Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Nursing Home Services
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Visit of Kuwaiti Delegation
 Header Item Order of Business (Resumed)
 Header Item Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: Committee Stage
 Header Item Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017: Second Stage
 Header Item Short-term Lettings Bill 2018: Second Stage
 Header Item Mental Healthcare in South-East Region: Statements

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 258 No. 12

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


Business of Seanad

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

The need for the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to establish a pilot quota of employment permits for the nursing home sector.

  I have also received notice from Senator Robbie Gallagher of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to address the current workload on school principals and to consider their request for one administrative day per week.

  The matters raised by the Senators are suitable for discussion. The matter raised by Senator Burke will be taken now. Senator Gallagher's matter had been selected but he subsequently withdrew it.

Commencement Matters

Nursing Home Services

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to the House.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to deal with this matter. At present, there are 23,500 people in private nursing homes under the fair deal scheme. These private nursing homes provide a valuable service to the country and excellent care to the many people who need it. While it is positive that we have reached full employment, the nursing home sector is experiencing difficulty recruiting people suitably qualified in the role of care assistant. Many care assistants are moving on to other jobs. The HSE has recruited a number of additional staff over the last three years in particular. As the Minister of State will be aware, the number of people employed in the HSE has increased from 99,000 to 110,000. Many of these additional staff were care assistants but they have moved on to other employment, including home care provision. In light of the nursing home sector's difficulty in recruiting people to fill vacant care assistant positions, it is seeking the introduction, on a pilot basis, of a visa programme for the sector, similar to that introduced for the meat industry and the horticulture sector, as well as a change in the current regulations in respect of visa requirements. I ask that serious consideration be given to this proposal.

Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Pat Breen): Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen I thank Senator Colm Burke for raising this matter. It is an issue of which I am aware from my contact with nursing homes in my area. Ireland’s overarching labour market policy is to promote the sourcing of skills and labour needs from within Ireland and the European Economic Area. As the economy improves, labour and skills needs are becoming apparent in some sectors. Recognising the changing economy and labour market and the challenges faced by enterprises in attracting sufficient labour, my officials are undertaking a review of the economic migration policies underpinning the employment permits system to ensure that our policies are supportive of Ireland's emerging labour market needs, be they skills or labour shortages. This report is expected by the end of June.

  Ireland operates a managed employment permits system maximising the benefits of economic migration while minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland's labour market. It operates an occupational list system for in-demand occupations and those for whom a ready source of labour is available but which is ineligible for an employment permit. Changes to access to the Irish labour market for occupations through the employment permits system are made on the basis of evidence involving research by the expert group on future skills needs, the National Skills Council, a public consultation process and extensive engagement with Departments.

  Care workers are currently on the ineligible list of employments as available evidence suggests there is no labour shortage, but a high turnover of staff, in this category. The nursing home sector should engage with the Department of Health as the lead Department in this regard and provide it with the necessary data to demonstrate that recruitment difficulties are solely due to labour shortages and not other factors such as attraction and retention issues. The Department of Health could then put forward to my Department a detailed business case for consideration of the removal of care workers from the ineligible list.

  The recently announced pilot quota-based agricultural scheme was developed following consideration by the review group of an evidenced-based business case put forward by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine following consultation with the agricultural sector. The scheme is temporary to alleviate the immediate labour difficulties that the sector was experiencing. The nursing home sector should engage with relevant stakeholders with a view to putting forward to the Department of Health a business case showing evidence of labour shortages in the sector, which will then be forwarded to my Department for consideration.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke My understanding is that Nursing Homes Ireland made a submission to the Department more than six months ago and has been raising this issue for some time with the Department. The Department has not corresponded with the Minister of State's Department, but I will again take back his message.

  There is a serious shortage, and it is interesting that it does not just apply to Ireland. For instance, Israel has a system whereby a person can be granted a five-year visa to come to the country to provide home care, and it is working well. We are running into the same problem here because we have full employment and there is a shortage of people in this area. The Department will, when it investigates this with the various nursing homes throughout the country, discover there is a shortage of staff. The level of care will not be the same unless the required number of staff is in place. It is a challenge that needs to be dealt with at an early date.

Deputy Pat Breen: Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, who is a fellow county man of the Senator's, is willing to work with the industry on this important issue to ensure continuity of service in the best interests of residents in nursing homes. I understand the Minister of State had various meetings with stakeholders in the sector and the matter was discussed but, again, this is a matter for the Department of Health to put forward a case to my Department for consideration, similar to what the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has done, which has resulted in a temporary system being put in place. I ask the Senator to pursue that. In undertaking any adjustment in a system, we must take into account the interests of the 225,000 people on the live register in Ireland. There are 17.5 million people unemployed in the European Union as well. We need to strike a balance and not further disadvantage those who are looking for jobs. The nursing homes sector need to provide evidence of efforts to improve skills, maximise the opportunities for unemployed people and address the attraction and retention issues.

  If we can prove a case for this, we will take it into consideration. There are many actors involved to ensure that if there is a labour shortage, it is addressed, and it is not just down to other issues such as retention. I thank the Senator again for raising this issue. I will work with him and the Department of Health if there is an application to my Department.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I thank the Minister of State and the Senator. That concludes an unusually stress-free morning for me.

  Sitting suspended at 10.45 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.

Order of Business

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Order of Business is No. 1, Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 3 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 2, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 5.50 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes; No. 3, Private Members' business, Short-term Lettings Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 4, statements on mental health care provision in the south-east region, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3 and to conclude within 45 minutes, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes; Members may share time and the Minister to be given less than three minutes to reply to the debate.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh Today I wish to raise two items. The first relates to the commentary that homeless families may be moved out of emergency accommodation given the increased volume of tourists in Dublin city during the papal visit in August. This report is very worrying. Despite reports to the contrary, Fr. Peter McVerry commented today that this will affect families currently living in hotels. He understands that they will be told that rooms will be pre-booked for the visit and they will have to move out. There are 1,712 homeless families living in emergency accommodation in Dublin. Some 110 people sleep rough each night. The idea of homeless families having to leave emergency accommodation goes very much against the spirit of Christianity and what the Pope is trying to achieve.

  I understand President Trump's zero tolerance policy in regard to the separation of children from their parents on the Mexican border may have been raised yesterday. I condemn this policy in the fullest possible way. We have been presented with nightmare scenes where families have been separated from their children. It is heartbreaking and terrifying for any family to even contemplate such a separation. To think this is happening in a so-called modern democracy is unbelievable. I concur with and commend the Taoiseach on his comments today. He called it a mistake for President Trump to leave the UN Human Rights Council on foot of world and UN criticism. I call for a debate in the House on the matter. I am glad to hear that eight states have recalled their National Guard troops from the border. A shocking statistic which I learned was that to date in April and May of this year, 1,995 children have been separated from their parents who are facing prosecution for crossing the border unlawfully. It is unbelievable that this is happening in a modern democracy and country we call a friend. I want to put that on the record.

Senator Ian Marshall: Information on Ian Marshall Zoom on Ian Marshall I take this opportunity to raise some concerns which were brought to my attention. An "In the Balance" programme for the BBC World Service in Newry interviewed business leaders, those involved in industry and students in the Border area seeking their opinion on what the implications of Brexit would be for them. Many students raised concerns about education, in particular further education, in a post-Brexit situation. I draw the attention of the House to statistics from the Royal Irish Academy. Currently, more than 12,500 students move between Ireland and the UK for higher education, study and training in 2015 -2016. In addition, 3,000 to 4,000 students move between Northern Ireland and Ireland each year to access higher education and professional training. Furthermore, Ireland currently has 1,157 partners and links with UK partners in academia and research. Some 63% of successful Horizon 2020 applications for Northern Ireland involved a partner from Ireland. More than 12,900 research projects were produced through collaboration between Irish and UK researchers between 2012 and 2016. The startling fact is that this is more than all of the publications of Germany and France combined. There are significant concerns about the implications of a post-Brexit scenario.

  My concerns and those of the students to whom I spoke last week were about the lack of clarity at this point in time about the situation post-Brexit. Let us consider the financial situation. In England and Wales students from Northern Ireland and Ireland pay the same fees as residents of those countries. Those in England pay €10,512, those in Wales pay €10,227 and those in Northern Ireland pay around €4,728. Until the end of the academic year 2019-2020, in Scotland Irish and EU students will pay the same education levy as Scottish students, which is currently around €2,068.  There is currently no clarity about what this will look like after Brexit. There is no clarity on what an Irish student will pay but it is thought that Irish and EU students will pay international fees. Those international fees currently range from €11,366 for lecture-based courses to a staggering €43,183 for clinical-based degrees in the UK and Northern Ireland. We must remember that these are all subject to the fluctuation of exchange rates, which will impact on the numbers. There was a statement from Europe in March 2018 on the status of EU and EEA students. It said:

As we know, after Brexit there will be no change to the tuition fee status of EU/EEA students currently attending UK universities or those applying for courses starting in 201819.

The fees that EU/EEA students are required to pay after the UK has formally left the EU [...] will depend on what is agreed as part of the UK’s exit negotiations. Recently, the Scottish Government extended its pledge of free university tuition for European Union students to the cohort arriving in 2019-2020, covering the period immediately after the UK’s exit from the bloc.

This announcement gives some clarity and assurance to universities in Scotland, but most importantly demonstrates to EU students that they continue to have full residency rights and to be welcome in Scotland. Unfortunately, there is no such clarity about the implications for EU students during the post-Brexit transition period in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Another concern for this House today is that capacity within Ireland is under pressure. Some 15,000 extra students were absorbed into the higher education institutes between 2013 and 2016. There has been a 17% rise in international applications for these courses. In addition, the links and close affiliations with UK universities in respect of research and development is a concern. In conclusion, I would like to draw the Leader's attention to a statement made by the UK Minister of State with responsibility for higher education in May. He said:

That is why we are committed to maintaining rights of Irish nationals to access higher and further education courses on a reciprocal basis. This includes rights to qualify for home fee status, student loans and other support, subject to meeting the same eligibility criteria as UK nationals.

I am concerned about terms such as "committed to", "hope to", "keen to" and "working towards". They do not fill me with confidence. I ask that the Minister or a representative address the House on these concerns.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I again have to raise the issue of the water supply in the village of Murrisk, which is near Westport, and the surrounding areas. I know I have raised this before. I have submitted several Commencement matters on the issue which have all been refused. It really is a serious problem and it is escalating.

  Before somebody says that if we had water charges we would have a water supply there, the connection between Westport and Louisburgh was agreed as far back as 2007, when the plans were drawn up. We also have to remember that putting money in a rainy day fund when people do not have a proper water supply is just not acceptable.

  I want to read an extract from one of the notes I got from people living in the area. It is from a man whose wife is expecting a baby in the near future. He says, "I personally store my water in a settlement tank in our garden, pump it into our house through an expensive treatment system", and that, "we buy bottled water". He goes on to say, "The pipe moves when the torrent is fast due to heavy rain, or if it hasn’t rained water does not get into the pipe." It is a pipe coming out of a stream. He says, "I have spent hours on winter nights up the mountain sometimes knee deep in freezing cold water, trying to get our water back by removing airlocks etc." It is not acceptable that we have people living in conditions like this in 2018 just because they are living in the west of Ireland.

  It does not only affect the residents living in that area between Westport and Louisburgh, but the thousands upon thousands of people who visit Croagh Patrick every year. In a couple of weeks' time we will have thousands climbing the Reek. Something absolutely has to be done. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come to the House to discuss this and other areas in the country that do not have a proper water supply. We really need to get some water to these people. As I said, a rainy day fund is not an option when we have whole areas such as this one without a proper water supply.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Last year I brought a Bill to the House called the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017. At the time there was a lot of commentary on it from Senators, which was fairly positive. Obviously, some Senators asked very legitimate questions and raised concerns. I have not pushed that Bill back onto the agenda because the Minister of State carried out the national drugs strategy and then published her report. She also then committed to setting up a consultation process, which is currently under way.

  The area of addiction and trying to move it out of the justice system and towards the health system is something that is very close to my heart both for personal and professional reasons. The closing date for that consultation is 30 June and I encourage Senators to take part in that consultation process and add their voices to it, and to encourage their constituents and fellow party members to do the same. One does not have to do a huge amount of work. There is a simple survey which Senators may want to fill out. The questions and how they have been worded on behalf of that consultation group are very positive. I was really happy to see how it had been laid out and the options that were given. I ask Senators, who at some stage will come back to talk about decriminalisation of addiction and about marginalisation, to take the time ahead of that debate to also have their say and be part of that consultation process.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys This morning we woke up to news on "Morning Ireland" of possible changes to the MetroLink. They may be welcome, as they are for those GAA clubs which were to be inconvenienced temporarily, even if that temporary inconvenience was to last six years. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to explain what precisely is going on in respect of transport in the city of Dublin. We are constantly waking up to announcements from Fine Gael backbenchers in respect of BusConnects and the MetroLink, but we do not hear a word from the Minister.

  In case the Minister is not aware, the proposal on the southside is to erect a Berlin Wall-like structure right across the southside running from Ranelagh to Milltown, yet we have not heard a word from the National Transport Authority in this regard. We have seen how the Minister for Finance lobbied for changes on the northside, as did the Taoiseach. Outside of the public consultation period, we are now hearing news that there will be changes on the northside. That may be very welcome for the people of the northside but what is proposed for the southside is a permanent structure. It involves the demolition of homes and houses and erecting a barrier between communities, yet the residents of that area have had no opportunity to make submissions to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, as was allowed for those on the northside. We have had silence from Deputy Eoghan Murphy with respect to this issue and how it affects Dublin Bay South, especially the Ranelagh area.

  There is an onus on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to outline his plans - not the plans of Fine Gael, Deputy Noel Rock or Deputy Paschal Donohoe - for proper infrastructure for this city. Are we making it up on the back of an envelope again?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Yes.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys Out goes any consideration. We drive bulldozers through the communities and villages of this city without proper consultation. I want to see the Minister in here as soon as humanly possible. I am not calling for him today because I know the Leader may have a problem getting him in here today, but I will certainly be raising the issue of one section of the city being treated differently from another over and over again in this House. It is grossly unfair, unequal and it is now time for the political representatives in those areas to stand up and give their communities a clear voice, as the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach have done for theirs. Unfortunately, there is silence on the southside. Who is now running the transport plans for this city?  Is it Deputy Rock or is it the Minister, Deputy Ross?

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I congratulate the Minister for Justice and Equality on his marking of the 25th anniversary of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn's legislation to decriminalise homosexuality with an apology to the victims of that criminalisation. It was a landmark human rights legislation and it represented the evolution of our society and civilization. In that regard I congratulate Senator Norris for the lone pioneering work he did in the area when it was not a publicly popular cause. I also will briefly reference something else from yesterday before making the substantive point I wish to make today. I concur with remarks made yesterday about the separation of children on the Mexican border. It is a horror. As foreign affairs spokesman for our party, I am in total agreement with those comments. It is a shocking and horrendous case, particularly from the beacon of the free world, the United States.

  There are reports this morning that we could be heading for a crash-out Brexit and please God that will not happen. In the event of this happening, it is vital that we have a package of support, particularly for businesses along the Border corridor. It will have to include tax concessions and other positive support from the Government. It will have to be real and take account of a fall in sterling and its impact along the Border. It will be incumbent on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to fight vehemently to maintain the Common Agricultural Policy at its current level. There is a proposed 5% reduction unless we get five remaining countries to agree to increase their contribution to the budget and that must happen. I ask the Minister and the Taoiseach to make very strong efforts in that respect.

  I ask the Leader to bring in the relevant Ministers to this House for a very serious discussion on what we will do in that doomsday scenario. How will we support tourism, small business, food processing and manufacturing in the Border counties? What practical aid will be given to the people in Cavan, Monaghan and right along the Border to deal with what will be a frightening position if it arises?

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I ask the Leader to request the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to come to the House as soon as possible to explain the extraordinarily long delays in obtaining passports. It really has got out of control and it sometimes takes up to 35 days to either obtain or renew a passport. It is causing major distress in families, particularly if they are outside the Dublin urban area. Most public representatives are talking about this. It is practically impossible to get through to the Passport Office by phone. On Thursday I got through after 25 minutes and after giving information about a really distressed young lady who wants to go on holidays, I was told by a staff member that under data protection regulations, the case could not be discussed with me. This is totally untrue. We were advised by a senior legal firm in Dublin - the parliamentary party had a seminar this morning - that under section 40(3) of the Data Protection Act 2018, public representatives such as Senators, Deputies and councillors are entitled to discuss a case with any State office. Somebody needs to tell somebody somewhere that this is happening.

  I rang the Minister's office yesterday and told him about this and I was told it had never heard the story before. It is a concern because if we are dealing with Brexit but cannot sort out the Passport Office in Ireland, where are we going? We know there is a rush on. Applications are coming in for joint passports from Northern Ireland or Britain and there should be a priority system to take this into account as most of those people have passports anyway. Such applications for a joint passport could be done during a lull. Representatives of the Passport Office will appear before the Committee of Public Accounts tomorrow and our colleague, Deputy Fleming, made that request. I hope they will give good answers to the questions put to them by public representatives.

  Data protection regulations are being used and abused by the public service to prevent us as Senators, as well as Deputies and councillors, getting information regarding constituents. We are legally entitled to discuss a case with any public official because constituents have instructed us to act on their behalf. We should be clear about that. I ask the Leader to tell the Government to get the house in order. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, should get the instruction to the Passport Office to answer the telephone and inform the staff accordingly. They should be able to tell us the passport will be available for collection or posting.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan Today is World Refugee Day, which honours the strength and courage of refugees and encourages public awareness and support of refugees and people who have had to flee their homeland because of conflict and natural disaster. It is a good reason to have a World Refugee Day and stand in solidarity with such people. Today we received a report from Mr. Brian Dawson, the communications manager of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. I had a look at it this morning and there were three matters that jumped off the page. There was mention of how the International Protection Act 2015 should be amended, as well as the definition of family members in a way that complies with international human rights obligations. The report suggests we should amend the 12-month limit on applications for family reunification and it suggests that we should clarify in law the rights and programmes for refugees with respect to reunification, as well as the rights of refugees who require Irish citizenship. The report challenges us as legislators to introduce legislation and I suggest Members might look at that at some point. It is important to acknowledge that today is World Refugee Day.

  We received the summer economic statement for 2018 after it was published by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. I welcome it. In the report it is striking that the Minister speaks of maintaining a broad tax base that generates sustainable revenue necessary to fund public services. It is a very reasonable and pragmatic approach. We cannot spend money that we simply do not have and we must have sustainable revenue. It is a really positive and strong message. The statement argues we should continue to be prudent in the management of our public finances, which is positive. It is a really positive document overall. I suggest, if it is appropriate, that we have a debate or presentation on this important statement.

Senator John O'Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I raise the matter of student accommodation. I met representatives of the Union of Students in Ireland and it is interesting that top of their list was the matter of student accommodation. There is an increasing number of students leading to increased demand for student accommodation. However, there has been a decrease in the mount of available accommodation. I ask the Leader to ask the relevant Minister - whether it is the Minister for Education and Skills or the Minister for Housing, Environment and Local Government - about this. I was under the impression there was an expanding pipeline of student accommodation being made available but it appears that is not the case. In Galway, there was a rent increase of 18% announced during college examinations for the official student accommodation there. It is in a rent pressure zone and I thought legislation would only allow for a 4% increase but it appears this does not apply to student accommodation. I would like that point to be clarified. The announcement during examinations meant that students were limited in what they could do but I understand the case is heading to the courts now.

  Students are commuting long distances in trying to get around these problems. They are sleeping on sofas and all the rest of it. It is a major issue and it is raising its head as students finalise exams, get results and seek accommodation.  I ask that we find out exactly what the situation is and what is being done about it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I thank the Senator for his brevity.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I will begin by asking that we take No. 11 of the non-Government motions on today's Order Paper without debate. It is a very simple motion on the issue to which I referred yesterday, namely, the ongoing dispute at LloydsPharmacy. It calls on LloydsPharmacy to respect the Labour Court recommendation. It would send a very strong signal if all of us could unite on that topic today.

  I wish to raise another issue relating to workers' rights.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I have no problem with the Senator raising the matter but the rules restrict me from allowing him to formally amend the Order of Business to deal with that matter today. The Senator must give four days' notice. He can raise the issue but it is not appropriate to formally move the amendment. My hands are tied.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan If the Cathaoirleach's hands are tied, I fully respect that. I thank him for the advice.

  I want to raise another issue relating to workers' rights in the hotel sector. It is an issue that interests all of us because a number of us stay in hotels. Many Senators pay an awful lot of money to do so. There are major problems in the sector. I will be away next week at the Council of Europe so I want to highlight now that I will have representatives of those working in the sector and their union, SIPTU, coming in to tell us about what is happening in the hotel sector at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 July, in the AV room. They will talk about rates of pay, the prevalence of zero-hour and low-hour contracts, issues regarding health and safety, reduced VAT rates and the industrial relations climate. Unfortunately, the Irish Hotels Federation has given a clear instruction to all hotel members not to deal with unions. That is absolutely unacceptable. I know the Leader will agree with me in that respect. It is particularly unacceptable when our Government is giving a massive subsidy to these hotels. We can debate the merits of the subsidy but surely we can all agree on the fact that if hotels are getting it, the very least we should expect them to do is to talk to their workers and their representatives.

  There are major issues involved. I am aware of a man who has been working in a major hotel in Kerry for 30 years and who is still on €10 an hour. The same man was terrified that his car might be seen outside the SIPTU office in Kerry. These are the conditions of fear, loathing and poor pay that are prevalent in the hotel sector. I urge all Members who are available on the Tuesday after next to come along and hear directly from the workers involved. I am also calling for a debate on this issue.

Senator Ray Butler: Information on Ray Butler Zoom on Ray Butler I will also outline my sentiments regarding the actions of the USA in respect of the American-Mexican border. To hear the recording of small children crying and looking for their parents was horrific. I would like the House to write to the American Embassy and say this is not good enough and that we will not accept it. It was horrendous to hear the recording on ITV last night of little children crying looking for their parents.

  On budget 2019, I welcome that the Minister has an extra €850 million spend next year. One issue that is raised with me on a regular basis is the complete removal of the bereavement grant. It is time to bring back the grant if we have a budget surplus. Some families struggle to pay funeral fees, with the average funeral now costing between €5,000 and €6,000. The grant to some people meant recognition by the State of a loved one. The grant was €800. If we cannot afford to bring it back in its entirety, €500 would be a start. We have a system in place at the moment which is being abused. The old way was fairer because everybody was recognised by the State. If people cannot pay in its entirety we will help them through the community welfare office and the social welfare office. We will be meeting the Minister this evening and I will be seeking to raise this issue. I do not see any reason that the bereavement grant cannot be restored in budget 2019.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I draw the attention of the House to the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The United States has a point when it suggests that many of those on the council, including its chair, are from countries that are notorious human rights abusers. It would be much better if the United States remained on the council and tried to reform from the inside. It is not unrelated that this comes at a time when the United States is barbarously mistreating parents and children along the Mexican border. The latter is extremely regrettable. It is notable that four First Ladies, including President Trump's wife, have criticised this measure. It is also significant that the US cites criticism of Israel as one of the reasons for its withdrawal. Criticism of Israel is perfectly appropriate. More sinisterly, the Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy has issued a report that attacks organisations in this country such as Trócaire and suggests that they have ties to terror and to boycotts against Israel. The report says that directly and, indirectly, that said organisations are misusing money. Clearly, the Israeli Government is involved in a very aggressive policy to try to discredit NGOs who stand up for the human rights of the Palestinian people. It must be fought back against and denounced. This is all very much in step with the American Administration's decision to withhold funding from United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, earlier this year. It is all part of a diplomatic attempt by the Israelis to divert attention from the gross human rights abuses in which they are involved in Gaza.

Senator Keith Swanick: Information on Keith Swanick Zoom on Keith Swanick The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, will be in the House this evening to discuss mental health issues and the provision of care in the south-east region. I ask that the Minister for Health be brought before us in the near future to discuss the inexcusable waiting lists for patients in the south-east. I have a letter that was sent to a woman in County Waterford. It is marked "urgent" and states that the patient should expect to be seen in 65 months, which is over five years. I thought it was a misprint so I rang the HSE and it informed me it is not. People can wait up to nine years for non-urgent appointments. The definition of "urgent" refers to something that is top priority, important or vital. It is very difficult. What does one tell a person who is in pain on a daily basis when the person has to wait five years for a urology appointment? The urology service in Waterford hospital is being provided by two consultants, three registrars, one SHO, one intern and one clinical nurse manager. These eight people cover a population of 510,000. They receive an average of 182 new referrals per month. They are doing their very best. There are 160 new patients and 198 review patients being seen in the outpatient department every month. I understand the pressures on the system. I work in the system. In this particular case, with urgent urology appointments stretching over five years, I would be grateful if we could have the Minister in at some stage in the future to discuss it because it needs particular attention.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell This morning, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, announced that he is speeding up the roll-out of power points for electric cars nationwide in line with Government policy to the effect that all fossil fuel cars will be eliminated by 2030. This is a very ambitious plan. The target date is 12 years away. I ask that the Minister be brought before the House to discuss the plan. I have raised this matter on numerous occasions. For a person travelling from Limerick to Dublin in an electric car, there is only one point at which to recharge the vehicle.  It is very difficult for people to go the full distance. We have three or four points in Limerick and we need to consider this in depth.

  We are all dealing with passport issues. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's web page on passports needs to be updated regularly. It states that if people use Passport Express, they should allow six weeks. That should be at least eight or nine weeks. People should then be directed to make an appointment with the Passport Office. Someone 18 years of age or older can renew a passport online and have it issued within in two weeks. If people are under pressure having lost their passport, they can use the rapid renewal service online and make an appointment. While I take on board what was said previously about passports, the information on the website is out of date. It needs to be updated daily because getting a passport depends on which option a person takes. Most of the difficulties arise with Passport Express. People apply and are told it will take six weeks and panic in week seven if they do not have it. They call us and we then call the Passport Office. If they knew how long it would take, they would go online to renew or use the rapid renewal service. The process exists but people are being put through hell unnecessarily. If they knew the best way to go, they would use that. Passport Express does not take only six weeks currently. The Department needs to update the website daily and give people information on the various ways to getting a passport. They just need to know the one that will guarantee their passport on time.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Based on my own and my family's experience, it would be prudent and wise if, before they booked a flight, travel agencies would ensure the person's passport was up to date.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Yes.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Sin scéal eile.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to request that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment comes to the House to explain what is going on with the Sparkasse community bank because a report states that the Government has decided not to pursue that model. It affects every town and rural locale in Ireland. I will not take "No" for an answer. I want to know what is going on and why the Government made that decision.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan That needs to be seconded.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I will second that.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I also want to give two pieces of advice to the Government. The Cabinet needs to sit down and decide about homelessness in a co-ordinated and communicative way. Most of us do not know what is going on, where, how and on behalf of whom. The information is completely dissipated.

  I attended a packed conference this morning on positive aging in age-friendly cities and counties. The stories on the health service would make one's hair stand on end. Senator Swanick said the same thing earlier. This is a good Government but it has lost focus and is all over the place. The two biggest problems are homelessness and the health service. The Cabinet should be in a room to co-ordinate these two problems, especially the health service. Young nurses, radiographers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and interns are running out of the country because nobody who earns between €44,000 and €60,000 a year has any chance of ever being able to make a home here. That is a serious problem in respect of health services and homelessness. That is what the entire Cabinet should be considering, and not dispersing around the country on different issues and congratulating itself and others.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I join Senator Boyhan in recognising World Refugee Day. It is important to continue to highlight the atrocities occurring around the world but also to give support to the many agencies helping those in refugee camps. I visited a refugee camp on the Sudanese border some years ago and they are difficult to manage. There were more than 570,000 people from four countries living in the camp I visited. Protection and food must be provided. At times it is difficult to get food into those areas. I was there in March and the camp needed to bring in 58,000 tonnes of food by June, otherwise it would not have been able to get it in during the rainy season. The nearest port was 2,500 km away. That is the challenge in dealing with refugees and we need to be conscious of that. While the economy here is doing well, it is important that we do not forget that there are major challenges in other jurisdictions, which we need to support.

  One of the big problems for those on the housing waiting list is that with the economic upturn, people are receiving increased salaries and, as a result, are above the earning limit to remain on the list. The qualifying criterion to be on the waiting list is €39,325 in joint income. I was contacted by a family last week, comprising a couple with three children, who are now earning €39,900 and have been advised that they no longer qualify to be on the housing waiting list. That is a serious issue. People should not be penalised because there is an upturn in the economy. There is no way on earth that a couple earning €40,000 can secure and pay a mortgage on a house.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Hear, hear.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke It is a huge challenge facing us.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell It is a joke.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke We need to review this and change the qualifying criteria but we also need to deliver houses. We need to do much more in that area.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I also wish to raise the United States withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, perhaps as a kick back in respect of the separation policy it is attempting to apply at its borders. It is like the response of a petulant child who does not get his or her own way - "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah".

  I commend RTÉ on the wonderful documentary last night, "No Country for Women". It was extremely powerful. It reminded me of the journey we have made and I have been involved in some of its latter stages. It showed how women have been incarcerated in this country for a long time. I am grateful the women who were in the programme, and I offer a special "Thank you" to one of the secretarial assistant staff in the Seanad, Samantha Long, who conducted a wonderful investigation into the life of her grandmother who was incarcerated in Grangegorman. It was an emotional roller coaster. I urge everybody to watch the second part tonight.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I thank the Senator for her brevity.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell has been critical of my use of my phone in this Chamber so I want to make sure I build bridges by seconding her amendment to the Order of Business, like a good student.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan When there is peace on the Korean peninsula there are all sorts of possibilities.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys Building bridges.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I hope that is done now.

  On the question of housing another debate with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government would be beneficial and important.  Senator Humphreys and I have discussed the importance of reinstating the rent-to-buy scheme. It was available ten years ago and allowed people to raise enough money for a deposit while still renting. I refer to that stuck generation who still live at home even though they are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The scheme allowed for the entire rent paid for the previous three years to go towards a deposit. It meant one did not have a situation where people who were renting had to try to save for a deposit at the same time. Before the economic crash, the rent-to-buy scheme worked for quite a number of people and I believe the scheme should be reintroduced. The Labour Party will include such a proposal as part of its pre-budget submission. We should proactively work with city and county councils to reintroduce the scheme.

  I want to refer to US border policy and the current practice of separating families at the southern border of the United States. A number of years ago I called Donald Trump a fascist. One thing that clearly identifies a person as being fascist is to pick on a very vulnerable group, dehumanise them, blame them for everything and treat them in the most appalling manner. Sadly, such disgusting political behaviour has begun to spread because recently, the Italian Government issued statements about the Roma community who live in Italy. We should not be surprised about what has happened at the southern border of the US because it follows a travel ban, loads of rhetoric and the fact that Donald Trump has called illegal immigrants animals.

  I have to hand the invitation that all Members of the Oireachtas received by post from the chargé d'affaires of the United States Embassy. Of course there is no US ambassador to Ireland because that country has not bothered to give us one. The chargé d'affaires has invited us all to drink - I assume champagne - and to eat sausage rolls on 3 July to celebrate US Independence Day on 4 July. Bizarrely, the event is entitled "United We Rock".

  Earlier we had a briefing with an American immigration lawyer, Ms Fiona McEntee, as well as Senator Lawless, who obviously also feels passionately about this issue. Earlier, there was representation from every political party in the House, which I was delighted to see. I am very taken by the strong statement made by the Tánaiste and by the motion tabled in this House by Fianna Fáil. I believe it is time for us to collectively and with one voice, given what is happening on the southern border of the United States, to refuse point blank to attend the reception and tell the chargé d'affaires the reasons we are not attending it.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine Hear, hear.

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

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin It would be a small gesture in response to a big issue. We can all see what is happening with Brexit, which has anti-immigration sentiments. We also have Trump and we have seen what has happened in Italy. In addition, after what has happened recently with our referendum and the referendum that took place a number of years ago, people look to us to stand for something better. Let us consider our history of coffin ships and Irish people being forced to emigrate to places all around the world, we must tell the chargé d'affaires in the American Embassy that no Member of the Oireachtas will attend his reception for 4 July.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I wish to speak about the child benefit scheme. This week, a man contacted my office to say he will lose a child benefit payment because his child, who attends a secondary school, will reach his 18th birthday before undertaking his leaving certificate examination. He is not working and has no income. In the UK, once a child remains in secondary education, the parent is entitled to receive child benefit, sometimes up to the age of 20. Sadly, that is not the case in this country. Although children are encouraged to undertake transition year to enhance their education, the cut-off age of 18 means many students will be affected because their 18th birthday falls before their leaving certificate examinations. It may even happen earlier if they avail of transition year. These students are still dependent on their parents in almost all cases because - perhaps nobody has noticed - it is almost impossible for young people to secure a part-time job. They still need to be clothed and they need books, stationery and food. They are definitely not self-sufficient. Unfortunately, it is a fact that child benefit is not paid for 18 year olds after the month of their birthday, even if they remain in education or training. As a result, this Government has placed an unnecessary financial burden on hard-pressed families. We need to consider extending the child benefit scheme to include children whose families need a bit of help once they remain in education. Households that are close to the poverty line rely on child benefit to pay for necessities. The money is not used to pay for foreign holidays. One hears claims that recipients of child benefit keep the money to pay for foreign holidays. I know of many hard-pressed families and the Leader should believe me when I say there is no such thing as free education. We need to consider the system and analyse what does and does not work. It is expensive to keep 18 year olds in secondary education because they still need a lot of clothing, help, etc. Therefore, we must ensure that we look after them. Child benefit is the only source of income for many women for their incredibly hard work over many years on which we do not put a value at present. I will ask the relevant Minister about the provision. Many parents have contacted me because they feel that such children are entitled to receive child benefit once they remain in secondary school and until they do their leaving certificate examination. It is crucial that the current provision is changed.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I do not know if the Leader has had an opportunity to watch the "RTÉ Investigates" programme that was broadcast last Monday evening. The programme dealt with the crisis of dumping in the countryside and the pathetic court sanctions imposed. In one case, the National Parks and Wildlife Service stated it had discovered the worst dumping incident its staff had ever seen. The court imposed a fine of €2,500.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Appalling.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Apparently, the perpetrators had to clean up their rubbish but that was only because they were forced to do so.

  There is a real crisis in County Donegal. We had the incidence of Ferry's Refuse, which was extensively reported and which demonstrated the lack of power enjoyed by our courts and enforcement systems. "RTÉ Investigates" revealed there are tens of thousands of tonnes of illegal household waste dumped at a huge dump at a location in the hills in the Inishowen Peninsula and near Moville. If that was not bad enough, on Tuesday morning a constituent brought a recent report published by Village magazine to my attention. I warn Senators that I may cite its figures twice because they are so shocking. In 2011, the Sunday Life newspaper brought to the attention of Donegal County Council that up to 10 million tyres were buried in the hills above Carndonagh on the Inishowen Peninsula. It has been alleged that as many as 10 million tyres have been illegally buried in those hills by an operation from Derry working in conjunction with a landowner. Seven years later, Village magazine alleges that not only have the 10 million tyres not been removed but that as many as 6 million more tyres have been buried there subsequently, using a permit for land reclamation. I have talked about County Donegal but instances of dumping have occurred throughout western rural counties. In those counties, as one works one's way inland, there have been many instances of illegal waste being buried and each time, the perpetrators only get a slap on the wrist.

  The Leader, who acts on behalf of the Government, must accept that the laws are not working. We have very good people who work as part of Tidy Towns groups. The volunteers work long hours to keep communities tidy, paint derelict buildings and so on. Schools proudly display their green flags and blue flags as part of an environmental scheme that teaches young people the value of the motto to reduce, reuse and recycle. Yet criminals or criminal gangs operate together throughout this country and make their fortunes while giving two fingers to the people. After lengthy prosecutions instigated by local authorities or the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which are very technical difficult cases to bring to court, the perpetrators just get a slap on the wrist. The legal system is a disaster and has failed. I ask the Government to learn from the fantastic investigative work done by "RTÉ Investigates". I urge the Government to urgently review the laws and improve resources. I believe we need one agency to tackle the issue and that we should not leave it to local authorities. One agency should be made responsible for making sure that waste is properly disposed of. It also must ensure that those who are involved in criminality are sent to jail rather than given a slap on the wrist.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Hear, hear.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh Well done.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I watched the programme, Senator Mac Lochlainn. I was puzzled how such a substantial amount of illegal dumping could take place without somebody knowing somewhere. Many questions need to be answered, including the enforcement of the law raised by the Senator.

  I call the next two speakers, who are Senator Ó Donnghaile and Senator Noone. I suggest that Senator Noone speaks first, to bring balance to the discussion.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I wholeheartedly agree with what Senator Mac Lochlainn has said about the dumping issue. We need to adopt a cross-party view on the environment as a whole.  Notwithstanding the issue pointed out by the Senator earlier, we have an uneducated population when it comes to the environment. That is reflected in how we are performing internationally on the environment. So much more needs to be done. I have been requesting a debate for some time just on the environment. We need a lengthy debate on it.

  At local level, if one deposits something in a refuse bin on the street, there is no recycling at that level. Across the board, we are performing poorly on the environment. Every day it becomes more obvious, once one takes a keen interest in it. I support the Senator on that and anything that can be done to improve our laws in this area. In general, when it comes to the environment, our behaviour is way below par. Clearly, all sides of the House need to take a keener interest in the environment.

  On the issue of the Mexican-US border, Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell is correct. I do not know that the US President, Donald Trump, will give a damn if we do not turn up for a Fourth of July party which has been organised. However, it is something we can do to show what we think of his latest policy when it comes to the more vulnerable members of society. It is inhumane and horrific. The scenes and descriptions of how families are being treated would draw tears from anyone. Acts like this are happening in the US, a country that was seen in the past by Irish people and by many other nationalities as the land of hope and opportunity. This is how it is conducting itself now. It is a small gesture we could make on this and I support Senator Ó Ríordáin on this. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has been vocal in his disgust at how these families are being treated on the Mexican-US border. Clearly, anything that can be done at an Irish level should be done.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Ba mhaith liom ábhar a ardú atá luaite agam roinnt mhaith uaireanta roimhe seo sa Seanad.

  I want to raise an issue and use the Seanad as a platform to give some focus to its resolution. I accept we are limited in what we can do because I have sought to have the Minister in to speak on this issue previously but he says it is not his kick. It relates to the geo-blocking of sports programmes by satellite television providers, meaning RTÉ is blocked for viewers resident in the Six Counties. We used to be able to get RTÉ in the North by shifting our analogue aerials a certain way or adding on a box. This meant we could feel a degree of connection with news, events, sports and everything else happening across the rest of the island.

  With the ending of analogue TV, satellite is the only option for us to get RTÉ. This is complex in that it involves negotiating licensing agreements and broadcasting rights. For a long time, RTÉ, Sky, Virgin and other providers acknowledged this was a problem. However, it made the front page of yesterday’s Irish News because of the sheer frustration the issue is causing This was an acknowledgment of the latest incident, namely the blocking of live coverage of "The Sunday Game" on RTÉ for viewers in the North.

  It is a complex issue. However, at the heart of it, there has to be an acceptance and an acknowledgement by sporting organisations, such as the GAA and the FAI, that when they sell the rights to broadcast, arrangements are made for a bespoke set of circumstances which will allow someone in the Creggan to watch James McClean do the business for Ireland on the international stage rather than having to watch a blank screen stating the programme is not available in the country. RTÉ’s charter states it will provide services to have the character of a public service universally available to the whole community on the island of Ireland. That is currently not the case, however.

  I accept we are limited in what we can do in that regard because, primarily, it is a private enterprise and exercise. However, borders has been the word of contention over the past 18 months to two years. There should be no digital partition of Ireland and no digital border. Whether it is our boxing, soccer or GAA heroes, we should have the universal ability to watch, follow and feel connected to their achievements.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Hear, hear.

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

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank the 22 Senators for their contributions to the Order of Business.

  Senator Ardagh raised the issue of homeless families being moved out of emergency accommodation during the Pope’s visit in August. That would be contradictory if it was true and I hope that will not be the case.

  Senators Ardagh, Butler, Norris, Devine, Noone and Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of the United States Government’s policy regarding the separation of families on the Mexican border. We had this discussion yesterday on the Order of Business. Today, there was the further announcement that the US will withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, the first voluntary departure by a country. All of us stand united in condemnation of the policy of the separation of children from their parents and of the decision to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council. It is an America alone and isolationist policy. However, we should not be surprised given the rhetoric emanating from the US President and those around him since he was elected, which is wrong. We stand in solidarity to ensure an end to the policy.

  I welcome the attempts by the Democrats and Republicans in the US House of Representatives and the Senate to put forward some type of legislation to end this policy. There is merit in the suggestion by Senators Ó Ríordáin and Noone to boycott or absent ourselves from the Fourth of July independence celebrations in the US embassy. To be fair to the US chargé d'affaires in Dublin, he is not a politician; he is a civil servant who is simply doing his job. I do not necessarily agree with boycotts. I did not agree with Sinn Féin looking to boycott the Eurovision. I do not believe we should boycott sports. On this occasion, however, there is merit in our standing in solidarity as a country with those affected by the policies in question. As Senator Noone said, the US has been a beacon across the world. Many of our ancestors travelled there in pursuit of the American dream. I stand with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in condemning this policy.

  Senator Marshall raised the issue of higher education students being affected by Brexit. It is a significant concern for those in further education. The Senator’s points require clarity and need to be addressed, especially when one considers higher education institutions have reached full capacity. Tomorrow is an important day in the Houses of the Oireachtas with the address by the European Commission President. It is important to recognise that the Government, on foot of the EU summit, is continuing to pursue the matter.

  Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the Murrisk to Louisburgh water supply, which needs to be addressed. One suggestion, which has not received universal approval, was consideration of a group water scheme. Irish Water needs to consider investment in the capital plan for the Westport area, along with Mayo County Council. I am sure the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, who is from the area will work to bring about a resolution to this important matter. Senator Conway-Walsh might be judicious in resubmitting a request for this to be taken as a Commencement matter.   Senator Ruane raised her very important harm reduction Bill. I certainly support her view that drugs, their supply and reduction of harm are matters not just for the Department of Justice and Equality, but also for the Department of Health. I would be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, come before the House again to discuss the matter.

  Senator Humphreys has elevated Deputy Noel Rock to the position of Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I am sure Deputy Rock will be very happy with the elevation. Some in this House have a preoccupation with the Minister, Deputy Ross, in respect of his position as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. To be fair to the Minister, Deputy Ross, he has always been willing to come before the House. We should all welcome any amelioration that will benefit residents in respect of MetroLink. I would be happy to accede to the request of the former Minister of State, now Senator Humphreys, to have his good friend, Deputy Ross, who has become the bogeyman for many in this House, invited before the House to discuss transport. There is a need for a joined-up conversation about transport, not just in the capital city, but across the country, not least in respect of how we use the car, as referred to earlier, and investment in public transport. I think all of us will welcome the announcement by the Minister-to-be, Deputy Rock, on the solving of the problem between MetroLink and Na Fianna, but it is a matter we need to see resolved again. I will have the Minister come to the House at the earliest opportunity.

  Senator O'Reilly raised decriminalisation of homosexuality. I again commend, as I did yesterday, Senator Nash on his work on the motion and our good friend, Senator Norris, on his wonderful efforts and his bravery. I will not go back over the debate again.

  Senator O'Reilly also raised Brexit in the context of small and medium-sized enterprises. While the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has a scheme available to businesses, Senator O'Reilly is correct: it is the business community around the Border region that will be affected the most. It is important to have that ongoing debate on Brexit and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter.

  Senators Leyden and Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of passports, which is gaining notoriety in the media. I wish to make the point to the House that in the past two years, passport applications have increased by 25%. We are now seeing approximately 80,000 passports applications per year. I had a Commencement matter on the issue last week. It is critical that people's information is up to date. Notwithstanding that, the Passport Office accepts - and we must understand this - that for first-time applications and other complex applications, the vetting takes a little longer. I am informed that 50% of adults receive their passport in less than a week with the remainder in under two weeks. The Passport Office has employed 220 extra staff, and the application for renewal of a passport through Passport Express takes approximately 16 days. Senator Kieran O'Donnell's comments on the need to have the website updated daily are important. Equally, it is critical that people engage in the application process early. I also make the point again today that we should have a printing machine or printing press in Cork, which could benefit the south west, the west and the Munster region overall. Linked to that, there could be less pressure on the Dublin offices as well. It is an issue we need to keep on the political landscape.

  Senators Boyhan and Colm Burke raised World Refugee Day, and both Senators deserve to be commended on referring to the importance of the day and on standing with people who have been displaced and have had to flee their homelands for a variety of reasons. Senator Boyhan made reference to Brian Dawson's excellent report, which we all received, and I would be happy to have a debate on it in due course.

  The other point Senator Boyhan made concerned the summer economic statement. It is my intention as Leader to have that debate in the House next week. We should take Senator Boyhan's two very sensible comments this morning about prudence and how one cannot spend money when one does not have it and put them in front of nearly every Senator's desk in the House because if we were to listen to some Members of the House, we would spend everything we had. I heard Senator Conway-Walsh talk about our rainy day fund. If we did not have a rainy day fund, we would be in a very bad way as a country in future and it is important we do not go back to the old days.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan We are in a bad way now.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I know the Sinn Féin Party is transitioning from the far left to somewhere near the left of centre. I welcome its new-found interest in being in government.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn We will meet the Leader in the good place.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer When one occupies the benches of Government, which Sinn Féin probably will some day, although I hope it will not-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Never.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I hope it will not but I think it will. Senator Gavan will have no hair left by the time he is in government, I assure him.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I am ahead of myself, then, am I?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We will have that debate at a later date.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senators are getting unusually close together.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The independence of the Chair should not be confined to comedy, but I take the Cathaoirleach's point. I am sure there are some on his former benches who would love to be in with Sinn Féin.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It is a republican party.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is a republican party. The phrase, "republican party" has many different attributes, and I think we all share-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell And definitions.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer And definitions. I thank the Senator.

  Senator O'Mahony referred to student accommodation. The USI is holding a briefing today, and I apologise that I have not been able to make it. This issue was raised yesterday by Senator Gallagher as well. May I refer the House to a number of figures? In Dublin we now have 6,180 accommodation spaces specifically for students under construction; in Cork we have 603; in Galway we have 429. In Cork, Galway, Limerick and Kildare, 2,904 bed spaces are being constructed. The important point is that the Higher Education Authority, HEA, commissioned a report on student accommodation in 2017, and we must recognise and accept that there has been a huge rise in the number of students participating in further education and it will increase. The other point that Members should recognise is that students now prefer to reside in on-campus accommodation. This is part of the mistakes we made in the past whereby we did not build student accommodation and we are now playing catch-up. Many of us benefitted from going to college, and I would thoroughly recommend going to college to all students, if they can, and certainly living away from home.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell No.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I think the Senator protests too much about that. It is an experience. I accept that there is a difficulty in sourcing accommodation but, to put it in context, we have 31,296 beds, 11,114 public and 20,182 private, so there is an imbalance in that respect that needs to fixed.

  The Cathaoirleach has ruled on Senator Gavan's motion and I would be happy to have that debate. I believe Senator Gavan seeks that it be taken without debate next week. We will discuss the matter on Tuesday, perhaps, or maybe Wednesday. I welcome the Senator's advocacy on behalf of hotel workers, especially now that it is summer, which is the peak tourist season. It is incumbent on those in the hospitality and service industry and sector to treat their workers with respect and dignity. While the majority of people who work are treated fairly but there is a minority who are not, whether in respect of their rates of pay, the way in which they are called in to work in terms of rostering, the issue of tips or the hours they are allocated. The hospitality sector has certainly benefitted hugely from the Government decision on the VAT rate, and I hope the workers in the sector will be treated in a similar manner. I would be happy to support this debate when it comes back before the House.

  Senator Butler raised the budget and the bereavement grant. We will have that debate with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, as part of the debate on the summer economic statement next week.

  Senator Norris raised the United Nations Human Rights Council.

  Senator Swanick raised the issue of waiting lists. I do not have information on the issue to hand but I think we will have the Minister for Health before the House in the coming weeks.

  In response to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, I would be happy to try to have the Minister, Deputy Naughten, come to the House. He was here-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I know.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer -----at the Senator's request last week, I think. I would be very happy to accede to her request and I will endeavour to have him in next week. The point she makes about homelessness, communication and the strategy as to who does what is a very valid and pertinent one. I believe we have many different organisations and entities, all wanting the same outcome, but there is perhaps no meeting of minds in the middle and no communication of an outcome. I think the Senator is right about that and I commend her on her work on positive ageing and the issue of death and dying. We had the Irish Hospice Foundation's pre-budget briefing today, and I commend the work it does, but I also commend in particular Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell on the work she has done. I hope her report is gaining traction as we proceed.  I will endeavour to provide for that debate before the recess.

Senator Colm Burke also raised the issue of social housing and the eligibility criteria in the regard. I am happy to ask the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to come to the House to discuss the matter.

I join with Senator Devine in commending all involved in the RTE documentary. It was harrowing to hear many of the stories and to view the programme per seand imagine that we lived in that world not too long ago. In recognising that we have made significant progress I commend all those involved in advocacy on behalf of women and human rights in our country. It was an important documentary. The second part of the programme, which will be aired tonight will, I am sure, be equally compelling. It is important to acknowledge that we have made progress but Senator Devine's point is well made.

Visit of Kuwaiti Delegation

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I am sure Members will join me in welcoming a parliamentary delegation from the state of Kuwait led by Mr. Shuwaib Al-Muwaizri, MP and Chairman of the Kuwait-Ireland Parliamentary Friendship Group. On my own behalf and on behalf of my colleagues in Seanad Éireann I extend a very warm welcome to the delegation and good wishes for a very successful visit to Ireland. Also, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, who I understand is a personal friend of Mr. Shuwaib Al-Muwaizri, was in this Chamber this morning and asked me to pass on his kind regards to him.

Order of Business (Resumed)

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I join with the Cathaoirleach in welcoming the delegation, whose members I had the pleasure of meeting earlier. I hope we can continue to build relationships and promote areas of concern and interest.

  Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of child benefit. Rules are rules, although the Senator made a pertinent point regarding those over 18 and still in school. I am happy to look at what we can do in that regard.

  Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the issue highlighted in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, which puzzles me also. What was highlighted in that programme is alarming in terms of the harm being caused not only to our environment but to people's health. I hope there will be a change in policy by local authorities and the Department and an increase in enforcement and prosecutions. All of us need to consider how we can treat our waste differently. The Senator's point regarding the ten million tyres has left us all aghast. I am happy to invite the Minister to the House on foot of the programme.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Is the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, the Minister with responsibility in this regard?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Yes.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell He is in great demand.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Yes.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I am happy to have my issue and the issue raised by Senator Marie-Louse O'Donnell addressed in the same debate.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I am hoping to engage with the Minister separately on my issue.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senators should talk to the Leader at a later stage.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn In the justice debate last Thursday, two issues were taken, the second on the conclusion of the first.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I cannot allow a debate on the matter. I am sure the Leader will reflect on how best to resolve the issue.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will do that.

  Senator Noone made a telling contribution on the issue of illegal dumping. As I said, I am happy to provide for a debate on the issue.

  Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of access to RTÉ in the North in the context of the failure last week of Sky to transmit one of the championship matches, which is disappointing to say the least.

  I ask Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell to withdraw her amendment to the Order of Business and give me an opportunity to engage with the Minister on his availability to come to the House next week or the week after to discuss the issues raised.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate be held with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the reported decision of the Government not to proceed with the introduction of community banking in line with the Sparkasse model." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell No. I am happy to accept the Leader's bona fides.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Order of Business agreed to.

Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016: Committee Stage

  Sections 1 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 7

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

In page 5, line 5, to delete "20 school days" and substitute "10 school days".

I welcome the Bill, which provides for a radical change of our education system. While I was unable to contribute to the Second Stage debate I look forward to hopefully improving the Bill on Committee Stage today. This amendment deals with the number of days for which a student must be suspended before being able to appeal the suspension. The Bill, as drafted, provides that student must have been suspended from school for a total of 20 school days before he or she can appeal the suspension to the appeals committee. In school calendar terms, 20 days is equivalent to four weeks or one month, which is a long time for a student to be suspended before being able to appeal the decision. In reducing the number of days from 20 to ten days a student would be able to seek a review of his or her situation sooner, miss less school before being able to appeal the suspension to the appeals committee and, therefore, there would be less of a disruption to the student's academic or personal life.

  I would prefer if it were possible to appeal any suspension. Currently, in most schools suspensions range from three to five days. If a student is unfairly suspended, he or she should be able to appeal that decision in a timely manner. I have supported parents in my community who were struggling to advocate for their children. Parents are often not aware that a school has not followed its procedures and policies in regard to suspensions. Teachers will often opt for suspension without even exploring with the child or student the reason for the behaviour. At the time of my first suspension from school at the age of 13, I had witnessed my friend being hit by a bus.  There was no intervention by the school to see why my behaviour had radically changed. Reducing the number of days would allow the school, parents and, possibly, the board to become aware of why a child is racking up so much suspension. The school might be able to intervene at a much earlier stage to create a much better situation for and provide much better supports to the child, instead of relying on suspensions as a form of punishment.

  I understand that in some cases we do need to use suspension, for example, if a child has become violent or has become a risk to someone. I am not saying we should not look to suspension at all, but we should have as low a threshold as possible as to when a child can be heard and advocate as to why he or she would rack up a total as high as 20 days suspension. If that is racked up over one year it is very hard to get back into school. It is very hard when one falls behind and the class has moved ahead so quickly. It really damages the relationship between a child and a teacher when that child is sitting in a classroom and he or she feels as though he or she is being left behind or unfairly treated. Will the Minister consider the amendment? It would be a positive intervention. I look forward to his response.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris This seems to be a perfectly rational amendment and I am happy to support it. It seems to me we should encourage children to attend school as regularly as possible. I will make a couple of other remarks. I refer to use of the word "pedigree" by the Minister on previous occasions. I am sure it was unintentional, but it has given some offence, particularly because many people are from mixed families, with one parent being a fluent Irish speaker and another not, and perhaps not even an Irish national. They should also be considered. Children raised through Irish should be given some degree of preferential treatment in terms of attending Irish schools because this is their background and first language and they should be given that accommodation. In the circumstances, principals need additional facilities and expertise available to them to conduct the increased workload they have.

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh: Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh Tá fáilte roimh an Aire chuig an Teach seo. Tugaim tacaíocht do na moltaí a rinne an Seanadóir Ruane, I support her proposal on ten days. It is important. We also need to look at the school's perspective. The last thing, from my experience, that schools do is suspend a student. They go through all of the processes diligently. School management and the teachers make every effort to ensure they keep all of the students as well as they can but, on occasion, unfortunately, they must make a decision for the common good of the rest of the students and the overall diaspora of parents. It is important to give a certain amount of flexibility to school authorities because I know they do it as a last resort.

  I do not like going back to this, because it is always bandied about, but a deeper and important issue is financial support for schools and boards of management to support children who find themselves in difficulty. The Senator is a good example of this. Quite often, and Senator Ruane is a good example of this, all they need is a little bit of support to turn around and make a significant contribution to their communities. They are crying out looking for something, and very often schools do not have supports in place to help them. It is a balancing issue, but more resources can make a big difference.

  I will support Senator Norris on something that will come up later with another amendment. My colleague, Senator Gallagher, has tabled an amendment on the Irish language. It is very important that we protect the Irish language and that parents and children who want to get their education totally through the medium of the Irish language are supported in doing so. It has a special place in our Constitution and it should be protected. Children and parents have that particular right. If children who do not have sufficient knowledge of Irish want to go to a Gaelscoil they should have the opportunity to go an Irish summer college or develop their vocabulary in Irish so they could be fluent. The English stream should focus more strongly on providing stronger and better classes in the medium of Irish and giving support for it. It is not a matter of diluting Irish language schools and Gaelscoileanna, it is actually a matter of strengthening it in the English-focused schools.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan The Minister is very welcome. I was not able to contribute last week, unfortunately, and I want to stress that we welcome the Bill. It takes significant steps forward that Sinn Féin has called for some time, particularly with regard to issues regarding the baptism barrier. I will speak to this particular amendment because Senator Ruane has made a very fair point as 20 days seems to be a very high barrier. I hope that as a thoughtful Minister, Deputy Bruton will work with us today to see where there are reasons or grounds for reviewing this. I tend to agree with Senator Ruane that ten days seems to be a more sensible suggestion, in terms of giving the right to parents to appeal.

  I also want to echo the point Senator Norris made. It was unfortunate the Minister used the word "pedigree" with regard to the Irish language. For example, in my case I cannot speak a word of Irish, to my shame. I was born in England and did not come home until I was a teenager. My children are being brought up through the Irish language in primary and secondary school. I guess I do not meet the pedigree criteria. It is an unfortunate term and I would like the Minister to take this opportunity to consider withdrawing it.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I join Senator Ruane in welcoming the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to the House and I express our admiration for his proactivity and leadership and his new approaches in education. He is an extraordinarily successful Minister and it is a pleasure to work with him.

  I understand and fully support the spirit of Senator Ruane's amendment and what she is trying to achieve. Nobody would question the efficacy of an appeals system and the efficacy of being as fair as possible. All I will say is I was a member of the board of management of a community school for a number of years. I was a nominee of the VEC. An appeals process by its nature is quasi-judicial. It is a big process and it has to be very rigorous and go through due process. We would not want to have it at the drop of a hat, and we certainly would not want to have it too readily. That is the balance that needs to be struck. We could not have it too often or too easily obtained.

  Senator Ó Céidigh said no school suspends a student except in a very extreme situation. I remember when I was on the board of management at every meeting a disciplinary process was gone through first, then parents were met and the student was met with the parents. There was an entire process, which should be the case, and support and career guidance was given before suspension. I would be careful about it. The principle of an appeal is sacrosanct and unmovable, but to have it too readily and too quickly might be a difficulty.

  I see Senator Ó Céidigh's point about resources. It is important that schools are able to very discreetly let certain children who need it go on school tours and certain children who need it take part in sports and have a range of experiences for which they might not have an opportunity otherwise. I taught in a primary school and we did this with a great level of discretion and tact and almost in an anonymous fashion. Senator Ó Céidigh is correct to state such an intervention could be transformative for a child and could make all the difference. It is important to do these things but to do them with great tact and discretion. It would be good to have funding through a discretionary fund to use in these situations.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I welcome the Minister back to the House to discuss this Bill. I find I am in agreement with all of the contributions on Senator Ruane's amendment.  Senator Joe O'Reilly outlined thoughts on the matter that are similar to mine. I have every confidence in the vast majority of boards of management and school principals employing common sense in respect of this issue. From experience in this area, I am aware that such common sense is apparent. Nevertheless, I would welcome the comments of the Minister on Senator Ruane's amendment.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I thank Senators for their contributions and their general welcome for the Bill.

  I wish to deal with the issue that Senators Norris and Gavan raised. Neither Senator was present when we discussed the Bill on the previous occasion. At that time, I pointed out that in considering priority access to a Gaelscoil, we need to use grounds that are rooted in the child. We cannot use grounds that would be rooted in the child's seed, breed and generation, whether he or she has spoken Irish from birth or is a native speaker. The reference to pedigree was a quote from a court case. The judge in that case ruled against a certain proposal because it was based on a principle of pedigree, which appears to have no place in a democratic society committed to the principle of equality. That is the context in which the reference to pedigree arose. In other words, if we want to say that a child who has a high level of competency in Irish, because he or she speaks Irish outside of the school, should get priority access to a Gaelscoil, it cannot be rooted in the parents or something that would perhaps exclude an immigrant parent, people who did not have certain opportunities or broken families. That was the context. It was not being used in the context of any denigration of people. I am sure I may have used the word carelessly but it was rooted in a court ruling on a similar subject.

  I will return to Senator Lynn Ruane's proposal. Senator Joe O'Reilly adverted to this point. A section 29 appeal is not really intended to be a first port of call at the first sign of difficulty. Under existing legislation when there is six days of suspension, Tusla education welfare officials are notified. The expectation is that the school will resolve the issue without recourse to an appeal. It is not intended that an appeal under section 29 would be used. Senator Joe O'Reilly described how that process brings matters to national level with a committee, a hearing and the presentation of evidence on both sides. I do not think we want to see section 29 appeals used at the first sign of difficulty in a school in the integration of a child.

  I will outline the background to this matter. There is no reference to the number of days in the Act. The current procedures for a section 29 appeal hearing were developed in collaboration with the education partners, including bodies representing parents. It was agreed that 20 days was an appropriate number. We have tried to reflect this in section 29 of the Bill. I assure Senators that in developing new procedures for section 29 appeals, as provided for in the Bill, I will reflect on the matter to ensure that the procedures under which appeals are used are appropriate. If there is an opportunity for further consultation and we need to see some modification I will consider it.

  There is a connection between what we are doing in this Bill and the Education (Welfare) Act. Under the Act, a school must notify the education welfare service when the school intends to expel a student. That is the next level up. A student cannot be expelled from school before the passing of 20 days following notification to the education welfare service. During this timeframe, the education welfare service engages with the school and parents of the student. On occasion, the school may decide to suspend the student pending the passing of the 20 days and a final decision being made on expulsion of the student. As a result, the amendment could have the unintended consequence of allowing an appeal to be made during the timeframe when the education welfare service is engaged with the school and the parents of the student. In addition, the amendment could have the unintended consequence of requiring two separate section 29 appeals to be required in some cases. An appeal could be taken on the decision by the school to suspend a student pending a final decision on expulsion, while a further appeal could also be taken if the school decides to expel the student. This would require parents and school representatives to attend two separate appeal hearings in a short period. The amendment could also result in schools moving to consider permanent expulsion sooner in a situation where the school is working with the student and parents to manage the behaviour of the student. The amendment could also potentially interfere with any efforts at mediation between a school and parents where a student has been suspended for several days or several times.

  I am not disposed to accept the amendment. The danger with what the Senator is putting forward is that it amounts to using appeal hearings as an early intervention mechanism in a situation where we would hope that the education welfare service, working with the school, the home school liaison officer, if there is one, parents and so on, would come up with solutions. The National Educational Psychological Service would be involved in some situations as well. That is the thinking. Of course, a parent must have a right of appeal. However, we would hope that the right of appeal would be exercised after a great deal of effort has gone in but has not proven successful. At that stage, the issue may have to be escalated to a more formal hearing before what is effectively a national appeals board.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister for his response. I completely accept that the 20 days sounds reasonable when we look at the other possibilities for early intervention. The disappointing thing for me is that I know these early interventions are not being utilised.

  Other speakers have said that principals in schools will suspend students as a last resort. I imagine that is true of most schools. However, staff in under-resourced schools working in high-stress situations are suspending at higher rates and far more readily than some of the schools to which Senators may be referring. Two speakers, including Senator Gallagher, said that, in their experience, schools use suspension as a last resort. In my experience, that is not the case. My experience as a student and that of the people who come to me from disadvantaged areas all around Dublin suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, some parents do not know how to exercise their rights and so the suspensions keep happening without early intervention within six days. If I thought Tulsa was being notified after a run of six days of suspension, then it would be great because it would indicate that intervention is happening early. However, it would also mean that some children almost end up looking to get suspended after a period. Sometimes, if students have been suspended several times, they almost look for suspension. They realise that nothing is going to happen and that they will get three days off school easily. However, if follow-up was to take place, for example, an intervention from Tusla, those families and the children would not use the suspension system so openly and loosely for extra days off. This is because another body would be intervening. Unfortunately, this is the reality in some schools.

  I agree that schools will use expulsion mostly as a last call, but in many schools that is not the case with suspension. Some of those schools may need extra protection if the legislation somehow strengthens the obligation on the school to report to Tusla. Is there any data on this? Are schools keeping data on suspension levels for children? Can we get the data and examine whether schools are following the procedures and reporting to Tusla after six days? Such reporting may indicate that the behaviour in question is persisting and that the family might need support.  There is no point in having a provision, if it is not being utilised. If it can be utilised, I am happy to leave it at 20 days. My reason for lowering the number of days is that I have the knowledge that this is not always the case.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I have seen data from Tusla, although it is no longer in education, on absences and suspensions. It is my understanding that this data are publicly available. The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 requires that Tusla be notified within six days. Tusla has to decide on its follow up. If there are deficiencies in the agency's follow up, we should not seek early recourse to the appeals mechanism which takes it away from the school and does not resolve anything. If there is a deficiency, we need to address it at school and Tusla levels.

  In defence of my Department, a great deal of effort is being put into building well-being strategies and we will soon publish a well-being strategy, which deals with many of the issues surrounding behaviour and stress when something goes wrong and trying to build the capacity of the school to deal with that. We put all the additional resource we secured for the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, into the DEIS schools to strengthen their capability. I am certainly interested in examining other interventions that could help DEIS schools to manage effectively.

  These schools have halved the drop-out rate in a decade from 32% to 15%. That indicates that they are having some success. We need to do more in this area and the interventions should relate to supporting the school to manage the drop out rate rather than to introduce an intervention in legislation, which I honestly could be counterproductive to implementing the bottom-up solutions that we all desire.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I accept what the Minister is saying. I agree with him that the issue should be managed at school level. I would be eager and happy to look at how I can work with the Department on the experiences of people in some of the communities. When I speak about DEIS schools, it is not to undermine the work of DEIS schools and what they do. I understand the social context in which the schools operate and how difficult it is with the few resources they have. My work seems to be weighted on the side of the student, who in some circumstances is difficult. It is a difficult situation for the teacher and the school. I tend to sympathise with the child because of the context in which he or she is operating in. Any support to ensure earlier intervention at school level will help them.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I would be happy to work with Senator Ruane on that. We are trying to evolve policies on completion, home-school liaison and NEPS. All the policies have the same goal.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I will withdraw my amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, 6, 9 and 12 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

  Government amendment No. 2:

In page 5, to delete lines 19 to 25 and substitute the following:
“ ‘Act of 2018’ means the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018;

‘annual admission notice’ has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);

‘applicant’ has the meaning assigned to it by subsection (1);

‘board’ includes a committee established under section 44(1) or 44(7) of the Education and Training Boards Act 2013;

‘oversubscribed’ has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);

‘school’ has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);

‘school year’ has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);

‘special class’ has the same meaning as it has in Part X (inserted by section 9 of the Act of 2018);

‘special educational needs’ has the same meaning as it has in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004;”.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton Essentially these amendments tidy up definitions and make them consistent in the section dealing with admissions and in section 29. Amendment No. 2 inserts a number of additional definitions into the new section 29. The definitions that are included in Part X and have now been inserted for the purpose of section 29, from section 29A to section 29F, include the definition of the "Act 2018", "annual admission notice", "school", "special class", and "special educational needs". The Act of 2018 has also been substituted instead of the full title of the Act for brevity in the definitions of "oversubscribed" and "school year".

  Amendment No. 3 substitutes the word "matters" for matter, and inserts the plural of the word to ensure that the Minister can include more than one matter in procedures under this section, if necessary.

  Amendment No. 4 substitutes the correct reference to 'therefor" in this provision.

  Amendment No. 6 deletes the words, "in the case of an appeal brought by a parent or a student," from this provision. The current wording enables this provision to apply only to cases where an appeal is made by the parent or a student and does not allow for a situation where the independent person appointed by the agency makes an appeal. Deleting these words ensures that in all of these cases, the committee should consider the NCSE or agency submissions.

  Amendment No. 9 is a proofing amendment to ensure consistency of language with the Bill's existing provisions that reflect the reality that it is the school principal rather than the school or the board who implements the schools admission policy. The relevant provision in the Bill refers only to the board making a decision to refuse admission and the amendment corrects this error.

  Amendment No. 12 is a technical amendment to delete the full title of the Act and substitute "the Act of 2018" for brevity as this has been defined for Part X.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 3:

In page 8, line 5, to delete "matter" and substitute "matters".

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 4:

In page 8, line 31, to delete "therefore" and substitute "therefor".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, lines 9 to 14, to delete all words from and including "by—" in line 9 down to and including line 14 and substitute the following:
"by admitting the student to the school or special class concerned.".

My amendment relates to the process by which a student can appeal to the board of a school if they have been denied admission due to a school being oversubscribed under section 29C(1) or for another reason under section 29C(2).

  The applicant makes an appeal to the board under section 29C. The board assesses the appeal based on the implementation of the schools admission policy and the content of the admissions notice. The board can then decide to issue a statement to the applicant stating: there was no error; there was an error but it had no material effect on the outcome; or that there was an error and it had a material effect on the outcome, that is, the student was denied admission as a result. This is clearly a serious situation as the school has made an error in implementing its own admissions policy. The school has been found to be at fault but if the board finds the school acted in error there are two options: first, to admit the student, and, second, to simply adjust the student's place on the school's waiting list. Where the board has been found to be at fault, a student is not even guaranteed a reversal of its wrong decision and a place in the school, but the piecemeal measure of a higher spot on the waiting list.

  My amendment removes the ability of the school to go for the easy option and move a student up the waiting list and, instead, provides the school must admit the person to the school or special class. If a board makes a mistake, error or fault in this area, the student should not have to suffer. The board should have a legal responsibility to facilitate their admission and it should not have a get out of jail option to move a child up the waiting list.

  This is an important amendment because otherwise the appeal to the board is somewhat tokenistic if the decision does not have to be reversed. If a child is just moved up a waiting list, he or she may only be moved up one spot as opposed to next on the waiting list, even though he or she was not admitted because of an error. If we are going to legislate for schools to follow their admission policies in the way they are supposed to, the appeal should have consequences, which means that the child is granted a place in the school.

  I would like the Minister's feedback on the amendment. I urge him to accept it.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton There may be a slight misunderstanding about what is being done. These subsections list the options that are available.  They are not saying that there is an unfettered choice to take one or the other. They are saying that, if an error had occurred and a child was placed 30th on a waiting list when he or she should have been placed tenth, the decision can be made to place that child tenth. If the situation was that the child should have been admitted, the child will be admitted. This provides the range.

  This comes up again in the Senator's amendment No. 10. This lists what a board can decide. It can obviously decide to do nothing and not to uphold an appeal, whatever that appeal might be. It can uphold the appeal and admit the child if that is the relevant and appropriate decision. It can place the child in his or her proper place on the waiting list if that is appropriate. I recognise that the section does not explain this, because it lists the available options. I will certainly ensure it will be very clear in the procedures that will accompany this Bill, but it is absolutely the intention that, where this occurs, that is what the boards will do. To be clear, if that was not done a decision would be open to judicial review on the grounds that it was totally unfair. If an appeals body trying the evidence and having a hearing finds that the child was wrongly excluded, he or she must be included. However, if a child was found to have been placed on the waiting list incorrectly, he or she must be put in his or her proper place. That is the intention of this section.

  If the Senator's amendment was accepted it would result in a situation in which, if an error occurred and a child was placed 30th on a waiting list when he or she should have been tenth, the child would not be moved up to the appropriate place on the waiting list but rather the Bill would force his or her admission, even though that would breach the school's admission policy. While I understand what the Senator is driving at, I cannot accept the amendment because, if it was accepted, any error discovered in any material procedure would result in the child having to be admitted ahead of children with legitimate priority over that child under the admission policy and the Act. It would undermine what we are trying to do. I will, however, make sure that there will be no doubt in the procedures we issue to accompany this legislation that, where the evidence shows that a child ought to have been in the school, the adjudication will be to put him or her in the school and, if it is found that a child should be a higher on the waiting list, then the adjudication will be to put him or her higher on the waiting list.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane That all makes perfect sense up to a point, but there is a part I do not get. It is probably really obvious. It is almost as if there is an appeals process in respect of the waiting list and another in respect of admission. Take the case of someone who made it so far on a waiting list that he or she was next to be admitted and, at that point, was not admitted. How could someone have been on the waiting list if he or she did not meet the criteria? Does the Minister understand? Perhaps I am taking this up wrong but the two processes would never work in tandem if the admissions process was being adhered to because a person would never have even made it on to the waiting list and, therefore, could not have made it to the top and then been refused a place, because that person would never have met the criteria to get on the waiting list. I just wonder about the logic of that.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The way in which the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill is intended to work is that schools can have an admissions policy. We are ruling things out that they cannot have in their admissions policies, for example, religion in the case of the vast majority of schools, but they can have other things in their policies. They could prioritise siblings of current students, pupils from feeder schools and then all other applicants or whatever. Therefore, there could be a waiting list. For example, all the siblings might be admitted but not all the children from feeder schools. In that case there would be a waiting list consisting of a given number of children from acknowledged feeder schools and then, below that again, other applicants who did not fit into that category. There might be ten next in line as having come from feeder schools who, under the admissions policy, were to get priority above others, and then there would be the others. If an appeal was about whether a child had come from a feeder school, he or she would be taken from the second list and put onto the first list of those waiting. That is what occurs here. Where a ruling occurs, if a child should have been in in the first place, for example because he or she was sibling of a current pupil, that child would have to be admitted to the school. Perhaps a child should have been counted among the pupils from a feeder school but was not. That is the sort of thing we are considering.

  There is a possibility of waiting lists under this scheme. Where a school is popular it will have to have a ranking of how it will make decisions, which may be based on catchment areas, feeder schools or whatever other rules. A waiting list can legitimately form. What we are banning is waiting lists of the old style under which, if a person applied when a child was born, that child would have priority ahead of a blow-in. That is being abolished but there can legitimately be a series of waiting lists under this Bill.

  We are providing that, where a school's procedures have unfairly put a child into an incorrect category, the child must be restored to his or her correct category. That category could be admission in some cases or it could just be joining the waiting list in the appropriate position in other cases. For example, age order can be used in waiting lists. That might be how a school decides to order all the children in one category. It might decide to take the oldest children first, which would create the ranking. If there was a mistake in the recording of the date of birth, it could clearly be said that child should be put among the older children who would be first to be admitted. If the Senator's amendment was accepted, in the case that a mistake had been made in the child's date of birth, he or she would have to be admitted ahead of older children who ought to have been ahead of him or her.

  The section gives the options for the findings these reviews may make. The same issue comes up in amendment No. 10. In that case we are dealing with a section 29 appeal rather than with the internal school procedure. I could not accept the Senator's amendment but I will make sure that we ensure there is no question about the section's application and I will come back to the Senator on that on Report Stage. Any decision would be subject to judicial review immediately. We could not sustain a situation in which it was found that a child should have been in a school but in which we say that, although the mistake was made, the child is still not getting in. That would undermine the whole purpose of what we are doing.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I am going to withdraw it but I reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage because I still have some concerns about the drafting of the section. I will withdraw it at this Stage and come back on Report Stage.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Government amendment No. 6:

In page 10, line 31, to delete “in the case of an appeal brought by a parent or a student,”.

  Amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Amendments Nos. 7, 10 and 11 are related and may be discussed together.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I am speaking to my amendments, Nos. 7 and 10, am I?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Amendments Nos. 7, 10 and 11 are related and may be discussed together.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane They are all mine in this group, are they?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan They are all related anyway. The Senator has the floor.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 7:

In page 10, line 33, to delete “and” where it secondly occurs and substitute the following:
“(k) such other matters as the applicant considers relevant, and”.

This amendment is to the part of the Bill which concerns an applicant - either a student or his or her parent or guardian - appealing a decision to exclude the child from a school or to suspend him or her for more than 20 days. Having worked on many representations involving students who have been in these positions, I am concerned about the use of these measures by schools and the impact they have on the student concerned. Students often do not have a strong standing in circumstances such as these and the views of staff are given more weight. This weight is also reflected in this part of the Bill.  This amendment seeks to strengthen the standing of the student in these proceedings. It would allow the applicant to include matters in the oral hearing that he or she believes relevant to his or her case and would allow such students to include details such as extenuating circumstances for the appeals committee to consider in their deliberations. It is a minor change but would make a significant difference to students going through this process, their chances in this procedure and their long-term prospects. As for such students' relationship with a school, were students to go as far as to be able to lend their voice to their appeal and application, the fact that they were buying into that relationship and making that case also would mean they have taken responsibility for the suspension and were taking an active approach to reintegrating in the school. It would be a positive exercise for such students and would be fairer because the student is the one affected by the suspensions and his or her voice should be given more weight.

  My amendment No. 8 was ruled out of order. Can the Leas-Chathaoirleach say why?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It imposed a potential charge on the revenue.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I would like to speak on it. Most schools have school liaison teachers. In west Tallaght, there are two schools in Killinarden and Jobstown. Some of the parents there do not have even a second level education. Instead of being a cost to the State, it could be arranged between the schools to have somebody who can advocate for the students and help them at every stage in the appeal process. For example, the Killinarden school-home liaison teacher might be called upon to support a child in Jobstown Community School to develop his or her appeal. The independent person could come from another school or a pot of staff. I ask the Minister to think about how we can support the most vulnerable families in bringing a solid case. I was 15 when I had my daughter. If I had to bring a case for her when I was younger, it would not have been as solid and as well thought out as one I could bring now. If a person is at that disadvantage he or she should be able to have an advocate. Maybe we could consider other ways that do not involve a cost to the State to make that happen.

  Amendment No. 10 deals with what the Minister spoke about, that the board should have to admit the student. It is the same as amendment No. 2 but instead of referring to a decision by an appeals committee, it proposes that if an appeals committee finds that the board acted in error when refusing a student admission, it must be forced to admit the student, not to simply increase his or her ranking on a waiting list. I take on board all that the Minister has said on this. I will go away and consider the drafting in respect of how it is carried out, rather than focusing on the amendment.

  Amendment No. 11 seeks to insert a paragraph:

(5) Following receipt of a decision under subsection (2), an applicant may seek a review by the Minister of the decision. Following the review, the Minister may direct the appeals committee to proceed to determine the appeal under section 29, notwithstanding any decision under subsection (2).

I am concerned that the obligations under this Bill on the details and conditions under which an appeal can be heard are relatively complicated. Moreover, families and students with lower socioeconomic means will struggle especially. Under the proposed section 29F, an appeals committee is given wide-ranging abilities to decline to hear an appeal if it views it as frivolous, if a certain strict timeline is not met, if all the documents have not been supplied or on various subjective grounds under subsection (1)(f). I am trying in this amendment to give a family that struggles to meet the high administrative requirements under this section a last chance option to appeal to the Minister and ask him or her to review their case and have the applicant heard. We are talking about a student being suspended, excluded or denied admission to school. It is a serious issue with long-term ramifications for the child. We need some option for a final chance for appeal, especially for families where there is an information or knowledge deficit.

  This amendment ties in with the one that was ruled out of order. It might not be needed if the previous one had not been ruled out of order and we could have an independent advocate because then the child might not fall through the gaps by not meeting a requirement, leaving something out of a form, filling in the wrong part of a form or whatever it is that has led to his or her appeal being denied. The Minister needs to consider the class aspect of appeals and have some sort of safety net. If it is not inserted through this amendment, it needs to be done through a person who can be identified and can support those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in meeting all requirements to make their appeal.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I compliment Senator Ruane on her amendment. She raises a very relevant point and I hope the Minister will take it on board, maybe on Report Stage. The Minister or Department might give some thought to a mechanism by which the Department could intervene where a family is perhaps not best placed to make an appeal on behalf of their child. As Senator Ruane rightly points out, there are situations where parents, for whatever reason, may not be in a position to put the best foot forward in respect of an appeal and one would not like to think that in such cases, those people would be forgotten about. I look forward to the Minister's comments on the Senator's amendment.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan There is great merit in amendment No. 11 because it puts in an appropriate safeguard and makes those involved in this process aware of the fact that there is a safeguard that has to be respected. I cannot see what damage including this amendment would do to the Bill. It would only enhance it and I ask the Minister to give it due consideration.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I understand entirely the sentiment behind what Senator Ruane is proposing in attempting to put in place safeguards in respect of the vulnerability of the child. The Minister might table something that would look after the needs of the child and allay Senator Ruane's fears.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I accept what Senator Ruane is saying in respect of amendment No. 11. Maybe I can come back with an alternative wording on Report Stage when we have washed it through the Attorney General's office in order that we meet her intention in a way that is consistent with the rest of the Bill.

  The reason I am not disposed to accept amendment No. 10 is the same as the one we discussed on amendment No. 5, that is, it curtails the range of decisions that could be made in the section 29 appeal after a favourable finding was made. I will ensure that in the procedures, it is absolutely clear how the choice should be made.

  On amendment No. 7, we already have procedures in place for the hearing of these appeals and an applicant is given every opportunity to set out the grounds of their appeal at the beginning of the oral hearing. They are also provided with an opportunity to put questions to the representative from the school at the hearing. I intend that new procedures will be developed for hearings and for determining appeals that will allow applicants give a full account of the grounds of their appeal and to ensure they are conducted with the minimum of formality in order that all parties can get their hearing. I do not believe that the amendment is necessary where it refers to such other matters as the applicant considers relevant. The procedures now allow an applicant full range to set out whatever reasons there are. The subsection the Senator is amending also indicates that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, or the educational welfare officer can come forward and make submissions in support of the student. That is why that is listed there.  It is also important to bear in mind that the whole tenor of this section is that the hearing will be fair to all sides. It is explicitly listed that the hearing has to consider the explanation offered by the student, the educational interests of the student and the reasonableness of the activity of the school in accommodating that student, given his or her needs. Amendment No. 7 is not necessary for the purposes of the Bill. As I said, I will be developing procedures and I will have consultations with all the relevant partners to ensure everyone involved will have a fair hearing in those procedures. The intention of this section is to ensure that hearings are fair and to encourage children to stay in school. That is what we are trying to achieve and that is its purpose. I accept the spirit of Senator Ruane's amendment No. 11 and I will come back on Report Stage with text to reflect that.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister for his response and I welcome the fact that he will revert on amendment No. 11 on Report Stage. On amendment No. 8, which was ruled out of order, I would love to contribute to a conversation with the Minister during the drafting of the amendment before he comes back on Report Stage. I want to make available my experience in respect of the groups I am talking about. I am happy to withdraw all of the other amendments in this section, with the right to come back on Report Stage. That is especially the case around procedures on the student voice. I would like to hear more from the Minister on that to make sure those procedures give as much weight to it as there would be if it was in the legislation. I will withdraw it at this stage.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Amendment No. 8 has been ruled out of order.

  Amendment No. 8 not moved.

  Government amendment No. 9:

In page 12, lines 10 and 11, to delete all words from and including “by” in line 10 down to and including line 11 and substitute “when the decision to refuse admission was made.”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 not moved.

  Government amendment No. 12:

In page 13, line 35, to delete “Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018)” and substitute “Act of 2018)”.

  Amendment agreed to.

   Section 7, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 8

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Amendments Nos. 13 to 25, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton For the benefit of the House, I am disposed to accept Senator Kelleher's amendments.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 13:

In page 15, line 6, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.

I must be preaching to the converted. I am pleased. Every child has a right to education. I welcome this Bill because it seeks to overcome obstacles put in the way of children by the manner in which schools can operate their admissions policies and procedures. That can have the effect of denying a child his or her right to education and all that follows that in respect of accessing third level education and employment. Children with disabilities, special needs and autism have the right to education. That was fought for long and hard and that is why I am calling for a stronger statement of the Minister's duties in this section of Bill. It is about children with special needs, including autism, and their right to access education. I am proposing, therefore, that we have a firm commitment in law that the Minister "shall act", and not the discretionary "may act" as set out in this section.

  The right to access education for the child with special needs should not only rely on or be left to the discretion of one person. I am also proposing that the procedure, as laid out in this section, be as swift as possible. Lengthy procedures and delays deny children their rightful access to education. That is why I am proposing the timeframes, as outlined in my amendments, at the various stages of the process. While every child with autism is a unique person, some general characteristics are associated with the condition of autism. Structure is important and routines play an important part in the lives of people with autism. Everyday hustle and bustle, which most people view as normal, can be an overwhelming combination of frightening crowds, intimidating sounds and overbearing lights. It can be imagined how scary school can be for the child with autism.

  As routines help to create stability and order, children with autism like routine and predictability and they often find change extraordinary difficult. It often creates huge anxiety in the child and that is often played out in challenging behaviour. We all know that transfer to secondary school is one of the major changes to routine and one of the biggest upheavals in any child's life. It is an even bigger one for a child with autism, who may struggle with that major change. It is an even bigger challenge still if it is not clear or certain what school a child is transferring to or when, or even if, a child has a place.

  Every effort should be made by special educational needs organisers, SENOs, and the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, to identify children in their area with autism in special classes and otherwise and to start planning early, at the beginning of sixth class or before. Children with autism should have the longest lead-in time possible for the smoothest and least stressful transfer to secondary school. They should have the time to prepare, to familiarise and to get used to the new school setting, new activities and new faces and places. Where difficulties arise in identifying a suitable school place with a special classroom or unit, the procedure set out in this section should commence as early as possible and be completed as quickly as possible, as per my amendments.

  The Bill, as presented, proposes in some cases 28 days between the various steps. I am proposing a maximum of 14 days throughout, which still provides ample time for the processes. These are sometimes just a matter of writing a letter. This is to ensure that child with autism can take up his or her place in secondary school with his or her peers and that he or she can start in September, like every other child. There should be no delaying and adding to the stresses and anxieties of the child, or those of their parents, because of a lack of certainty about a school place or where they will know for sure they will be. A child's sense of difference or otherness compared with his or her peers and siblings should not be added to and he or she should not to be made to wait for their rightful education.

  I will address the amendments in respect of reviewing the legislation. My amendment seeks to insert a three-year review provision into section 8 of the Bill. This would give the Minister the power and obligation to initiate a review no later than three years after this Bill comes into operation. It also obliges the Minister, no later than 12 months after the commencement of this three-year review, to make a report to each of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The rationale for the addition of this review procedure is that we need to monitor the legislation in order that we are able to assess whether it is actually having its intended impact, that is whether the legislation is working and addressing the clear gap in the provision of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, classrooms - particularly between primary and secondary school - and whether it is delivering the education to which children with autism have a right.

  The Minister, Deputy Bruton, said himself last week that the autism education gap is closing somewhat. The fact is that the gap still remains. For the 2018-19 academic year, from figures provided to me and extrapolated from information from the National Council for Special Education, I understand that there are approximately 731 ASD classrooms nationally at primary level. At secondary level, in contrast, there are approximately 320. That is less that half than at primary level. The autism education gap may be closing but it is not closing fast enough. In Dublin, there are roughly 137 ASD classrooms at primary level but only 41 at secondary level. The most up-to-date figures I have for Cork is that there are around 119 classrooms and yet only 53 at second level. These numbers do not even take into account those children still in mainstream classes who may require ASD classes at secondary level.

  The proposed three-year review is needed to have information to make the assessment of whether the Bill is addressing and eliminating this appalling inequity of ASD classes between primary and secondary levels. The review and the annual report proposals are monitoring mechanisms to make sure that our attempts to close and eliminate the autism education gap are indeed working and that no child with autism is denied access to education because of a lack of a place in a school with a suitable autism classroom or unit. We both want the same thing and I hope the Minister will support the review amendment. Without it, we will have no real way of knowing if this Bill has been effective in guaranteeing the right to education in a suitable setting for children with autism as they make the challenging and all-important transition to secondary school. We want to see the autism eliminated. Let us give ourselves the power in law and the information we need to make sure that happens.   

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I compliment Senator Kelleher on her work in this area. I am delighted that the Minister is taking her proposals on board. Fianna Fáil is satisfied with its contribution in the area of special needs and I am glad that the Minister has taken it on board. As Senator Kelleher outlined, great work has been done on this area over recent years but it is clear from the figures she outlined that more needs to be done. We must continue to strive to reduce those figures to an acceptable level, if there is such a thing. I welcome that the Minister has taken on board these amendments.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I thank the Lower House which was keen that this should be incorporated in the Bill. I also thank Senator Kelleher for her work in this field, as well as Senator Gallagher and others in Fianna Fáil.

  When this Bill was introduced, during Second Stage debate in the Dáil there was broad all-party consensus on the need to address religion in the admissions policy, to require schools to open special needs units where there was a shortage and to address the issue of access to Gaelscoileanna. It took some time. A lot of work had to be put in with the Office of the Attorney General to ensure that everything that had been sought by the Lower House could be provided for in a way that was legally robust. I understand Senator Kelleher's view that it is a ponderous and carefully modulated system, which must take account of property rights and so on, but I am happy to accept her proposal to shorten the time periods.

  I ask that we would return to amendment No. 25 on Report Stage with a provision to allow for the spirit of what she is seeking. This is to ensure that the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel are happy with the drafting. I accept the amendment in principle. I accept the other amendments, namely amendments Nos. 13 to 24, inclusive, as they stand but I ask that we return to amendment No. 25.

  Generally, the education system has made huge strides in catering to the needs of children with disabilities. That can be seen in the figures of children with disability who are participating, who are being supported by resource teachers and special needs assistants, and the additional 750 special units which have been opened in the past seven years. There is a great openness within the education system and I would not like anyone to get the sense that we are battling with a recalcitrant system that is not willing to do this. However, I fully accept that we need to have the legal authority, first, to designate a school to take an individual child, and, second, where it is necessary, to require a school to open such a unit. This will strengthen our armoury and allow us to continue to work with children with special needs and respond to their needs.

  I acknowledge the contribution of all sides of the House on this.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I thank the Minister for accepting the amendments and I accept his proposal to resubmit amendment No. 25 in the knowledge that the Minister is accepting its spirit. I acknowledge the progress being made but we must also go as fast as we can because any delay on our part is a child's education denied. I thank my colleagues, Deputy Thomas Byrne, with whom I worked closely, and Mr. Graham Manning, a teacher from Cork who first brought this to our attention. A public meeting in January was attended by a range of public representatives from the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil, including Deputy Micheál Martin, as well as Deputies Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire and Mick Barry. Parents of children with autism were in despair because they did not know where their child would go, if anywhere. I am really pleased that the Minister has responded so well to this and is accepting thee amendments. I appreciate all the support that I have received from all sides. It will be a good day for those children and their parents, and remove a great anxiety from their lives. People are struggling with many issues and this will be one less to have to worry about.

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 14:

In page 15, line 15, to delete "28 days" and substitute "14 days".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 15:

In page 15, line 28, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 16:

In page 16, line 7, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 17:

In page 16, line 19, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 18:

In page 16, line 26, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 19:

In page 16, line 34, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 20:

 In page 17, line 1, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 21:

 In page 17, line 8, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 22:

In page 17, line 19, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 23:

In page 17, line 28, to delete "21 days" and substitute "14 days".

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 24:

In page 17, line 34, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

  Amendment agreed to.

   Amendment No. 25 not moved.

  Section 8, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 9

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 are related and will be discussed together.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 26:

In page 20, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"(b) the gender identity ground of the student or the applicant in respect of the student concerned,".

These amendments relate to the non-discriminatory grounds for admissions. The first relates to the addition of a gender identity ground and the second is the socioeconomic status of the student or the applicant in respect of the student concerned. These are two simple and straight forward amendments. Schools would have to prepare admission statements which set out criteria and procedure for admissions and a number of grounds on which they commit to not discriminate against students, the full list of which is in section 61. However, these grounds must be as wide-ranging and comprehensive as possible. Gender identity and socioeconomic grounds are both obvious and useful additions to this list, but, unfortunately, they are grounds on which there is a risk that schools might discriminate in admissions policies. It would send an important signal from this House on equality grounds and also provide a tangible protection for children who fall into these categories as they enter full-time education.

  The Minister might correct me if I am wrong, but the current non-discrimination grounds are taken from the Equality Act 2004. I hope that the Minister would support this amendment and not restrict himself to those grounds. Fianna Fáil has discussed legislation to provide for socioeconomic status a ground for discrimination. Equality legislation dates back to the Equal Status Act 2000. A lot has changed in the past 18 years. Perhaps the Minister will consider this amendment and, hopefully, we can look to amend the Equality Act to add more grounds.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The Senator comments are accurate. We sought to import into the Bill the discrimination grounds as set out in the Equal Status Act 2000. We are requiring schools to state in their admissions policies that they do not discriminate on any of the nine grounds in that Act. It was not the intention of this Bill to originate new provisions in the Equal Status Act. We have not carried out the necessary legal consultation necessary for us to develop such within this Bill. Definitions in parent legislation would be required to do that. While I acknowledge that the Senator has a point, as we try to develop schools admissions policies I do not think we should always require the wider context of an amendment to the Equal Status Act to be undertaken.

  While socioeconomic grounds are not the subject of a specific provision in the Bill, as a result of the fact that the Equal Status Act contains a reference to them, section 62 sets out the prohibition on schools taking certain things into account. The section prohibits a school from taking into account the occupation, financial status, academic ability, skills or aptitude of a student's parents when deciding on an application. That is not far off what the Senator has in mind. I am not disposed to or capable of originating new equal status legislation in the context of the work we are doing on school admissions. The preferred approach would be for this to be developed in parent legislation rather than trying to graft something onto a Bill when I do not know how that would work through.

  Any legislation has to go to the offices of the Parliamentary Counsel and the Attorney General to ensure that what is proposed is workable, robust and so on. That work has not been done and the approach in the Bill has been to accept the grounds as set out in the Equal Status Act. Wherever they are amended we will incorporate that into this Bill. We did not see this as an area in which we should originate new work under the Equal Status Act.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane It would be forward-thinking to use important equality legislation such as this to try to amend the Equal Status Act, something which has been done on other occasions. It would add two extra grounds to the Bill. I understand that would require more work but it is not unusual to use one item of legislation to amend another. Can the Minister repeat which section lists the occupation, skills and aptitude of parents?

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton It is section 62(7)(e)(iv).

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I would like to read the section. My amendment also takes in gender identity. If we can use a section to acknowledge that rather than trying to address the issue in a more difficult way by carrying out keyhole surgery via the Bill and another item of legislation, perhaps we could acknowledge gender identity in section 62. I would like to know what the Minister thinks about that.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I will have to consider that and come back to the Senator. To be honest, gender identity is fully acknowledged in schools in practice. We have not experienced any section 29 appeals where people have found themselves to be discriminated against. That is not to say that it should not be clearly stated in the Bill. If there is some easy way of acknowledging that I would be disposed to consider it. I am very keen that we pass the Bill and put a lot of its very valuable elements in place in schools. I have made a commitment that all of the provisions will be in place by September 2019. I do not want to lose the opportunity to progress the Bill, although I acknowledge the validity of what the Senator has said. I will examine the proposal and ask my officials to see whether we can accommodate it, and I will talk to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The signal I got when I raised this issue, having read the Senator's amendment, was that there were misgivings within the Office of Parliamentary Counsel about trying to address the issue in this way. In light of what the Senator has said, I will make sure to go back and cover the tracks.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I am willing to accept that. We may consider an easier option in the meantime in the context of section 52. Even though no appeals have been made in respect of gender identity, because it is so stigmatised and discriminated against, it is still underground. Acknowledging gender identity in the Bill would allow for a community to deal with the matter. My daughters have friends in school who are transgender. When such matters are addressed in legislation, it affords students the same equality as the acknowledgement of LGBTI and other gender identities. I know the discrimination exists because I have heard from parents about uniforms and those who want to identify in whatever direction not being able to wear school trousers instead of a skirt. If we find a way to address the issue in the Bill, it would be progressive and truly equal legislation in terms of education and admissions. I am happy for the Minister to come back to me on section 62. I will withdraw my amendment but I retain the right to resubmit.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Amendment No. 27 not moved.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Amendments No. 28, 51 and 52 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I move amendment No. 28:

In page 23, line 11, after “school” to insert “not aided by the Department of Education and Skills”.

I would like to start by welcoming the Minister's new amendments, which go some way towards addressing the issue of the baptism barrier. However, I am unhappy with the singling out of one religion, namely Catholicism, and the removal of a religious barrier only in the case of Catholic primary schools. The barrier will still exist for secondary schools and publicly-funded primary schools that cater for minority religions. Amendment No. 28, if accepted, would mean that only schools not aided by the Department of Education and Skills could refuse a child admission in order to maintain their religious ethos. This is far cleaner, clearer and simpler than what the Government's proposes, which would still allow a baptism barrier in secondary schools and would only remove the religious barrier in Catholic primary schools. All other religions can discriminate against children in the context of schools admissions.

  The approach the Green Party is putting forward is that publicly-funded national schools must be for all children. If the baptism barrier is removed for one religion, it should be removed for all. The Green Party amendment states that not only privately-funded schools or schools which receive no State funding may discriminate on the basis of religion. Our amendments are simpler and dispassionate. The best way to cater for our children's right to education is to ensure that all schools are treated equally. All of the nation's children should have equal access to all of the nation's publicly-funded schools.   The definition of a minority school is one that is focused on a religion whose membership comprises less than 10% of the population. It is also quite sustainable. Our society is changing rapidly. The 2016 census saw the smallest ever number of people recording themselves as Catholic. Judging by threats of excommunication of Catholics after 1.4 million people voted "Yes" to repealing the eighth amendment, who is to say that Catholicism will not be a minority religion in a few years, or indeed that all religions will not become minority religions? In the last census, 9.84% of the population registered as having no religion. As my colleague Deputy Catherine Martin has said in the Dáil, this legislation must be applicable to one and all, with no exceptions. That is the best way to ensure that our children's right to access education is at the heart of this legislation. We must acknowledge, embrace and cater to the changing society we live in by ensuring that all children are treated equally when it comes to education.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I want to support this amendment in particular. I think it goes to the heart of the broader conversation we need to have about education and about the necessary separation of church and State in a true republic. We welcome this Bill. We welcome it as a step towards removing the baptism barrier. However, as my colleague has just pointed out, it does not actually remove the baptism barrier. There is a get-out clause here, and underpinning the get-out clause is something uncomfortable that we need to acknowledge. That is that the State and our Government still think it is okay to separate children at the age of five on the basis of religion. It is not okay. Speaking as a republican and as a member of the largest party of the left in this country, we do not accept that ideology. We believe in the true separation of church and State. We believe that no children should be separated on the basis of their family religion. We believe that people have every right to bring up their children in whatever faith they believe in, but not under a public education system. I know of numerous parents, including myself, who are extremely frustrated at the fact that we do not have this choice at the moment. My second-eldest son has spent half his year kicking his heels because he happens to be in the so-called confirmation year, and we do not do confirmation in our family.

  I think this amendment goes to the heart of whether we believe in the principle of a Republic. One cannot really compromise on that principle. One either believes in the separation of church and State, or one does not. We are all familiar with "liberty, equality, fraternity", but everyone seems to forget laïcité, the fourth principle of the French Revolution and of a true Republic, which is separation of church and State. It is time that we caught up with society. As the last speaker has pointed out, we really have moved on as a society and I think the Minister is missing an opportunity to make a real statement about the Republic that we aspire to be, a Republic that truly separates church and State. I urge him to give due consideration to these amendments. I think they are truly worthwhile, and they have the full support of our party.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton First of all, I welcome the debate. Maybe I should mention the backdrop to this. As Members know, when this Bill was originally introduced to the Dáil the issue of religion was not addressed. Perhaps contrary to Senator Gavan, I believe that diversity in religion is welcome and that parents should have the right to choose the type of education that they want. It is a strength of our community that parents want to see their children brought up in their own faith. I think that is something to be welcomed and to be supported insofar as possible.

  However, what I see as totally unfair is a situation where a growing number of children have parents who are of no faith, do not wish to see their children raised in a faith and do not have the options of access. Some 95% of schools are denominational schools. Only one out of 20 is otherwise. I am ensuring that in 19 out of the 20 schools religion will not be used as a test in admission, so that those schools which are State-funded have to have rules that accept admissions. I think it is frankly unfair that parents should feel obliged to have their child baptised, or that a local child should find that a child from a long distance away is selected ahead of them.

  There is a separate discussion on how we achieve diversification of patronage. I have taken initiatives to pursue a more diverse patronage. I have set a target of 400 schools to be non-denominational or multi-denominational by 2030. However, in order to get to what we have today I had a public consultation and invited submissions. I then sat down with all of the stakeholders and could not get agreement on a compromise solution. There were a number of proposals before the Dáil that considered confining religious priority just to catchment areas. I did not believe that was an acceptable way to move forward. I am signalling on Committee Stage and providing here that religion will not be used in 19 out of every 20 schools.

  I would defend the need to protect minority religion schools. There is nothing wrong with having Church of Ireland or Presbyterian schools. If a parent wants their child brought up in a school of the ethos of the Protestant tradition, I believe that should be supported. If I did not do what I am doing here, that is, providing an exception for minority religion schools, those minority religion schools would be filled with children who were not of that tradition. They would cease to be a school of that tradition in any real sense. Perhaps this is a different philosophic approach to that of some Senators. I am trying to ensure that in this legislation we satisfy parents and their children to the maximum extent possible, bearing in mind the point from where we are starting. No one would have chosen to start from a situation where 19 out of 20 primary schools are denominational. That does not reflect Irish society today. However, I think we have to proceed by way of the approach that I am adopting, to show that we can progressively respond to a changing Ireland. Part of a progressive Ireland is being able to have minority religion schools within our system, and to value and recognise the strength that those schools bring to our tradition. Certainly I see them as of value, and I am keen to protect them.

  A Senator made the point that this is unfair to the Catholic Church. I do not believe so, because it is essentially the case that a parent who is Catholic and wants to see their child raised in a Catholic school has 18 out of every 20 schools to choose from. They will have the opportunity to have their wishes met in the vast majority of cases. On the other hand, a child of a Protestant or Jewish tradition does not have that range of choice. There is likely to be only one or a small number of schools in their locality, or indeed in the wider regional area, that might cater for their needs. It is proportionate, in my view, to allow a parent who wants a child to be brought up in such a tradition to have priority access to a school that offers that ethos. I have tried to balance the conflicting desires of parents, parents of the Catholic faith, parents of minority religions and parents of no religion at all. That is the thinking behind this, and I would have to say that consultation, bringing people with us and getting acceptance for this is an important part of the education system. That has been done.

  I did not conduct any such discussion in respect of secondary schools or post-primary schools. This is where I saw the problem. This is the problem that was brought to my door by concerned parents. At second level there is a different situation.  Catholic schools represent roughly half of the schools. There is far greater diversity in the post-primary area, and more choices are available to people. Bearing in mind the importance of introducing reform that is fair to everyone, I have taken care around consultation and the development of a proposal I believe has achieved broad acceptance and is, I believe, seen as a progressive step forward. The suggested next step, the Senator advocated, is to ensure that no school can use religion in any circumstances as a basis to refuse admission on the enactment of this legislation. We have not consulted around certain other elements of the Equal Status Act, including the section which permits a denominational school to refuse admission where it is proved that the refusal is necessary to maintain the ethos of the school. That is a very high bar, and to my knowledge it has never been used. It would only be possible to invoke it if it was proven that an individual student was hostile to the ethos of a particular school.

  We are trying to accommodate, as fairly as possible, the diverse needs of our parent and pupil populations. This will evolve, of course, and we have to drive on with our patronage diversification projects. We also have to evolve policy. In this Bill I am also requiring schools to set out in their admissions policies how they will accommodate children who are exercising a constitutional right not to attend religious instruction. I have also indicated to schools operating under the mutli-denominational education and training board, ETB, banner at second level that they have an obligation to talk to the parents of pupils about what the parents want and to provide a real curricular option for children at second level in those schools as an alternative to religion. We are proceeding to introduce reform on a broad range of fronts, but I cannot accept the proposals the Senators are putting forward in respect of sections 28 and 51.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I understand what the Minister is trying to do. There are fundamental differences between us. I lived abroad for many years in countries such as Spain and Holland. A baptism barrier just would not exist in the Netherlands. The discussion, in terms of the separation of church and State, is something that will evolve over time. I agree with the Minister that we are not ready for such a debate yet, and more discussion is required. Society is changing, and part of the cultural problem is that many parents, because of a lack of choice, are being forced to send their children to schools which subscribe to a particular ethos. They have no real choice in terms of other schools in their neighbourhoods and so are finding themselves with no option but to choose a particular ethos. Obviously, the dominant ethos in Ireland is Catholicism.

  I will not press the amendment, but I believe that in the coming months and years we will see a societal shift and that the legislation, in a short number of years, will have to reflect this type of amendment.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton Is amendment No. 52 in this group?

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan It is. We have dealt with amendments Nos. 28, 51 and 52.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I believe Senator Ruane tabled amendment No. 52, which we have not discussed. Is it in order-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan It was supposed to have been done already, but the Minister can proceed. We were discussing amendments Nos. 28, 51 and 52. We had agreed to discuss them together, and that has been done. Does the Minister wish to respond to amendment No. 52?

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I would like to speak. I did not hear amendment No. 52 being mentioned and thought that we were dealing only with the amendment put by Senator O'Sullivan.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I was not here at the start of this debate so I do not know how well it was articulated.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane The Leas-Chathaoirleach did not say it properly.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan The order sheet says that amendments Nos. 28, 51 and 52 are related and may be discussed by agreement. Apparently that was agreed. I was not here at the time so I am not going to say that it was said or was not said. I am going to exercise my discretion and allow Senator Ruane to speak on amendment No. 52.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher The Senator is on her feet anyway.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I could ask the Senator to resume her seat, but I will not.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Neither will I.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan The Senator should not push her luck.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Amendment No. 52 concerns a review of minority religion discrimination. This amendment would cause a review of section 7(a) to be initiated within three to five years and allow us to see how the practice of minority religion schools being allowed to give priority to children of that minority religion in their admission policies works in practice, and inform us as to whether any legislative changes are required. I am back and forth on the idea of minority religions. I understand that some really small groupings within a culture require protections, but the question as to how this is done must be asked. Is the way we are currently protecting those religions the best way to do it? Will the Minister accept the amendment which seeks to carry out a review of this part of the Bill?

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I have no objection to conducting a review. I may ask the Attorney General to look at the wording, but I have no objections to conducting a review. I believe that minority church schools are a part of the tapestry of the country, and we are right to seek to protect them. Many parents want access to such schools. The way this has been structured is important. We are not talking about the right of a school to protect its particular property, but rather the right of a child who wants access to a particular type of education. We are viewing this matter through the prism of the child, and feel that what we are doing here is proportionate, because we are protecting the child who would otherwise not have the option to partake in this type of education. I have no objection to a review, and I will revert on Report Stage with a wording to accommodate that.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I am happy to withdraw the amendment until we get to Report Stage.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan We will deal with it when we get to amendment No. 52.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Amendments Nos. 29 to 31, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I move amendment No. 29:

In page 23, line 20, to delete “or”.

This issue has been highlighted by the Ombudsman for Children, the Irish Foster Care Association and by foster parents themselves. The amendments I am putting forward seek to protect children who are terminally ill and to reduce the stress on a child and his or her family at such a difficult time. I call on the Minister to allow that this amendment apply to refugee children and those in direct provision.

  The UK, Canada, Australia and the USA all have specific legislation regarding children in care and school admissions. I welcome the many positive changes to our schools system being made in this Bill. One of the aims of the Bill is to abolish waiting lists, so that parents moving to a new area will not be discriminated against. Children in care face many disruptions in their personal lives. They do not have the advantage of being registered with schools at birth and may have to move several times while in State care. In November 2016 The Irish Times reported that one 13 year old boy in foster care was unable to find a school place for two years, despite applications to 28 schools in the surrounding areas.  Tusla has resorted to piloting a home tuition scheme as a result of the inability to gain access to local schools. That is the situation and it is why I believe these issues need to be dealt with in the Bill. I hope the Minister will consider the amendments favourably.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Has the Senator dealt with all the amendments?

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan Yes.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The amendments are not properly drafted. This section is saying a school shall admit each student seeking admission and it lists exceptions which allows a school not to admit a student. As I read the Senator's amendment, it provides for an exception to not admit terminally-ill children. This particular section provides that a school shall admit each student save for a number of exceptions such as the school being oversubscribed or a parent not signing up to the code of behaviour. This amendment appears to allow a school not to have to admit a student who is terminally ill even if the school has available places. It is probable that the amendment has been drafted incorrectly and inserted into the incorrect subsection.

  The substantive argument is that in the Bill I am providing both the NCSE and the education and welfare service or Tusla with a power to designate a school that should accept a child who may be terminally ill or who may need a placement because of he or she is in foster care. I have provided in the Bill the power for the NCSE or Tusla, as appropriate, to decide the needs of a child are such they will designate a school that should take the child. The legislation already provides for the power to place a child in a school overriding other admission considerations.

  The way in which the amendments are drafted means they would be perverse in their operation. I think the Senator may have listed them in the wrong section because this section contains exclusions. The Bill, as drafted, is designed to cater for people who would present with particular needs and to provide that the NSCE or Tusla, as appropriate, would have those powers. Where those powers are exercised, in the case of NCSE the power would also come with the NCSE ensuring provision would be made for the child in terms of resource teaching or special needs support or whatever was required. The Senator's amendments are unnecessary.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan As there might be some ambiguity, I will table the amendments again on Report Stage. I will examine them and get some more advice.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan To clarify, Senator O'Sullivan is not pressing amendment No. 29.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I am not pressing it.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 not moved.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Amendment No. 32 is in the name of Senators Gavan and Warfield. If amendment No. 32 is agreed, amendment No. 33 cannot be moved. Amendments Nos. 32 to 34, inclusive, along with amendments Nos. 36, 38 to 42, inclusive, and 44 are related. Amendment No. 33 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 32. Amendments Nos. 33, 34, 42 and 44, are consequential on amendment No. 38. Amendment No. 39 is a logical alternative to amendment No. 38. Amendments Nos. 32 to 34, inclusive, 36, 38 to 42, inclusive, and 44 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

   Amendment No. 32 not moved.

  Government amendment No. 33:

In page 23, line 39, to delete “subsection (8)” and substitute “subsections (8) and (9)”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 34:

In page 24, line 7, to delete “subsection (9)” and substitute “subsection (10)”.

  Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Amendment No. 35 is in the names of Senators Ó Ríordáin, Bacik, Nash, Humphreys, Kelleher and Ruane.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I move amendment No. 35:

In page 24, line 9, to delete “school;” and substitute the following:
“school, or by virtue of his or her family relationship with a member of the board or a teacher or other member of the staff of the school;”.

The amendment speaks to an issue within the Bill which gives permanence-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan We are dealing with amendment No. 35 on its own.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I accept that. The amendment relates to the provision within the Bill that allows for children, grandchildren or family members of past pupils to be given a level of priority when seeking access to an oversubscribed school. There are two amendments on this in two different sections that relate to it but it is very much the same point.

  This particular section makes the point about family members. It is connected with another section in the Bill. It is the same point I am trying to make. It is connected to the children and grandchildren issue which I will raise later. There is a provision in the Bill that 25% of places in schools can be reserved for children or grandchildren of past pupils. The Minister knows my point of view on this because I have raised it before. I do not feel it is right that children who are trying to access a school on the same basis as everyone else should be disadvantaged because they are not a family member of a past pupil. It is not an unreasonable proposition. It is completely unreasonable that it is in the Bill. It places certain children at a disadvantage to other children.

  Nobody wants to have an oversubscribed school. Everybody wishes we could have places for everybody. In that scenario, what the Minister is proposing is that family members of past pupils should have priority. We are not talking about siblings. We have no difficulty with siblings. We are talking about children and grandchildren as is outlined in the Bill. Inevitably, if one's parents did not go to second-level school, as some people in the Chamber might be familiar with, or if one's grandparents did not go to second level school, which I am familiar with, one is at a disadvantage. If one is a Traveller child or does not come from the immediate area or from the country, one is also at a disadvantage.

  The Minister may deny it but I will say anyway that these measures are in the Bill at the behest of the fee-paying private school sector because it has been lobbying every political party in the Oireachtas extensively for many years on the issue. The sector feels strongly about keeping a royal bloodline of succession going through its schools to maintain the old school network of fundraising. It means that sons and grandsons of former students of certain fee-paying boys' schools or daughters or granddaughters of certain fee-paying girls' schools can still have a connection with the school and still fundraise and all the rest of it. It is elitist, odious and wrong. It is only there at the behest of that sector.

  I remind the Minister - he was at the Cabinet table - that the Labour Party vehemently opposed this measure under Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and tried to delete it. There was a compromise of 10% but this measure is the reason the legislation stalled and did not get past the Cabinet in the last Government. It is the reason we are only discussing it now.

  While we all have to accept the constitutional reality about religion, etc., and there are measures in this Bill to try to change that, it is absolutely unconscionable that we would again allow the fee-paying private school sector to walk through the open door it seems to have with Cabinet members and get what it wants in this Bill. It is absolutely wrong. The Minister probably knows it is wrong. If he goes with this he will not get the emails from people in that sector.  Those people are very powerful and influential and they normally get what they want. In this Oireachtas we should facilitate a Bill that speaks to the majority. I think the majority of people in this country did not have a parent or grandparent who went to the same school and they would find the measure elitist and wrong. I am interested to hear the Minister's comments as I will press the amendment. It will be interesting to see how other people react to it and I will call out those who do not support this. I feel more strongly about this measure than anything else in the Bill.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I will not go all out like Senator Ó Ríordáin has with respect to the private school element. However, the quota goes in the wrong direction.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan It is fee-charging rather than private schools.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I defer to the southsider on that score.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan They are all inspected and funded by the State to a greater or lesser degree. They are not private institutions.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I will speak from the other end of the southside.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I did not attend one.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane The Irish language is important to me, despite not having any Irish. It is so important I ensured my daughter could get access to a Gaelscoil and I hope in September of this year to take up my place in Maynooth to learn Irish. I am not very optimistic about my ability but I will definitely give it one final shot.

  Growing up I knew something was missing from what I gained in school. I felt that my language was missing and I felt very attached to something I could not even speak. I felt really hard done by in how weak the English stream schools are in enhancing the speaking of Irish in students. In saying that, I know I was an early school leaver so it may have been impossible to teach me anything at that stage. I held on to the ambition to want to speak Irish.

  Anybody who appreciates the Irish language wants to be in a position where we could move to being a bilingual nation. That should be the effort but when we create elitism through quotas involving parents and grandparents, we are isolating language and making it inaccessible to a large portion of society. My daughter is fluent in Irish and I want her to create a family of Irish speakers. If she speaks Irish at home with her children I will have broken the trend of not having access to our national language.

  Quotas should be introduced when people are at a disadvantage rather than when they are already at an advantage. If a parent or grandparent has a high level of education and access to language, the child in question is already at an advantage in society. I fully support the amendment, which I have co-signed, but I speak more to the section in general. I indicate my intention to introduce an amendment on Report Stage relating to quotas for admissions of students who do not have Irish as a home language to Irish language schools. This uses the quota in another way, leading to positive discrimination.

  I rang around to Irish schools yesterday asking about definitions. They have a 10% quota for minority groups but Scoil Chaitlín Maude, which Jaylynn attends, does not adhere to any of those guidelines, so most of its students have absolutely no Irish within their families. It wants to expand Irish across communities. Other communities may not be as fortunate in more middle class environments. Some of the schools placed in more disadvantaged areas recognise the educational disadvantage of parents coming through a school. I will leave it at that but on Report Stage I will table an amendment to have a quota from the other direction relating to socioeconomic and educational disadvantage in parents, particularly the lack of the Irish language in the family.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I remind Members we are only discussing amendment No. 35.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher My points relate to the entire section.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan As we are dealing with amendment No. 35, I will come back to the Senator at a later stage. In theory, everybody should have discussed amendments Nos. 32, 34, 36, 38 to 42, inclusive, and 44 earlier but nobody offered to speak and we got past them. I will exercise a level of discretion and we are finishing in five minutes anyway for this afternoon.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thought we were discussing the other amendments.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I noted that but as I was listening intently, I decided not to interrupt the Senator.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I was wondering when she was going to refer to the amendment.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Senator Ó Ríordáin was intrigued.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I express my party's support for this motion. Senator Ó Ríordáin is correct that this comes down to class and this is a convenient way of keeping boys and girls from the less well-off backgrounds, in a socioeconomic sense, out of schools that have traditionally kept out such pupils. I challenge the Minister as people across all parties aspire to republican principles. This policy flies in the face of that. I have already acknowledged that the Minister is thoughtful and he has taken on board constructive suggestions so he really should not stand over this. It would send a dreadful signal. I wonder how many members of the current Cabinet went to a private school. It would be interesting to reflect on that. Let us do the right thing and take on board this amendment.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton This amendment prohibits oversubscribed schools from prioritising the children of staff or board of management members in an admissions policy. It is a reasonable position that an oversubscribed school may give priority to children of staff where it wishes to do so. For example, there is the perspective of facilitating families and it appears sensible that a teacher working in a school distant from his or her home could also have his or her children attend the school rather than having to make arrangements for them to attend elsewhere. I understand this arrangement does not apply to other workers but, on balance and having regard to the need to retain and support our teachers in their work, it is reasonable to allow schools to give such a priority if they so wish. This is not an obligation and they have that option. With regard to prohibiting prioritisation of children of board members, I am not aware of any evidence that this is a practice used by schools. In any case it would, if used, have very little, if any, impact on admission in most schools. I do not consider that these matters cause a problem in school admission.

  I recall that this matter was raised by Deputy Brendan Ryan on Committee Stage. I asked the Deputy at the time to provide any evidence he may have on the matter or whether this was a problem in school admission policies. He had the opportunity to do so up to Report Stage last month but I did not receive any such evidence. I cannot agree to the amendment.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 12; Níl, 31.

Níl
Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm.
Information on Frances Black   Zoom on Frances Black   Black, Frances. Information on Paddy Burke   Zoom on Paddy Burke   Burke, Paddy.
Information on Máire Devine   Zoom on Máire Devine   Devine, Máire. Information on Ray Butler   Zoom on Ray Butler   Butler, Ray.
Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul. Information on Jerry Buttimer   Zoom on Jerry Buttimer   Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary. Information on Maria Byrne   Zoom on Maria Byrne   Byrne, Maria.
Information on Colette Kelleher   Zoom on Colette Kelleher   Kelleher, Colette. Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee   Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee   Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig. Information on Paudie Coffey   Zoom on Paudie Coffey   Coffey, Paudie.
Information on David P.B. Norris   Zoom on David P.B. Norris   Norris, David. Information on Paul Coghlan   Zoom on Paul Coghlan   Coghlan, Paul.
Information on Grace O'Sullivan   Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Grace. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall. Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P.
Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin   Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin   Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán. Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul.
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn. Information on Frank Feighan   Zoom on Frank Feighan   Feighan, Frank.
  Information on Robbie Gallagher   Zoom on Robbie Gallagher   Gallagher, Robbie.
  Information on Maura Hopkins   Zoom on Maura Hopkins   Hopkins, Maura.
  Information on Gerry Horkan   Zoom on Gerry Horkan   Horkan, Gerry.
  Information on Billy Lawless   Zoom on Billy Lawless   Lawless, Billy.
  Information on Anthony Lawlor   Zoom on Anthony Lawlor   Lawlor, Anthony.
  Information on Terry Leyden   Zoom on Terry Leyden   Leyden, Terry.
  Information on Ian Marshall   Zoom on Ian Marshall   Marshall, Ian.
  Information on Michael McDowell   Zoom on Michael McDowell   McDowell, Michael.
  Information on Michelle Mulherin   Zoom on Michelle Mulherin   Mulherin, Michelle.
  Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor   Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor   Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.
  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 Ned O'Sullivan   Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Ned.
  Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  Information on James Reilly   Zoom on James Reilly   Reilly, James.
  Information on Neale Richmond   Zoom on Neale Richmond   Richmond, Neale.
  Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Colette Kelleher and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin; Níl, Senators Kieran O'Donnell and John O'Mahony.

Amendment declared lost.

  3 o’clock

  Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017: Second Stage

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

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I am very pleased to be back in the Seanad. After the pleasant experience yesterday evening, I expect that the Seanad will continue to speak with one voice as far as this important legislation is concerned, having regard to the goodwill generated by yesterday's debate. I am pleased to see it continued into this morning and I believe it will continue for the foreseeable future as far as this legislation is concerned.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Now, Senator McDowell, no contrary behaviour.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Democracy will prevail.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan As it always does.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Uno duce, una voce.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I am dying to see Fine Gael support a Bill like this.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Please allow the Minister to speak.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I have no doubt but that Senators will be aware that the Bill, which had its Second Stage reading in the Dáil last summer, has been thoroughly debated and quite comprehensively amended during its passage through the Lower House. Due to mainly procedural challenges on Report Stage, a significant number of official amendments could not be moved. I intend tabling these mostly technical provisions before Senators at the appropriate Stage.

  Let me be clear, however, that there are some substantive changes that I want to reinstate in the Bill which were an integral part of the Bill as published. I do not wish in any way to gainsay the will of the Dáil in this matter or indeed the will of Seanadóirí, but there are some critical issues that the Government is committed to legislating for, not least the provision for a lay majority on the commission. These are proposals which I want this House to have the opportunity to consider in its own right. I will return to this and other issues presently.

  The Bill provides for a number of very substantial changes which I believe represent a defining reform, providing for a modern, comprehensive and fit-for-purpose system to deal with judicial appointments in the State.  These are innovative reforms of the judicial appointments process that has been operating for the past two decades or so. The Bill also sets out a progressive and forward-looking approach to allow for ongoing improvement and updating of the appointments arrangements to best suit the justice, social and economic environments as they evolve.

  At the end of 2013 and going into 2014, the then Minister for Justice and Equality set about bringing our system of judicial appointments in line with international best practice. An innovation in this area was to engage in a process of public consultation and to get the views of stakeholders on the ideal model of judicial appointments and what it might look like to best cater for the needs of the judicial and courts processes in the 21st century. Themes in that consultation process included: the need to continue to protect the independence of the Judiciary; the role of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board; eligibility issues; and diversity among our judges and the Judiciary. The Bill reflects the outcome of that process and the research and policy analysis which followed it in my Department. Reform does not imply that the present system has impaired the quality, diligence and integrity of the judicial function, which has contributed greatly to the success of Ireland as a modem democratic State. I do not believe anyone would argue with. Under this Bill, however, the appointment system needs to be expanded, modernised and resourced.

  The provisions of the 1995 Courts and Court Officers Act, as amended, were significant at the time, introducing a new independent element to the judicial appointments process. Article 35.1 of the Constitution provides that judges are appointed by the President. Under Article 13.9, such power is exercisable and performable only on the advice of the Government. Nothing in the Bill adds to or takes away from that position. At the same time, the onus rests on us to continuously assess the need to update our legislative arrangements and in this case the appointments system to ensure they are at all times fit for purpose. We are all agreed that it is timely now for the Oireachtas to legislate for the systems and procedures that are needed to support decision-making in the context of these constitutional arrangements and functions.

  It was progressive in 1995 to bring lay people into the role of identifying persons suitable for appointment to judicial office and to bring in a more consultative and transparent approach to the process of appointing judges. From this standpoint, after more than 20 years of this experience, notwithstanding the outstanding work of the JAAB and the high calibre and quality of our judicial appointees, the arrangements now seem limited in a number of respects. The Bill brings the system to a new level of openness and effectiveness. The JAAB deals with first-time judicial appointments only. These procedures are concerned with only one dimension of the judicial appointment process. The elevation of serving judges from one court to another is specifically excluded from the remit of the appointments board. There is in effect, therefore, no system at all, other than the Constitutional process in place to deal with this category of appointments, which can be significant appointments to senior positions in the Judiciary. In this regard, it is important to note that at every remove we have been particularly fortunate to be in a position to appoint the highest calibre of exceptional individuals. However, it not good enough in the Government's view that in this day and age there is no statutory process in place to address perhaps the most important appointments to any offices in our State. The requirements of transparency, accountability and good governance demand that we update our arrangements in the manner envisaged in the legislation. In consequence, the new commission will have a remit under it to deal with all appointments. That is a big advance and improvement compared to what we have now. The approach is in accordance with the views of the Judiciary.

  In the Bill, as published, the Government's intention was to provide that the appointments process for the three most senior posts in the Judiciary, namely, Chief Justice, President of the Court of Appeal and the President of the High Court, would be subject to a variation of the general process. That variation was broadly similar to the arrangements deployed in the recent filling of the posts of Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal. However, a statutory basis for that did not find favour in the Dáil and the Bill was amended on Committee Stage to provide that the regular process for applications generally under the Bill will apply in the case of these three senior posts. I am considering how best to approach this matter and I welcome the views of Senators on how best to do so. We will have the opportunity to discuss on later Stages how best we might do that.

  I wish to address the matter of recommended names. Where the appointments board has a role under the current arrangements in recommending persons for appointment, the board must recommend at least seven persons, if it can, to the Minister of the day. The legislation amends that radically. The Bill the Government published provided that three names should be furnished by the commission, if possible, in respect of a vacancy among the Judiciary. Where there are two vacancies, the Bill provides that five names would be provided by the commission. The new independent commission will, therefore, have a much more definitive and meaningful selection and recommendation function than currently pertains with the advisory board. The amendment made to the Bill in the Dáil in this respect enhances the determinative nature of the commission's work. Section 40 requires the commission to rank those names in order of preference. I have been advised that this is constitutionally permissible. There was a strong view in the 2014 submissions, including that of the Judiciary, that the slate of candidates presented to Government needs to be reduced significantly.

  No dedicated resource was assigned in the legislation to support the appointments board over the years. It has fallen to the Courts Service to provide the resources necessary. It has provided the necessary financial, technical and administrative support to the board. I acknowledge this invaluable contribution to the process. However, the Government envisages the commission having a more substantial role than JAAB, not only in recommending persons for all judicial positions but in the longer-term development of procedures for appointment. I am convinced that the commission's work should be adequately supported. This is too important an area to leave with an undetermined resource. I am providing, therefore, in Part 5 for a commission office and director, which will cost approximately €500,000. This will not be a quango, but a lean, professional and independent organisation with a small but sufficient resource base to allow it clearly to stand on its own feet.

  The three elements I have mentioned are significant - first, the expansion of the recommendation system to every judicial post in the State; second, the move to three recommendations in order of preference; and, third, a proper resource with a modest budget. They have been overlooked in a rush to criticism of the Bill in some quarters on the basis of other elements. I will address these as well.

  I wish to deal briefly with the issue of membership composition. It is more than 20 years since the JAAB process was conceived in legislation. That was the first time the Government function in the matter was supplemented by an independent element in the process. It was the first opening to any scrutiny of the process and, at the time, it was an important move forward. The justice system now operates in a modern administrative environment. More transparent and participative approaches are apparent in public policy decision-making models here and on the international stage. In this context, the new commission will have a strong lay representation reflecting today's governance and participation models of public policy decision-making. This legislation is largely about getting the balance right between different contributions and interests. There is a discrepancy, effectively technical in nature, in the Bill regarding the number of members of the commission.   Section 10 provides that the commission shall have 13 members. However, the section otherwise goes on to provide for a membership of 16 persons. This arose as a result of an amendment being passed by the Dáil that provided for three additional members, despite the amendment to change the number upwards from 13 not having been successfully passed. The Ceann Comhairle explained in some detail how this came about. He made a ruling as to how several other amendments in my name could not subsequently be moved. My intention was to provide for the membership of one further layperson, subject to changing the stipulated number from 13 to 17, so that the commission will have a full complement and so provide for the fundamental aspect of the programme for Government which is the assurance of a lay majority.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Why?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan It is now my firm intention to present those amendments to this House and to provide for technical and consequential matters. This had been my intention in the first instance in the Dáil.

  A most significant change in the Bill as passed by the Dáil is to provide for the membership of all four court presidents as well as the Chief Justice on the commission. That is somewhat different from the published Government position, which accommodated these officeholders but within a different committee arrangement. I fully accept that what we have now is an improvement in this regard. We have a good balance of judicial involvement and lay involvement along with the involvement of the Attorney General and specific input from the Bar Council and Law Society. I am very pleased that the Dáil accepted the new role for the Public Appointments Service in selecting the lay members and the lay chairperson based on the very important criteria set out in section 12. The inclusion in the membership, following amendment in the Dáil, of a nominee of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is positive.

  The Government has consulted with the representatives of the judicial appointments review committee which is the senior Judiciary grouping tasked with making contributions to the change process. I have met the Chief Justice and all court presidents. It has to be said that very substantial and significant elements of the legislation are consistent with the views of the Judiciary. My predecessor, the former Taoiseach and Attorney General also met representatives of the Judiciary and listened carefully to their express opposition to aspects of the Bill and explained the Government’s policy position to them.

  Of course, Senators will be fully aware that the Judiciary is opposed to having a majority of laypersons on the commission and a lay chairperson presiding over that commission. While I am grateful for the very substantial contribution senior members of the Judiciary have made in consultations, the Government does not agree with this and I am pleased that a lay chairperson is provided for, following the passing of the Bill by Dáil Éireann. The Government’s policy position is clear: the commission is proposed to have a lay chair and a lay majority but balanced by a very substantial judicial presence and by the presence of the Attorney General and the representatives of the legal professions. Every skill and brand of experience that will be necessary to continue and professionalise the selection of excellent judges will be represented with its own voice on this commission. There is little doubt that the experience, wisdom and expertise of the Chief Justice and other senior judges will, and should be, a first port of call in any deliberation of the commission.

  Part 8 is important and breaks new ground. The commission, working through a procedures committee established under section 16, will have a remit to determine, in a consultative process, new procedures for judicial selection, and the skills and attributes required for the job. These procedures will reflect best-practice professional selection methods and processes. The procedures committee will be required to prepare a statement for approval by the commission, setting out the procedures for selecting persons for appointment and a statement of requisite skills and attributes that a person must possess to be suitable for selection.

  Under Part 8, the committee will also have the ongoing role of reviewing the effectiveness of the selection system as well that of the functions assigned to the commission under the Bill. Two years after the commencement of the provisions, the committee will be required to prepare a report which may include any recommendation relating to the implementation of the Act. The commission will be required to submit the report and recommendations, together with any observations it may have, to the Minister. The work of the procedures committee will not, as has been suggested in some quarters, be the work of some over-elaborated or engorged element of bureaucracy, but will deliver to the new commission a simple and specialised mechanism to design modern selection processes into judicial selection. These will be processes and standards similar to those which are in play for all senior public appointments in Ireland and which are already in play in judicial selection processes in the neighbouring island and elsewhere.

  The new system of appointments will be open and transparent, as illustrated by some examples from the Bill. The new commission chairperson will be accountable to an Oireachtas committee under section 22 for the general administration of the commission as envisaged in the Government programme. Under section 21, the director will be required to forward to the Committee of Public Accounts reports regarding the commission's accounting transactions and its economy and efficiency among other matters. The commission will be required to report annually to the Minister on its activities and the Minister shall have the reports laid before both Houses. The Minister will also have the power to request a report by the commission on any matter relating to its functions. Taken together, these elements amount to a progressive reform bringing the future appointments processes to a new level of accountability.

  Each of the Houses of the Oireachtas must approve by resolution, if they so choose, an appointment by the Minister of the lay members and lay chairperson of the commission. Under section 49, the Minister will be required to make an annual statement to the Houses relating to appointments to judicial office made during the year. This will include a statement that the appointment was recommended under the new arrangements if that is the case. A similar statement will be required of the Minister in the form of a notice to be published in Iris Oifigiúil in respect of all appointments. I will be tabling amendments in respect of these provisions because, given legal advice I have received, I am concerned about the appropriateness of subsections 48(2) and 49(2) as amended on Committee Stage in the Dáil, concerning the explanation of decisions of Government with regard to appointments.

  Section 7 focuses the recommendation and selection process on merit as the criterion to underpin the selection and recommendation of persons for appointment. It is an important statement of intent that merit is the basis on which all recommendations will be made. This means that merit is front and centre as the determining factor in selection and recommendation. Section 7 is also important in providing that subject to this criterion, regard shall be had to objectives that the membership of the Judiciary should comprise equal numbers of men and women, that membership of the Judiciary should to the extent feasible and practicable, reflect the diversity within the population as a whole and that the membership of the Judiciary should include persons with a proficiency in the Irish language. Let me point out once again that the Judiciary and others highlighted putting merit at the top of the agenda in their submission in 2014.

  The Bill extends eligibility arrangements to District Court judges in terms of eligibility for appointment to the High Court and to legal academics for appointment. These matters are addressed in section 33. This has been welcomed virtually all round as has the other change under section 59 setting at 70 the retirement age for District Court judges which is the same as for judges of other courts.

  I want to mention the important provisions in section 5 that the Minister shall review the working of the Act and report on the matter to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I assure Senators that this is a genuine and quite fundamental reform of our judicial appointments system so as to ensure to the greatest extent we can that the quality of our judicial system is maintained to the benefit of all in society.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I think the Minister will be disappointed to hear that the goodwill from yesterday evening does not translate into support for the Bill from those on this side of the House today.  It will come as no surprise to him that Fianna Fáil is not supporting the Bill.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I am disappointed.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Fianna Fáil is committed to the need to reform the manner in which judges are appointed. We already agreed to this in the confidence and supply arrangement between my party and the Government. We would like to see legislation establishing a judicial appointments commission that would be fully independent of the Government and would make recommendations to the Government based on an independent assessment of the merits of applicants for judicial office. Fianna Fáil will put forward wide-ranging amendments to the Bill and give consideration to any amendments that will improve what is widely recognised as a very poorly drafted piece of legislation that does not serve the public interest. With its proposals for a lay majority and the downgrading of the position of the Chief Justice, the Government is letting the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, drive a personal agenda that risks undermining the independence of the Judiciary.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Hear, hear. This is a vanity project for Minister Ross.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I refer to the notion of a body to choose judges, the lay chairperson and the lay majority. There is also the idea that it will somehow be better. There has been no convincing public policy explanation of the benefits of such an approach and we should not just reject expertise because the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport says so. It is ridiculous to think expertise is not needed in this regard. The Minister, Deputy Ross, has a particular issue with judges and likes to typecast them as villains. I would go as far as to say he casts a very low opinion of members of the legal profession of which I am a very proud member. Perhaps the Minister before us or the Minister, Deputy Ross, could address what they are doing to change the face of the legal profession and support and encourage people from various backgrounds into the legal profession. I am a proud working class girl from rural Ireland who was lucky enough to make it into the legal profession and got good support from various people throughout my legal career, as well as encouragement. I was very lucky and not many people from my kind of background would be as lucky in this day and age.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I am glad the Senator declared her interest.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee It is on public record that I am a member of the legal profession.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Why does the Minister not declare that he was blackmailed into this by the Minister, Deputy Ross?

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Senator Norris will have his time so allow me finish my piece.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Allow the Senator to continue.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Senator Norris's comment should be withdrawn.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Not at all.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan With all the voices speaking I did not really hear the comment.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Would you like me to repeat it?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I would prefer not.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee I hope I will be afforded extra time at the end. The changing face of the profession needs to be addressed. We have people from all sorts of backgrounds living in Ireland and it not just about being male, stale and beyond the Pale any more. The majority of members of the legal profession are female but the problem is they are not progressing to senior positions or on to the Bench. Perhaps that should be looked at. I have heard much about merit but surely women have equal merit in this regard. As we are not progressing in the profession, the Minister should address the problem.

  As the Bill stands, the commission would provide three names to the Government for appointment. Under the provisions of the Bill it will remain open to the Government to reject names proposed by the new commission. Fianna Fáil believes the Government should be obliged to provide a reasoned explanation for that rejection. Otherwise, it is too easy for the Government to go outside the process and sidestep the recommendations. If the number of people on the commission is increased to 17 members, as is sought by the Government, it will be totally unwieldy. It should be borne in mind that the body is expected to fill approximately eight to ten judicial vacancies per annum.

  The Bill passed through the Dáil because of a deal done with Sinn Féin and the manner in which it passed was a total farce. The Bill is riddled with inconsistencies and even within the ranks of Fine Gael there is deep unease about the damage this Bill will do to the justice system and the reasons for and manner in which it is being pushed through the House.

  On 7 March 2018, the European Commission published a country report on Ireland in which it expressed concern about this Bill, saying it is not in line with European standards. The criticism centred on the fact that the Bill provides for insufficient input from the Judiciary on the commission and does not conform to standards that Ireland signed up to in 2010. The report indicates, "The European Commission is watching closely the relationship that exists between national governments and their judiciaries and monitoring any steps by governments that may undermine or damage the independence of the judiciary within a member State." The reputational damage for Ireland would be significant if it is found that our judicial appointments regime is not in line with European standards. It is shocking that the Government is continuing to support this utterly flawed piece of legislation.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell This Bill has travelled a very rocky road to this House and it comes here in a fragile state. It is internally contradictory and some of the principles set out in the first version of the Bill to be presented to Dáil Éireann by the Government have been seriously compromised. I intend to be constructive and participate in the debate in such a manner. I agree with the previous speaker that this Bill seems to be driven by a kind of determination on the part of one member of the Government to settle scores with the Judiciary and the legal profession-----

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

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell -----rather than a well-considered view of what is needed in the appointment of judges. That was absolutely confirmed for me when I discovered in last week's edition of The Sunday Times that his extremely ill-considered proposal to have a committee of Dáil Éireann vet all judicial appointments, with the majority being Opposition Members, was placed before him for negotiation with the Fine Gael Party but he stamped his little foot in order to try to persuade Fine Gael to adopt its policy. As the article's reference to a book by Ms Jennifer Carroll MacNeill makes clear, eventually this compromise emerged and this was enough to satisfy the Minister's-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Ego.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell -----blood lust and ego in this matter.

  Let us be clear about what is being proposed. There is nothing wrong with the idea of a judicial appointments commission. There is nothing at all wrong with having lay people on it. If the commission comes up with a list of people, there is nothing wrong with it expressing preferences in order of choice. These are not wrong in principle. Where the Bill goes much too far is that it does not differentiate between the types of judicial appointments made. Yesterday in these Houses we had statements on the decriminalisation of homosexuality by statute under the ministry of Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. This brought to my mind the circumstances in which our colleague, Senator Norris, litigated in the courts of our land to seek to have the criminalisation provisions of the 1885 Act ruled as unconstitutional. It is interesting that the Supreme Court, by a majority of three to two, refused him the relief he sought. I was thinking about the two people who held with him in very fine judgments. I think I am right in saying they were Mr. Justice McCarthy and Mr. Justice Henchy and these were models of jurisprudence.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris They were the dissenting judgments.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Yes. The three other judgments were delivered by more conservative members of the Supreme Court.  We must remember that when the Government - and it is only the Government that can do so under the Constitution - decides who should or should not be appointed to the Supreme Court, it is making political decisions. It is pointless to pretend otherwise. I am in the happy position of having been a member of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board for three years in my capacity as Attorney General and having been Minister for Justice for the following five years. I had eight years continuous involvement in the appointment of judges, and I know that when it came to appointments to the Supreme Court, the issues that were considered by the Cabinet were not party political issues. They were much more concerned with the outlook and the philosophy of the people who were put there. Catherine McGuinness was not appointed to the Supreme Court because she was a woman, but rather because she was a woman of liberal intent and perspective.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris She was a very fine judge.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell She was a very fine judge as well. I want to make it very clear that the process by which the Supreme Court is composed falls, in the final analysis, to the Government of the day to decide. The Government decides whether it wants liberals or conservatives, people who are pro-life or pro-choice or people who are pro-European or pro the rights of Ireland under the European treaties. These are issues on which the Government alone is competent to make decisions. I have no problem with people who want to become High Court, Circuit Court or District Court judges for the first time being asked to go through an interview procedure or being looked at by a commission to see whether they are suitable to be appointed. I have no problem with that principle at all. However, I have a huge problem if, when a vacancy arises in the Supreme Court or there is a vacancy for the position of Chief Justice, the Government does not do what the Constitution requires it to do, namely, make a considered decision on foot of advice received and on the basis of internal discussion as to who it wants to be Chief Justice and who it wants to be on the Supreme Court. These are the people who decide what the Constitution actually means. I see a huge problem in a Bill which requires the Minister of the day to require everybody wishing to be appointed to the Supreme Court to submit himself or herself for interview by a group of laypersons who do not share the responsibility of Government in this matter.

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

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell That group will rank people in order of choice, be it Michael McDowell, Ivana Bacik, David Norris or whomever. That is the choice of the group, but the Government might believe that the choice made is completely wrong. A procedure that is perfectly reasonable and defensible in terms of international practice is being applied to the Irish Supreme Court under our Constitution. Our Supreme Court is equivalent to the American Supreme Court, the composition of which is a matter of huge political importance to the American people. The case of Roe v. Wade would not have been heard if certain people were involved. Certain people are trying to reverse Roe v. Wade by decisions made. Whether that is a pleasant reality to reflect on is one thing, but it is the nature of the Supreme Court. It is a political appointment. I have never known party politics to be part of the equation when it comes to appointments to the Supreme Court. The other criteria I have mentioned - the philosophy, the outlook, the type of person desired, the type of Ireland one wants to see and the type of future development of constitutional theory - count when that decision is made.

  A different provision was proposed at first. The Minister started out with a small committee which was to make recommendations for high judicial offices. We now have this Bill, which, to coin a phrase, is a bit of a dog's dinner and which has removed that small committee and replaced it with the ridiculous idea that a group comprising laypersons will put before the Government its choice for the position of Chief Justice or for a position on the Supreme Court on the basis that it is somehow better qualified to make these decisions that members of Government. This is not personally directed at the Minister for Justice and Equality, but it is the responsibility of each and every member of Government to make these decisions. If the members of Government want to take advice they should do so, but they should not delegate to a group of people who are not responsible for the decision on the ultimate composition of the membership of the Supreme Court. It is wrong in principle and is indefensible. Any Minister who would shirk that responsibility is not worthy of being a Minister. I am not talking about the Minister of Justice here present when I say that. Any Minister who is not willing to personally take the responsibility of choosing the next Chief Justice or decide which member of the High Court should be a member of the Supreme Court is not worthy of being a member of Government because he or she is abdicating a responsibility thrust onto him or her by virtue of his or her membership of the Government.

  The Minister has conceded that what we have before us is not the Bill that was originally tabled. He made a very important point when he said that there are provisions in this Bill which require, in the event of the commission's choice for Chief Justice not being agreed to by the Government or its choice for appointment to the Supreme Court not being accepted, that the Government should issue a statement, in Iris Oifigiúil, a reasoned statement as to why one appointment was made rather than that recommended. The Minister has said that he wants to take advice on the constitutionality of that. If that provision is left in this Bill I will certainly ask President Higgins to refer it to the Supreme Court-----

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

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell -----because it is designed to subvert the capacity, duty, right and the autonomy of the Government to make decisions about who should be Chief Justice and who should not.

  There are good things in this Bill. I am not going to pretend that it is all bad. The principle of an open and fair method for people wanting to be appointed to the Judiciary to go to a neutral body for evaluation before the Government makes its decision is both good and internationally recognised. Throughout the common law world, as well as in the civil law world, it is accepted as an international norm. Nobody is arguing with that principle. The idea that legal academics of certain types be eligible for appointment to the Judiciary is also a good idea; I have no problem with that in principle. However, every ten years or so a leading lawyer has been appointed directly to the Supreme Court, one of who was Niall St. John McCarthy, one of the dissenting minority in the case taken by Senator Norris. He was one of the most brilliant judges of our era. I do not want to personalise things, but at the moment there would be general acceptance that one of the other great advocates of our era is Donal O'Donnell, who was appointed directly to the Supreme Court by the Government. My late friend, Adrian Hardiman, was appointed directly to the Supreme Court, having been a barrister.

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

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell We have to ask ourselves whether we are going down the road of making it more or less likely that our Supreme Court, High Court and Court of Appeal in future will consist of the type of people who should be there. Will people who are in the position of, for example, Mr. Niall McCarthy, go through a process of applying to a lay group to be considered for appointment? Is it not better that someone in such a position would be tapped on the shoulder by the Government and told that he or she should be on the Supreme Court, that the Government wants to put him or her there and asked that he or she consider doing the Government the honour of accepting such a position?

  The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has constantly presented the contrary view but, under the Constitution, the sole right to make a decision as to who becomes a judge is vested in the Government.  One cannot have a commission which can bind the hands of the Government in this respect. The Government, under the Constitution, is the sole determiner in the final analysis of who the President appoints and who it advises the President to appoint. For the reasons I mentioned earlier, especially with respect to the Supreme Court, one cannot take politics with a small "p" and non-party politics out of the appointment. These are profound political and philosophical decisions that fall to the Government of the day to decide. Maintaining a balance on the Supreme Court, whether it is Justice Ginsburg in the USA or whoever the latest person was to be appointed by President Trump-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Donald Duck.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell -----these are profoundly political decisions for which elected politicians must be primarily responsible. Therefore, in that spirit, I will not oppose this Bill on Second Stage.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank the Senator.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell This is to allow the debate to continue.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It will be opposed.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I am sure that it will be opposed but I will not oppose it on Second Stage to show that I have some goodwill left towards the good parts of the Bill. I make this gesture on the basis that I hope that this House will live up to its constitutional responsibilities to examine this legislation very carefully and will not be bullied, bounced or blackmailed by one tail wagging the governmental dog, but will make up its own mind on what it considers to be the right thing to do in respect of the appointment of judges from now on.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I also welcome the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, back to the House. He is a regular visitor at this stage. I will begin on a positive note. It is commendable that Senator McDowell will not oppose this Bill on Second Stage. People putting forward Bills often call for Bills to go to Committee Stage, and ask others that they not oppose Bills on Second Stage but allow the debate to continue. Senator McDowell's leadership on this should be followed by all Members and allow this Bill to go to Committee Stage and beyond.

  I also commend Senator McDowell on identifying what he considers the positive elements of the Bill. It is great when someone can say that there are parts of the Bill that they agree with and support and other parts he or she does not. While this Bill has had to tread a rocky path through the political process, that is true of many other Bills. The idea when a Bill goes through Parliament is that it should change and improve and that it should be enhanced, developed and made better. The idea of a parliament is that Bills can be improved. The reason the Seanad was established originally was to bring in people with specialisms in different areas and to allow them to contribute to and enhance legislation. I sincerely hope that this would happen in the case of this important Bill.

  I also agree with the sentiments expressed today that to date, the Judiciary has done an exemplary job. We are probably one country that can say, hand on heart, our Judiciary does a superb job and is in no way interfered with in any shape or form. The calibre of people who have been appointed to Irish courts is beyond reproach and is something of which Ireland can be proud. However, just because a system is working well does not mean it should not be improved or that there should not be more accountability. It does not mean that they should not be made answerable or questioned about their suitability to do a job. We had a referendum on whether the Government should be allowed to reduce judges' pay in times of austerity. I recall that the vast majority of judges opposed that legislation but the people took a different view. Judges are not always right. There should be some system of tracking and supervising the manner in which they do their business.

  There can be improvements in training and upskilling for judges to develop their skills base. That is welcome. The lay majority of the commission has been discussed and there will be plenty of opportunity on Committee Stage to debate such specific aspects of the Bill. I acknowledge Senator McDowell again in saying that the Bill contains good elements and that a judicial appointments Bill is not a bad thing. Certain elements in politics and the media have portrayed the idea of a judicial appointments Bill as a bad thing. I contend it is not and we should always wish to make our system better. It might be good but it can always be improved.

  I look forward to engaging on this Bill on Committee Stage. I do not believe for a moment that a tail is wagging the governmental dog.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Senator Conway is too innocent. He does come from the west.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Senator Norris is not too far out either. However, I suggest that sometimes a tail might put it up to a governmental dog that something should be done-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell This whole argument is very male.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway -----and perhaps change is not such a bad thing. One thing we are afraid of in this country is change. We have often seen that in respect of social change, however, when change happens the sky does not fall in. There have often been situations where we were told we face Armageddon should something pass yet when calm is restored, we find that the laws have improved things. I challenge those who have issues with this Bill to make it better on Committee Stage but do not oppose it on Second Stage. That would go against the arguments they have put up since I came into this House seven years ago to the effect that Bills should be allowed to pass Second Stage and be allowed to progress to Committee Stage where issues, difficulties, challenges or areas where they might be improved would be dealt with before going on to Report Stage. I challenge people to follow through on their logic and not call a vote but allow it to go to Committee Stage. That would be a great gesture of goodwill and would allow this House to do what it does best, namely, to put down, debate and tease out the amendments.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I call Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell The Senator is busy on his phone.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile It is not the case that I am busy on my phone. I think I may have fallen down the list of speakers, I believe the Civic Engagement Group is before us, but I will not refuse the opportunity while I have it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I have the list before me.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Maith thú. I will not question the Chair.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The Senator was questioning the Chair.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Senator Norris is in funny form today.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I can show the Senator the list afterwards.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile I concede that it is my mistake. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which has seen much public comment and has been subject to considerable scrutiny at various stages in the Dáil. As has already been outlined, Sinn Féin will support its passage to Committee Stage, where I will move several amendments to address some of the issues that have not been addressed in earlier stages.

  While we will support the Bill on Second Stage and will allow it to pass, our support is not unqualified as there are flaws in the Bill that must be addressed in this House. I believe they can be addressed but it will take consideration and thought.  There are also drafting issues requiring rectification, to which other Members have alluded. Some of these are not complicated. Confidence in the justice system is contingent on a Judiciary which is free from political control or political or any other bias. Not only must society have a Judiciary free from bias, it must also be free from the appearance of bias. That is very much in the interests of the public, despite the apathetic feel to this Bill outside the Leinster House bubble. There is an understandable perception that the Judiciary and the judicial system are removed from the experience of working class communities and working class life. If this is accurate, then it is incumbent on the judicial system to rectify this concern by being intimately aware of the experience of working class and other communities, members of whom find themselves before the courts.

  It is essential that we have an independent and impartial Judiciary that is representative of the community that it serves. A truly representative Judiciary would enhance confidence in the judicial system, and that can only be welcome and positive. Future judicial appointments should be drawn from a wider pool of qualified candidates so that it is fully representative of the community, to eradicate the corrosive and unaccountable system of patronage previously in operation.

  There is no doubt our courts are populated by many committed people with great legal minds who do an excellent job on a daily basis. I am not here to criticise members of the Judiciary or to do their profession down. However, that does not mean that the process for appointments is above criticism or alteration. It would be naive to believe some of the commentary on the Bill to the effect that there was no problem up until now; even Fianna Fáil has accepted that. Are we expected to believe that there is not now, nor has there ever been, any system of political patronage within this jurisdiction? We know that is not the case. We do not say that those who are currently in place cannot do their jobs but the Bill is concerned with the process of how they get there in the first place, or how they will get there. I agree that judges who take the oath are impartial and independent. However, the Bill does not deal with people who are currently judges. For anyone who thinks that this is a left-wing or left-leaning view, I ask them to consider why we are discussing this in the first place. There must be a fair and accountable appointment process for the Judiciary which is representative of the public interest.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Comrade Ross.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile One of the issues that requires rectification is numerical. Intentionally or otherwise, Fianna Fáil and Labour voted against a proposal to extend the membership of the commission to 17 members, and then voted for a proposal that added another three to it. Much was made of this. However, it can be rectified without undue difficulty. We support retaining a lay majority. We will support amendments that are required to maintain that, and to give a place to the Presidents of the District Court and Circuit Court. We do not agree that the Attorney General should be on the commission and we have made that abundantly clear. We intend to table an amendment to deal with the diversity principle which we believe the commission should aim for. We will also seek to preserve the requirement for the commission to re-advertise if it is not successful in finding an appointment, rather than the Government doing so itself.

  There are concerns regarding the Attorney General's membership of any future commission. It would be unfair in that he or she would have a vote at the commission and at the Cabinet table, which contravenes the essence of this Bill and what it aims to achieve. Our greatest divergence with the Government relates to section 44. The approach of allowing a subgroup to take responsibility for the appointments of the Chief Justice, President of the Court of Appeal and President of the High Court is inconsistent. Perhaps a different process to deal will these appointments is required, particularly since those positions to be filled are members of the commission. However, there must be much wider consideration, rather than a scenario where the Chief Justice, the Attorney General and the chair would make the recommendation. This is far too closed and is contrary to the philosophy behind this Bill. The commission as a whole, or some variation on that, with certain members absenting themselves, should make the recommendation. If the Minister is determined to have a two-stage process prior to reaching the Government, perhaps a sub-committee could consider expressions of interest before giving a number of recommendations to the commission as a whole, with certain members absenting themselves if they have expressed interest. However, the greatest consideration should be given by the commission itself. As other Members said, we are happy to see this Bill pass to Committee Stage and will address the amendments tabled on a case-by-case and sincere basis.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Before I get into the areas of the Bill with which I am concerned I was listening carefully to Senator McDowell, because he has a great deal of experience in this area. I was listening with an open mind, hoping to be persuaded by his expertise to go in a opposite direction to the one I had chosen. However, when Senator McDowell listed the outstanding judges who have been appointed, I could not understand how they would be at a disadvantage in a system based on merit. They were appointed on merit, and a politician or whoever makes the decision does so based on merit. If there is another process that is also based on merit but has a much more diverse setting, merit is still being considered. Merit does not change, no matter who is looking at it. To assume that lay people do not have the ability to assess someone based on merit is probably an little insulting remark.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It is not.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane It is.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It is not.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane It is.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Senator Norris always has to get the last word in.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I did.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Senator Norris knows he would not be here if lay people were voting for him. That is all.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris A hell of a lot more lay people voted for me than for Senator Ruane.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I am only in my first term. I will catch up.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell He had the undivided Trinity College Dublin vote.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I will ask him to respect the orders of the House.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I welcome the Bill to the Seanad and express my broad support for the equality and diversity principles that underpin it. The role that judges play in our democracy is important and their contribution is valuable. Therefore, who they are, how we select them and the criteria and system we use to do so is equally important. This Bill will substantially reform the system by which we appoint judges and create a new body that will be responsible for recommending these appointments. At its core, it seeks to diversify, decentralise and depoliticise the process by which members of the Judiciary come to office, which is welcome. It seeks to take the politics out of judicial selection, and has the welcome aim that "the membership of the Judiciary should reflect the diversity within the population as a whole". I strongly believe that a more diverse Judiciary that is better representative of society it presides over is a worthy objective, and I welcome the clear articulation of this aim.

  I welcome the provision that appointments to judicial office shall be based on merit under this Bill, and that gender equality and socioeconomic diversity are explicitly mentioned as key objectives. I welcome the provision that a majority of the commission will be made up of lay people led by a lay chair. I welcome the clear criteria for judicial candidates, the transparency of the selection process and the relative independence from political considerations enshrined in the Bill. It is clear the major and substantive change from our current system under the JAAB is the inclusion of a majority of lay people in the process. The main way in which the depoliticisation of the process is intended to occur is the introduction of views from outside the current legal and political circles to judicial selection by bringing lay people into the process in the new commission. However, this has the practical consequence that who these lay people are and how they are chosen is important, as they are the engine and method by which the aims of the Bill will be achieved.

  There is a significant responsibility on these lay people. Considerable importance attaches to their structural role in the process, the qualities they possess, their experiences and their knowledge competencies, as they are crucial for the success of the Bill. In light of the important and crucial role they will play, I am, therefore, concerned with the Bill's current provisions relating to lay membership of the commission and the criteria used by the PAS in selecting them. The current provisions will not reflect a sea change from our current process, or will result in a drastically different cohort of judges being selected and nominated. The lay person selection criteria under section 12 would largely reflect areas of expertise in which there are high levels of knowledge among our current cohort of judges and the system that selects them. Why, for example, are commerce and finance explicitly mentioned over broader socioeconomic issues such as addiction, homelessness or penal reform issues? If the lay people are the mechanism by which the views of those inside the current political and legal circles will be represented in the new system, the criteria for how they are chosen should capture a broader range of individuals and experiences in society, rather than just top-level abstract concepts or certain sectors arbitrarily selected over others.  If lay people chosen under the provisions of this Bill are not drawn from a large pool outside the usual suspects and meet diverse criteria this Bill will only take away jobs for one group of boys and give them to another group. If we truly want people from outside current legal practice to apply, be selected and contribute to choosing a more diverse slate of judges we need to do better and I hope the further development of criteria in section 12 and additional detail in respect of lay persons in section 10 is an issue we could work on as we move towards Committee Stage.

  To further focus on the diversity provisions of the Bill, I welcome that in section 56 the commission's procedures committee will be given responsibility for monitoring the diversity of judicial candidates in subsection (1) and procedures and processes for developing and strengthening diversity in subsection (4). This is a very welcome provision but I would like to see more detail. How are we defining diversity for the purpose of this section? My concern is whether a broad and generous understanding of diversity is accounted for under this Bill. What metrics do we use when we measure diversity? I would like to see explicit mention in this section of a role for the procedures committee in identifying under-representation of specific groups in the Judiciary compared to their prevalence in wider society, the groups and communities that need to be targeted, measures such as quotas and applicant number targets and targeted measures to improve their representation, such as information campaigns and training. Let us agree what we mean by diversity in our Judiciary. How best can we rectify this under-representation and give the aim of ensuring diversity some real teeth in the Bill? I hope we can work on this issue on Committee Stage.

  I welcome the new strong protections introduced in the Dáil for the Irish language in the Bill but has the Minister considered similar protections for Irish sign language in light of the recent passage of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017 and the fact that Irish sign language, ISL, can now be used in legal proceedings by deaf citizens throughout the State? It would be a strong sign of the State's efforts to vindicate the equality of our deaf citizens if proficiency in ISL would be recognised in the Bill as a valuable quality for a judge to possess.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Hear, hear.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane This could even lead to the conduct of court proceedings without an ISL interpreter in the future which would be an incredible legacy for this legislation.

  I am also concerned that the Minister can ignore the recommendations of the commission and appoint another candidate entirely to the Judiciary. While I recognise this is due to the constitutional prerogative given to Government in respect of appointing judges, it is still a concern that so much effort and work could be put into building a system that could be so easily circumvented. Could the Minister assuage these concerns and outline any circumstances he envisages for ignoring the commission and what sort of reasons would be provided to the Oireachtas under section 49 in such a case? I will support the Bill on Second Stage but will table amendments on Committee Stage. I would appreciate the Minister's thoughts on my concerns.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the opportunity to debate this important Bill and the principles it contains. I am an advocate of reform in the judicial appointments process. I wish to be constructive in the debate on this Bill and acknowledge its important positive aspects. As my colleagues in the other House, Deputies Howlin, Penrose and Sherlock have said, it is unfortunate that the Bill has come in this form and as a result of what appears to be a populist crusade by a particular member of Government, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. As others have said, and indeed Deputy Howlin has said, the shoddy motives behind the Bill have affected its provisions. I do, however, want to be constructive. It is also unfortunate that the Bill has come to us in a very internally contradictory shape, particularly section 10, which the Ceann Comhairle and others acknowledged, when difficulties arose in the Dáil. It is not good legislation that it comes to us with an inherent contradiction on this important provision in section 10.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan It is a minority Government.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik It is still not good legislation. We can all acknowledge that.

  The response of the Minister, Deputy Ross, to the Attorney General's criticism of it as "a dog's dinner", which I read in a newspaper, referring to this as "a caviar and oysters" Bill was unfortunate. That language is not helpful.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It is classic Ross. He is very keen on-----

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The Senator need not look at me.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I am simply saying that I do not think many of Deputy Ross's colleagues in government would agree with his description of the Bill. What we need in fact is a beans on toast version of reform, one that is practical, that does what it says on the tin, that moves away from canine analogies and references to the feast of caviar and oysters that----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris A black pudding Bill.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Yes a black pudding Bill, I thank Senator Norris.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer What is wrong with black pudding?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik We need sensible, practical and robust reforms. I should declare an interest as a qualified barrister who was in practice for many years, no longer in practice, but as a legal academic also. There are very positive reforms in this that I, among others, have sought for many years. In 2003 I and colleagues in Trinity published a report entitled Gender Injustice which focused on the need to ensure greater diversity in the Judiciary and the legal profession to ensure positive measures to promote women to senior ranks in these areas. I welcome the provisions in the Bill referring to diversity and gender. We will table amendments on Committee Stage to strengthen those and to require that where, for example, three recommendations are made by the commission there would be at least one of each gender. That is an important, sensible and constructive way to strengthen the diversity and equality measures in the Bill in keeping with the measures we had for political selection in the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012. I also welcome the idea of a transparent process for appointment. We sought that too. I welcome the fact that the new measures will require a reduced number of recommended candidates, ranking of candidates and will provide for the first time for adequate administrative and logistical support to the body empowered to recommend to Government.

  I also acknowledge the reform in favour of legal academics but then I would say that. It is positive. I also welcome the ban on canvassing. That is important. That was sought in 2014 by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, which called for a radical overhaul of the system of judicial appointments, for greater separation of political system and judicial appointments and recommended the removal of the Attorney General, a political appointee, from the appointments process. That is one respect in which the Bill falls down. It includes the Attorney General in the body, which is unfortunate given that the stated objective of those promoting the Bill is to depoliticise the judicial appointments process. We will put forward suggested reforms in our amendments.

  In 2015 as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality I instigated a hearing day on reform of judicial appointments. We heard from academics such as my colleague in Trinity, David Kenny, and from Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Laura Cahillane has also been very strong on the issue of judicial appointment reforms and was part of a conference in Dublin City University, DCU, at which I spoke in 2014 on reform of the appointment process. There has been a long process leading to this. It is not necessarily the right Bill or the right way to do it but there are important and positive measures in it. Those of us who are in favour of reform should acknowledge that. Many of the reforms that the ICCL sought in 2014 are in here.

  The issue of the internal contradiction and the composition of the commission is still very problematic. Section 10 will be a focus for many of us in putting forward amendments. Certainly it will be for the Labour Party group. We want to ensure in particular that we do not have that contradiction and to remove the Attorney General. In the Dáil the Labour Party put forward an amendment based on a Bill introduced by Deputy O'Callaghan which proposed a sensible composition reform for the body. There are also issues around the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB.  When we heard from David Kenny, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and others, they spoke about the need to strengthen the JAAB. There were a number of changes that could have been made to the JAAB process as established in 1995 that would have addressed many of the issues we have now, such as to require JAAB to reduce the number of persons it recommended to Government and to rank those persons. The JAAB has also had powers for a long time which it did not exercise largely due to lack of resources, such as powers to conduct interviews. There were other measures that could have been implemented even within the 1995 system. It is unfortunate we did not move more swiftly on them. An argument has been made by David Kenny and others that if one politicises the system too extensively - I think Senator McDowell makes this point very well - it is not necessarily a good thing either. There has to be a recognition of the politics with a small "p" in judicial appointments, particularly to the superior court positions that we have referred to. Kenny has argued that the way forward lies in appropriately engaging with rather than concealing the politics at play in senior judicial appointments. The Minister referred to the judges' submission in 2014. I did not agree with it because it appeared to me to suggest judges would appoint their own and that judges would be in charge of the appointments. That would be much worse than politicians having a role in appointments because it lets in the danger of what we call affinity bias where one appoints people in one's own image. The debate about merit is important because one person's merit is another's affinity bias. We have to be careful when advocating for merit-based appointments that we do not use the concept of merit to disguise what is or can be an old boys' appointment system. There are all sorts of dangers and we have to look for balance in an appointments system.

  It should also be said that the academics I have mentioned and others such as Ruadhán Mac Cormaic in his excellent text on the Supreme Court have pointed out that whatever the flaws in our judicial appointments model and whatever the need for reform, the Judiciary has exercised its function to a very high degree of impartiality and independence. It has been acknowledged by other speakers here.

  I do not think anyone has mentioned the recent decision in the High Court by Ms Justice Donnelly to refer the Polish extradition case because of concerns about judicial appointment processes in Poland and changes being made to it. That case was heard last week. It shows the importance of an independent Judiciary and the huge significance that principle has as a cornerstone of our democratic system and the separation of powers. We will table an amendment on it on Committee Stage in the Seanad. We will also be tabling a number of other amendments.

  We are concerned about some of the other aspects of the Bill. Deputy Howlin referred to them in the Dáil. We are concerned there may be too much of an administrative overkill in Part 8 of the Bill and scope for judicial review applications by disappointed applicants. That is something that needs to be reviewed.

  The case for diversity needs to be made to ensure we have a Judiciary that is reflective, as far as possible, of the population. We need to look at taking out the party politics from selection. We have to be careful about deprofessionalising the appointment process to a degree where we lose some of the strengths in our system. We need to be balanced in approaching this and to acknowledge the strengths in the system and the fact we have been served very well to date by our Judiciary, for the most part.

  Senator McDowell referred to Senator Norris's case, which we were all remembering and reflecting on yesterday in the historic debate in this House as we listened to an important apology to those who had been convicted for offences that have not been criminal offences since 1993. We might all be mindful of the majority judgment by Brian Walsh, which was described by Ruadhán Mac Cormaic as the worst judgment-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris O'Higgins.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I thank Senator Norris. I meant the judgment by then Chief Justice O'Higgins. In his book, Ruadhán Mac Cormaic described it as the worst judgment in the history of the Supreme Court. I do not think many would disagree with that, looking back at the tenor of that judgment. For the most part, our Judiciary has served us extremely well. While we are advocating for reform and while we are debating the most appropriate and effective way of bringing forward reforms, we have to be mindful of the strengths of our system.

  I said at the start it was a Bill borne of a populist crusade, but there has been huge momentum and a process around the need for a reform of the judicial appointments process. That has to be acknowledged. It is a pity the Bill came to us in the state it did, largely due to a grubby deal that appears to have been made between Sinn Féin and Fine Gael, propelled by populist rhetoric. That is unfortunate. We can seek to improve it in debate and ensure it leaves the Seanad in a very different state from the one in which it came to us. It is a pity more time was not taken in the Dáil to ensure the internal contradictions were removed before it came to us. There are a number of ways in which we can work to improve on it and build on the strengths and positive reforms it contains while dealing with its more negative and unfortunate aspects. I look forward to the fuller debate I know we will have on Committee Stage.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. In welcoming the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, I reject Senator Bacik's assertion there is a grubby deal. It is anything but. Her own party was very happy to do a deal with Sinn Féin to get votes for the Seanad election on more than one occasion. To borrow a phrase - we are where we are. I am not quite sure if it is a plate of caviar, a dog's dinner or whether we are on the road to lobster. What we know is there is a need to be transparent and to end the perception of cronyism and patronage around the appointment of judges. We need to ensure there is a high level of transparency in the matter of appointments.

  The fundamental point I will begin with is I would much prefer, as a lay person with no vested interest other than the pursuit of truth and the upholding of the law, that we would cut the cost of legal fees in the country and allow for improved access to information about how the courts are operating, as Stephen Collins said in his The Irish Times article. We have seen the establishment of the JAAB and a conversation centred on the appointment of judges. We have heard commentary and opinion from vested interests, including barristers, senior counsel, judges and solicitors. That is to be welcomed in a debate that has varying viewpoints regarding the Bill.

  I welcome the fact the Minister is bringing the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill before us. I fully respect the views of all Members who have a different viewpoint about what the Government is bringing forward. We live in a democracy. Let us come to this debate and begin by saying we have been very well served by our Judiciary. We should always maintain the independence of the different branches. It must be at the core of what we do in a republic. I am mindful of the excellent contribution of Senator McDowell who spoke about the American system and the conservative versus liberal issue and the appointment of supreme court justices. Look what happened to President Obama. For a whole calendar year he could not get his Supreme Court appointment over the line. He could not even get it to the table.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The Minister, Deputy Ross, has vetoed appointments for the past year and the Government has limped through it.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer President Obama could not even get an appointment over the line. Mr. Gorsuch was then appointed to the Supreme Court. If one looks at what happens in the context of the American Supreme Court, we want to avoid the situation here where people are afraid about what happens if a particular judge dies. We must avoid that situation. It is not about liberal or conservative, it is about merit and legal requirement and qualification.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell It is about liberal and conservative.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is not necessarily about that.  It is not about that per se.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell It is.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer If some people got their way, we would have all the one type on the Bench. We should have a balance and the criteria for appointment, on merit, should include legal qualifications. That is the point I am making.

  Notwithstanding the amendments by the Minister, the Bill will change the manner in which judges are appointed. In creating the judicial appointments board, we will change the whole process. The one concern I have is about having a lay chairperson. I would prefer if we had the Attorney General or the Chief Justice as the chairperson. The most important point, however, is that we bring transparency and an end to inadvertent lobbying, despite what Senator McDowell and Senator Bacik said about canvassing. I remember elections to the Cork county board. One of the rules was a candidate could not canvass for election and yet people canvassed in a different way. I commend the Bills Office and the Library and Research Service and I want to dwell on a couple of points in the piece from the Library and Research Service.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Senator Buttimer has one minute left.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will finish on this but I did not realise I had only one minute left. I thought I had more.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Six minutes.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I go back to when the judicial appointments review committee was established in 2013. It said that the relative success of the administration of justice in Ireland was achieved in spite of rather than because of the appointments system. That was the process established prior to Deputy Ross becoming a Minister. That should raise questions for us. Senator Bacik referred also to the issue of diversity and gender. An inordinate number of senior counsels are male. The figure is 276 men and 53 women.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell That is changing very rapidly.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is an extraordinary indictment that the ratio under the current system is 84:16.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik People were hugely critical of that.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer That is at a time when we have quotas in politics for candidates.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell They are awful.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer There we go. Is it time we had quotas in respect of judges? I am just posing that rhetorical question.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Women need extra support.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer This is a debate and I am only putting a question out there. The figures speak for themselves. I pose another question to Senator Clifford-Lee. We put supports in place in politics for women. I support those and I support women running for election. How do we put the same supports in place to change that imbalance in the legal-----

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Support younger women in the legal profession.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am posing my question as part of a debate. That is what this is about.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee How is a lay majority going to ensure that?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I cannot allow questions at this stage. When the Leader announced the Order of Business today, he ordered 12 minutes and six minutes.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I did not realise my six minutes were up.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Senator Buttimer does not have to worry. I allowed him a bit of injury time. I call Senator Victor Boyhan.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan. I am conscious that when the Taoiseach was in this House he renewed a request for us to scrutinise legislation effectively and in detail. That was important for all of us and we should do that. I like the debate, which has been positive. On the whole, I want to welcome this legislation. The Judiciary has served this country with distinction over many years. We can all say that and that theme has been echoed here today. I am glad we are acknowledging that because it is important.

  The independence of the Judiciary is a central tenet of our democracy and is enshrined in our Constitution. Article 35.2 of the Constitution states that "all judges shall be independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and subject only to this Constitution and the law". My colleague, Senator McDowell, covered that in great detail and I am not going to elaborate on those points. Judicial independence does not just exist for the benefit of the judges. It exists also for the people and ensures public confidence in the administration of justice. The upholding of the tripartite constitutional separation of powers of the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary is fundamental for the functioning of our justice system. That is an important point to take as we debate this legislation. Article 35 of the Constitution states that "the judges of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court and all other Courts established in pursuance of Article 34 hereof shall be appointed by the President". The Constitution further states that the President appoints judges on the advice of the Government and the Government alone.

  I welcome today's debate on the judicial appointments commission. Judicial appointments should only be based on merit and capability and should be open, fair and transparent. This Bill attempts to do that. The entire appointment and selection process should be open to public scrutiny since the public has a right to know how its judges are selected. The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill must ensure that there is a record of the verifiable, independent, open, fair and transparent process, which any unsuccessful applicant is entitled to access if he or she believes there has been unfair treatment in the appointment process.

  I do not believe this is dealt with adequately in the legislation. I put the Minister on notice that I intend tabling amendments on this matter. I took the time to look at the Commonwealth tenure of judges legislation. Just by chance I was on a flight to London the other morning with the dean of the faculty of law at UCD. She did not know me and I did not know her but we got to talking, as people do, about the nature of our work and she sent me some interesting documents on best practice across the Commonwealth. It is an important document and I suggest people read it because it echoes some of the points I am making. The entire appointments process must be open and I made the point that I will be bringing an amendment on that particular issue.

  I support the principle of diversity. Other people have spoken about this. The Council of Europe recommends that there should be no discrimination against judges, or candidates for judicial office, on any grounds such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, disability, birth, sexual orientation or other status. I have no problem with the lay participation as envisaged in this legislation. I would like a balance, not a majority, of both sides, lay and judicial.

  On the issue of the lay chair of the judicial appointments commission, I have a different story. I do not believe it is the right way to go. I was interested in the Leader's comments where he said he would possibly prefer that the Attorney General or the Chief Justice look at that. I intend to table an amendment on that also. I firmly believe the chair of the judicial appointments commission should be the Chief Justice of Ireland. We have had a good debate but I hope the Minister will be open to some reasonable amendments on Committee Stage. I would like to work collaboratively and I appeal to Senators to work collaboratively to bring about change. We do not necessarily need individual groups saying different things, although people are entitled to do that. Let us on this occasion, however, try to work collaboratively to bring change. Many people have spoken and there is an expectation in the media that we in Seanad Éireann might shake this legislation. We have that opportunity in the next two weeks. Let us use it, collaborate and bring constructive measures to this debate.

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black I speak broadly in support of the Bill at this Stage. I will be brief as I know we will have many contributions. This legislation has been controversial, and a large number of amendments were tabled in the Dáil. Many of those have ironed out some of the more contentious issues, but others remain. There is a valuable discussion to be had in terms of the size of the commission and ensuring that the number of members does not make it unwieldy. This was an issue in the Dáil and I am sure it is something that may be worked at on Committee Stage here.  Some technical amendments are also planned on Committee Stage that can clean up some of the discrepancies arising from the debate in the Dáil. Most seem sensible and I will support them.

  In a wider sense, we should welcome the broad goal of the Bill. I am supportive of opening up the process of how judges are appointed, especially as this will still ultimately be an advisory board. We are not putting the selection of judges to a public vote.

  The Bill is about ensuring that the advice given to the Government when appointing new members of the Judiciary does not come only from the legal profession. We are trying to capture the voices and perspectives of wider society and walks of life. As my colleague, Senator Ruane, has mentioned, I am thinking in particular of people who have personal experience of the criminal justice system, such as those who may have been in addiction and experienced the justice system as a result of that. I really believe that people from more marginalised communities can bring an important perspective on how the system works and how judges can better understand what it is like to be on the other side of the courtroom. There is also a significant value there in terms of attitudes to sentencing and what works to reduce crime in a humane, empathetic manner.

  I would like to see a scenario where the new commission is discussing the merits of applicants in the presence of a legal voice but also with someone who can look at a candidate from a human rights perspective, as well as someone who can look at sentencing or past work and see how effective it has been in terms of behaviours such as addiction. I met the Minister, Deputy Ross, to discuss the Bill and mentioned this point specifically but I think more detail will be required on how it will actually work in practice. In terms of the lay people on the commission, there are two stages. The first concerns how they will be reached and encouraged to put themselves forward. I do not want to see a situation where we move from one type of jobs-for-the-boys scenario to another, in which the only applicants for these roles are from extremely well connected and well funded walks of life. If we are serious about getting new, diverse voices and perspectives onto this body, then we need to see specific detail on what will be done to reach them. Where will we advertise? What outreach will be done? How will we bring this to the grassroots community level?

  The second point, and this is related, concerns the support provided for commission members once it is actually sitting. We need to have provisions in place for basic things like training and facilitation to ensure that people are encouraged to speak up and bring their expertise to the table. If people know this support is available, the pool of applicants will be bigger. It will encourage people to come forward. When the commission actually sits, it will ensure contributions are coming from all sides of the room. This is not necessarily something we need to put in the text of the Bill as it concerns granular detail but I would like to see some discussion with the Minister on what will be done on these points and commitments.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Senator Colm Burke has six minutes.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I welcome the Minister to the House. Coming from the legal profession, I have some concerns on the Bill. It is important to recognise that the system of appointment to the judicial service has been in place since 1922 and the Judiciary has served the country very well. The Judiciary has pushed out the boundaries in constitutional cases and has given rights which were perceived not to exist. These appointments were made by the Government of the day yet the Judiciary kept its independence at all times and the separation of powers was always maintained. We are very lucky as a jurisdiction that this has been the case since 1922.

  We are now discussing setting up a commission. Members are elected to Dáil Éireann and the Cabinet is formed by the party with the majority of support. The Cabinet is drawn from all areas of Irish life, including some with judicial experience or teachers and doctors who work in the community, but it is not from any one group. We are now setting up a new process for selecting the people who will be appointed to a judicial role when in real terms the Cabinet, which is not drawn from any one group of society, is already in place. While we may have criticisms of Governments, down the years, overall the Government has acted in a reasonable and proper manner when making judicial appointments. I have appeared in all courts, namely, the District, Circuit, High and Supreme Courts, and have always found, on reflection, that the decisions have been correct based on the arguments that have been placed before the judge or judges. It has been set out quite clearly that there is a need to set up this new commission and I accept that decision but it is important not to over-regulate by stating the Government of the day cannot do A, B or C when the system has already worked very well.

  The 13 members of the commission will be drawn from the courts, the Office of the Attorney General and six lay people. The lay people will come from the recommendation of the Public Appointments Service, PAS. I am not sure it can make a wiser decision than the Cabinet of the day as to who chairs a particular committee or commission. Are we setting up another structure? In recent years, the talk was of removing quangos and I wonder whether we are setting up a structure that is not necessarily in everyone's best interest. We have taken the decision. There are Members who have far more experience in this area than have I and who intend to table amendments, which must be considered carefully.

  It is important to emphasise that the Judiciary has served us well since 1922 and has maintained at all times its independence. While we might be critical of some decisions, we have got a very good return overall from the system that was established in 1922 and subsequently under the Constitution of 1937. The Judiciary has been independent in constitutional matters, no matter which Government was in power. The courts have been extremely proactive in ensuring that where the State has overstepped the mark, it has been held to account and in making sure the ordinary citizens have the same rights, regardless of their status and social and economic background.

  We must give the Bill before us careful consideration and must ensure that we will not need to come back in four or five years' time because the commission is not reaching the right decisions on recommendations.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Senator Norris has six minutes.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I am unambiguous in my attitude toward this Bill. I think it is an appalling tissue of rubbish. We have heard all kinds of stuff on dogs tails and transparent lobsters. They could not even get it right in the Dáil. They tried to squeeze 16 people into 13 places. How nonsensical can one possibly get?

  There is a huge whiff of populism off this Bill.  I am not convinced that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, despite his public protestations, is that averse to cronyism. Reference was made to the judgment in the case I took in the Supreme Court. Chief Justice O'Higgins's judgment was stupid. He misdirected himself in law because all that can be decided on in the Supreme Court is material arising from legal points in the High Court. Two other nincompoops gutlessly signed the judgment without giving any reason for doing so. I regard that as an aberration.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan On a point of order-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It happened and it does not particularly bother me. We made our argument and we eventually prevailed, which is the important aspect of the case.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I cannot sit here and allow members of the Judiciary to be referred to in the manner in which Senator Norris has done. The fact that the persons concerned may be retired is immaterial.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I do not know whether they are retired but that is what they were.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan It is an outrageous comment, but I will defer to the Chair.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Does the Senator wish to withdraw the manner in which he referred to------

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris No. When someone signs a document without giving any reason for doing so and when the Chief Justice misdirects himself in law, how else can one describe it? The Minister has-----

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I want it recorded that I dissent from the use of such language in the House.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It is recorded. The Minister----

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke In fairness, the people to whom the Senator is referring are not here to give their views or defend themselves.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone That is correct.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris To stop the interruptions, I will withdraw the remark.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I thank the Senator.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan That is a cynical reason for withdrawing it.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, said that reform does not imply that the present system has impaired the quality, diligence and integrity of the judicial function. He significantly failed to point to any single instance of judicially inappropriate appointment. That is a very significant fact, so there is no real reason for concern. The Minister also said that his approach is in accordance with the views of the Judiciary. I would not have thought so.

  I welcome that there will be a nominee from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission but I would be a lot more impressed if the suggestion I made some years ago that all legislation should be human rights proofed before it is passed by either House was taken up.

  There are some aspects of the Bill that are good. For example, the promotion of academics of distinction to the Bench is a good idea. It is also stated in the Bill that people should be promoted on merit. It is unbelievable that people would find it necessary to include such a provision in legislation. The most noxious part of the Bill is section 16 (2), which states, "The Procedures Committee shall consist of 9 members of the Commission, the majority of whom shall be lay members and the chairperson of that Committee shall be such one of those lay members as the Commission determines." Section 16(5) states:

A committee established under subsection (4) shall consist of such and so many members of the Commission as may be determined by the Commission, the majority of whom shall be lay members and the chairperson of the committee shall be such one of those lay members as the Commission determines.

That is nonsense. Are we to have a situation where dentists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, lecturers and so on are to be dictated to by lay members? I agree with the appointment of lay members to the commission but to provide that they be in the majority is utterly preposterous. In the context of statements of the commission, section 54(1)(b) states that the commission make such modifications to either of them as it considers appropriate and approve them as so modified. How is that for democracy and accountability?

  I regard this legislation as nonsense. It is plain that it was introduced at the behest of one Minister. There is also a funny deal going on with Sinn Féin, but that is its business. Politics is all about deals. There is no doubting that this is a fact. We have the absurd situation whereby this highly undemocratic process is forcing unnecessary change into the legal system in a manner which guarantees lay majority, lay chairpersons and so on in a profession. Do we trust our judges? I do. I have been critical of some of them and I believe that in some cases idiotic judgments have been made. However, that is the nature of things. One simply needs to proceed and continue to argue until one wins. I will be opposing this Bill, which is a noxious piece of nonsense.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I come to this debate having not been lobbied by anyone and, thus, I have formed a clear view regarding where I stand on the matter. I support the Bill, which I believe is the right approach. It is founded on the basis of international comparison and evidence. The Bill stands up to international scrutiny and, more importantly, it stands up to the principle of opening up decision-making and ensuring that the public has an opportunity to participate in that decision-making. I understand the concerns raised, particularly by my learned colleague, Senator McDowell, but those concerns can be teased out in more detail on Committee Stage. In general, this is a good Bill.

  I commend the Government on the introduction of this legislation, which is the right thing to do when one believes a right approach is being taken on an issue. Much has been said about the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. I commend him on the stance he has taken on this issue, but that is not in any way to suggest shortcomings across the Judiciary. As has been said, our Judiciary has served the country well since our independence but that does not mean we should not review the manner in which judges are appointed, as we do in regard to appointments to all State committees. If there is a perception - it may be more than a perception - that, depending on the colour of one's political skin, one can be appointed to a State committee or board or to the Judiciary, that is wrong. The thrust of this Bill is to bring about a re-evaluation of the process to eliminate that perception and that is to be welcomed.

  The Bill has been open to public consultation dating back to 2013. Recommendations have been made and the Bar Council, the Judiciary and others have made submissions on it. I understand it has been welcomed across the legal profession among solicitors. This should be acknowledged. Excellent research carried out by Professor Erika Rackley and Professor Clare McGlynn on the diversity within the judicial appointments process, not only in Ireland but internationally, and whether it impacts on the decision-making process states that judicial appointments should not be necessarily restricted to liberal or conservative views but should look at wider issues such as equality of opportunity, democratic legitimacy and public buy-in and confidence. The Bill seeks to achieve this.

  On lay membership, Baroness Fraser in the UK, who is a crossbench Member of the House of Lords and who was the first independent lay chairperson of the Judicial Appointments Commission in England, stated that lay membership is not necessarily about increasing transparency or openness, rather it is about adding value to the system.  What she valued most about being a lay member and observing other lay members was that they brought independence of mind to the process. That is welcome, not just necessarily with judicial appointments but with political appointments to State boards.

  Other jurisdictions have introduced such measures. Recently, England and Wales reconfigured the manner in which judicial appointments take place. On their 15-member commissions, there are six lay members, six from the judiciary, two lawyers and one non-legally qualified judicial person. The chair is a lay member of the commission. In Ontario, Canada, the newly established 13-member commission for judicial appointments comprised seven lay members, which included the chair, three judges and three lawyers. Based on the evaluations I have read about these arrangements in these jurisdictions, it seems the public has bought into it and the system is working.

  While this legislation is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction and I am glad to support it. It is a good idea that academics have an opportunity to be appointed to the commission as well. The criteria for the public appointments process are set down. Having a blend is a useful toolkit in bringing more diversity to the legal profession. We have seen with the recent referendum, despite which side people were on, that Ireland is changing. We have a diversity of opinion with many new people coming into our country, which we all welcome. That diversity will improve the commission.

  The current process is open and recommendations are made between seven and 20 members, with no ranking criteria associated with that. Judges are not interviewed, despite the fact the current process provides for that, which is wrong. If one goes for any job, one is interviewed. Senators are interviewed by many people when we go before the public or councillors who are our electors. There should be an interview process for any position of substance in the State in which one fulfils an important role. Currently, it is confined to three members and, ultimately, a Government decision.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I welcome the Minister. Like others, I recognise the origins of the Bill, coming as it does from the issues identified by the public consultation regarding the independence of the Judiciary on the one hand, as well as the importance that the Judiciary would reflect the eligibility and diversity of our population and that there would be clear transparency in the judicial appointments process. I welcome the broad thrust of the Bill. The increase in the levels of transparency and accountability in the process of appointing judges is welcome overall. I also strongly welcome the achievement of diversity in the Judiciary as a goal for the commission. However, I have concerns that while diversity and gender balance are strongly emphasised in section 7, section 36 which relates to the appointment of individual judges may lack the same emphasis in putting that into effect. A good point was made by Senator Ó Domhnaill that lay members are not witnesses solely alone but there is a question of adding value. In that section, there is a clear emphasis on the kinds of experience and skills, including experience with the Courts Service, rehabilitation and a wide range of other skills, which can add understanding to the debate. The lay member is not there as a witness but as a contributor.

  On particular skills which are necessary and stated as goals, for example, human rights skills, I am concerned the requirement not to have practised law for 15 years could inadvertently serve as a barrier to some human rights experts. I refer to Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUIG. Many people who work in the human rights sphere rather than in the legal system come from that background. I welcome the clarity in the Dáil debate on the specificity of the IHREC, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, nomination. I have some concerns around the question of legal academics. There is a slightly different category which does not relate to our Judiciary or practising barristers or solicitors but to legal academics who have a useful insight to bring into the mix. Lay persons who were legal academics could serve as a bridge. We do not want to see the full component of lay persons represented but I am concerned that the 15-year bar may potentially serve to deny credible candidates in that regard. I may table amendments seeking one role for a legal academic in the mix.

  My other concern is in respect of the appointments of judges. I recognise and applaud the conveyance towards diversity. I am concerned how health is invoked as grounds in that regard. It is unusual, and somewhat out of date, to put in a health test, or anything that could be construed as one, as one of the grounds for the appointment of a judge. Competence is reflected in the requirements. There may be a case to be made for ensuring somebody who has the competence also has the capacity. A key test should be, however, whether the person can do the work rather than the abstract idea of the state of his or her health and what it might be. I am concerned that it could lead inadvertently to an ageist component or prejudices in terms of disability or ability. We should rank the health of candidates in that regard. The key question is the candidate's capacity to perform the functions. There are better ways to capture that. Senator Dolan is also concerned about this.

  I welcome the idea of a full-time director of the commission and the provision of training. The lack of training schemes within our Judiciary has been a key problem. The role of the director in facilitating and supporting legal analysis and resources for lay members will be crucial as will the role of the chair. While it was rejected by the Dáil, the chair may need to be specific characteristics who can both understand the law but also be that bridge in bringing everybody with them in that discussion. If the chair were to be a lay person, then he or she should have a good legal grounding.

  I intend to table a few amendments on Committee Stage.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I thank Senators for their sharing their views on this important legislation. We all acknowledge the independent role the Judiciary has played as a fundamental pillar of our democratic structures since the foundation of the State, acting at all times independent of the Executive and Legislature. Its members have always acted in a way that has been separate, irrespective of the background from which they came or their previous careers.  In that regard, I do not share the views of commentators on the Bill who have indicated it is an answer to some form of cronyism or bad practice and that it is the result of a need to check our Judiciary in some way. I very much acknowledge what Senators have said in that regard. I very much agree that we have been very well served over the years by an independent, impartial Judiciary.

  I acknowledge that the Bill has had its ups and downs over the past while, in the Dáil and in wider public commentary, as was said at the start of the debate by Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee. It has been the subject of lengthy discussion but also of vigorous and robust discussion. It has proved a challenge to bring the Bill to where it is now. It has been the source of some controversy. As has been pointed out and as has been obvious to everyone, it has been heavily amended. It is now quite different from its original state in many respects. In this regard, I want to refer to point made by Senator Martin Conway, who said the essence of parliamentary discourse is debate. I welcome those Senators who have expressed doubts about certain parts, aspects and sections of the Bill. I acknowledge the positive contribution made by all those Senators who said they will allow for the passage of the Bill on Second Stage with a view to determining afterwards, by way of line-by-line scrutiny, how best to deal with it with a view to improving it. In that regard, I acknowledge that this is far from the finished article. It is in need of further adjustment, not least through a series of amendments on which the Ceann Comhairle gave a procedure-related ruling in the Lower House following the defeat of an amendment consequent to an important amendment that provided for the inclusion on the commission of the presidents of the two lower courts and the Attorney General.

  I acknowledge what was said by almost every Senator, or group leader in particular, namely, that he or she will be tabling amendments. I welcome that but I must point out that there are 15 amendments all stemming from the expansion of the commission membership in section 10 that I need to table for Committee Stage to ensure that the Bill is clear, consistent and workable. It very much needs to be workable. These are essentially drafting amendments but they will nevertheless amount to changes of a pretty important nature.

  Two of the 15 amendments will amend section 10, which specifies the membership make-up. Two will amend section 11, relating to terms and conditions of membership of the two lower court presidents and the Attorney General and their terms of office. There will be consequential drafting adjustments to section 12 and to sections 16, 17 and 18, relating to a member ceasing to hold office, and to section 19, relating to a member being ineligible to hold office, and section 20, on the removal of a member of the commission.

  Section 44 will be extended to provide for the recusal from the selection and recommendation process of additional members of the commission where they have applied for appointment to judicial office and for their replacement in such event by the most senior judge of the relevant courts or by a different nominee of the legal profession, as will arise from time to time. In addition, I will be tabling some drafting amendments to tidy up certain cross-references in the Bill. For example, there will be drafting amendments to sections 12 and 43 to ensure the text is clear and relevant.

  How much time have I left?

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Minister has until 5.50 p.m. He will not need it.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I will not need it. If that represents a deal, it may well be the extent of the deal, as has been referred to.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile That is the deal on offer.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I want to make reference to some of the points made by Senators. I will do so in the context of my having been very pleased to have had the opportunity to sit here listening to many very constructive contributions and important suggestions, all of which I will reflect on for Committee Stage, acknowledging, as I do, the number and variety of amendments to various sections that I am expecting from Opposition Members. I look forward to those. I am very keen to have appropriate time given to Senators to reflect on this debate, to examine the Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann and to allow for informed amendments to be tabled. I am not coming in here today saying I want amendments tabled in the next couple of days or that I want this debate to resume here next Tuesday. Acknowledging that there are some shortcomings in the legislation that we need to address, I am happy to allow time to facilitate the drafting of amendments following due consideration.

  Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee spoke about compliance with European standards and the criticism by the European Commission. I acknowledge that there was criticism. It is important that the point raised by Senator Clifford-Lee is addressed. When the European Commission made its comments in March, when it published its 2018 country report on Ireland as part of the European semester, it based its criticisms on a proposed appointments body comprising three judges and a membership of 13. It is fair to say the commission received a specific submission from the Irish Judiciary, and I am sure that heavily informed its view. The criticism was based on the appointments body proposed, but it is now different based on amendments made on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil. The Commission stated:

The envisaged composition of a new body for proposing judicial appointments raises concerns regarding the level of participation of the judiciary in that body. The proposed composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission, which would comprise only 3 judges over 13 (including a lay chairperson accountable to the Oireachtas) would not be in line with European standards...

It acknowledges specifically that this was opposed by the Association of Judges of Ireland. The commission refers to paragraph 47 of recommendation 12 of 2010, adopted by the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe. This sets out that an independent and competent authority drawn in substantial part from the Judiciary should be authorised to make recommendations or express opinions concerning the selection of judges. As Minister for Justice and Equality, speaking on behalf of my Government colleagues, I emphasise that the Government has taken note of the European Commission's comments but there is no single international binding standard in this area, nor is there anything that might be considered an acceptable international norm in this area. It is important to point out that within the international forum, the Irish common law system needs to be acknowledged.  It is worth noting that the 2010 Council of Europe recommendation also states at paragraph 48 that membership of the relevant independent authorities should ensure the widest possible representation. I have no doubt that consideration of "widest possible representation" goes beyond mere membership by judges or the Judiciary.

  In any event, it is my view now that the European Commission comments are by and large redundant given that the structure of the proposal for the appointments commission has been changed and expanded to ensure a greater judicial input and a substantial judicial presence. That is why I was pleased that the Lower House accepted the proposal to allow for a voice on the commission for judges from each arm of the courts. I believe that has improved the Bill. That was also an important point and submission made by members of the Judiciary in the context of my discussions with them. I acknowledged that point in light of their expertise and experience over the past two decades under the appointments board system. What we have now is greater judicial input coupled with a strong legal presence and membership drawn from both arms of the legal profession, the Bar Council and the Law Society of Ireland, as well as a lay presence. In the context of diversity and having a membership that in some way reflects, or, if not, is fully representative of, our society a lay presence is important. That is provided for in the context of maintaining the programme for Government commitment to a lay majority component.

  I want to acknowledge many of the constructive suggestions made by Senator McDowell, in particular when he makes reference to political engagement or involvement, very much with a small "p". Senators need no reminding that the constitutional imperative of Government is still very much retained. There was never any question that this legislation in draft guise, prior to publication, at pre-legislative scrutiny stage or during the public consultation would consider the issue of a referendum to change the Constitution to allow for a system of appointment other than by Government. To my mind, that never gained traction either in the political or legal arenas or among the wider public. That was an important point made by Senator McDowell and the legislation has been formulated against that background.

  I did not hear Senator McDowell specifically reference the senior appointments group, but I would invite him to do so because many of the points he made would fit comfortably into what was in the Bill originally but is not now in it. This is something we should revisit with particular reference to the method and mode of appointment for the three most senior judicial figures in the State, namely, the Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeal and the President of the High Court. We should revisit how those appointments in particular might fit into what I can describe as the regular or common or garden process within the legislation before us. We should revisit the original intention, which was that there would be a senior appointments group for dealing with these three important appointees, the three most senior appointees. If I heard Senator McDowell correctly, he spoke about a more general interview process, perhaps a more protracted and lengthy process, and how that might not be the most attractive means by which we could arrive at selecting the three most senior appointees for judicial office. I will be revisiting the matter but I call on to Senators to consider how best that might be done having regard to what we have before us at present.

  I wish to acknowledge the strong contribution of Senator Boyhan. I agree fully with his comment that there are aspects of this Bill in respect of which it would be somewhat challenging to find cross-party or all-party agreement in the Seanad. However, he undertook to work in a collaborative manner. That is important and that is what we are here for. I welcome his comments and I hope we can all work to that spirit, if not to the letter, in the coming weeks.

  I wish to acknowledge Senator Ó Domhnaill's strident contribution. I agree with much of what he had to say. He declared that he was not lobbied and that he came to this more dispassionately and perhaps more objectively than some of us might profess to be. That was an important contribution and I was struck by it.

  Reference was made by several Senators to the fourth evaluation round compliance report on Ireland by the Council of Europe monitoring body GRECO. It is important to note that a plenary session is taking place in Strasbourg today that will examine the state of play with regard to this legislation. The examination is an important aspect of the fourth round evaluation currently under way. I know some Senators had the opportunity of engaging first-hand with GRECO, just as I had before I joined Government. It is important that this august body monitoring every move of our legislative programmes will be able to see and acknowledge the progress that we have made in the matter of the implementation of GRECO recommendations. While there has been criticism by that body of us, as legislators, and of the Government, as executive leader, there have been many positive developments since the publication of the compliance report in June last year. I expect that progress will be reported in a further positive light when we get sight of the next report.

  I wish to make brief reference to the mention made by Senator Buttimer, Senator Boyhan and others of the lay involvement, especially the status or position of the lay or non-legal chairperson in section 12, which was formerly section 15. Section 12 deals with the recruitment of lay members by the Public Appointments Service. As Senators will be aware, the section was heavily amended on Committee and Report Stages in Dáil Éireann. I imagine Senators will agree that if we compare the initial draft with what we have now, the changes from what was section 15 to what is now section 12 are stark.  It is unfortunate that there are a number of inconsistencies in the section. Of course, there is now a gap or a shortcoming. Senator Norris would probably put it in more strident terms than that.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The Minister is correct.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I acknowledge there is a lacuna in terms of the appropriateness or suitability requirements for the non-legal chair, and I will be tabling an amendment to deal with that. I am open to giving consideration to any further improvements to section 12 that Senators may wish to put forward. We can come back to that in more detail on Committee Stage.

  I want to acknowledge the positive disposition towards the Bill displayed by Senators Ruane and Black. I have even gleaned some positivity from the remarks of Senator Bacik.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I was being constructive.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I did not agree with the entirety of her contribution, but she has specialist knowledge in this area which always ensures that her contributions are worth listening to. I took some positives from what she said although I reject the references made by Senators Bacik and Norris to a form of grubby deal between certain parties. I reject the deal and the word "grubby". That is not my practice.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee What was it, if not a deal?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan In support of what I say, I invite Senators - who are not often minded to read the record of Dáil transcripts due to the superior nature of the debate here in the Upper House - to look at the number of amendments to this legislation on both Committee and Report Stages and assess the comparator in terms of agreement between the party groups. They will find, perhaps to their surprise, a strong trend where, on amendments and submissions, an agreement was reached between the two main Opposition parties - Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin - rather than any particular trend, in voting or otherwise, between either or both of the Opposition parties and the Government.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I congratulate Sinn Féin on keeping the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in government.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile That is a first.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan That statement very much speaks for itself. I also point to what Senator Ó Donnghaile said in the course of his contribution. He put the Government on notice of a number of amendments that he will table, many of which will be controversial and some of which will be uncomfortable for Government. In the spirit of Senators Conway and Boyhan, let us agree to collaborate as much as we can and get the best from this legislation, which must be constitutionally sound, legally robust and practically workable. I believe we can do that.

  The Bill, as originally drafted, involved a rather lengthy process involving groups, subgroups and committees, which has been removed. I believe that has resulted in a better Bill, the quid pro quo being that fewer committees and subgroups lead to a larger commission. That is why we must deal with the very glaring inconsistency, which formed the basis of the contribution made by Senator Norris, by having an enlarged commission with a lay majority and by ensuring there are no contradictions in the Bill. We can work towards that without having to throw out the entirety of the Bill, which unfortunately is the disposition of Senator Norris.

  We will be in a position to move forward to Committee Stage. I have an open mind on many of the amendments coming forward but I ask that serious consideration be given by Senators to my Government amendments on the basis that they seek to ensure we have a Bill that is not in conflict with the Constitution. Senator McDowell is correct that there are certain aspects to this legislation which might conflict with it, one of which he referred to when he said he would call for the President to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court. It is important that we would, on Committee Stage, do what is required of us, which is to ensure that the Bill is constitutionally sound before it leaves us on its journey to Áras an Uachtaráin and does not require the type of referral that Senator McDowell has suggested. The point made by the Senator was valid.

  I thank Senators for their positive contributions. I have outlined the amendments I will bring on Committee Stage. I am open to persuasion in terms of further improvements that might be made. I do not believe we should scrap the Bill. We should work on it. I detect a majority in the House who are in favour of some form of amended legislation along the lines of what is proposed in this Bill and I welcome that. I believe we can make further improvements to the Bill by working together. We have made significant progress, judging from the intimations of the party leaders, group leaders and individual Senators. We have benefitted from the Second Stage debate this afternoon. I thank Members for their contributions and their co-operation and I look forward to further debate. In fairness to everybody, we need to reflect where we are now, at the end of the Second Stage debate, before coming back with what I expect to be a considerable number of amendments. I will circulate the amendments I am proposing as soon as possible for the consideration of the Senators and I look forward to receiving the amendments proposed by each group. My officials are available, as am I, to answer any queries, questions or clarifications that might be required in the context of the preparation of amendments. It is my intention that we will complete this legislation by the summer recess. I hope that is possible but I am not going to hamstring Senators in any way. I want open debate and positive contributions and I want to deal with the issues. I hope that we can complete the legislation in the timeframe set down by the Seanad for its work to be completed, perhaps towards the end of July. I am available to discuss the Bill and I hope that we can conclude matters in a positive and constructive manner.

Question put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 33; Níl, 13.

Níl
Information on Frances Black   Zoom on Frances Black   Black, Frances. Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana.
Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm. Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee   Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee   Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
Information on Paddy Burke   Zoom on Paddy Burke   Burke, Paddy. Information on Mark Daly   Zoom on Mark Daly   Daly, Mark.
Information on Ray Butler   Zoom on Ray Butler   Butler, Ray. Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul.
Information on Jerry Buttimer   Zoom on Jerry Buttimer   Buttimer, Jerry. Information on Gerry Horkan   Zoom on Gerry Horkan   Horkan, Gerry.
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 Colette Kelleher   Zoom on Colette Kelleher   Kelleher, Colette.
Information on Paul Coghlan   Zoom on Paul Coghlan   Coghlan, Paul. Information on Terry Leyden   Zoom on Terry Leyden   Leyden, Terry.
Information on Rose Conway-Walsh   Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh   Conway-Walsh, Rose. Information on David P.B. Norris   Zoom on David P.B. Norris   Norris, David.
Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin. Information on Ned O'Sullivan   Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Ned.
Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P. Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin   Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin   Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
Information on Máire Devine   Zoom on Máire Devine   Devine, Máire. Information on Keith Swanick   Zoom on Keith Swanick   Swanick, Keith.
Information on Frank Feighan   Zoom on Frank Feighan   Feighan, Frank. Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid.
Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul.  
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary.  
Information on Maura Hopkins   Zoom on Maura Hopkins   Hopkins, Maura.  
Information on Billy Lawless   Zoom on Billy Lawless   Lawless, Billy.  
Information on Anthony Lawlor   Zoom on Anthony Lawlor   Lawlor, Anthony.  
Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.  
Information on Ian Marshall   Zoom on Ian Marshall   Marshall, Ian.  
Information on Michelle Mulherin   Zoom on Michelle Mulherin   Mulherin, Michelle.  
Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.  
Information on Kieran O'Donnell   Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Kieran.  
Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.  
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 Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.  
Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Ó Domhnaill, Brian.  
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall.  
Information on James Reilly   Zoom on James Reilly   Reilly, James.  
Information on Neale Richmond   Zoom on Neale Richmond   Richmond, Neale.  
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn.  
Information on Fintan Warfield   Zoom on Fintan Warfield   Warfield, Fintan.  


Tellers: Tá, Senators John O'Mahony and Neale Richmond; Níl, Senators Lorraine Clifford-Lee and Diarmuid Wilson.

Question declared carried.

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

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Next Tuesday.

  Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 26 June 2018.

Short-term Lettings Bill 2018: Second Stage

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

  I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English, to the House. We have spoken about this Bill several times but I want to go back over some of the history. I brought this Bill forward in early 2017. I did not push it in the hope that we would see the report commissioned by the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, who was succeeded by Deputy Eoghan Murphy, which was due in late 2017. We have still not seen that report and we are now seven months behind. There have been several leaks but nothing substantial. I had concerns because it was being chaired by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which has skin in the game. If we introduce legislation and regulation in respect of short-term lets, and I want to be honest with the House about this, it will lead to a reduction in holiday bedrooms in many of our urban areas.

  I have always realised that this is not zero sum as it will effect on another part of the economy. The tourism industry will be affected. More and more, however, we see that working people cannot get accommodation in our urban areas, and not just in urban areas. I have received complaints from Leitrim, Galway, Kerry and elsewhere where people are competing against short-term lets. I use the phrase "short-term lets" because many people use the language of Airbnb. That is not, however, the only platform with short-term lets. There are 16 different platforms operating and it is a wild west show. That is why we need legislation and regulation.

  On my street alone, in the heart of Dublin, there are nine short-term lets. Up to two years ago, they were all being let to families working in the economy. They have now been displaced. We were in the headquarters of Airbnb two weeks ago with the now mayor of Galway, Mr. Niall McNelis. He explained the impact that Airbnb is having in Galway. The specific example he used was of one family being evicted to allow the house to be substantially upgraded. When that was finished, the house was going to be a short-term let. We are looking at a working family losing its accommodation because of the unit being turned into a short-term let. That example can be repeated across Ireland.

  One of the Minister of State's own officials gave me the figure of approximately 20,000 short-term lets operating across the country. That is a substantial figure when we are fighting to get working people back into homes. It is also a frightening figure because fewer flats and homes mean higher prices. The Government constantly tells us that if we get the supply right, prices will equalise. I am not saying this Bill will fix all the problems, but it will have a significant impact now. It will bring a significant number of units back into the market across Ireland, reduce rents and allow working people an opportunity to get into accommodation.

  At a meeting this morning in Buswells Hotel, which many Senators attended, the students' unions pointed out the impact of short-term lets on student accommodation across the country. The rent-a-room scheme can no longer compete with short-term lets. These warning signals have been there for two years. One of my earliest speeches in this House highlighted the impact of short-term lets and we are still waiting for action. We have been promised reports but there has been little action. This is now big business but not necessarily good planning. We have seen communities hollowed out when residential units become a holiday village. Where there were families, we now have tourists. This has to change. I am not saying this is a perfect Bill because it was drafted prior to the committee.  Members of this House did a lot of work on short-term lets. The recommendation from the committee was 90 days. I will show flexibility in respect of amendments to the Bill. My preference is to have engagement with the Minister's Department and to speedily bring forward proposals that will alleviate this problem for so many of our citizens, our families and our workers. How am I doing on time?

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Senator has almost six minutes.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys What am I proposing? Under section 2 of the Bill one would have to apply for planning permission to let a self-contained residential unit for periods of six weeks or less. To use a dwelling for short-term letting is to use it for commercial and not residential purposes. We are still operating under the old bed and breakfast legislation that allows people to use their units in this way if they contain four bedrooms or fewer. This is no longer viable in the economy we have. In the Bill I recommend obligations on the platforms such that they would have to record transactions and that planning enforcement officers could write to these platforms to seek information on whether specific residential units have been advertised on them. I know that some of the platforms are currently assisting Revenue but they have refused to assist planning enforcement officers in our local authorities. I see that as problematic. I have spoken to many planning enforcement officers and I have asked them what problems they have in respect of enforcement. At the moment there is some legislation on these apartments but it is not sufficient. Part of the problem is proof. Officers need to prove that units are being used as short-term lets but they have no access to those apartment blocks.

  The legislation is pragmatic but it can be tweaked and there can be improvements. Will the Minister of State consider Government progressing this Bill during Government time so that we could get as many as 3,000 units back into the market? If we look at what has happened in Berlin, Barcelona, San Francisco and many other cities where regulation has been brought in, the market has returned to long-term lets very quickly. Berlin brought in approximately 6,000 units. If one looks at the statistics in the city centre area, when the city brought in legislation similar to that which I am proposing, 3,000 units came back into the long-term let market very quickly. If we got half of that across the country imagine the impact it would have for working families and on the possibility of them getting accommodation at a reasonable price. I will finish with that because I promised the Minister of State and his officials I would keep it brief. He really does have a good overview of what is in the Bill. We need to move quickly to legislate in order to try to get those units back into the long-term residential letting market and to alleviate the housing crisis that we all want dealt with as quickly as possible.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Who is seconding the Bill? It is Senator Bacik.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I am delighted to second this Bill on behalf of the Labour Party group. I commend my colleague, Senator Humphreys, for his long-standing work in this area and for bringing this issue to the attention of the Minister of State and the Government in order to try to do something practical about addressing this real problem that has arisen. We see the extent and the growth of short-term letting and the way in which it undermines the provision of long-term rental properties for families and individuals who need them. This Bill is hugely timely. We, as the Labour Party group, are putting it forward when there is immense public concern about growing homelessness, a growing housing crisis and a stagnation of supply. We see an effective drying-up of building in terms of public, social and affordable housing and, equally, a real diminution of supply in the private rental sector. I am proud to say the Labour Party has always stood for the provision of decent affordable public and social housing. Our Ministers in government who were in charge of housing during a very tough time - Deputy Alan Kelly and Deputy Jan O'Sullivan before him - pushed for more building and to kick-start building programmes.

  We know that this will need a really big push and that the Government needs to do more. It is acknowledged by all sides that more needs to be done, for example, to ensure that local authorities have the resources they need to deliver higher levels of building or to ensure that there is more input from, and a greater role for, not-for-profits and housing associations in the housing sector. We see such organisations deliver so much of the social and affordable housing in other jurisdictions. I am thinking of my experience of living in London where housing associations provide a huge amount of housing for the in-between group that is currently so squeezed in Ireland. These are the people who do not have any chance of getting public housing on housing lists but who cannot afford the rising rents we are seeing, particularly in our capital city. It is this group that we need to make provision for and that is where we are seeing a real squeeze.

  This is where the issue of short-term letting has become a real problem. As I have said, we see the supply of long-term rentals being greatly diminished, particularly in areas such as Dublin city, Galway and Cork. Like Senator Humphreys, I met recently with Councillor Niall McNelis, a Labour Party councillor in Galway, who is exercised about this. He is right to be because the growth of short-term rentals is a very serious issue in Galway city. I recently had occasion to look for a short-term rental in the Dublin area for my own family. I should say for a somewhat longer-term rental. It is short-term from our point of view - about six months. That is a longer term, however, when we look at what is actually available. In fact there was almost nothing in any way affordable available for a family to rent in the Dublin 8 because all the rentals that would previously have been available are now being rented out for much shorter terms. We are talking about nights or weeks - the sort of model Senator Humphreys is seeking to address.

  As he said, this is not just about Airbnb, although I know this Bill is being colloquially referred to as the Airbnb Bill. Many of us are great supporters of Airbnb. I have used its very impressive service in other countries. It offers a really professional model. There are many other platforms also now engaged in short-term letting. It is not about seeking to undermine or criticise them. It is really about trying to ensure a balance and to ensure we have in place an appropriate model of effective regulation, such as we have seen in other jurisdictions and other cities. These include cities like Berlin, which has taken a very strong proactive role in regulating the supply of short-term lettings. In other countries and other jurisdictions we have seen that regulation of short-term letting is well established in order to ensure a balance is in place. We are still operating under a very outdated model of regulation. Effectively we have very little regulation.

  Senator Humphreys's Bill, our Labour Party Bill, would give reasonable powers to local authorities to enforce rules and would ensure a much more balanced system of provision of both short-term and long-term letting in order to ensure that a better supply of housing is made available to people who need it and to ensure that we are, at last, doing something about the terrible housing crisis that really is, and should be, such a priority for Government and for all of us as legislators. We are trying to do our bit as Opposition legislators to push the Government on this. I believe the Government is not opposing this Bill on Second Stage. We are very glad about that, but we want to see it pursued and we want to see the Government taking it up and ensuring that it enters into force as legislation in due course. I commend Senator Humphreys and my Labour Party colleagues again for bringing this forward.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I too welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the House. I note the Minister of State has been spending quite a bit of time in Seanad Éireann in recent weeks, debating the various issues and challenges society currently faces. At the outset, I too want to recognise the purpose of the Bill, which is to try to address the concerns regarding short-term letting and the impact it is having on residential tenancies. I acknowledge the work of Senator Humphreys whom I recognise is well placed in terms of his experience of representing urban areas. He is based in Dublin city centre. I know he is very much on top of issues that are very current. The impact of short-term letting on sustaining residential tenancies is certainly an issue of concern. I too recognise that.

  I know, as does the Minister of State and I think everyone in this House, that supply of housing stock is currently a major issue. There is a finite stock. I want to recognise the Rebuilding Ireland programme that is currently under way and the priority it is being given within Government. It is now beginning to show real progress in terms of delivery of units at various levels. I will leave it to the Minister of State to outline to the House the progress Rebuilding Ireland is making in terms of increasing the housing stock, increasing the availability of units for letting and making more units available to meet the demand.   This week we heard that 1,000 jobs will be created in Dublin by Amazon. That brings added pressure on accommodation and tenancies. Students announced that one of their main issues is the cost of student accommodation. These are real pressures in an economy that is recovering and growing. It is creating a demand that we really need to meet. We have to recognise that we must leverage the full potential of existing housing stock for long-term sustainable tenancies where at all possible. I acknowledge that the Government has established a working group to closely examine the issue of the rental market and tenancies, including short-term letting. I am conscious that this is a democracy and that citizens' property rights must be taken into account. We need to respect individuals' property rights and be careful that we do not impede their constitutional rights. That said, the focus of the Bill is correctly on the use and designation of properties. From a planning perspective it is the proper way to focus in on the use of property so it is being used in the best way possible to meet societal demands. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's response to this debate regarding how he sees the working group, where it is at and whether there are any recommendations on what we should do as a result of its recommendations.

  Senator Bacik quite rightly mentioned the squeezed middle. We should recognise that the Government is putting in place substantial funding for social housing. We are beginning to see a lot of the vacant housing stock being returned to use. We are also beginning to see many of the local authorities getting back to building again. That is something they were not doing for many years. With the assistance of the housing agencies, the number of units is increasing substantially and that is to be welcomed. Having said that, however, I agree with Senator Bacik about the squeezed middle. People who do not qualify for social housing and who are struggling to qualify for mortgages or meet rising rents are falling between stools. I know that the Minister of State will take this into account and that the Government will look at the area of affordable, sustainable rental solutions. The latter need to be long-term and sustainable in order that people might remain in the tenancies. A great deal of legislation is being introduced, especially in the context of rent pressure zones, in order to try to address that particular issue. There is capacity for Government to assist that cohort.

  I mentioned Amazon earlier and the 1,000 jobs that are to be created. That is only one example. In September, when students come back to college, there will be increased pressure to try to find suitable accommodation in Dublin and in other large urban centres. We face a huge challenge in terms of meeting existing accommodation needs in Dublin and in other cities and large towns in order to allow them to function normally. It is important that we think outside the box. It is important that we all continue to search for solutions. None of us has a monopoly on solutions and ideas. We all have a role to play in offering solutions. This Bill is one of those solutions. It recognises the demand and the growing trend whereby long-term tenancies are being eroded in favour of short-term lettings for tourism and financial gain.

  The debate is welcome because it focuses our minds as policymakers and that of the Minister of State as a decision maker. It also focuses the minds of the officials in the Department. We always have to look around the corner. We always have to be out there searching for small interventions that can make a big difference. Senator Humphreys mentioned the thousands of units that could come back into use if changes were made to regulating short-term lettings.

  I welcome the debate and the Bill. I know the Minister of State will elaborate further on the fact the Government is not opposing the Bill on Second Stage. That is a recognition that this is an issue. Senator Humphreys acknowledged that fact. I also welcome that the Senator is willing to work with the Minister and his officials on the wording of the Bill and on amendments that might be needed to make it more effective or efficient. That is the way parliaments should work and I welcome the manner in which the Senator has approached the matter. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply and other contributions.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Fianna Fáil supports the Bill. It is similar to a Bill we introduced in the Dáil. People like to enjoy a nice place to stay when they go on holiday. For both Irish staycation guests and foreign vacation guests, Airbnb has filled a requirement when hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation is unavailable. That is important. The growth of short-term lettings such as Airbnb across the globe has presented serious challenges and we are not meeting those challenges. The Bill is before us because we are not meeting those challenges. We are catching up. This has to stop and we need to set the rules. The State has an important role to play in ensuring proper planning is fully adhered to and the housing market is protected. That is why this is so important.

  I will have to ask for the Minister of State's ear again because I feel he is not listening. He is speaking to Senator Coffey.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I cannot keep turning towards the Senator but I am listening to her.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor The Minister of State will understand. The Bill is important.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I am absolutely listening to the Senator.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Senator should make her contribution and the Minister of State will have an opportunity to reply. Please do not engage.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I was listening.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I have just attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government at which we discussed homelessness with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The issue is crucial. This plays a massive part in it because we have so many homeless people. We are talking about hubs and bed and breakfast accommodation and we are talking about finding houses. This is just part of the solution. It is very important.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I was listening to the Senator so she should please not keep saying I was not listening.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I thank the Minister of State.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson In fairness to the Minister of State, he is one of the best attenders in this House-----

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Absolutely. I welcome that.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson -----and he has a perfect record of listening to Senators and responding to them.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor He was speaking to Senator Coffey so I raised it. I was being polite.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Senator should make her contribution and the Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I thank the Minister of State.

  What we are doing must protect communities and ensure homes are not lost from the long-term rental market and enable a genuine collaborative economy and home-sharing. The latest daft.ie report on rental availability illustrates the need for the Government to progress regulation of Airbnb and other short-term letting platforms. As the figures show, one in two properties is only available to tourists. There were 1,103 entire homes booked for more than 80 nights in all of Dublin during 2016. It is probably more of a city issue. It affects rural areas now but it is definitely affecting cities. It is important that we support this.

  Fianna Fáil supports the 90-night limit as a fair and proportionate response to the short-term lettings issue. This will not discourage home-sharing but it will prevent the loss of homes from long-term renting into professional short-term lettings. The Bill makes provision for a six-week limit and we will seek to amend this on Committee Stage. It is important that clear data-sharing protocols are established to ensure homeowners are not allowed to bypass the system. Local authorities will need to be effectively resourced to empower them to identify rogue lettings and penalise them. On 23 October, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government issued a circular stating that planning permissions for short-term lettings should be refused if there is a short-term let of over 60 days. The guidelines were unclear about who had to apply for the permission and on what grounds it would be granted or refused. It also outlines the refusal of permission for stays of more than five nights or more than four people, which would rule out families for week-long stays. The Minister of State needs to clarify that for me. This has been met by bewilderment and confusion by stakeholders. Why has 60 nights been selected? What is the basis for restricting it to four people? The guidance is contradictory and confusing and risks damaging the sector without properly regulating it. As a result, it is necessary that a new, clear and easy-to-understand regulatory framework - with recommendations from the task force - be put in place.

  We should not be afraid of regulation. Our international neighbours have introduced regulation and it has worked. In New York, the city's rental law bans apartments and buildings with three or more units from being rented out for fewer than 30 days. Barcelona owners have to list their apartments with the city's tourism register, obtain a licence and be responsible for collecting the daily 65 cent tourist tax. London has imposed a 90-night limit per year on short-term lettings. We, as legislators, cannot be gazing idly from the outside in. As this sector takes over, we need to make it work for our wider economy and society. As we have a housing crisis and homelessness, this will play a role and that is crucial. From talking to the Minister at the committee meeting earlier, it is obvious that the crisis continues to obtain. There is lack of supply of accommodation and apartments. There are many issues.  With all of us working together with proper legislation it is to be hoped that we will try to solve this problem as best we can in the short term.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I welcome the Bill proposed by Senator Humphreys. It contains very progressive objectives to deal with what we know is a major obstacle to rentals, in particular in the city, namely, short-term rentals. Short-term letting and home sharing make a really valuable contribution to the tourist economy, as has been mentioned, and also allow families to bring in much needed extra income. However, there is clearly a problem with commercial landlords with multiple listings using Airbnb to maximise profits and, in some cases, to circumvent planning regulations and tax laws.

  We do not have much data and what we have is quite patchy. It is clear that in certain cases in high demand areas like Dublin 1, 2, 7 and 8 a significant volume of properties which would otherwise be used as standard rental units are being transferred to short-term lets, which is obviously having a negative impact on our city and neighbourhood. In turn, it is adding to the homelessness and rental crisis.

  The proposed legislation obliges persons who provide services in connection with the short-term letting of dwellings to furnish information upon request to the relevant planning authority. This is absolutely necessary. In October 2017 the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government published a report which contained 13 recommendations aimed at tackling the lack of regulation and oversight in the sector. One of those proposals stated that the regulations would be supported by a licensing system which would require all short-term letting platforms to register all hosts with the relevant local authority. The introduction of such a system would legally require the platform to provide information with the local authority on the letting type, availability and amount of revenue generated.

  Ireland has been quite slow to act on this issue. I have visited cities in Europe, including Barcelona and Amsterdam, which have taken decisive action. In many other European countries action has been taken at a municipal level. Due to our weakened local authority system that is not possible in Ireland. Dublin City Council is dependent on regulation and guidance from central Government. For example, Barcelona was engaged in a long-running dispute with Airbnb, which listed hundreds of properties that did not have the required permits for city hall, and threatened Airbnb that it would not be able to operate in the city. Airbnb removed the listings which did not comply with city regulations from the website. There are more examples in Berlin and Québec. The enforcement of planning law is a key issue. Local authorities have to have the required resources to make sure that planning regulations are adhered to, which in turn requires greater investment in inspection teams and a higher level of inspection.

  Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, on behalf of Sinn Féin, contributed significantly to the committee report I mentioned. Parties are united in saying that Airbnb is an issue which needs to be grasped effectively. The city is quickly becoming like larger European cities which reap the benefits of tourism but fail to cater for residents. I note queer clubs are being replaced with hotels and the heart of the city is being broken. People who do not subscribe to the mainstream are being cut out.

  The Bill has the support of Sinn Féin. It is something for which we have advocated in recent years and I commend the Senator on highlighting the issues around it. It is time for the Government to act on the proposals in the Bill and the committee report. They are simple and change is overdue.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I wish to thank Senator Humphreys and his Labour Party colleagues for bringing forward this Bill and providing us with another opportunity to discuss short-term lettings, a matter which is a priority for this Government. I am conscious that the Senator has worked on this area for quite a while. We have had discussions about it in the House and it is to be hoped there will be some progress quite soon. I acknowledge his efforts with the Bill, which, as he said, predated the committee report. He has said he is willing to change the Bill, which I accept. That is why we will not oppose it even though we may not agree with parts of it, something I will discuss. We all agree this is an area on which we want to try to make some progress as soon as possible.

  I want to set out from the start that home sharing, that is to say, people providing overnight and short-term accommodation in their own homes, is a good thing. It can be an important source of income which can help home sharers to meet the cost of mortgages, rents and other household expenses and hence support tenure security. It also supports tourism and associated economic activity, and even social and cultural exchange, something everyone who has contributed to the debate recognised. We all recognise the importance of home sharing as an option to encourage tourism and allow visitors to be able to avail of more options and what we have to provide as a country. However, this does not reduce the number of residential units available in the economy when used properly.

  Short-term letting under either of these scenarios will lead to a direct loss of units in the rental sector and, by extension, the broader housing system, points which were well made by all those who contributed to the debate. This means fewer longer-term and secure accommodation units being available to the increasing numbers of families and people who need to access it.

  Of course there is the potential for positive impacts as well, such as increased economic activity and tourism revenue. With the housing system under severe pressure, the positive impacts are outweighed by the negative ones. The social and economic impacts faced by families experiencing difficulties in accessing accommodation are significant and will not be compensated by the broader economic benefits a shift of residential units into shorter-term letting could bring.

  Equally, increased tourism revenues or footfall in urban restaurants, shops and local businesses will do nothing to compensate the front-line worker who has to move from the city to the periphery of the commuter belt with all the associated burdens, such as increased travel time, costs and dislocation in terms of schools and social networks. A number of contributors highlighted this and Senator Humphreys referred to workers who want to be able to avail of accommodation in the city and find it extremely hard to so, a point to which I will return. We have to try to prioritise those who need support.

  At the same time we do not want to deny people the opportunities associated with short-term letting, in the traditional bed and breakfast accommodation manner or via online platforms, that allow people to let out rooms in their homes as a means of earning some extra income. This type of activity could actually help front-line workers pay their rent or mortgage and keep them in their homes. It is important to emphasise that we do not want to close that down.

  That said, I understand and appreciate the motivation and bona fides behind this Private Members' Bill, and I think we are all in agreement about what we are trying to achieve. To specifically address the Bill's proposals, I will take the opportunity to set out the Governments position on each proposal.

  Section 2 proposes to introduce a definition of short-term lettings. At present, there is no such legal definition. The Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011 uses a figure of eight consecutive weeks, but this does not take into consideration the cumulative effect across an entire season or year. I accept that Senator Humphreys made it very clear that he is willing to change parts of the Bill. I am not trying to nitpick; rather I am going through the issues we all have to face now and in the coming weeks as we address this issue. To accept the definition in the Bill would pre-empt the findings of the working group established under the strategy for the rental sector, not to mention any possible issues that may arise during discussions with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

  Section 3 states that under the planning code where a dwelling is used for short-term lettings for more than an aggregate of six weeks per year then its use shall be classed as commercial rather than residential. Under the planning code, all development, including a material change of use, requires planning permission unless exempted under the Act or the associated regulations. For example, there is an exemption which facilitates the use of a house for overnight guest accommodation in certain circumstances, which is traditionally relied on in the context of the provision of bed and breakfast type accommodation.

  The Bill proposes that for the purposes of the planning code short-term letting for periods exceeding six weeks in a year is a commercial use, not a residential one. It is understood the intention of this provision is to require property owners to obtain planning permission for a material change of use. However, this is already generally the case under current planning requirements, and was addressed in a circular to planning authorities in October 2017, which sets out the existing planning requirements in regard to the short-term letting of houses and apartments.  Section 4 proposes removing the exemption under section 3(1)(1) of the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011, which disapplies the Act to short-term lettings. The 2011 Act provided for, inter alia, the establishment of the Property Services Regulatory Authority, which regulates property service providers, that is, estate agents, letting agents and property management agents. Provision was made such that the Act does not apply to:

"a property service consisting solely of a short-term letting to a person where such letting—
(i) does not exceed or is unlikely to exceed 8 consecutive weeks, and

(ii) is for bona fide tourism or other leisure purposes"

This exemption provision was intended to allow owners of holiday houses, cottages, etc., to let them directly to tourists without requiring the use of estate or letting agents and all the costs and inconvenience that can be associated with that. The 2011 Act was designed to regulate the genuine property services sector, not the tourism sector, and it was quite deliberate that genuine tourism lets were incorporated in the list of exemptions provided for. Amending the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011, as proposed in the Bill, would significantly change the manner in which the Act operates. It would potentially place a very significant additional burden on the Property Services Regulatory Authority, which would require significant resourcing, and might very well lead to unforeseen consequences.

  The Government also has genuine concerns for small operators in the short-term tourist letting sector, many of whom will almost certainly fail to satisfy qualification and other licensing requirements if this exemption is removed. This would mean that such small operators, such as the owners of tourist cottages, etc., could not legally directly let their properties on a short-term basis and would instead have to engage a licensed property service provider to conduct such lettings, with the consequent incurring of expenses and administrative complications. While I am going through this, I take the opportunity to acknowledge that most Senators have issues. I have spoken about the difference between cities like Dublin and Galway and counties in which there might not be the same pressure. Carlow got a good mention tonight, as usual. It is important that when we do bring forward changes, we recognise the difference in the different areas.

  Under section 5, an obligation will be placed on short-term letting service providers to provide specified information to planning authorities. It is also proposed to require planning authorities to request, collect and collate such data and share it with the Revenue Commissioners on request. The purpose of the planning system is to facilitate and support proper planning and sustainable development in a balanced manner, ensuring that the right development takes place in the right locations at the right time. However, it is not the function of the planning code, nor is the code the appropriate vehicle, to provide a wider regulatory framework for the short-term tourism-related letting sector or related tax requirements. That does not mean we do not have to do it, but issues arise in where we place such a framework.

  The strategy for the rental sector recognises the potential issue of significant numbers of properties being withdrawn from the long-term rental market for use as short-term tourism-related lettings. Senator Humphreys has outlined some figures pertaining to this. We will not have exact numbers, but we all accept that they could potentially be quite high and could cause serious difficulties. This would have a negative impact on the supply and availability of residential rental accommodation and the growing use of online platforms such as Airbnb, could, if not adequately regulated, facilitate and encourage this trend.

  Senators referred to other platforms. I am conscious that there are several out there. The trend is not something that we all want to buy into. We all share a general goal of progressing this issue. That is why the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, established a working group made up of representatives from my Department, the Departments of Finance and Business, Enterprise and Innovation, An Bord Pleanála, Fáilte Ireland, the Residential Tenancies Board and Dublin City Council to develop proposals for the appropriate regulation and management of short-term tourism-related lettings, taking into account the Government's overall housing and rental policy objectives. The working group has submitted its report and the Minister is considering it. He is very anxious that we should progress this matter quite soon.

  I will now address proposed regulation. The primary goals of the regulatory proposals are to: reduce the market impacts of short-term rentals on the long-term residential rental market; facilitate the use by resident householders of unused capacity in their homes for short-term letting and the associated economic benefits for them and the local economy; ensure the quality of accommodation services provided, consumer protection and safety; and limit and mitigate the costs associated with high volumes of short-term lettings borne by residential communities. What is currently envisaged is a licensing system for both intermediaries, such as websites and management companies, and for persons renting out both single rooms and entire properties as short-term lets. The precise details regarding inspection, monitoring, enforcement, limit setting and fees as well as consideration of local factors have still to be finalised. However, it is clear that different approaches will be needed for those wishing to let properties on an ongoing commercial basis and those wishing to let a room in their home or to let their home while away for a short period, perhaps on holiday. That is something that is very clearly expressed by all here. We all agree that is the kind of space we are in. The regulatory approach also intends to recognise the huge difference between various areas of the country. Again, examples have been given tonight. In some places increases in short-term letting pose a risk to the rental stock, while in others it could provide an important opportunity for landlords to make profitable use of properties that they have difficulty letting.

  I thank Senators Nash, Bacik and Humphreys for introducing this Bill and for the sentiment it contains, which is and will continue to be extremely helpful as we move forward with the design and establishment of an appropriate regulatory framework, both to protect our housing and rental supply and to take advantage of the benefits that this new and growing economy provides. Again, I acknowledge the work that Senator Humphreys does in this area, and the co-operation he shows in being willing to work with the officials in our Department and the Minister as we try to tie this down and bring in some changes in the months ahead.

  Some other issues were mentioned in the context of the overall supply of housing. We always acknowledge that there are still too many people living in emergency accommodation, as was discussed by the joint committee earlier. The Minister is the first to acknowledge that. What we are doing is still not enough to solve the problem. We also have to recognise that the supply of housing is increasing and that we are making some progress. Rebuilding Ireland is reaching all its targets and we are on track to deliver what we are trying to deliver. We will try to put more effort into that in order to go beyond those targets and facilitate a greater supply of housing that will help solve all the difficulties we have and that will certainly deal with the homelessness situation and the problem of people living in emergency accommodation. I have to very clearly say, and always say, that is not a place to be. It is not a place to have a family. None of us want that. I think we all support the Rebuilding Ireland plan and the spend of more than €6 billion of taxpayers' money to address this and to go beyond it. Many would call for even more than that.

  Again, we must look at the facts. The supply of housing is increasing. I often hear commentary that gives the impression that nothing is happening and that we are making no changes. That is not true. The CSO, at the request of the Minister, has worked with our Department and all the other stakeholders over the last year to clarify the data and to produce data that we can all accept, as it is independent of Government. The CSO will say that last year, the direct increase in brand new houses brought into the system was in the region of 14,600. Approximately 1,100 houses came in from ghost estates. This constitutes a new supply because they are not houses that were there before. However, we are distinguishing between the two different categories. In addition, approximately 2,600 properties which have been disconnected for more than two years have now been reconnected by the ESB and are back in use as homes. As a result, there are more than 18,000 additional homes in the system throughout the country. That will be of great benefit to us in trying to address the homelessness situation and find housing for people who are on the waiting list, people who want to rent, people who want to work and so on.

  The level of supply has increased. We know that this year, based on the commencement notices from last year and this year, more than 20,000 houses are coming through the system. The ESRI recognises that 20,000 or 21,000 houses should be produced this year. The Department makes a conservative estimate of about 20,000 houses coming into the system. They are new houses. Some of them are properties that had to be finished, but they are houses in the system which were not there last year. They are properties we need. They are properties we will be using for social housing and privately, in order to deliver social, affordable and private housing across the sector. It is happening, and we now have the independent data the Minister requested. I hope that people will accept that the data are independent of Government and represent the facts. This is a reality on the basis of which we can work.

  Social housing is also included in that. Last year, we saw an additional social housing supply. I want to be very clear; this combines new builds, Part V housing, leasing, acquiring purchases and so on. An additional 7,000 houses have been put back into the system. Again, we will use these to provide social housing solutions for people. This year will see over 8,000 brought into the system. A direct build layer, combining all the different combinations, comprises some 4,500. While we accept that it is still not enough, it shows that the trends are going the right way. We all want to get back to a situation where the State is delivering at least an additional 10,000 social houses per year. That is the minimum we all want, across all the different parties. That commitment is there, and we will get to it within the next year or two as the supply increases throughout all the sectors. Local authorities have played a major role in leading that charge, as are approved housing bodies, as are our non-governmental organisations, NGOs. They are all playing their part with our Department and with taxpayers' money. They are bringing forward a slot of solutions. I reiterate that there were 7,000 additional houses last year and that there will be 8,000 this year. Also, if the short-term solutions are added in, through HAP and other rental subsidy schemes, an additional 17,000 or 18,000 families were helped last year. In total, 25,000 or 26,000 families were assisted in obtaining accommodation and supported in that accommodation. That is work we are all doing. That is paid for by taxpayers' money, and it is a major help and a major benefit, but it is not enough. We have to deal with that and make sure we get everybody out of hotels and bed and breakfasts, into permanent accommodation. That is what the supply of housing is about. I am glad it is moving in the right direction.

  Others mentioned accommodation for people who are not in emergency situations, but who want to work in the city, take up a new job or buy their own private or affordable house. Amazon was mentioned in the context of its announcement of 1,000 new jobs yesterday. Again, the issue of where its workers are going to live was raised. It has also been raised by other companies that create new jobs. I want to be very clear. Many of the companies that are engaging with our Department and various others ask us about housing supply for the years ahead.  These companies understand there is a plan of action and a commitment regarding resources, people, staff and taxpayers' money in the system, and that we have changed the system to deliver houses. In a non-political way, they can stand aside, read the plan, see what is happening and see the targets being met and the trends. While too many people are still presenting as homeless every week and month, and we did not envisage it would continue in that way and it is affecting the numbers in hotels, they are able to see in a logical way that we are intervening and that the State is delivering private and social housing capacity, with new plans on affordable housing to be announced in the weeks and months ahead. They understand this and have confidence in us. They know we will address the housing situation and that if we stick to the plan and deliver what we are saying, we will deal with the housing shortage.

  These same companies have worked with the Government and the previous Fine Gael and Labour Party Government on the Action Plan for Jobs, and they saw how we progressed it over the five years of the plan and how it delivered. It was ahead of all of its targets in delivering jobs. They understand that when the Government puts together an action plan, in the way we have with Rebuilding Ireland, which is an action plan for housing, and puts the money and Departments behind it, it delivers solutions. They accept this and this is why these companies are announcing plans to increase jobs in our various cities, rural areas and towns this year and in the years ahead. They are confident in our plans. They can see the plan, and in a calm and logical way they can read it and see it is delivering, and that if we stick to it with our spend of taxpayers' money, the housing shortage will not be an impediment to job creation and investment.

  It is important we recognise this, because very often the debate is only focused on social housing and homelessness figures, and rightly so, because this is where the greatest emergency is, but we must make sure that as politicians we find solutions for housing in general throughout the system, so people of all social backgrounds can be confident they will be able to find a home this year, next year and in the years ahead and they can take up a job and we can create jobs. This is what we are trying to do. I am conscious the Bill is an important part of the work we are trying to do on focusing on managing housing stock in a fruitful way to deliver solutions to people who need them.

  I thank Senators for all of their work because this is a whole-of-government approach as well as a whole-of-Oireachtas approach to devise solutions. We are making steady progress. I accept it is not enough when people are still living in emergency accommodation, and please do not try to mix my words on this. I am very conscious of this, as is the Minister. We must also recognise we are making progress and the trends are going in the right direction.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I thank the Minister of State and, as always, he is very welcome to the House.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I acknowledge Senators Coffey, O'Connor, Warfield and Bacik for their contributions to the debate. The legislation is targeted at the pressed middle, the people who go out in the morning and earn salaries of €35,000 to €40,000 and who cannot compete with the short-term let market. They are being driven demented by not being able to get accommodation for all the reasons the Minister of State has just outlined. I acknowledge there has been progress, but it is a sieve and it is leaking. We have been telling the Government it has been leaking for two years. There was an acknowledgement by the former Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, when he set up the working group to examine it but it has gone on too long. We have been talking about it for almost two years. The report has been on the Minister's desk since earlier this year and nothing has happened. We have had three leaks to the media on what will happen but nothing has happened.

  This is a nationwide problem. Mike Allen highlighted the impact short-term lets are having on families and individuals in Leitrim. I have been contacted by people in Ennis regarding the shortage of one-bedroom apartments and the fact that they cannot compete with short-term lets. I have also heard similar stories from Carlow. The issue, therefore, not only affects Dublin and Galway. It has been highlighted by me and many other parties that there is a problem. We are constantly building and putting additional units on the market but they are leaking out the other side. We have to put a stop to this quickly, which is why I am asking for regulation.

  The Bill has been published for a long time and I have constantly spoken about it to the Minister of State, Deputy English. I recognise his engagement with the House on this matter. He has told me on several occasions the report was about to be published and that the Minister has a particular special interest in the sector, as he should because the area in which he lives is crippled by short-term lets and is quickly turning from a residential area into a tourist location. This is having an impact on long-standing families in the community who cannot compete. It is an area where people in the city normally rented.

  The Minister of State mentioned the October 2015 circular. I do not know whether he is aware that since it issued, there has been a fall-off in enforcement notices. According to the statistics, there are more short-term lets but local authorities are issuing fewer enforcement notices. I am not being over-critical of local authorities because they do not have the power to enforce them on apartments. They have no power whatsoever in respect of homes because of the bed and breakfast legislation, which the Minister of State pointed out. I recall being told about unintentional consequences by my officials when I was in a similar circumstance to the Minister of State, and I used to ask them to explain in detail the unintentional circumstances to which they were referring. They often had trouble coming up with precise examples. I can give the Minister of State precise examples from throughout this city, Galway, Limerick and Cork of how this is affecting working families, the people who get up early in the morning and go to work whom the Taoiseach said he wanted to represent. Those who get up early and go to work are not able to compete with short-term lets.

  Airbnb has been mentioned several times. I do not agree with the number of days it proposes. It wants to allow for up to 180 days, which is too many. However, the company wants legislation and clear guidance on operating in the market. It states a voluntary code will not work because its competitors will not abide by it.

  We need speed on this. I am speaking honestly, and in accordance with new politics, I am happy to sit down with the Minister of State, his officials and the Minister. All parties recognise this is now a crisis. We are putting out the hand of friendship and help. We will work with the Minister of State to ensure good robust legislation will pass from the Seanad to the Dáil because speed is of the essence. We will hit crisis mode again in September, as we will have students competing for accommodation and, I hope, a continued increase in employment. The announcement of 1,000 additional jobs by Amazon was mentioned. That can be multiplied in every city. Cork has also experienced good increases in employment but it has problems dealing with short-term lets. It is similar to the pharmaceutical industry in the Galway area. The workers in that sector are finding it difficult to find accommodation because they are competing with short-term lets. Let us work together to resolve this problem. It will not solve the housing crisis, but it could have a significant effect on helping working people to compete in the market so they can have a home and afford a place to rent without having to compete with the wild west regulation of short-term lets.

  Question put and agreed to.

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

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Next Tuesday.

  Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 26 June 2018.

  7 o’clock

Mental Healthcare in South-East Region: Statements

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach as ucht an deis labhairt ar an ábhar seo tráthnóna inniu. I welcome the opportunity to discuss mental health services for children and adolescents. The promotion of positive mental health and well-being is important to us all and each of us, politicians, administrators and clinicians, have a role to play in this work. While I remain as open as ever to constructive criticism and realistic suggestions, I ask that objectivity and, above all, the best interests of service users are paramount in our debate today.

  The pending resignation of three psychiatrists in the south-east region is the main issue before the House this evening. Yesterday, I met national and local HSE representatives who assured me that they are exploring every possible option to ensure that the vacancies in the south east's CAMHS are filled and to ensure continuity of service. I will be meeting them again on 3 July where they will provide me with a progress report.

  Notwithstanding the global lack of availability of mental health specialists, the HSE is currently conducting an extensive advertising campaign to fill these vacancies. In order to provide immediate cover, it has established weekend consultant paediatric psychiatry clinics in Waterford by availing of support from Galway-based consultants. In addition, the HSE has been in contact with other CHO areas and with agencies both abroad and in the private sector to look for locum cover.

  I wish to strongly restate the Government’s commitment to mental health. This is reflected in the allocation of an additional €200 million for mental health services since 2012. While this amount is significant by any standard I will continue to press for further resources annually in line with the Programme for a Partnership Government commitments.

  The HSE 2018 service plan commits to further development of CAMHS. This is against a background where the demand for CAMHS has increased by 26% between 2012 and 2017. Approximately 18,800 referrals are expected for HSE CAMHS this year alone. To meet this demand, we have increased the supply of services. We have approved more than 2,000 new mental health posts since 2012. We now have 69 CAMHS teams and three paediatric liaison teams supported by about 75 CAMHS beds nationally. Further beds are planned to come on stream as quickly as possible. In addition, we have funded an extra 140 psychiatric nurse undergraduate places each year.

  The recent appointment by the HSE of approximately 114 assistant psychologists and 20 psychologists will help to develop counselling services in primary care. Thirteen assistant psychologist posts have been introduced in CHO 5, which includes Waterford and Wexford. It is anticipated that these posts will deal with the less complex child and adolescent cases thereby reducing the demand on CAMHS.

  A key focus for me is continued investment in innovative digital technologies to support access to prevention and early intervention services. I have examined IT initiatives in other countries and I believe that we can use these technologies in Ireland. The HSE has established a working group to progress a national telephone and text helpline and digital information supports for those requiring access to services. It is my intention that the roll-out of the new telephone helpline will commence before the end of this year. I have also requested the HSE to pilot a project providing remote access to counselling services in the primary care setting.

  There is a broad range of initiatives under way or planned across mental health. I believe that these initiatives will help us to deal with the increased demand for mental health services. I look forward to a constructive and collaborative discussion.

Senator Keith Swanick: Information on Keith Swanick Zoom on Keith Swanick Dr. John Hillery recently resigned as a consultant psychiatrist in the HSE after nearly 30 years working in mental health and intellectual disability services. He was not due retire from his post until 2022. He did so in protest over the treatment of staff and patients within the State’s mental health services.

  Last week Dr. Kieran Moore, a specialist consultant paediatric psychiatrist, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care that he and two of his colleagues from the south-east region were resigning because they were concerned about working in unsafe conditions. Dr. Moore said that he was resigning because it is untenable and unsafe and that two of his colleagues were doing the same. He said patients were coming into a building that is in a state and where staff are burnt out. He said mental health services required continual funding and looking after the people who look after patients.  The prevalence of those suffering from mental health problems was increasing, he said, describing the issue as "a national emergency".

  Unless the psychiatrists are replaced, there will be no services for children in Wexford and Waterford and it is scandalous that children in this region face the prospect of having no public consultant psychiatric services from next month. I refer to an important point my party colleague Deputy James Browne raised in this regard and, perhaps, the Minister of State can provide some clarity. It is Deputy Browne’s understanding that all other CAMHS staff who have been working under the psychiatrists such as psychologists and occupational therapists can no longer effectively do their jobs because they have no one to oversee them. Will he confirm that this is the case? Where does this leave them? Will the other CAMHS staff be relocated? Will they be allowed to continue without a psychiatric consultant to oversee them?

  According to the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association, of the 44 consultant psychiatrist posts advertised in 2015 and 2016, practically a quarter had no applicants and 30% had only one applicant. Sixteen consultant psychiatrist posts advertised for interview in 2016, including posts in child and adolescent psychiatry, learning disabilities, forensic psychiatry, general adult psychiatry, and psychiatry of old age, received no applicants whatsoever. These competitions with no applicants were for posts in Sligo-Leitrim, Cavan-Monaghan, Cork, Carlow-Kilkenny, Donegal, Longford-Westmeath, Laois-Offaly, and Waterford-Wexford and the Central Mental Hospital. This problem is not confined to the south east but the services there are in dire straits. I acknowledge what the Minister of State said about support from Galway-based consultants. However, the position in Galway is not much better and, therefore, this is only a stopgap measure.

  According to recent figures provided to Fianna Fáil, 6,181 children were waiting for a primary care psychology appointment at the end of January 2018. Of the young people waiting, some 1,635 of them have been waiting more than a year to be seen. This means these children spent all of 2017 waiting for an appointment.

  I have made several suggestions over the past year. I try to be practical and solution-driven. The proposal for a 24-hour helpline that is accessible to GPs for vulnerable children and teenagers who hit a crisis in mental health should be considered. In that case, a GP can pick up the phone and access CAMHS in an emergency. Such a service would not be abused and it would mean unnecessary referrals to emergency departments would be avoided. In a crisis, when young kids and teenagers are vulnerable, emergency departments are not the correct place for them to present themselves for assessment and I ask the Minister of State to take this on board. I have had people in my surgery in the middle of a mental health crisis when the help they require is immediate and urgent. They are vulnerable and it is shameful to then tell them they must wait more than a year for an appointment.

  I hope the Minister of State will take this on board and I look forward to working with him on this issue.

Senator Joan Freeman: Information on Joan Freeman Zoom on Joan Freeman I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I know it is not easy and I must say fair play to him because every time there is a difficult situation, whether it is on television or here, the Minister of State never baulks from being present and I appreciate that.

  I will remind the Minister of State that he and I went to the south east area, CHO5 in Wexford. We visited Slaney House and saw the conditions that day. In the following days, the Minister of State made a promise that the conditions in the house would change and that the staff would be helped. It is now eight months later, and nothing has happened. The Department wrote to us and to the staff in Slaney House and said that that a building was available but that they expected the staff to share a building with another organisation, which was most inappropriate because of the lack of confidentiality for children and parents.

  I will not dwell on that and, instead, address the issues that the Minister of State raised. I am distressed that the Minister of State has been handed a script that not only glosses over the issues but once again contains misinformation and nonsense. Our committee can identify the nonsense and I will go through some of this now. His script contained a paragraph which referred to constructive criticism and asked for objectivity. I am sorry, but we are being objective. We are also talking about reality.

  On the pending resignation of the three psychiatrists, the Minister of State said that everybody is exploring possibilities and the HSE will report back to him by 3 July. I would love to know what will be in that report and I can almost predict its contents. The Minister of State said there will be an extensive advertising campaign to replace the three psychiatrists. Does this refer to the sole advertisement in the Sunday Independent two weeks ago? Is that the extensive advertising campaign? The Minister of State said that he would get support from the Galway-based consultants. That is like asking the over-burdened CAMHS in Galway, which is coping well, to share the south east's workload. He is asking one or two consultant psychiatrists to travel to the south east and deal with the problems there. None of that makes sense.

  Once again we were told of the allocation of an additional €200 million for mental health services since 2012. The day that we know how CAMHS is spending these millions, we will be able to tell the Minister of State that he is right, and that funding is terrific. Until that day comes, and we know the truth about how that is being spent, we cannot speak about the budget. Yesterday, we were told that more administration staff are employed than nurses. Dr. Kieran Moore said there are five managers managing four staff in the south east. How can departmental officials speak about their plans when they cannot even take into account what is happening in the south east and throughout the country? The south east is not unusual; this is happening everywhere. The reference to beds is waffle to satisfy anyone who does not know what mental health services are about.   

 The Minister of State mentioned 114 assistant psychologists and how 13 of those will be in Wexford and Waterford. How can they? There can be no teams unless a consultant psychiatrist leads them. They might as well twiddle their thumbs.

  We were told about innovative digital technologies. Where are we with that? This country is well advanced technologically, with the exception of the HSE. I wonder whether this is on purpose. Is that so that there is no accountability and the executive can use the excuse that it does not have the correct software?

  The Minister of State referred to yet another working group to progress a national telephone, text and helpline and digital information. When children have an enduring illness, when they are in the middle of psychosis or when they are running down the streets or jumping out of a window, no helpline will work. How many millions of euro has the Department spent on putting helplines in place because they are safe and easy? What about the advertising tag line, "Let someone know", that the Department keeps talking about? Who in God’s name is the child or parent to "let know"? There is nobody around to help.

  Today, I chaired the Joint Committee on Future of Mental Health.  The representatives of the Mental Health Commission attended the meeting. I asked them who their boss was. They investigate the various child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, and so on but to whom do they report? They report to the Minister and the Department of Health. Is there not a conflict of interest there, given that the commission is funded by the Department of Health? Is everybody just minding one another and keeping everything secretive?

  I ask the Minister of State to address the issues we originally examined last October. He should not believe what he is being fed and I cannot emphasise that enough.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this matter, which is impacting citizens and patients in my area of the south east. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly. As previous speakers said, he is always prepared to face up to his responsibilities as a Minister. Unfortunately, I have to agree with other speakers with regard to the unacceptable situation that has developed in mental health services in the south east and the manner in which the HSE allowed the service to reach a crisis point.

  The HSE must be held accountable. It was my understanding that with the development of the new pillars, especially with A Vision for Change and the establishment of the mental health pillar, the director of mental health services and the hospital boards, there would be more accountability in terms of how the HSE is managing and deploying resources from the funding the Government is putting in place. We all agree that mental health services have always been the Cinderella of the health service in this country. I acknowledge the efforts the Minister of State and the Government are making to address that in terms of investment and reform. However, it is unacceptable that vulnerable patients, particularly children, who require immediate and urgent intervention or professional support are being let down by the health services and the HSE, which is charged with managing the services. I urge the Minister of State to call in the relevant managers and those responsible in the HSE.

  The Minister of State outlined the immediate temporary measures that have been put in place to respond to the crisis in mental health services in the south east. There is a temporary deployment of consultant psychiatrists from Galway to the south east in order that the specialist teams in CAMHS can continue to operate. I commend those specialists. I have met the specialist nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists and others who work under the consultant psychiatrist and they are overburdened with work. They need additional supports to allow them to make interventions when they are required. This is not just about money. It is about accountability and reform in our health service. We will have to crack the nut some day and I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and the Minister, Deputy Harris, will do that and hold the HSE to account in order that it delivers the service it is charged with delivering for the citizen.

  I have had reason to visit the CAMHS in Waterford, and I am aware that the Wexford situation is especially challenging. The services have successful outcomes for the people who access them. I have spoken to families who have managed to do that. They acknowledge the service and support they get and commend the staff. However, it is so sad to see resignations taking place and people being overburdened due to a lack of resources or services. We must approach this in a different way. For some reason, the HSE always allows matters to develop into a crisis when there should be red flags and alarm signals long before that. We had an excellent debate in the House on mental health services only a year ago, when we brought specialists in from all sectors to outline the challenges that face mental health services.

  I believe the Minister of State is doing his best, but we must do more. We need to haul in the people who are often faceless. They are not the psychologists, psychiatrists or the occupational therapists who are at the coalface. They are the managers. The ratio of managers to front-line staff in the HSE is simply wrong. We need to get to the bottom of why this situation is occurring. I commend the Minister of State on his efforts and I will support him in trying to reform the health services. I will support him in the forthcoming budget where he will be fighting for additional funding to invest in mental health services. We do not wish to see this issue arising again either in the south east or in any other part of the country. The Minister of State must haul in the people in the HSE and hold them to account. In addition, the hospital boards are supposed to be overseeing the operational efficiency of the HSE. If that system is to operate as intended, those boards must also haul in those who are responsible.

  Ultimately, we must support the people on the front line and the vulnerable patients who need access to services. We can talk as much as we wish in the Seanad, the Dáil or anywhere else but we must reform the system to deliver services where they are most needed. The Minister of State referred to new technology, digital access and information technology. We must utilise those technologies. Four new primary care centres have been built in my constituency. One is in Waterford city in the grounds of St. Otteran's Hospital, a former mental health institution. The other three are in Dungarvan, Tramore and Carrick-on-Suir. They are new, state-of-the-art buildings which have the facilities and capacity for outreach mental health services. We must get the professionals who are delivering the service on board and reform the system by putting the front-line resources in place, away from the management, and utilising all the resources available, be they buildings, IT or professional human resources. I will work with the Minister of State to achieve that but I urge him to keep his focus, and that of the HSE, on resolving the issues in the south east and providing what is so badly needed there at present.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine Cuirim fáilte arís roimh an Aire Stáit. Unfortunately, the debate this evening will not be on positivity because we do not have that in this country. I will give the facts to the Minister of State. I have a key question for him and I implore him to respond to it. I will outline the key indicators regarding mental health services in the south-east region and across the State and I ask him to say how he will react to them. I have been monitoring the situation closely since last year, both in the Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care along with my colleague, Senator Freeman, and through parliamentary questions. This is my area of expertise, as it is for Senator Freeman. It is our niche and our passion. It is extremely important.

  The time for rhetoric is over. If we do not act today, there will be another catastrophic abuse of human health on this island. In fact, it has already happened. Earlier today the Ombudsman for Children and the Mental Health Commission agreed that mental health services have already collapsed. I would need to consult a thesaurus to find what out what other words can be used after "crisis" and "emergency" because it has gone beyond those. We stand here and make grand speeches about the state of our mental health services, but I am tired of doing that. We do it once a week and then go away and wait for another story to break in the media. The Minister of State must outline exactly what the Department is doing to address this chaos. Otherwise this is a waste of time.

  Dr. Moore, the specialist consultant paediatric psychiatrist in County Wexford, said there were supposed to be 30 clinicians working in the greater Wexford region, but just five and a half of the posts are filled. That is no surprise to the Minister of State. In December 2017 the CHO 5 area was the worst performing in the State and was at only 48% of the recommended levels in A Vision for Change. What did the Minister of State do between December and now to address the shortfall? I ask him to give specifics. He knew about the state of the services and he had time to begin to address them.  His response to the effect that we will take the staff from Galway amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul and is simply not good enough. Dr. Moore said there were no inpatient beds in Wexford and that when he needs a child to go to hospital, he fills out a form and faxes it with his fingers crossed in the hope of finding a bed. In the vast majority of cases children do not get beds and they never get them urgently.

  Ms Margaret Brennan from south Wexford appeared before the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care. She is fighting for her children. During the discussion on the resignations the question was asked by the Chairman: "What now?" Ms Brennan said there is nowhere to go and that there is nothing there for her or families like hers.

  The Department of Health glossy advertising campaigns claim that mental health is as important as physical health, but the actions are indicative of a different attitude. The 2012 mental health budget was 5.6% of the HSE budget, while this year it is 6.3%, a tiny proportion. The lack of investment is actually promoting stigma and is actively keeping mental health services on their knees.

  I call on the Minister of State to address the details I have set out about his Department. It was extremely difficult to obtain some of the information. For example, a couple of weeks ago I asked for a simple breakdown of child and adolescent mental health services budgets. I was told that the HSE does not have that information. Yet, I know that variants of that information were given to the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care. The Minister of State may wish to keep the conversation around mental health as void as possible, but I will not let him do that because it would be a disservice to the 30 plus years I spent working in the services. I want the Minister of State to commit now to improving with urgency the record-keeping of the mental health division.

  I attended a staff engagement group in the HSE yesterday morning. The group was made up of 60 or 70 ordinary staff, including porters, psychologists, staff nurses, GPs and other doctors. I am concerned about the impact of the negativity of the mental health services and – I will try to remain polite – the greed at the top layer of the HSE. They are terrified. When Tusla social worker staff left in their droves, they would not tell people that they had worked for Tusla because they were getting abuse in the pub and cinema and when they went out for meals. They held their heads in shame. I do not want that to happen to our wonderful HSE staff.

  We have an opportunity for the director general of the HSE to be appointed. We do not want anyone helicoptered in, which is what happened in the past. We want experts, not only with managerial expertise but with clinical caring expertise. We want the interview panel to represent the voices of patients. It should comprise people with expertise who can judge whether a candidate is fit to run a caring health service in the country. How can anyone expect to finance an overhaul of the mental health division when millions of euro are being thrown to private profiteers? The Minister should note that the agency spend for the first three months this year alone was a little under €13 million in three months. That represents almost the entire increase of €15 million we were celebrating last year in the budget.

  The Minister of State has failed. We have failed as legislators and as caring individuals in attempting to allow our children to live happy lives. We have failed in our responsibility for mental well-being in this country. We need to roll up our sleeves. I do not know how we do that because I am getting hoarse from asking for it again and again.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan This is another real life and death issue for young people of the south east. I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House this evening. This debate is due to my intervention on the Order of Business in the Seanad last week. I took the view that it was necessary due to the details that emerged from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, of which Senator Freeman is Chairman.

  The committee revealed that three consultant psychiatrists in the south east were handing in their resignations and due to finish up in mid-July. I was shocked and alarmed to hear that. The committee and subsequent media reports set out how these resignations pose a serious risk to the immediate provision of mental health care in the south east and demonstrate that the situation there is close to a state of emergency.

  I will outline the problem as I see it. There may have been disparate reasons for the resignation of these particular consultants, but, as alluded to by others, Dr. Kieran Moore was clear in his contributions to the committee. He said that his resignation and that of others was due to the continually declining conditions in mental health services in the region. After 16 years of providing a service in Wexford, he had finally had enough. For the good of his patients and his community he went public. He claims that the service should have 30 clinicians but has only 5.5 staff currently available. The buildings those people work in are not at all suitable. Community healthcare organisation 5, incorporating Carlow, Kilkenny, south Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford, seems to be the political orphan. It cannot get appointments or business cases taken up and acted upon by Tusla and HSE management.

  Dr. Moore's indictment of conditions was reinforced by the resignation from the HSE of the widely respected President of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, Dr. John Hillery, in February. He told the Family Carers Ireland conference on Monday last that his early resignation was in reaction to the HSE's failure to deal with major staffing problems. He blamed the Government for failing to increase the mental health budget, despite recommendations from A Vision for Change more than a decade ago. He declared that doctors were faced with the moral distress of not being able to access the resources needed to help their patients. We have seen over the past year that such distress is particularly acute in the south east.

  Now is not the time to discuss the ongoing emergency in emergency cardiac care provision in Waterford and the surrounding counties, but the issue is relevant in the light of a larger denial of adequate health provision in the south east. This is especially the case since University Hospital Waterford lost its regional hospital status.

  To add to the personal testimonies of Dr. Hillery and Dr. Moore, today we received the latest report from the Ombudsman for Children on the experience of young people of mental health care in Ireland. The report does not make for happy reading. I trust the House will indulge me if I quote certain extracts from the report. The report reminds us that Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises the right of children to "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health". Article 24 further provides that state parties to the UNCRC, like Ireland, must "strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such healthcare services". The World Health Organization definition of health is quoted as a "state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".

  How far we are from that vision currently? Today I met and talked to student representatives from the Union of Students in Ireland and Waterford Institute of Technology, including Celine Casey, who is the WIT students' union welfare officer. She outlined how of the 482 cases she had dealt with this year, more than 400 had some mental health aspect while almost 300 were primarily mental health related.

  Ireland has one of the highest levels of chronic depression and anxiety in the EU, at 12.1% of the population. The narrative about asking for help is now well established. What is not is the access to the actual help that people are meant to seek. That any young person is left on a waiting list for more than a year is appalling, but that 2,500 children have been left waiting over a year for a psychiatric appointment is a national disgrace.  A total of 209 children below the age of 18 have been waiting more than a year for an appointment with a psychologist in County Wexford, a full 10% of the national figure, despite the fact that Wexford makes up just 3% of the national population. Why are Wexford's children singled out for this cruelty? Mental health made up 13% of the health budget in 1984; in 2017, it was down to 6%, a staggering decline in the face of rising problems. We are here discussing the specific situation in the south east, and that there is a regional disparity in mental health delivery was sadly proved last year with the housing of young people in adult care units in the area. We know that other regions of the country do not face the same pressures, despite the national level of crisis. The Minister of State has talked today and previously about the fact that these and other vacant posts are now being advertised, but I want the Minister of State to tell me a number of things. What emergency provision is the Government making for the delivery of mental health services in the south east when the three resigning consultants' notice periods come up in mid-July? Hiring their replacements will take a long time.

  I know my time is up. I have some more comments to make and I will reply to the Minister of State's own reply. There are a number of issues even in the Minister of State's statement that just do not add up. He talks about the Galway psychiatric-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Paul Daly): Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly The Senator is over a minute over time.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan However, he is only talking about weekends. What about Monday to Friday? There are so many holes in what he has said, and I hope we will have enough time to discuss them further here.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paul Daly): Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly As there are no further speakers, I ask the Minister of State to respond. He has a maximum of eight minutes because we must conclude by 7.50 p.m.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I thank all Senators for the time, energy and commitment they continue to give to this area and for their contributions. I will dispense with my prepared script and try to answer some of the questions they have asked as best I can and address some of the points they have raised.

  Senator Swanick asked a question about the CAMHS staff in Wexford and Waterford and whether they can still do their jobs. He said Deputy Browne has mentioned this. The reality, as the Senator knows, is that there is a CAMHS team in each of the areas. It is not just one consultant psychiatrist; there are teams of varying numbers, ideally 13, although not all of them can achieve that. There are occupational therapists, OTs, speech and language therapists, psychologists etc., on the teams. This is what we are talking about when we look to other areas. We wish to get consultant psychiatrists from other areas to provide the necessary clinical governance for these teams to continue. How do we do this? A very obvious way is telepsychiatry, whereby a consultant psychiatrist can clinically govern the team's work peer to peer on screen in order that the team continues its work.

  Senator Grace O'Sullivan asked me a question about weekend clinics. They are being offered to young people on Saturdays and Sundays. Some consultant psychiatrists very generously work weekends from other areas to provide cover here. They can also provide clinical governance cover from Monday to Friday. Of course this is not ideal and we do not want to be in this space.

  There is the issue of three people having resigned at the same time. One, Dr. Moore, has spoken about the conditions in which he worked, which is his right and entitlement. I have no difficulty with that whatsoever. I have only been in this job for a year but I have met Dr. Moore several times. As Senator Freeman said, I was in Wexford, where he worked, 12 months ago, and he asked me about the building and the facilities. As I understand it, the new facilities in Wexford will be open in six weeks' time to allow the team to move in, in order that they do not have to continue in the present situation. I do not say this defensively; I say it as a matter of fact. Dr. Moore has raised other issues. He talked about it taking an hour to fill out the paperwork involved in admitting a young person to a CAMHS unit. Of course it takes an hour to fill out that paperwork. That is the least time it should take. One is admitting a child to an inpatient unit. Should Dr. Moore be doing all that? I would take issue with that. A consultant psychiatrist should be doing exactly what a consultant psychiatrist should be doing. There should be step-down models of administering a consultant psychiatrist's work to ensure he or she is not overburdened with paperwork. This is the space we need to be in. These are the conversations we need to have.

  We need to look at how we do what we do to change our direction. We can beat up the HSE about the lack of consultant psychiatrists all day long, but whether one considers the NHS or the position in Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the United States, there is a worldwide shortage of consultant psychiatrists. There are just not enough of them, and this will not be fixed overnight. Therefore, we need to look at new ways of administering what consultant psychiatrists do. We need to look at what they do in New York, for example. I saw recently that they have physicians' assistants who open up the body on the operating table, the surgeon comes in and does the procedure and the physician's assistant does the closing up. Here the surgeon opens up the body, does the procedure and closes up the body. There are better ways of using consultants' time.

  The online space offers enormous potential. I have seen telepsychiatry in operation in other countries. If one considers an example in which a child presents with psychosis overnight in an emergency department, ED, he or she would be far better off if there were an online consultant psychiatrist available to carry out the assessment. In fact, many children are much more comfortable dealing with screens now because of the lifestyle we have evolved into and it has been proven that children on the autism spectrum react to screens better than to real life. What this says about the way we are raising children is another debate. Were this facility available in emergency departments, there would be 24-hour cover, as opposed to patients having to wait for seven hours in an accident and emergency department for a consultant psychiatrist to come on duty at 9 a.m. the next morning, which is far from perfect. It is about how we do what we do.

  Three consultant psychiatrists have resigned at the same time. One had an issue with conditions; the other two had very different reasons for leaving. One, as I understand, is moving on to do a fellowship, which is their entitlement and their right, and intends to return to work in the area but wants to improve their learning, which is any consultant's right. In fact, we should be encouraging that. The third consultant was delivered through a locum agency and has now informed that agency that they are no longer available to work for it. I do not know why. It is not my business why people do this. It is very unfortunate that the three resignations have come at the same time. This has been presented by many in language to the effect that this is "a crisis" and that everything has "collapsed". Our challenge now is to recruit consultant psychiatrists into the Waterford-Wexford area. If some of us wish to keep shouting and roaring about it as "a crisis", "calamity", "chaos", all these words-----

Senator Joan Freeman: Information on Joan Freeman Zoom on Joan Freeman It is a crisis.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine It is.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I did not interrupt the Senator. It is deeply irresponsible of us to do that. The challenge we all collectively face now is to recruit three consultants into the area. How can we do this? We will not do it by destroying the image of the services and tearing up the work that has been done over the years. Last year, CAMHS delivered services to 14,400 young people. It is a vital service and it is vital we get it right and protect it. Of course things are going wrong, of course there are people not getting the services they seek or require, but that happens in every single discipline. We do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let us have a degree of responsibility towards where we are going. The comments on the issue of the three resignations are not correct. Dr. Hillery has retired, not resigned. There is a very big difference. It is his entitlement to do so. I believe he is interested in running for a career in the job we do. He is entitled to do so, and I wish him every good luck with that. I have already referred to the recruitment of psychiatrists as being a challenge. As there is a worldwide shortage, we will have to look at the work they do and the standard procedures under which they operate in order that we make better use of their time. Online delivery of telepsychiatry offers consultants the opportunity to work from home, which suits an awful lot of consultant psychiatrists, who would be more than happy to do more work from home rather than having to travel an hour and a half from one location to another and an hour and a half back, which is three hours on the road in a given day. We need to look much better at how we do what we do.

  Senator Swanick has a very good suggestion, to which I have heard him refer previously, about 24-hour access for GPs to be able to consult with consultant psychiatrists, who could give them advice on how to deal with patients presenting with psychosis and other such issues, which are very challenging for doctors trained as GPs. The Senator's suggestion is particularly good and has as much validity, if not more, today as when I heard it from him the last time.

  Senator Freeman talked about the building in Wexford. I think I have dealt with the issue of responsibility towards the future. The Senator referred to the helpline. A 24-hour helpline is not what I have been talking about since I have had this job. I have been talking about introducing a single point of access for everyone who has a mental health issue or for a friend who wants to refer someone. That is the phone line to which I am referring. This can be done through text, online or by phone, but it is important we have one single point of access and that one is appropriately referred once one makes a call in order that I can ring this one number and say my friend is acting strangely or is very down and I will be told there is a Jigsaw or whatever other service in my area. We cannot all be wonderful experts on the services, whether ALONE, Aware, Pieta House, Jigsaw, CAMHS or whatever other service.

  I have already spoken about the language of "collapsed" and "crisis" and "struggled with", and Senator Devine struggled with other words to describe the situation. I do not think that is helpful.

  I have addressed the issue of redeployment from Galway. One can get consultants to come from other areas.

  My final point concerns the percentage of the budget spent on mental health. Nothing irritates me more than this argument because the comparison is such a nonsense.  We have a dysfunctional physical health and budgeting system. The suggestion that we should use that as the yardstick for our mental health budget is not helpful. We have a different budgetary structure from other countries. For example, all primary care mental health services come under the primary care budget and not the mental health services budget such that the provision of counselling in primary care for an adult or child is not accounted for in the mental health budget. It is unfair to manipulate statistics to make a point without addressing the significant issues.

  I appreciate suggestions. They are always welcome and I thank those who make helpful suggestions. I am always open to them.

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

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey It is proposed that we will meet tomorrow at 11.45 a.m. for a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas and, that on conclusion of the joint sitting, the Seanad will adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday next.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paul Daly): Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly Is that agreed? Agreed.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7.50 p.m. until 11.45 a.m. on Thursday, 21 June 2018.


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