Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Public Service Code of Conduct
 Header Item Flood Prevention Measures
 Header Item Primary Medical Certificates Eligibility
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill 2016: First Stage
 Header Item Health (Amendment) (Professional Home Care) Bill 2016: First Stage
 Header Item Second Report of Committee of Selection: Motion
 Header Item Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016: Second Stage

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 248 No. 3

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Chuaigh an Leas-Chathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.

Business of Seanad

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I have received notice from Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to address the delay in preparing codes of conduct for directors and employees in State bodies and the wider public service similar to those in place for elected representatives and civil servants.

I have also received notice from Senator Gabrielle McFadden of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works and flood relief to update the Seanad on flood defences along the River Shannon.

I have also received notice from Senator Rose Conway-Walsh of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of State at the Department of Health with special responsibility for disability issues to examine the issue of medical certificates and mobilisation grants to enable people with disabilities and mobility problems to access transport, in particular the need to examine the requirement for disability to affect the lower limbs in order to be entitled to a medical certificate.

I have also received notice from Senator Kieran O'Donnell of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to progress funding for the upgrade of water mains at Parteen village, County Clare, to prevent any further water supply loss for hundreds of homes.

I regard the matters raised by Senators Ó Clochartaigh, McFadden and Conway-Walsh as suitable for discussion and they will be taken now. I regret I have had to rule out of order the matter raised by Senator O’Donnell on the grounds that the Minister has no official responsibility in the matter.

Commencement Matters

Public Service Code of Conduct

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Tá céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis as ucht a cheapacháin. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil Gaillimheach sa ról atá aige. I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment as it is the first time I have had the opportunity to do so on the floor of the Seanad. I wish him well and it is great to see another west of Ireland man close enough to the Cabinet table, at least, and having some influence on policy making.

  This question arises from recent investigations I have been doing around people who are employed by State agencies etc. There are a number of State agencies and anecdotal evidence suggests that people, for example, who worked in county councils - the Minister of State was in Galway County Council for a while - move on when finished their tenure. In some cases, they work for companies working as contractors for the councils etc. Two former employees of Údarás na Gaeltachta who were involved in policy development with regard to seaweed cutting and aquaculture went on to work with a company in that area which they would have previously dealt with from a policy perspective.

  I am not insinuating any impropriety in what any of the individuals are undertaking at present. Ministers, Deputies, Senators and civil servants are required to adhere to standards in public office, and there is a code on standards of behaviour that we are expected to adhere to. However, there is no similar code of service under the standards in public office legislation for public servants. The website has a heading for public servants but it states that the Department of Finance has yet to prepare codes of conduct for directors or employees in State bodies and the wider public service.

  I looked at the Civil Service code of standards and behaviour, as one would imagine the code for civil servants should be quite similar to that for public servants. In many cases civil and public servants are comparable with regard to pay scales, working conditions and contractual obligations etc. The Civil Service code is not out of the ordinary and it is quite normal in the run of things. I appreciate many State agencies have their own codes of conduct etc. The guidelines for the Civil Service were drawn up in 2004, which is 12 years ago. I take it that in that time, nothing appears to have been done around the code of conduct and standards of behaviour for the public service. It is quite unusual and strange that this would not have been done or brought up to date at this stage.

  For example, the code for the Civil Service covers quite a number of headlines. It outlines the standards required of civil servants and underpinning service delivery in respect of impartiality and so on. It deals with behaviour at work and the standards of integrity, conflicts of interest, gifts, hospitality etc. It is very similar to what we are asked to do as public representatives, which is correct. There is an interesting section towards the end dealing with the acceptance of outside appointments and consultancy engagement following resignation or retirement. There is something in that code of conduct that considers cases in which people working for the State in a policy capacity had dealings with certain organisations or companies and what would be expected of a civil servant after such employment.  Why is there such a delay in drawing this up for the public service? For example, No. 20.2 of the code states:

Any civil servant intending to be engaged in or connected with (i) any outside business with which he or she had official dealings or (ii) any outside business that might gain an unfair advantage over its competitors by employing him or her, must inform the appropriate authority of such an intention.

That is very practical and fair. I hope the Government is looking at bringing in something similar for public servants.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Seán Canney): Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I thank the Senator for his kind words. I am delighted to be here to take this matter on behalf of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

  The current position regarding codes of conduct is that section 10 of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 provides for the introduction of codes of conduct to be observed by the persons to whom they relate and provide guidance in the performance of their official duties. The standards commission is responsible for the publication and distribution of such codes of conduct but the codes themselves are drawn up by a number of parties under the Act. The codes of conduct for Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann were drawn up by the appropriate Committees on Members' Interests. The code of conduct for officeholders was drawn up by the Government. The Civil Service code of standards and behaviour was drawn up by the then Minister for Finance in 2004 following consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission and staff representatives. This code was revised in 2008 and is now the responsibility of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The code of conduct for local government was drawn up by the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government under the Local Government Act 2001 following consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission.

  Codes of conduct for directors and employees in the wider public service have not yet been prepared, notwithstanding the fact that the 2001 Act provides that such codes "shall be drawn up from time to time". The Senator is right. This is now the responsibility of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. That is not to say that codes do not exist within the wider public sector. For example, many public bodies in the education sector and the health sector have codes of conduct and I understand that the code of ethics for An Garda Síochána is currently being prepared. In addition, directors and other senior public officials in the public sector are subject to obligations under the ethics Acts and, of course, public bodies are all subject to the code of practice for the governance of State bodies, which was recently published. That code provides a framework for the application of best practice in corporate governance. It is strongly based on the underlying principles of good governance, namely, accountability, transparency, probity and a focus on the sustainable success and performance of the State body concerned in light of the particular public functions it undertakes. Good governance supports a culture of behaviour with integrity and ethical values.

  As the Senator is aware, a significant programme of legislative reform was undertaken by the previous Government to strengthen openness, transparency, governance and accountability of the institutions of the State. The Minister is committed to continuing that work. One of those reforms is the development of the Public Sector Standards Bill. The Minister is pleased to advise the Senator and the House that a key reform proposed within that Bill is the establishment in legislation of a set of integrity principles for all public officials and the subsequent development by the new public sector standards commissioner of a model code of conduct applicable to all public officials based on these integrity principles. The Bill includes general principles on standards of integrity and concern for the public interest. Public officials will need to adhere to the principles of accountability and transparency in government and public affairs and use resources efficiently and effectively.

  The Bill also provides that the new commissioner will issue a model code of conduct based on these general principles with which public officials must comply in the performance of their duties. The Bill provides that public bodies may adopt their own codes to meet particular requirements while adhering to the principles and standards in the model code. The commissioner may advise as to whether amendments to any such code are required. In the Minister's view, this approach, where all codes must conform with the model code developed by the commissioner, will lead to the adoption of best practice and the removal of any inconsistencies and differences in standards and approaches taken. The Public Sector Standards Bill was published in December 2015 and completed Second Stage in the Dáil in January. A very constructive debate has led to a number of Committee Stage amendments, the preparation of which is currently under way. It is the Minister's intention to enact this legislation as soon as possible. In conclusion, while there is currently no specific code of conduct for the wider public service, the officials in question are subject to the ethics Acts and the code of practice for the governance of State bodies and many codes are already in existence in this sector. These officials will be subject to the model code, once in place, following enactment of the Bill.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I welcome the fact that a Bill is being brought forward but I worry about the time lapse. The basic question is why it has taken so long. I mentioned 12 years but if the legislation was enacted in 2011, it is even longer. Perhaps the Minister of State could ask the Minister the reason the Standards in Public Office Commission cannot update the code and put what would be a model code in place sooner rather than later so that all these disparate codes can be brought under one regulation under the commission's guidelines. I think that would be very beneficial and important and could be based on the Civil Service code that is already there.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I take the Senator's comments on board and will communicate them to the Minister. I am also concerned about the delay but I assure the Senator and the House that the Minister will do everything to bring this legislation forward as soon as possible.

Flood Prevention Measures

Senator Gabrielle McFadden: Information on Gabrielle McFadden Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden I welcome the Minister of State. This matter relates to flooding in the Shannon region. As the Minister of State is undoubtedly aware, Athlone and the surrounding area suffered terribly from flooding last year. On 4 December 2015, it became very obvious to people in the town that we were in very big trouble. Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of home owners, county council staff, the Army, gardaí and over 100 volunteers, almost all of the houses in the area were protected. There was much talk back then about what needed to done and what could be done. We all know that the issues associated with the River Shannon are very complex and that there are too many agencies involved. All of these agencies have a valid input but nobody is taking responsibility. Back then at a meeting in the Sheraton Hotel in Athlone, I asked the Taoiseach to consider appointing a Minister with responsibility for flooding within the OPW. As they say, the rest is history and the Minister of State is here today. The Taoiseach set up the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group, which consists of members from the ESB, Waterways Ireland, Inland Fisheries, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Bord na Móna, the OPW, Irish Water, local authorities and the Departments of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. It is obvious that there are too many agencies involved.

  We have reached the end of October 2016 and I have yet to see any flood relief schemes in place in Athlone or the surrounding area. Last year, many politicians did a great deal of talking about all the things that the Government was not doing. The Minister of State made a big announcement in Athlone recently - an event to which he forgot to invite me - in respect of a €6 million package for work on defence walls, embankments and floodgates. These are all very welcome but they had been announced previously. It had always been planned that money would be spent on these issues after the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, report. There is nothing new in any of this. Eleven months on, nothing has happened. People are still living in fear and dread of a repeat of last year. People still have no insurance. Some elderly people are still worried sick about being trapped in their homes again. They do not need big announcements, they need action.

  I have consistently said that the Minister of State and the Department must listen to the people who live along the river. Nobody knows the river like the locals. Locals believe that some remedial works involving dredging could have been carried out along the river which might have alleviated the floods. It is obvious that if there is dirt in a drain, it will interfere with the flow of water. If the dirt is cleared, the water can flow. The same can be said for the river. I know the Minister of State has conflicting views about dredging. On 20 September, he said that there was no evidence that dredging was needed in the Shannon. However, on 20 October, he told the Dáil that localised dredging could be on the agenda. The farmers and locals along the River Shannon do not have conflicting views on dredging.  Like me, they believe and have been calling for dredging for a long time now.

  The cut at Meelick needs to be cleared as well. Some clearing work was done years ago but it was never finished. We all know that the water in the river will find its course. If the way is blocked, the water will find another route. Another thing that needs to be looked at is the water level in Lough Ree. The levels should be brought back to the levels of the lough in 1979. The levels were raised in 1979 temporarily for navigation purposes, but they were never put back.

  All these things could not be done before now because too many agencies were involved. Now, we have one person responsible for the situation, the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Canney. It is now time for action to be taken. It is not good enough to tell people that the works promised in the announcement by the Minister of State will take place next year. Fingers crossed, the weather will remain dry, although we had a dry October last year too. I thank the Minister of State sincerely for coming to the Seanad to respond to this Commencement matter. Since it is my first time to encounter the Minister of State in the House, I wish him well in his portfolio.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I thank Senator McFadden for the opportunity to respond to the questions she has raised. I will give the House an update on the actions in respect of flooding along the Shannon.

  The core strategy for addressing the significant flood risk along the River Shannon is the Office of Public Works catchment flood risk assessment and management programme. Of the 300 areas for further assessment nationwide, 26 are in the Shannon river basin district. These have been addressed within the Shannon CFRAM study. Draft flood risk management plans have been made available for public consultation. The consultation period for the Shannon CFRAM study closed on 23 September and included a series of local public consultation events. The flood risk management plans will now be finalised. The plans will take on board the comments received and will include a prioritised list of feasible measures, structural and non-structural, to address flood risk in an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective manner.

  Building on past investment, the Government has demonstrated its support of flood relief by extending its commitment to provide €430 million to flood risk management between 2016 and 2021. The allocation for flood defences will more than double from €45 million to €100 million per annum. The OPW estimates that up to €1.2 billion in benefit has been derived from the investment to date, with 12,000 properties protected and flood damages and losses avoided. This is a major achievement and it is the Government's intention to continue to build on this major achievement and to prioritise investment in flood defence schemes.

  Athlone experienced severe flooding last winter and the situation could have been far worse but for the extraordinary efforts made by the local authority emergency response team and assisted by volunteers from the local community. I am determined that residents and business owners in Athlone should not have to go through that experience again. It has been decided, therefore, to advance the flood relief schemes for the town. The OPW and Westmeath County Council are working together on the development of a flood relief scheme for the town and the OPW has agreed to fund the development and implementation of a viable scheme for Athlone based on the options identified in the Shannon CFRAM report. The works are estimated to cost approximately €6 million and are planned to commence in 2017. When completed, the project will provide protection to approximately 250 homes.

  Other major schemes along the Shannon are already under design and construction, including those at Foynes and Kings Island in Limerick and at Ennis lower and Ennis south. The OPW can provide funding to local authorities under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme to undertake minor works to address localised flooding and coastal protection problems within their administrative areas. So far this year, 38 additional projects with a cost of €1.7 million along the Shannon have been approved by my office. These will provide important localised flood protection and mitigation.

  Last winter, the Government took decisive action to support the existing plans in place to address flooding on the Shannon and established the Shannon flood risk state agency co-ordination working group to enhance ongoing co-operation of all State agencies involved with the River Shannon, including ESB, Waterways Ireland, Bord na Móna, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, OPW and all the relevant local authorities. The extensive work programme, published on the OPW website, highlights the current proactive and co-ordinated approach by all State agencies to flood risk management on the Shannon catchment. The working group is building on the existing work and commitment of all the State agencies involved in flood risk. The group is focused on ensuring the best possible level of co-ordination between all statutory bodies involved in flood management on the Shannon. It is solutions focused and designed to deliver the highest level of efficiencies to add value to the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme.

  The group has held three open days on its work programme to discuss the role and work of the group with the public, and has met representatives of the Irish Farmers Association to discuss and explore the approach being adopted to address their issues of concern. The group met last on Tuesday, 18 October. It discussed the benefits of possible measures to manage flood risk for winter 2016-2017. Arising from the meeting, a decision was taken by the group to trial the lowering of the lake levels in Lough Allen to help mitigate potential flood risk for this winter. From the analysis completed, this move may have a small but positive impact on the extent of certain flood events that might occur during the winter. This is to be achieved through protocols being agreed between the OPW, ESB and Waterways Ireland with input from the relevant local authorities. The modelling and analysis completed shows that this action can only be executed in specified conditions to avoid causing or exacerbating flooding downstream and the trial will need to be carefully monitored. While the impact of this initiative may be small, it demonstrates the continued commitment of the agencies to work in a co-ordinated way to explore all measures that may benefit the communities along the River Shannon. The group has also agreed to evaluate the benefits from any short or medium-term programme of localised dredging and any future piloting to remove pinch points along the Shannon. The group will discuss this evaluation and progression with the lake levels trial at its next meeting to be held at the end of October.

  I chair an interdepartmental flood policy co-ordination group and shortly I will bring a report of the group to Cabinet. The group is developing a range of policy initiatives to underpin the overall investment by OPW in managing flood risk. It is also considering a number of other prevention and mitigation measures for providing flood relief and may include schemes for individual property protection and voluntary home and farmyard relocation.

  Local authorities are designated as the lead agencies for responding to severe weather events, including flooding. The emergency response plans, which were effective during the flood events last winter, have been reviewed to ensure a rapid and effective response if similar events occur this winter. One important aspect of flood risk management in future, in addition to the OPW flood defence solutions, will be to raise the awareness of flood risk and encourage people, businesses and communities to take action to protect themselves and their properties.

  The office of emergency planning is responsible for managing the Be Winter Ready campaign, a Government information campaign. The office is actively planning the launch of this year's campaign on 9 November 2016. In conjunction with the OPW, a specific Be Winter Ready public information leaflet on flooding has been prepared. It brings together information already available from various sources, including the OPW flood preparation website, www.flooding.ie, and provides practical advice for homes, business and farms in the event of farm flooding.

  I assure Senator McFadden and the Seanad that the Government will continue to ensure that measures to deal effectively with flooding will receive the highest priority and attention now and in future. This will happen through the development of the proactive CFRAM programme and associated plans as well as the continued significant investment in flood defence capital schemes.

Senator Gabrielle McFadden: Information on Gabrielle McFadden Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden I welcome the moneys. Those moneys were made available before, although I do not doubt the Government's commitment. I was smack bang in the middle of all of it last year when Athlone flooded. I was out, day and night, like others and several Ministers came down to us. I am aware of the Government's commitment. I welcome the remarks of the Minister of State about local dredging in some parts. I also welcome the consideration of lowering Lough Allen. These are remedial works, but I wish they had been carried out before now because people have been talking about this for a long time. At the same time, I welcome the moves.

  I also welcome the Be Winter Ready campaign and the information on the website and so on. I have another concern in respect of people living in rural areas, including farmers outside Athlone and further downstream.  Is there any possibility of considering a grant to support them to protect their homes themselves with flood defences? Perhaps the Minister of State would examine that. I thank him for coming to the House to discuss this.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I wish to clarify a number of matters because people continue to say that nothing is being done. By the end of this year there will be 12 major flood relief schemes under construction compared with four in 2015. I agree that there has been much talk about the Shannon and very little action. I assure the Senator that it is my intention to ensure we deliver as quickly as possible.

  The important point about Athlone, which might be missed, is that we are advancing those works. We are not waiting for the CFRAM study to be completed. We have brought forward the scheme for Foynes and that is under construction. Works are taking place and they will continue to happen. I pay tribute to all the stakeholders along the Shannon who continue to co-operate with me in trying to deliver as much as we can as quickly as possible.

  We can do our best about flooding but we cannot control rainfall. We just must be as prepared as possible for it. On the Senator's point about farmers in isolated rural areas, there are a number of schemes which I mentioned, such as the individual property protection scheme or the minor work schemes, for which the local authorities can apply. A great deal of work has been done in that sphere so far, amounting to €1.7 million. In addition, more than €5 million has been spent on dredging works on tributaries to the Shannon. Works are being carried out continually.

Primary Medical Certificates Eligibility

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I again welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath. You are becoming a frequent visitor to the House.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to come to the House this morning. The tax relief scheme for the purchase of adapted vehicles for disabled drivers and disabled passengers is instigated by the granting of a primary medical certificate. This is an excellent scheme which makes a huge difference. It is the difference between many disabled people actively participating in their communities and being prisoners in their own homes. It is also the difference between disabled and elderly people being able to attend hospital appointments and not.

  In rural constituencies, such as the area I come from in Mayo, there is rarely the option of using public transport. Travelling to University Hospital Galway is a six-hour round trip while travelling to a Dublin hospital is a ten-hour round trip.

  I have some simple questions. Why do profoundly and permanently disabled people continue to be discriminated against in the criteria for accessing this scheme? Why are people with upper body disabilities excluded from the scheme? Is equal access to hospitals and other services not important for them?

  I can outline three cases that come to mind. The first involves a woman whose arm is amputated to the shoulder. It is not going to grow back. She needs a specially adapted vehicle to get around just as much as if she had lost her leg. She lives on her own and has no other means of transport. Is she not as entitled to access the relief scheme as somebody who has a disability in their lower limbs?

  The second case is an eight year old boy who is PEG fed and has severe scoliosis. He is not strong enough to undergo the operations he desperately needs. His parents make frequent trips to Crumlin and other hospitals. They need an adapted vehicle for the long and tiresome journeys they must undertake. Why are they refused access to the relief scheme?

  In the third case, Deirdre is a 12 year old girl with a condition called Cornelia de Lange syndrome. She is non-verbal and has complex physical and mental special needs. As Deirdre cannot speak, I will speak for her and her parents, a fisherman and a housewife living in a remote rural area. Given Deirdre’s multiple health problems, they must make continual trips to hospitals and services, such as speech and language therapy, paediatrics, orthodontics, neurology, urology and genetics. Why in heaven's name did they get a letter stating, "Due to the strict criteria laid down for the primary medical certificate you were unsuccessful in obtaining same"?

  I beg the Minister of State to put an end to the humiliation and struggle Deirdre and others with profound permanent disabilities are faced with when refused transport simply because their main disability is in their upper limbs. The Minister of State is a man of compassion. He is now in a position to right this wrong. I ask him to re-examine the criteria for this tax relief scheme with the Minister for Finance and stop the discrimination against people with upper limb disabilities. When will the motorised transport grant scheme, which was closed in February 2013, be reinstated?

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I thank Senator Conway-Walsh for raising this important issue. I am well aware of her strong support for all people with disabilities. As the new Minister of State with responsibility for disability, I appreciate any support from all the parties because there are times when one must really fight to demand services and also fight for the rights of people with disabilities. I thank the Senator for her support.

  My colleague, the Minister for Finance, operates a tax relief scheme for the purchase of adapted vehicles for disabled drivers and disabled passengers. He is also responsible for setting the eligibility criteria for this scheme. The disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concession scheme, to give its full name, provides relief from VAT and VRT up to a certain limit on the purchase of an adapted car for the transport of a person with specific severe and permanent physical disabilities, payment of a fuel grant, an exemption from motor tax, and an exemption from toll bridge charges. To qualify for the scheme an applicant must he in possession of a primary medical certificate. To qualify for that certificate an applicant must be permanently and severely disabled within the terms of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 and satisfy a range of conditions. The extent of the involvement of health personnel relates to making a professional clinical determination as to whether an individual applicant satisfies the medical criteria. This determination is undertaken by senior medical officers for the relevant local HSE administrative area on behalf of the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners. However, these HSE personnel have no role in setting or amending the criteria. That is the kernel of the issue.

  A successful applicant is provided with a primary medical certificate which is required under the regulations to claim the reliefs provided for in the scheme. An unsuccessful applicant can appeal the HSE senior medical officer’s decision to the disabled drivers medical board of appeal, which is under the auspices of the Minister for Finance. The appeals board makes a new clinical determination in respect of the individual. This medical board of appeal is independent in the exercise of its functions to ensure the integrity of its clinical determinations. That is an important point.  As Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities, I can have no role to play in the exercise of these functions. I have been informed by the Department of Finance that the criteria to qualify for the scheme are necessarily precise and specific. After six months a citizen may reapply if there is a deterioration in her or his condition. It should also be noted that the scheme represents a significant tax expenditure, with a cost of over €50 million to the Exchequer in 2015, up from over €48 million in 2014. We have to keep our eye on that. There are other people with another agenda in respect of that €50 million.

  The Minister for Finance has informed me that he recognises the important role the scheme plays in expanding the mobility of citizens with disabilities. He has managed to maintain the relief at current levels throughout the economic crisis, despite the requirement for significant fiscal consolidation. He has also informed me that from time to time he receives representations from individuals who feel they would benefit from the scheme, but who do not qualify under the six criteria. While he has sympathy for these cases, given the scale and scope of the scheme, he has no plans to expand the medical criteria beyond the six currently provided for.

  I am pleased to inform the Senator that the programme for partnership Government acknowledges the ongoing drafting of primary legislation for a new transport support scheme by the Department of Health. Work on the policy proposals in this regard is at an advanced stage and I anticipate this will be brought to Government shortly.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Is the Minister of State saying that we need to change the legislation and, if so, what part can he play in changing it? I appreciate the role of the Department of Finance but we need to get to the bottom of this. If legislation needs to be changed we need to bring that forward. My party will prepare that if it is necessary but I would appreciate the Minister of State's guidance on that. The Minister for Finance's sympathy is of no use in trying to get sick and disabled people to a Galway or Dublin hospital from Mayo. All the sympathy in the world will not do that. We need him to act.

  How many appeals have been received by Dún Laoghaire in the past 12 months and how many decisions have been overturned in favour of the applicant? I appreciate it will take some time for the Minister of State to get that information. Time and again people go to Dún Laoghaire and are dismissed. The people who have appealed at the end of the six-month time limit ask what is the point in dragging a sick child all the way to Dún Laoghaire again to be refused. When will the heads of the motorisation grant Bill be produced? Will that be before Christmas and how long after that will it be before a decision is made to make that grant available again?

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I thank Senator Conway-Walsh for raising this important issue. I accept her point about the families and the ten-hour trips. She mentioned three genuine cases. Part of my role as Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities is to reflect and bring that view in. This issue is covered by the Department of Finance. I have an internal debate going on about that. If legislation needs to be amended that would be part of my remit. My focus is on the person with the disability such as the three cases the Senator mentioned. This is not a question of sympathy but of equality and justice for these families. I have to try to get around the problem. My gut feeling is that the legislation needs to be changed. That would be part of my portfolio. I will follow up on that for the Senator.

  I will find the precise information about the appeals and will come back to the Senator with it. I do not have an update. I managed to get the motorised grant into the programme for Government. It is on page 71 and it states: "Work is underway on the drafting of this new legislation for the introduction of a new mobility scheme to assist those with a disability in meeting their increased mobility costs." There are 3,000 or 4,000 people who would fit into that category. I am hopeful of getting that done in the next couple of weeks but the officials are saying before Christmas, to be safe. I want it in the next two weeks but the officials say it will definitely be before Christmas.

  We are trying to reinvest in and rebuild the health service. We have had a rough couple of years and the focus has to be on rebuilding the service but as Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities I want to get my slice of the cake to progress the issues the Senator raised this morning. I thank her for raising them.

  Sitting suspended at 11.16 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m. 

Order of Business

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Order of Business is No. 1, Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m., with the contributions of groups' spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh I wish to raise the issue of the way Dublin 8 and Dublin 12 are continually used as dumping grounds for this city's anti-social behaviour and social problems. Earlier in the week, I raised the issue of the lack of education provision in respect of a school in Walkinstown and today I wish to refer to plans to locate another homeless hostel in Dublin 8. To date, there are 12 homeless accommodation units in Dublin 8, compared with only two in Dublin 4. This particular proposal relates to the former St. Nicholas of Myra community centre in the heart of the Liberties. It is planned to convert the latter into a 65-bed hostel for the homeless. In the aftermath of this news, residents in the Liberties plan to protest at 6 o'clock this evening. To date, there are over 600 homeless and addiction services in Dublin 8 and the residents are seriously concerned about such a large concentration in this area in a very densely populated part of the city. This former community centre closed a few years ago due to a lack of funding but there was also the hope that it would be reopened, especially in light of anti-social behaviour in the city and a lack of green space and community space. It is frightening to think that the Dublin City Council thinks it is acceptable to locate another homeless hostel in this part of this city.

  Another example of how the constituency of Dublin South Central is used as a dumping ground relates to the 29 modular homes proposed to be built on the Curlew Road site in Drimnagh. This is a one-acre site. I ask Senators to imagine 100 people living together there in the 29 modular homes it is proposed to build without this resulting in an increase in the incidences of anti-social behaviour and social problems in the part of the city to which I refer. Dublin South Central has one of the smallest number of green areas in the city. Most recently, there has been a campaign for the provision of a full size sports pitch in the Liberties area. There is no such facility there and young people who want to play sports have to travel outside the area to play a decent football or Gaelic match This is wrong. The Government needs to do something to give back to young people living there and to give back to the area because it cannot continue to be a dumping ground for anti-social problems in this city. It is not fair.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I wish to raise three items but prior to that I want to comment on the concerns expressed by Senator Ardagh. I hear what she is saying but local government is in place. If local government is not effective in addressing those issues, then this House and the Dáil need to take an interest because this is an issue for local government. If the local council, on which the Senator's party is well represented, is not addressing this issue of concern, then the matter needs to be examined. I do not necessarily think that we can resolve it in the House. That is just a comment. I did not know that the Senator planned to raise that issue and, to be fair and helpful, we need to empower councillors to deliver on the ground for local communities. The Senator is correct to state that and I share many of her concerns.

  I will move on to the three issues I wish to raise. There was a current affairs programme shown after the news bulletin on TV3 last night. I do not know if any other Senators saw it but it addressed the issue of the Parole Board and the need for it to be independent. The board is not independent. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Government at some point and ask if there is an intention for the Parole Board to be truly independent. I know my colleague and Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, drafted the heads of legislation in respect of this matter and Fine Gael indicated last year that it would not oppose it. The Leader might consider that.

  I ask the Leader to also consider the issue of appointing a planning regulator. There is a Government commitment to bring in a fully independent planning regulator who would be totally independent of An Bord Pleanála, and who would regulate, police and govern planning in this country, particularly in respect of how it is being rolled out and in light of the urgency of the roll-out of critical infrastructure. There is a real need for a planning regulator. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government at which representatives from An Bord Pleanála appeared. When this issue was raised with them, they said they will have no role in respect of a planning regulator and would actually fall under the remit of the office thereof. The Leader might examine this matter in the context of the legislation and the programme for Government and revert to us on it.

  I wish to speak briefly about the regional ports policy. After the performance of the Minister, Deputy Ross, yesterday, I am more perplexed than ever. This matter relates to the regional ports at Drogheda, Waterford, Galway and Dún Laoghaire. Responsibility for the port in Wicklow has been transferred to the relevant local authority. Clearly, the Minister was not able to give any reassurances regarding these matters. I was dumbfounded by the response he read into the record of the House yesterday. Clearly, we need the Minister to return and tell us what is the Government's policy on regional ports and how that will impact on both local authority members and the future corporate governance of these ports.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 8, Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill 2016 – First Stage, be taken before No. 1.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I formally second the Senator Grace O'Sullivan's proposed amendment.

  Once again, the Labour Party is calling on the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come before this House. Many secondary schools across the State are closed today. I am surprised it has taken until I have risen to my feet for this matter to be raised in the Chamber. We are facing unprecedented industrial relations chaos.  It is affecting students, teachers, parents and families, and I have not yet spoken about gardaí. This dispute is being mishandled and now we have the suggestion that teachers engaged in this industrial dispute will be taken off the payroll. The Minister for Education and Skills and the Government have managed to make a bad situation worse.

  Over the past few days Senator Nash, Senator Humphreys and I have called for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come into the House to lay out his plans for the public sector pay commission he proposes will meet between now and next summer, and to detail his vision in that regard. Our vision is that the negotiations on a second Lansdowne Road agreement should begin immediately. That would take the tension out of these disputes, allow people to understand there is a process in place, and assure public servants that this Government has some level of respect for them. It appears to me that the Government is showing zero level of respect for public sector unions and a lack of understanding of the way public sector unions or the public sector works. In the short period of time it has been in government, it has managed to allow two industrial disputes spiral almost out of control whereas in the past five years we had relative industrial peace. Once again, for the third day in a row, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to the House to discuss with us how best to proceed because my fear, and that of my party, is that this Government does not have a cat's clue how to deal with industrial relations, does not understand the public service or public service unions and will continue to make a bad situation worse.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond I welcome the news emerging that a deal seems to have been reached with the Wallonian Government and the European Commission on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA. We had a lively debate on that in the House, and it has proved that future trade deals need to be debated more often in regional and national parliaments.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Brilliant news.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond  Like Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, I want to raise a number of issues in the educational sphere. I am well aware of the industrial action taking place today; I drove past five pickets on my way here. However, the issues I want to raise are specific to a number of schools and proposed schools in south Dublin. Last week, we learned of the disappointing closure of Notre Dame School after almost 60 years. It is a girls' primary and secondary school which has famous past pupils such as Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss the future plans for this school and the accommodation plans for current teachers and pupils. This is a huge issue for the large community around Churchtown.

 I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to allow us discuss issues relating to the delay in establishing full-time permanent accommodation both for Ballinteer Educate Together national school and Stepaside Educate Together secondary school, which are experiencing delays in gaining an access point for an agreed site and, in terms of the latter, securing a site. I would appreciate it if we could have that debate as soon as possible.

Senator Keith Swanick: Information on Keith Swanick Zoom on Keith Swanick I again bring to the attention of the House the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, and the strategic investment fund equity holding in tobacco companies. Last week in the House, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, confirmed to me that the NTMA and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, have equity holdings in three separate tobacco companies. I acknowledge that all of us want to see the NTMA generate a significant income for the taxpayer through prudent and strategic investments, and I understand the ISIF has a mandate to make investments on a commercial basis. However, I ask that the interests in tobacco companies be brought to an end given that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in this country, accounting for 6,000 deaths per year, and that there are 31,000 admissions, costing €5,400 per admission, as a result of direct cigarette-related illnesses.

  I have written to both the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, asking them to pursue the divestment of those legacy investments. If that approach is not sufficiently strong, I will raise this matter with other Oireachtas colleagues, including each Senator here, with a view to seeking to include the publication of draft legislation, which would make such investments illegal.

  A target date was set by Senator Reilly when he was Minister for Health for Ireland to be tobacco free by 2025. It is an ambitious target but one which could be achieved readily by the commitment that taxpayers' money will no longer feature in investments in tobacco giants. It is wholly hypocritical that this country is attempting to be tobacco free by 2025 yet tobacco companies do not feature on the excluded investment categories of the NTMA. It is also hypocritical that these same tobacco companies are suing the State and issued proceedings against the then Minister, Senator Reilly. That should be brought to an end as a matter of priority.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh D'ardaigh mé ceist inné maidir le cúrsaí portaigh i gConamara. I raised an issue with the Leader about a deadline pending on Friday. It concerns the blanket bog complex in Connemara. Local turf cutters who want to appeal the designations being imposed are facing a deadline of 28 October. We have asked for an extension. I do not know if the Leader was in a position to contact the Minister's office to ask for that extension but I would be grateful if he would do that today or indicate to me later if that is amenable. I do not believe it is a huge issue for them and if they could do it, it would give people more time to get their applications ready.

  I want to note my concern about the teachers' strike that started today and what would appear to be a lack of engagement and a plan in terms of what will happen after the mid-term break. It is incumbent on all sides to get around the table and try to solve this dispute in as amicable a way as possible. If this Seanad is needed to have a debate on that matter, I would not be opposed to it sitting next week to debate it because it is a very serious issue affecting schools across the country.

  I have raised previously the issue of hospital services in Galway, particularly those in University Hospital Galway, which is overcrowded. It has major issues in the accident and emergency department, as has been seen. The then Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and the Taoiseach have visited the hospital. Everybody is telling us it is a basket case and that something needs to be done, but nothing appears to be happening. Discussions have started. Senior clinicians have said we need to consider building a new purpose-built hospital, possibly on the grounds of Merlin Park hospital, in Galway. I would like to know whether the Minister for Health has plans to even consider that. Is anybody in the Department looking at that as an option? I am not saying it should come out and say it will build a new hospital but some form of a feasibility study should be done because by its location, the hospital adds to the traffic chaos in the city. There are very long waiting lists in outpatient and inpatient clinics. Many people cannot access step-down facilities to take pressure off the hospital. I appreciate that primary care centres need to be rolled out and fully staffed to take pressure off the hospital, but even after that happens there are senior clinicians within the Saolta hospital group who state there will be a need for a new hospital. That the Department of Health is not even looking at this issue is not acceptable and I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come into the House to debate it.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I want to raise an issue of great concern to all of us, namely, rural post offices, which play a vital role in their communities-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Hear, hear.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan -----as they are an important contact point for people, apart from the services they provide. As social welfare payments move to be partially online, it continues to put pressure on front-line smaller post offices, as 30% of their revenue is directly generated from providing local and direct social welfare payment services. An Post employs 3,700 people nationwide. I know the importance of those jobs and services to the country. With over 40 post offices in County Kerry alone providing essential services to the people of the south west, this network is a national asset. The local knowledge and interaction with rural communities must be protected. Being a national asset, rural post offices have the capacity to provide much more than a social welfare payment system. Both of the working groups focused on the network have proven that its potential is recognised. Its preservation as the cornerstone of our society is of the utmost concern to all of us.

  The direct provision of Government services document, The State at your Door, was encouraged by the Grant Thornton report. I fully support the suggestion by the working group led by Bobby Kerr for a pilot scheme to be set up as soon as possible to initiate a motor tax renewal service throughout the country. It has been suggested that it would save €60 million for the State. It is a natural conclusion to provide these Government services with such a trusted and widespread institution as An Post.  I understand that frustration has been expressed by the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, at the delay in providing this scheme. I call on the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to push for its implementation by the end of the year. I heartily agree with the views of the IPU, and a number of postmasters in Kerry have expressed the same view to me. If we are to preserve the post office network in rural Ireland then we can no longer sit on these reports. I suggest that the Leader invites the Minister to the House in early course to outline her views on progressing the recommendations of the reports and how she intends to implement them nationwide.

  Apart from the suggestions already referred to, a limited banking service could also be provided by postmasters. These people are there to serve and they want to continue to do so. Instead, they are being harassed and limited in their work. I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister as soon as possible.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt I am from an average provincial town with a population of just under 30,000. Over the past ten years we have seen the decentralisation policy shelved, with an estimated 200 jobs lost to Mullingar. Our hospitals are under constant threat, we have a shadow and under-resourced Garda force and we have had bank and post office closures and the removal of State veterinary services. The list goes on and on. Deputy Ross, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, has responsibility for Irish Rail and this gives rise to serious concerns. The Minister has instigated a review of rail services. His Department provides €308 million in funding to Irish Rail every year but must find a further €642 million to prevent the company from becoming insolvent. The answer that the Minister has come up with to solve this enormous problem is public consultation. He maintains that public consultation is the way forward.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Rubbish. I mean that the Minister's consultation is rubbish.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Davitt, without interruption, please.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt Very eloquent.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It is just as well that Senator Norris clarified that.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt As Senator Coghlan will know, when one goes home on the train every Friday evening-----

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I drive home.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt The Minister has guaranteed that there will be public consultation before there are any rail line closures. The Minister is now being served notice and should take heed. Mullingar says "No more closures".

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Eight months ago a young Gael from outside Belfast, Mr. Odhrán McKenna, was involved in a very serious road traffic collision. He was taken to hospital following the swift action of paramedics who were close to the scene of the accident. His family was told to prepare for the worst, due to the severity of the brain injuries that Odhrán had sustained.

  The GAA family in Antrim, particularly St. John's GAA club, of which Odhrán was a member, mobilised as did GAA clubs throughout the county, the country and the world, to show love, support and solidarity to Odhrán, his twin brother CJ, his other brother Peter, his parents and his team mates. Eight days after the accident, Odhrán was sitting up and talking to his family. He has made a miraculous recovery. He has met and enjoyed the company of some GAA legends who were very keen to meet him, a real hero.

  I had the privilege of hosting Odhrán in Belfast City Hall with the then Lord Mayor, Mr. Arder Carson. Last night Odhrán and his twin brother won the Mageean Cup with St. Mary's CBS in Belfast. I know that on the Order of Business we are expected to raise issues with Ministers and so forth but I just wanted the House to know about Odhrán, to hear his story and to reflect on the fantastic community we have in the GAA family. They have really mobilised around Odhrán and his clan.

  I also want to commend the health care professionals who looked after, cared for and supported him on his journey to recovery. When we raise issues such as industrial disputes in the health sector and so forth, it is because we want the best deal possible in order to protect front-line services.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I wish to raise an issue that has been brought to my attention in recent days. It is not a question of the closure of bank branches but the fact that there will be no tellers in a number of Bank of Ireland branches in different areas from now on. A lot of vulnerable people who are not used to dealing with bank cards and who have dealt with bank tellers all of their lives are now being told that there will be nobody in the branches. There will only be a machine, into which they must stick their card.

  I spoke to an older lady yesterday who told me that the nearest post office is two miles away from her home and it would cost €10 in a taxi to get to the nearest bank with a teller. She is afraid to stick her card into the ATM. This is something that is frightening older people. Smaller bank branches are closing down and only the larger banks are being kept open. This is an issue that will affect people all over the country and I ask the Leader to organise a debate on it in the near future.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I would also like to raise the issue of the ASTI dispute and the disappointing fact that over 500 of our schools remain closed this morning. This is very disappointing and I am sure it is very stressful for the students involved, particularly those who will sit exams shortly, and their parents. It is very disappointing that it has come to this and I would appeal to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to redouble his efforts to engage with the ASTI with a view to finding a resolution to this dispute. Ultimately, this dispute will be resolved and I appeal to both sides to put their heads together and try to find a solution. I welcome some media reports today suggesting that progress is being made with An Garda Síochána and I hope it will not be long before the media is also reporting progress with regard to the ASTI so that students can get on with their lives.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys It is with disappointment that I raise a matter relating to the housing crisis. I heard a contribution earlier in the Order of Business about 29 rapid-build social housing units to be built on a site off Mourne Road.

  The site was originally provided by the Sisters of Mercy on condition that housing for the elderly would be built on it. There is a clear crisis in the supply of social housing and there is an onus on politicians and political parties to show leadership. There will always be some objections or issues raised about the rapid-build housing that is being developed in Dublin. I have proposed a number of sites quite close to my own home where I believe rapid-build housing should be developed in order to reduce the number of families that are currently living in hotel rooms. The challenge in areas where rapid-build homes are being built is to make sure that the families who move in are integrated into the local community. We must also ensure that adequate services are provided but, above all, the houses need to be built.

  I find the number of people who are currently living in hotel rooms politically and morally unacceptable. It is for this reason that I have great difficulty with Senator Ardagh raising issues with regard to the 29 units. The issue that should be raised in this House is why those units have not been built already. We should be asking why we have waited so long for those units to be built, not trying to delay them further. We have heard anti-austerity politicians saying that they will lead the march to stop the builders going on site while arguing strongly in the other House that we should build more homes.  That is doublespeak and we have also had doublespeak from Fianna Fáil here this morning. We need those homes built. There will never be a perfect site in the city for rapid-build homes. We must stop putting roadblocks in the way. We must work with communities to ensure they are delivered quickly. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, and his predecessor, Deputy Kelly, have allocated money to build the homes. The delivery is the problem. Senator Ardagh should stop putting roadblocks in the way of families getting homes. It is unacceptable to have raised this in the House. It is a local authority matter. We should assist local authorities and the Minister to ensure homes are built for families in hotel rooms, not put up roadblocks. The Senator was wrong to raise it here.

Senator Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin In the recently aired RTE two-part documentary "Rural Addiction", we saw the devastation that drugs are bringing to rural Ireland. It is not just an urban problem. Will the Leader bring the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to the Chamber? There is much focus on the Garda Síochána's fight against drugs and drug barons. However, the problem is that the drugs are getting into the country in the first place. In County Clare, drugs were found by accident. I am very concerned about the number of customs staff. They are the front line in stopping drugs coming into the country. In Ireland West Airport Knock there used to be a drugs sniffer dog, but there is no sniffer dog now. Earlier in the year, I raised this at a joint policing committee in County Mayo and nothing has been done. The customs staff at the airport, who are few in number, also have to man the coastline for drugs and deal with VRT, petrol stretching and diesel laundering. There is no sniffer dog in the whole Border, midlands and western region for the detection of drugs. They should be the first line of defence at airports.

  The drug barons are very creative and innovative and go to the weakest point. That I am raising it in the House does not mean they do not know it is the weakest point. We need proper resources to be put into Customs and Excise. I have raised it at a more local forum in County Mayo and previously, when I was in a position to, by way of parliamentary questions. Nothing has been done. The front line is not with gardaí but customs officers and they need to be properly resourced. I would like the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to be invited to the House to discuss how Customs and Excise is waging its front-line war on drug barons and stopping drugs being brought into rural Ireland, and all the fallout that goes with it.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I hope Senator Neale Richmond, and everybody else, honked their horns when they drove past the teachers who were out on strike this morning.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond I did not want to scare them.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine The EU-Canada summit on the toxic Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, was cancelled today as talks in Belgium failed to reach an agreement. An agreement was due to be signed today by the EU and Canada.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond They have just signed.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I applaud regions of Belgium on their position, given the damage CETA will and can cause to society. It was voted on in the House and won by the acquiescence of Fianna Fáil Members when they realised the way the political wind was blowing. The areas of Belgium will come under considerable pressure until they concede to big businesses that undermine democracy and destroy basic rights. CETA is the back door to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, the horrific US deal which has generated so much anger and opposition across Europe and which will become a major referendum issue, despite that the Government does not want it to be. I ask the Houses to respect Belgium's democracy and desist from strong-arm tactics and blackmail in their pressuring of the Belgian regions.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris In the aftermath of remarks made by Senator Ray Butler, me and other Members about the appalling situation in Aleppo, I received an ungrammatical, badly spelled and mildly abusive letter from the Russian ambassador. I have replied to him in similar terms. He talks about tailor-made accusations. The House takes a very even-handed view of human rights issues and I hope it will continue. The accusations are not tailor made; they are independently verified. Horrendous attacks have been made on areas of civilian population and UN convoys, and targeted attacks have been made repeatedly on hospitals. The ambassador referred to unprecedented anti-Russian propaganda. I have no reason whatever to engage in anti-Russian propaganda and I would deprecate anybody who does so. The ambassador referred to American actions in the Middle East and said he failed to hear any accusations levelled against the Americans. I am sorry for the state of his hearing. I have repeatedly done so in the House. I have repeatedly instanced Fallujah. Regarding Aleppo, I said the West was in a very difficult position given the way in which the Americans had attacked Fallujah and the Israelis had attacked Gaza. I hope the House will continue to raise human rights issues.

  I am a little concerned about the attitude to China. We have taken a very softly softly approach to China regarding human rights issues, and we should toughen it up. Our attitude is rather like the old song, "Don't Let's be Beastly to the Germans". We think we must be very careful what we say about the Chinese. I do not think so. On the wireless this morning, I heard somebody repeat something to which I had been made privy, namely, the horrendous situation in China, where they are murdering people on a mass level in order to take organs from them for transplants. It is an utterly shocking practice and should be raised with the Chinese. The Chinese authorities, from what I know of them, will not respect people who are mealy-mouthed. They have much more respect for people who tell it straight as it is. The murder of hundreds of thousands of people to use their organs for transplants is utterly intolerable. It goes back to the worst atrocities of the Second World War.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 9 be dealt with before No. 1, if it is agreeable.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I second the amendment.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris What is No. 9?

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke It is the publication of a Bill on the registration of professional home care providers. The second issue is the whole health service and, following on from what Senator Humphreys said on a previous day, the need to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in here regarding a number of issues. One of the issues we need to discuss with him is maternity services. A report was published about Portlaoise hospital and it made certain recommendations. It recommended that a director of midwifery be appointed in each of the 19 maternity units. Although they have been appointed in some units, there are difficulties with appointing them to some units for various reasons. The report is very important. It identified a number of deficiencies in maternity services and made recommendations as to how to deal with them. We are at a standstill and it is important that the Minister would come to the House to outline how he proposes to deal with it, what action will be taken and ensure the report is not just another report that is put on a shelf and left there until another issue arises in two, three or four years' time. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to give us a presentation on how the recommendations are being implemented, what stage they are at and when they will be fully implemented.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan The Dublin marathon will take place shortly and I draw the Leader's attention to it. It is a hugely successful event with huge numbers from throughout the country participating, many of them for the benefit of charities. Running as a sport gets nothing like the media coverage it deserves compared with field or contact sports. Will the Leader raise with the relevant Minister the need for RTE to resume live coverage of the marathon? It is a wonderful showpiece and we would love to see aerial coverage of our beautiful Georgian city as people run around it. Most major cities, such as Lisbon and Paris, televise their main city marathon live.  I ask the Leader to draw that to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Ross.

  In the past 24 hours I have received a substantial amount of correspondence on foot of my remarks about the long-established practice and great tradition of eminent people donating their archives and papers to the State. I would like to refer to one of the many issues raised with me. I am not talking about any particular case, regardless of how celebrated or eminent that person may be. I am talking in general. It seems that under the Finance Acts, people who give to the State items that are considered, from a treasure or heritage perspective, to be of value may be able to receive significant tax write-offs.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I am sorry I did not know that.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan Indeed. It seems that this financial matter should be in the public domain. From what I understand, there will be a clamour for that gathering. I suggest that the Committee of Public Accounts inquire into this matter or that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, come before this House to explain how these tax cutbacks work. Who puts a value on the artefacts, papers and portfolios of individuals? Who benefits from the tax write-off? Does the individual benefit or can there be a wider corporate benefit in some way? I am not casting aspersions on any particular arrangement. The Minister might advise the House on this issue generally. The public would like to know how these things work. As the Taoiseach said once, "Paddy likes to know".

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I second the amendment to the Order of Business that has been proposed by Senator Colm Burke. While I appreciate that Senator Ned O'Sullivan is speaking from the heart, I remind him that the project to which he refers is a welcome development in Ballina, County Mayo. To be fair to the person to whom the Senator alluded, who is a former Member of this House and a former President-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I do not think the Senator made any allusions.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer He did yesterday.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I was listening carefully.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke She was much more than a President or a Senator. She was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many of the papers relate to that role rather than to her time as President.

  I ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, who is a former Member of this House, to come to the Seanad to discuss the state of our national roads. I read recently that, according to a report, our national roads are falling asunder and are badly in need of restructuring in some cases. What does the Minister propose to do about the structure of national roads throughout the country? He recently reduced the derogation in respect of the size of the loads that lorries can carry from 44 tonnes to 42 tonnes. This has put an enormous extra cost on road hauliers throughout the country. In effect, the carriage of goods to and from this country is more expensive because of the removal of the derogation. I would like the Minister to have another look at that because it is imposing significant expenses on road hauliers, who have also seen their insurance costs go sky-high in recent times. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister, Deputy Ross, into the House at an early opportunity.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank the 19 Senators who raised various matters this morning. I will begin with those raised by Senators Ardagh and Humphreys. To be fair to Senator Ardagh, she is very good at representing her local community. I think the matter she raised should be taken up with Dublin City Council in the first instance. I hope we do not see Dublin 8 and Dublin 12 being used as dumping grounds. As this is a planning matter, Dublin City Council has jurisdiction over it.

  I agree with Senator Humphreys that the housing crisis needs to be addressed. There is a particular need to address the issue of supply. Obviously, an integration policy is needed when social housing or rapid-build housing is being developed. There is a whole-of-government response led by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy English. To be fair to the Minister, this has been a priority for him and for the Government. It is important to consider this in perspective. I completely agree with Senator Humphreys that representatives of Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit, in particular, are leading the charge against the provision of housing in many parts of the country where housing should be provided. I do not include Senator Ardagh in that group. She made a good point about integration and the need for a strategy around where housing is located. I suggest that she should take this matter up with the Minister. I would be happy to communicate with him on behalf of the Senator.

  Senator Boyhan spoke about the Parole Board and raised the issue of planning. I will be happy to ask the relevant Minister to come to the House.

  A number of Senators called for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come to the House. I would like to inform them that he will be in the Seanad on 17 November next to discuss the transport matters relating to his portfolio, including the issue of ports. I think Senator Boyhan is right about the ports strategy and the national ports policy. The Cathaoirleach made many good points in a previous Seanad about the ports policy of the time and the changes that were being made. Perhaps the wise words we heard from him then are coming home to roost now in some elements of this country's ports policy. We must ensure the question of the importance of our strategic ports is addressed with the Minister.

  I apologise for the miscommunication and misunderstanding with Senator Grace O'Sullivan yesterday. I will be happy to accept her amendment to the Order of Business. I thank her for raising the matter this afternoon.

  Senators Ó Ríordáin, Ó Clochartaigh, Gallagher and Devine raised the issue of today's strike. Senator Devine used one of her humorous lines. I want to put something on the record without getting into a political row. Language is important. It is completely wrong for Members to say that Fine Gael, as the lead party in the Government, does not understand what is happening with public sector workers or that it has not been engaged.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine Fine Gael is not interested.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer That is more of the bull to which we have to listen. We are interested. We should get the facts out there. The deal on offer to the ASTI would provide a pay increase of between 15% and 22% for new entrant teachers. I am a former teacher and member of the ASTI. I understand the frustration of public sector workers. I repeat that Fine Gael in government wants to protect the fragile economy so that it can grow for the benefit of all our citizens. This means that there must be responsibility in the context of how we manage the economy and bring about pay restoration, as we are committed to doing. The Lansdowne Road agreement is very clear in that regard. The important point is that there should be talks and engagement. There has to be a resolution. Both sides should be able to agree to that in time. It is regrettable that we have a strike today. It is upsetting for the teachers who want to be in the classrooms. It is upsetting for the students, particularly those in exam classes, who want to pursue their curriculums. It is upsetting and frustrating for parents who have had to make alternative arrangements for the care of their children. This has implications for the work of the State in many ways. We want to have a sustainable public service that is well managed and well resourced. We want people to get paid a decent wage. That is what we are committed to doing. If we were to adopt the Sinn Féin model or policy-----

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine The Senator has not even read it so he does not know what he is commenting on.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I have read it.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine No, the Senator has not. He is making it up as he goes along.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Sinn Féin is for nothing and against everything. That is its mantra.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine Fine Gael is against public investment.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is not about honking horns.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine It is not fair to say that when Fine Gael is against public investment.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is about working to bring a resolution to a dispute that has an impact on the lives of people.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I respectfully remind the Leader that he said he was not going to get into a political battle.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Sorry. The Cathaoirleach is right.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Leader might steer clear of the politics.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh We cannot believe a word he says.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will not respond to that.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I was speaking in jest.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I appreciate that.

  I would like to inform Senators Richmond and Devine, who raised the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, that a resolution has been agreed this morning. The Commission reached a deal with the Wallonian regional Government.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Wonderful news.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am told it will be ratified by midnight tomorrow.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine That is terrible news.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Not at all. The Senator should have heard what Commissioner Hogan had to say.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine It is disgusting that strong-arm tactics such as blackmail have been used.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank both Senators for-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris This should be a matter for the courts. That is why this House was so worried.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond That was not the Walloons' problem.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It does not matter what their problem was. The important thing was to stop it until the issues that mattered were settled.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I gave Senator Norris a lot of latitude.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I appreciate that.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I ask him to respect the reply.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank Senators Devine and Richmond for raising this matter.

  Senator Richmond also raised some important educational matters in his local area, with specific reference to the Ballinteer, Stepaside and Notre Dame schools. I would be happy to ask the Minister to discuss those matters with the Senator.   Senator Swanick raised the issue of tobacco and linked it to the NTMA. We all agree on the need to reduce the effect of tobacco on the lives of so many of our citizens. Over 6,000 people die from smoking-related cancer each year in this country. The number is way too high.

  I will take up with the Minister the matter of the blanket bogs raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh and I will ask the Minister to liaise with him in regard to that issue. Regarding the matter for the hospital in Galway, I am aware there are plans to invest in it. It is a matter for the HSE, in terms of both the service plan and the capital plan. The Senator might talk to the HSE. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House anyway in regard to the matter-----

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh It is a long-term policy issue.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer -----to have a discussion on the health area.

  Senator Coghlan raised the issue of the future of the post office network. He cited both the Grant Thornton and the Bobby Kerr reports. Senator Coghlan is right. We need to work with the Irish Postmasters Union to see how we can ensure there is a vibrant post office network across the country, not only in rural Ireland but also in urban Ireland. I will have the Minister come to the House regarding that particular matter.

  Senator Davitt raised the issue of Mullingar. My colleague, Senator Gabrielle McFadden, has been strong at pushing for investment in Mullingar. I am sure we can have a debate on 17th with the Minister, Deputy Ross, regarding the matters Senator Davitt raised.

  Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of Mr. Odhrán McKenna in the North. I wish Mr. McKenna well, and thank the members of the GAA community, in particular, in St. John's GAA club, which I myself had the pleasure of visiting once or twice in my days trying to play hurling with UCC and Maynooth, and the health care workers and staff for their Trojan work. I wish Mr. McKenna and his family every happiness, and wish him well in his recovery.

  Senator Byrne raised the issue of the Bank of Ireland now having automation in tellers in banks. It is a worry because it is happening in parts of the country. In some cases, one walks into a bank and goes to the machine. They do not want to see one come into the bank. It is all about online banking. The banks must recognise there is a cohort of customers who, for whatever reason, do not use online banking and are reluctant to use machines, and they want to have that personal interface. Even though we do not necessarily own Bank of Ireland, it is important that the bank offers customers a choice within branches at the same time because it is about the customer.

  Senator Mulherin raised the issue of addiction and the lack of investment by the Customs and Excise in sniffer dogs. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House for that matter.

  I am glad Senator Norris got a response from the Russian ambassador and I am glad the Senator equally replied in his strident and assertive, but genuine, sincerely-held views on the matter.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan No bother to Senator Norris.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I hope that we can have a resolution to the issue. On the issue of China, Senator Norris is correct. Human rights affect the lives of people. Whether it is a powerhouse like China or a country in any part of the world, no matter who they are, human rights should be upheld and we must fight to have the dignity of the person respected at all times.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I thank the Leader.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I would be happy to accept Senator Colm Burke's amendment to the Order of Business. The Senator raised the issue of maternity services. We had that discussion yesterday and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House on that matter.

  Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of the coverage of Dublin city marathon. I completely agree that it is disappointing that there is no live coverage of the biggest marathon in the country. The marathon is changed to Sunday this year but I would hope that the national broadcaster would reciprocate by showing coverage of the event. If I may at this juncture, I wish our colleague, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who is running the marathon, every success and wish him well. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, is also running the marathon and I wish him well. I wish every success to all those travelling to Dublin to run or walk in the marathon, and those who are in wheelchairs, and are raising money for charity in a competitive way. I hope they have a safe journey to Dublin and a safe route around the course.

  Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the matter of bequeaths and the tax incentives for such purposes. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House regarding that.

  Finally, Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue about the Minister, Deputy Ross, which I referred to. The Senator also made reference to the matter raised by Senator Colm Burke.

  I would be happy to accept the amendments to the Order of Business.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Grace O'Sullivan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 8 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

  Senator Colm Burke has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 9 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

  Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.

Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill 2016: First Stage

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I move:

  That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to prohibit the sale or manufacture of products containing plastic micro-beads; to monitor and report on the levels of micro-plastic and micro-bead pollution on Irish coastlines, Irish waters, flora and fauna, and at Natura 2000 sites; and to provide for related matters.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is there a seconder?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I second it.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan When is it proposed to take Second Stage?

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan On Tuesday next or as soon as possible thereafter.

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

  Second Stage ordered for Tuesday, 1 November 2016.

Health (Amendment) (Professional Home Care) Bill 2016: First Stage

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

  That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the regulation of professional home care, for that purpose to amend the Health Act 2007 and to provide for related matters.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is there a seconder?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I second it.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan When is it proposed to take Second Stage?

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke On Tuesday next.

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

  Second Stage ordered for Tuesday, 1 November 2016.

  Sitting suspended at 12.16 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Second Report of Committee of Selection: Motion

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Before proceeding with scheduled business, I call the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Paul Coghlan.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I move:

That the Second Report of the Committee of Selection be laid before the Seanad.

  Question put and agreed to.

Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to give effect to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, done at The Hague on 14 May 1954 and to the Protocol thereto, done at The Hague on 26 March 1999 and for those purposes to provide for offences relating to acts prohibited by that Protocol; and to provide for matters related thereto.

Senator Gabrielle McFadden: Information on Gabrielle McFadden Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

   Question put and agreed to.

Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016: Second Stage

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

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I welcome the Minister to the House.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The purpose of this Bill is to make necessary provision in Irish law to enable the State to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and the 1999 protocol that supplements it. The 1954 convention and the 1999 protocol are instruments of international humanitarian law, which is the branch of international law that regulates armed conflict in the interests of humanity. It has been developed over a period of more than 150 years and its principal rules are currently set out in the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 additional protocols, supplemented by a range of other instruments on specific issues such as anti-personnel mines, the International Criminal Court and the protection of cultural property.

  International humanitarian law does not determine whether war or armed conflict in any particular case is lawful - that is a question of general international law. Instead, it recognises that armed conflicts take place, whether lawful or not, and it has developed rules to limit the consequences of armed conflict on its victims. Without international humanitarian law, the barbarity of war would be unmitigated. Although humanitarian law has developed a very large and detailed body of rules, they can be reduced in summary to two basic concepts: first, the means and methods that parties to armed conflict may employ are not unlimited. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited, for instance, and certain weapon systems are unlawful. Second, parties to conflicts are required to protect civilians, the sick and wounded, prisoners of war and civilian property.

  There are regularly calls for the development of new rules imposing greater restrictions on parties to armed conflicts and Ireland has been prepared to join with others to develop the law where necessary. For instance, Ireland took a leading role in the development of new rules prohibiting the use of cluster munitions, hosting and chairing the diplomatic conference in 2008 in Croke Park, Dublin at which the Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted. A hundred countries are now parties to that convention and such is its success that even for those states that have refused to become parties to it, the use of cluster munitions has been so stigmatised that they will avoid or deny using them.

  However, notwithstanding the need to develop new rules from time to time, the greatest challenge to protecting human life in modern armed conflicts is the frequent, and often shocking, failure by both the armed forces of states and non-state armed groups to respect the existing rules. We need only look at the appalling behaviour of all sides in the conflict in Syria. Failure to respect the rules of international humanitarian law may occur for a number of reasons - lack of knowledge of the law, absence of political will to ensure respect for the law, or the promotion or tolerance of a culture of impunity. In the case of Daesh there has been a clear rejection of the law. In addition to destroying the ancient and important cultural heritage in Palmyra and elsewhere, it has been responsible for the rape, enslavement and murder of civilians among other reprehensible acts. I share the dismay of all Members of this House at the flagrant violations of the international humanitarian law committed in Syria and elsewhere.

  It goes without saying that if the existing rules were respected, much of the dreadful human suffering in contemporary armed conflicts would not occur, but where they are not respected there must also be a measure of accountability. Successive Irish Governments have sought to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of violations of international humanitarian law. Ireland has been a leading supporter of the International Criminal Court and the Government has consistently supported referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

  The 1954 convention was negotiated to prevent the type of extensive destruction and loss of cultural property during the Second World War that resulted from looting, bombardment and vandalism. Countless historic buildings and monuments were destroyed in that war and artefacts were lost and stolen and never recovered in many cases. The 1954 convention imposes a number of obligations on states, including to make preparations in time of peace to safeguard cultural property against the foreseeable effects of armed conflict; not to use cultural property for purposes likely to expose it to destruction or damage during armed conflict, and to refrain from any hostile act against cultural property, except in cases of "imperative military necessity".  In addition, states are obliged to prohibit, prevent and stop theft and pillage of cultural property during armed conflict.

  The convention also establishes a system allowing states to nominate specific monuments for a type of enhanced protection called special protection, although in practice the system has been essentially unworkable. The blue shield is recognised as a distinctive emblem that can be used to identify cultural property in the event of armed conflict. Ireland signed the convention in 1954 but did not proceed to ratify it. Although the convention was regarded as a welcome development in international law at the time, it is broadly recognised as having failed to provide effective protection for cultural property during armed conflict. This is because ultimately the key obligations it imposes on states could be set aside in circumstances of imperative military necessity. It did not act as an effective restraint on the extensive damage to cultural property during conflicts in south-east Asia in the 1960s and 1970s.

  The 1954 negotiations took place not long after the end of the Second World War at a time when blanket bombing of cities was still regarded as a legitimate military tactic. It was not until 1977 that humanitarian concerns were given greater weight and agreement was reached in the First Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions that only military objectives could be attacked during armed conflict. Military objectives must be more clearly defined and carefully selected. Parties to armed conflict were now required to take precautions in attack, indiscriminate attacks were prohibited and attacks against civilian property, including schools, hospitals, places of worship and cultural property, were prohibited unless they were being used for military purposes by the other side.

  The Balkan and Afghan wars in the 1990s led to a growing sense that the 1954 convention needed to be replaced or at least updated to reflect developments in the law since 1977. A conference was therefore convened in Hague in 1999. It was decided there that rather than replace the convention, it should be supplemented by a new protocol. The 1999 protocol supplements the convention by making detailed provision for the steps to be taken in time of peace to protect cultural property. It restricts the scope for action in circumstances of imperative military necessity. It establishes a system of enhanced protection for specific monuments and introduces the element of individual criminal responsibility in cases of violation of the law. To date, 69 states have become parties to the protocol, including most EU member states as well as Canada and New Zealand.

  The Bill has been developed in consultation with the Departments of Defence and Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs as well as the Defence Forces. Many of the obligations the State will assume in becoming a party to the convention and the protocol are already met by a mixture of policy and administrative measures. For instance, the State's national cultural institutions have all developed disaster planning and emergency response plans to protect their collections. Defence Forces doctrine and training has long reflected the rules set down by the 1999 protocol. Legislation is required, however, to protect and regulate the use of the blue shield in law and to create specific criminal offences. This is the purpose of the Bill before the House.

  Section 1 defines certain terms for the purposes of the Bill. Sections 2 and 3 create the offences. The protocol requires that certain acts committed during an armed conflict within the State shall be criminal offences here, and that criminal jurisdiction be extended over Irish nationals and members of the Defence Forces participating in armed conflicts outside the State. It also creates a rule of "extradite or prosecute" in respect of offences alleged to have been committed in the territories of other states parties to the protocol, such that if Ireland does not extradite a person present in the State for alleged offences under the protocol to another state party, it must have jurisdiction to try that person in this jurisdiction. Accordingly, under section 2 it will be a serious offence to attack, during an armed conflict in the State, any cultural property under enhanced protection, use such property in support of military action or to destroy extensively or appropriate any cultural property.

  Section 3 makes it an offence in Ireland for any person to commit any of these acts during an armed conflict in a state to which the 1999 protocol applies. This means a person can be arrested and tried in Ireland for these offences. It will also be an offence under section 2 to attack, steal, pillage, misappropriate or vandalise cultural property during an armed conflict in the State. Section 3 makes it an offence for an Irish citizen, a member of the Defence Forces or a person ordinarily resident in Ireland to do these things during an armed conflict outside the State. Section 3 also makes it an offence for an Irish citizen or a member of the Defence Forces to export or otherwise remove cultural property from an occupied territory.

  Section 4 provides for penalties upon conviction for an offence under sections 2, 3 or 8. The maximum penalty, on summary conviction, will be imprisonment for a period of 12 months, a class A fine - currently at a maximum of €5,000 - or both. To reflect the potentially serious nature of these offences, for conviction on indictment the maximum penalty is imprisonment for up to 30 years, a fine to be determined by the court or both.

  Section 5 provides that commanders and other superiors are criminally responsible for offences committed by their subordinates if they knew, or had reason to know, that the subordinates were about to commit or were committing such crimes and did not take all necessary, appropriate and reasonable measures in their power to prevent their commission, or if such crimes had been committed, to ensure investigation and prosecution of those responsible. This element of the 1999 protocol is regarded as essential to ensure that military commanders respect and ensure respect for protected cultural property.

  Section 6 provides a defence in any proceedings under the Act where the person charged can prove that he was acting under an order which he was required by law to obey and believed the order to be lawful. Section 7 combined with section 10 applies the modern rule against double jeopardy.

  Section 8 provides for the protection in law of the blue shield emblem and empowers the Minister for Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to authorise use of the blue shield in our jurisdiction. The blue shield emblem is the distinctive emblem created by the 1954 convention as a means of identifying cultural property to protect it in the event of armed conflict as well as to protect personnel engaged in its protection. The conditions of its use and protection are set out in the convention. Of course it is important to appreciate that use of the blue shield is not essential for protection of cultural property which, as such, enjoys the protection of the protocol anyway. The main purpose of section 8 is to protect the emblem in law from misuse. Accordingly, section 8 enables the Minister to authorise use of the emblem subject to appropriate conditions and authorises its use where a person applies in writing to use it. In addition, section 8 makes it an offence to use the emblem without authorisation or contrary to the conditions set out by the Minister.

  Section 9 enables the State to provide mutual legal assistance to another state party to the 1999 protocol in the investigation and prosecution in that state of offences under the protocol. To enable extradition of persons sought for prosecution by another state party to the protocol, a separate order under the Extradition Acts will be necessary.

  Section 11 is a standard provision setting out the Short Title of the Act and providing for commencement. The texts of the convention and the protocol are set out in the Schedules to the Act.

  Ratification of the 1954 convention and accession to the 1999 protocol would be a further demonstration of Ireland's commitment to support and promote international humanitarian law. The enactment of the Bill will enable the State to take that step and, accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the Bill. We are happy to support the Bill, its aim and its intent. Obviously, we hope it is not something that would ever have to be directly applied in Ireland. That said, we are happy to support other colleagues in other jurisdictions where the cultural property of armed conflict has been vandalised or stolen.

  I have a question relating to the practical application of this measure. I know the Minister has outlined some cases involving ISIS and others in which there has been vandalism, wanton destruction and theft. In one case during the second Gulf War all the artefacts in the museums in Baghdad were stolen during looting.  At that stage, depending on whose version of history one wants to believe, the US was in control and was standing by without intervening as the looting was going on. I note that the information I have does not list the US as being a party to this. Given that the Iraqi army had disintegrated and that the new occupying force which was in place was watching while looting was happening, was there a case for this part of the Hague Convention to be used? Was such an attempt ever made?

  Obviously, this has been a long time coming. As we deal with these issues, it is important to support other countries. It is clear from the case of the Convention on Cluster Munitions that the more countries sign up to these treaties, the greater the moral obligation on others to ensure they do likewise. If they do not sign up, they are in danger of becoming pariah states under international law.

  The essence of attempts to prosecute warring parties during or after conflicts is that the destruction of cultural artefacts, as happened with ISIS in Syria, would probably not rank high in the international courts' grand scale of priorities. Nevertheless, it is important to protect cultural and heritage artefacts and sites of historical interest and importance to civilisation. For that reason, we support both the Bill and the Minister in bringing it to the House.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Senator McFadden has eight minutes.

Senator Gabrielle McFadden: Information on Gabrielle McFadden Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden I believe that is a limit rather than a target. I will not be here for too long. I welcome the Minister to the House.

  Palmyra is an oasis in the Syrian Desert to the north east of Damascus. Until 2014, Palmyra contained the ruins of a great city that was once one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, standing at the crossroads of western and eastern civilisations. The art and architecture of Palmyra from the 1st and 2nd centuries married Greco-Roman design with Persian influences. The grand colonnaded street, open in the centre and with covered side passages, formed an outstanding illustration of architecture and urban layout at the height of the Roman Empire in around 260 AD. The great temple of Ba'al was considered one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st century AD in the east and was of unique design. The carved monumental archway through which the city is approached from the great temple is an outstanding example of Persian art. From June 2014 to February 2015, ISIL systematically plundered and destroyed at least 28 historic religious buildings in Palmyra. It has also been making use of antiquities to finance its activities. Despite the UN ban on the trade of artefacts looted from Syria, since 2011 ISIL has been smuggling such artefacts out of the Middle East and into the underground antique markets of Europe. There is a need to ensure each European country has legislation in place to enable those who export, sell or purchase any of these items to be published severely.

  In the absence of respect for international humanitarian law, the barbarity of war is limitless. The world witnessed the true barbarity of war yet again two weeks ago when civilian areas in Aleppo were ruthlessly bombed by Russian and Syrian forces. Ireland needs to play its part in establishing the international rule of law to prevent atrocities like those at Palmyra from happening again. We need to make sure that anyone who commits such atrocities is held accountable after hostilities have ended. This Bill establishes a system of enhanced protection for ancient monuments. It introduces an element of individual criminal responsibility and provides for penalties of imprisonment of up to 30 years when the rule of international law is broken. We have a responsibility to protect the inheritance of future generations. I warmly support this Bill.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Cuireann Sinn Féin fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Go baileach, baineann an Bille seo leis an dúchas. Tá sé scríofa ag an antraipeolaí Éireannach Diarmuid Ó Giolláin go gciallaíonn dúchas go bunúsach "an nádúr dosheachanta agus an oidhreacht" agus go mbaineann "an réigiún arb as do dhuine agus an teanga a labhrann sé lena oidhreacht". Tá sé tábhachtach nach ndíríonn muid isteach ar fhoirgnimh agus iarsmlanna amháin agus muid ag plé an ábhair seo. Déantar go leor dochair gach bliain do theangacha agus do chultúir dhaoine ar fud an domhain. Go minic is tri fhaillí a dhéantar an dochar seo, go háirithe sa tír seo.

  A total of 126 states are party to the treaty we are discussing today. Four states - Andorra, Britain, Ireland and the Philippines - have signed the treaty but have yet to ratify it. I wish to acknowledge the work of my colleague, Carál Ní Chuilín, in this regard. When she served as Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Six Counties, she supported the passage of similar legislation through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

  I broadly welcome the definition of "cultural property" set out in section 1 of the Bill. It is useful to be cognisant of the various aspects of cultural property in this country during peacetime. It would be farcical for us to lament the destruction of the Arch of Triumph at the Roman settlement of Palmyra in Syria without applying the same standards to the preservation of our historical revolutionary quarter at Moore Street. While I accept that this Bill involves giving effect to the terms of the Hague Convention, I must mention the appalling treatment of our cultural heritage by the current Government. While we are at peace, thankfully, I wonder whether outsiders looking in would consider that our Government is guilty of the destruction of cultural property through gross negligence and ignorance. The Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht is refusing to meet Conradh na Gaeilge. The effect of the decision to use moneys from the centenary fund to fight a legal battle against the Save Moore Street campaign is to side with developers whose only appreciation of culture is from the pictures on bank notes.

  I welcome this Bill and support it wholeheartedly. It is unfortunate that it is timely due to events in Syria. Western news outlets recently carried images of ISIS members destroying artefacts and buildings which they viewed as idolatrous or not in line with their myopic vision. In 2001, the world watched as the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban. All of these events were crimes against civilisation. The destruction that has been caused will leave future generations culturally poorer and less able to fully interpret the past. War destroys communities physically and socially. The task of rebuilding after armed conflict is made all the more difficult if cultural property has been destroyed. Culture helps to bind communities together and gives cohesion in times of change and reconciliation.

  I must ask whether this convention will retrospectively look at the case of the Palestinians. Over many years and through constant misplacement and military action, Palestine has shrunk to a fraction of what it once was. Its language, customs and physical heritage have been eroded away at a pace just slow enough not to elicit outrage from the international community, as in the recent cases of Syria and Mali.

  I note from the Bill that there is a provision for awarding Blue Shield status in the event of armed conflict. I would like to raise a technical point in that regard. I appreciate that the Minister might not be able to answer this question. The difficulty with the prosecution of the cultural destruction in Syria is that Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and, therefore, it is necessary for Syria to make a direct request to the International Criminal Court to carry out an investigation or to get the UN Security Council to do so. Will this legislation now cover all countries regardless of their status in the International Criminal Court?

  As this initiative is being driven by UNESCO and western powers, there is a danger that it may be seen as western powers telling the rest of the world how to preserve their heritage. There is also a danger that due to advances in satellite technology and news reporting, only terrorist groups are highlighted as destroying cultural property. The recent air bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia against the native population of Yemen has resulted in the destruction of a UNESCO world heritage site. The same Saudi bombers were armed with weapons provided by the British Government and tacitly supported by it through its abject silence and refusal to condemn the fanatic religious regime in Saudi Arabia. All sides are guilty of this type of destruction.

  It is interesting that in the years after the Hague Convention was signed in 1954, the British Government allowed the Welsh village of Capel Celyn to be drowned to provide drinking water for Liverpool Corporation.  This village was a vibrant community with native Welsh speakers living and working in the valley. They, of course, resisted the scheme and even received a letter giving strong support from no less than Éamon de Valera. I raise this simply to point out that while cultural property must be defended during armed conflict, there is much destruction that occurs in peacetime democracies with the assent of democratic bodies, yet its effects are the same as bombing in wartime. Capel Celyn is now submerged and its native speakers are gone. It might as well have been bombed.

  The days immediately after the illegal British-American invasion of Iraq saw looting of cultural institutions and their contents on a shocking scale. The invaders had no plan. They did not even envisage that this could happen. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that they either thought these cultural institutions were unworthy of protection or, in a true colonialist manner, that the cultural property was not on a par with their own and, therefore, no big loss if looted or destroyed.

  I welcome this Bill but Sinn Féin wants to see the application of its core principles in this country, and at all times. Ba chóir go mbeadh na pionóis chéanna atá leagtha amach sa Bhille i bhfeidhm sa tír seo dóibh siúd a dhéannann coireanna i gcoinne an chultúir trí reachtaíocht agus cásanna cúirte.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I welcome the Minister, and I welcome and support the Bill. It is very appropriate and timely that we are moving forward to ratify in Irish law not only the convention of 1954 but also the very important strengthening protocol on the protection of cultural property of 1999. It is important that we recognise the wide definition of culture that sees it as both moveable and immovable. There is something to be examined in this regard when we consider the question of protection. The vandalism and destruction we have seen are often not simply most prominently against obvious sites such as Palmyra, described by UNESCO as a place of outstanding universal value, Nimrud or the libraries of Mosul, which were destroyed by ISIL. When we talk about destruction, we are aware there are forms of culture being destroyed in addition to the very obvious ones, which may be destroyed by explosion. I refer to the erosion of cultural practices, for example, which happens at times of conflict. I include cultural practices of minority communities, which can often be casual victims of armed conflict.

  It is appropriate that we are engaged in ratification now given that, just one month ago, the International Criminal Court had its first prosecution for a war crime entirely focused on the question of crimes against culture. On 27 September, Mr. al-Mahdi was found guilty of the war crime of co-ordinating the attack on sites of historic and religious significance in Timbuktu and was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment. It is a sign of the seriousness with which the International Criminal Court is now taking these cases. In the trial, it is sending a very important message on the ongoing destruction in Syria and elsewhere. I commend in passing the work of people such as Dr. Abdel Kader Haïdara and those who very bravely took steps, at great personal risk, to save and preserve cultural property. Dr. Abdel Kader Haïdara did extensive work to try to preserve the libraries of Timbuktu on foot of attacks by Mr. al-Mahdi and others.

  In addition to considering the question of destruction, I am very conscious of sections 2 and 3, which refer to stealing, pillaging, misappropriation and the exportation and removal from occupied territories of cultural artefacts. I refer to the trafficking effect. We could be much more vigilant in this regard. While Ireland may not be in conflict now, we have auctions and antique fairs, and we do see goods that are trafficked through our system. In signing the agreement, we need to allocate resources so we will have persons ready and able to screen our auction houses to ensure we are in no way complicit in the sale or trafficking of cultural artefacts. It is not a one-way phenomenon. The market for cultural artefacts taken during times of war and in the period immediately afterwards, or during times of occupation, is well established in Europe. It has been built up over centuries of colonialism and occupation. In that sense, it behoves us as Europeans to ensure we are tackling the market in every place. We must bear in mind some of the legacy assumptions made in our museums on the treatment of property taken from times of conflict and in circumstances of oppression.

  I wish to highlight a possible concern I am sure the Minister can address. I welcome that there are measures to address the export or removal of cultural property from an occupied territory, not just in times of conflict. Could the Minister clarify whether this covers the period pursuant to or immediately after armed conflict? In many cases, as seen in recent conflicts, it is not during the conflict itself that the issue arises but in the months or years following it, during which time opportunistic pillaging and exportation of property may take place, along with the purchase of property without proper paperwork, authorisation or verification of the authenticity of the source.

  The looting of antiquities in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad is a stain on all of us. It is unfortunate that Ireland was complicit to a small extent in facilitating the stopping over of aeroplanes in respect of the war in Iraq. Some of the worst destruction we have seen was in that immediate period. I refer not only to the looting of the National Museum of Iraq but also to the burning of the library of Baghdad. We need to learn from that and be more cognisant of our shared duties.

  My colleague spoke about Palestine. There are circumstances in which occupation may be over a very long period. It is a question of ensuring that those territories regarded as occupied are afforded all the cultural protection possible, even if the occupation is for decades, as in some cases.

  The question of provenance and paperwork must be borne in mind. The Blue Shield is an important step. I hope it will be very much welcomed by our national museum and others.

  Unfortunately, while 69 countries have ratified this convention and protocol, there has been a notable lack of prosecution. I absolutely appreciate the Minister's points on symbolic value. I was part of the cluster munitions campaign and played a role in Ireland's leadership in this area. I urge that in addition to providing symbolic leadership, we provide concrete leadership. It would only strengthen Ireland's Defence Forces' already-strong reputation and our own strong cultural reputation if we passed this legislation and implemented it really strongly.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond I welcome the Minister to the House to debate this important Bill and I thank him for his remarks. The Bill presents a serious responsibility for Ireland as an actor on the world stage. As mentioned by some Senators, the context and relevance of this aspect of the Hague Convention will be quite clear to any of us who have watched the evening news in recent times. Images from conflict areas, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have shown the wilful destruction and desecration of numerous ancient and historic treasures. Centuries-old religious and cultural artefacts, structures and antiquities have been destroyed, stolen or damaged beyond recognition.

  That the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention has been ratified by only 69 states so far is, in itself, very disappointing. It is, therefore, important that Ireland does not delay its own ratification process. While I fully support this Bill and have no desire to delay Ireland's ratification process unnecessarily, I have a few questions the Minister might clarify in his closing remarks. It will be an offence under section 2 to attack, steal, pillage, misappropriate or vandalise cultural property during an armed conflict in a state. Section 3 makes it an offence for an Irish citizen, member of the Defence Forces or person ordinarily resident in Ireland to do these things during an armed conflict outside the State.  It also makes it an offence for an Irish citizen or a member of the Defence Forces to export or otherwise remove cultural property from an occupied territory.

  As of January 2015, the Department of Justice and Equality estimated that approximately 50 Irish residents had travelled to Syria to fight for rebel forces in the civil war since 2011. According to media reports Garda and military intelligence are monitoring between 30 and 60 potential Islamist fighters in the State and Irish citizens fighting abroad in Syria and Iraq. Will those returning home from these areas of conflict be questioned about their activities abroad regarding the destruction of cultural property? What measures can be taken to regulate and monitor Irish citizens working in a private security capacity in conflict zones? It might be worth questioning these people about such activities.

  The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court constitutes a landmark treaty on individual responsibility regarding international crimes and contains important provision for crimes against cultural property. Two sections are relevant in Article 8 of the statute which gives a description of certain places and buildings that cannot be deliberately attacked unless they are made into military objectives.

  In Ireland we have a relationship with religion that for many people is a central part of our culture. We have seen some of the worst consequences of this cultural identification with religion with hundreds of sectarian attacks on churches across this island by groups linked to paramilitary organisations. Will attacks on religious institutions by paramilitary groups waging attacks on this State be considered as crimes under the Bill? In the not too distant past we have seen paramilitary groups involved in the theft, purchase and sale of valuable cultural artefacts such as paintings from the Beit collection. While I acknowledge that at the time of their theft, the Beit collection was in private ownership, would this type of crime on collections held by the State be amenable to prosecution under the Bill?

  Does the Minister have plans to expand the training for members of the Defence Forces such as that undertaken by the Austrian defence forces in this area? Could we follow the example of the Dutch defence forces, whose members being deployed abroad are issued with playing cards depicting local sites and items of cultural significance? It is a slightly more informal way of doing things, but it might be appropriate in this case.

  I again thank the Minister for his time and repeat my strong welcome for the Bill. I hope he can address the points I have raised.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister to the House. I give my wholehearted support and that of the Labour Party to the Bill. It is very welcome and all who have spoken have endorsed it. The Minister set out clearly the impetus behind the Bill and set it in the context of international humanitarian law more generally and in the context of a climate where we are seeing increasing recognition of the need to ensure accountability in the international forum for international crimes, notably through the mechanism of the International Criminal Court.

  The Bill is topical. Others have commented on recent armed conflicts involving appalling destructions of property and cultural heritage. I will return to that. I very much welcome the substance of the Bill, based as it is on the convention. I particularly welcome the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction over Irish nationals. Senator Richmond has referred to a particular rationale for that in the context of ISIS and the phenomenon known as foreign fighters who have travelled from a number of EU and other countries to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We need to be mindful of that in our jurisdiction.

  The Minister has rightly commented a number of times on the superb record of the Defence Forces and in particular their recent record in the rescue of 13,000 people on recent missions in the Mediterranean by the Naval Service.

  I wish to focus on two issues. First is how we could assist with the preservation of cultural heritage in a practical way on the international stage, not just through this Bill, but also in a different mechanism. Second, I wish to speak about Syria and the Irish response to the crisis in Syria.

  Others have spoken about matters related to protection of cultural heritage to do with the smuggling of artefacts and the need for interagency co-operation and interplay with other UNESCO conventions. At the end of September at an important meeting, the importance of interplay between the six UNESCO cultural conventions was highlighted. The chairperson of the committee on the second protocol to this Hague Convention - the original convention of 1954 - spoke about a cultural cleansing taking place. She said that protecting cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict is more urgent than ever given that the destruction of cultural heritage has reached unprecedented levels. She underscored the need for those agencies engaged under the different conventions to work together to address, in particular, illicit trafficking in cultural property flowing from conflict situations - the looting that Senator Higgins mentioned.

  We are all very conscious of the major role of the international art market and customs officials in different countries. This was also highlighted at the UNESCO conference. Decades later we are still dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust and the seizure of properties from Jewish families in Germany and their dispersal across different countries internationally. Clearly there is an important point about interplay and other measures and mechanisms beyond this sort of Bill to address destruction of cultural heritage.

  In that respect, last year when the UK announced its intention to ratify this convention, the UK Secretary of State for Culture not only announced ratification of the convention, but also made a commitment to a UK financial fund to assist in the preservation and rescue of artefacts, a move which some commentators said conjured up images of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. On a serious level, resources clearly need to be put at the disposal of those working on the ground to try to protect artefacts in countries in conflict where artefacts, cultural objects and buildings are under siege.

  The US State Department has backed a cultural heritage project run by Professor Michael Danti from Boston University. He has talked about the worst cultural heritage crisis since the Second World War taking place in Syria and northern Iraq. Will Ireland consider putting resources into a similar fund for the protection of cultural artefacts? We may already be doing that through the Irish Aid programme and other programmes. It is worth talking about the need to resource protection and preservation measures when discussing the Bill.

  As we saw in Palmyra in 2015, ISIS is trying to erase Syrian culture and the history of its civilisation, as it is also doing in northern Iraq. Senator McFadden eloquently described the appalling destruction of Palmyra. The extensive breaches of international humanitarian law in Syria are being committed by other parties as well and we must also speak about the Syrian Government and Russia. We have spoken about that both here and most recently at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. At my initiative, this House passed unanimously an all-party motion condemning the destruction of Aleppo and condemning the bombardment of civilians in Aleppo and other urban centres across Syria.

  We are also working on putting together a motion with the Not On Our Watch group to ask the Government to welcome up to 200 unaccompanied minors here from the Calais camp, many of them children who have fled conflict and destruction in Syria and other countries, such as Afghanistan, and who are currently languishing in this very chaotic situation with the destruction by the French authorities of the Calais jungle. I ask the Minister to press the Government for Ireland to extend a welcome to a number of unaccompanied minors, to whom we owe a duty.

  Last week at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister spoke eloquently about our commitments to resettlement and relocation programmes. Along with the Minister, many of us expressed our concern at the very slow pace of relocating people here from Greece and Italy who have come from Syria. It was envisaged that they would be processed at a much quicker rate to come to Ireland from temporary camps in Greece and Italy. The Minister indicated that only 69 people have come through from Greece. There is a particular issue with delays in Italy. We need to speed up the process of bringing in the 4,000 people we have already committed to bringing. In the shorter term we should also consider welcoming a number of unaccompanied minors who have fled conflict and who are now languishing in Calais.

  Breaches of international humanitarian law include cultural destruction of the sort being targeted in the Bill. Of course, we all support every effort that can be made to preserve cultural heritage and to pass legislation such as this.  We need to offer financial support to efforts to preserve cultural heritage in different conflict situations and moral support to civilians fleeing destruction and carnage in their home countries.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield Our cultural institutions and buildings embody where we have come from as a society and what previous generations have projected to shape society. In turn, those institutions shape who we are today. When one considers our culture and cultural buildings, one does not have to look further than this House and the surrounding campus to view buildings that house cultural activity. It often troubles me that those institutions are identified as repositories. Instead, they should be living, mobile and national institutions that prioritise outreach. The marks of British colonialism and the aristocracy of the Victorian and Georgian eras remain ever present. We do not shy away from this past and we view those buildings as part of our history and heritage.

  In times of war, culture is a forgotten priority of government as it is difficult to value in monetary terms when stringent economic measures often need to be taken. Ironically, culture is often more valued by its citizens and shaped more in war times as the affected people grasp their identity and the factors that shape it.

  In wars in the Middle East, such as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, in particular, we have seen cultural property directly and deliberately demolished. Both sides have done so with the great intention of whitewashing local identity and cleansing identity, consistent mainstays of indigenous heritage. It is clear that these targets are often used not only as a grave act of war but as an attack on the morale of the natives who hold their heritage dear.

  In May I attended a public conference in Liberty Hall called Conflict + The City organised by Dublin City Council and SIPTU. At the event, Professor Luke Gibbons from Maynooth University recalled how in the months that followed the Rising a small group of Bolsheviks visited Dublin who ultimately adopted urban warfare tactics in advance of the 1917 October revolution. Among that group was a Russian playwright and future Soviet ambassador to Britain. Those newfound tactics of urban warfare that James Connolly had researched and lectured on were inspired by the 1871 Paris Commune. Moore Street and the lanes of history represent that newfound urban warfare. Professor Luke Gibbons noted the personal and the political sacrifice for the public good, the transformation of the public and private, where the interiors of people's homes were tunnelled through by volunteers making inner streets. There was a fusing of the public and private sphere. I suppose it was the concept of republicanism operating alongside socialism that the professor was getting at.

  I wish to note the attacks on Moore Street. In 1916, devastation was rained on Dublin city by the British owned SS Helga. The Four Courts was shelled, resulting in the destruction of the Public Records Office. We can all understand the cultural and historical separation that has caused. Alien as it may seem, should this State be attacked in the future, we should consider what effigies of our culture we should seek to protect.

  Sinn Féin supports this Bill but we should scrutinise the State's record of protecting our culture, and I mention in particular Moore Street. The intended relocation of the Seanad to the National Museum of Ireland should see the State or Dublin City Council submit a planning application because it may breach the walls of a 19th century protected structure in at least three places and attach a lift to the facade. We need to be conscious of our attitude towards cultural institutions. As I said, Sinn Féin supports the Bill and hopes the legislation will remind the Government of the duty of care we have towards our culture, heritage and the arts. Sinn Féin wishes to remind the Government that its record on culture precedes what it might do in a time of war and we urge that a great emphasis is put into upholding culture now.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I thank Senators for their contributions and consideration of the Bill. As I indicated in my opening statement, this Bill has something of a narrow focus. It is concerned with the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. Its enactment will nevertheless be a further important demonstration of Ireland's support for international humanitarian law and the vital role that it plays in limiting the effects of armed conflicts on civilians and civilian property.

  Senator Higgins was right when she made the case that we should not only be engaged in what might be a symbolic signing or ratification. She said we should, at all times, be conscious of the need to back that up in terms of our own resources, activities and actualities rather than just symbolism. I hope that the passing of this legislation could be followed by the type of real action to which reference has been made.

  I assure the House that this Bill is by no means an attempt by the Executive to introduce legislation to the Legislature for debate and, ultimately, for ratification. This is not a question of prioritising property over people. On the contrary, it is fair to say that the Government has been forthright in its condemnation of the appalling tactics by the parties to the current conflict in Syria as has been evidenced not only in the course of this debate, but in previous debates in the Seanad. I acknowledge the role Senator Bacik played in ensuring the Seanad spoke with one voice on this issue by reaching agreement on a motion. That was very important and I wish to compliment Senators on their contributions to that. It is an important statement by the Oireachtas and the Seanad. The fact that it was agreed without a division was really important. It was also important to me, as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I extend words of appreciation to the Cathaoirleach and all the Members.

  I am sure everyone in this House would agree there is no justification for excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on a defenceless civilian population and, indeed, critical civilian infrastructure, such as medical installations, hospitals, medi-centres and surgeries and power and sanitation facilities, all of which we have seen in recent weeks in the city of Aleppo. This behaviour, without doubt, violates the relevant rules of international humanitarian law. It is totally unacceptable as are attacks on cultural property. The destruction and theft of cultural property are totally unacceptable. Senator McFadden mentioned in graphic detail the destruction of artefacts in the ancient and culturally important area of Palmyra. Buildings, monuments and artefacts of cultural importance are essential, as has been said, to the history, heritage and identity of all people. Any attempt or deliberate act to destroy them is an attempt to diminish the people and fundamentally injure their identity. It strikes at the heart of humanity. Indeed, the rules set out in the 1954 convention and the 1999 protocol, like those in the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international humanitarian law, rest on respect for the inherent dignity of the individual.  Without them, the barbarism and brutality of armed conflict would remain unmitigated. They are not mere pious aspirations but concrete standards formulated in the light of bitter experience and agreed by the international community as a basis for civilised conduct. It is in this context that the Government proposes that Ireland now becomes a party to the Hague Convention and Protocol, which the enactment of this legislation will facilitate and allow.

  A number of specific points were raised by Senators during the course of the debate. Senator Daly rightly adverted to the Baghdad museums. Neither Iraq nor the United States are parties to the 1999 protocol, which would have obliged them to prevent looting of cultural property. It is important that by becoming a party to the protocol, Ireland provides practical support for its rules. We continue to encourage. The passing of this legislation in the Seanad and afterwards in Dáil Éireann will act as an encouraging factor for all states to follow suit.

  Reference was made to Palmyra. However, Syria is not a party to the protocol. The United Nations Security Council resolution applies in Ireland and there are criminal offences here under the European Union sanctions regulations relating to Syria. The issue of the destruction in Palmyra was rightly referred to by Senator McFadden and others.

  Senator Ó Clochartaigh posed a number of questions. I will deal with them briefly because he is not here. It is important to note that the International Criminal Court will have jurisdiction over offences committed in states that are not parties to the statutes of the court only if they are referred to it by the UN Security Council. That is an established means by which these issues can be dealt with. Reference was made to Iraq. It is clear that neither Syria nor Iraq have ratified the protocol. A total of 69 states are parties. Ireland is pleased to play its part. Syria has signed but not ratified the protocol. Every effort will be made to ensure as many states as possible can participate by signing and ratifying. Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of Palestine. He will be aware that Israel is a party to the Hague Convention but not yet a party to the second protocol of 1999. Meanwhile, Palestine is a party to both.

  I acknowledge the remarks of Senator Higgins with regard to persons taking personal risks in order to safeguard important artefacts and property of cultural and historical significance, not only for our generation but for future generations. The Senator is right. Oftentimes, this requires acts of great courage on the part of individuals. We should applaud such acts, as the Senator has done. The trafficking of cultural objects through our jurisdiction is an issue upon which many in our communities remain vigilant outside of this regulation or protocol, which deals exclusively with armed conflict. We have a body of criminal law and that is the reference point in the context of the trafficking of goods and objects of dubious origin or source. Senator Higgins is correct to speak of the need for actual and real leadership to accompany what we are doing this afternoon.

  Senator Richmond referred to foreign fighters and a number of Irish foreign fighters who have been identified as being involved in armed conflict in areas like Syria and Iraq. He also referred to the status of the returnees. Again, a significant body of law already exists on the Statute Book to deal with criminal offences. Obviously, there is a need to gather an appropriate level of evidence. This is an issue upon which I know my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, has been actively engaged with EU colleagues and other international actors. The sharing of information is vital. I am pleased to note that, as far as Ireland is concerned, everyone would agree that the level of information gathering and sharing between the forces of law and order in this State and our counterparts in other jurisdictions is especially high. In fact, it has never been as close. I hope this will continue. Since we live in a globalised society, the need for sharing information, international protocols, concepts like the European arrest warrant and other international conventions are all important in the context of the gathering of appropriate levels of evidence that will ultimately result in persons engaging in illegal activity being brought to justice.

  Senator Richmond also raised the matter of training. That is an issue for the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence. In the context of this Bill there has been a significant degree of discussion between the Defence Forces, the Department of Defence and officials in my Department. I will communicate to the Senator on the matter of training but I agree with his view that this is an important issue and one I will clarify with the Senator before the completion of the legislation.

  Senators referred to the status or definition of occupied territory. Occupied territory is territory occupied by an invading force after fighting. A point was made about whether this Bill would be relevant in respect of states, countries, members or parties engaged in armed conflict and what would happen afterwards. When can the conflict be regarded as having come to an end? Oftentimes that is a matter of dispute. Of course, the removal of cultural property from the occupied territory of a state that is a party to the protocol will be a specific offence in this jurisdiction. There is also the question of Irish residents participating in a war in Syria and what will happen to them once the appropriate investigation has taken place. Action will take place in respect of persons being suspected of an offence. This will be a matter for the Garda Síochána, as it is in respect of all and any offences across the range of criminal justice issues.

  The authorities here are aware of the issue of international foreign fighters. This legislation deals with the theft of cultural property outside the State in the context of armed conflict. Ordinary theft remains an offence on the Statute Book and that is the means by which these people would ultimately be brought to justice. There are also conventions which deal specifically with trafficking cultural property. These are under consideration by my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys. She is the line Minister responsible for the matter of funding of the type that has been mentioned by a number of Senators in the context of the consolidation of our legislation, in particular the National Monument Acts.  I am happy to raise the issue of funding with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys.

  I acknowledge the contributions of Senators and thank them for their careful consideration of this Bill, as well as for their advice and guidance. I am pleased to acknowledge the positive perception the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016 has received and look forward to the continuing support of the House for it.

  Senator Bacik raised the issue again of the Syrian conflict. There is a strong participation on our part when dealing with this ongoing issue and the appalling violence on the part of the Assad regime. At this stage, it seems the Assad regime is entirely dependent on the support of outside groups. Without support from Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and a variety of other sectarian militia forces, I have no doubt the brutal regime of terror in Syria under Assad would have collapsed some time ago. Assad's backers know exactly what they are doing. They continue to perpetuate a brutal war by a regime, which lacks any legitimacy, against the Syrian people. I had an opportunity, on behalf of the Seanad, Dáil, the Government and the people of Ireland, to directly convey our revulsion at these activities in Syria. I spoke directly to the Russian ambassador, the representative of the Russian Government here, and made it clear to him in no uncertain terms that we regard the actions of his government as being totally unacceptable in these circumstances.

  This conflict has given rise to an unprecedented migration challenge for the European Union and for Ireland. I am having ongoing discussions with my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, on the intake and reception in this jurisdiction of a number of refugees in accordance with our stated target of 4,000 people. I acknowledge the process is slow and it needs to be the subject of some order. I regret the administrative issues are such that there is a level of frustration on the part of elected representatives, as well as among the wider public. This is an issue upon which we are anxious to proceed in a way that will demonstrate to our people and the international community that Ireland continues to be willing to play its part in a way we can ensure the suffering of these individuals is mitigated, that they can enjoy a welcome in this jurisdiction and settle in our rural and urban communities for a period to be determined. I am happy to communicate with Senators on this ongoing matter, as I am sure the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality is doing.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Gabrielle McFadden: Information on Gabrielle McFadden Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden On Wednesday, 9 November 2016.

  Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 9 November 2016.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Gabrielle McFadden: Information on Gabrielle McFadden Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden At 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 9 November 2016.

  The Seanad adjourned at 3.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 9 November 2016.

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