the House to debate Brexit return in the autumn to discuss how we will play our part in the world in the post-Brexit era.

  I agree with Senator Paul Gavan up to a point about chefs. It is extraordinary that there is a huge skills shortage in the hospitality sector. I am conscious that when I was a Member of the House previously, those of us who opposed the changing of the system in this sector were ridiculed, but, unfortunately, we have been proved right. The issues raised by the Senator about salaries, working conditions and flexibility need to be addressed. I will be happy to include them in a debate on the overarching policy on the hospitality and catering sector. It is predominantly young people who work in it and they are not prepared to work longer hours for less money when there should be greater flexibility. This relates to Senator Paul Coghlan's point about tourism. We need a hospitality and catering sector that will roll out the red carpet and is welcoming, but the men and women who work in it must be respected and valued, particularly in terms of their pay and working conditions.

  Senator Paul Coghlan also referred to Brexit, an issue to which I have referred. He also referred to Fáilte Ireland. We should have a debate on tourism, not least because of the matter raised earlier but also because of issues related to hotel room availability in Dublin and the escalating cost of accommodation at a time when the Government has reduced the VAT rate for the sector. It is being abused by the Irish Hotels Federation.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Hear, hear.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The IHF has an obligation to reflect on its role in promoting the tourism strategy and attracting tourists to the country.

  Senator James Reilly referred to the importance of transport. I will happily ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House for a debate on the issue.

  Senator Gerry Horkan made reference to the Central Applications Office and the leaving certificate examination results. The examination papers are being corrected. There are people in rooms across the country busily correcting papers and I wish them well. The future of a generation is in their hands and I hope it will go well for them. However, it is important that, as part of the housing strategy to be unveiled next week by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, the provision of third level student accommodation be addressed because the issue is significant for parents in terms of affordability, for students in terms of availability and for communities which are, in some cases, ravaged by rented houses and other associated difficulties.

  Senator Kieran O'Donnell referred to the adjournment and rolling over of debates. I will be happy to do whatever the House decides. The point raised by the Senator is a good one as sometimes a debate loses its impetus. I thank Members for participating in the debate yesterday and reassure them that it is not the Government's intention to stall Senator Michael McDowell's Bill on Seanad reform. However, it is important to give Members an opportunity to contribute on Second Stage, if they so wish. The Government will not oppose the Bill. The debate yesterday was good. As I said, it is important that Members be given an opportunity to articulate their viewpoint on how Senators are elected.

  I ask Senators to withdraw the amendment proposed to the Order of Business. I am happy to work with them to find a solution.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Gerard P. Craughwell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence attend the House to deal with a matter concerning the Defence Forces." Is the Senator pressing his amendment?

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I very much respect the efforts of the Leader to keep the business of the House going and acknowledge the fact that the Taoiseach cannot be dragged here at the drop of a hat, but this is not about the individual case mentioned but about the Department's disregard for the role of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces.  The Taoiseach chose the Department of Defence as his ministry and that is part of the problem. He is so busy these guys are running away with themselves.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan We cannot reopen the debate.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I will not press the issue to a vote now.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator has the option of raising the matter again.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I assume that the Labour Party will be raising it again next week.

  Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting Arrangements: Motion

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders relative to Public Business:

(1) The Seanad shall meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 15 July 2016 and the following arrangements shall apply:
(a)Standing Orders 29 and 30 shall stand suspended;

(b)there shall be no Order of Business;

(c)the business to be taken shall be confined to the items set out in the Schedule to this paragraph and, accordingly, no other business shall be taken unless the Seanad shall otherwise order on motion made by the Leader of the House or such other Senator as he may authorise in that behalf.
Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016 – Second Stage

Subject to the passage by the Dáil of the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016, the contributions of group spokespersons in the debate on Second Stage which shall commence at 10 a.m. and conclude no later than 12.30 p.m. shall not exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators shall not exceed five minutes and the Minister shall be called on to reply to the debate no later than 12.24 p.m.;

Motion regarding the establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly

The contributions of group spokespersons on the motion, the debate on which shall commence at 1 p.m. and which shall conclude no later than 2 p.m., shall not exceed eight minutes, spokespersons may share time and the Minister shall be called on to reply to the debate no later than 1.56 p.m.;

Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016 – All Stages

Subject to the passage by the Dáil of the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, the contributions of group spokespersons in the debate on Second Stage which shall commence at 2 p.m. shall not exceed six minutes, the contributions of all other Senators shall not exceed four minutes and the Minister shall have six minutes to reply to the debate on Second Stage; Committee and Remaining Stages shall be taken immediately on the conclusion of Second Stage and shall be brought to a conclusion no later than 3.30 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government;

Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016 – Second Stage

Subject to the passage by the Dáil of the Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016 not later than Wednesday, 13 July 2016, the contributions of group spokespersons in the debate on Second Stage which shall commence at 3.30 p.m. and conclude no later than 5.30 p.m. shall not exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators shall not exceed five minutes and the Minister shall be called on to reply to the debate no later than 5.25 p.m.      

(2) the Seanad shall meet at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 19 July 2016 and the Order of Business shall be proposed at 11.30 a.m.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 12.55 p.m. and resumed at 1.30 p.m.

Business of Seanad

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer As there is a vote taking place in the Dáil, in the interests of staff and Members I propose that the sitting be suspended until 2 p.m.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Sitting suspended at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

  2 o’clock

Summer Economic Statement 2016: Statements

Acting Chairman (Senator Michelle Mulherin): Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin I welcome the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I welcome the opportunity to discuss the summer economic statement which is an important part of the budgetary reform process. It sets out the framework for economic and fiscal discussions on budget 2017 and gives us the opportunity to discuss the budgetary strategy over the medium term. It frames the debate around our priorities and allows us to examine how best to use the fiscal space available in achieving our objectives. It forms part of the new budgetary reform framework and its discussion is a key component of the process of enhanced engagement with the Oireachtas on matters of budgetary scrutiny.

  The national economic dialogue is a further pillar of the budgetary framework which provided a forum for an open and inclusive discussion on competing priorities and economic perspectives in advance of budget 2017. This year's event was especially beneficial in facilitating a constructive dialogue on how to foster growth towards a more just and inclusive society. The positive discussions held at this event will be reflected on in the coming months.

  The third element of the process involved yesterday's publication of a mid-year expenditure report. Prepared by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, it sets out the baseline for departmental expenditure and provides a starting point for the examination of budgetary priorities by the Oireachtas. The report provides the basis for ex ante input and feedback from the Oireachtas on budgetary proposals and gives Oireachtas committees the opportunity to engage with Ministers on sectoral spending priorities.

  Economic recovery is now firmly established. We have seen the contribution from domestic factors continue to strengthen as the recovery of both consumer and business confidence advances. This is very encouraging as domestic sectors are both jobs and tax rich. Earlier this week the CSO published the national income and expenditure results for 2015. These figures suggest the economy grew by 26% last year. The make-up of that statistic requires a lot of qualification and explanation. The upward revision is the result of reclassifications related to a number of exceptional one-off factors. These reclassifications do not reflect changes to the real economy, nor do they reflect the activity levels we are seeing on the ground. On an underlying basis, the economy continues to perform strongly, as evidenced by developments in the labour market indicators and taxation receipts. Data from the CSO on net national income which includes net factor income from abroad but strips out now considerably elevated depreciation levels on account of Tuesday’s revisions suggest the economy grew by a more plausible 6.5% in 2015. This is arguably a more reasonable figure corresponding to actual activity levels occurring within the State.

  For this year, my Department’s latest projections, as published in the summer economic statement, are for GDP growth of around 5% this year and 4% in 2017. This more plausible outlook is the basis on which we will undertake future policy decisions. Forecasts will be updated in the context of budget 2017 to reflect all relevant developments in the interim, including any impact as a result of the British referendum outcome and revisions to the components of GDP growth seen in the context of data from the CSO this week. I should also emphasise that economic growth is not an end in itself; rather it is the means through which a social recovery can be achieved. Growth provides the resources necessary to advance social progress, promote inclusivity and provide high quality public services for all citizens. That is why growth matters.

  Economic recovery is perhaps most clearly evident in the labour market where we have now had 14 successive quarters of employment growth, representing an increase of almost 160,000 jobs since the low point of the crisis. Importantly, the recovery remains broad based with gains recorded in virtually all economic sectors reported by the CSO, with the construction sector showing particularly strong momentum. In parallel, the unemployment rate fell to 7.8% in June, a decrease on the peak of over 15% in early 2012. Given the distortions in the GDP data, I view employment and unemployment data as the best indicators of current trends in the economy. In the short run, we expect labour market dynamics to continue to strengthen. My Department is projecting that an additional 50,000 jobs will be created this year. As a result, employment is set to exceed the 2 million mark this year for the first time since 2008. These figures are a testament to the continued success of the Government's Action Plan for Jobs which will help to ensure we reach full employment of 2.1 million by 2018.   Turning to fiscal developments, following a very difficult period, the public finances are continuing to move in the right direction. The budgetary position has been placed on a safe and sustainable path. For 2015, revised figures published by the CSO on Wednesday show a headline deficit of 1.8% of GDP. This is some 0.5% of GDP better than the data indicated at the time of the summer economic statement. These data revisions will not, however, impact the amount of fiscal space available in 2017. Based on preliminary GDP figures at the time of the summer economic statement, the deficit was estimated at 2.3% of GDP. Accordingly, we have now formally exited the excessive deficit procedure by an even stronger significant margin than was previously estimated.

  Under the preventative arm of the European fiscal rules, Ireland will have room for budgetary manoeuvre to accommodate increases in Government expenditure and tax reductions in a prudent and sustainable manner. The summer economic statement allows us to debate our priorities and examine how we can optimise the use of the fiscal space. Positive developments are also evident in the debt trajectory. The general Government debt to GDP ratio peaked at over 120% of GDP in 2012. Figures set out in the summer economic statement projected a debt ratio of 88% of GDP for this year, which is below the euro area average, with the debt ratio set to decline further to 72% by 2021.

  I also am greatly encouraged by the latest Exchequer returns which provide a real-time indication of the budgetary position. Tax revenue collected in the first half of this year increased by over 9%, or €1.9 billion, relative to the same period last year. Taxes are some 3.5%, or €0.7 billion, above profile. Importantly, with the exception of VAT, all tax categories are on or above profile, pointing to the sustainability of the recovery of the public finances.

  Having successfully exited the excessive deficit procedure, from this year onwards the Irish public finances will be subject to the rules of the preventative arm of the Stability and Growth Pact. We will strive to achieve our medium-term fiscal objective, defined by a structural deficit of 0.5% of GDP. Based on the revised trajectory and assumptions set out in the summer economic statement, we expect to achieve this medium-term objective by 2018. The market reaction to our management of the public finances is clear, with the cost of borrowing close to historic lows reflecting our continued economic and fiscal improvements and assisted by wider developments.

  With regard to fiscal space, the document sets out that the estimated indicative fiscal space over the period 2017 to 2021 is in the region of €11.3 billion. This is the net fiscal space that remains after providing for pre-committed policies such as demographics, the Lansdowne Road agreement and capital plans. For next year, it is currently estimated that there will be just shy of €1 billion available for additional expenditure increases and taxation reductions. This amount has already been locked in on the basis of inputs provided by the European Commission. However, for the remaining years, as stated in the document, any estimate of the fiscal space is subject to revision as macro-economic conditions change and new information becomes available. Estimates of the available fiscal space beyond 2017 will be updated in the context of budget 2017 to reflect all relevant developments in the interim, including revised data published by the CSO and impacts arising in the context of the outcomes of the UK referendum. At this point, it is not expected that these events will impact the fiscal space available for next year.

  The fiscal space will be distributed in line with A Programme for a Partnership Government - a split of at least 2:1 between public spending increases and tax reductions. On taxation measures, A Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment to ask the Oireachtas to continue the process of phasing out the universal social charge as part of a wider medium-term reform of income tax.

  One of the lessons learned from the crisis is that as a small and open economy, Ireland’s public finances are vulnerable to swings in economic conditions. As a prudent and counter-cyclical budgetary measure, I am pleased to state a contingency fund will be established and it will be known as a rainy day fund. The summer economic statement outlines how, after achieving our medium-term objective in 2018, some €1 billion will be remitted to the fund each year from 2019 onwards. This can be used to support activity and employment, if necessary. My Department will bring forward proposals in due course for consultation with the Oireachtas on the operation of this fund, the circumstances in which it will be deployed and whether other sources of funding can be used to help capitalise it.

  While the short-term prospects are positive, it is also clear that we face increased risks, not least those related to the potential economic impacts for Ireland and the wider European economy resulting from the UK voting to leave the European Union. These impacts will be kept carefully under review. Revised projections in the context of budget 2017 will include updated estimates of economic growth, the public finances and the fiscal space taking account of developments up to that time. As a small open economy, the best way to protect against risks is to maintain an appropriate fiscal stance and adopt competitiveness-oriented policies. That is what the Government will continue to do. I emphasise that the significant upward revision to last year’s GDP figures will not alter the basis on which we conduct medium-term policy decisions. They are not expected to boost the ability of the economy to sustainably finance future spending decisions. The fiscal rules are intuitive and designed to ensure policy choices are underpinned by a robust ability to finance those choices. It is important that we maintain the hard won progress made to date on the path to recovery.

  I thank Seanadóirí very much for their kind attention.

Business of Seanad

Acting Chairman (Senator Michelle Mulherin): Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin I wish to take a proposal from the Leader of the House.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer In the light of the fact that it was late starting, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the debate be extended to 3.30 p.m. and that item No. 3 be taken at the conclusion of this debate at 3.30 p.m.

Acting Chairman (Senator Michelle Mulherin): Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin Is that agreed? Agreed.

Summer Economic Statement 2016: Statements (Resumed)

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I thank the Minister. As one of the longest-serving and most senior Cabinet Ministers, it is great to see him here in Seanad to address us.

  I welcome the opportunity to discuss the summer economic statement. Since its publication, the Brexit referendum has occurred, generating serious volatility in the markets. The Irish economy now faces a multitude of threats that demands strong government. Of all EU member states, Ireland will feel the biggest impact of Brexit and our economic strategy must reflect this dynamic and rapidly changing situation. It is vital we play a central role in exit negotiations. Our economic concerns need to be heard and fully understood and our interests fully safeguarded.

  A key issue during the course of the election for every political party was the choices they would make, given the available resources. In simple terms, fiscal space measures the capacity of the Government, as the Minister outlined, to take discretionary tax and expenditure measures after accounting for all known commitments, for example, additional spending required by changing demographics or public sector pay agreements. The fiscal space for the next five years has increased substantially from €8.6 billion to €11.3 billion. That is some €2.7 billion more than anticipated during the general election campaign. Fianna Fáil supports a cautious and prudent approach in this regard. We will not be making commitments based on any additional fiscal space from a revised medium-term objective.

  As the summer economic statement makes clear, there are a number of risks to the economy in the years ahead. There was a specific reference to the impending Brexit referendum. The surprise result has brought one of those risks to the fore. In a worst case scenario, a British exit could lead to the introduction of tariffs on trade activity with European states. Irish-owned manufacturing firms would be particularly vulnerable as they sell approximately 43% of their exports to the United Kingdom, compared to 11% for multinationals. An Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report has estimated that bilateral trade flows between the United Kingdom and Ireland could fall by as much as 20%, with some sectors more affected than others. The agrifood sector, in particular, is much more dependent on the United Kingdom as a trading partner than Irish industry in general.  Some 54% of Irish beef exports in 2015 went to the United Kingdom. As well as the potential for the British exit to spark a recession in that country, it would most likely also be associated with a significant weakening of sterling against the euro, which would damage the competitiveness of our exports to the United Kingdom and the relative attractiveness of our goods in markets in which we compete with UK firms.

  The economy has great strength, including our attractiveness to multinational firms, our skills and education base, the energy, productivity and innovation of the people and excellence in food and drink production. We also have a world-class tourism product and many domestic firms have grown into international enterprises. We have great potential to provide a good quality of life for people. The aim of Fianna Fáil is to create conditions that will support an increase in employment throughout the economy. We propose that this be done by delivering a tax regime that rewards individual effort and enterprise, tackles anti-competitive practices and enhances skill levels to support high-quality sustainable jobs.

  Within the overall annual budget of approximately €70 billion, there are plenty of choices for Government and policymakers to decide on. One that will receive considerable attention is what happens to income tax and the universal social charge, USC. Fianna Fáil policy remains that we progressively reduce the burden of USC on all income earners. The total income tax take in 2016 will be over one third higher than the 2007 figure, while other taxes have not yet recovered to peak levels. This demonstrates the extent to which correcting the public finances has fallen on workers.

  Income tax now represents 40% of all tax receipts, whereas it was 29% in 2007. The outgoing Government added to the already complicated nature of taxes on income in 2015 by creating an additional rate of USC. There are now four rates of USC for PAYE workers and five for the self-employed. Clearly, there is a need for a multi-year reform and simplification of USC. Our ultimate objective is to remove it from all income up to €80,000 per annum and that surplus income remain liable for USC.

  We welcome the rainy day fund that will be established using unexpected proceeds from corporation tax receipts. As banking assets are sold in the next few years, we will consider putting some of these proceeds into the rainy day fund, as well as using them to directly reduce the national debt. Strict rules should apply as to how and when the rainy day fund could be drawn down.

  It is our belief the focus of additional resources should be on improving public services and reversing some of the most damaging cuts, while at the same time outlining a pathway to reform taxation in the next three years. There should be a 50:50 split, unlike the pattern of two thirds expenditure cuts and one third tax increases which has been followed by the Government to date. Our core belief is spending on public services such as education, health, social protection and child care is progressive in nature as it benefits everyone in society, particularly those on low incomes. In contrast, cutting the top rate of tax for higher earners helps a far smaller number of people.

  Ireland's housing crisis is not only the social challenge of our time for those caught up in the housing emergency, but it is also a key economic issue. Ireland is falling way behind the estimated 25,000 housing units needed a year. The Government has failed to provide any meaningful capital plan beyond reheated announcements. The failure to accelerate the transfer of NAMA units has also exacerbated the social housing waiting list and only 10% of homes earmarked by NAMA for social housing have actually been transferred to local authorities. Fianna Fáil proposes that €1 billion of the €2.5 billion in cash the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund is sitting on be immediately allocated for the construction of social housing. Data provided in the Dáil indicate that the average cost of construction of social housing units is €152,000 per unit. This indicates that upwards of 6,500 units could be made available under this proposal.

  The health service has also gone through an enormous period of upheaval in recent years. Cuts of approximately €3 billion have been imposed and resources have been stretched to the limit. Health service staff deserve enormous credit for working under these pressures. Fianna Fáil believes available resources should be prioritised for services in mental health, discretionary medical cards and the recruitment of additional therapists that will provide much needed services for children, in particular those who need speech and language, physical and occupational therapies.

  The public now wants to see action on issues of concern in their lives, such as the squeeze on household budgets, housing waiting lists, excessive mortgage interest rates, long-term mortgage arrears and deteriorating public services. I look forward to the debate on the summer economic statement and the other reforms in the budgetary process.

  I again thank the Minister for his contribution.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I wish to share my time with Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.

  Before I begin my contribution, I draw attention to the most recent economic announcement from the CSO this week. The 26% growth rate was mocked and derided around the world. There is a danger that economic announcements and forecasts such as those we are discussing today will become meaningless. Economic forecasts and statements from sovereign governments should be a source of confidence. The statement read as though it was the premise for a round of tax cuts that may happen in the future.

  It is the firm belief of Sinn Féin that tax cuts are not a stimulus for economic growth, rather they are a cumulative year-to-year cost on the Exchequer. As we know, it is very difficult to raise taxes after they have been cut. Capital spending can be adjusted year-to-year in the light of external factors and, therefore, is a more fiscally responsible method of stimulating growth. Capital spending stimulates job creation and pays much more back into the economy than tax cuts. Last year we saw a major increase in corporation tax receipts which rose by 41% ahead of projections. Much like 2015, we are all at a loss to explain the spike. We cannot build a sustainable recovery on such random fluctuations in Exchequer returns. Last year ten companies accounted for 40% of corporation tax receipts. One of the strange facts to come out of the most recent GDP figures is that it appears that Ireland's industrial base has doubled in the past year. If we looked for the tonnage figures from Irish ports, would they correspond with the seemingly amazing expansion of Irish output? To put this plainly, I ask the Minister whether the figures represent actual physical exports from the island or merely reflect the number of companies using our country and island as a flag of convenience to process money.

  Last February the European Commission flagged aircraft leasing and inversion deals as not being reliable variables for measuring GDP growth. Sinn Féin has also received replies to parliamentary questions from the Minister's Department which have stated specifically that aircraft leasing should be considered GDP neutral. It is, therefore, necessary for the Government to issue a clear line on Ireland's forecasted growth in order to restore confidence. This statement is nothing more than an attempt by Fine Gael to squeeze its narrative into the fiscal space. My party has never supported these rules in the first place and it is great to see many organisations coming around to our position in opposing them, whereas the Government seems to be fixed on spinning its way around them. I also note the Minister has referenced the fiscal rules as an excuse for not spending more on capital investment and, therefore, splitting spending with tax cuts. He has said he is constrained by them and almost has no choice in the matter, yet the Nevin Economic Research Institute in its recent quarterly review refuted this and stated it was merely an excuse to promote tax cuts for the better off ahead of capital spending.

  I note from the statement that higher levels of investment are crucial to support balanced regional growth, eliminating capacity constraints and enhancing the growth potential of the economy. Even with the proposed spend of €5.1 billion in capital investment, Ireland will still be among the countries with the lowest level of capital investment in the European Union. The Minister has a choice. He could abandon the plan for major tax cuts and reliefs for the better off amounting to €331 million and instead begin investment that could help to ease the neglect of the west.

  I ask the Minister to consider designating the area around Knock Airport and other neglected and marginalised areas of the country, in particular the west, a zero-tax base in order to attract multinational companies that would provide employment. I was alarmed at the recent economic dialogue to hear the narrative that we were almost at full employment. How, then, can we explain how, when four or six jobs were recently advertised by Mayo County Council, 1,608 applications were received? Things do not add up. Rural Senators will back this up.  The narrative being given from Dublin and the east of the country bears no resemblance to what is happening in the west. The CSO figures on emigration show that we got the figures wrong and underestimated the extent of emigration. Communities and counties are being left without their young people. They are being left marginalised and without jobs and I ask the Minister to use the fiscal instruments available to him to address this as a matter of urgency.

  Since the summer economic statement was discussed in the Dáil, Britain has voted to leave the European Union. As a public representative from the west, I am particularly worried about the impact of Brexit on the agrifood industry. This industry has been one of the success stories of an all-Ireland approach to industry. I want to know what contingency plans the Minister's Department has put in place to deal with the fallout that will affect specific sectors of the economy. Many schemes in the west and Border region depend on cross-Border EU funding. Has his Department assessed the potential fallout from such funding being withdrawn? I hope in the years to come this statement and the Minister's agenda of tax cuts is not cited as one of the warning signs we should have spotted before repeating some of the mistakes made in the recent past.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn In terms of economics, it seems like an eternity ago during the first week of the general election campaign that every person in the country was speaking about the fiscal space and exactly what it was and meant. Given that the Department of Finance now advises that the figure of adjustment over the next five budgets will be €11.3 billion, we in Sinn Féin consider that this space should be prioritised towards rebuilding public services and key investment in infrastructure. That Fine Gael is still even contemplating abolishing the universal service charge, USC, for all is remarkable. We certainly agree with reducing USC for low and middle income earners, those that suffered most from the years of austerity. However, to abolish it for those who can afford to pay it most at a time when we have an unprecedented housing crisis, a continuing and never-ending crisis in our hospitals and starvation of investment on any scale over the last eight years and more is quite foolish.

  We anticipate if the 2:1 spending to tax cuts use of the fiscal space available, as outlined in the summer economic statement, is followed through it will mean €333 million directed towards reducing USC for higher earners. That money could build a lot of badly needed new homes across the State. This rainy day fund which we believe will amount to €3 billion of the €11.8 billion available is very questionable. To apportion such a large amount of money into what may turn out to be nothing more than an electoral slush fund is simply not acceptable. We in Sinn Féin recognise the need for economic prudence and agree with a €1.5 billion fund with strict spending criteria as set out by us previously. We deem this figure to be more than sufficient.

  From a tax point of view, there are certain positives. We welcome the proposal to increase the self-employed tax credit as we suggested. Reducing capital gains tax for start-ups has the potential to revitalise communities and local economies and introducing a PRSI scheme for the self-employed is also to be welcomed. However we will await the detail.

  Looking at capital investment or perhaps more appropriately lack of capital investment in terms of health, housing, transport, broadband, etc., over a nine-year period, every region and part of Ireland is crying out or funds to develop their areas and escape past neglect. Government plans do nothing to address this massive under-investment in recent years and the Government seems to be agreeable to continue our terrible status as one of the worst investors in capital investment in the European Union. Investment needs to be seen for the multiplier effect it has on local economies.

  The Minister of State will have seen the preliminary report from the CSO. It is no accident that in areas where population is growing, like the Fingal area of Dublin, my home county of Donegal, Mayo and other western counties, one can see people voting with their feet and leaving because they do not see an economic future. That needs to be reversed and it will mean infrastructural investment in our public services and capital infrastructure, particularly in the west.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I welcome the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, who has just stepped out and the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The economy has recovered very well in the past few years. There has been much debate about the CSO figures in the last number of days. The underlying figures we should be looking at are consumer spending, which has gone up by about 5%, and unemployment which is down to 7.8%. Nevertheless, I am a little perplexed as to why the CSO, which is an independent body, would publish such figures. They present an inaccurate reflection of the true position which is a very positive one. It is incumbent upon the CSO to go back and come up with a presentation which sifts out the exceptional factors and gives us a true picture which is probably in the order of between 5% and 6% growth last year.

  I find it unusual that back in March, just over three months ago, the CSO projected a 7.8% increase in GDP and a 5.7% increase in GNP for 2015. Suddenly those figures become 26% and 19% three months later. It is an independent body which needs to take its work seriously.

  It has been reported in the media that Philip Lane, the Governor of the Central Bank, contacted the CSO about his concerns about the figures. We are in a very strong position. The growth rate is probably 5% or 6% and unemployment is down to 7.8%. Full employment is normally around 6%. In public finances, debt to GDP was 123% not too long ago. It was 93% prior to the publication of these figures by the CSO and the CSO is now saying it is about 72%. Either way it is moving in the right direction.

  I take on board the comments made today by the head of the National Treasury Management Agency who said that our national debt is still very high at €200 billion. It is something people must be cautious of. The fundamentals are very sound in terms of growth, consumer spending, employment and unemployment. Nobody likes to see unemployment but it is incumbent upon the CSO as an independent body to come back with a report which takes out the one-off items. The CSO needs to clarify whether that in any way impacted on the figures for Q1 where we see GDP slightly down and GNP up. The devil is in the detail. It is not always reported but it is extremely important.

  I will touch on a couple of items from the economic statement. The first one is mortgage arrears. There has been a general reduction, however, there is a hard core of people, about 30,000, who are in dire financial trouble and two years or more in arrears. I am led to believe that in terms of the statutory regime, in some cases the appeal mechanism may not be operating to the level of effect we would like. They are a group that need to be looked at.

  Infrastructure is vital. I was glad to hear the Sinn Féin leader in the Seanad speak earlier. She spoke in general terms but when it came to the specifics of her area she was very progressive in her outlook on taxes, which I welcome. I will do likewise on my area of Limerick. The Limerick-Cork motorway is a critical piece of infrastructure.  I have raised the matter with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and it needs to be progressed. It is a very big project, but I know that the TII, the inheritors of the NRA, is actively looking at completing the project in stages. As part of the mid-term review, it is extremely important that the project be fast-tracked. It is ridiculous that there are occasions where one can drive from Limerick to Dublin as quickly as from Limerick to Cork and yet the latter is half the distance.

  I wish to move on to discussing the risks of, alas, Brexit. Today, sterling has rallied against the euro and that is to our benefit in terms of exports. The improvement was partially due to the Bank of England signalling that it would reduce the interest rates by 0.25% in this coming period.

  I will outline the key issues for us. I would like to see the referendum re-run in the United Kingdom. It would be the best thing for the public in the United Kingdom and the European Union. However, based on the new UK Government, another referendum may not happen, but I would still like it to happen. The most important thing for us as an economy is that the United Kingdom is a huge trading partner for us and many Irish people live there.

  We must be aware of the following in Brexit discussions. The 12.5% corporation tax rate must be retained and is sacrosanct as far as I am concerned. We need to ensure the SME sector which is the lifeblood of the economy and from which I came will continue to export into the United Kingdom. It is also extremely important that we keep a close eye on exchange rates to make sure Irish businesses can maintain their competitiveness. Certainty is also critically important, particularly for parents who have students studying in the United Kingdom, for the health system and for the energy system.

  Another element of the economic plan is housing. Last night we debated the slightly unrelated issue of disabilities. The Government, in terms of the housing programme, needs to do two things. First, I understand local authorities are not required to publish or provide figures for either the Department or the Government on the level of allocations they make in any one year. It should happen because one could benchmark and see the numbers allocated.

  Second, many of the Part V funds have not been spent. We have to find out the level of Part V funds that councillors retain on their books in terms of it being used in the disabilities area for housing and also in the provision of housing in its own accord.

  I welcome the rainy day fund mentioned in the economic statement. The fund is dear to my heart. Between 2007 and 2008 I raised the matter repeatedly in the Dáil and I am glad that it has now happened. The fund should be put in reserve and comprise a huge amount of capital. In terms of how the fund is used, a rainy day fund is necessary to counteract external shocks.

  In terms of our discussions on Brexit and economic discussions, it is important that we examine fiscal rules and ensure there is scope for capital spending specifically. I look forward to further debates with the Minister for Finance and his Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I welcome the Minister for Finance and the Minister of State. In the Minister's statement we saw an acknowledgement of the recent anomaly in the published GDP figures that claimed there had been 26% growth in the economy. The figure has been roundly mocked and led to unwanted attention on a global level. In the debate since we have been urged to focus on other figures such as the consumer spending figure of 4.5%, as being a more real and notable indicator. I note that the Minister said, "Given the distortions in the GDP data, I view employment and unemployment data as the best indicator of trends in the economy." I wish to state, while bracketing first an aside that I share the concerns expressed by Sinn Féin about what this means in terms of our relationship with corporations and our international reputation, the fact that false money inflated the figures, that this is mockingly called leprechaun economics and that moneys such as this turn to ashes in people's pockets, it is important we address the anomaly, the message it sends internationally and the concrete cost it could have in terms of Ireland's EU contributions.

  I will return to the real indicators. I suggest that, as well as employment, unemployment, consumer rates and consumer spending, we look at figures such as the in-work poverty level in Ireland that stands at 18%. We should also look at the gender pay and pension gap, both of which have widened in recent years. The gender pay gap now stands at 14.4% and the gender pension gap has widened from 35% to 37%. Even though both figures were mentioned in the programme for Government, they were not mentioned in the spring and summer statements. I urge that these indicators which were discussed in the programme for Government be reflected as indicators of economic trends and our well-being.

  We should also look at the Gini coefficient figures in terms of income and equality. We know that the OECD has found that Ireland has some of the highest levels of income and inequality before social transfers and tax. Global research is available and not just analysis such as The Spirit Level but concrete research from entities such as the IMF. The IMF conducted research in 170 countries over 30 years and found that a 1% increase in income for the 20% on the lowest incomes, that means the bottom quintile, will raise a national economy and an equivalent increase for the wealthiest quintile lowers the economy. We have direct evidence from 170 countries over 30 years that shows a trickle-down approach does not work. It is building and raising the foundation that works. With that in mind and given the important role that tax and social transfers have had in redressing the balance in Ireland and it has been acknowledged that this country has redressed the matter considerably, I am concerned that we would do anything to hollow out the income tax base that has done such work in redressing inequalities, especially given that such redress has traditionally been used as a defence when the OECD and others raised the issue of inequality with us.

  I was disappointed with a simple line on the second page of the summer economic statement that reads, "Given that personal tax rates in Ireland are too high". Unfortunately, no rationale is given, no argument is made and no case is put forward as to why personal tax rates are too high. If we wish to be taken seriously on a European or global level and show we are serious about the economy, we need to put forward serious economic figures and arguments for a range of taxes rather than allow assumptions to be made and our economic situation to be taken for granted.

  I express my concern about income tax. In terms of income tax being too high, it is barely high enough to meet the demographic projected spending on public investment projects. I am particularly concerned about proposals to cut USC for higher and middle incomes. I make the plea that when we talk about the economy, we must remember that the median income in Ireland is €28,500, that half of the population earns less than €28,500 and that any tax concession in budgets and our economic planning needs to begin by focusing on that half of the population.  I note one positive element which is the plan to phase out PAYE tax credits for higher earners. It is a small gesture, but there is also a need to address the problem of marginal rate tax reliefs on pensions which disproportionately benefit higher earners and work against the stated Government goal of closing the gender pension gap.

I also note that while cost-neutral language is thrown around about social housing and we are told that a cost-neutral solution must be found, we do not hear cost-neutral language concerning tax reliefs. For example, has the change to inheritance tax been tested for cost neutrality? These matters require more rigorous examination and more transparent debate.

I want to focus, in particular, on responding to the current context of Brexit and the insecurities therein. At this time, we need to maintain our income tax base on a solid and secure foundation as we move forward into a period of uncertainty. Income tax is our greatest counter-cyclical guarantee of continued and sustained revenue. This week I was frankly alarmed to hear IBEC's proposal on shares and dividends - the idea that stock options and shares might be changed vis-à-vistaxation. That is a dangerous proposal that risks hollowing out our income tax base. For example, someone who might have been paid €200,000 may now be paid €150,000 with €50,000 in stock options, which is a huge drain from our revenue base.

The recent experience of the capital gains tax waiver - an experimental move which, we were told, was a sweetener to invite investors into Ireland - turned out to bring vulture funds upon us. It led to a rapid overheating of the property market and the current housing crisis. We need to be cautious about measures with such a high potential to distort the core fundamentals of the economy.

In responding to Brexit we should not chase a lowering of standards in the United Kingdom but rather invest in decent wages. In that way we can ensure the local economy will provide those who purchase in towns and villages across the country with a steady income. One of the best ways to diffuse money emanating from our indigenous goods market is to ensure people are paid decent wages and thus have money to spend. All the evidence shows that those on lower incomes spend locally.

We should also consider investing internationally, drawing on opportunities not just to chase banks and other financial institutions but also looking at academic investment. People are drawn to relocate in Ireland by opportunities and the quality of life here. Those relocating to Ireland now are much closer to huge levels of European investment in research and development funding. Our academic institutions could invest in bringing the brightest minds here if they were given the necessary resources directly instead of waiting for the implementation of dubious proposals. The brightest persons would also bring with them a large amount of revenue in terms of potential international research and other funding. Ireland has been punching below its weight on international research and development. That sector requires positive and constructive investment, which has spillover effects on society.

Child care is a key priority which is entirely missing from the summer economic statement. Effectively, it is social infrastructure which is long overdue. It is a key focus in every economic discussion, but it is yet again under-represented in this document.

I support IBEC's proposals on capital investment. Having critiqued one proposal, I do believe IBEC has some solid ground with the idea of examining capital investment. The European Union has previously critiqued Ireland's low levels of capital investment. It has pointed out that we are at a dangerous level in this regard. A strong case needs to be made to the European Union, therefore, that we need to push forward with capital investment.

It would be welcome if future summer economic statements included the position adopted by Ireland at a European level. As all of these discussions are in a European context, it would be useful to know what position Ireland is taking on some of the fiscal pressures. As regards the Europe 2020 goals of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, we should consider the weighting placed upon them in the semester process versus the weighting on short-term fiscal goals.

As I realise I am short on time, I will skip a few points.

Acting Chairman (Senator Frank Feighan): Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan That would be very helpful.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins We mentioned the rainy day fund, which needs further examination. We also need a much clearer debate on what is constituted by it and what its rules might be. We also need future-proofing in other areas such as procurement in order to protect our policy options. I have spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, about this matter. In addition, we require equality-proofing, which is a fundamental commitment in our budgetary process. Shockingly and unfortunately, however, there is no mention in the summer economic statement of equality and gender-proofing. I would like to see that commitment deeply embedded because it is the seed for our future.

Senator Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I welcome the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan. I am pleased to contribute to this debate. It is important to have an opportunity to discuss the development of budgetary proposals and frame priorities for the year ahead. We pioneered this approach last year and it is continuing now. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, by which I mean the capacity of the Government to take on suggestions from this House and the Lower House on how we should spread the proceeds and fruits of our economic recovery.

  We are at an important point in our economic recovery and social development. Strategic decisions must be taken by the Government about what type of country and society we want to promote. We need therefore to consider long and hard how we will allocate the hard won resources we now have. My own party served in government at an unprecedentedly difficult time. We did not have opportunities to invest in public services to the extent that we would have wished. However, as the economy recovered, growth stabilised and options became more attractive, we took the opportunity to invest proportionately more in public services with the available resources as against targeting tax deductions. The Minister who also served in that Government understood and supported that approach. I am glad that much of that Minister's analysis earlier on focused on the necessity to increase or at least retain the momentum of the Action Plan for Jobs process. Institutional change and changing our approach to enterprise policy development has made a huge contribution to jobs growth in recent years. I am proud of the role I played in rolling that out. By distilling the Action Plan for Jobs approach into the regions, thus creating a series of regional action plans for jobs, we ensured balanced economic and social development across the country.

  Frankly, I am baffled that, given the demand in society to invest more in developing and supporting social infrastructure and public services, Government policy as reflected in this summer economic statement is so disappointing. IBEC, trade unions and other stakeholders have pointed to the absolute need to address the savage public and private housing supply problem. If we fail to do so, there will be ongoing social and economic consequences, yet the summer economic statement illustrates that public spending will only be a fraction of the anticipated growth in GDP.   Between 2016 and 2021 nominal GDP is likely to increase by approximately 29%. Over the same period the planned growth and gross current spending will be just under 10%. Taking account of the faster increase in capital spending, total gross spending increases by 13.3%. I am concerned, therefore, that the Government plans to allocate just over two thirds of the fiscal space available to spend on increases. The Labour Party is on public record as stating it favours in the region of three quarters in this regard. A substantial proportion of the Government's available space will go to the elimination of the universal social charge. By definition, that will sadly favour the much better off in society. Regrettably, there is no provision for indexation in terms of tax rates.

  I am puzzled at what will be left of the available fiscal space, approximately €3 billion, and the amount to be allocated to the so-called rainy day fund - that very few people believe we need - if we simply stick to the fiscal rules to which we signed up. It is a missed opportunity, to put it mildly, to remit €1 billion each year for three years from 2019 onwards into a rainy day fund. I am of the view that a substantial minority of Members of this House and, I dare say, the majority of members of the public would prefer to see that money invested in social infrastructure such as, for example, housing. It is difficult to make the case for a rainy day fund when public services are under so much pressure and when the requirement to restore and develop public services and renew and invest in housing critically is so obvious and necessary.

  I ask the Government to reconsider the admittedly very eye-catching proposition of a rainy day fund, given the experiences we have had in recent years. It is eye-catching, as I said, but I do not believe it is necessary, given that if we stick to the fiscal requirements which I am absolutely adamant we should do, the Exchequer will be in good nick, as it were. It is in the interests of society that we focus a much greater proportion of the available fiscal space on social infrastructure as opposed to tax cuts or any other approach that might be taken. That is something to which the Government should give serious consideration in the interests our society and the country's continued economic development.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. In recent years the State has been confronted by some of the greatest economic challenges with which it has been obliged to deal since its inception. It is a testament to the legacy of the previous Government and the resolve of the current one that I discuss a very positive set of plans for the economy. Following the decision by Britain to leave the European Union, we must ensure our economic recovery is preserved and sustainable. We must avoid the mistakes of the past. The public finances are in a much better position than they were during the years of the crisis and they have been placed on a sustainable path. The era of boom and bust is never coming back and has been confined to the dustbin of history.

  The strengthening pace of the economic recovery has confronted us with the next set of challenges which require the full attention of Government such as investing in the education and health systems. We must remember that every challenge presents an opportunity. The profound recovery in our economy is most evident in the labour market, with unemployment having been cut in half since the high of more than 15% in 2012 to an eight-year low of 7.8% in 2016. Our budget deficit has declined sharply from one third of economic output at the height of the crisis in 2010 and the national debt is in freefall having declined from 120% of GDP in 2012 to just less than 94% in 2015.

  It is welcome that the economy is predicted to expand strongly by 4.9% of GDP this year and 3.9% next year. This rate of growth will ensure the public finances continue to meet the needs of an expanding economy. It is welcome that the budget deficit is expected to fall by 1.1% of GDP this year and that it will be completely eliminated by 2018. The challenge ahead is to ensure the public finances remain on the right path towards sustainability and durability. The fact that the Government has committed to a medium-term budgetary objective of 0.5% of GDP is positive. The national debt is always shouldered by those who come after us and it is neither fair nor desirable that our children and grandchildren would be obliged to pay for the recklessness of our generation. Keeping growth in Government spending below the rate of growth in the economy is an example of the prudence with which this Administration is operating. This will ensure we do not spend more than is reasonable.

  In terms of spending on education, we face many challenges in providing a decent education for all our citizens. The continued growth in the Irish birth rate will require the Government to build and provide more primary and secondary schools. As more and more students choose to study at third level, we face a real dilemma in funding third level institutions in order to maintain our world-renowned standard of education. The Government's capital plan for 2016 to 2021 outlines €42 billion in capital expenditure. It is my hope that within this plan we can put the resources needed in place to provide much needed school places and refurbish many school buildings throughout the country. As part of A Programme for a Partnership Government, the Government has committed to spending and additional €6.5 billion on public services by 2021. This will be instrumental in allowing extra teachers to be hired, thereby leading to a reduction in class sizes and allowing for an increase in the number of special needs assistants and guidance counsellors in schools.

  I would like to conclude by looking at taxation. It is welcome that the Government has committed to a programme of income tax reform. The economic justification for lower marginal tax rates speaks for itself. Lower rates of taxation encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, which is responsible for a considerable amount of job creation in Ireland. The phasing out of USC will mark another positive step in making work pay. USC was an emergency tax for a time of crisis. Now that the crisis has passed, it must be reduced and, ultimately, eliminated. Middle income earners have shouldered the burden of the economic crisis. They have seen a reduction in the public services offered by the Government, while having to contribute more in taxation as a result of the prices.

  In an increasingly competitive international environment, it is important that we have a competitive tax system that not only encourages foreign direct investment but also encourages people, with their broad range of skills and expertise, to stay here and contribute to the ongoing economic recovery. Taxation receipts continue to beat expectations and are currently running ahead of the profile for the year. This clearly proves that there is ample opportunity for us to reduce tax on work and give the hard-earned fruits of the economic recovery back to the people.

  I thank to the Minister of State for listening. I certainly look forward to contributing to the debate later.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill Like other speakers, I welcome the opportunity to speak about the summer economic statement which provides an opportunity for a mid-term reflection before the budget on where the country is heading. It is one of the good things that has come out of the new European framework on economic recovery and oversight of member states. The European Commission and the European Central Bank were very slow to react, as has been commentated upon widely, to all of the chaos of the financial crash that we experienced in Ireland. However, one of the proactive measures taken relates to the new fiscal rules. In itself, that brings strength and stability to public spending and keeps Departments and public indebtedness in check because there are clear targets which must be met.

  We are debating the summer economic statement in the aftermath of the debate which took place on it in the Dáil. I understand the latter occurred before the referendum on Brexit.  Now our debate is taking place in a changed economic climate. The result of the Brexit referendum will bring economic benefits and challenges to this republic.

The flexibility of having fiscal space which was being bandied about during the general election campaign is not now achievable unless the international economic factors at play are favourable. We have seen the benefits of the 14 quarters of positive economic recovery, largely due to exports to other markets, including about 17% of our overall export trade going to the UK market. The Brexit result has the potential to impact on consumption in the UK markets. In addition, currency fluctuations will affect our trade with the United Kingdom. We now operate in a changed climate. The UK equivalent of the ESRI in Ireland carried out a study of the impact of a vote to leave the European Union on GDP and suggested it could result in a negative fluctuation of 2.3% to 6% in the UK economy and that every 1% deflation in the United Kingdom would have a 0.2% negative impact on Ireland. That is a real consequence of Brexit.

If we take the figures of the Treasury and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in the United Kingdom, one is looking at a potential decrease of 0.5% to 1.2% in our GDP projections. That is alarming but there are beneficial factors also. I would like some of those to be exploited. I would like to know what is happening in the Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance to capture some of the potential financial jobs coming out of London. We know from reading the British press that major companies are looking at moving out of London and going to another European city - presumably a country where English is spoken would be beneficial to those companies. We have a housing crisis in Dublin that does not lend itself to attracting some of these companies.

There are major challenges which have been documented in the summer economic statement published by both Departments. These challenges revolve around housing. There are major issues around mortgage arrears and the courts are clogged up with people who are being taken to court by financial institutions. While it appears that the banks are sending the signal that they are being proactive, I do not think that is happening in reality. There is a lot of blocking taking place. One can blame the banks, but blame can be apportioned to both sides, including to the borrower who is refusing to pay.

Projected demand for health services up to 2021 will cost an extra €6.75 billion. That would eat up a lot of the fiscal space that has been talked about. We have a growing population and people are living longer and these factors will be a major challenge to the health service. We are spending more on health per capita than any other OECD country but yet the outcomes are not what they should be. That is a major challenge that needs to be robustly taken on not just by the Department of Health but by a cross-departmental body which should be established to look at providing and driving efficiencies and effective outcomes for patients and all consumers of public services in the country. It is clear that we are not getting value for money in the health service. New hospital groupings have been established to drive efficiencies but in my area, the north-west region, administrative costs have increased by one third. There are major challenges which need to be taken on. While the Government response to driving efficiencies has been to reduce cost and we saw that across the local authorities where the Government took local representatives out of the system, saving €400 million, however, the service being provided for the public has not been what it should be.

We need to adopt an holistic approach in terms of value for money. There is a need for an agency to drive that approach in government. Perhaps that is an issue we might debate on another day.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and wish him continued success in his new appointment. As we look at a much improved economic position for the country, it merits offering our warmest congratulations and acknowledgement to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, for the work he and the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have done for many years in this sphere. Those acknowledgements merit recording as we look at a very healthy scenario.

  It is really encouraging that the official growth rate for 2015 was 7.8%, that we have the deficit down by 2.3%, that we have exited the excessive deficit procedure and that we are now at the stage that our debt-to-GDP ratio which was 120% to 100% at the beginning is now at 88% of GDP in 2016 and that we are falling below the euro average. We are in the position of committing €1 billion a year to the rainy day fund, which in itself is a great concept to avoid the mistakes of the past. We are at the point of considering phasing out the universal social charge, focusing on the lower and medium income groups. These are all very tangible and real achievements.

  The ultimate objective of economic endeavour is to sort out the unemployment problem. While there are still too many people unemployed, we have reduced the unemployment rate from 15% down to 7.8%. The Department hopes to see 50,000 new jobs created this year. It is a good news story on employment and ultimately we are about creating employment. Work is the way to break the poverty barrier and it gives great dignity to families. It has a whole set of good effects on the individual, the family and the community. Providing work for people is the key to everything. All of our economic endeavour is predicated on it.

  The improvement in the financial position will create a space for improved services and infrastructure. It is wonderful that through prudent management and taking the country back from the abyss, we are at the point when we can consider spending money on services and infrastructure. If I were to identify an area of infrastructure - there is nothing revolutionary or radical about what I am going to say but it merits repetition - the one area in which we have to invest is broadband provision. It has to be given the maximum priority. It is the great infrastructure deficit across tracts of the country and in rural areas. We had a very good debate and productive discussion with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Denis Naughten, last week. That impetus has to be maintained and we need the Minister to ensure every home in the country will have broadband as quickly as possible. It is important that the roll out be quick and that we control the roll out. I understand the rationale for the key involvement of the private sector, but it is important that we control pricing and that we also control the process and ensure it happens efficiently.

  I do not think there is a person in any assembly in the country who is not absolutely au fait with all of the reasons we need broadband.  One of the issues the Senator overlooked is that we have so many students around the country now who are commuting to colleges. In many cases it is an economic necessity for them to commute. They require broadband to access information, prepare papers and do other work. Such requirements, apart from employment creation and other reasons, make broadband critical.

  In addition to services and employment creation, the new budgetary scenario offers great potential to do much more to keep people out of hospitals. The carer's allowance has great potential that has not yet been realised. The budget should radically increase the carer's allowance and carers' fringe benefits. We should put the caring profession on a very high status, thus giving it more recognition and making it more attractive. In that way, more people would want to work as carers in their own homes, thus reducing the cost of institutional care. I humbly suggest that if it were properly analysed, it could be more than cost-neutral. Apart from the economic issues, there are also social reasons for doing this, including the potential for job creation. If someone leaves a job to become a full-time carer that in turn creates a job. Home helps and home care packages could be used much more to keep people out of hospitals.

  Are we nearly there?

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I am told we are in injury time.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly In discussing the use of the new budgetary space, broadband and home care should be the two great priorities.

  Following Brexit, the good work has started to attract industries through IDA Ireland. I want to see more of those industries-----

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt In Cavan.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Yes, absolutely, in the Border region, specifically in counties Cavan and Monaghan.

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony The Senator has made his point. I understand Senators James Reilly and Michelle Mulherin are sharing time.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly We should have five minutes each.

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I am told that I must call the Minister of State at 3.25 p.m.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly We will do our best to make it as quick as possible in order not to delay the Minister of State.

  The summer economic statement is very positive on our economic position. I was pleased to hear the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, speak about the social agenda. The economy is but a means to a fairer and more just society. Without a strong economy we cannot create the jobs we need and we have been successful in doing that. Figures trip off the tongue, including 15.1% unemployment down to 7.8%, plus 160,000 new jobs. However, for every single one of those jobs a person has independence and a family can look to the future with greater confidence.

  It is a well known fact that the best way out of poverty is a job. I will focus more on the social elements. I could not agree more that affordable child care is important and that has been provided for in the last budget. I have no doubt that it will continue to be provided for in future budgets, as a country-specific recommendation from the European Union two years running stated we must attack that issue.

  A number of Senators mention that lower taxes would not help, whereas the reality is that the less tax there is on work, the more valuable work becomes and the more likely people are to take up work. Rather than raising wages in an ever-increasing spiral and making ourselves uncompetitive, we must ensure workers take more money home, particularly lower-paid workers. The last budget underscored that with a further reduction in the number of people paying USC, an increase in the threshold before one enters the marginal rate, and other measures.

  Senator Alice-Mary Higgins commented on a lack of evidence to support the suggestion that taxes were too high. I can point immediately to the health area and the fact that we cannot attract consultants. That is not because we are not paying them enough. They are making as much and more than they make in the United Kingdom, but taxes here are so high that they are better off if they stay in the United Kingdom and it is difficult to attract them back.

  Infrastructure is very important and I could not agree more with Senator Joe O'Reilly's comments. However, road and rail infrastructure, including the metro, are very important areas that must also be addressed. All in all, we do have a positive way forward. The first half of the job to restore the economy and get people back to work has been progressed in a major way. The second part of that job is to repair services and restore society.

Senator Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin I thank Senator James Reilly for sharing time. I welcome the Minister of State.

  The Minister for Finance's address provided us with a positive story. It is a vindication of some tough decisions that had to be made in the lifetime of the last Government that we are here looking at 160,000 jobs created since 2012 when we had the high point of unemployment at 15.1%. Some 50,000 jobs are projected to be created this year, with a reduction in the budget deficit. All the targets that we need to achieve are being overachieved. We had an additional 9% increase in tax for the first six months of this year, which is 3.5% above the projected profile. It is all good news and means that we have got the sort of space to discuss public service investment, as well as the sort of country and society we want.

  We should reflect on the census figures released today, which tell a story. They also paint a picture of migration in the west because jobs are being created not just in Dublin but other big urban centres. The regional action plan for jobs has been welcomed as a targeted way to grow the regions economically, but we need a proper spatial strategy. That would recognise that Dublin and other big urban centres are under pressure for housing, schools and other public services. However, in County Mayo we have empty houses and a population decline because people are getting jobs in cities. Some rural schools may close due to vacant places. There is, therefore, a complete imbalance. From an infrastructural viewpoint, above a line from Louth to Galway city, there are no major interurban routes or high-speed trains. We have one gem in Knock airport which needs more investment.

  As regards the rainy day fund, I would like a guarantee or confirmation about much needed investment in health services in place like Galway University Hospital which is our centre of excellence for cancer treatment. As the hospital has capacity issues, it should receive the required investment. In addition, Mayo University Hospital needs an extension to its emergency department and extra medical beds. Ballina District Hospital also requires investment in the male ward to bring it up to scratch. I hope these places will not be neglected in favour of a rainy day fund. The much needed infrastructure I have mentioned should take place because it is needed as part of the solution.

  As regards the suspension of water charges, over €40 million of long overdue capital projects are coming into County Mayo. How will this be funded for the nine months? What arrangements are being made between the Exchequer and Irish Water to fund this? I understand they have succeeded in borrowing some money.

  Are we facing penalties by virtue of this suspension of water charges, or has some comfort been received from the European Commission concerning the charges? We know that the Commission stated we have no derogation and must implement domestic charges. I presume that not to do so would be a breach and may result in penalties.

  I would appreciate it if the Minister of State answered my questions.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt Quite a few Senators have mentioned the GDP figures, but by the Department's own admission, they are distorted. We are talking about approximately 20% of the 26.3% being down to multinationals and inversion deals.  It accounts for a huge part of the GDP figures. Many of these companies are locating in Ireland because of the low corporation tax rate. We need to think outside the box and perhaps consider the introduction of a small tax on the turnover of such companies, from some of which the tax return is very small. Many companies, particularly in the aviation industry, are manipulating the figures and buying stocks and so on to avoid paying tax in their home countries. Perhaps we might look at the introduction of such a tax to benefit the State's finances.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I am pleased to be here to discuss the summer economic statement. I thank Senators for their contributions which have been very constructive. The summer economic statement demonstrates that Ireland is moving further along the road to recovery. We have put the public finances on a sustainable footing and restored our competitiveness and are making significant progress in bringing the economy back to full employment. Before addressing some of the points made by Senators, I would like to reflect for a few minutes on how far we have come in the past few years.

  The recovery is now well established. The CSO figures published this week suggest the economy grew by 26% last year. However, as pointed out by Senators, this figure is heavily distorted by the impact of multinational activity. Data from the CSO for net national income suggest the economy grew by a more plausible figure of 6.5% in 2015. This is, arguably, a more reasonable figure which is proximate to actual activity levels within the State. The current forecast is for a growth rate of around 5% this year, which is likely to be at the top of the growth table for the third consecutive year. This more plausible outlook is the basis on which we will undertake future policy decisions.

  The expansion in economic activity, initially led by the exporting sectors, has become more sustained, with domestic factors now also driving growth. This is important as the domestic sector is employment and tax rich. Importantly, the recovery has been jobs rich. There are now an additional 155,000 people in work in Ireland since the launch of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs initiative in early 2012. Encouragingly, the employment figure is set to exceed the 2 million mark this year for the first time since 2008. The level of unemployment has fallen by almost 160,000 since the peak. As a result, the unemployment rate was 7.8% in June. We have stabilised the public finances. Figures set out in the summer economic statement project an underlying deficit of 0.9% this year, a decrease on the peak of 11.5% in 2009.

  The debt-to-GDP ratio has fallen from a peak of over 120% in 2012 to 94% last year and is projected to decline to 88% in 2016, bringing it below the euro area average. Irish sovereign debt is now rated investment grade by all of the main credit rating agencies. The yield on ten-year Irish Government bonds is now trading at below 1%, well below the figure of 14% seen in 2011. The economic and fiscal strategy set out in the summer economic statement will build on these achievements and help to deliver a solid and sustained recovery in the years ahead. As Senator Joe O'Reilly said, these are just numbers and there is a lot more behind them which I will address. Of particular note is the Government's plan to establish a rainy day fund. After achieving our medium-term objective in 2018, from 2019 onwards €1 billion will be remitted to the fund each year. This could be utilised to support activity and employment should the economic situation deteriorate. This would act as a counter-cyclical instrument to help smooth out the business cycle and act as a fiscal support to the economy.

  I would like to address some of the points made by Senators. Housing was mentioned as a necessary point of investment as we look to the years ahead. The action plan for housing and homelessness will be announced shortly. I look forward to discussing the financial elements of the plan at the relevant time. In so far as infrastructural investment is concerned, an additional €5 billion in capital investment spending was committed to in the programme for Government. This is in tandem with the existing capital plan which will be reviewed next year. The European Investment Fund or, as it has been referred to in some quarters, "the Juncker fund", has been leveraged by the State to invest in primary care centres around the country. There are future opportunities in other areas also in that regard.

  In so far as the economic indicators are concerned, we do not just look at one figure when calculating plans. Policy is never made on the back of one figure. Senator Alice-Mary Higgins pointed out that we should be looking at other figures such as that for the gender pay gap. That is important. The equality proofing of plans to assess the potential impact is necessary. It is proposed that proofing form part of the programme of work of the new Budget Oversight Committee and office in the context of its review of Government figures. I look forward to engaging in debates on these matters at the appropriate time.

  The tax base has and does help to redistribute wealth and income across the State and it does so proportionately. People work hard. Their work is important and it is important that that work be fairly rewarded and that people do not feel penalised by the taxation system. The entry point to the marginal rate of tax is too low. Those on the average industrial wage are paying at the marginal rate of tax which does not happen anywhere else in the industrial world. We have to look at this if people are to be fairly rewarded for the work they do. Taxation policy has been focused on for the lower paid for the past five years and this will continue during the term of the Government.

  In regard to plans put in place post-Brexit, share-based remuneration might be a necessary tax option or tool to help to attract more business and people. We have to be competitive in this space if we are to make gains in creating employment and attracting investment which are reflected in taxation levels which can be utilised by the Exchequer in the appropriate ways. I use the word "might" because this idea has not yet been fully examined. I take on board Senator Alice-Mary Higgins's points in so far as potentially there may be a negative impact further down the line. We will look at this, as we look at all plans for taxation, as well as other issues that may arise following the Brexit decision.

  As regards the content of the summer economic statement and future statements, this is a new and welcome process and we will learn and improve as we progress. The national economic dialogue that took place this year following publication of the summer economic statement was the second such dialogue. We had learned from and improved on the first dialogue. The announcement yesterday of the mid-term review and expenditure ceilings and baselines for next year also constitutes a new process. That documentation and information had not previously been published in the budgetary cycle. We are now making them available publicly because we want to have an open and progressive debate, with inputs feeding into improving the process next year. We will do this. I agree with Senator Gerald Nash that we should embrace this new process.

  A number of Senators spoke about the rainy day fund, the purpose of which is to make quasi and counter-cyclical interventions, as required, to smooth out the natural ebb and flow of the economic cycle. It is when things are not going well that such a fund is deployed. The hope is it will not be required. It is, however, prudent to provide for such a fund in case it might be needed. Any suggestion that it might be employed as an electoral slush fund is nonsense. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, said earlier today in this House, a paper on how the fund will be structured and deployed will be published. There will be consultation with both Houses on how best to leverage it. A fund is often put in place in the hope it will not be used. However, if there was a risk of cuts having to be made to services and spending commitments, the fund would be deployed, such that the cuts would not have to be made. The scope of such a fund and how it would operate will be discussed with everybody, following which a conclusion will be arrived at and brought before both Houses.

  Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the challenges we were facing and how they required full Government attention. They actually require the full attention of each and every one of us. In the post-Brexit world we face huge challenges and opportunities. We have to take an approach that will support and bring into line all pillars and agents acting on behalf of and within the State. That is the approach we intend to take.

  There is some flexibility on the fiscal rules on a country by country basis, but the key aspect is the rules are an important break on imprudent decision-making which we saw in the past to our cost.

  On Brexit and budget 2017, we do not yet know what the impact will be on GDP in the United Kingdom of the Brexit decision; therefore, we do not yet know what the impact will be on Ireland, although some figures have been produced for possible or potential impacts, but we have not yet seen them. The factors which feed into plans for budget 2017 are robust. While the summer economic statement takes into account the possible impacts of Brexit on the Irish economy, we do not foresee an impact on the overall fiscal plans for next year.

  Of course, there will be some opportunities post-Brexit and it would be remiss of the Taoiseach not to try to ensure the country capitalised on them. That will require a response from business, the Government and all stakeholders in working together.   Senator James Reilly and other Members made some budget suggestions. They are welcome and noted. Senator James Reilly talked about how we could not simply focus on the numbers and he is right. I was pleased that the theme of the national economic dialogue was centred on growth towards a just society. The numbers are important because they mean something, but it is time we focused on what they mean and on what they could potentially mean. Let us suppose €850 million is allocated for public spending. That is spending on the public good, on teachers, hospitals and gardaí. We have to talk about why we deploy the money in that way, why these are the priorities of the Government and what this means for people who are at the other end of the impacts made with that money.

  Senator James Reilly referred to job increases. One outcome of the increases is that people are working, getting a salary and having the economic freedom to make decisions and live their lives in the way they choose. It is important that people have this economic freedom and that they believe they have a meaningful stake in our recovery and society.

  Reference was made to the census figures. We can grow the regions. In fact, we can use financial services to do this. I have already taken the opportunity to see the type of work being done in the financial services and payments sector in places like Letterkenny and Kilorglin and it is impressive. There is more we can do in that sector. Infrastructural investment will unlock huge parts of the country outside urban centres. That is something to which we are looking.

  Reference was made to Irish Water. The suspension of household water charges creates a pull or draw on other resources in the State and that is something of which we have to take cognisance.

  The economic and fiscal outlook is encouraging, but it is important to acknowledge the numerous sources of uncertainty. Ireland has a small open economy and it is important that we be cognisant of the risks. The potential economic impact for Ireland resulting from the vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is of particular note. The best way of addressing the risks is through prudent management of the public finances and competitiveness-oriented policies, as well as through open and transparent debate and informed decision-making. That is what the Government will continue to do. We have moved further along the path of recovery and must stay on that path.

Health (Amendment) Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to amend section 69 of the Health Act 2007; and to provide for related matters.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Health (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second and Subsequent Stages

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

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I thank Senators for giving me the opportunity to address this legislation. I am pleased to attend the Seanad and introduce the Health (Amendment) Bill 2016. The Bill is a technical amendment to the Health Act 2007 with the sole purpose of extending by two years an existing transitional period provided for in that Act. The transitional period is currently due to expire by 31 October 2016, but this Bill will extend that date to 31 October 2018.

  The Health Act 2007 provided for the establishment of the Health Information and Quality Authority, its inspection and regulation of designated centres and the framework for registration of these designated centres. "Designated centre" is the term used in the Health Act 2007 to describe residential centres in three broad categories: those for people with disabilities, those for older people and those for children. The measures provided in the Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 relate exclusively to residential centres for people with disabilities.

  It was planned that all designated centres for people with disabilities would be inspected and registered by HIQA or else be refused registration within a three-year period after the relevant section of the Health Act 2007 came into effect. A provision contained in section 69 of the Health Act 2007 ensured the centres would be allowed to continue operating, subject to the full rigours of HIQA inspection regime, during the three-year period as if they were already registered. This period is now due to expire by 31 October 2016. Due to the complexities of the disability sector and in some cases the significant quality and safety issues identified by HIQA in the first two years of regulation, HIQA alerted the Department of Health in 2015 that it would not be possible to complete a final registration decision for all designated centres which had been deemed to be registered in this way by the end of the transitional period on 31 October 2016.

  There are approximately 1,000 residential centres for people with disabilities throughout the country. By June 2016, a total of 556 had been registered - that is to say, 556 are now in the mainstream system. HIQA estimates that more than 350 centres will not be registered by the end of October 2016. It is important to understand the serious consequences if the deadline is not extended. Under the existing legislation, HIQA would be obliged to cancel the transitional regulation of a large number of centres. The Health Service Executive would be required to take over the running of these centres and make alternative arrangements for residents of the centres taken over. This would have major implications for the residents living in the centres, as well as significant budgetary, administrative and staffing implications for the HSE and the Department of Health. Moving residents out of these centres would be very difficult, as there is no spare capacity in the disability sector, unlike, for example, the nursing home sector. Where alternative accommodation was available, extreme care would have to be taken with any move to protect the high proportion of vulnerable residents whose needs must be paramount in any decision made.

  The Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 is a technical amendment to the 2007 Act with the sole purpose of extending the transitional period by pushing out the final deadline for registration of centres for people with disabilities by two years. The Bill has no impact on the registration or regulation of residential centres for older people or children. It is important to point that out. The proposed two-year extension will not limit or diminish the responsibility of providers to manage and operate the services under their control. That is another key aspect of this legislation. Nor would it limit HIQA in the application of sanctions or powers of enforcement. HIQA is in full agreement with extension of the timeframe proposed in the Bill. Furthermore, no additional cost to the State is involved in extending the timeframe for registration by HIQA of centres for people with disabilities.

  In addition to the need to avoid the significant disruption that would be caused by a large number of centres becoming unregistered all at once, the extension of the timeframe for meeting the registration requirements will be beneficial to the process of de-congregation of residential settings. In the disability sector in recent years the settled policy has been one of de-congregation, with large congregated facilities to be closed over time and people living more independent lives in smaller residences in the community. That is something I am pushing. The extension of the deadline by two years will allow service providers more time to pursue this policy.  It will allow HIQA to take a more measured approach in dealing with the problems in these old-style institutional facilities which were never envisaged as compliant with current standards and regulations and will help to smooth the transition to a fully regulated sector.

One of the key aims of the Government is to provide services and supports for people with disabilities that will empower them to live independent lives, provide them with greater independence in accessing the services they choose and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. This is a fundamental change in the way services and supports for people with disabilities are currently provided. There is an onus on us to implement this change in a way that works effectively for people with disabilities and is financially sustainable, accountable and transparent. In that regard, underlining the Government's commitment to the disability sector, I recently announced additional funding of €31 million for disability services in 2016. This funding is in addition to capital funding of €100 million over a five-year period and it will be focused primarily on moving people out of congregated residential institutions.

While the Bill will help to facilitate the move towards de-congregation, it is worth noting again that it will have no cost implication for the State. The Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 is relatively short legislation, providing only a minor technical amendment to section 69 of the Health Act 2007. As the Bill is technical in nature, to assist Senators, I propose to outline the specific provisions of the Bill to clarify the intent of each.

Section 1(a) amends the key definitions contained in section 69 of the Act. These substitute provisions will ensure the extension of the transitional period provided for in the Bill will apply only to residential centres for people with disabilities and not to other categories of designated centre. At the request of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the definition of "Institution" contained in section 69(l) of the 2007 Act is to be amended to specifically exclude any effect of section 69 provisions on special care units for children. A separate transitional period in respect of these units is set out in section 48 of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2011.

A new definition of "relevant day" is also included in the amending provisions. This reflects the fact that the legislation applicable to the different types of designated centre came into force on different dates for each category. For example, designated centres which are public or private nursing homes have been subject to regulation and inspection by HIQA since 1 July 2009. The "relevant day" when the legislation came into effect for centres for persons with disabilities is 1 November 2013, and this is reflected in paragraphs (e)(i) and (c)(ii) under the definition of "relevant day" in the new section 69(1) substituted by this Bill. The "relevant day" when legislation came into effect for the other types of designated centre is also provided for, but the transitional period in respect of the other centres is not extended by section 1(b) of the Bill. The clear indication of the different "relevant days" for the different types of designated centres is essential. The original definition of "designated centre" is contained in section 2 of the Health Act 2007, as amended by the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. The Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 as drafted ensures the measures to extend the transitional period in respect of centres for people with disabilities will not have any effect on the transitional period for any other type of designated centre.

Section 1(b) of the Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 extends the timeframe for a final decision on registrations solely in respect of designated centres for people with disabilities. It does this by replacing subsection (2) of section 69 of the Health Act 2007. Section 1(a) of the Bill defines centres for persons with disabilities as institutions to which paragraph (c) of the definition of "relevant day" applies. Section 1(b) goes on to state a person who was carrying on the business of an institution and providing residential services at the institution may continue to do so in the case of an institution to which paragraph (c) of the definition of "relevant day" applies for a period not exceeding five years and commencing on the relevant day. This means that centres for people with disabilities would be able to continue to operate without a registration decision until 31 October 2018, five years after the relevant legislation came into effect on 1 November 2013. For all other types of institution governed by the Act, the period of time in which they can operate without a registration decision remains at three years. There is no change for the other centres.

While the provisions are complex in their drafting, I emphasise that, overall, the Bill seeks to change one small matter relating to the system of HIQA inspection and regulation of centres for people with disabilities. It seeks to make this change without affecting in any way the other types of residential centre, be they nursing homes, special care units or residential centres for children in accordance with the Child Care Act 1991.

The extension of the transitional period in respect of centres for people with disabilities will ensure all such centres continue to be thoroughly inspected, monitored and assisted to reach the standard of operation required since regulation of this sector commenced in November 2013. It will not in any way limit HIQA in the application of its sanctions and considerable powers of enforcement. That is an important point to remember. The consequences of failing to extend the registration deadline would be severe, both in terms of the impact of a forced change of circumstances on some of our most vulnerable citizens and in terms of staffing and financial implications for the Exchequer.

I thank Senators for their attention to what is a complex but ultimately technical issue. I commend the Bill to the House.

Senator Keith Swanick: Information on Keith Swanick Zoom on Keith Swanick I welcome the Minister of State. With my party, I will be supporting the Bill. I am disappointed that it is necessary and that there are still many residential centres that are non-compliant with HIQA regulations. While I appreciate that measures are being taken to make said centres compliant, it is unfortunate that the deadline needs to be extended by a further two years. Ideally, Fianna Fáil would like to see more people with disabilities living independently and less need for residential centres. However, as long as we have them it is important that they are well regulated and compliant with regulations.

  The Health Service Executive, HSE, funds services for approximately 8,000 people in residential support settings, including 1,400 places at HSE-run units at a cost of €900 million per annum. The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, which today published its annual overview report, assesses disability homes against 18 standards during each inspection, including residents' rights, health and welfare needs, staffing levels, medication management and governance. On publication of today's report, Ms Mary Dunnion, chief inspector of social services and director of regulation at HIQA, said the initial inspections carried out in 2014 had found that there had been a lack of understanding of how to meet the requirements of regulations and standards and that where there had been competent people in charge who had sufficient oversight of the quality and safety of the service being provided, centres had been able to meet the regulations and standards. It is important to note that where there were competent people in charge standards were met.

  In 2015 HIQA carried out 561 inspections of the 937 designated centres for adults and children with disabilities. There were 741 inspections in total. At the time more than one third of the HSE-run homes inspected did not comply with any of the standards. For example, in Cregg House in County Sligo where there are 108 residents there was major non-compliance in 19 of the 23 areas inspected: exits were locked, there were no push buttons nearby to facilitate an exit in the case of a fire, staff were constantly in reactive mode and patients had received excessive chemical restraint in the few months prior to the inspection.  Recently the HSE has taken control of three homes run by the Irish Society for Autism. The centres which care for 47 residents are Cluain Farm in Kinnegad, Dunfirth Farm in Johnstownbridge and Sarshill House in Kilmore, County Wexford. The criticism levelled at these institutions was damming. They were labelled as unsafe and chaotic. Again, drugs were used as chemical restraints, residents left the homes without being noticed or recorded, many residents self-harmed, management was poor, staff were badly trained and inspectors found deficiencies in the administration of anti-psychotic, sedative and pain relief medication.

  In 2014 we had the horrendous debacle of the Aras Attracta controversy. How can any of us forget those degrading images of vulnerable human beings on our television screens? Their treatment flew in the face of any semblance of human nature. Regressive, neglectful care such as was highlighted cannot be tolerated. The answer, of course, is to move away from the congregated setting model and opt for more supported placements in the community. What is needed is integration, not segregation.

  The HSE prioritised the transition of just 150 people in 2015. In December 2015 the projected outturn was only 112. The number of people living in congregated settings is 2,725. The programme for Government states its objective is to reduce this figure by at least one third by 2021. At this rate, it will be 2031 before everybody is out of a congregated setting. We must be mindful to respect the trauma residents can experience when being moved to unfamiliar surroundings and aware that unsupported relocation causes great stress. It is not all that long ago when a UN special committee on torture issued a report which came extremely close to describing institutionalisation as a form of torture.

  While we will support the amendment, it is time to redouble our efforts to end congregated settings. It is time to redirect funds from this malfunctioning and often antiquated system to the people who can instigate change for the betterment of service users and to ensure the service user will be listened to through assisted decision-making legislation.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine Sinn Féin will support the Bill. That said, we have concerns and there are areas in which we seek assurances. Perhaps the Minister of State might address them and provide answers.

  The original purpose of the Bill was to allow HIQA to inspect all residential settings for people with disabilities and it was given a three year period in which to do so, from November 2013. As the Minister of State said, it will expire in October 2016. There are 1,000 residential settings for people with disabilities which require inspection. We had been informed that in the past three years, up to June this year, 556 had been registered. The Minister of State has corrected this figure, but several hundred still remain to be inspected. The amendment makes provision to extend the timeframe.

  We understand the consequences for the HSE, service users and families were we not to support the amendment. It would cause extensive problems for all concerned. Our priority and utmost concern about the amendment is for service users and the implications of the extension for them. We are, of course, fully committed to the policy of moving people from congregated settings and institutionalisation which have kept people with disabilities and abilities hidden from society. Decongregation is happening at a very slow pace. Sinn Féin supports the amendment, although we recognise that it certainly will not speed up the process. However, we have to see the greater good. Our main concern, while supporting the amendment, is to ask why the process is taking so long. While we can understand the huge administrative task involved and the time it took to bed down the initial process, we ask for the exact factors which are causing the delay and backlog. We note that the issue was highlighted for the Department of Health by HIQA in 2015. At the time, it was outlined that it would not be possible to do it within three years. Is it a question of resources? If so, why are more resources not being directed towards HIQA to allow it to complete the work within the agreed timeframe?

  There is, of course, the possibility that it is not a resources issue. It was brought to my attention yesterday after speaking to Inclusion Ireland that there seemed to be in existence a list of centres, drawn up by the HSE, that it was agreed would never meet the criteria required to be met to be registered. Will the Minister of State comment on this? Is it the case, therefore, that some service providers may be reluctant to submit the necessary documentation, knowing that ultimately their centres will be closed down once the inspection takes place? Similarly, is the HSE reluctant to carry out the inspection, knowing that it will have to shut down an existing centre and take on the responsibilities that go with it? Considering this, will the Minister of State provide me with exact figures for the numbers of centres which have already been inspected and registered and are HSE funded? If the existence of this HSE list of non-viable centres is confirmed, I will be extremely sceptical that this is no more than a kicking of the can down the road exercise, similar to what has happened in the case of water charges, banded hours contracts and bin charges. Is the requested two year period needed? The Minister of State has said 700 centres will be inspected by October. That leaves approximately 300 remaining. Will it take two years to inspect them? I really cannot work out the maths. Would it be better to opt for a shorter period of six, 12 or 18 months? Is the amendment being used as a tool to provide breathing space for the non-viable centres on the list and to meet the cost that would be incurred by the HSE?

  Controversies and scandals have been uncovered by the media and HIQA in recent times, not specifically in disability residential settings but throughout the social care sector. There are more than 300 residential settings which have never been inspected. We are aware that HIQA has returned to settings that received unfavourable and damning reports many times, but this large number of settings remain uninspected, with the potential for service users to be at increased risk. Will the Minister of State comment on this?

  Sinn Féin's vision for society is one in which all citizens, including those with disabilities, can play a full and independent part in all aspects of life, relying as far as possible on mainstream public health, education, employment and housing sevices, with the support of tailored disability services, where necessary. We further believe this vision should provide those with disabilities full autonomy and control over their own lives and services. In this context, will the Minister of State initiate the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015? This would have a huge positive impact on those with disabilities and include them in making decisions on their lives.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I welcome the Minister of State. It is very appropriate that he is taking the Bill, given his long interest in this issue. To be helpful to the previous speaker, HIQA inspecting the premises in question will not cause a delay. The delay will be caused in premises meeting the standards laid down. Some of them face serious challenges in correcting physical surroundings which are no longer acceptable. Some involve serious engineering issues, including in listed buildings. Nonetheless, like everybody else in the House, I would have loved to have seen the issue addressed sooner, but we all realise the financial crisis the country was in and that money was not available. It is now and it is being invested wisely and appropriately in services for those who are the most vulnerable in our society.  It is important to re-emphasise that the Minister of State said HIQA will continue to inspect these buildings and ensure the care standards are met. That brings me to another point. Will the Minister of State confirm there will not be any fire safety or other safety issues that will imperil clients? Like Senator Keith Swanick, I believe we want to move to integration, not segregation. Having worked for 20 years in St. Ita’s Hospital with individuals with intellectual disabilities, I remember the horrors of Leas Cross and the paradox of the fact that people were moved there from old institutions with paint peeling off the walls. That was before I was involved in politics, but I am not trying to score points; it is just the reality. In the old institutions, the ethos and culture in respect of the patient or client was beyond reproach. Then they moved to the palatial surroundings of Leas Cross. In fairness to Deputy Fergus O’Dowd, he exposed what was happening there. The patients in Leas Cross had palatial surroundings but did not have care. To me, care comes first, and the ethos and culture that support that care are most important. Therefore, as we rightly plan for de-congregation and integration, we need to do so very carefully in regard to continuity of care, the knowledge carers have of patients and clients, and the relationship they have with them. The staff are acute observers of behaviour and know when a client is getting into trouble. They know the client's medical history and how he or she behaves. I experienced this and learned a considerable amount from the nursing staff at St. Ita's Hospital about individual patients.

  I agree with Senator Keith Swanick about the circumstances in which flare-ups in behaviour were addressed by sedation, sometimes by the doctor on call, but after which the higher dosage of medication was left in place, such that the next time there was a behavioural disturbance, an even higher dose was prescribed. One could see the dosage rising. Going in as the regular general practitioner, I was always asked by the nurses whether I would not address this issue and take the clients off the higher doses when their behaviour improved. My point is about the skill and care of the majority of staff who look after the very vulnerable and disabled. We will always have outliers like Áras Attracta, and HIQA is in place to protect people in this regard. The importance of HIQA cannot be overstated. It is very important that we protect the most vulnerable.

  We had a debate yesterday in the Chamber on housing, with a particular focus on people with a disability. If a Minister for Health speaks to any person with a disability, that person will say she does not know what she is doing talking to a Minister responsible for health, as she is not sick. Rather, she will say she has a disability and ask for help and support with that disability. That is what we seek to do.

  When I was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I was very pleased to be able to introduce a new scheme to support children with special needs in the preschool years. In health, education or any other area, the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome and the better the value for money. One gets much better bang for one’s buck and much better outcomes.

  We need to ensure that only in the most severe and rare circumstances do people with a disability end up in care settings of a larger nature. We really should be seeking to support many people with a disability at home in modified housing. They have a considerable amount to add to society. Very often, they have hidden abilities. We only have to go back through history to note people who were considered to be odd and not the intellectual match of their peers but who, in their given area of interest, were far superior and made some of the great discoveries of science. At the ordinary level also, they have so much to add. Children who are raised with children with a disability learn so much and have their lives enriched so much by it. The same applies to us as adults.

  It is welcome that the Minister of State has been up front about this. As every other Senator has acknowledged, this is a very common-sense response to a set of circumstances. At the core must be the best interest of the client with the disability. This is a complicated issue to address across so many areas, as I have outlined. However, having said that, we look forward to HIQA's ensuring those who are more vulnerable with disabilities are protected when in the care of the State and that the various premises in which they reside, which are their homes in many cases, are safe and of a standard such that we would be happy to have our loved one therein.

Senator John Dolan: Information on John Dolan Zoom on John Dolan The Minister of State is very welcome back. I welcome the contributions of fellow Senators who are making very important points that need to be made. As the saying goes, we are where we are. This Bill represents the prudent and logical approach. It is regrettable at another level that it was not possible to proceed more quickly.

  I wish to make a few points on regulation in general. It was a long time coming but it is now happening. The reason for it is to benefit people with a disability. This must be considered in the context of the State's policy approach which envisages people with disabilities having maximum independence and ultimately the ability to participate in ordinary life in ordinary ways and to have relationships, an education, ease of movement, employment, etc. It is important to keep this in mind.

  Since there have been so many lapses in or a lack of regulation in a range of areas, we often run into regulation or push it on. We must ensure our regulation is the right regulation. In a couple of years, when we have a chance to review how the regulation operates, we must bear this point in mind.

  There are lessons learned already among organisations and service providers, including HIQA, the Department and the HSE. In all this, it will be most important to ascertain how we hear better and more clearly the voice of people with disabilities. We have the UN convention. The Minister of State assured us on this in the House a couple of weeks ago. It was mentioned again yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney. It is coming our way very soon. We might as well be clear about the fact there will be tension to be addressed in a mature way and that we will have to strike a balance between a very well meant ethos of welfare and care, on the one hand, and liberation, choice and the autonomy of people, on the other. We will have to struggle with this. I am pretty sure we will not find the balance too easily.

  It has taken a long time to get here. The Minister of State said one of the key aims of the Government was to provide services and supports for people with a disability that woujld empower them to live independent lives, provide them with greater independence and access to services they chose and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. He then stated this was a fundamental change in the way services and supports for people with disabilities were provided. I take issue with that. It is true in so far as it concerns many people in residential settings but, for every one person in a residential setting, there are thousands struggling to stay with it in the community and stay living in their neighbourhood. Genuine issues arise about the supports they need, including personal assistants, a decent income on which to live and home supports.  We must remember that there are two worlds. There is the world of people who have been incarcerated in institutions, in effect, and there is the world of people hanging on by their fingernails to stay living in the community.

  We hear considerable talk about the revolving door when it comes to prisons, but there is another revolving door in a sense. We are fixated with getting the 2,725 people down to zero. As Senator Keith Swanick said, at the rate targeted for the next five years it will take a further decade, 15 years in total, before that is concluded and we have not come close to meeting those targets in recent years. However, I was involved in a case about two years ago, since HIQA was established. A young man in his 50s became disabled as a result of a road traffic accident. He is a married man with three children. They are a fine family that really wanted to stay together. Someone from the HSE placed a fair deal application form before that man. This means that there are two different people sitting in offices in the HSE, one working on getting people out of congregated settings and the other suggesting the fair deal scheme as the best deal on offer.

  We are only talking about gross figures when we are trying to get the numbers down. We also need to think about the people going into institutions of one kind or another, often nursing homes. That is happening because of a serious, unprecedented and rigorous chipping away at supports that keep people living in the community, including the PA hours cut and the home care packages cut.

  I support the Bill. I hope the Minister of State will come back to address some of the wider issues raised today relating to independent living for people with disabilities. In particular, we need to address the issue of younger people going into other forms of institutions.

Senator Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash Like colleagues across the House, I have no difficulty in accepting the proposition before us that the two-year extension be granted, provided that in those two years we see very serious action and investment in the sector. We all know that there are congregated settings and other facilities across the country that require serious investment in terms of upgrading. I am aware, as others in the House will be, that a similar approach has been taken to the necessity to upgrade and ensure compliance for residential nursing homes in recent times. In order to extend and smooth the process, arguably, for compliance for residential nursing homes, the regime has been modified in terms of accommodation standards, which probably reflects a reality in that sector regarding the availability of funding.

  I repeat what Senator James Reilly said. We always need to reflect on care and the culture of an organisation when we are talking about standards and the provision of services in institutional or residential settings, whether they be for people of varying abilities or for older people. In supporting this initiative to extend the timeframe, I am hopeful we will not see a relaxation of the regime and standards to be applied to residential settings for people of varying abilities, people with disabilities, because I could not support that. We need to stay true to the standards required.

  I ask the Minister of State to confirm the level of capital investment that will be available in the coming two to five years to bring residential settings up to the required standard. I agree with Senator John Dolan who spoke very eloquently about the challenges the sector faces. He knows more than anybody else in this Chamber about those challenges.

  It took a long time to get here. We have travelled a journey and it is very positive that we are moving in this direction. My party colleague, the former Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, must take some credit for taking this initiative and ensuring in 2013 that we were taking a journey towards this state where the requirement for these standards would become part of the system and our response to the sector. It is about ensuring everyone in our society has a high standard of living and a high standard of support and care. We are all united in wanting to see the congregated settings broken up and people having the opportunity, as they should as equal citizens, to live independently with the support of the State and others.

  When will Ireland ratify the UN convention which Senator John Dolan mentioned? I do not believe I was in the House when the Minister of State responded to that question a couple of weeks ago. Ireland is the only European Union state not to have ratified the convention at this stage. I look forward to us doing so and would appreciate being given a timeframe by the Minister of State for it.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss the matter. I believe all the issues I wanted to raise have been raised and I will not go back over them. Where HIQA makes decisions we need adequate follow-up within a reasonable period of time. I know that the Bill deals with that issue. This morning I met a group of people who raised concerns about a facility that had been closed down without adequate provision for where the people leaving the facility would be accommodated. It is important to have co-ordination of services where that arises. Senator James Reilly made the very valid point that in all the facilities covered by the Bill we needed to ensure no person would be put at risk.

  I come to another matter that we have put on the long finger for a number of years, partly because of insufficient funding. Every week in my area I come across elderly parents who are looking after their children, often older people up to their mid-50s. Those parents are now finding it difficult to mind that child who has intellectual or physical disabilities. They find that all the doors are closed for them in getting support. They are worried that no facility will be available for their child when they are no longer there to look after him or her.

  In Cork approximately 1,200 people are in residential care with Cope, with another 1,500 in day care. Owing to demand, that day care service may need to move to providing a far greater level of support. I am not sure we have done any long-term planning in that regard.  I am not sure if figures are available on the age profile of people looking after those who attend day care facilities. The demands placed on services in the next ten years will require that alternative means of looking after the people concerned will be needed. This is a serious concern. I spoke at lunchtime to a woman whose husband was on his way to collect the couple's daughter from a day care centre. The daughter is aged in her mid-50s and for the past 40 years, her father has been driving her to a day facility every morning and collecting her every evening. The couple look after her at home at night but they are growing older and are concerned because there are no other family members who can look after their daughter. We must be careful to ensure action on this issue is not delayed. All these centres should be up to scratch at this stage. While I accept that this issue has been ongoing for many years, the Department needs to address it immediately because it is a matter of increasing concern for parents and families.

  Health services need to be co-ordinated between various health service authorities and local authorities. Demands are being made to adapt accommodation to make it easier for parents and local authorities. I raised previously a case involving a person with a severe physical and intellectual disability. To be fair, the problem was resolved but only after seven and a half years and the intervention of the Ombudsman, which is not good enough. We must send a message to local authorities and the health service that they must co-operate to a much greater extent to ensure people with disabilities are looked after and can continue to live in the community.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I thank Senators James Reilly, Keith Swanick, Máire Devine, John Dolan, Gerald Nash and Colm Burke for their support and the ideas they expressed. I will respond individually to the queries they raised.

  The Government is committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities which will empower them to live independent lives, provide greater independence in accessing services they choose and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. This commitment is outlined in A Programme for a Partnership Government which is guided by two principles, namely, equality of opportunity and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. A key element of this is to safeguard and support the delivery of person centred care to vulnerable people of all ages who are receiving residential care services and to ensure their health, well-being and quality of life are promoted and protected.

  It is clear that the establishment of the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, and the introduction of its inspection and regulatory frameworks have gone a long way in improving the lives of people with disabilities in residential care. The National Disability Authority was asked by my Department to conduct a study of the first year of operations of HIQA inspections of residential centres for people with disabilities. The authority's review which was published in May last confirms the importance and necessity of the regulatory process, an issue raised by many speakers in this debate. It also confirms that the regulatory process is working effectively and protecting vulnerable people in the care of the State.

  The purpose of the Bill is not to change any of the fundamentals of the inspection, regulation and registration regime for centres for people with disabilities. It will simply extend the existing transitional period in which residential centres are deemed to be registered in order to allow HIQA the necessary time to ensure every centre is inspected fully and properly. HIQA will not be limited in any way in the application of its powers and sanctions. It will retain its ability to inspect and, if necessary, cancel the registration of residential centres which persistently fail to meet the required standards. This is an important aspect of the legislation.

  I will now address some of the issues Senators raised. Senator Keith Swanwick referred to the Áras Attracta facility. I was as shocked and distressed as others by the revelations at the end of 2014 concerning the extremely poor and unacceptable standards of care and mistreatment of vulnerable residents in the centre. An independent review of Áras Attracta's services was also commissioned and is nearing completion. I will ensure I am fully briefed on the findings and recommendations of the review. Anyone who has concerns about the treatment of vulnerable persons in our disability services is urged to contact the Health Information and Quality Authority which, I am assured, will take the matter very seriously and investigate it in the context of its significant regulatory powers of inspection of residential facilities.

  Senator Keith Swanwick referred to three centres which were run by the Irish Society for Autism. The Health Service Executive has assumed responsibility for the governance and management of the three centres in question. The HSE has engaged external service providers to assist and manage the services on a temporary basis. I am very familiar with Gheel Autism Services, one of the service providers commissioned to assist in this matter. Significant progress is being made on the issues highlighted by HIQA, with a suite of immediate actions already completed. Appropriate plans to address more long-term regulatory requirements are being implemented. While HIQA's findings in cases such as these may make difficult reading, they also serve as evidence that the regulatory process works effectively in the interests of protecting vulnerable persons in the care of the State.

  Cregg House in County Sligo which was mentioned is one of the centres prioritised for decongregation and the HSE is working to assist residents of the centre in moving to a new place of residence of their choice.

  Senator Gerald Nash referred to capital investment in this area. Funding of €100 million has been provided for this purpose in the next five years.

  Senator John Dolan referred to HIQA's annual overview report on the regulation of designated centres for adults and children with disabilities. The review was published today and according to HIQA, the introduction of regulation for residential centres for people with disabilities has brought about a positive cultural change in the sector. HIQA states that two years ago, initial inspections found that residents in many large congregated settings were not being adequately protected or kept safe. It adds that inspections steadily led to improvements in the standards of care in these settings. The review praises the improvements in care and states that last year HIQA inspected 561 of the 937 designated residential centres for adults and mixed centres for adults and children with disabilities. This is important, but I concur with Senator John Dolan on the need to develop the right type of regulation.

  Senator John Dolan also referred to people with disabilities living in the community. I am committed to setting up a task force on personalised budgets as soon as possible and will finalise my plans in this regard next week. By the end of this month, I intend to inform the Government of my decision on the chair of the task force and outline my plans for the appointment of its members and the development of its terms of reference, objectives, scope and key deliverables. With the support of the Government, I will proceed to appoint members and arrange for its first meeting to take place as soon as practicable. I am, therefore, pushing the idea of personalised budgets.

  Senator Colm Burke referred to people at risk and raised fire safety issues. I agree with the Senator's sentiments on these matters, all of which need to be prioritised, and will highlight them while in office. Senator Máire Devine raised similar issues. It is worth noting that by the end of April, all such centres had been inspected by HIQA at least once. The HSE and HIQA have agreed a priority list of centres which face the greatest challenges in meeting standards and all centres will be required to comply with the timeline.  I mentioned HIQA and the standards required. I think it was Senator James Reilly who raised the issue of old buildings. We have to ensure these buildings are brought up to standard. As I said, there will be major investment in them in the next few years. It is up to me to fight on these issues because we have to up our game.

  A number of other points were made by Senators, including Senator Keith Swanick, on the issue of competent people being in charge. That applies to both the provision of services and the implementation of HIQA standards and regulations. It also relates to the treatment of people with intellectual or physical disabilities. That is something we have to improve. It is something that we discovered in some of the other cases that were raised by my colleagues. I believe it is important that we deal with these particular issues. On any particular issues that I did not respond to, I will come back to the individual Senators later on with a more detailed response.

  The cases of a number of centres taken over by the HSE in recent months show us that the system of regulation works. There is a procedure in place to deal with centres that fail to meet HIQA standards. There is no exception in the case of centres covered in section 69 of the 2007 Act. The extension of the timeframe for registration will not affect this in any way. It will simply ensure HIQA has the time required to inspect every residential centre in the country for people with disabilities in the full and comprehensive manner required.

  I hope I have addressed the concerns expressed and that the Bill will receive broad support from all sides of the House. I again thank all Senators for their support and new and refreshing ideas.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

Criminal Justice Act 1994 (Section 44) Regulations 2016: Motion

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I move:

That Seanad Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:
Criminal Justice Act 1994 (Section 44) Regulations 2016,
a copy of which was laid in draft before the Seanad on the 7th day of June 2016.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I thank all of the Senators present for attending to deal with this issue.

  The very disturbing organised criminal activity in recent months has highlighted the part played by the lower level members of criminal gangs. Following consultation with senior gardaí and departmental officials, the Tánaiste has put together a package of measures to enhance our efforts to fight organised crime and secured Government approval for it at the end of May. There are a number of aspects to that package, including the establishment of a special crime task force by An Garda Síochána which will focus on persons involved in gangland activities. Another part of the package is the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2016 which passed all Stages in this House last week with the support of all sides and is before the Dáil on Second Stage today.

  We all recognise that Garda operations require practical support, as well as legislative improvements. The Tánaiste is committed to providing the resources An Garda Síochána needs to address the difficult challenges they face. Additional funding of €55 million for An Garda Síochána has recently been approved by the Government. The motion we are debating seeks the approval of the Seanad to draft regulations under section 44 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 which has been laid before the House. It is another important element in the package of measures aimed at criminal gangs.

  It is important that I emphasise that the section 44 regulations are only one aspect of the law enforcement package. The Government's response to crime must, and does, go beyond law enforcement. The Taoiseach and other Government colleagues held various meetings with community representatives from the north inner city of Dublin in recent weeks to hear their concerns about the broader socioeconomic issues affecting the area. I attended one of the meetings. It was a very successful community-based meeting, at which most of the Deputies and Ministers just listened to the local residents rather than talking to them. The community representatives were very appreciative of the visible Garda presence in the area and sought reassurance about continuing resources for local policing. Other concerns raised related to tackling the scourge of drugs, including the illicit sale of prescription drugs, as well as early intervention programmes for children, dealing with educational disadvantage, job creation and apprenticeships in the area, improving the physical environment, social housing provision and community development, including family, youth and recreational activity. The Taoiseach intends to establish a broader task force to address socioeconomic and community development issues in the north inner city. The outcome of those meetings helped to inform the preparatory work around the proposed task force for the north inner city of Dublin. We are determined to make progress on this in the near future. I also note that the new national drugs strategy for post-2016 is being developed by the Department of Health in consultation with all relevant stakeholders.

  Regulations under section 44 set the prescribed sum for the purpose of section 38 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994. Section 38 allows searching, seizure and detention of cash gained from, or for use in, criminal conduct. Cash is defined to include notes and coins in any currency, postal orders, cheques of any kind, bank drafts, bearer bonds and bearer shares. Powers under this section may be exercised by a member of An Garda Síochána or any officer of the Revenue Commissioners where he or she has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the cash directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of crime or is intended by any person for use in any criminal conduct. The power of search under subsection (1) is only available in the context of the suspected importation or exportation of cash. This aspect of section 38 is, therefore, more likely to be availed of by customs officers at ports and airports.  The power of seizure under subsection (1)(a) allows the Garda and Revenue officers to seize and detain cash, including cash found during a search under subsection (1), if it is not less than the prescribed sum and the officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that it directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of crime or is intended by any person for use in criminal conduct. When cash is seized by a member of An Garda Síochána or an officer of the Revenue Commissioners under section 38 it may be detained for 48 hours. Detention beyond 48 hours may be authorised by a judge of the District Court if he or she is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the suspicion which led to the initial search and seizure.

  Section 39 of the Act allows for a judge of the Circuit Court to order the ultimate forfeiture of the cash if satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the cash directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of crime or is intended by any person for use in connection with any criminal conduct. The Criminal Justice Act 1994 (Section 44) Regulations 1996 currently sets the prescribed sum for the purposes of section 38 of the Act at €6,349. The draft regulations laid before the House will repeal the old regulations and reduce this limit to €1,000. Over €8 million has been seized by Revenue Commissioners under section 38 and almost €7 million has been forfeited under section 39 since 2010. The annual report of the Director of Public Prosecutions for 2014 notes that almost 40 files were opened in relation to section 39 applications from both Revenue and the Garda. In terms of forfeiture orders made in 2014, there were eight on the Garda side amounting to almost €390,000 and 24 on the Revenue side amounting to almost €500,000. Reducing the prescribed sum to €1,000 will ensure the Garda or Revenue officials will be able to seize amounts above that amount. An effective response to crime requires that such amounts can be pursued. I commend the motion to the House.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and thank him for laying out his thoughts on the motion. I am happy to say the Fianna Fáil group will be supporting it, as we have supported all the previous measures brought before this House in recent weeks to tackle gangland crime. We have all been shocked and horrified at the events since last February, in particular, and most recently the shooting in Lusk in north County Dublin of a gentleman who, thankfully, survived that shooting but many people have been horrified that people are being shot and killed in broad daylight. An innocent man was caught up in gangland crime and it is only a matter of time before there will be a fatality unless it is tackled head on. The Government has proposed some sensible motions to deal with it and we are happy to support them.

  I was also happy to hear the Minister of State say he was making efforts to address issues in other areas in the north inner city with measures such as the early intervention programmes for children, addressing educational disadvantage, job creation and improving the physical environment, as it is important there be green spaces, adequate housing and clean and safe streets for children to play on and people to walk. I am very happy to support the motion. It is proportionate in the face of the threat facing Dublin and the country, as we have seen it spill out beyond Dublin. I am happy to report that our group will be supporting the motion.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht bheith i láthair leis an rún seo a chur os ár gcomhair. I thank the Minister of State for being here. We have had a very sincere and reflective series of contributions in the Seanad over the course of discussions on these matters. One common theme among the Members and across the Seanad is that we want to empower the Garda. We want to give it the powers to tackle these criminal gangs. We want to strengthen its ability to seize assets. Sinn Féin will be supporting the motion as it seeks to do so.

  One aspect I have been keen to highlight, nuance and articulate during the course of these discussions has been the critical need as this legislation progresses and I hope it will achieve what it sets out to do to ensure it is human rights compliant. We need to take account of international best practice and look 100 miles up the road to some of the successes the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other agencies in the North have been able to achieve in seizing criminal assets and reinvesting them back into the communities. As Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee outlined, we need to invest in people. We need to invest in the communities that are suffering most as a result of the criminal gangs who, unfortunately, for some considerable time have had a stranglehold over many of them. As political activists and public representatives, we know and are of these communities and have been greatly privileged over the years to represent them. They are not looking for handouts, rather they are not looking to be taken by the hand, but they need to be supported. They need to be enfranchised and empowered to enable them to also play a central role because they want their communities back. They want their communities and families to be safe. It is also a matter of how we empower them to be able to work alongside all of the agencies in doing exactly that. Part of it can be directly reinvesting the assets back into these communities, not as an additional top-up or with misgivings, but we should do it in a way that is considerate and compliant with best practice.

  Sinn Féin supports the moves to allow the Garda to seize sums at the limit of €1,000. There should be no doubt that we support this element. We support the motion.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. It is appropriate that he is dealing with this legislation, given his constituency and his proximity to north County Dublin and his intimate knowledge, going back to his days as a teacher, of how these communities have been affected by crime and criminality. Very decent people are fearful to live in their homes and frightened to go out onto the streets. It is unfortunate that as opposed to the situation improving, it has deteriorated with the particular feuding that is taking place in 2016 so far.

  This is a necessary motion. It is an incremental step in the Government's programme to deal with crime and the criminals perpetrating it. In order to put them behind bars, we in the Oireachtas need to stand in solidarity and unity with the people. We need to send a unanimous, clear message from this and the Lower House that we are prepared to take on the people in question and that the Government and those on all sides of these Houses are not afraid to implement whatever legislation is necessary in order to make the streets safe again and for the citizens who live in this city to feel like they can walk the streets without being terrified that they will either be involved in, or will witness, a shooting.

  What has gone on in this city since Christmas, in particular, with shootings in broad daylight, captured on closed circuit television, is not good enough. We have to stand in solidarity with the people. The Minister, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and other representatives, including fantastic hard-working councillors in the north inner city, all attended a meeting where they listened to the community, absorbed their fear and heard of their experience through the stories they told. They also heard the solutions that the people on the ground wanted, namely, resources, armed response units to be beefed up, and proper and appropriate interventions. That is what is happening and what the motion is about.

  I thank Opposition Members in the House for their very constructive support for the motion and the other legislative measures brought forward in the past three or four weeks to deal with this appalling vista and scourge on decent hard-working people who are just trying to get on with their lives. They live in a great city. We will ensure we will deal with the individuals in question, silence them and put them behind bars.  That is what the people expect us to do and we will do it.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. It is my first opportunity to welcome him to the Chamber and I congratulate him on his appointment.

  I support the motion which, as the Minister of State said, is to enable the reduction of the sum prescribed in section 38 of the 1994 Act, under which cash suspected of being proceeds of crime may be seized by gardaí or Revenue officers. The Minister of State has set out the effect of the motion, to enable the reduction of the sum from more than €6,000 to €1,000.

  We had a full debate on the context for this change and the implications of it when the Tánaiste was before this House on 5 July to discuss the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill, which I know is being debated today on Second Stage in the Dáil where Deputy Brendan Howlin is speaking for the Labour Party. The Bill we debated and passed which is now before the Dáil reduces the threshold value of properties subject to the 1996 Proceeds of Crime Act from €13,000 to €5,000. It creates a new administrative power for officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau to confiscate property they reasonably suspect to be the proceeds of crime. As the Tánaiste is aware, I spoke on both Second Stage and Committee Stage of the Bill in the Seanad some weeks ago to argue that the new powers need to be accompanied by sufficient safeguards to ensure the provisions of the Bill are sufficiently robust to withstand constitutional challenge. I put forward an amendment on that point and we debated it. It was the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, who took the amendments on Committee Stage; the Tánaiste was here on Second Stage. The issue will be debated again in the Dáil. I also spoke on Second Stage about the need to protect against unforeseen consequences flowing from the reduction of the threshold. Again, I brought forward an amendment on that issue, about which Deputy Brendan Howlin is speaking today in the Dáil, relating to the proceeds of prostitution.

  The point I made about the Bill should be reiterated in the context of the motion. We must ensure that by reducing the threshold which all of us support, we do not widen the net too broadly with regard to the people who may be brought in under it. I know that some groups have concerns about civil liberties such as the potential for harassment and so on, with people being brought in for very small amounts. Having said that, in the context of serious concerns about rising levels of organised crime, there have been calls for the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, to be allowed to target proceeds of crime held by mid- and lower-level actors in local organised crime. That is undoubtedly the reason for this reduction. That is something we all very much support.

  To take up the issue of organised crime, particularly in the north inner city, which is an area very close to the Minister of State's heart, I reiterate the need for a north inner city task force to be set up as a matter of urgency to tackle not just crime in the area but also, equally importantly, economic disadvantage to tackle the causes of crime, as well as its effect. I know from working with the Minister of State on the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality that he will share that view on the need to tackle both the causes and the effect of crime. I know that he would also share the view that a criminal justice response cannot be the only response or the only way to tackle organised crime. Those are just a few of the broader points to be made, but we support the motion. As I said, we very much support the united front we are all presenting against organised crime and the need to ensure that effective powers are given to the CAB and other law enforcement agents to tackle crime at that level, but we must ensure we take a balanced approach, knowing as we do that the proceeds of crime legislation presents a very delicate balancing of different due process concerns with the need to tackle organised crime.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I will be brief. I was watching the debate on screen and felt the need to come to the House and reiterate my opposition to lowering the thresholds with regard to a mini-CAB. It contributes to the cycle of criminality. We are talking about removing small amounts of cash - around €1,000 - whether from the drug trade or the black economy in general such as street traders and counterfeit goods. Whether we like to acknowledge it, they are keeping communities afloat in certain areas. Until we address the reasons those areas need to move to such an economy, which obviously include inequality, poverty and the need to find other markets for them to survive, I do not think it is appropriate to lower the cash amount to €1,000. There have been many stories over the years about people carrying out murders and killings because amounts as little as €1,000 were owed to those higher up the ladder. Targeting those at the very bottom and taking cash quantities of €1,000 from them leaves them extremely vulnerable, owing that debt or owing favours to those at the top of the chain, on whom these measures have absolutely no impact. This will actually attack the most vulnerable on the street. I know that this is in response to what is happening in the north inner city, but it affects other trades. It effectively becomes a working class court system. People are pitted against one another. If a person is seen to have extra cash in working class areas, does that leave him or her open to being reported? People will end up being pitted against each other. All these measures, in both the drugs Bill a few weeks ago and the proceeds of crime Bills, have gone for low-hanging fruit. I know that the Bill will pass, but I felt the need to come and say I want to play absolutely no part in contributing to the cycle of criminality that lowering the threshold to €1,000 will bring.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I thank all of the Senators who contributed to the debate. I am particularly grateful for the support for the measures taken by the Government to fight organised crime. I will respond in a few minutes to the individual issues raised by Senators. It is important to note that the proposed regulations we have debated will strengthen the capacity of the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners to seize cash by lowering the threshold for the exercise of this power under the Criminal Justice Act 1994 from over €6,000 down to €1,000. Lowering the threshold to €1,000 strikes the right balance between limiting the power of seizure to substantial amounts of cash and enabling the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners to take more effective action against organised crime. There are safeguards in place in the legislation. Detention beyond 48 hours is not possible without judicial authorisation.

  On some of the points raised in the debate, I thank Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee for her support in dealing with violent gangs and organised crime. That is something we have to deal with as part of the strategy. She is right. We have to deal with early intervention, educational disadvantage and the physical well-being of the north inner city. There are many other areas across the State where we have to deal with the physical aspect. We also have to deal with the environmental issues such as economic, social and educational disadvantage. All of these have to be part of the package. Yesterday I was at a meeting with the Taoiseach at which we raised all of those issues. Some Senators dealt with crime, others with drugs; I particularly zoomed in on educational disadvantage and some of the examples of good practice in disadvantaged areas. The Senator is right that we have to have an overall package to deal with this issue.

  Empowering gardaí was mentioned by Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile. We have to have gardaí to tackle these gangs, but we also have to have a Garda force that does not demand the respect of the community but that will go out and earn it. This applies to all public services across many of these areas. If a good local teacher, local garda, local HSE worker or staff member, or somebody who works in a youth club builds the respect of young people and the rest of the community, he or she can do an awful lot of good. That is something we have to develop. Often it is the calibre and quality of the people on the front line that matters.

  Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile also raised the issue of human rights compliance. That is something about which we always have to be vigilant.

  I agree with Senator Martin Conway's point on the proximity of the issue. Many of us know some of the people directly involved in these horrific murders. It is particularly sad for those of us who do. I agree that we need to send a clear message that every Member of this House will not accept this kind of behaviour and neither will the people of the north inner city, in this case, or the people of Galway, Limerick, Cork or any part of the country. That message has to go out and it is important that people get it.  When I attended the meeting in the hall in Sheriff Street, that was the message we received from the local community, namely, the need to deal with this issue, that the community needed protection and safety but that they also needed economic and investment to tackle social issues such as housing.

  Senator Ivana Bacik spoke about the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and the issue of safeguards. I agree that the safeguards have to be 100%. With regard to the CAB, there is potential for the development of an effective community redistribution system which is being considered as part of a medium-term review of the overall proceeds of crime legislation. Funds seized by the CAB will be distributed to the local community. This issue has been discussed and was also discussed by the late Tony Gregory many times. The potential system is being examined and the Senator is correct also about the issue of safeguards.

  Senator Lynn Ruane made reference to smaller amounts. I disagree with her on this issue, but I believe strongly that one has to have concerns about the inner city issues and proper task forces to tackle economic disadvantage. I accept the Senator's point about the street traders and such people because 20 years ago I was involved in campaigns with the late Tony Gregory in dealing with this type of issue. However, I do not necessarily agree with having a threshold of €1,000. We must ensure we target, most of the time, the bigger crime lords and criminals who should be the focus. We have to listen to all dissenting voices in this debate because we can all learn from this process. It is very important.

  It is also the case that a person who is affected by the detention of cash can at any time apply to the court to have it released if the detention is not justified. That is a part answer to that issue. As I have said, this proposal is part of a package of measures aimed at combating organised crime. The measures include proposals to strengthen the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2005, proposals for additional funding for An Garda Síochána and greater engagement with the local community in Dublin city on the broader socio-economic issues which must be addressed.

  I thank all Senators for their contributions and will absolutely reintroduce a task force. The answer is that a task force will be set up and we started that process with a meeting yesterday. That is the next stage of the development and response to this issue. I will bring the matters discussed back to the Cabinet sub-committee.

  Question put and agreed to.

  The Seanad adjourned at 5.15 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Friday, 15 July 2016.

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