Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Emergency Departments Waiting Times
 Header Item Children and Family Services Provision
 Header Item School Transport Eligibility
 Header Item Local Authority Expenditure
 Header Item Message from Dáil
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Sitting Arrangements: Motion
 Header Item Planning and Development Regulations: Referral to Joint Committee
 Header Item Report of Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport: Motion
 Header Item Social Welfare Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
 Header Item Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages
 Header Item Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017: Motion for Earlier Signature
 Header Item Message from Dáil
 Header Item Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 255 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 Martin Conway that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to outline his plans to reduce the number of patients on trolleys in the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick.

I have also received notice from Senator Fintan Warfield of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to outline his plans to commence sections 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.

I have also received notice from Tim Lombard of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills to implement a protocol to ensure students repeating their leaving certificate examinations have access to bus passes under the school transport system.

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

The need for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to consider whether local authority expenditure and income should be scrutinised by the Committee of Public Accounts.

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

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to provide an update on the allocation for road maintenance on national and regional roads in 2018.

I have also received notice from Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to outline the steps his Department is taking both at a European Union and international level to highlight and address the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran and the ongoing malign and destabilising activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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

The need for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to outline the progress being made to update the foreshore licensing of seaweed harvesting in Ireland.

I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion. I have selected the matters raised by Senators Martin Conway, Fintan Warfield, Tim Lombard and Victor Boyhan and they will be taken now. The other Senators may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise.

Commencement Matters

Emergency Departments Waiting Times

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I raise this matter because it is of significant importance in County Clare. I was on the way to Dublin on Tuesday while I listened to local radio. An independent councillor for whom I would have much regard in County Clare, Councillor Ann Norton, relayed her experience in the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick, where her daughter had been a patient. She outlined a series of events that were very worrying. The Government and the Minister have invested significantly, particularly through capital investment, in trying to deal with the ongoing challenges people face in the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick. The Government has opened a new unit in Limerick at a cost of more than €20 million to try to deal with the problem of people waiting on trolleys, etc. It was very disappointing to hear of Councillor Norton's experience with her daughter, as well as the experience of others who have approached me in recent times to say patients are on trolleys for significant periods in the hospital emergency department. The Government has made an investment in excess of €20 million but the problem persists.

  After the Government and Minister have invested such money to deal with the problem, why are we in this position in Limerick, with patients on hospital trolleys waiting to be dealt with? Is there another issue of which people are not aware? Perhaps there is a management issue. I have tabled this matter because I am very concerned about what is happening in Limerick. It affects not only people in Limerick but also those who live in north and south Tipperary, as well as County Clare.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Catherine Byrne): Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne I thank Senator Conway for raising this very important issue. I am here on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, who wishes me to update the House on the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick.

  There is no doubt that too many patients continue to wait on trolleys for admission to hospitals on a daily basis. I wish to acknowledge the distress that overcrowding in emergency departments causes to patients, their families and the front-line staff who work in extremely difficult conditions in hospitals throughout the country.

  Tackling overcrowding in emergency departments is a key commitment of the Government, and additional funding of €40 million has been made available in 2017, as part of the 2018 budget, to address the winter pressures on waiting lists across the country. This additional funding is aimed at reducing overcrowding in our hospital, including University Hospital Limerick through the provision of extra capacity and additional support.

  The emergency department in University Hospital Limerick is one of the busiest in the country, with 65,000 attendances annually. Demand for service in the emergency department continues to rise. The HSE data for the end of October 2017 indicated that attendance in the emergency department has risen by almost 5% and that admissions through the emergency department has increased by more than 10% as compared to the same period last year. In recognition of the high demand, funding of €24 million was provided for the new emergency department at University Hospital Limerick, which opened in May 2017. The new emergency department is three times the size of the former emergency department and provides modern, safe and fit for purpose facilities that meets patients' and families' expectations. At the same time the new facility provides high quality comfortable accommodation that protects patients' privacy and dignity. Notwithstanding this investment, the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick continues to be challenged and there are too many patients on trolleys on a daily basis. Mindful of this issue, the Minister for Health and his officials in the Department convened a meeting in October with the chief executive officer of the University Hospital Limerick and the HSE to discuss this issue. Following this meeting, an emergency department improvement plan was submitted by the University Limerick Hospital Group. The plan is being implemented and is being monitored by the Department of Health. In addition, as part of the €40 million funding announced for the winter measures as part of budget 2018, 17 new beds have been opened in University Hospital Limerick in December and this site is availing of four additional home care packages and two additional transitional care beds per week during the winter months. In addition, as part of a proactive and integrated approach to winter planning, the hospital groups, hospitals and the community healthcare organisations, CHOs, and primary care providers have put in place winter plans in order that the health service is ready for the increased demand for health services and, in particular, for emergency department services in the months ahead. I can confirm that University Hospital Limerick has such a plan in place.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome the detail in the Minister of State's reply. It is worrying to think that after an investment of €24 million in building the new emergency department in University Hospital Limerick the Minister has had to request a meeting with the chief executive officer of that hospital group in order to ascertain the reason patients are on trolleys for unacceptable periods. I have taken this opportunity to highlight the issue and I sincerely hope that during the Christmas period as few as possible will have to experience lying on a trolley in University Hospital Limerick.

  I commend the Minister on making a capital investment of €24 million in the hospital, which is a significant investment. I hope the CEO of the hospital group will deal with the management issues so as to ensure that people will have a comfortable experience when they attend the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick. I thank the Minister of State for coming to this House to address the issue.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne I acknowledge the Senator's contribution. Let me assure him that the Minister, Deputy Harris, and his officials will continue to monitor the performance of the emergency department. Members of the Oireachtas are concerned about the significant numbers attending emergency departments, particularly during the winter months. This puts major pressure on hospital staff. It is heart-wrenching to hear personal stories, be they on the radio or the television of people having to wait for lengthy periods, feeling that they are not progressing up the list. Let me assure the Senator that even in St. James's Hospital in my constituency, I know the staff are dedicated to implementing the programme of the HSE to be able to deal with the incoming patients at this time of the year. However, even after the significant investment in University Hospital Limerick, there seems to be other problems that need to be ironed out. I will bring this to the Minister's attention and I will ask him to reply personally to the Senator.

Children and Family Services Provision

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House. It has been two and a half years since the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was signed into law. This historic legislation gave parental rights to same-sex couples across the State and truly embraced the notion that family formations are diverse, and there is no single proposition for Irish identify but only diversity.

  Parts 2 and 3 of the Act provide for parentage through donor assisted human reproduction and as of December 2017, Parts 2 and 3 have yet to be commenced by the Minister for Health. Parental rights provide for an array of protections for a family - for example, allowing a parent to apply for an Irish passport and citizenship for their child; allowing a child to access his or her parents' estate, should they pass; and allowing a parent to make emergency health decisions on behalf of the child. I have received a number of emails from members of the public who are running into trouble in that regard, particularly in the area of passports. In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, indicated that the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 would be in place by "the end of the year". In response to further parliamentary questions tabled by Deputy Louise O'Reilly, the answers omitted a timeline that was requested by us, suggesting that the Department is working to resolve a small number of technical issues involving the commencement of Parts 2 and 3. My first question is whether there is a timeline for the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Child and Family Relationships Act? A significant number of families are experiencing legal uncertainty and are having their rights deferred. I think same sex couples and their families have waited long enough for the commencement of these Parts of the Act.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne I will read the statement that has been provided by the Minister's office and refer to some of the issues the Senator has raised. The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 reforms and updates family law to address the needs of children living in diverse family types. As the Warfield is aware, the Minister for Health is responsible for the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the 2015 Act and associated regulations. As well as making regulations in respect of donor assisted human reproduction procedures, Parts 2 and 3 of the Act make provision for children conceived through the assistance of a donor. This includes mandating for non-anonymous donation and the establishment of a national donor-conceived person register to enable children to access information on their donor and genetically related siblings when they come of age, should they wish to do so. These provisions were specifically included in the Act to underpin the rights of the child under Article 42A of the Constitution of Ireland's commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to have information on their genetic heritage.  Parts 2 and 3 also provide legal clarity on parental rights and responsibilities. While matters such as the registration of births are not directly encompassed within these parts of the Act, the Minister recognises that the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 is necessary for provisions in these areas to be fully effected. I assure the Senator that the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 is a matter that the Minister for Health wants to address as soon as possible. Officials in the Department of Health are preparing draft regulations to facilitate the commencement of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and they are working to resolve a small number of technical issues to ensure that the processes associated with Parts 2 and 3 of the Act can be commenced. I will address other issues that the Senator raised when I reply again.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I am disappointed that, having previously been given a timeline for the end of this year, that again, we are not being given an indication about the introduction of Parts 2 and 3. I have no doubt that the Department is working hard on this but I urge the Minister of State to give urgency to this issue. Same-sex families have waited long enough and we cannot claim to recognise all families equally until this obstacle is overcome. I urge that the Department and Minister give urgency to this issue.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne I have just come from a meeting in the Department with the Minister, Deputy Harris, and departmental officials. There are details that have to be ironed out before it is brought in. I assure the Senator that January to early February will be the timeframe. If possible, it will be implemented by the end of January and if not, then the beginning of February. That is what came from the meeting this morning and I have nothing else to add.

School Transport Eligibility

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I raise an issue regarding calls for protocols to be put in place for students repeating their leaving certificate examinations to have access to the school bus system. It is a huge issue in my part of the world. At the moment, we have up to 1,800 or 2,000 students repeating the leaving certificate examinations every year. A majority of these students have access to school transport but because they are outside the timelines for applying, they are not eligible to get a seat and are then outside the criteria. They could have used a bus for five or six years. However, because they are repeating the leaving certificate examinations, they do not qualify for a bus because they did not apply in time. The application date for a seat is 5 May. Students do not get their leaving certificate examinations results until 16 August so, realistically, the only way I can see around the issue, if a protocol is not put in place, is that students who do their leaving certificate examinations should apply for their seats for the next year just in case they repeat their leaving certificate. That is an illogical way of dealing with the issue.

  This is a practical problem. We have people who are trying to improve their results, work hard and do what they can but they are denied seats on buses because they are outside the timelines despite the fact they had a bus seat for six years. This is not a budgetary issue but is in many ways a protocol issue to ensure that this cohort of students, who are doing their utmost to ensure that they improve their grades and where they go in life, can have ease of access to the nearest place of education. We need a special protocol for leaving certificate students who repeat the leaving certificate examinations. Over 1,800 are repeating the leaving certificate examinations this year. The majority of them were on the school bus system for five to six years and they need to have access to it. At the moment, if there is no seat available, they have no access and the line they get from the Department is that they did not apply on time. It is illogical to have leaving certificate students applying for a bus for next year just in case they do not get certain results.

  We need to have flexibility in the Department. I can describe many instances where people who have been on the bus for six years repeat their leaving certificate examinations but because they did not apply on time, they have no bus for the year in which they are repeating the leaving certificate examinations. It is a huge issue. I hope I can get a suitable protocol put in place in the near future because these students deserve school transport and access to education. It is a very practical issue.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy John Halligan): Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan I thank the Senator for raising this matter. School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. Over 114,000 children, including almost 12,000 children with special educational needs, are transported in over 4,500 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million km at a cost of approximately €190 million annually. The purpose of the post-primary school transport scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside somewhere remote from their nearest school.

  Children are eligible for transport where they reside not less than 4.8 km from and are attending their nearest post-primary centre as determined by the Department and Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language. The closing date for applications for school transport is the last Friday in April each year and the closing date for submitting payment details is the last Friday in July. However, Bus Éireann continues to process applications and payments after these deadline dates and where possible children are accommodated on school transport services where spare seats are available. Children who wish to repeat their leaving certificate examinations should liaise with their local Bus Éireann office if they wish to avail of school transport for the next school year. Where there is spare capacity on existing services, Bus Éireann will issue tickets for these children. However, if all seats on a particular service have been allocated already then it may not be possible to facilitate children repeating their leaving certificate. It is not practical for Bus Éireann to maintain spare seats on every service to ensure that children who may repeat their leaving certificate can be accommodated. Children who pay for seats on school transport services who subsequently are not accommodated will receive a full refund.

  There is not any eligible child in Ireland who does not get school transport or a payment to help with transport to school. The difficulty we have is with concessionary provision. The scheme was laid out in the first place to deal with eligible children going to their nearest school. The difficulty we have now is that we have almost 3,000 children availing of concessionary provision. I always make the point that it is important to know that if a bus is coming from a village, town or city and is a 20-seater bus with 18 eligible children on it, we will facilitate two children under concessionary provision on that bus. The difficulty is that if an eligible child from that village, town or place makes himself or herself available, we have no choice under legislation and criteria laid down to put that eligible child on the bus.

  I take on board what the Senator says in that regard and might speak to him further about it. If he were to give me specific details, I would be delighted to talk to him and Bus Éireann to address it. My view has always been - I have taken many questions on this - that if I had my way, I would try to facilitate as many children as possible but we are restricted under the scheme laid down under the value for money review put in place in 2011, backed by the Dáil. The system is excellent. Some 99.9% of people are very happy with the system. It is one of the best in Europe.  It provides great value for money and as I say, an eligible child or a child with special needs is guaranteed school transport. The difficulty is that based on the criteria laid down in legislation, we cannot guarantee a place for concessionary children. When a bus is full, either with eligible children or eligible children and some concessionary children, we always have to remove a concessionary child from the bus and that creates a difficulty.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response. There are eligible children who have been eligible for six years and used the bus for six years. They were not concessionary, they were eligible. However, because they are repeating their leaving certificate examinations, they do not get a seat. Students receive their leaving certificate examinations results on 16 August. They currently need to apply for a seat on the bus on the 5 May. In other words, they have to apply before they actually sit their leaving certificate examinations.

  The system is broken where people who repeat their leaving certificate examinations are concerned. I take on board that the Minister of State thinks it is a good system. However, it does not take into account the 1,800 people who repeat their leaving certificate examinations. That is a huge cohort. These people are going through stress. They have huge problems going back to sixth year, going into a new school environment and pushing themselves to get great results. They do not need this stress and hassle. They have spent six years on the bus, but because they are outside the timeline they do not get a seat. We need a special protocol for this cohort. The system is broken when one takes into consideration the way it deals with them.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan The difficulty arises with the dates that are laid down for payment and for applications, which run from April to July. I understand that it is after that period that children who wish to repeat their leaving certificate examinations will want to avail of school transport. The problem that we face is a practical one. By that date, all of the buses are almost always full. By then we have allocated seats first to eligible children and then to concessionaries, though I note that it is almost always eligible children on the bus. I understand the Senator's concern and it is an issue that should be looked at. The date at which one of these students will decide to repeat their leaving certificate examinations falls outside of the April and July dates set down for payment and application.

  I ask the Senator to let me come back to him on this issue. I will give him my word in that regard. I will talk to Bus Éireann and the Department. However, the difficulty does not arise from buses with spare seats passing areas by. If the Senator finds that there is a bus with spare seats passing by an area, and children who are repeating their leaving certificate examinations are not getting those seats, I invite him to come to me and I will change that. That is a guarantee. My difficulty at present is that almost in their entirety, all of the buses are full.

Local Authority Expenditure

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this Commencement matter. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy John Paul Phelan, to the House. I wish to raise a very important issue. I ask for the Minister of State to consider whether local authority expenditure should be scrutinised by the Committee of Public Accounts. I call for this in the context of a need for greater transparency in the governance and scrutiny of local government finance, and to reflect the financial stewardship that is placed on the whole corporate body of a local authority via its members.

  The members of a local authority have a particular role in scrutiny and accountability through the auditing process of local authorities. This does not just concern the executive of the 31 local authorities in this country. It is also about the role of the elected members and the oversight they provide. Five years ago, the Minister of State's constituency colleague, Deputy John McGuinness of Fianna Fáil, introduced a Bill to the Dáil to make the expenditure and income of local authorities accountable to scrutiny by the Committee of Public Accounts. That Bill was rejected at Second Stage and therefore fell. In 2012, the then Minister of State outlined the reasons the Government objected to the Bill. I do not intend to go into them now as he will be fully aware of them. However, a lot has changed since 2012. We now have the National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, supervising local government. We also have local property tax, a new dimension to local government revenue and expenditure which was not envisaged when this Bill was considered, or when the previous unsuccessful Bill addressed the matter. I do not propose to go into the rights and wrongs of how the local property tax is disbursed across the country. That is for another day and another debate, although I would welcome the House holding that debate at some stage.

  Now more than ever, however, people have a right to know how their local property tax and, indirectly, their income tax, is being spent by local authorities across this country. As credible as the National Oversight and Audit Commission is, and with all respect to the good work that it does, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, will be aware that its reports do not come under the level of national scrutiny that the Committee of Public Accounts would bring to this work. At a practical level, it is simple fact that Government expenditure comes under the spotlight of the Committee of Public Accounts. The national media pay attention to the work of that committee, as we have seen time and time again. Where there is a focus within this committee, the media take an interest and therefore the public hears about it. That very important fact is worth taking into consideration as part of this recommendation. I am not saying that there are wholesale inefficiencies or bad spending decisions taking place in local authorities. I want to make that clear. What I am saying is that the taxpayers are entitled to the highest levels of transparency and scrutiny around the expenditure of their money in each of these 31 local authorities.

  What am I asking of the Minister of State? In simple terms, I am asking him one question. Will he and the Government consider drafting legislation in order that the Committee of Public Accounts, and thus the Comptroller and Auditor General, can have a role in scrutinising all 31 local authorities' spending across the country?

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy John Paul Phelan): Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan I thank the Senator for tabling this Commencement matter. The whole area of local government and local government expenditure was covered, as the Senator mentioned, by the Local Government Reform Act 2014, which established the National Oversight and Audit Committee. The matter of examining how local authorities expend their resources and the value for money delivered for rate-payers and taxpayers across the country is a very significant issue, and the Senator is right to raise it. The 2014 Act seems to have left a gap between the work that NOAC does and any measurable outcome at parliamentary level. In theory at least, the reports that NOAC produces can be covered by the Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, but in practice the housing aspect of that committee's remit is by far and away the busiest, and the local government reports do not seem to get as much coverage. Shortly after I was appointed I attended a meeting with NOAC when I heard one was taking place in the Customs House. I was the first Minister of State to go to one of their meetings. I was impressed by the personnel involved. They included former long-serving councillors and also long-serving management officials from across the country. These were people who had a very serious interest in the area as well as a significant level of expertise.

  I am more than interested; I am, in fact, determined to ensure that the gap that exists at present between the activities of NOAC and those of the Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government can be bridged in some way. As things stand, there will be a local government Bill next year. It is my intention that there will be provision in that Bill for strengthening the oversight of expenditure within local authorities. As NOAC is currently constituted, its functions include scrutiny of the performance of local authorities; support of best practice; overseeing implementation of national local government policy; and monitoring and evaluating implementation of corporate plans. It generally operates through subgroups, including a financial performance subgroup, that oversee different aspects of its work. Each subgroup consists of three or four members out of the ten members of NOAC, and publishes annual local authority performance indicators and composite public spending code quality assurance reports.  NOAC generally operates through subgroups, including a financial performance subgroup that has been set up to oversee different aspects of NOAC's work. Each subgroup comprises three or four members from NOAC's total membership of ten people. Each year, NOAC publishes local authority performance indicators and composite public spending code quality assurance reports.

  I was interested to hear what the Senator had to say at the outset about the interest taken by the media in the activities of the Committee of Public Accounts. The perception and the work of that committee have changed greatly in the past ten years. It has become a very political committee. It was not as political in the past. This change has positive and negative aspects. I am not convinced that adding local authority responsibility to the areas the committee has to examine is necessarily the right way to go. I think we should try to make the NOAC system work more properly and fully than it does at present.

  It is worth pointing out that when the reform legislation was being drafted and considered in the Oireachtas, consideration was given to the possibility of merging the Local Government Audit Service, which audits the 31 existing local authorities, and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. While it was decided at the time not to merge the two organisations, the process led to engagement between senior managers in the two auditing bodies on enhanced co-operation arrangements in areas like professional training, value for money methodologies and approaches, and the possibility of issuing joint reports within their existing respective mandates.

  The possibility of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts having a role in further ensuring appropriate oversight of expenditure of public funds by local authorities can be reconsidered by the Oireachtas with particular regard to commitments in A Programme for a Partnership Government. At present, my priority is to finalise the reports on local government which are promised under the programme for Government. At that stage, I will examine the matters that are to be addressed in the legislation that is to be introduced next year. Clearly, most of that legislation will flow from the reform reports. I am personally committed to the idea of greater national scrutiny and oversight of the finances expended by local authorities throughout the country.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister of State for his considered response. Ultimately, there are 31 local authorities and 31 chief executives. People are beginning to question whether those chief executives are accountable to anyone. They are well remunerated for their responsible jobs, which they do exceptionally well, on the whole. We need greater scrutiny of the financial affairs of these authorities. The real issues here are independent scrutiny, financial stewardship and public confidence in the 31 local authorities. The people who elect local authority members and pay their taxes to those authorities want to see accountability and transparency in local government finances.

  I would like to leave the Minister of State with two little messages. I ask him to look again at NOAC. I understand NOAC has just five staff members. It is under-resourced. Representatives of NOAC attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government last week. I ask the Minister to examine this suggestion as a start. It is important. I have studied each of the 31 reports of the Local Government Audit Service. Certain themes recur in the qualified opinions in those reports year in and year out. The chief executives tend to reply to the service by noting the shortcomings that are highlighted in the reports and explaining that the financial structures of the local authorities do not have the necessary resources to carry out the extensive requests. I suggest that the officials in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government who look at the annual local government audit reports every year need to say that this excuse is not good enough. It is unacceptable for local authorities to respond to something that has been a recurring theme for three years by trotting out the idea that they do not have the resources to address serious financial governance issues. I thank the Minister of State.

Deputy John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan The staffing issues at NOAC have been brought to my attention. In light of the amount of work NOAC is trying to do, I agree it is insufficient for it to have just five members of staff. The balance of powers between local authority executives and members is under consideration in the report that is being drafted. When we reflect on the possibility of providing for executive chairs of councils, we must consider whether that can happen right across the country, the timeframe for doing this and period of time for which they would remain in office. I have been an advocate of this approach for a long time. There are examples across the country of local authorities where the balance of power does not seem to work properly. As we all know, elected members are held accountable whenever there is an election. There is certainly a need for greater accountability at senior management level in our local authorities. I accept that there are many fine chief executives and senior managers at local authority level. As they know, they have nothing to fear from accountability. I assure the Senator that we are giving active consideration to the matters we are discussing.

Message from Dáil

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The following message has been received from the Dáil:

Dáil Éireann passed the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2017 on 12 December 2017, to which the agreement of Seanad Éireann is desired.

  Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.35 a.m.

Order of Business

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 15 December, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion of referral of Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018 to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Development, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion re report of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport on a proposal, COM (2017) 647, for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council amending Regulation (EC) No. 1073/2009 on common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Social Welfare Bill 2017 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 2.15 p.m. by the putting of one question which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 5, Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 4 and brought to a conclusion not later than 4 p.m. by the putting of one question which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 6, motion re earlier signature of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 5; and No. 7, Private Members' business, Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (Amendment) Bill 2017 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4 p.m.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh As this is the last Order of Business in 2017, I take the opportunity to wish the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and their staff a very happy Christmas. I thank all of them for their work to date. I thank all of the staff in the Seanad Office, including Martin and Brigid, for their help throughout the year. I also thank the Leader of the House, the group leaders and all other Senators for their contributions throughout the year. I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and new year.

  The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. To date, the discussions have focused mainly on the Border, how much the United Kingdom owes the European Union, what will happen to EU citizens living in the United Kingdom and to UK citizens living in the European Union, the future trading relationship and the Single Market and the transition period. Thankfully, on 8 December there was a breakthrough deal on the Border thanks to the hard work of our Ministers and the perseverance of civil servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is to be hoped the agreement and the heads of terms outlined in it will become a legally binding document without dilution in the weeks to come.

  As the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, said last week, the first phase was the easy part. Those who say the key issues have been settled definitively are clearly fooling themselves. I have a number of very specific points on which I seek clarification from the Government. Will it explain exactly what the definition of a frictionless Border is? It obviously involves no physical barriers, but is the Government stating it will also involve no payments or trade costs? What differences are anticipated in the current cross-Border arrangements and what changes would be acceptable to people on both sides of the Border and the Government? We know that the objective is for there to be no change. However, if there is to be a change, how much of this fits within the Government's understanding of what is acceptable? Would a Canada-plus type deal be acceptable, as proposed by the British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr. David Davis? Unfortunately, it is now beyond doubt from statements made that there are profoundly different views on what the agreement involves, its status and implications. The commitment to having an open border is contradicted by statements the United Kingdom as a whole will leave the customs union and the Single Market. In the case of Ireland, the agreement states regulatory alignment will be maintained if there is no overall deal. If there is no overall deal, the United Kingdom's membership of both the customs union and the Single Market will automatically lapse. Has the Government received assurances from the European Union on what will happen in such circumstances?

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh: Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh In relation to pay levels in three areas, will the Leader obtain some information on the Government's strategy and plans? The main focus is on teachers' pay. It is like a train that is going to crash. There is a significant requirement for teachers, yet people are not entering the profession. The thought struck me a few days ago that 25 years ago I was a teacher in a secondary school in Galway when I was on twice the starting salary teachers are on today. There is something seriously and fundamentally wrong. We have to address that issue as teachers are a key aspect in the context of our future.

  The other area to be considered is health care. We have a significant issue in attracting nurses and keeping them in Ireland.  I suggest that the Government focus initially on key primary areas, including salaries, for the maintenance of our communities and education and then build on it. These are fundamental professions for the well-being of citizens.

  There is a third area. I know many general practitioners and doctors. Some of them have to emigrate. They are going to countries in the Far East simply to make ends meet. We talked the last day about retiring at 70 years of age and we had a good debate on the question. GPs cannot retire at 60, 65 or even 70 years of age in some cases; they have to keep going.

  I believe we are at the middle stages of our education system almost crashing. The same applies to our care structure. Let us look at how we treat teachers. Certainly, something is really wrong because I was getting a salary 25 years ago that is twice the amount that teachers who are starting now get. There is something wrong if we cannot attract nurses who were trained in Ireland. They are going abroad to work and they are not coming back. Others are not going into the profession. There is really something wrong if GPs have to work until they are 70 or 75 years of age simply to keep going.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I raise the crisis in Letterkenny University Hospital. Letterkenny has the sixth largest hospital in the State in terms of inpatient numbers, with approximately 23,000 every year. It is a major hospital, not a minor or medium-sized hospital. The funding the hospital has received, compared to other major hospitals in the State, puts it at the bottom of the league. It has clearly been discriminated against for years.

  What happens as a result of this discrimination? Again and again, we have the highest numbers of patients, many of whom are elderly, on trolleys every day because of the over-crowding in the hospital. The doctors and nurses are under ferocious pressure. When people get into the system, they praise the doctors and nurses but they are under ferocious pressure. They are left with an impossible task and the stress is unbelievable.

  The impact on waiting lists is significant. One in eight of the men, women and children in Donegal is on a hospital waiting list. The number of people waiting over a year and a half is growing all the time. We are facing an absolute scandal.

  In that context, the hospital management appealed to the HSE for funding to reopen what is called the short-stay ward. It houses 20 vital beds to take the pressure off front-line staff and give patients dignity when they come to the hospital. The management team expected to have good news in October. They expected to have the extra beds as we approach the inevitable winter crisis and challenge. They applied for €1.8 million under the critical unmet need and winter surge initiative. The urgency is clear even in the title of the scheme that these people have applied under.

  Even at this late hour, I appeal to the Government. I call on the Leader to bring this isue to the attention of the Minister for Health and the senior officials in the HSE. They have to meet this request. We already have a crisis. I do not even want to think about what we are facing in the weeks ahead if they do not meet this request. The matter has been raised again and again by me and other public representatives in the county in recent weeks and months. I am appealing to the Leader. This is the last opportunity I have this year. Will the Leader bring this to the attention of the Minister for Health? The facts are incontrovertible. The hospital has been profoundly discriminated against in funding. We need this funding. This ward is empty. Next week, the short-stay ward will be empty. The beds will be unoccupied when there is a crisis in the hospital, and that is unforgivable. As we come close to Christmas, I am appealing to those responsible to get this sorted once and for all.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I speak today on behalf of the people of Bantry and the south west. They are in distress over the granting this week by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Damien English, of a seaweed licence to BioAtlantis to mechanically harvest 1,860 acres of kelp in Bantry Bay.

  Will the Leader ask the Minister of State to come to the House to debate the future plans of the Government on the development of the commercial seaweed industry in Ireland? I want the Minister of State to discuss the issuing of seaweed licences with us. I would also like to discuss why the Government and the Minister of State did not consult and engage with the 1,200 people who signed a petition against the issuing of the licence.

  Wild seaweed is a valuable resource in Ireland. In other countries, like Japan, Korea and China, they cultivate seaweed. We could have a niche market here - it is certainly an emerging market - if we do this right, but already we are getting it wrong.

  I am appealing to the Minister of State and the Government to address this before they issue any more seaweed licences. A request by BioAtlantis for another licence to cut 12,900 tonnes of Ascophyllum, a type of seaweed in Clew Bay, has been submitted. Before any other licences are permitted and issued, those responsible should consult the people and communities in these rural areas. We need to look at how we can do this sustainably, because we can do that. However, the way the Government is going about it is wrong and is destroying vast tracts or areas of seaweed.

  We have an opportunity. I am asking the Leader to get the Minister of State before the House as soon as possible in the new year to debate the issue.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Aontaím go huile is go hiomlán leis an Seanadóir O'Sullivan maidir leis an méid atá sí ag rá faoi chúrsaí feamainne. I concur wholeheartedly with Senator Grace O’Sullivan's thoughts on the seaweed industry. I put in a related question as a Commencement matter, but it seems there was a major demand for Commencement matters today, especially on that issue.

  I have raised this issue several times. It is my understanding that the Attorney General is looking into the review of all the portfolios and folios throughout the island of Ireland with regard to pertinent seaweed harvesting rights held by folio holders. I understand the report has not been finalised. Therefore, I find it strange that a licence has been issued in Bantry since, as I understand it, the Government has not finally received or published the Attorney General's remarks in respect of where those holders stand. It is absolutely and totally inappropriate that licences would be issued before the report and legal guidance are made fully available.

  Ós rud é nach mbeimid anseo arís ar an Riar Gnó ó thaobh na Nollag de, guím chuile bheannacht na Nollag ar gach duine sna Tithe seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh Nollaig mhór mhaith ag gach éinne.

  I call on the Government to challenge the Irish Medical Council decision to grant unconditional accreditation to RCSI Bahrain. The decision makes no reference to the appalling human rights situation in Bahrain that is impacting on local training hospitals used by the college.

  I have been provided with information by the Global Legal Action Network regarding the controversial accreditation of RCSI Bahrain on this day in 2014. According to GLAN, human rights abuses and maladministration continue to affect the local clinical training sites used by RCSI Bahrain. Based on this information, I am calling on the Government to address this troubling issue as a matter of urgency.

  Following the crackdown on the Arab spring protests, numerous medical personnel were imprisoned simply for treating protesters. Irish trained Dr. Ali al-Ekri was still imprisoned throughout the accreditation process of the Medical Council and was only released earlier this year after serving five years in prison.   A women's rights activist, Ms Ghada Jamsheer, was imprisoned for tweeting about corruption and poor standards in a Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, affiliated hospital controlled by the Bahraini military. She, too, was imprisoned just before the Medical Council visited Bahrain to inspect the hospital.

  In January 2017, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy reported that an injured sit-in protester, an 18-year-old man called Mustafa Hamdan, was refused access via ambulance to a RCSI-affiliated hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex. According to reports members of his family were intimidated by the security forces when they tried to access the hospital. Unfortunately, Mr. Hamdan later died from his gunshot injury in March 2017.

  These are just some of the issues that have been brought to my attention. It is unacceptable that the Irish Government and the Medical Council have turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in this manner, especially as standards adopted by the council require attention to be paid to such issues. If a medical programme in Ireland used such hospitals, would it be granted the same accreditation? Why are these hospitals and organisations doing this? Is it just for the money? If so, what is the price for human rights? I call on the Government to ensure that this unethical practice is stopped as soon as possible. I also call on the Leader to engage with the Minister for Education and Skills and for a debate on this issue to be arranged as soon as possible in the new year.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Two of the most important documents for this country's future will be issued shortly after our return in the new year. One of them is the capital programme for the next ten years and the other is the national planning framework. We have a national remit but we must still look after every region of the country. If we wish to be relevant, we should have a specific discussion on the contents of the national development plan and the planning framework at the start of the new year. Let me give an example. In my constituency there is a road that links Dundalk with Sligo, which is known locally as the east-west link. It is a vital piece of the road network and an artery for a number of important businesses like Carton Brothers in Shercock, Abbott Ireland in Cootehill and a number of other indigenous businesses. These businesses depend on the road. The Leader has a great interest in the regions, as I do. He knows that one does not readily attract jobs to these areas and, therefore, it is crucial to maintain existing jobs. The development of the east-west link road that connects Dundalk with Sligo is crucial for the people in the area as it will help maintain their businesses. It is also crucial for the local community and should feature very strongly in the capital programme for the coming ten years. It is important that we get an opportunity to say so to the Minister early in the new year so I ask the Leader to arrange the debate. I want an opportunity to explain to the Minister in the House the importance of the east-west link road that goes through Cavan and Monaghan, and towns like Carrickmacross, Shercock, Cootehill, Cavan and right through to Sligo. As a priority, I urge that the road is upgraded to a level that is user-friendly and suitable for modern commerce and the businesses which are so important to the region.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, for his announcement yesterday that he has established two committees to review the local electoral boundaries, which is important. The issue will affect all the 31 local authorities at some stage. The committees are being formed, the people have been nominated and approved and I understand they must commence their work early in the new year, which is welcome. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister with a view to setting a timeline. Local elections are expected to take place in June 2019. Therefore, it is reasonable and fair that the work to review boundaries should be completed as soon as possible. I know it is a matter for the commission and not a matter for me. I simply want to express a view that my colleagues have asked me to convey. It would be ideal if the work could be wrapped up by the middle of 2018 to allow a clear 12-month period for local councillors to bed-down and get to know their new areas. The reality is there will be changes. It is open to people to make submissions under the public consultation process before the final document is agreed. I welcome the initiative. The Minister of State said he would do such work. He is not that long in office but he has established the committees and clear terms of reference. All we await is the date that public consultation will take place. It will happen sometime in the spring but I ask that it happen earlier.

  I take this opportunity to thank all the people in the House, in particular the Leader and his support staff, for the work they have done throughout the year. I also thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach, the Clerk of Seanad Éireann and their staff for their work. I also thank the ushers and all the people who deal with us in catering and in the facilities area, all of whom make both Houses work well. We could not do our work without them. People do not see the background work, the support and the preparation that makes the sittings of the Seanad, in particular, work smoothly and well. It is important we acknowledge all that work. We appreciate it and do not take it for granted. The public and the people who view us in here do not necessarily see it but we rely heavily on such support. I acknowledge that work and thank everyone concerned. In particular, I thank the staff in the Leader's office. We meet them every week and they do an awful lot of preparation, in conjunction with the Seanad office, to make the proceedings here run smoothly.

  I draw attention to the fact that the environment and space in which we work and the facilities provided only happen due to the Trojan work done by the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I thank the ushers, porters, catering staff and all others involved for their hard work.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Well said.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I join other Members in wishing everybody a happy Christmas and I thank them for their help, support and co-operation throughout the year. I wish to mention the calibre of science graduates. In 2016, Ireland was ranked tenth overall in terms of quality scientific research. Ireland has jumped 26 places over a 13-year period, the first time it has risen so quickly through the world rankings. In terms of global scientific rankings, we lie second in the agrifood sector, fifth for chemistry and sixth for medical research. It is wonderful that the standard of science education and the calibre of science graduates here is so high, which has resulted in us being highly ranked in world terms. Overall, Ireland is the seventh most innovative country in the world, which is wonderful. All this helps with inward investment and job creation. The situation will encourage companies to invest and locate their businesses in Ireland.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh On behalf of the Sinn Féin group, I wish Senators, the party leaders, the Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad, their staff, the ushers and all os the staff a happy Christmas. I thank everybody who has made our stay here possible. I wish the Leader of the House an especially happy Christmas and new year and wish him well with his nuptials. I know that marriage will mellow him.

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

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Marriage has mellowed the worst of us.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer You wish.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I look forward to the new Leader returning in the new year.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn A happy Jerry.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer As I am being goaded, I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to help me out.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh He will be a multi-dimensional person.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys A cuddly Leader.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I am going to talk today about Facebook and the taxation of multinationals.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Senator was going well.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh During the week we found out that Facebook put €12.6 billion through the State but only paid €29.5 million in tax. Obviously, the multinationals can see the changes in terms of the base erosion and profit sharing, BEPS, and everything else. The writing is on the wall in terms of Ireland's over-dependence on multinationals. However, responsible multinationals are always welcome here.

  Yesterday, Senator Tim Lombard mentioned the seaweed industry and called for the Minister to come to the House to debate it. I am happy to support his suggestion and also support the calls made by Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Grace O'Sullivan today on the same issue. Sinn Féin has raised the issue of seaweed for a long time. One might ask what the connection is between Facebook and seaweed. I believe it was a major mistake to sell Arramara Teoranta to Acadian Seaplants, a deal surrounded in secrecy. I believe the sale started off the push for mechanical seaweed harvesting all along coastal areas.  Seaweed is a significant natural resource that can give rise to many indigenous businesses and cottage industries in rural areas. We could link into it using, for example, the STEM subjects that were mentioned in order to promote employment, enterprise and innovation, but we have failed to do that. Instead, we again took the route of privatisation and selling off what was owned by a State company, in this instance Údarás na Gaeltachta. It is wrong that licences are awarded before everything has been clarified. I look forward to the Minister telling the Seanad in the new year how we can proactively generate jobs using a wonderful natural resource that is valued throughout the world and available to us in our coastal areas.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I signal my opposition to the use of a guillotine on the Social Welfare Bill and Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill today. As there is only one amendment tabled to the Social Welfare Bill, we should be able to move quickly on to the second Bill, on which there are seven amendments. I have tabled one or two amendments, which are down the list. We should not guillotine these sessions, as they will be quick enough.

  Discussing my next issue will be harder for me, but I will try my best to speak without emotion getting in the way. Today, I woke up to a phone call about another friend passing away due to addiction. This happens to me often. It is an issue of class. So far this year, I have buried four friends - two because of addiction, one because of homelessness and one because of suicide. I sat there this morning and counted the friends I had lost since I was 13 years of age. There were 42. It is not old age, it is not cancer, it is not anything that everyone else experiences. It is the impact of how we live, where we live and the opportunities that we have.

  At this point, I am just pleading - I have asked for it before - to have a real, open, honest conversation in this Chamber with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the issue of class. I have no interest in blaming Ministers, budgets or all of those things. That is not what I want to do. I want to have a conversation that looks to how we can work together to find solutions to stopping so many young people from dying unnecessarily in deprived communities. I have said it before and it is something that I will stand over, but class is killing us. Were we any other group of people, this would be taken more seriously. I do not want to play a blame game about why society is set up in a certain way. I want a conversation about it and I want a real debate on it. I want to be able to remember my friends in a dignified way and let them know that their Government cares about them and wants to change the situation.

  In the new year, will the Leader please invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to debate the issue of class? It is something that I entered this Chamber to highlight. It would mean a lot to me if we could have that conversation.

Senators: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Hear, hear.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly Like others, I wish everyone a happy Christmas, especially the staff who support us all so well.

  Senator Ó Céidigh referred to the retention of doctors, nurses and teachers. We are facing a crisis in general practice, with a large tranche of doctors set to retire in the coming years, an increasing population and, rightly, greater delivery being asked of primary care. I welcome the Minister's decision to give medical cards to carers, who do invaluable work and go to great lengths to support the ones they love and keep them at home. I hope that he will also put the resources in place to allow doctors to do that work. I have encountered more doctors closing their lists because of the workload. They cannot cope. We need a proper new contract as quickly as possible and we must address these issues. As the Senator stated, many of our younger doctors are leaving the country, so we are getting caught at both ends.

  In the context of carers, I wish to raise an important issue that I have raised previously, namely, pensions. Some 40,000 people have been unjustly discriminated against by the 2012 Act. They are mainly women who took time off work to care for their children, the elderly and other loved ones. The Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Regina Doherty, are working on this matter, but I encourage them to expedite their work and rectify this injustice as quickly as possible in the new year. It reflects badly on our society that we discriminate against the very people who go the extra mile to look after, keep at home and support those whom we all love and appreciate. I hope the Ministers will move on this as quickly as possible in the new year.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys Like many others, I wish the staff a happy Christmas.

  Judging from the television this morning, it will be a difficult Christmas for people who lost family members in that terrible fire in London. It has been six months since the fire in Grenfell Tower. We remember our own people who were lost in the Stardust fire. Those families have never got over the loss of their children. They raise the matter constantly, rightly so.

  I have sought answers on the issue I am raising this morning. Since the terrible fire in London, the London fire brigade has changed how it deals with high-rise fires. When I say "high-rise", people think of large towers, but they are not. They are six storeys and above. There are many such buildings across the country.

  Prior to the Grenfell fire, London fire brigade would send four fire appliances and one high-reach vehicle. In the six months since, it has changed that complement to five appliances and one high-reach vehicle. Why are we only sending three fire appliances and one high-reach vehicle? Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the London fire brigade has ordered new high-reach appliances, which are necessary when one is going above six storeys. There are only three aerial appliances in Dublin, all of which are second-hand and spend more time out of service than in service.

  After the fire in London, we carried out a survey in Ireland and found 262 multi-storey buildings with questionable cladding. I have asked a question time and again but have not got an answer - is there a register in each fire brigade station of these buildings' locations? Do our first responders know what they are walking into when the bell rings and they set out in their fire appliances? They could arrive at one of these buildings with questionable cladding that transfers fire rapidly through the building. We would be sending our first responders into those buildings.

  When I raised this matter previously, I got no answers. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, told me that he would contact his officials and revert to me. I only raised this matter to prevent a tragedy like the one in London from happening in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Galway. We need action, and I want answers as quickly as possible. I do not want to drag the Minister of State into the House. If we could just get some answers to the questions we raise in this Chamber, it would be helpful. If the Minister of State is not prepared to forward answers, there is no option but to ask him to return to the House, which I will do early in the new year if I do not get those answers.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I thank Senator Ruane for her passionate intervention on the drugs issue. That 42 of her friends have died is horrific. We need to debate this issue, which we have sometimes ignored. There were inner city issues in the 1980s, especially in Dublin, but heroin and other drugs are a nationwide issue. Young male relatives of mine from privileged backgrounds have died. We need to have this serious debate in the new year. Senator Ruane is right, in that this is about class. While lifestyles and a lack of education are involved, it is a class issue. I thank the Senator for raising it in an emotional and passionate way.   Last night, in the House of Commons, the British Government lost a vote which means that the UK Parliament will have the final say on the Brexit agreement. It is good to see common sense breaking out. Last week was a good week for the island of Ireland. We have done the UK and Europe a service. I pay tribute to the Tory MPs who voted with their conscience. I hope that the UK, which is an ally of ours, will stay in the European Union. We must do everything possible to work with our friends and neighbours to ensure that we get as good a deal as possible for the island of Ireland and the UK and the European Union.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I begin by wishing seasons greetings to everyone in the Chamber. I echo the sentiments expressed in extending thanks to the staff, in particular, for their support during the year, and wish all of them a good break.

  I will briefly raise the issue of Ryanair. As the House will be aware, a number of passengers are facing the prospect of strike action, which is totally avoidable but unfortunately is the consequence of Ryanair's horrendous attitude, in particular, towards workers and trade unions. There is no need for this strike to go ahead. The difficulty is that in society for years there have been parties, particularly on the right, such as Fine Gael, that like to fete Michael O'Leary and hold him up as a great captain of industry.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway He pays his taxes.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan He does but he does not recognise-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Unlike a lot of them.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan He does not recognise the right of workers to join and be represented by a trade union. That is a fundamental right.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I agree with Senator Gavan.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan With respect - Senator Conway is a man I respect - one cannot have it both ways. If we believe in the right of workers to be represented by trade unions, if we believe in the right to collective bargaining, we should not be welcoming the likes of Michael O'Leary in to give a little dance and a speech to raise a few bob for the Fine Gael Party. We often hear that all of us believe in trade union rights. Let us put our names to it and state clearly to Ryanair that this is completely unacceptable and the airline needs to work with the workers and needs to accept the right to collective bargaining.

  It also highlights the issue that Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that still does not have a statutory right to collective bargaining. I ask the question when will we fundamentally address that issue, and is it one on which we can unite and work towards in this Chamber.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys Hear, hear.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I concur with everyone else regarding Christmas greetings and where we are going for the next few days and wish the staff and everyone involved in the House a happy Christmas. I also compliment the Leader and wish him the very best in the next few days. I wish him a happy marriage at the end of the year and hope it all works out well - I am sure it will. I am sure it will be a fantastic night for Jerry.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Order, please. The Leader will have a chance to reply to all of you.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard We should note that road fatalities are an issue at this time of the year. I was looking at the reports yesterday. Unfortunately, the half-year indication showed that 77 people lost their lives on the roads in Ireland. That was the six-month figure. We must get the message out that road fatalities, in particular, at this time of the year, are something of which we need to have cognisance. It is a huge issue. Unfortunately, the next few days and weeks form one of the highest periods statistically for road fatalities all year. We must promote safe driving and what will happen on the roads, in particular, in the next two weeks, because traditionally it has been an unfortunate time of the year. I hope the Minister will promote the idea that we have to ensure that what is done in the next few days will literally save lives. I am sure the Leader will do his bit to talk to the Minister to ensure that there is a dedicated campaign, in particular, for the next few days, to ensure that message gets out.

  I realise the Minister announced funding in the past few days regarding pinch points throughout Ireland, with €132 million for road safety measures. That is important, but more needs to be done regarding that kind of funding. I welcome the provision of €132 million for those projects but if one looks at it statistically, Dublin and Cork were the two highest areas for road fatalities in the first six months and neither received funding in that allocation. We need to look statistically - it is all about statistics - at where there were fatalities and put the funding towards that, but that is probably a side issue. I want to promote the idea that we will have a very good campaign in the next two weeks to promote road safety.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I join everybody else in wishing staff and Members a happy Christmas and others in wishing the Leader all the best for his wedding. I was in a school this morning, Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle. It is interesting that we had a short discussion about the sexual orientation of various different political leaders and it was of absolutely no interest to them. It was wonderful in the presence of young people that such issues were of no interest.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Hear, hear.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I remarked to them that when I was a child it would have been almost impossible but now, thanks to the leadership of people like Senator Buttimer, my own colleague, former Deputy John Lyons, the Minister, Deputy Zappone, the Taoiseach and so many others, we can stand in the House like this and wish our good friend and colleague all the best and it is no big deal.

  I will raise two issues quickly.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator is only entitled to one but it is Christmas time.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan It is Christmas.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I know Senator Ó Ríordáin will be brief.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin In regard to the trade union rights issue, we had a good day here yesterday in terms of having a motion on SNA rights passed with support from the Civil Engagement group, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. That was brought to the fore because of the actions of IMPACT trade union. The comments that have been made in regard to Ryanair are valid. This is a 30-year issue coming to bite Michael O'Leary quite hard. The message has to go out to the people of Ireland that there are good decent trade unions that one can be a member of that will fight for one's workplace rights and that membership of that union will always be a good thing and money well spent in terms of being part of that.

  I congratulate all the members of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, many of whom feel strongly on this issue in many directions. My party would call on the Government to move quickly. We hope that no political party, regardless of its reservations, would stop the people from having a say on this issue. We have had the Citizens' Assembly and now the deliberations of the joint committee. We need a referendum now. I hope that no party in the Oireachtas would stop that from happening.

  I also make a call in regard to the campaign - many of us are anxious about its tone - that on this occasion the erection of posters is something that might be reconsidered on both sides. If we are to have a calm debate, if we are to have something on which people can reflect and analyse, the sloganeering and images that could potentially be erected on posters around the country are things that could be re-examined in terms of their appropriateness in this situation.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Well said.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank all the staff and all those who work in the background in this House for their help and support throughout the past 12 months. I thank all my colleagues for their help and support as well, in particular, the Leader, whom I wish well in his forthcoming marriage. I wish him every happiness into the future. Normally, when people get married they move house. Can I just advise him that there is no vacant house in Cork North-Central-----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway There is, though.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke -----but there are plenty down in Cork South-Central, just in case people were concerned that he is moving constituency.

  I fully agree with the comments made by Senator Ruane and the matter to which she referred. Over the past 30 or 35 years we have made little progress in bringing about a downward trend. I refer to the way areas like this are managed. There has been a number of good projects, such as the Young Ballymun Project, which is about working with young people and working with their parents at the same time. It is likewise in my constituency, in my former local electoral area.  It is about working with everyone, not just with children.

  In 1996 the breaking the cycle scheme was introduced which saw a reduction in the pupil, teacher ratio in certain schools. That was very helpful but that alone cannot solve the problem. We have to work with the whole community. Senator Ruane is right about the need to have a debate on this matter. We need to bring forward a far more comprehensive method of working out problems and coming up with solutions. We need to put a long-term plan in place in each of these areas. I would welcome a debate on that issue.

  I have raised the issue of respite care on a number of occasions in recent months. I am glad to report that an extra €10 million has been allocated by the Minister for Health for respite services which will increase the number of bed nights available by 19,000. However, I still maintain that we need to do a lot of long-term planning on this issue. While the additional funding is helpful, it will not sort out the problem. It is an area that needs serious attention and a plan for the next three to four years. That said, I welcome the decision by the Minister to allocate extra funding for respite care.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I join others in thanking Martin, Bridget, Carol, Niamh and Aisling and all of the staff in the Seanad Office, as well as the stenographers and sound people, for the great work they do. I wish them all a very happy Christmas. I would also like to be associated with the comments on our dear Leader and his upcoming event.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I think "dear Leader" is a bit much.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Senator Ó Ríordáin was right in what he said about society moving on. We can wish the Leader well with confidence and in the sure knowledge that society has indeed moved on.

  I came into the Chamber to speak on the Order of Business, having listened to Senator Ruane's contribution. She is somebody for whom I had high regard, even though I did not know her. Having gotten to know her and having worked with her, I must say I now have enormous time and respect for her. She is a phenomenal person and someone of whom I am very fond. When she speaks about these issues, she speaks with authority. There is a role for the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, chaired by the Leas-Chathaoirleach, in terms of doing some work in this area. Senator Ruane is right that we need to have a proper dialogue on this issue and how we address it. It is something that the aforementioned committee should look at in the new year. The committee has done great work on issues like the national anthem, farm safety and so on. One can see results from the work of that committee, as with the mental health report that was done recently. I urge the Leas-Chathaoirleach to put this on the committee's agenda. Perhaps he will consult Senator Ruane and others in terms of the approach that could be taken. Big issues like this must be dealt with, head on. This Oireachtas is dealing with the eighth amendment and hopefully there will be a referendum on it next year. We need to be dealing with difficult, contentious and challenging issues head on and the Seanad Public Consultation Committee is one mechanism by which we can do that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We will certainly consult Senator Ruane on the matter.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Just to show how impartial I am, I would like to congratulate two Senators. First, I congratulate Senator Catherine Noone on her very dignified conduct of the business of the joint committee on the eighth amendment. She has done an extremely good job, as did the Leader on a previous committee.

  It is also worth noting that a very important Bill will go through the Houses in the next 24 hours or so, namely the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill. We must congratulate Senator Mark Daly for the work he has done on this legislation. This is a great day for the Senate because once again we have initiated and passed legislation that will have a serious impact on the lives and well-being of Irish citizens. This is yet another reason why it was so important that we saved the Senate from extinction.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank the 19 Senators who contributed on the Order of Business.

  I join Senator Ardagh in stressing the importance of the talks taking place today and tomorrow at European level. The summit is very important for us as a nation. As we all know, significant progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations but the meetings over the next two days are pivotal in terms of deciding whether sufficient progress has been made to allow us to move on to the next phase. It is important that we consider the future shape of Europe and that we recognise that as a nation we have a fundamental role to play in shaping the future of the EU. Equally, as the Government has stated, this is about ensuring that the island of Ireland is represented at the table and we must acknowledge the work done by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, the Taoiseach and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee in that regard. At its meeting on Tuesday last the Committee on Procedure and Privileges recommended that Seanad Éireann continue with the work of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. In that context, I am very happy to arrange for further work on Brexit to take place in this Chamber in the new year. It is important that we all play a role in terms of wearing the green jersey.

  Senator Ó Céidigh raised the issue of public sector pay, particularly for teachers and health care professionals. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has begun the process of pay restoration for teachers.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris What about pay restoration for Senators?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Ó Céidigh was concerned about teachers.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris We cannot ignore ourselves.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer A €2,000 increase for new entrants has been sanctioned and those who have signed up to the Lansdowne Road agreement will see that happen. The Minister for Education and Skills is also actively considering other measures to assist in the retention and recruitment of teachers. Pay restoration is something that we all want to see happening. Pay inequality is an issue that many of us want to see addressed to the benefit of all teachers. It is important to recognise that the Minister for Education and Skills has put in place a very active campaign around recruitment of teachers, special needs assistants and other posts of responsibility.

  Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of Letterkenny University Hospital. I do not have answers to the specific questions posed by the Senator but I do know that the budget for Letterkenny hospital has increased from €91 million to over €121 million in the last five years. The Senator has raised issues to which I do not have answers now but I will raise them with the Minister for Health. I am sure that Senator Mac Lochlainn, Deputies McHugh and Pearse Doherty and other representatives from the area will be able to work together to ensure that there is sufficient capital investment in the hospital. I know that when Senator James Reilly was the Minister for Health and Children he-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It might be suitable to raise as a Commencement matter.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer As the Leas-Chathaoirleach has said, perhaps Senator Mac Lochlainn would consider raising it as a Commencement matter in the new year. That said, I will raise it with the Minister on the Senator's behalf.

  Senators Grace O'Sullivan, Conway-Walsh and Ó Céidigh raised the issue of seaweed harvesting. Yesterday, Senator Lombard raised the same matter on the Order of Business and I gave a commitment then that I would invite the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, to the House to have a debate on it. I understand the concerns expressed by the Senators this morning and by Senator Lombard yesterday.

  Senator Ó Céidigh also raised the issue of human rights and the role of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, in the university in Bahrain. It is a point well made by the Senator. Again, I am perturbed by the fact that we can turn a blind eye to human rights issues. To be fair, recruitment is taking place across the world and the Middle East is an important area in terms of where we recruit. In saying that, it is important that the matter be addressed and I am happy to raise it with the Minister. I also suggest that the Senator raise it as a Commencement matter.

  Senator Reilly raised the capital programme and the national planning framework, two very important issues on which I am happy to facilitate a debate in the House in the new year.  I would be happy to facilitate a debate in the House on the two matters he raised. He also highlighted the importance of the east-west link. Senator O'Reilly has been a champion of the north west and the north east, to be fair to him, and he has been very strong in his promotion of Cavan.

  I join Senator Boyhan in commending the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, for the initiation of the local boundary committees. All politicians recognise the importance of the impartiality of the committees and they should be allowed to do the work. The Senator asked for a time limit and I am sure the Minister of State will include a time parameter. The next local elections will be held in 2019 and I know the Cathaoirleach is keeping a very watchful eye. The local authority boundaries are very important.

  Senator Byrne raised the importance of the quality of science graduates and the need to have that prioritised. She stated we are the seventh most innovative country and it is good to see our ranking in the world improve. It is a sign of the commitment of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the action plan that he is implementing that it is bringing a benefit. The Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, is also involved with it.

  Senator Conway-Walsh was going well until she mentioned tax. Sinn Féin seems to have an issue with foreign direct investment and multinationals coming in.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh We have an issue with tax evasion.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We are approaching the last few days before Christmas. We have commonality in saying nobody should avoid paying tax. As part of an international tax reform process, all companies should pay tax. There will be repercussions in terms of reform of international tax but we will not get into that today. I am sure the new leader of Sinn Féin will move the party towards the rest of us after the election.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Only in terms of numbers.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It will welcome jobs and investment. When the Members meet constituents working in those companies, they will recognise that the companies pay tax, create employment and contribute to the local economy. They will say it is great that they are here.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Some day the Senator will see the light.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I saw the light a long time ago. We welcome international tax reform, as the Senator knows.

  Senators Ruane, Feighan and Conway spoke eloquently and passionately about addiction issues and class. It is important to acknowledge that we must all commit ourselves to the breaking of the cycle of disadvantage, poverty and addiction in our society, whether it is in Dublin, Cork or wherever else. I commend Senator Ruane on her work.

  Senator Conway stole my thunder as in my reply I was going to suggest that the Seanad Public Consultation Committee consider the matter raised by Senator Ruane. Rather than having a two-hour debate in the House - it would be important and I commit to doing it - it is a piece of work we should look at with a long-term view to setting goals or targets that can be measured. It is important to acknowledge people like Senator Ruane and others who have the courage to stand for election, come to this House, be empowered and empower others. They are showing leadership.

  As Senator Ó Ríordáin noted, it is also important we engage with young people to break the old traditions, concepts, cultures and mindsets. We must break down barriers. Senator Colm Burke spoke about different programmes and we have invested billions of euro as a society and country in tackling disadvantage. Something is not working, as we know. It is important that we rededicate all our efforts in that regard, irrespective of political ideology. I pay tribute to Senator Ruane for coming in here and speaking as she did this morning. We should remember the people who have died; not just her friends but all the people who died in tragic circumstances.

  Senator Reilly referenced pensions and I know the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, are working on the matters arising from the 2012 Act. I would be happy to have that debate in the new year. I have not got the answers to the questions raised by Senator Humphreys on our first responders. I know the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has met county council chief executives and put the matter to the fore. The Senator is correct and there is a duty on all of us, and particularly those charged with management at local authorities and the Department, to ensure first responders are not walking into buildings that are in any way inadequate and dangerous. I fully subscribe to that view. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter. The Cathaoirleach's suggestion is good and if the Senator tables a matter for the Commencement, it might be a better way of getting an answer.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I did but got no answers.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We will endeavour to keep going. Senator Feighan spoke about the vote in the House of Commons yesterday. I hope the British Parliament and Government will work with all of us on Brexit, as I said. I hope the Irish issue will be recognised properly, as it is around Europe. It is also important that common sense be retained in the British Parliament.

  Senator Gavan raised the Ryanair matter. I must half agree with the Senator, as he knows, as the management of and attitude towards employees leaves much to be desired at the company. I believe in the benefit and power arising from membership of a union and know it is important that workers be represented. In saying that, Michael O'Leary has employed thousands of people. He has made travel accessible and affordable for many people who could not travel otherwise. The Senator mentioned the Fine Gael fundraiser but I would love to see the attendance list of Sinn Féin gatherings in Australia or New York.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys Donald Trump was at one.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It would be great to see whether they pay taxes.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan They do.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys In fairness, Donald Trump did when he attended them.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I would like to see the attendance list.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan We might invite the Senator to the next one.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Remember the McFeely guy?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The concerns of the workers in Ryanair are important and we should recognise that they have a right to be represented.

  Senator Lombard has raised the very important matter of road safety, especially at this time of year. I appeal to everybody who drives and uses our roads to do so with care and consideration for others. For those who might contemplate turning the key after consuming alcohol, please do not do so. It is reckless, irresponsible and dangerous. It was very heartening to see a checkpoint on Merrion Street the other night at 8 p.m. It puts it in the minds of people that gardaí are doing their job. Irrespective of who we are, there should be no tolerance of drink-driving at this time of year. Those of us travelling during the festive season should do so safely with care and consideration. It is important that we do not allow more people to be killed on the roads, especially at this time of year.

  Senator Ó Ríordáin mentioned trade unions. I have dealt with the matter. I have also dealt with the matter of the committee on the eighth amendment. The Taoiseach has said there will be a referendum. It will be up to us as Members of the Oireachtas to ensure the legislation to enable the referendum can be passed. As the Senator said, it is important that the tone of the referendum campaign should be one of respect and tolerance. There are diverging views and there may not be a meeting of minds in many cases. It is a very contentious and vexed question that must be addressed and the Irish people will decide. I commend all members of the committee, particularly Senator Ruane, on her sterling work. I join Senator Norris in commending Senator Noone on her excellent stewardship of the committee. She was an impartial, fair and thoroughly professional chairperson who did a tremendous job. She does not deserve to be treated badly by the members of the committee who were on the airwaves yesterday. I condemn their comments out of hand.

  I join Senator Colm Burke in welcoming the additional €10 million for respite care. He is right in that more work must be done and I would be very happy to work with him in that regard.

  Senator Norris referenced the Irish Sign Language Bill that will come before the House tomorrow. I commend Senator Mark Daly on his stewardship of the Bill through the House and thank all Members for their co-operation in working on very important legislation.

  As Leader of the House, on my own behalf and that of the Fine Gael group, I thank all group leaders and Members in the Seanad for their co-operation during the term. I thank the Cathaoirleach's staff and the Cathaoirleach for his friendship and robust stewardship of the debate. It is about getting work done. I thank all Seanad staff, including Mr. Martin Groves and Ms Bridget Doody, who are here this morning, for their unfailing professionalism and courtesy, as well as their advice. I thank the Captain of the Guard and the ushers for their courtesy, professionalism and dedication. I thank the stenographers and recording people for the work they do.  In particular, I thank the staff for working very unsociable hours at times and for having the patience and flexibility to put up with us. I wish them a very happy Christmas. I thank the staff who work in our offices, including Orla and Stephen in my office, and the staff in the Bills Office, the Library and Research Service, the canteen, the restaurant and the bar, the cleaning staff and everybody who works in the Houses. We are very lucky that genuine, sincere people, who are committed to providing a service for the people, work in Leinster House. We are fortunate to be at the front line. I wish all the Senators a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year. If Senator Conway-Walsh thinks I am not mellow, she should wait to see me in the new year.

  In regard to the guillotine, it is not the intention to have one. I cannot find the Order Paper but I am sure the Clerk can advise me. I do not want to guillotine anything. It was said the Social Welfare Bill 2017 would be completed relatively quickly. It is scheduled to commence at 12.45 p.m. and conclude at 2.15 p.m. I am happy not to have a guillotine and to let the Bill roll over.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan In other words, the items will be taken immediately after one another.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Yes.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I was hoping to get business done in a timely manner.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan There will be no concluding times for Nos. 4 and 5.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer There will be no concluding times for Nos. 4 and 5. I am sure we will get the co-operation of the House in that regard.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.

Sitting Arrangements: Motion

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

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

(1) The Seanad shall meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 15th December, 2017 and the following arrangements shall apply:
(a)Standing Orders 29 and 30 shall stand suspended;

(b)there shall be no Order of Business;

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



Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016 – Report Stage (Amendments from the Dáil) and Final Stage.

Subject to the passage by the Dáil of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016, the proceedings on Report Stage and Final Stages shall commence at 10 a.m. The proceedings thereon shall be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes by one Question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government;

Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 – Report and Final Stages.

The proceedings on the Report and Final Stages of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 shall commence on the conclusion of the Report and Final Stages of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016.

Appropriation Bill 2017 [Dáil] – All Stages.

Subject to the passage by the Dáil of the Appropriation Bill 2017, the proceedings on Second Stage shall commence on the conclusion of the Report and Final Stages of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, with the contributions of Group Spokespersons not to exceed 8 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed 5 minutes (time may be shared) and the Minister to be given 5 minutes to reply to the debate. Committee and Remaining Stages are to be taken immediately thereafter and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes by one Question, which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in regard to recommendations, include only those set down or accepted by the Government.

Motion regarding the Earlier Signature of the Appropriation Bill 2017.

Motion regarding the Earlier Signature of the Appropriation Bill 2017 shall be taken, without debate, on conclusion of all Stages of the Appropriation Bill 2017.

Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2017 [Dáil] – All Stages.

The proceedings on Second Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2017 [Dáil] shall commence on the conclusion of the Early Signature Motion of the Appropriation Bill 2017, and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 80 minutes, with the contributions of Group Spokespersons not to exceed 8 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed 5 minutes (time may be shared), and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate. Committee and Remaining Stages shall be taken immediately thereafter and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 40 minutes by one Question, which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in regard to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government.

  Question put and agreed to.

Planning and Development Regulations: Referral to Joint Committee

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

That the proposals that Seanad Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:
(i) Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018,

(ii) Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2018,

(iii) Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2018,
copies of which were laid in draft form before Seanad Éireann on 13th December, 2017, be referred to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, in accordance with Standing Order 71(3)(k), which, not later than 1st February, 2018, shall send a message to the Seanad in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 75, and Standing Order 77(2) shall accordingly apply.

  Question put and agreed to.

Report of Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport: Motion

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

That Seanad Éireann:
(1) notes the agreed Report of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport under Standing Order 116 on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1073/2009 on common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services - COM (2017) 647, which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 13 December 2017 in accordance with Standing Order 116(3)(b);

(2) having regard to the aforementioned Report, and in exercise of its functions under section 7(3) of the European Union Act 2009, is of the opinion that Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1073/2009 on common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services - COM (2017) 647, does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity for the reasons set out in Section 4 of the Report; and

(3) notes that, pursuant to Standing Order 116(4), a copy of this Resolution together with the reasoned opinion and the aforementioned Report shall be sent to the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.

  Question put and agreed to.

Social Welfare Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 1:

In page 14, after line 18, to insert the following:

“Report in respect of National Maintenance Body

20. (1) The Minister for Employment and Social Protection shall, within 6 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas on options to establish a State body which would perform the following functions:
(a) increasing and encouraging maintenance arrangements;

(b) assisting parents in the pursuit of maintenance in the courts; and

(c) providing a maintenance recovery service.
(2) Such a State body's functions would apply to maintenance assessed under Part 12 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 and any other maintenance agreement/order that could be pursued in court under the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouse and Children) Act 1976 (as amended).".

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane This amendment seeks a report on the investigation of child maintenance, about which we have had positive conversations with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I came away from the meeting with the Minister feeling encouraged that she not only understands the issue but wants to take charge and consider how we can improve the system for mothers. I thank her for taking up that brief so soon and for really paying attention to the plight of single mothers.

  This amendment is born of years of experience within my community and in my work of women having to take the responsibility for sourcing maintenance from fathers with the father floating around, never receiving a letter or any communication from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or other areas forcing him to pay the maintenance. It is an unfair burden on the mother who is already raising her child alone, trying to make ends meet and do all the normal things that mothers do, such as deal with health care and school appointments, and everything that goes with the role. It is an unfair and unequal system that expects a mother to pursue the maintenance. My research into legislating for this area began two years ago and when I examined it I found it was a minefield because in addition to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, it is in the courts system and the Department of Justice and Equality has a role in how the courts proceed and deal with maintenance. I wanted to get a report on how to marry those areas in order that they work together to advance child maintenance. England was my first port of call. There was an okay system there at first but it then moved it to a privatised one. That was worrying. When it was first set up it was government run. Now it is semi-privatised which worries me because the client must pay the maintenance recovery unit to seek out the maintenance.  The client then has to pay the recovery maintenance unit to seek the payment of maintenance which is not ideal for some, although I could be wrong about how the system works. The mother should be removed completely if she cannot access maintenance naturally from the father. If he does not offer her the money, she should not be forced to pursue him for it. There are many situations, but this is not ideal across the board, even if the relationship between the parents is healthy. It will have a negative impact on the rearing of the children if the parents are fighting constantly about the payment of maintenance. I ask the Department to consider laying before the House a report on how we can address this issue. It would have benefits overall, not only for the mother but also for the State because the more the father has to contribute in the rearing of his children, the less the State will have to intervene in the process. It could, therefore, have a positive outcome overall for the mother and the children but also for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in the provision of welfare grants and all that is available in that regard.

  I will not press the amendment to a vote, but I ask the Minister to accept it and prepare a report on the matter. I am interested in hearing what she has to say.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I am grateful to the Senator for not pressing the amendment because I cannot accept it, not because I disagree with anything she has said because I do not, as she knows, but because I do not have the responsibility, although I wish I did, to establish a maintenance recovery section because that matter falls within the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan. However, that is not to say I cannot do anything. I have a habit of sticking my nose in where it is probably not wanted. What I can do in my area is, as I said, establish a committee after Christmas to look at what we do within the Department. The Senator and any other Member interested is welcome to sit on that committee.

  I really question the policy and hope that shows my intent because, if I am questioning it, I am obviously proposing to change it, if and when I can do so. I do not think it is right to ask any parent who has the responsibility to rear a child to chase an errant parent who has not meet their responsibilities in the first instance. The Senator and I both know that, in most instances, it is the man who is the errant parent, but, in many cases, it is not.

  I want to look at the way in which we operate the one-parent family payment system which should be completely separate from the responsibility of a parent to chase the errant parent. This happens for many reasons. In many cases, it may be a question of control and manipulation, but, even at the very happy end of the scale where there are no big issues, the system still puts the onus and an added burden on the parent who is rearing the children and doing everything in meeting school and dentist costs and so on. We will establish the committee with a view to ascertaining very quickly what changes need to be made within the Department. I will be making the changes for the payments recovered by the maintenance recovery section. That is not to say, however, that we will have a maintenance recovery section in our division, but it will focus on the errant parent as opposed to the parent who is rearing the children. If we can do what the Senator wants us to do within the division, I will have responsibility for it and will pursue the matter. However, all of the other services available in the civil courts to those pursuing a partner for maintenance come under the Department of Justice and Equality. Whether it be the family mediation service or the Legal Aid Board, they come within the remit of the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan. If we were to have a national maintenance recovery agency, the most likely place for it to be located would within his remit. Because the responsibilities of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, span the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Justice and Equality, we will have an official to sit on our committee. Let us see if we can explore the issue. I am very happy to work with anybody, but what I cannot do is take responsibility for preparing a report that would not be within my remit. However, I can give my word that, within my Department, we will establish a committee to look at what we do from a one-parent family payment perspective and also at what is available in the maintenance recovery section. Perhaps we are focused on the wrong parent and that we need to realign. If that is what we decide to do, it is something we could do very quickly.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I welcome all of the Minister's comments. I had anticipated that I would be crossing over sectors and probably crossing over into another completely, given that I believe maintenance should possibly be taken from the man through his tax payments. I understand that would be a move into a very different area. I would be delighted to be part of the committee. I will continue to pursue the other Departments involved in terms of what they could do in looking at the issue in conjunction with what the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is doing for women.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Bill received for final consideration and passed.

  1 o’clock

Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I welcome the Minister of State to the House.

  Sections 1 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order.

  Amendment No. 1 not moved.

  Section 12 agreed to.

SECTION 13

  Question proposed: "That section 13 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I want to ask about the restoration of pay in 2019 for public servants who are, as it is called, non-covered. What exactly is meant by "non-covered"? Is it people whose pay was not reduced? Is it new entrants? Is it people who had some but not all of their pay cut, as they did not come within the scope of the reductions to pay?

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Patrick O'Donovan): Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan It relates to those who are covered and not covered by the agreement as arrived at by the Government and the trade unions. As I said on the previous occasion in the House, we envisage a situation where we hope everybody will be covered by the agreement and that everybody will be able to avail of the full restoration in accordance to the schedules I outlined.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sections 14 to 21, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 22

  Question proposed: "That section 22 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister of State for his time. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay until the end of the Second Stage debate on Tuesday but I read the record and agree with something the Minister of State said. I commend him on the achievement of unwinding the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation in an orderly and controlled manner. Considering the context in which FEMPI was passed and the progress that has been made since that time, it is something to take a moment to consider and I commend the Minister of State and the Department on this.

  That being said, I want to signal my opposition to section 22. The section suspends the awarding of increments to trade unions that have not signed up to the public service stability agreement and it ensures they will not receive any benefits of the agreement between 2018 and 2021. It deliberately penalises public servants not covered by the public service stability agreement with slower pay restoration, suspends incremental increases until 2021 and implements a lower entry threshold for additional superannuation contributions until 2021 compared with public servants whose unions did sign up.

  This legislation will entrench and support discrimination by the State between cohorts of its own public servants based on their union membership. The Government will essentially reward public servants and unions that agree with it and sharply penalise those public servants and unions that do not. The unions that perhaps rejected this deal based on solidarity with members who are not given full pay restoration have now been punished. It sets a dangerous precedent and is an attempt to bulldoze opposition by offering incentives to those who subsequently sign up to the agreement via the Workplace Relations Commission.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I meant to say at the outset that, with the permission of the House, I wanted to clarify something. I wish to correct the record of the House on a technical matter. In Tuesday's speech I referred to the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill as a money Bill. The Bills Office has since confirmed this is not technically correct. While a money message in respect of the imposition of a charge on public moneys and a financial resolution in respect of the imposition of a charge on the people were required for the Bill, it does not meet the technical definition of a money Bill.

  I acknowledge and appreciate what the Senator has said on what we want to do. As I said in the other House and here the other night, none of us has a monopoly when it comes to the concern we have for the unwinding of FEMPI. It was an instrument at the time that had to be used in a fairly drastic situation. It is about affordability and order. We want to do both together and, as I said on Second Stage, we are committed as a Government to making sure it is done and we are committed to working with the trade union movement and its representatives through the structures of the agreement.

  As I said to Senator Paddy Burke earlier, it is the ambition of the Government that everybody would be covered by this. We do not want to see a situation where anybody is outside but, by the same token, if we go back to 1987 when we had the Programme for Economic and Social Progress talks and all of the collective agreements that came out of it, it is an agreement between the trade union movement and its public services committee and the Government. We hope everybody will be able to avail of it. We do not want anybody to feel he or she cannot be part of this. At the same time, we have to acknowledge the vast majority of public servants in the State have voted to accept it. Even within those unions which have not voted to accept it, there are large groups that have voted to accept it. It is a reflection of the democratic process at play within the workplace.

  As I said to Senator Paddy Burke, we have a sincere ambition that, ultimately, everybody will be covered by the scope of the agreement, and what the legislation simply does is to reiterate the fact it is an agreement. There are those who agreed and there are those who did not agree, but we hope as a Government that everybody will accept the will of the majority, a very clear majority in this case, and that we get to a situation where from 1 January we are able to reward everybody. This is our mission and this is what we want to do. We want to be in a situation, with the amount of money we have and all of the competing resources and demands, to get rid of this legislation. Nobody wants to see it continuing to be around, but we have to do it in an orderly way and it has to be by agreement. This is the basis on which the Bill is being proposed.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Section 23 agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Amendment No. 2 has been ruled out of order because of a potential charge on the Revenue.

  Amendment No. 2 not moved.

  Section 24 agreed to.

NEW SECTIONS

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Slightly unusually, I ask Deputy Paddy Burke to take the Chair for a few minutes as I want to make a point.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 3:

In page 17, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“Report on the impact of teacher pay differentials

25. The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the impact of the differential pay scale introduced for new entrants to teaching and shall examine the following—
(a) the social, financial and equality impact of the differential pay scale on new entrant teachers,

(b) the impact of the differential on the recruitment and retention of teachers, and

(c) the impact of the differential on morale and employee satisfaction of teachers employed at both pay scales.”.

This amendment is with regard to the teachers' pay differential report. As the Minister of State is aware, teachers who entered the profession after 2010 have experienced a significant pay differential compared with their longer serving colleagues, despite doing the same work. As part of budget 2011 new entrants were penalised with a 10% reduction in pay, hourly rates and allowances, while all allowances for post-2012 entrants were eventually cut completely.  Teachers appointed in 2011 have lost over €26,000 in earnings in addition to the pay cuts already imposed on them in conjunction with their more senior colleagues. None of this will be new information to the Minister of State. The Government has decided not to remove the pay inequality between teachers in this agreement and while I do not agree with the decision, I recognise that it is being made and that we should move on. I, therefore, propose with this amendment that the Government be fully informed on its decision not to remove the pay differential. I am not saying that the Government has to remove it but I want the Minister and his Department to be fully cognisant of the impact it has had and continues to have on the quality of life of new entrant teachers, staff retention in the sector and intergenerational morale and satisfaction between teachers on both scales. The Government is fully entitled to make fiscal decisions based on the funding available to it. What I propose with this amendment is that the Government prepares a report to fully examine the impact of the decision. Opposition to this amendment would simply indicate to me that the Government is not interested in confronting the tough reality of the impact of the decision not to end the pay differential among our teachers. I, therefore, hope it can be accepted.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan The Minister already made an amendment in the other House which reinforces the work that the oversight group within the public service stability agreement, PSSA, will do. He will lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas. This issue was obviously of concern to Members in the other House too. As I said the last day, none of us has a monopoly on this issue and I welcome Senator Ruane's constructive contribution to this. I said the last day and will say again that I was a new entrant teacher who came out of the training college in 2008 or 2009 - I cannot remember which - and I know exactly what people are concerned about. By the same token, this is orderly. We understand where people's concerns are coming from but we want to make sure we can do it within the confines and structures of the agreement. An oversight group has already met and is due to meet again. There will be active engagement between the Department and the public services committee. A report will be laid before the Houses, as Senator Ruane has suggested. The Minister already said that in the other House.

  It is our ambition as much as everybody else's, including the teachers, the unions and all public servants, to put ourselves back on a trajectory where we do not need this legislation or to discuss this issue. I appreciate what Senator Ruane said: we have to be responsible and mindful of the amount of money available. I cannot accept the amendment on that basis but the sentiments she has expressed and articulated have been expressed here on Second Stage and in the other House, and we have amended the Bill on that basis to reflect that and ensure there will be a report on that basis.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I move amendment No. 4:

In page 17, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“25. The Minister shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the restoration of nursing and midwifery allowances by 1 July 2019 and not 1 October 2020.”.

Section 23(2) of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 provides for the restoration of allowances with effect from 1 October 2020. These allowances were reduced in accordance with the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009. We seek an amendment to section 23(2) to provide for the early restoration of nursing and midwifery allowances in line with the provisions of the public service stability agreement for 2018 to 2020 relating to the restoration of annualised salaries on 1 July 2019 at the latest. This is sought on the basis that annualised salaries for these grades includes allowances to which a pay-related deduction applies, where superannuation deductions apply and PAYE and PRSI contributions apply. Therefore, it is inherently unfair to apply all deductions and to delay restoration in this manner.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Senator Horkan raises an issue raised in the other House and in that debate, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, pointed out, and I am sure the Senator has followed the debate, that we are not trying to single out one group of people. We want to have everybody covered by the agreement and the benefits laid out in the legislation. We do not want to single out one group. While I do not doubt the Senator's motives and ambition to make sure this is done properly, the Bill already provides for the restoration of all fixed allowances that were reduced under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009. The reductions were applied to allowances across the public service and include allowances paid to health sector grades, such as nurses and consultants, as well as allowances paid in other sectors such as to gardaí and teachers. The FEMPI reductions were not confined to nursing and midwifery allowances and professions only. As such, it would not be appropriate to consider a faster restoration of one group over another. We want to do this for everybody and for everybody to benefit from it. As I said to Senator Ruane and as I know the House appreciates, we want to do it in an orderly way which we can afford.

  I refer again to the point I made here last night and again today, that the oversight body of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 to 2020 has met and we hope to make progress on this isue, but it will take time. Everybody knows our budgetary figures for 2019 and 2020. They are far better than they were in the past. The Minister is not giving and cannot give commitments because he does not have a crystal ball but there is a commitment by the Minister, the Department and officials to engage positively on this issue. The trade union movement has been receptive to this. We have come with clean hands. We do not want to have this hanging around. It is on that basis that I ask the Senator to consider withdrawing the amendment.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I thank the Minister of State. Following his request, I will withdraw the amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Section 25 agreed to.

SECTION 26

  Question proposed: "That section 26 stand part of the Bill."

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris May I speak generally to section 25?

Acting Chairman (Senator Paddy Burke): Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Can the Senator make the comments relevant to section 26?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris No, it was section 25 to which I wanted to speak.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paddy Burke): Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Section 25 has been dealt with.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Section 27 agreed to.

NEW SECTION

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I move amendment No. 5:

In page 19, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

“Early pension restoration for retired public servants

28. The Minister shall within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on restoring all public service pensions by 2019.”.

This amendment relates to early pension restoration for retired public servants. As the Minister of State knows, there is a difference between those who retired after 29 February 2012 and those who retired before that. The differences in their annualised amount of various reductions are significant, with 12% versus 3%. It is quite a big difference and I ask the Minister of State to consider preparing that report.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I thank Senator Horkan for raising the issue. The same issue was raised in the Dáil by his colleague, Deputy Calleary, and at the time, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, agreed to supply information to Deputy Calleary, by means of a paper to him personally or to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, whichever is more appropriate to discuss and debate it, or on the floor of the House by way of a parliamentary question. It is not an issue. The information will include the cost of the various options if the restoration schedule for public service pension reduction was to be changed, what the cost would be per year and what impact any change would have on the public service stability agreement. Officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have informed me that they have already started work on this issue. I am happy to commit to provide the same information for the Senator, and anybody else who wants it and the committee on that basis. Given the spirit of what has been agreed to in the Dáil and said by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, I ask Senator Horkan to consider withdrawing his amendment.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I want to talk generally on the issue of public service pensions because it is not just a question of so-called civil servants. What is forgotten in this House, or perhaps happens as a result of cowardice, is the remuneration and pension arrangements for Members of this House. They should be taken into account. I point out to the Minister of State that in an extraordinary move, the late Brian Lenihan removed, with the stroke of a pen, the long service increment attaching to Members of this House. I do not think there is another job in the country that does not have a long service increment. It is extraordinary and it certainly does not cost the State a huge amount of money. I am about the only person to raise this issue because I do not care what the public thinks because the public does not think.

  I was listening to the wireless this morning and people were talking about the Dáil bar. Apparently, the Dáil bar is where we all get free drinks, heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and where we meet our constituents. I have never heard a greater load of rubbish in my life and, as I have said before, if Members of this House gave away all their money to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, cast off their clothing and jumped off the roof of Leinster House, the public would simply not give a damn.  We should have a system where the income of Members of this House is brought back.

  We are talking about civil servants. My heart goes out to the people who are under €30,000 or whatever it is. Then we have people at €60,000, €60,000 to €100,000, €100,000 to €150,000, and €150,000 plus. These are the civil servants. We are the elected representatives of the people of Ireland. Are we too gutless to show some sense of our own dignity and what we are worth?

  I spoke this morning on the Order of Business about the work done by Senator Mark Daly and others of us in this House in creating a situation where an Irish Sign Language is recognised for the first time. In this session, I have repeatedly drawn attention to the measures initiated here and the extraordinarily valuable work that the Seanad has done that the Dáil has not done. We should have respect for our own dignity. I would like to ask the Minister of State to take back to Government my strong feelings and the strong feelings that are reflected in private conversations between myself and other Members of the House about the way in which we are treated and the ridiculously small allowances.

  I said this not only about the Seanad. I have also pointed out that people bellyache about the Taoiseach. Whatever he gets I do not know and I do not care. He gets a hell of a lot less than middle managers in most big companies in this country. They are only dealing with decisions that affect their company. The Taoiseach, whatever party he comes from at any particular stage, is dealing with questions that involve the future, the welfare and the dignity of the entire citizenry of Ireland. I have no problem with the Taoiseach being paid a proper decent remuneration.

  I am very lucky in that I have been re-elected eight times. There are others who have not been so lucky. It is a problematic and perilous career as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, young and all as he is, knows. One can be cast out very easily. I know this is an unpopular stance to take. However, I am just about the only person in this House who will take it. I took this opportunity to make the point and I want to make it really strongly. I ask the Minister of State to take this back to the Government. It is time we got a bit of pay restoration for politicians. It will not be popular. However, the public will not remember it in a week's time. No matter what we do they will regard it with complete and total indifference. Thanks to the impact of a completely negative media about politicians, they will continue to have a dim view of us. The kind of stuff that I heard this morning about free drinks in the Dáil bar was absolutely typical of the utter abysmal ignorance of the majority of Irish people about the function of Parliament and the way in which we are remunerated.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I got so caught up in Senator Norris's contribution that I lost my train of thought.

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

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan The Senator does sometimes. I thank the Minister of State for his response and I am withdrawing the amendment.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I thank Senator Horkan for his co-operation. I acknowledge the comments of Senator Norris. As a young fellow, I watched the Senator from afar and little did I think I would wind up in the same room as him.

  We had a very good discussion on Second Stage on the issue that he is suggesting. As I said in another forum, politics is a very honourable profession. From time to time people who are not honourable come in and run down its reputation. At the same time we have to have the ability to defend what it is to be a politician and a public servant. We are public servants as well. We had a good discussion here the last night. I relayed a lot of the concerns that were made by Members relating to the vulnerability of Members, their age profile and whether people will actually take up this profession. In recent years we have seen elections take place more frequently. The level of certainty has gone through the floor.

  While we want to make sure that we do not have a situation where there are uncontrolled levels of expenditure on the political classes, at the same time, as Senator McDowell said the other night, we want to make sure as well that if somebody is coming into this profession, the Seanad or the Dáil does not become the preserve of people who have nothing to lose. We are in a precarious position. I asked the Leader of the House at the time and the Cathaoirleach to consider a more open and frank discussion in this House on how we value politics and politicians. I do not disagree with what Senator Norris said about a lot of the debates that are held here. It is not only the media which run down politicians and politics. It is politicians too.

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

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan We have a race to the bottom. As Senator Norris quite rightly said, if we turned up for work here and were not paid at all, we would still be paid too much for some people. We have to have a very honest discussion in Ireland if we are to attract younger people into politics, which young people in many cases are leaving professions and are coming into a precarious situation where, as Senator McDowell said the other night, effectively they are rendering themselves unemployable at the end of their career. If we do not have that discussion, politics is fast going to become the preserve of those who have nothing to lose. We are going to narrow very sharply and very soon the base of people who will come in here and who will want to come in here. We have to have an honest discussion on it.

  I agree with many of the comments made about how the place is perceived outside. That is our fault too in terms of how we portray ourselves. There is a job for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to do in terms of making people more au fait with the work of Deputies and Senators, members of the Government, members of the public service who work here and others. This is far from Disneyland. I can assure people that as a rural Deputy with a massive constituency to cover, it is far from the Shangri-La that some people would espouse in the lofty confines of the other estate. However, it is an honourable profession.

  If we are to attract people into it, we need to start having an honest conversation about how we attract them, what we do with them when they are here and what happens to them when they are unceremoniously ditched, as they can be at a much younger age now because politics has become more fluid. Do they become perennial members of the scrapheap of life or do they have an alternative career? Do they have something to offer maybe in the public service? I have raised it at meetings here before. Why is it that politicians are excluded, for want of a better word, for taking up a career in the public service other than in teaching? Why is it that they cannot become ambassadors for instance?

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

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan We have former Ministers, Deputies and Senators who would do great work for Ireland overseas. I welcome the comments because I would have been a kind of a citizen of Siberia in the other House for having the audacity to suggest it. We need to start talking honestly about politics, politicians, the cost of it, the number of us and the size of our constituencies, what is expected of us, what our staff are subjected to, what they are asked and what our demands are. Let us have a proper discussion about remuneration. I do not disagree one scintilla that politicians are the last people who should be determining politicians' pay. They are the very last group of people. If we are ever to unwind ourselves from this situation, we need to very mindful and very cognisant of the fact that we could be on very dangerous ground if our pay were to be restored in one fell swoop in the future, because that would be perceived as a gigantic jump in terms of salaries and the world and its mother would be giving out about whoever comes after me.

  As politicians, we also need to start defending our profession rather than running each other down and, at the first opportunity, saying this is a waste of money or that is a waste of money. There are bodies in place and I have come from a meeting with one of them, the Standards in Public Office Commission. Legislation will be coming into this House which I hope all Senators support, dealing with the standards applying to public servants, including officeholders, to Deputies and to Senators. If we have an honest conversation about that, we can restore a bit of honour into this profession. We not all crooked. I resent the fact that some people assume that because we have the letters TD after our names or Senator before our names that we are somehow crooked. We are not. A small minority of people who went before us were and they did untold damage to the profession. It is up to the profession now to clean itself up and restore its own reputation. I am also in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and I look forward to another debate, if the Seanad is of a mind in January or February to have an honest discussion.  I do not know whether I would be the Minister of State sent in because what I might say would not be too popular in some quarters. I would welcome it. It is badly overdue and needed.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

SECTION 28

  Question proposed: "That section 28 stand part of the Bill."

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I welcome the Minister of State's careful and considered response to my impromptu intervention. There was an independent assessment of our income some years ago and that has been abrogated. One understands the panic the Government got into at the time of the financial crisis. That was very human. I do not totally blame Brian Lenihan, who was a good friend of mine, but he made a disastrous mistake. The secretarial staff here get long service increments. Why on earth are we the only people who do not?

  I recall the allowances being introduced, as I recall, by Charlie McCreevy, in response to the fact that politicians in their usual slithery gutless way had decided for public relations purposes not to take several increases in wages. The allowances were really a kind of fraud and were introduced as a sop. They are now circumscribed by the most extraordinary, ridiculous nonsensical things. One of the main allowances is for hiring public relations companies and for expense account lunches. What could be more corrupt than that?

  I used to use some of my allowances to publish a newsletter. On one of the allowances a newsletter could not be published. My secretary rang and said that it is intended to be for the preparation, publication and distribution of things like newsletters but she was told they would not pay for the postage. Like hell they will not. I have no intention whatever of returning the money and I serve notice here that I will not return it. I understand the English language: preparation, publication and distribution. I hope the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, wherever it lives, is listening to this. Distribution means postage. It is the most ridiculous kind of Sir Humphrey pettifogging. I am fed up to my back teeth with it.

  I welcome the Minister of State's approach. The overwhelming majority of politicians are thoroughly honourable, decent people from all parties and none. There are one or two who fiddle things for pathetically small sums of money. If one is going to sell one's reputation, one should sell it for something worthwhile, not the few footling bob that these halfwits sold out their consciences and the reputation in politics for. I apologise-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Senator Paddy Burke and I have indulged Senator Norris. This section deals with the superannuation provisions.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I apologise to the Minister of State and my colleagues but I have a long-standing invitation to meet a guest from abroad-----

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan In the free restaurant.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris In the free restaurant, yes. I thank the Minister of State.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sections 29 to 32, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 33

  Question proposed: "That section 33 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I oppose this section. We also opposed section 21 and tabled some amendments in the Dáil to both of these sections that were ruled out of order. They were reasonable amendments to tackle the punishment clauses imposed in this Bill which are designed to teach unions a lesson. This will have a detrimental effect on the ability of unions representing key areas to negotiate on their behalf.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Nobody is suggesting in this agreement or the legislation that this is to take on or break up unions. This goes back to 1987 and beyond, during which there has a long tradition of governments of all political colours negotiating with representatives of public servants in a calm fashion within the confines of what is and is not available and putting a trajectory in place to resolve long-standing issues.

  It is the sincere ambition of the Government that everybody would be covered. We would not be having this discussion if we did not have the money available to us, which we have, thankfully, to start unwinding this. That is due in no small way to the sacrifices of the public servants at the centre of this, their families, the private sector and the economy in general. We are in a much better situation, but we do not have as much money as we would like to have to do it within the timeframe we would like. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, said on this matter in the other House, if we did not have the measures that are contained in the Bill for those who are covered and not, we would not have an agreement to present. Everybody will benefit from the Bill, some in a different timeframe from others, but we would hope that everybody would be in the same timeframe. That is what the Minister has committed to. In response to Senator Ruane, that is why there is the working group within the confines of the public service agreement, under the stewardship of the public service committee and the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, which is committed to having honest and continuing dialogue on the end of financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI. I understand the sentiments expressed here and in the other House but we are trying to have a logical and proper unwinding with what is available to us.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I appreciate what the Minister of State is saying but I continue to oppose the section.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I side with Senator Conway-Walsh. A good job was done in negotiating the agreement but I was president of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, when the first FEMPI was negotiated. It was tough going. Croke Park II collapsed and we went on to make the Lansdowne Road agreement. There was always deep-seated resentment at the fact that the FEMPI legislation brought in punitive measures for those who did not sign up to the agreement. We have moved to a point where there is no need for punitive measures now. Almost all the unions are on side and those which are not in full agreement are in the tent. I accept that the Minister of State and his colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, have a Government to run and a country to fund but I feel that section 22 and this section are too much and there is no need for them.

  I take the Minister of State's points and accept what he is saying, but from a trade union point of view many of the retired people have made a huge issue of what they referred to as "Murphyism" in the first FEMPI, where people had to declare they were not in a particular union to gain any benefit. I do not see this changing today but I support Senator Conway-Walsh.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I would like to ask the Minister of State about section 33. On the bottom of page 23 of the Bill it states:

In the case of the year 2020, the contribution shall be payable—
(a) by a relevant person who is a member of a standard accrual pension scheme as follows:
(i) where the pensionable pay of the person in that year is less than or equal to

€60,000.

If pensionable earnings are less than €60,000, a person will be charged a rate of 10% on the amount that exceeds €34,500. Is that the case? That person pays 10% of any earnings above €34,500. Is that on top of other contributions? Is that the contribution to the pension?

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan No, it is not a new contribution.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell For clarity, that figure of €60,000 is not the pension amount but rather the pensionable pay prior to retirement. Is that not correct? If that person was retiring with a pension of 50% of pensionable salary, the actual pension would be €30,000 rather than €60,000.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I have just clarified it with the officials. That figure refers to the pensionable amount.

Question put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 12.

Níl
Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm. Information on Rose Conway-Walsh   Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh   Conway-Walsh, Rose.
Information on Paddy Burke   Zoom on Paddy Burke   Burke, Paddy. Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P.
Information on Ray Butler   Zoom on Ray Butler   Butler, Ray. Information on Máire Devine   Zoom on Máire Devine   Devine, Máire.
Information on Jerry Buttimer   Zoom on Jerry Buttimer   Buttimer, Jerry. Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul.
Information on Maria Byrne   Zoom on Maria Byrne   Byrne, Maria. Information on Kevin Humphreys   Zoom on Kevin Humphreys   Humphreys, Kevin.
Information on Paudie Coffey   Zoom on Paudie Coffey   Coffey, Paudie. Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul. Information on Gerald Nash   Zoom on Gerald Nash   Nash, Gerald.
Information on Frank Feighan   Zoom on Frank Feighan   Feighan, Frank. Information on David P.B. Norris   Zoom on David P.B. Norris   Norris, David.
Information on Robbie Gallagher   Zoom on Robbie Gallagher   Gallagher, Robbie. Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
Information on Maura Hopkins   Zoom on Maura Hopkins   Hopkins, Maura. Information on Grace O'Sullivan   Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Grace.
Information on Gerry Horkan   Zoom on Gerry Horkan   Horkan, Gerry. Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn.
Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim. Information on Fintan Warfield   Zoom on Fintan Warfield   Warfield, Fintan.
Information on Gabrielle McFadden   Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden   McFadden, Gabrielle.  
Information on Michelle Mulherin   Zoom on Michelle Mulherin   Mulherin, Michelle.  
Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.  
Information on Kieran O'Donnell   Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Kieran.  
Information on John O'Mahony   Zoom on John O'Mahony   O'Mahony, John.  
Information on Joe O'Reilly   Zoom on Joe O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Joe.  
Information on James Reilly   Zoom on James Reilly   Reilly, James.  


Tellers: Tá, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony; Níl, Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and Paul Gavan.

Question declared carried.

SECTION 34

  Question proposed: "That section 34 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I oppose this section as it is basically the same as the previous section. It relates to non-covered public servants. All the arguments that applied to the previous section would apply to this section as well. The principle is linked to section 22, which entrenches discrimination between cohorts of public servants based on union membership and their level of support and opposition for the Government's industrial relations policies. The section imposes differential pension payment rates for those not signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement, PSSA. Those covered public servants have an exemption threshold of €34,500 before they must make pension contributions. Workers who did not support the PSSA are on the threshold of €28,750. At a time when the inequalities in the pension system are receiving so much scrutiny due to the injustice of changes made in 2012 that overwhelmingly targeted disadvantaged women, it is not acceptable for the Government to further perpetuate pension inequality based on union membership.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I thank Senator Ruane for her contribution. I have addressed points relating to covered and non-covered public servants, the confines of the agreement and the historical background. I do not propose to repeat myself. I note the Senator's comments but I do not agree with them. I will leave it at that.

  Question put and declared carried.

  Sections 35 to 45, inclusive, agreed to.

NEW SECTIONS

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 6:

In page 32, after line 16, to insert the following:

“Report on union membership

46. The Minister shall, within six months after the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the following—
(a) the impact of the measures contained in this bill on union membership,

(b) the potential measures that could be taken to support and encourage union membership,

(c) the potential options for legislative reform to support union membership, and

(d) the potential options for the reintroduction of tax relief for union membership.”.

This amendment calls on the Department to prepare a report on union membership. The approach in the Bill to pay restoration has union membership at its core. It entrenches different treatment by the State of public servants, almost entirely on the union to which they pay their dues. If the State is to pursue this as Government policy, it has a responsibility to be fully aware of the impact on our trade unions. If we accept that trade unions provide an important public good in allowing for collective bargaining and better labour standards for all workers, the Government needs to monitor the impact of its policy on this crucial sector of society.

  There is a concern that the way pay restoration is structured in the legislation will assert pressure on those workers whose unions have not signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement to end their union membership in order to notify the Workplace Relations Commission that they agree to be bound by the agreement. Therefore, a direct impact of Government policy could be to contribute to the breaking up of trade unions and a damaging of the ability of workers in this country to bargain collectively.

  If that is the case, my amendment would be a crucial addition to the Bill. We need to know the scale of the problem and its impact on union membership. This is provided for in paragraph (a). If we agree that this Bill could have a negative impact on union membership, the Government should examine options on how such membership could be supported by the State in recognition of the public good derived from trade unions. The Government should consider drafting legislation in support of measures that support trade unions as well as the reintroduction of tax reliefs. I am not proposing to put into the legislation that these things need to happen. However, the Government should be informed of the impact of its decisions and options on how conditions could be improved. Opposition would indicate to me that the Government is not interested in tracking the consequences of its actions. I hope the Minister accepts the amendment.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I thank the Senator, but will not be accepting the amendment for a number of reasons. First, it presupposes that there will be people who are outside the agreement but, as I have said, we hope everyone will be covered by it. Furthermore, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform engages with the Workplace Relations Commission and all of the bodies established under statute, not to mention the fact that an oversight body is included in the agreement. As late as the week before last, the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and I met representatives of the public service committee of the trade union movement. The Minister has active engagement on a continual basis with them. It has to be acknowledged, and I would like to acknowledge it at this stage, that the work the Minister and the officials in the Department have done in the run-up to this agreement, against the backdrop of what was a fairly difficult set of negotiations, proves beyond any doubt, and all political parties since 1987 can take some credit for it, that there is active and ongoing engagement by the Government through the departmental councils and the general council as well as the conciliation and arbitration scheme and all the other schemes and machinery of the State, whether industrial relations machinery or otherwise. Some of it is legislated for and some happens on an informal basis. However, there is no attempt by any stretch of the imagination on the part of those of us in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to do anything other than engage actively and collaboratively with the trade union movement.

  Ultimately, the prize has been, is and, it is hoped, will continue to be industrial peace and the unwinding of the FEMPI legislation. I am a former member of the INTO. Although I am not teaching at the moment, if at some stage the electorate decides to return me to that profession, I hope to renew my membership of the INTO. I hope the general secretary and my colleagues in the teaching profession will have me back. I also hope that it will not be as soon as some people might like.

  I appreciate the Senator's sentiments but it is a matter for the unions to maintain their membership and encourage people to join them. The Government is bound by legislation and the Constitution to ensure it engages with members of unions. Nowhere in the legislation does it suggest anything other than continued engagement between the Government and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in the person of the Minister, and the trade unions. The Minister's bona fides are well established given the number of meetings held and the level of interaction he has had and plans to have from January onwards once the Bill is enacted.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I accept most of what the Minister of State has said, especially that relating to the Department's intentions. Unfortunately, however, sometimes policy has unintended consequences. Whether it is the intention of a Department or a particular policy to discriminate in a particular way or to discourage union membership, unfortunately the impact of some of these decisions is that people are faced with the decision of joining or removing themselves from a certain union so that they can go to the Workplace Relations Commission. It is up to unions to encourage membership but it is up to us not to create policies that discourage union membership. For that reason, I will press the amendment.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I meant to say the number of people who had voted for the agreement would disprove that argument. The union membership see that the merit in the agreement far outweighs any potential negative. At no stage was there an attempt by the Government to usurp the role of the unions. We respect them and the mandate of the public services committee, which is overwhelmingly in favour of the agreement. As a consequence, we hope everyone will be covered by it.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Then it would be a very positive report.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Amendment No. 7, in my name, was ruled out of order. It is not relevant to the subject matter.

  Amendment No. 7 not moved.

  Title agreed to.

  Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

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

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I welcome the Bill. As someone who is a member of a trade union and who was a Minister and introduced many of the FEMPI cuts because of a financial emergency, it is welcome that they are being unwound. They are having a hugely detrimental effect, especially on general practice, where we see a raft of young doctors leaving the country. The matter was referred to on the Order of Business today. A huge raft of older doctors will retire in the next few years and many will retire early. Many doctors have closed their lists to GMS patients.

  As I said this morning, I very much welcome carers getting access to the medical card scheme. I cannot think of a more deserving group. However, I fear that the doctors will not be there to deliver the service. Therefore, having inflicted a 38% reduction through FEMPI, I hope that it will be unwound quickly. We are facing a real manpower crisis in general practice.  I commend the Minister of State on the Bill.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I thank the Minister for introducing this legislation. This relates to the unwinding of FEMPI legislation and cuts that have been put in place since 2012. I welcome this legislation and hope we can restore full pay and pensions to the people who took many hits over the past ten years. It is well deserved for the people who took the cuts and made sacrifices for the whole nation. I congratulate this and the previous Government, along with the various Ministers across the divide, on taking the nation back to where it is today. We have almost full employment now when we had close to 17% unemployment at one stage. Many sacrifices were made by the people of the State and they deserve credit. I wish the Minister of State well with the legislation.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan As I am in the Chair, I will not speak on behalf of my party but I thank all Members for the way we dealt with the business in an efficient manner. I thank the Minister of State for his involvement.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Patrick O'Donovan): Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I thank the Senators and officials for facilitating the swift passage of the Bill. As I said on a previous day, it is important as we are trying to get this done before 1 January 2018 in order that people can be paid. I request the co-operation of the Seanad, pursuant to Article 25.2.2° of the Constitution, in requesting the President to sign the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 on a date earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to him.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan That is No. 6 on the Order Paper.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey It is the motion for earlier signature.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan We can conclude No. 5 first.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I acknowledge the contributions made, particularly by Senators with a genuine concern, as we all have. Nobody has a monopoly on this issue. The matters mentioned have been raised with all Members of the Oireachtas but we must act within the confines of the amount of money available to us. I acknowledge the role of the public servants who drafted the Bill and the lead Minister, Deputy Donohoe, for the manner in which it has been done up to now. We are committed as a Government to working with trade unions representing public servants to ensure we can get to a position where there is no requirement in future for FEMPI. That will depend on a number of factors, none more than the continued economic growth of the State and the amount of money available for it to spend on such matters. The Government must be cognisant of this.

  I thank the Acting Chairman and the officials in the Seanad, as well as the Senators, for their co-operation. It was a very constructive debate on a very important matter.

  Question put and agreed to.

Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017: Motion for Earlier Signature

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

That, pursuant to subsection 2° of section 2 of Article 25 of the Constitution, Seanad Éireann concurs with the Government in a request to the President to sign the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to him.”

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 2.15 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.

Message from Dáil

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The following messages have been received from the Dáil:

Dáil Éireann has agreed to the recommendation made by Seanad Éireann to the Finance Bill 2017 and has made an amendment in consequence to the Bill.

Dáil Éireann has passed the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016, without amendment.

Dáil Éireann has passed the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2017, to which agreement of Seanad Éireann is desired.

Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages

SECTION 1

  Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan As previously indicated to the House on Second Stage, I reaffirm the Government is not opposed in principle to this Private Members' Bill. However, as has been said previously, the provisions of the Bill require most detailed scrutiny to ensure consistency with the property rights and safeguards in the Constitution, with particular reference to Article 40.3 and Article 43. I am sure Senators will appreciate the importance of ensuring coherence with other statutory provisions governing the purchase of ground rents.

  Senators will appreciate this is a complex area of law. As indicated previously, it is already clear that amendments to the Bill will be required to minimise the risk of further challenges on constitutional grounds. In these circumstances, I have agreed with the Attorney General to establish a small expert group comprising senior officials from the Department and representatives from the Office of the Attorney General together with a number of outside experts in the area of land law. It is important that they consider the issues at hand and report on the amendments necessitated by the Supreme Court ruling in the Shirley case. While it is not possible to set a deadline for the group to complete its task at this early stage, it is my hope and intention that a substantial amount of the group's work will have been completed by the end of the first quarter of 2018. I expect, therefore, that the group's conclusions and recommendations will provide a sound basis for future amendments to ground rents legislation.

  Members will be aware the issue of ground rents has been something of a complex conveyancing matter going right back to the foundation of the State. Many of the pieces of legislation since - I refer specifically to the 1978 Acts - are complex and detailed and need to be looked at in the context of the Constitution. I ask Senators to bear with the committee to ensure we do what Senators Gallagher, Ardagh and Swanick, who are promoting the Bill, wish to do. I support their endeavours in that regard.

  There is agreement in the House that we need to address this issue. What we have not finally established with certainty is the means by which this issue can be addressed. I acknowledge the importance of this legislation. The group will be happy to engage with the promoters of the Bill and I hope that by spring next year we will be in a position to advance matters in a way that can deal with the issue as intended by the promoters of the legislation.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

  Title agreed to.

  Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

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

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I welcome the Minister to the House and acknowledge the help and assistance I have received from his office in dealing with this ongoing issue. I acknowledge the guests in the Visitors Gallery, including former Ceann Comhairle, Dr. Rory O'Hanlon, and some of the people affected by and involved in this campaign from Carrickmacross. I acknowledge all the work done by the group here and others, including Pat Byrne who compiled a documentary on this issue to explain it all. I also acknowledge Tony Donagher for the work he has done, and Martin Crilly, solicitor, now deceased, unfortunately, who also put much work into this issue.

  I acknowledge all the Oireachtas Members from the Cavan-Monaghan constituency for their input into this Bill. I acknowledge the councillors from the Carrickmacross-Castleblayney municipal district for their input. It is an issue where, thankfully, we all sing from the same hymn sheet and it is critically important for the people of Carrickmacross. It has been an issue there for a long time and we are now hopefully in the final stretch of finding a resolution to this issue.

  I note that the Minister has done some work in this regard already and here that he plans to get a committee together which will I hope report in the first quarter of 2018. That is welcome. An important ingredient is time and many of the people in Carrickmacross do not have much time. I respectfully suggest that I would be grateful if the matter could be treated as urgently as possible because, unfortunately, some people do not have the luxury of time.

  I acknowledge everybody's contribution to this, the contribution of the Minister's office and thank his officials for their help and assistance. I hope, in the not too distant futur that, we will be in here again to speak about this issue when the legislation will have given the people of Carrickmacross an opportunity to buy out the ground rent of their businesses once and for all.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I join Senator Gallagher in welcoming the Minister to the House and express my appreciation of the fact that the Minister has taken a constructive attitude to this legislation and welcomed, in a non-adversarial way, that there is unity on this Bill and that it merits support. We appreciate this. I heartily congratulate my constituency colleague, Senator Gallagher, on bringing forward this legislation and so competently and ably presenting it to the House and securing its passage. That takes a combination of good advocacy, good networking and good presentation. I commend the Senator in doing so with great effect. Before I refer to the content of the Bill, I join him in welcoming the people from Carrickmacross to the Visitors Gallery, led by the distinguished former Ceann Comhairle, my own good personal friend, Dr. Rory O'Hanlon. I am glad to see them all in the Visitors Gallery and welcome them. It is important to the people of Carrickmacross from the Shirley Estate.

  The Bill does not need to be debated again nor am I suggesting that happen. Its object and logic are that people should be fit to buy out their freeholds. In other words, they should be able to buy the freehold of their estates and not go on being subject to ground rent and possible vagaries, changes and future increases in that ground rent. It is a reasonable proposition that they should have security of tenure and freehold and not be subject to changing ground rents in the future. I am delighted to support the Bill on behalf of my group, commend it to further Stages and urge the Minister to bring it to fruition as quickly as possible since it is in the interests of the people in the area of Carrickmacross and those affected by this nationally. I am very happy to support the legislation. I unambiguously congratulate my colleague in his first term in the Seanad on initiating important legislation, of which he has every reason to be proud.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine Land ownership and landlords are an emotive issue for Irish people. It is in our hearts. It is not just the past history of centuries of landlords but it continues today and will affect our lives tomorrow. Michael Davitt was guided by the motto, "Let justice be done tho the heavens fall." I doubt he would be impressed by the propensity of successive Governments to prostrate themselves in the interests of unfettered landlordism. It is time to take up Davitt's fight again and ensure justice is done.

  Sinn Féin supports this legislation. I remember my parents marching in Dublin in the 1970s due to the unfair charges that one had to pay, even though one was purchasing one's home and which are still there on my family home today. I am not paying them and do not ever intend to. I pay tribute to the work of Shirley Tenants Action Group in Carrickmacross which has been active on the issue. The initial case taken by Gus O'Gorman many years ago highlighted the need for legislation since 1978. Such legislation was promised in the Fianna Fáil Party manifesto since. My colleague, Teachta Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, has consistently asked, almost since entering the Dáil in 1997, when legislation will be published.

  It is hard to believe the economic development of part of Carrickmacross is being held up by an absentee landlord who is currently basking on the Isle of Man. I hope this Bill proceeds through the Dáil and succeeds in highlighting the vulnerable nature of tenancy in general. Ground rent landlords demand money for nothing. They possess parasitic traits, exploiting ordinary working people and their day is done. I would like this Bill to enshrine that in legislation. I welcome the Bill from Fianna Fáil which sets it against aggressive landlordism. I am sure thousands of people across Dublin and the State will be pleased to see this change in attitude by the junior Government partner. We will wait and see and I guess time will tell, but well done on bringing the Bill to fruition.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I acknowledge the contribution of Senators to this important legislation. I had not noticed my former colleague and friend, Dr. Rory O'Hanlon, in the Visitors Gallery until reference was made by a previous speaker but I will avail of this opportunity to welcome him back to Leinster House. I acknowledge his great contribution over many years. In particular, I recall his positive and constructive work on the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. He was one of the founding fathers of what was the basis of a strong and active relationship between the Parliament at Westminster and the Parliament in Dublin. I believe those strong links are now needed perhaps more than ever. He was one of the few parliamentarians who blazed a trail in fostering good relations.  When I first entered the House as a young Deputy for the constituency of Laois-Offaly, the advices I received from him from time to time were very well placed and always worth listening to.

  I acknowledge the importance of this legislation. On behalf of the Government, I accept the message from the Seanad that there is all-party support for setting about enshrining in law the right of ground rent tenants to purchase their ground rents in properties, albeit in different circumstances throughout the country. There are no immediate or simple solutions in this complex area. I acknowledge the support of the Government for the approach I am taking. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has expressed a particularly keen interest in this matter since the spring of 2012, when the Supreme Court delivered a judgment in a complex and protracted set of legal proceedings arising from an application to acquire freehold title in Carrickmacross. While the tenant's application in this case was ultimately successful, it is important to stress that the manner in which the Supreme Court interpreted certain technical provisions of the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (No. 2) Act 1978 had the effect of narrowing the scope of the ground rent purchase scheme under that Act. As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, certain ground rent tenants who had been eligible to acquire the fee simple interest, or freehold title, in their properties may no longer be able to do so. This has given rise to uncertainty and concern. Any narrowing of the grounds on which a ground rent tenant is permitted to acquire freehold title will affect other ground rent tenants in Carrickmacross and elsewhere in the State.

  I acknowledge the contributions of Senators to this debate. The property rights enshrined in the Constitution mean that a resolution of this issue will be neither straightforward nor simple. I acknowledge the support of Senators for my proposal to establish an expert group. I will be happy to keep the proposers of the Bill fully informed on the work of the expert group. I hope to be in a position to return to the Oireachtas in the spring with a framework arrangement that will allow us to proceed further. I would like to express my appreciation to the proposers of the Bill. I have received all-party support from Senator O'Reilly and Senators from other parties. I will report back to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, as soon as we complete the Final Stage of the Bill.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I join others in welcoming Dr. O'Hanlon and his group from Carrickmacross. I welcome the passage of the legislation. I agree with what the Minister has said about the good doctor.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly At 10 o'clock tomorrow morning.

  The Seanad adjourned at 4.25 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Friday, 15 December 2017.


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