Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad
 Header Item Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Service Provision
 Header Item Schools Building Projects Status
 Header Item Local Improvement Scheme Funding
 Header Item Planning Guidelines
 Header Item An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
 Header Item Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019: Committee Stage
 Header Item Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
 Header Item Report of Seanad Public Consultation Committee: Statements
 Header Item Message from Joint Committee
 Header Item Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Statements
 Header Item Teachtaireachtaí ón Dáil - Messages from Dáil

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 268 No. 2

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

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad

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

The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to provide an update on the provision of school places for children with autism spectrum disorder in the Dublin 12 area.

I have also received notice from Senator Martin Conway of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to make a statement on the timeline for the completion of the new community school in Ennistymon, County Clare.

I have also received notice from Senator Diarmuid Wilson of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Rural and Community Development to increase the funding for a local improvement scheme in 2020.

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

The need for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to make a statement on his Department’s plans to reduce the density guidelines on housing developments outside of Dublin and city centres.

I have also received notice from Senator Maria Byrne of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to provide an update on the independent review of University Hospital Limerick by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the National Health Service.

I have also received notice from Senator Neale Richmond of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to provide an update on the Ballinteer development of a permanent site for Stepaside Educate Together national school.

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

The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to provide a statement on the current status of the building project for Scoil Mhuire, Rockcorry, County Monaghan.

I have also received notice from Senator Kevin Humphreys of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to make a statement on the purchase by Iarnród Éireann of additional carriages for the Intercity network.

I have also received notice from Senator Frank Feighan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to provide an update on plans for the new 12-bed hospice inpatient facility on the current north-west hospice site in Sligo.

The matters raised by the Senators are suitable for discussion and I have selected Senators Devine, Conway, Wilson and Kieran O’Donnell and they will be taken now. The other Senators may give notice on another day of the matters that they wish to raise.

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Special Educational Needs Service Provision

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I welcome the Minister, Deputy McHugh.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I welcome the Minister, Deputy McHugh. Let us hope we have good news today. This matter is about children who have been diagnosed with autism but in particular about the parents and the community of Crumlin in Dublin 12.  The area which is on the south side of Dublin has a dense and growing population and a vibrant community. However, not one school place is available for any child in the Dublin 12-Crumlin area. I have brought up this issue on numerous occasions with the Minister who has been kind enough to listen. Today I would like a positive response from him to allow the children to be part of their community and not to have to travel miles, if they are lucky enough to find places.

  I will bring the Minister through the responses I have received on the facilities available in surrounding areas to which one is told to apply. The nearest such facility is in Walkinstown; the rest are out of reach in other areas. Regardless, every single one of them is full. I meet parents who are tearing their hair out in trying to secure early intervention for their children and then there are the post-primary schools, every single one of which is full, while the waiting lists are phenomenal. As I said, Crumlin has a vibrant community. The children who need extra care want to be part of that community, to grow up and be leaders in it, to have their family and friends around them and to build very strong bonds. That is what we do when we go to school in our local area, which is the best solution for all of us.

  On the home tuition that is available, I brought up this issue in a Commencement debate in April and May and at the beginning of July. There are just no places available. Parents in Dublin 12 set up a support group, with which I have been involved from the start. They are tenacious, have knocked on every single door and will not take "No" for an answer. They are still going to and have had conversations - some good, some not so good - with the NCSE which seems to be a little more positive and willing in its responses and aware of the need, as I know the Minister is. Places were provided in the Dublin 15 area, but Dublin 12 is such a vibrant and densely populated area with absolutely nothing to show when it comes to the children of the area. I have tried to obtain the relevant figures from the HSE, but it does not compile figures for the numbers diagnosed with autism in a given area. Such figures are difficult to get. Perhaps the data might come through soon when services are up and running in order that they can be merged.

  I hope the Minister has a positive response. The parents in the area are fantastic. They are just ordinary mammies and daddies who are looking out for their children and others who fall through the cracks. They have great community spirit and staged numerous protests. They have located a site and talked to the Department on several occasions. It is an absolutely perfect site, a shut-down school that is mostly lying empty. It would be a centre of excellence for children with extra needs.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as ucht na nithe tábhachtacha agus iontach suntasacha seo fá choinne seirbhísí daoine óga a ardú. I thank the Senator for raising this important matter.

  The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for the Government. Currently, almost 20%, or €1 out of every €5, of the total Vote, or €1.9 billion, is invested in supporting children with special needs. The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and special needs assistants are at unprecedented levels. Nationally, 167 new special classes opened for the 2019-20 school year, which means that there are 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. Of these, 1,353 special classes cater for students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, ASD. The majority of children with autism attend mainstream classes, in which they may access additional supports, if required. However, as some students may find it difficult to manage a full-time placement in mainstream classes, placement in a special class or special school setting may be deemed to be appropriate where placement in a mainstream class is not in the child's best interests.

  The National Council for Special Education has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services for children with special educational needs in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive. The council has well established structures in place to plan and co-ordinate special education provision throughout the country. It includes identifying the need for and establishing special class placements in various geographical areas where they are required. The council ensures schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements. Normally, special classes are established with the full co-operation of the schools in areas where they are required. There are, however, some parts of the country where the council has faced challenges in getting schools and their patrons to agree voluntarily to provide special class or school places. I know that this can cause much anguish for the parents and families involved.

  As Minister, I have a power under section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to make additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed. The legislation was used for the first time in April this year in the Dublin 15 area. We have made significant progress in a relatively short period, with the opening of seven new special classes and a new special school which will provide 88 places for children with special needs. The new places will help the families and children concerned to have access to education. I wish everyone well on that journey. The legislation contains a procedure under which the capacity of schools in an area can be tested and under which, ultimately, a ministerial direction may be made requiring a school to make additional special education provision. The initial steps in this procedure are being progressed. As Minister, I am prepared to use the legislation when necessary to ensure children can access a suitable education. My preference, however, is for schools to engage with this challenge voluntarily because it is the right thing for the children in their communities. The experience in Dublin 15 shows that real and practical challenges can be addressed in opening new special classes and how we can resolve these challenges by working together and in partnership. To that end, the NCSE is continuing its engagement with schools, patron bodies, parents and others across south Dublin to bring the required additional special class and special school placements on stream.

  To respond to the issue the Senator raised in Dublin 12, I have asked my officials this morning to consider, in collaboration with the NCSE, what is the best solution, the best fit. A combination of solutions is on offer, be it a mainstream class or an additional class.

  The Senator also raised the issue of the use of a specific building as a potential centre of excellence. We will look at all options to see what is the best fit, obviously in conjunction and consultation with the parents. The difficulty in finding the best fit is that it must be met by resources, which is a challenge. Next September, there will be 17,000 SNAs on stream. We have opened additional classes across the country, including in Dublin and Cork city, where there are major pressures. Ultimately, although we continue to highlight what we are doing, it may not pacify the anguish or meet the needs of parents who cannot get their son or daughter into a school. I want to continue to work in a collaborative way. I know that the various teacher representative bodies are also very engaged in this process. Some schools will not enter into a partnership or open new classes on the basis that there is a fear that there will not be adequate training or resources or the proper capacity to do so. I am also very conscious of this. However, I reassure the Senator that, regarding the area to which she referred, we will give proper attention to the detail of what is required to see what is the best fit, the best solution.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I am trying desperately to read between the lines of the Minister's response, but I absolutely acknowledge his Trojan efforts in finding more places for children with ASD. On the experience in Dublin 12, fair play to everybody who has worked in collaboration to remove the anguish of parents and children. Perhaps it is a template for use in the next phase in opening a school in Dublin 12. Is the Minister prepared to meet the parents?  They have a specific site, which could be taken into account, along with the other available options. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has spoken with them and is in regular contact. It has taken on some of their proposal. I hope something will come out of whatever report is going to be done. Will the Minister make a pledge to meet them, so that they can present him with the proposal? There is an also invite to attend a protest in Dublin 12 on 16 November, if the Minister is available.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh One thing for sure is that anywhere there is a need, we have the professionalism and expertise to deal with it through the NCSE and my officials. If a delegation of parents wish to meet with officials, I will be happy to arrange that. I receive requests on a daily, if not an hourly, basis to meet different representations from more than 4,000 schools. I am conscious of not creating expectations that will not be met but I can certainly arrange for my officials to meet with a delegation of parents.

  To return to the three-pronged solution that is available, it is down to parental choice, whether the fit is for mainstream classes or for an additional class or whether a special school is a solution. We have to be very pragmatic when it comes to long-term planning because it will not happen today or tomorrow but we have a new school pilot involving up to 75 schools in west Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare, where we need the all-inclusive model. The new school inclusion, and the ideal model, is where we have speech and language therapists, behavioural therapists, occupational therapists, and teachers in that same environment, rather than putting the pressure on parents to get a diagnosis at a cost and putting that additional strain on parents to look for referrals to the HSE, where the HSE may not be working in conjunction with the schools. We need that all-inclusive model. That is the long-term plan. By long term, I mean that the pilot will be finished in June of this year and we will be getting learnings from that. We have to ensure that we have an opportunity, a platform and an environment for every single student, regardless of ability or label, and ultimately focused on the learning potential. Where they need support and if we can give it, we will.

  I am sorry, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I may be annoying your official who is shaking her head. I do not want to upset anybody this morning.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine This is really important.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Just a moment, I have three other Commencement matters to take. My apologies, Minister.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I apologise to the Leas-Chathaoirleach's team. Gabhaim buíochas leo.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I thank the Minister and appreciate his help.

Schools Building Projects Status

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Gabhaim buíochas a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I thank the Minister, Deputy McHugh, for coming in to deal with this important Commencement matter. I am from Ennistymon in County Clare, a town that has three schools which are doing their best in primitive buildings to provide quality education facilities and supports to more than 600 students. The Department has made a commitment and the money is in place to build a new purpose-built state-of-the-art community school. Much work has been done by the boards of management, the parents and the Government to get this project to the stage it is at.

  My purpose in raising this issue today is to find out exactly where this project is at. The design team has advised that it sent a list of suitable contractors to the Department and did a pre-submission a number of months ago. It has also submitted a report outlining the necessary steps to ensure the school will have a near zero carbon position, which is all very welcome. As a result of this type of development, an economic analysis study has to be carried out. Has this short-list been approved? Has whatever necessary economic assessment been carried out and what is the timeline for the school at the moment? When will this project go out to tender? How long will the tender process take and when can we expect construction to begin on the site?

  This project is ongoing for a long time now. There was talk of a community school in Ennistymon when I was in school, and I left in 1993. Discussions were taking place the entire time I was in school. I, along with others, have worked hard on this project. The fact the money was committed in 2015 and we are now in 2019 and construction has not started is a little frustrating for parents and students. Parents are very patient and understanding. They know that it will happen and would prefer it be done right than rushed. However, the fact it has gone on and on, people have started to wonder if it will ever happen. I know that it will but we need clear timelines as to when the project will go out to full tender, if that has not already happened, and when can we expect construction to begin?

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I will try to comply with the rules and regulations and will try to be as brief as possible.

  I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position in relation to the major building project for Ennistymon in County Clare. This major project will deliver a new post-primary school to cater for 650 pupils and a new primary school on a shared site. The project is currently in stage 2b - detailed design of architectural planning - which includes statutory approvals and the preparation of tender documents. Planning permission, fire certificate and disability access certificate have all been secured for this project.

  All Government Departments, local authorities, the Health Service Executive, public bodies and all bodies in receipt of public funding must comply, as appropriate, with the relevant requirements of the public spending code. The public spending code is the set of rules and procedures that apply to ensure that these standards are upheld across the Irish public service. The code brings together in one place all the elements of the value-for-money framework that has been in force up to now.

  The Department of Education and Skills, similar to all Irish public bodies, is obliged to treat public funds with care, and to ensure that the best possible value-for-money is obtained whenever public money is being spent or invested. An economic appraisal must be conducted for all capital projects costing in excess of €20 million and should be submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform prior to the sanctioning authority granting the approval in principle.

  In the case of the school project for Ennistymon, a procurement process was carried out in early April 2019 to commission a specialist company to carry out a cost-benefit analysis. A number of responses were received and a successful tender was awarded and instructed to proceed on 30 April. A draft document was received in July but some data was still outstanding. My Department requested the project manager to collaborate and assist the company in obtaining the relevant data from the schools. The completed draft document was reviewed by Department officials in September and feedback has issued back to the authors. It is expected that the final report will be made available to the Department within four weeks.

  The design team has carried out a pre-qualification process to produce a short-list of building contractors and a separate list of mechanical and electrical contractors. The Department is continuing to liaise with the project manager in this regard.

  When all items have been satisfactorily completed, the Department expects to be in a position to authorise the project to progress to tender stage which normally takes between seven and eight months to complete. This does not necessarily mean that it cannot be done in less time. I can confirm to Senator Conway that this project is included in the Department of Education and Skills construction programme which is being delivered under the national development plan.

  One of the things we are all very conscious of is ensuring that people's expectations are met and that there is no weakness as to the advancement of this project. It is committed to and is in the capital plan. There is money available for this project. I will ensure, through the Senator's contacts, that we keep this on a live footing to ensure we get movement on it. To reiterate, we are waiting on the first stage within the next four weeks, when we will be looking at feedback on the submissions that have been made. Once we have all that documentation together, we will move to the tender process, which is the most important process of all.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I thank the Minister for renewing the Government's commitment to delivering this school as it is very important that it happen. I have no doubt about the Minister's personal commitment because I have spoken to him on numerous occasions in the last 12 months since his appointment about the importance of this project for the entire area of north Clare. It is reasonable to say that, after the four-week process has been completed, in quarter one of 2020 we will be moving to the tendering process which will take a maximum of seven months to complete.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I reiterate that the key point in any project is getting into the pre-qualification process and getting the list of potential companies. As the Senator said, that process has been completed and the design team has completed its work. We are awaiting feedback, which process will be completed in the next four weeks. It is not unreasonable to suggest we will move to the tendering process in quarter 1 of 2020. We will keep up the momentum and, even though the target is seven to eight months, if we can bring it back even further, it will be only right to do so. The school has been waiting a long time and the project was included in the conversation during the Senator's time in the school in 1993. It is time to bite the bullet and get it done. I reassure the Senator that I will give the matter my personal attention. Ennistymon is a place I know quite well. My next-door neighbour in Donegal is from Ennistymon where I have spent a bit of time in the last couple of decades. I know of the importance of the project which I will keep on the radar.

Local Improvement Scheme Funding

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and thank him for taking this important matter. I know that he had to reschedule other business to be here, which I appreciate.

  As the Minister of State is aware, the local improvement scheme is particularly important for rural communities. It supports improvement works on laneways and non-public roads which are vital in the functioning of everyday life in rural Ireland. The scheme is very popular and essential and greatly appreciated by those who use the roads in question. Improvement works on laneways and non-public roads are very important for local communities. Such roads often lead to houses and farms, but also, importantly, they lead to lakes, rivers, beaches, castles and other important cultural sites.

  In County Cavan there is a ten-year backlog of applications owing to a lack of funding. There is a similar issue in many other counties, with an eight-year backlog in County Monaghan. A total number of 800 applications have been made in County Wexford, of which only 30 have been funded to date. I would like to see a substantial increase in the funding provided for this important scheme in 2020. The scheme is highly valuable and represents a great investment in rural communities. It is important that this rural infrastructure be protected and receive investment in order that families can live along laneways that are drivable and up to a decent standard.

  The scheme is administered by the local authorities which identify roads to be included in the scheme each year. As people who represent rural constituencies, the Minister of State and I are conscious of how important the scheme has been during the years. I am keen to see more money invested to try to reduce the substantial backlog of applications in many counties. Unfortunately, funding for the scheme through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport was stopped in 2012, prior to which it was a mainstream scheme within the overall roadworks programme funded directly by the Department. Alongside that funding, there was a top-up payment for projects in rural areas under the CLÁR programme of the then Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is time this form of funding mechanism and the status of the local improvement scheme were restored and a serious effort was made to reduce substantially the big backlog of applications in most counties.

  The funding allocated to counties Cavan and Monaghan in recent years has been fully drawn down and the work carried out to a very high standard. It is important that the scheme not be put beyond people's reach because of income pressures. In many instances, family members, often sons or daughters, might want to set up home on a site given to them by their parents. One of the factors taken into consideration in deciding whether to build in a location is the quality of the roadway to the proposed home and the quality of the road network more generally. In many communities there is good quality community infrastructure such as football and hurling clubs, soccer clubs and community centres, with a great network of primary schools, by and large. During the years the local improvement scheme has been of huge importance to families living in rural communities and needs to be funded adequately to bring laneways and non-public roads up to a proper standard. We want to ensure those who wish to remain living in rural communities will not be denied that opportunity. I, therefore, ask the Minister of State to, please, use his good offices to ensure a substantial increase in the funding for the programme in 2020. I again thank him for attending.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Seán Canney): Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I thank the Senator. The local improvement scheme, or the LIS as it is affectionately known, is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas. The scheme is funded by my Department and administered through the local authorities. There was no dedicated funding for the scheme for a number of years owing to constraints on public expenditure. However, I was very conscious of the underlying demand for the scheme in rural areas throughout the country and it was reinstated in 2017. The Department has since allocated over €48 million to local authorities for LIS roads across the country, including €10 million earlier this year. Since 2017 over 1,600 projects have been completed with this funding. The LIS is clearly very popular and I know that it is greatly appreciated by the people who use the roads in question on a daily basis. The works carried out not only improve access for the people who live on these roads but they also improve access for service providers, including the emergency services. Projects prioritised by the local authority can also lead to important community amenities such as graveyards, beaches, piers and heritage sites.

  It is clear that there is a continuing demand for LIS funding in rural communities across Ireland. I am pleased that we have again secured €10 million for the scheme in 2020. However, I also want to review the scheme to ensure it is operating as effectively as possible for those who use the roads in question on a daily basis. There are wide variations in the cost of completing works across local authorities. I am also concerned by the pace at which the local authorities are completing works. Of the €10 million allocated to local authorities under the LIS this year, only €3.4 million has been paid out to date in the completion of works.

  We are committed to continuing to support rural communities in 2020 under the LIS and the Minister intends to announce a new round of funding next year. However, I also want to ensure we are getting the best value for money in funding the scheme and for the people who live and work along these roads who have to make a contribution towards the cost. The exact level of funding to be provided for each local authority will be confirmed when the 2020 scheme is announced.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I thank the Minister of State for his reply. It is welcome that he has secured €10 million for the scheme next year. However, a multiple of that figure is required, unfortunately. I am concerned that the Minister of State has said only €3.4 million has been paid out to date this year in the completion of works. Is that correct?

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney Yes.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I am most familiar with the position in Cavan and Monaghan and surrounding counties. My understanding is the local authorities in these counties have used their full allocations. Is there a delay in the Department in paying out the money and, if so, is it deliberate?  I would like the Minister of State to examine the matter because in both counties all the money has been spent and they could do with at least ten times more, which they would use.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney To clarify, in 2019, Cavan received €269,254, which it has drawn down in full, while Monaghan received €250,000, of which it has drawn down nil. The Senator mentioned Wexford, for which €329,878 was allocated but it has drawn down nothing. While it will probably be drawn down before the end of the year, there is a wide variation in the cost of laying a road per metre within local authorities and we have to streamline it. I agree that it is a fantastic scheme and I believe in it wholeheartedly, as does the Minister, Deputy Ring.

  The Senator noted that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport funded the scheme at one stage. At the Department of Rural and Community Development, we fund the scheme to the best of our ability. In 2019, we gave €10 million; in 2018, €20.8 million; and in 2017, €17.53 million. In total, €48 million has been given from our Department and not a stitch has come from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for the scheme. Other Departments will have to come up to the mark in respect of roads. I would welcome if people made contact with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure we will secure more funding. The reason there is so large a backlog is that for seven or eight years, there was no scheme and the queue of roads built up in every county, as I am acutely aware in Galway East and wider County Galway. When a road is completed, it can make a major, positive impact in the community.

Planning Guidelines

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I thank the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for taking time out of his exceptionally busy schedule to take this Commencement matter. I represent Limerick city, where the number of apartments being granted planning permission is causing concern among my constituents. What plans does the Minister have to reduce the density guidelines for homes developed outside of Dublin and city centres? Under the 2009 urban guidelines, density levels are between 35 and 50 units per hectare, which results in a large number of apartments in any development. The most recent CSO figures, for quarter 2, show that the number of apartments is now at approximately the same level as that of houses. In quarter 2, some 4,900 applications for houses were approved and 4,700 for apartments, which is an increase of 156% in the number of apartment applications in the past year while the number of housing applications remains more or less static. Will a review be carried out? We want sustainable living.

  I speak in particular about where I live, in Castletroy, where it has become an important issue, given the large number of planning applications being submitted. Many apartments, even if they are built, will not be sold and, consequently, many developers do not build them. The cost of developing apartments is approximately 30% higher per unit than that of building a house, whether semi-detached or terraced. Furthermore, many developers cannot secure funding to build apartment blocks and, in many cases, they forward sell them. Such apartments are not starter homes.

  While I do not wish to discuss the specifics of planning permission, given that it is a confidential matter, I will outline an example. In Castletroy, there is a development of 332 units, comprising 53 detached houses, 157 semi-detached houses, 91 terraced townhouses, and 32 apartments in a three-storey block. It constitutes a density level of approximately 30 units per hectare. The development is beside a public park and works exceptionally well. The type of living is sustainable and of mixed use. We need to build homes but they need to be starter homes. A number of developments have been initiated nearby, some of which are awaiting a decision while planning permission has been granted for others. The local authority seeks 41 units per hectare. In some cases, where there would have been terraced houses, the local authority has sought increased density by adding apartments but that is not sustainable.

  The area of Castletroy is highly populated and, while there is public transport, it needs to be enhanced. There are capacity issues with the level of development as it is. The development in question is highly sustainable, with more than 30 units per hectare, and combines an apartment block, terraced houses, semi-detached houses and some detached houses. By increasing the density requirements from 35 units to 50 per hectare, however, the only development that will be able to get planning permission is an apartment block. That is borne out in the CSO figures, which show that the number of apartments is now similar to that of housing. The number of housing applications granted permission has been static for the past year but it needs to be revisited. High-density buildings are needed in the centre of Limerick, Dublin and other cities. Outside of the city centres, in the suburban areas, account must be taken of what is sustainable.

  I ask the Minister to carry out a review of Dublin city and all the other cities. He might take the examples I have given and perhaps the matter can be examined by him and his officials.

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy It is my first opportunity to speak in the Chamber since it has been refurbished and it is fantastic to be back. I accidentally went to the wrong room because one creates new habits and they stick in one's mind. I have a written reply but, if it is okay with the Senator, I will provide him with a copy and not read it out. I would like to speak more specifically to the matters he addressed, whereas my written reply gives an overview of the general Government view on density.

  In light of the more rapid increase in housing delivery than has been the case for a number of years, the Senator wants to ensure that we will build homes in a sustainable way.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell That is correct.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy He wants to ensure that we build the right types of homes, for the right people, in the right places. It is not just about increasing the supply of any type of home being built but rather about building the right types of homes, for the right people, in the right places. With Project Ireland 2040 and the national planning framework, we have tried to make decisions at a national level as to what that means. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past and to condemn future generations to urban sprawl. It is bad for the climate to build further and further away from jobs, schools and hospitals. It will also condemn people to long commutes to the city centre, work and school if we are not able to build more homes closer to the viable infrastructure.

  The big question is what the ideal density is. We produce national guidelines and each of the local authorities' development plan should be in line with them. An Bord Pleanála retains the powers to challenge a local plan if it is not in line with national policy. Since the beginning of this year, for the first time ever, there is a national planning regulator. If someone believes that what the local authority is doing in a given area is incorrect, he or she can now appeal to the planning regulator. If someone believes that An Bord Pleanála has done something incorrectly, he or she can tell the planning regulator that he needs to examine the matter. All such additional checks are in place to ensure that people are not allowed to go against good, sustainable planning, and that politicians do not interfere in the process either.  It is incumbent on elected officials, including Senators, Deputies and Ministers, to ensure they constantly review and gain understanding of what policy made in a Department means when it is implemented on the ground.

  On good dwelling densities per hectare, a hectare is roughly the size of a rugby pitch, to use a comparison with which the people of Limerick would be familiar. In urban areas, there should be a minimum of 50 dwellings per hectare. On how the Government can help drive greater density, some Land Development Agency sites in Dublin will reach 100 dwellings per hectare, which is quite an achievement. That will involve many apartments, which are badly needed in the centre of Dublin. The Senator referred to the increase in apartment building. It is welcome, but we need to see far more. It is not meant to replace the traditional building of houses. We are meant to be doing both. Outside inner city areas, there is a dwelling density of 35 to 50 per hectare or rugby pitch. That is recognised as a good standard for urban areas, not the inner city core. We are aiming for approximately 35 dwellings per hectare in larger towns and fewer than 35 dwellings per hectare in villages and other areas. Those are our aims in terms of good density.

  In trying to reach those density requirements, we need to break our thinking that every single home or dwelling on that rugby pitch must be a house. On one site, we can have houses, apartments, duplexes and shared accommodation for the elderly with all the appropriate services such as live-in help and so on. Some housing bodies have done that very effectively, with a particularly good example in County Kilkenny. We are trying to give guidance to local authorities and private developers on a new way of thinking around achieving a density of, for example, 35 to 50 dwellings per hectare in an urban area. Doing so does not mean building only apartments or houses and apartments; it can encompass three-bedroom, semi-detached houses, detached houses, terraced houses, apartments and step-down homes for the elderly on one site.

  I have been to Castletroy several times, including once very recently. The density of dwellings per hectare there seems appropriate, but I am happy to go to the site and take a look. I will not interfere with planning permission or anything of the sort and I am not asking to meet the developer or the builder, but I will go the location referred to by the Senator. I have done so in previous instances where people have told me that the densities set out under the guidelines do not work for a particular site. It is incumbent on me to take a look and see whether their claims stack up. I would like to do so in this instance, particularly because I know the area well, and see whether national policies make sense for that site. I commit to doing so.

  Home Building Finance Ireland has been operational since the beginning of the year and is helping smaller builders outside cities to secure finance to build homes.

  On the viability of our housing stock, it is now more expensive to build homes because we are building them to an A standard. Our social housing homes are the best homes being built in the country and that costs more money. Apartments cost more because of the various things that must be done. In order to increase viability we have made changes to some specifications such as the number of units per core and the need for car parking spaces. Obviously, the latter is unnecessary in a place such as Dublin city centre but would be necessary in other parts of the country. I recognise that it is a challenge. When apartments were built many years ago in parts of Dublin such as Stepaside and other areas beyond the M50, people said that building apartments in such places was crazy because nobody would live in them. Now there are not enough apartments in those areas because infrastructure such as public transport and so on was put in place.

  It is important to remember that even in a crisis when people want homes built immediately, the homes we build should stand for 100 years. We must ensure that we are building the right homes in the right places for the right types of people or else we will have more problems in the future. I will visit the site in Castletroy so that I can get a proper understanding of the difficulties to which the Senator refers.

Acting Chairman (Senator Ned O'Sullivan): Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan I am sorry to have interrupted the Minister but I wanted to ensure the Senator has a chance to respond. The Minister got good value for his money.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I thank the Minister. I look forward to welcoming him to Castletroy. My perspective on this matter is straightforward: we need to increase density in city centres and we need to have a mix. The problem is that it must be sustainable. Many planning applications that are submitted involve a combination of apartments and terraced townhouses but the local authorities are pushing on density guidelines at national level and the planners are telling developers to increase density which, by definition, means more apartments. That is reflected in the figures published by the Central Statistics Office, which has indicated that the number of apartments being granted permission is equivalent to the number of houses. The number of houses granted permission has not increased in the past year. We need mixed developments with apartments, townhouses, semi-detached houses, detached houses and accommodation for older people. The young families and parents whom I know want their children to be able to afford to buy and to have a choice. The problem is that as density guidelines are so high, in many cases, many planning applications are comprised to a significant extent of apartment blocks that will never be built by the developers. They will build some of the houses. There is not enough housing stock coming on board and that is something at which we need to look. We need to build more homes, but that must be done in a sustainable way. I applaud the work being done by the Minister in terms of driving the number of houses being built, but it must be done in a sustainable way.

  I will welcome the Minister to Castletroy and show him the situation on the ground. We can achieve a model that would reduce densities outside Dublin and inner cities while attaining an appropriate density level in a way that is sustainable in the long term in the areas concerned. Local authorities should be given flexibility to make judgment calls regarding applications in specific areas in terms of the sustainability of housing. I thank the Minister for his offer to come to Castletroy specifically to see the planning situation there.

Acting Chairman (Senator Ned O'Sullivan): Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan I ask the Minister to keep his reply brief as we are almost out of time.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I share the Senator's vision of sustainable house building. Let us continue the debate on the ground in Castletroy.

  Sitting suspended at 11.27 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Order of Business is No. 1, Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 2.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 2, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Report and Final Stages, resumed, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 4.20 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 3, statements on the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, entitled Report on Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and conclude no later than 6 p.m. with the contribution of the chairman of the committee not to exceed eight minutes, the contribution of the rapporteur to the committee not to exceed eight minutes, the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, statements on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union to be taken at 6 p.m. with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Before I call Senators, I wish to discuss the exceptional circumstances yesterday. Twenty-five speakers contributed to the Order of Business yesterday and some Senators thought it was unduly long and that the Chair might have been lax. Yesterday was yesterday. I remind Senators that, on the Order of Business, three minutes are allowed for group spokespersons and two minutes for every other Senator. I obviously do not like pulling anybody up but I feel it necessary, after yesterday, to remind Senators of that.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh Yesterday, I rose to discuss the Government's abysmal record on housing and the unprecedented numbers of people accessing homeless accommodation. Today, I would like to discuss the Government's record and handling of the health service. Yesterday, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, recorded 679 patients on trolleys across the country. This is the second highest figure ever recorded and is the highest one recorded in 2019. It was unusual and horrific that the Government did not declare this an emergency. This is occurring at a time of the year when it is still relatively warm and before we hit severe winter conditions, yet we are seeing these figures in accident and emergency departments in hospitals across the country.

  We also know the weather affects homeless figures and those accessing emergency homeless accommodation. What exactly are the Government's plans for the health service and the provision of emergency accommodation for those who will be seeking to access it when the weather deteriorates, which we expect it will because it does every year? We do not know what will happen at the moment. These figures will just climb without any plan in place and it is very serious, particularly when INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, has said that members of her organisation are working in inhumane conditions with staff shortages. Those who will suffer are the patients and it is putting patient safety at risk.

  On a positive note, I welcome the Minister's suggestion of putting a levy on coffee cups but if there is going to be a public consultation, perhaps the terms of reference should be widened to consider putting a levy on plastic packaging on vegetables and things like that in supermarkets.  The suggestion is to be welcomed, though. Fianna Fáil was very successful in bringing in the plastic bag levy, so it is great that Fine Gael is following suit.

Senator Billy Lawless: Information on Billy Lawless Zoom on Billy Lawless I agree with Senator McDowell's call yesterday for a proper debate and discussion in the House on the question of direct provision. I appreciate that what the Senator spoke to yesterday and again in his article this morning is built on his experience as a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Attorney General concerned with the process, procedure and legality of those who seek refuge in our State.

  I wish to touch on the human story that is at the heart of this debate and the national discussion taking place. I wish to speak first to the humanity of those working in organisations that provide practical and emotional support to those seeking asylum in this State, from the Irish Refugee Council to the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland. I pay tribute to our primary and secondary schools across the country that are providing the gift of education and helping with the integration of refugees in the communities in which they reside. Most of all, I pay tribute to the communities right across Ireland that host direct provision centres, from Killarney to Carrick-on-Suir, with little fuss and none of the fear that has been fostered in recent months. These are the people and the Ireland I recognise. It is not up to communities to identify who should or should not apply for asylum here or which application is more worthy than which. That is the responsibility of the State.

  As Irish people, however, we are uniquely and indelibly linked to our own story of emigration, forced off these shores as we were through starvation and deprivation and granted asylum when no system existed to help build the most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America. The ability of our State to meet the economic and social challenges of those seeking refuge is also unique among that of practically every other country in the European Union. There are no rubber dinghies coming across the Irish Sea packed with people who carry with them the dreams and aspirations of a better life. I accept that in the modern world every state must be able to control and manage its borders and that the management of those borders can at times be done with limited compassion. Some people in this country want to undermine our democracy and are using the unsavoury tactic of blaming the other, or the stranger, for our economic and social injustices. We Irish have seen this before, in signs stating "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish". Our dialogue and discussions should be about how communities work to help those seeking asylum and whether we can talk about how Ireland fulfils its obligations to those seeking refuge. Yes, let us have the honest discussion my colleague spoke about yesterday, but I plead for the discussion not to be about who should or should not apply in the first place or which person's application is more genuine than which. Instead, the discussion should be about how we grant asylum as quickly as possible to those who are entitled to the refuge of this country. How do we ensure that Ireland deals humanely with those who apply for asylum and those in our direct provision centres? These are the questions that, if answered, will speak to the true instincts of us Irish people and our tied history to immigrant communities across the world.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I wish to pass on my condolences on the passing of Fr. Des Wilson to his family. I know he is a relative of our own Senator Wilson, and I am sure my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, will talk further about him and the Springhill area of west Belfast, where he came from. He was 70 years in the priesthood and was obviously a peacemaker and a champion of the people. May his soul rest in peace.

  I ask the Leader again to bring the Minister before the House on the pyrite situation. I know that money has been allocated, but not one single cent of it has so far gone to the people in Mayo or Donegal, I believe. I really need the Minister to come before the House to clarify the criteria in that regard.

  I empathise with the 600,000 people in Dublin, Kildare and Meath who are facing a third day of the boil water notice. I am perplexed, however, by the fact that the Government thinks it acceptable that people in Mayo and other rural areas live for years with boil water notices. This year Mayo County Council sought funding for the construction of a number of new water schemes. The Letterbrick scheme, in Kenagh, was one such scheme serving 24 connections, which would involve an extension to the Nephin valley group water scheme. Another was the Downpatrick Head group water scheme. The unfairness of funding still not being allocated to these group water schemes and the continuation of boil water notices for years and years must be addressed. I, therefore, ask also that the Leader bring the Minister before the House to discuss group water schemes specifically. I know that some allocations have been made, but we cannot go on for years and years with boil water notices.

  When will the Minister, Deputy Harris, release the valproate response report? The report is on his desk. Families have waited 18 months already for it. We cannot get the information we need on the 1975 and 1983 licences. I know that Karen Keely has been looking for this information. She is a mother of three children who have been affected by valproate syndrome. We need to get this sorted. When will the report come off the Minister's desk and be published in order that a proper redress scheme, similar to that has been put in place in France, can be put in place and an independent investigation take place as to who knew what and when?

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I rise to pay tribute to the memory of Ana Kriégel. Sentences were handed down yesterday to the two boys responsible for her murder. Comments have been made in the media this morning as to how Ireland should react to the fact that we have two child murderers guilty of this heinous crime. It is important we remember Ana as a beautiful, talented, loved young girl. The dignity with which her family have dealt with this situation is quite inspirational. However, we must come to terms with this horrible event, discuss it and ensure that everything that can be done in these Houses to learn a lesson is done and that nothing of this nature can ever possibly happen again. Questions have been asked about the nature of child pornography and the extent of its availability. Questions have been asked about the availability of smartphones. Discussions have been had on the nature of the quite intensive and cruel bullying that seems to take place in many of our schools and among our young people. Bullying is not just an issue for young people but it certainly seemed to be a feature of this case. We therefore need to respond to this situation. If Ireland has produced two child murderers, and a child has been murdered, these Houses have a duty to react in a calm, considered way that might lead society in learning some lessons from this horrible tale.

  I also wish to raise the issue of autism services in north Dublin. I am constantly struck by the paltry level of service available on the north side of Dublin to parents of children diagnosed with autism, by the long waiting lists for early intervention and by the inability of parents to get school places for their children and associated issues. It seems that if a child is diagnosed with autism, rather than the system wrapping itself around him or her with the care one would expect, the parents must become part-time campaigners and often must go to war with the system to get the most basic of provisions.  I would appreciate if the Leader could arrange a debate on the nature of the autism services both in north Dublin and across the country in order that we can get to the root of what is wrong and determine how we can correct it. I regularly meet parents of young children who are already completely and utterly exhausted. They are not looking forward to dealing with a system for years into the future that cannot adequately support then. Therefore, I would appreciate if the Leader could facilitate a debate on this issue.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I am sure many Members will share my sentiments if they saw last night's BBC Northern Ireland's "Spotlight" programme that dealt with the intimidation of Kevin Lunney, a director of Quinn Industrial Holdings. It was very sad. He was abducted, tortured and assaulted. There has been ongoing intimidation of all the directors of Quinn Industrial Holdings. The rule of law must be upheld in that region. I do not like to talk about the Garda or its operations. I am sure many things have been done behind the scenes and under the radar but there is a feeling that perhaps the Garda and the PSNI were not out quickly enough to deal with the threats of intimidation against these directors. Additional gardaí have been deployed and there is a fully armed service unit in the area. I very much welcome that but I hope the Garda and the PSNI have a cross-Border initiative to tackle these serious forms of intimidation. Our thoughts are with Kevin Lunney and all the Quinn directors and their families. Nobody should have to experience such intimidation as they try to do what is right for their community and area in terms of protecting jobs. As a State, we must stand up to this form of intimidation and the rule of law must be upheld.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I concur with what Senator Feighan said about Kevin Lunney. The difficulties in that part of counties Cavan and Fermanagh have been experienced for many years. They did not only start in the past three or four years. They have been going on since 2011. I welcome the additional Garda resources deployed but it is not sufficient to send uniformed new recruits to this area. Specialist gardaí need to be put in place who can man the Border and who, along with their colleagues in the PSNI, can target these people.

  The main reason I wish to speak is the death yesterday afternoon of Fr. Des Wilson, to which Senator Conway Walsh referred. He was known to many as a formidable priest, an outstanding mentor and in the words of Fr. Brian D'Arcy "a delightful honest rebel". Fr. Des was dearly loved by the Springhill community and the people of west Belfast whom he served diligently for more than 60 years. There are others in this House and the Lower House who I know will pay tribute to him. To Seanadóir Niall Ó Donnghaile he was a great friend and mentor. To Teachta Adams he was a livflong friend and the priest who married him and his wife Colette. To me, he was my father's first cousin and a man about whom I loved to hear stories. The fact that he and my uncle John studied together in the seminary in Maynooth at the same time gave our family a great source of amusement. They took entirely different roads, one a priest and the other a politician, but they were more alike than unalike.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator is a bit like both.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I note the media and social media have been focused heavily on the death of another giant of a man, Gay Byrne, and rightly so, but I saw a small pocket of coverage dedicated to Fr. Des. The Irish Times referred to him as the peacemaking priest, while on Twitter and Facebook ordinary citizens of west Belfast have talked about the loss of their people's priest. It has been heartwarming to read other people's stories of Fr. Des, from how he helped a widowed mother to get back into education to how he opened dialogue between warring factions in the North. While some might say one of his contributions was more important than the other, I know that Fr. Des never did; he placed equal importance on helping people. I offer my condolences to the people of Springhill; they have lost a real force of nature.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We all share those thoughts.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I was delighted to see this morning that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is beginning to do a lot of work on climate change, with the plastic bag levies, a levy on waste recovery and even a levy on disposable coffee cups. I have an issue with people walking and eating at the same time. It is the worst of America coming to Ireland.

  There is a certain fantasy about many of the measures he has been announcing. One of the greatest fantasies was in an announcement he made on Friday, 25 October, in a climate action youth town hall meeting in Mount Temple comprehensive school in Clontarf. He stated the climate action plan sets out an ambitious plan for 2030. We will have five times as much renewable energy on our grid; ten times as much retrofitting of homes and buildings; 25 times penetration of electric vehicles among our cars; zero non-recyclable plastics compared to 60% today; 500,000 extra daily public active commuter journeys and, here it is, we will have planted 250 million trees. In ten years, we will have planted 250 million trees. That means we will plant 25 million trees a year, which means we will plant 2,830,000 trees a month. That means that we will plant 69,000 trees a day. I do not know who wrote this - I think it is the fairy tales of Ireland – but we have to be very careful of these kinds of announcements that are glossed over and given to Ministers to say, and they say them with the greatest faith in the world. This is because nobody has even asked, if we are going to plant 69,000 trees a day, where they will be planted. Are we going to recreate Sweden or parts of Canada? What will be the size of these trees? The expanse between one tree and another is quite large if it is at arm's length or will there be poles? It is ridiculous. While I agree with much of what the Minister said, he cannot be writing the fairly tales of Ireland or not checking what is being written in announcements I have checked it three times. It started off as 400 million and something and it is down to 250 million but with 250 million trees, we will be walking on the top of trees from here to Galway. A squirrel will not have to take the train. It can walk on the top of the trees with no problem or it could swing, like orangutans. I do not know where these spaces are.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I would hate to be Jane.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell It is a very serious problem-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I would hate to be Jane.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell -----because on the one hand we are trying to do something different but on the other hand these are the fairy tales of Ireland; I could be brought to song. Could the Minister come into the House and explain this?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer He was here yesterday.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Yesterday, I was eulogising the death of Gay Byrne and it was not my place to go into another matter. We had statements on the death of Gay Byrne so it was not my place to raise a different matter. I was very saddened by his death and I only spent a short time here in the House. That is not to take away from my point. The Minister cannot write fantasy like this and gift it to the Irish people when it is not true because what happens on the doors is that people say, "you promised me this", when the promises were the fairy tales of Ireland. Could the Minister come into the House and explain this or the civil servant who wrote it and got him to say it, worse again?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We need more trees and squirrels. I have them at the end of my back garden.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I was not here yesterday for the expressions of sympathy on the death of Gay Byrne. I watched the special programme late last night and the one thing that came across, and it is a lesson for all politicians, was that his greatest skill was that he listened. He let people talk. I pay tribute to him. He was the greatest broadcaster of his generation by a mile but his main skill was that he listened when people spoke.

  I welcome the announcement from Aer Lingus today that it will now fly from Shannon Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.  It has been announced today and will take effect from 29 March. Aer Lingus will fly to Charles de Gaulle Airport four days a week and, on the other three days, the aircraft will fly to Barcelona. That Barcelona route will start on 2 May.

  I am particularly interested in the Charles de Gaulle route because it brings major European hub connectivity, something I have been pushing for on behalf of Shannon Airport for a long time. This is the start of the process and I would like to see year-round flights. This flight is welcome but will only fly between 29 March and 31 October. We need support from people in the region and nationally for this route. We welcome people from every corner of Ireland flying out of Shannon. We hope that these routes, particularly the Charles de Gaulle one, will be extended to all year round so we have major European hub connectivity.

  There are further applications before the Department for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister, Deputy Ross, for other European hub connectivity flights from Shannon Airport and it is something we need. It is significant, with the advent of Brexit, that we will have this European hub connectivity in place in time for whatever happens with Brexit. It will benefit not only the area in Shannon but Ireland Inc. Shannon Airport is an international airport that happens to be based in the mid-west region; it is not necessarily a mid-west airport. It is an international airport for Ireland that is operating significantly under capacity. It can cater for 4.5 million passengers per year and currently caters for approximately 1.8 million.

  It can take one any length of time to go from one end of Dublin Airport to the other. It is chaos to get through Dublin. One could take a bus or transport to Shannon Airport where there is ample car parking, ample space for flying with a modern, upgraded runway. The two airports should not be competing with one another. There is too much of that in Ireland. We are a small island with good road connectivity which will be shortly boosted by the M20.

  This is a significant announcement for Shannon Airport. Major European hub connectivity will be in place from the end of March and guaranteed to the end of October. I want that to be extended to being year-round and to have other European destinations. Project Ireland 2040 aims to achieve 75% of growth outside of Dublin and Shannon Airport is a key element in that. Let us get behind Shannon and take Aer Lingus flights to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Let us have year-round European hub connectivity to make us Brexit-proof, not only for Shannon and the region but for Ireland Inc. as well.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I raise a matter of serious importance. In June 2018, the Dáil passed a motion calling for a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Shane O'Farrell in Monaghan in August 2011. This House did the same in February 2019. Many of us in these Houses have met the devastated family of Shane O'Farrell and have learned about the shocking set of circumstances and failure of the criminal justice systems, North and South, that led to the failures which culminated in Shane's death.

  I met Shane's mother and father not long after his death. I was a Deputy and justice spokesperson for my party at the time. I will never forget the devastation inflicted on that family, particularly his mother, Lucia. This is the quintessential Irish family - decent and hard-working, with parents who urged their children to get the best education they can. Shane was a joy, by all accounts, a fine young man who had just qualified in medicine and was about to travel around the world. He was a dream son who was taken away from his parents. Deaths happen but it is unacceptable when they occur surrounded by absolute failure from those in the justice system.

  These Houses voted on this matter and what has happened recently is that rather than grant a public inquiry, the Minister for Justice and Equality asked former Judge Gerard Haughton to put together terms of reference, a scoping exercise. His Department has rejected those terms of reference and narrowed them further. This is absolutely outrageous. This was not only a failure of An Garda Síochána, it was a failure of the court system and a failure of communication, North and South, because the individual responsible for Shane's death had been involved in criminality, North and South, and has been convicted as such.

  I appeal for the Minister to be brought before this House, which voted by a majority for a public inquiry, to account for this disgrace and assure us that Judge Haughton will not be held back from his desire to have a proper, fully comprehensive inquiry into the circumstances of Shane's death in order that lessons can be learned and some degree of solace given to the O'Farrell family. I appeal to the Leader to ensure the Minister is brought before this House at the earliest opportunity to account to all of us as to why he has not respected our wishes.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I was a part of the all-party working group on dementia that worked across both Houses to improve the resources given to families suffering because a loved one suffers with dementia. We heard this morning about the potential closure of St. Joseph's, Shankill. It has 60 live-in, dedicated units for dementia. It is the largest in the country. There are 120 places per week for day care services which make a real impact for 120 families, week in and week out. We now discover St. Joseph's has had no increase in funding since 2012 and faces closure. This is totally unacceptable. All political parties have been fighting for resources for families with a loved one suffering from dementia only to hear this news about St. Joseph's this morning.

  This is not an isolated case. Last week, we heard about the impending closure of an important resource in Roscommon that provided respite for the Irish Wheelchair Association, people with Parkinson's disease and other sufferers. It is a dedicated, purpose-built respite home in the midlands to ensure families can get respite. I talked to one family member who said it is absolutely fabulous to bring her loved one for a break to the centre, stay with him, and have all the resources available for the need of his disability and as a wheelchair user. That centre now faces closure. Something is going seriously wrong.

  I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business whereby either the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, or the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, attends the House today to explain to us exactly what is happening and give some reassurance to the 180 families in the Dún Laoghaire, Shankill and south County Dublin area that this important support will not be taken away from them at the end of the year. They cannot wait for clarity on this issue, it needs to come now. They suffer, day in and day out, trying to take care of their loved ones. They have now received notification that this resource is going to be withdrawn without any explanation of what support will be put there in replacement. I am formally proposing an amendment to the Order of Business whereby either the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, or the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, attends the House today to give some reassurance that these important resources will be maintained in the future.

Senator Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin A number of weeks ago, we had the welcome announcement of the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021. It provides important funding for rural dwellers in order that they can have proper and adequate water supplies to their houses. Funding was allocated to Mayo and other rural counties that will lead to great benefits for many people in areas that would otherwise be at a loss.  However, I have to take issue with the expert panel that was put together to assess various applications submitted by the local authorities, Mayo County Council in this case. It has failed the people of Downpatrick, which is a rural area outside Ballycastle in north Mayo. This scheme was recognised and designated as a number one priority for Mayo County Council. The reason for this is if the Government does not intervene and help these people get a water supply, there will be no water supply. The problem stems from the fact that there are naturally occurring adverse ground conditions whereby the ground contains iron, manganese and arsenic. The water cannot really be treated. A grant to bore a well is available and many of these people have availed of that. When the machinery or the equipment breaks down, they cannot wash clothes or have showers. They have to go to a village pump in the middle of Ballycastle to get some sort of proper drinking water. They have been at this for years. Since about 2008, they had been set and expectant that they would get a new water scheme and as we all remember, we had the economic crash and the CLÁR scheme for rural areas was discontinued. This is a number one priority and clearly these people cannot do anything unless the Government helps them. They have waited over the years, the rules have been modified and every time we hoped the net would be cast wide enough and they would be facilitated to get what is a basic right we all talk about, namely water. These people have not had it for years and there has not been too much outcry over that, other than on my own part. The issue is it is costing €13,500 per house and the average cost allowed is €9,000 per house.

  My issue with this expert panel from the Environmental Protection Authority, EPA, Irish Water and the Department is there is provision within their own criteria for exceptional funding to be provided in exceptional cases. This is an exceptional case and it ticks the boxes of their criteria, yet nowhere in the country has been given exceptional funding. There is a clear case for exceptional funding for these 17 households. I ask that this be revisited. I have spoken with the Minister and I wish to highlight this here today. These people in rural Ireland deserve fair play and a basic service. They are old and young people and they need to live in the space they are in but they cannot do so the way the water supply is.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I express my condolences to the family of Gay Byrne, his wife Kathleen, his daughters Suzy and Crona and his many and wide circle of colleagues and friends. Many of us grew up in a time whereby it is not possible to explain to people of this generation or those of the younger generation how influential Gay Byrne was with both his radio programme every morning and "The Late Late Show" when there were much fewer channels and people had a lot less choice in recording. So many people regarded it as must-see viewing live at the time and then spent the next few days discussing what happened on it. He is a huge loss to Irish life generally, and particularly to Irish broadcasting. I wanted to put that on the record.

  Many of the points I might have raised such as health, the Shane O'Farrell case, social media and Kevin Lunney have all been mentioned so I will not mention them again. I support Senator Ó Donnghaile on Shannon Airport. On water, Senator Mulherin made a good case for 17 houses in Mayo but we have 600,000 people in north Dublin, Meath, Kildare, south Dublin and in parts of Dublin city who are again subject to a boil water notice. We have restaurants, pubs and schools affected by it. One in eight of the population of this country is affected by this boil water notice. It is not acceptable that within two weeks of the first scare we have this again. We need the Minister and Irish Water to tell us what is wrong. It is not acceptable that 12.5% of the population of this country are subject to a boil water notice and subject to going out and buying expensive water to do things as simple as brushing their teeth and washing their vegetables.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I would like the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come in here and explain what is going on between the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Clare Bus with the delay in funding. It is totally unacceptable that vulnerable people in County Clare, who require the services of Clare Bus, would be hearing stories or speculation that there are issues. Whatever the issues are, I would like to hear about them. The Minister is probably due in here anyway to give us an update on rural transport so I offer encouragement for that to happen as soon possible.

  I also listened to "Morning Ireland" this morning with surprise to hear John Moran talking about the lack of local authorities drawing down Government funding available to build houses. He bemoaned the lack of ambition of local authorities when it comes to building housing. I tend to agree with him. The Minister can only do so much. The money is available so what is going on that the local authorities are not escalating the issue of building houses? Something is wrong and there is a blockage somewhere. I would like some clarity on that. Perhaps the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, or the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, could come in at some stage for statements on housing in order that we might hear what their perspectives on that blockage are.

  I was quite surprised that the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality confirmed this morning that the Department has signed contracts with the provider of the emergency accommodation on Achill Island, which will have to be paid for. We have a situation now where there are bedrooms on Achill Island, contracted by the State, with nobody in them. It is not acceptable. This needs to be resolved. If 13 vulnerable women cannot go there for whatever reason, and I accept the reasons in good faith, are there any men or other people who can go down and take up this accommodation? We have an accommodation crisis when it comes to people seeking international protection in this country and it needs to be dealt with head-on.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Before calling on Senator McDowell and without wishing to cause any irritation, I remind Senators there is a rota of speakers which they decided on at the commencement of this Seanad. It is based on the strength of the groups in the Seanad and I assure Senators I am faithfully following it.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan We have every confidence in the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Thank you very much. We will not-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Who is questioning that?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I did not say anybody was but I thought it necessary to point it out.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen He is heading it off in advance.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Get your retaliation in first.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Last night on BBC Northern Ireland, the "Spotlight" programme detailed what has happened with Quinn Industrial Holdings and the campaign of intimidation, in particular the appalling things that were done to Kevin Lunney. I want to make a few points about these matters. First, there is no point in scoring cheap political points but there has clearly been an ongoing failure of policing in the Border region. Signs of an intimidatory kind should not be allowed to be put up anywhere on this island and should be removed the instant they go up. The craven attitude of some people who do not understand that the rule of law must be upheld not only applies in the Border region but it applied in Cherry Orchard where Dublin City Council was advising building contractors to pay off gangland people who were extorting money from them.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Appalling.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell There is only one standard of law and it should apply everywhere on this island.

  The second point I want to make is that the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, has advanced a view, with which I agree, that there must be a multi-agency approach to the Border situation and to what is and what is not happening there. The Revenue Commissioners, Army intelligence, Garda intelligence, the Garda and every force that is available North and South should be involved. Every security force and technique that available must be deployed.

  The third point is that we cannot have a situation where industry is driven out of that area at the hands of people who are conducting such a campaign. How can that area possibly prosper and who in their right mind would invest in it if this kind of behaviour goes unchallenged? It is a challenge to the legitimacy of this State that such things were done to Kevin Lunney.  It is a real failure on the part of our State that this was building up incrementally and it was not taken seriously.

  We sometimes owe a lot to BBC Northern Ireland. That programme was phenomenally gripping and horrifying. I wish to say to those in Montrose that it sets a standard by which they will be judged. BBC Northern Ireland recently ran a series on the Troubles which should be compulsory viewing in every school in Ireland. They ran a different programme called "Pop Goes Northern Ireland", in which footage and pop music are shown intertwined together to show the banality of the evil that was perpetrated over so many years.

  When I say there was a failure of policing, I am not recriminating. I saw Garda Commissioner Drew Harris in the footage the other night following his father's coffin as a young man. I am not throwing any personal barb at anybody in any sense. However, we depend on An Garda Síochána. Kevin Lunney and his colleagues depend on it. It cannot simply fail to act in response to a situation that has been going on for years, with vandalism, intimidation and the like.

  Paul Quinn's mother said that every bone in his body was broken when he was beaten to death with baseball bats. His crime, apparently, was to give lip to a paramilitary in the neighbourhood. In Crossmaglen, there is still a "Sniper at Work" poster on a telephone pole. Either we are serious about the rule of law on this island or we are not. I do not want to make points against the Minister for Justice and Equality, but I want the Government to realise that the wave of horror that came out of that programme last night, which will be broadcast again tonight, calls for a response at least as strong as that which followed the death of Veronica Guerin.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank the Senator. I agree with him on the task force. Some years ago, I happened to chair a committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly that recommended such a task force to aid the police on both sides of the Border. I do not know if the Senator was part of the Government at the time or not. I understood that our Government, the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive in place at the time agreed on this and it was established but I am not sure what it is doing. We brought it up at the recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I cannot recollect whether I was in office at the time.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We have a report on the matter.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I meant to say one other thing. The two State authorities on this island must make it clear that Quinn Industrial Holdings is never going back to its original ownership on foot of this campaign and this must stop.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn On a point of order, I agree entirely with what Senator McDowell said there. The Leas-Chathaoirleach was responsible for an excellent report on criminality in the Border regions, so he knows more about this subject than most.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan With respect-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn My point of order is a request on the back of what has been said.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan With respect, it is probably not a point of order.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn If the Leas-Chathaoirleach will give me some latitude, I promise him I will finish in ten seconds. It is a relevant point.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator has already made his contribution.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn The relevant point is this. Can we bring the Minister for Justice and Equality before us to address us on the issue that I raised earlier concerning Shane O'Farrell and on the very pertinent issues Senator McDowell has just raised? The Minister for Justice and Equality has spent 100 hours here debating a single Bill. I am asking him to come here to address this-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Mac Lochlainn should talk to his colleagues about that.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Good luck to the Minister if he manages to secure it-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator is interrupting his colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, who is the next speaker.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile I wish to join other colleagues who noted the passing yesterday of Fr. Des Wilson. I spoke in this House just a few months ago to mark the 70th anniversary of Fr. Des's ordination into the priesthood. Given his sad passing yesterday, the best thing we could say about Fr. Des is that he was not just a believer in the gospel of hope and liberation; he was a practitioner of the gospel of hope and liberation. The Leader shared in my sentiments at the time, and yesterday marked Fr. Des's death in his own way. As the Leader is aware, Fr. Des fervently believed in education as a means of lifting people not only out of poverty, but out of oppression and the confines of the mind and the circumstances around them. He left a privileged position on the pulpit to live, work and struggle among his own people. He was steadfast in challenging the establishment, including the establishment within the Catholic Church, and for that he came under immense pressure but he never faltered. Fr. Des always kept the faith.

  In the last two days in Belfast we have lost two towering figures in the struggle against injustice, inequality and oppression. Dickie Glenholmes was a friend to many and a towering figure throughout nationalist and republican Belfast and beyond. He equalled Fr. Des's stature in the lifelong contribution that he and his family made in their own way to changing all of our lives and circumstances.

  When I mentioned Fr. Des's ordination of June this year, I sent him the video of my speech. He then sent me a text I have just come across today. It read: "Thank you so sincerely for the kindness of your gesture in the Seanad and for helping us to look forward to the best years. God Bless you and your work". I have no doubt that when he said "God Bless you and your work" he meant all of us in the Seanad. I am very conscious that it is because of people like Fr. Des and Dickie Glenholmes that we can look forward to the best years.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank the Senator. That was well said.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I wish to echo the words of Senator Michael McDowell about the appalling intimidation campaign being directed at individuals in Quinn Industrial Holdings, and I absolutely endorse what he said about the need for a task force. The appalling injuries inflicted on Kevin Lunney are really despicable. It is dreadful to see what appears to be an unconscionable failure of policing and justice in the Border region.

  I would also like to express my condolences to the family of Gay Byrne. I did not have an opportunity to do so yesterday. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for putting a book of condolences in place here in Leinster House. That is very appropriate.

  I second Senator Humphreys' amendment concerning the dementia unit and the call for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to come before the Seanad to discuss it.

  Senator Mac Lochlainn and others have mentioned the O'Farrell case. I wish to support other colleagues in asking the Leader for a debate on the need for a public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell. Like others, I met Lucia O'Farrell, Gemma O'Farrell and other members of the family yesterday. Senator Norris has been really strong on this in the Seanad. Motions calling for a public inquiry have been passed in both the Dáil and the Seanad. The Minister for Justice and Equality has unfortunately narrowed the terms of reference. We need to reiterate and emphasise our calls for a full public inquiry into this case and the various failings that led to the tragic death of Shane O'Farrell, who was a law student in Trinity at the time of his death, to help ensure that the sort of failings and lapses that led to his death are not allowed to happen again in our system.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I am conscious of time so I will be brief. I support the Labour Party Senators' call for either the Minister for Health or the Minister of State with special responsibility for disability issues to come to the Chamber to discuss dementia services at St. Joseph's Centre, Crinken Lane, Shankill, which is run by the St. John of God order. Since 2012, there has been a history there of overruns. The order itself has been helping to meet the financial cost of running this amazing service. I do not know if any Members have been out there, but I have and I know the service.  This is very successful service, the place was purpose-built by the order itself and it has a very good record, particularly for those families involved who go there. It is a very co-operative effort, where families are welcome at any time to St. Joseph's, Crinken Lane, Shankill. It is a pity that this service is now under threat. Families and staff have received letters in this regard. To put it in context, between 2012 and last year, St. Joseph's had a loss of €7.2 million, which was covered by the St. John of God services group. This has to be acknowledged because religious orders sometimes get much knocking here, but this order is putting its own resources into continuously propping up this successful operation. Clearly, there is a shortfall of money that has to be found. It is a sad day for the staff and for the families but more importantly, it is an exceptionally sad day for the clients or patients who live there and get this support. There is a daily service and a residential service that needs our support. It is important that some Minister comes in here today and gives the House some reassurance on these matters.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I wish to join in the tributes to Fr. Des Wilson. When one considers the amazing contribution made by so many clergy on all sides of the denominational divide to try to bring peace to Northern Ireland - one thinks of people like Harold Good, John Dunlop, the late Monsignor Denis Faul, Fr. Alec Reid and the Redemptorists in Clonard - a great debt of gratitude is owed to them. When speaking to my Sinn Féin friends, I note it is important to talk of the gospel of liberation but there is no true gospel of liberation unless every human life is respected. The political parties in the North of Ireland in these days have a lot to answer for still in respect of that, having regard in particular to the recent imposition of a very radical abortion law in Northern Ireland by the British. There is a denial of that very gospel by those politicians. This should be a gospel for everybody, of all faiths and none, that every human life is to be respected at all stages.

  I want to compliment Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Can I ask the Senator to repeat, please?

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Do, please.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I am not claiming to be any better than everybody else.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Without interruptions, please, for Senator Mullen.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen We all need to be consistent, and I point that finger at myself as well.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I wish that the Senator was consistent.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Leader will have an opportunity to respond in a few minutes.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen It is interesting how sensitive the Leader is, even when he is not being addressed himself on this issue.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will answer when I get up.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Order, please.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen It makes me wonder what his private thoughts on some of these matters actually are.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senators are eating into each other's time.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I want to pay tribute to the absolute common sense of Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, where she mentions the proposed reforestation of Ireland on a scale not seen since ancient times. This is something I raised, not yesterday but on the previous occasion, albeit not so much in respect of forestry. In the previous climate debate we had with the Minister, I spoke about very ambitious targets being put willy-nilly into the proposals to prevent the worst excesses of climate change. I spoke about the targets to have a certain million number of electronic cars by a certain date. I raised the same issue that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is raising, which is that if there is no relationship between goals and their achievability, that is, if one sets unachievable goals for people, the whole process is brought into disrepute. A signal is sent out that what one is really doing is box-ticking for the sake of some other authority in order that something looks good on paper. That might satisfy campaigners who are interested in virtue signalling around climate but it is no way to lead the public towards change that is needed. There must be honesty about what is achievable and one cannot be setting targets that look ridiculous on paper or are ridiculous in reality as one then brings the whole process into disrepute.

  Somewhat in the same vein, I want to pick up what has been said in respect of our policy on asylum seekers and economic migrants, which was something that I had intended to speak on yesterday but because of the tributes to Gay Byrne, I decided to wait until today. Senator McDowell made some prophetic references yesterday to what is in his article in The Irish Times today. He is absolutely right to insist upon a distinction between asylum seekers and people who are fleeing poverty. To do so is not to evince any lack of sympathy for those who are seeking to escape poverty or to suggest that we should do nothing to help such people, it is simply to say that distinctions matter.

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

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen If we do not talk honestly about distinctions or if we accuse those who make such distinctions of in some way seeking to subvert a policy of generosity and support for people from other lands who need to come to our shores in various different situations, then what we are really doing is serving our own selfish political ends by seeking to be more virtuous than the other in this debate.

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

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Part of what is going on here in our country is that in the absence of a perceived unifying source of moral authority, people are competing to be the most moral in the group. The danger of that is that we will not get to the solutions that we need.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Or to the facts.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I have always said that we need to have a structured policy towards immigration. That includes reaching out, not just to those who can come to our shores who have particular skills who may not be asylum seekers and obviously have the first claim, but also to people who do not necessarily have skills that we are desperately clamouring for, as part of some programme of structured migration as an act of solidarity with those in the developing world.

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

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

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I believe we are going to have a debate on the matter.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Countries that have a colonial history have greater responsibilities but Ireland should be seen to lead the way in that regard. I absolutely support Senator McDowell when he calls to account those who have tackled the Taoiseach in recent days. He was doing no more than stating facts.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Yes, the facts.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen If we cannot have facts discussed, we cannot solve problems.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell We have the fairy tales of Ireland.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I will stand with him on that point, even if I end up disagreeing with him on the substantial policy.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator cannot discuss this matter in detail on the Order of Business where everybody is allowed two minutes. I gave the Senator latitude because he was interrupted.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach who has been most tolerant.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It was two minutes-----

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I was interrupted by-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan -----where there is one item for everybody, and two items for the Leaders. I finally call on the Leader to respond.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the 17 Members-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I believe it was 18.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I have 17 but that is okay. Can I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to enforce the rule about one item per Member, rather than the shopping list that we receive most days, if he is to be consistent in his application of the rule? The point I was making to Senator Mullen-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It was 18, incidentally.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer -----which he did not like, was that, to be fair-----

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Why was it that the Leader was not able to wait to make the point?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Order now, please.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen He was jumping out of his box.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer A bit like the Senator himself. Rather than serving his own selfish political interests, he should remember that we were paying tribute to a man who died, rather than adding other matters to the tribute. That is the point I was making.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Through the Chair, please.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen The Leader is afraid of factual analysis, is that it?

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn This is shameful.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Order, please.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Rather than serving his own selfish political interests-----

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Just because Sinn Féin-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We cannot have interruptions. The Leader to respond, please.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn This is typical fundamentalist behaviour.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer By serving his own selfish political interests the Senator could not allow a man-----

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I believe the late Fr. Wilson would agree with me-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I ask the Leader to respond through the Chair and to ignore the interruptions from the other side.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen -----that there are some hypocritical people here who talk about cherishing life and then they betray it.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn An intolerant fundamentalist taking advantage of this.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I will not have interruptions from any Senator while the Leader is responding, or interruptions when anybody is speaking. Ciúnas now, please. The Leader to respond, please.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer If Members are paying tribute to a person who has died, it should be on that particular issue, rather than adding any other vested interest group's addendums or agendas to it.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen The Leader is making new rules for us now in the Seanad.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Mullen will not silence me, ever, I can assure him of that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Ignore it Leader, please.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer If the Senator wishes to practice the gospel, please do so in a consistent and fair manner.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan You are all being disruptive now. Senators, please.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I do not claim to be better than others.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I do not either, any day of the week.

  Senator Ardagh made reference to the issue of health. There is a huge issue on admission to our emergency departments. I will make the points again here this morning. We are seeing an increase in the number of people who are presenting to emergency departments. We are also seeing an increase in delayed discharges, which is adding to the issue. There is an issue with the management of our health service at the coalface. I also make the point, which I made yesterday, that there are vested interests at play here where it suits people to be on trolleys and there is a game going on within the health system. That needs to be called out as well. One person on a trolley is too many but we have seen an increase for a variety of reasons.

  If one casts one's mind back, which nobody in this House has mentioned at all, for the first nine months of this year we have seen an increase of 3% in people presenting to emergency departments and the number of emergency department admissions has increased by 1.4% compared to this time last year.  In September the number of patients subject to a delayed transfer of care was 25% higher than in the same month last year. What was the reason for it? There is the highest ever health spend in the history of the State, at almost €17 billion. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell made a point about the number of trees planted per day. Consider what we are spending on the health system per day. Can Members tell me why we are not getting it right? It is because of vested interests.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen What is the connection with trees?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan That is irrelevant.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I ask Senator Mullen to do the maths. If Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell can do them-----

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell It was a mathematical analogy.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan By osmosis.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We have put in place a winter plan, with additional funding of €26 million. I ask Members of the House to have a real debate about health in our society. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has made his point about coffee cups. There will be a public consultation process in that regard, to which I look forward.

  Senator Lawless referred to the direct provision system, as did many other Members. I answered the question yesterday. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter. In his contribution yesterday Senator McDowell said there was a need for a discussion on economic migrancy and asylum seeking. It might not have met everyone's approval, but it is a fair point on which we need to have a debate. I will be happy to have a debate on it in the House.

  Senators Conway-Walsh, Wilson, Mullen and Ó Donnghaile paid tribute to Fr. Des Wilson. I addressed this matter on the Order of Business yesterday and have done so again today. On my own behalf and that of the House, I pay tribute to a man who was a bridge-builder long before it became a political campaign slogan. He was a person who worked hard, as Senator Ó Donnghaile said, and was immersed in his community. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was a student at Maynooth. He was of the people and imbued with the spirit and importance of education and, as Senator Wilson said, being the people's priest. Senator Wilson also referred to how he and his uncle, John, had been in the seminary. At least the Senator is continuing the great tradition of being in the seminary and a practising politician.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan That is the point I was making.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Wilson is aware of the importance of education and community. Our world is a poorer place today because of the loss of Fr. Des Wilson. We sympathise with his family.

  Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of pyrite. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter.

  Senators Mulherin and Conway-Walsh raised the issue of group water schemes. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter, but I do not have the answer to the question about the developer report. Perhaps Senator Conway-Walsh might table a Commencement matter for discussion next week.

  Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to the tragic death of Ana Kriégel and the sentencing yesterday. We sympathise with her family on their tragic and sad loss. The Senator subsequently made a point about the use of social media, bullying in schools and pornography, on which we should have a national conversation because there is a growing epidemic in the country. The Internet and social media have become tools and part of our daily lives, but I wonder if we know how best to manage and use them. We need to have that conversation as part of a dialogue on the issue.

  Senator Ó Ríordáin also referred to autism services. I will be happy to have the Minister responsible come to the House to address the matter.

  Senators Feighan, Wilson and McDowell referred to the appalling treatment of Mr. Kevin Lunney. All of us in this House and all citizens of the Republic stand by the right of every individual to be able to work, to have his or her own company and to be able to participate without fear of intimidation or brutality in his or her daily work and daily life. I listened to some of the "Spotlight" programme which made for harrowing listening and viewing. I also believe, notwithstanding the comments made by many about the failure of policing, that there has been a real failure of individual citizenship and community in bringing the people responsible to account. The posters were made by a particular company, procured and erected. People know who did it, but if we do not stand up together to the bully boy, the bully boy wins. As Senator McDowell said, Quinn Industrial Holdings will never go back to where it was. If we do not answer the people responsible now, there will be no investment in such areas in the future and it will be a black mark on all of us and the State. I welcome the Garda Commissioner's meeting with the directorate. The Garda armed support unit has been sent to the Border and there has been an increase in the level of surveillance. There is also an obligation on individuals and communities to bring the people responsible to the fore. People know who they are. If we are going to allow the bully boy to win, it is a poor day for all of us. The points related to the task force are well made. I heard Senator McDowell speak on radio and did not disagree with anything he said. I will be happy to have the Minister responsible come to the House in due course for a debate on the matter.

  Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of trees and asked whether we were living in Tír na nÓg or tír na fada. I am not sure who wrote or procured the figures the Senator gave, but I admire her for her research into the matter. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, was here yesterday for a discussion on climate change. It was a pity we did not have that information to give to him.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I think it was a clerical error and that they were talking about pine needles, not trees.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Perhaps the Senator is right, but I do not have the answer to his question. It is important, however, that any climate action measure or plan not be fantasy. To be fair to the Minister, if one looks at where we were a decade ago, there was an unemployment rate of 15%. He was the Minister who introduced the Action Plan for Jobs. Today, less than 5% of the people are unemployed. To be fair to the Minister, he has a track record of achieving. I will endeavour to have the matter clarified for the Senator.

  Senator Kieran O'Donnell mentioned the good news for Shannon - connectivity with Charles de Gaulle Airport - as well as the issue of aviation. Members will be glad to hear that the Minister, Deputy Ross, will be in the House on 20 November.

  Senator Mac Lochlainn mentioned Shane O'Farrell, as did another Senator. I do not have the name in my notes and cannot remember who raised the issue, for which I apologise.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I raised it.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer As I said yesterday, we all want to get to the truth surrounding the circumstances of the tragic death of Shane O'Farrell. The Government has not demurred in that regard. As Senator Mac Lochlainn said, the Minister for Justice and Equality appointed a retired judge, Judge Gerard Haughton, to conduct a scoping exercise. His report is due to be presented in the middle of November, following which there will be a further evaluation. From my information which is second-hand, Judge Haughton has been engaging with the family who I think have stopped co-operating with him in the scoping exercise. They are my words. My information is that the Minister is awaiting the report of Judge Haughton which is due to be presented next week or the week after. There will then be a further evaluation. All Senators want the circumstances surrounding Shane O'Farrell's death to be fully investigated. The scoping exercise is being carried out. It will I hope present an opportunity for a further examination by the Minister. Waiting until the scoping exercise is finished and the Minister comes to the House after the report has been published might be the proper way forward.

  Senators Humphreys and Boyhan referred to St. Joseph's. The matter is important. As Senator Boyhan rightly said, it has been a source of significant discomfort and disquiet for the families and those who use the services of the facility.  My information is that there has been an ongoing engagement process between the HSE and St. John of God, which provides the service. What is regrettable is that St. John of God did not inform anybody before writing to the staff and families regarding the matter. St. Joseph's is a residential and day care centre of great importance. As Senator Humphreys said, it is one of the biggest in the country. There have been ongoing issues relating to financial deficits. That poses a question about the service level agreement. The centre receives one of the highest rates of subvention from the State. I believe the matter comes under the remit of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, whom I am informed is not available to come to the House today. Through my office, I have sought to bring him to the House on Tuesday next, if that is agreeable to Senator Humphreys. I reiterate that ongoing engagement is taking place between St. John of God and the HSE. I hope Senator Humphreys is agreeable to the matter being discussed on Tuesday, but if not, I will be unable to accept his amendment to the Order of Business.

  Senator Horkan also raised the importance of the regrettable boil water notice. Does it not show the importance of investment in water infrastructure? That is what the Irish Water capital plan is about, amounting to €11 billion over a decade. The issue is important and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter next week.

  Senator Conway raised the issue of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, the NTA and Clare Bus. Again, I do not have the answer, but I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss it. Perhaps Senator Conway will table a Commencement matter on the issue. I do not have an answer to the issue concerning the active contract.

  I already responded to the matters raised by Senator Bacik, as I did with to those raised by Senators Ó Donnghaile, Boyhan and Mullen.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank the Leader. Senator Humphreys has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health or the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disability issues on resourcing for St. Joseph's nursing home for dementia patients-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Could I make a point of order, a Leas-Chathaoirligh? It is not the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disability, it is the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for mental health and older people.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I am reading the amendment as it was submitted.

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

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Senator Humphreys wants the debate to be taken today.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I wish to make a brief intervention. I do not want to divide the House on this matter. The Leader has given a commitment that the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, who is the relevant Minister, will be in the House on Tuesday to respond to it. If I accept the Leader's proposal to wait until next Tuesday, could I get a commitment that the Minister of State will work night and day to resolve this issue rather than waiting until next Tuesday to deal with it? Some 180 families have been left in limbo and I really want the matter to be resolved before next Tuesday. If the Leader can provide such a commitment I am happy not to press the amendment.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Following the group meeting, when I leave the Chamber I will make contact with the Minister of State's office and ask the office to liaise with Senator Humphreys.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Is that acceptable?

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys That is acceptable.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Is it agreed that the amendment is withdrawn? Agreed.

  Order of Business agreed to.

Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019: Committee Stage

  Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

"(d) the right of teachers and other school employees to recognition of their safety, health and welfare at work, including their right to dignity at work and recognition of their professional judgements;".

 Perhaps we can hear the Minister's response rather than prolonging the process. I seek the liberty to resubmit the amendment on the next Stage.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I thank the Senator for moving this amendment. I am glad to be back in the House working on this important legislation. I assure the House that this Bill does not alter in any way the existing rights of teachers and other employees under current employment, health and safety legislation and other relevant legislation, nor will it interfere with disciplinary processes under section 24 of the Education Act 1998. I appreciate, however, that the Senator is seeking to ensure the guidelines take due account of the perspective of school teaching staff and other staff alongside those of parents and students. In that regard, I assure the Senator that there are a number of provisions in the Bill already that ensure the guidelines and school charters will be balanced.

  This approach is founded on shifting away from reacting to problems in schools as and when they arise to an approach that aims to improve the day-to-day experience students and their parents can expect from schools. In doing so, it is envisaged that relationships between schools, students and parents will be strengthened and that the number of grievances in schools should reduce. The Bill includes a specific provision to ensure the appropriate balance is struck. We are seeking a balance and a common-sense approach that can sort out problems before there is further gridlock. For example, it will require the Minister, in drawing up the charter guidelines, to have regard to the need for a school to foster and promote the relationship and a spirit of partnership between a school, students and their parents.

  The Bill also provides that the Minister must consult the education partners. Even when this Bill passes through the House, the most fundamental stage will be consultation with the education partners. That includes the teachers' unions. This comprises a fundamental part of the process when developing the guidelines. Within the primary sector, there is a good informal mechanism that acts as a very good conduit, namely, the Primary Education Forum. At secondary school level, the unions, various partnerships and the education partners will have a say. This consultative approach will help to ensure the perspectives of all stakeholders, including school management and staff, will be sought and taken into account in developing the guidelines.

  Under this Bill, a comprehensive framework will be put in place for the first time to ensure standardised grievance procedures across all schools. All these measures aim to ensure the charter guidelines and school charters will be workable, balanced and fair to all concerned, including school staff. Taking on board the spirit of the amendment, I reassure Senator Boyhan and the other Members that the role and rights of teachers will be protected. They are already protected in legislation. I will not be in a position to accept the amendment, as proposed.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I welcome the Minister to the House. As a former Member, he will be anxious to engage to the nth degree to accommodate the views of this House, as he does on every occasion. I am happy with much of his response on the amendment, which I welcome.

  In framing the document on the rights and responsibilities, the charter and the guidelines, it is crucial that the professionalism, dignity, rights and centrality of the teacher be taken into account. Teachers are very much key personnel in the school community. We have to accommodate their rights and realistic expectations.

  I was happy to hear the Minister say the stakeholders will be listened to keenly and seriously in the formation of the guidelines. I am firmly of the view that the rights, dignity and professionalism of the teachers should be central to any school charter or set of guidelines. The teachers are very much central to the entire process; they are not just stakeholders. The school community has now widened. It is wonderful that parents, pupils and others are involved. In the old days, the community was very teacher-centric. We cannot move from the older model to a completely new one if the teachers are not regarded as key personnel. They are very professional. This should be enshrined in guidelines and the ultimate charter. I will return to this theme again because it is key.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I, too, welcome the Minister back to the House. As with the previous speaker, I was heartened by his introductory comments on this issue. It is important that all stakeholders have an equal platform. I was heartened by his contribution and am happy to leave it at that.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I wanted to welcome the Minister and am sorry I did not do so at the beginning. He is always very welcome to the House. He has a track record of really meaningful engagement.

  I note what the Minister said and I am happy to accept it if I have the liberty to resubmit my amendment on Report Stage, if necessary. Could I have some guidance on that from the Chair?

Acting Chairman (Senator Frank Feighan): Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan Is the amendment being withdrawn?

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan It is being withdrawn on the basis that I have the liberty to resubmit it on Report Stage. Is that possible?

Acting Chairman (Senator Frank Feighan): Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan Yes, on Report Stage.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Acting Chairman.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Senator Frank Feighan): Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan Amendment No. 2, in the name of Senator Craughwell, and amendments Nos. 16, 17, 19 to 24, inclusive, 26 and 28 to 30, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, line 4, to delete "grievances" and substitute "issues of concern".

As I am conscious that these amendments are in the name of Senator Craughwell, I will be happy to hear a brief response from the Minister on each, if possible.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh The Bill explicitly emphasises the need for early resolution. This is also not about reinventing the wheel. Many schools already engage in early resolution really well. They have their own policies in the form of their own individual charters. Each school has good practice, a good track record and good experience in ensuring issues can be addressed early before they become potentially unresolvable. In that regard, a central aim of this Bill is to ensure concerns of students or their parents are resolved quickly and informally without recourse to any formal complaints mechanism. This is clear from the explicit requirement in the Bill for the Minister to have regard for the need for schools to address and resolve concerns insofar as possible at an early stage.

  The Bill's approach is that concerns must be raised initially in an informal manner with the school or relevant teacher and that they should be dealt with early and without recourse to any formal grievance or complaints procedure. Concerns, therefore, will continue to be addressed initially in this informal and practical manner by schools. However, the Bill recognises the reality that not all concerns will be resolved in this way and it therefore provides for standardised procedures to be put in place to deal with concerns that are not resolved early, for whatever reason. Accordingly, the Bill broadly envisages a two-stage approach. First, concerns are initially to be raised and dealt with informally and as early as possible. The majority of issues should be and will continue to be dealt with in this way. Second, where it is not possible to resolve an issue in this way, a grievance may be raised and dealt with through the standardised grievance procedures. The clear distinction in the Bill between initial concerns that are dealt with informally and quickly and grievances that fall to be dealt with under the grievance procedure is important and reflects the Bill's staged approach to dealing with issues.  The group of amendments proposed by the Senator would conflate these separate concepts and would not work in the context of the various other provisions in the Bill. For these reasons, I cannot accept them.

  I assure the Senator and the House that common sense will prevail. Quickly identifying a problem at the beginning before it becomes unresolvable will continue to be at the heart of the Bill.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister for his considered response. I will withdraw the amendments, reserving the liberty to table them again if necessary.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Senator Frank Feighan): Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

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

In page 6, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
“(k) the procedures relating to the use of reduced timetables in the school;”.

  I thank the Minister for appearing before the House. As I stated on Second Stage, I strongly support the Bill in general and welcome its return to the House. It will require schools throughout the country and the communities that surround them to collaborate to produce bespoke charters that will underpin how students, parents, teachers and schools engage with, and relate to, one another. This is a significant development in how the education system is structured and should be welcomed.

  Nevertheless, I propose a number of amendments with the aim of strengthening the Bill and hope they will be received in the constructive spirit in which they have been tabled. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are to section 27B, a new section proposed to be inserted into the Education Act 1998. The section sets out the guiding principles and procedures to be adhered to by the Minister for Education and Skills when drafting the national guidelines that set out how individual schools' charters are drafted, who must be consulted and what must be included. Subsection (3) of the proposed new section sets out 11 paragraphs of specific matters that may be covered by the charter guidelines, including procedures for student consultation, school management structure and policies on voluntary contributions. The subsection is important because it is a list of the areas the Minister will set out as matters to be addressed in the charters eventually drawn up in schools throughout the country. With amendments Nos. 3 and 4, I propose to add two further paragraphs explicitly to indicate that they are matters to be covered by school charters.

  In the case of amendment No. 3, I propose that the Minister will address the use of reduced timetables as an area in the charter guidelines explicitly to be covered within the charter of a school. As Senators will be aware, reduced timetables are a practice recognised in schools where the school will arrange for a student either to be sent home before the end of the day or to arrive later than usual, reducing the contact hours of the student with his or her primary or secondary education. As the child still attends school in theory, no notification to Tusla of school absence is required. They have been used by teachers and school boards to manage challenging behaviour of students. They are a shameful practice and anecdotal evidence indicates they have been used disproportionately in the case of lower-income students, Traveller students and students with a disability. Their use must end.

  In recent months, we in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills have investigated such practices in detail, holding public hearings with stakeholders in May and publishing an interim report before the summer that rejected their use in all but exceptional circumstances. It is welcome that in response, the Minister's Department has published draft guidelines on the matter that require a notification to Tusla and the collection of national statistics, and that he appeared before the education committee to engage with us in September. I also welcomed the invitation to stakeholders to submit their observations, a process in which I was happy to engage. In my submission to the consultation group, I noted that the use of reduced timetables would decrease if teachers had greater understanding of the socioeconomic factors that might lead a child to act out in a classroom setting, and that reforms to teacher training in this regard may be useful. I also suggested that the Minister appoint an officer, either within his Department or more regionally, to work on resolving such issues among students, parents and schools on a full-time basis, and to act as an advocate for the household. Such a person could act not only as a mediator but also as an independent advocate for students and families with less capacity to advocate for themselves. Finally, I suggested in my submission that we give statutory effect to the guidelines, or at least make a statutory reference to the proposed procedures for reduced timetables, within the legislation.

  The Bill proposes a new era of collaborative decision-making and agreement in schools and families, which is the motivation for amendment No. 3. If reduced timetables were given statutory provision in the Bill and included in the initial engagements that will lead to the first school charters being drawn up, we could reduce their incidence to zero, which would be an incredible achievement and legacy for the Bill. I urge the Minister to accept it.

  Amendment No. 4 is proposed in a similar spirit and relates to the use of seclusion and restraints in schools. As the Minister will be aware, last September, Inclusion Ireland published a report that detailed anecdotal evidence on the use of seclusion and restraints in schools whereby a child is physically restrained by a teacher or school staff member when exhibiting challenging behaviour or, worse again, isolated in a locked space or room. My office has drafted legislation on the matter that we have yet to table. The report highlighted how such techniques are used mainly in the case of children with intellectual disabilities, an even more concerning detail about an already concerning practice. Such techniques should not be used in classrooms and their use must end. Teachers must receive the appropriate training to de-escalate episodes before such extreme techniques are required, as are national statutory guidelines and reporting mechanisms on their use, which do not currently exist, for when they may be required as a last resort.

  A working group in the Department is examining the matter, which I welcome, and I accept that the Minister will resist making an addition to the Bill, given that the group is expected to engage in public consultation soon. Nevertheless, my amendments are not prescriptive and will allow him to include the results of the process in the national guidelines for charters. Measures such as reduced timetables and seclusion and restraint are often used in circumstances where families have poor relationships with schools and teachers and there is a vacuum of communication and engagement. Expressly referring to such issues in the law governing national statutory guidelines for charters will ensure the creation of a collaborative learning environment in which it is hoped such issues would not arise in the first instance.

  On seclusion and restraint in particular, the guidelines will need to be backed up by statutory power. A circular will not be enough. When such techniques are used in hospitals and social care facilities such as nursing homes, there is mandatory reporting to the HSE. When they are used in schools, especially in the case of those under the age of 18 years, there is an even greater requirement for State regulation and reporting. I urge the Minister to accept amendment No. 4 because it will allow for statutory teeth to be given to the efforts to eliminate such concerning practices altogether.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh What we are trying to do is broaden the scope of the legislation. If we are specific about policies at this stage of the legislation's passage, its scope will be narrowed. Nevertheless, that is not say the important points the Senator raised should not be highlighted within the guidelines. She mentioned the education partners, which will have a specific role and remit in getting their voice across. The two issues are important and I acknowledge they have been in the public domain for a while. The Senator referred to schools using reduced timetables as a practice but they should not be used as a behavioural mechanism. It is not acceptable that schools use reduced timetables to deal with behavioural issues.

  As for what we are doing, the Senator highlighted some of the steps we have taken. Having consulted Tusla and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, my Department has drafted guidelines on the use of reduced timetables in schools. My Department has recently invited submissions from the education partners on those draft guidelines and the matter is ongoing. The closing date for making submissions was 25 October 2019 and my Department is considering the submissions received. The purpose of the guidelines will be to provide clarity to school authorities, parents and guardians on the use of reduced timetables and reduced days in schools to ensure their use is limited to those circumstances where it is necessary, and that where such use occurs, schools must follow best practice, with the interests of the student to the fore. My Department's position on the matter remains, as previously stated, that each and every child has a right to an education and all students enrolled in a school should attend for the full school day unless exempt for doing so in exceptional circumstances.

  On the second issue the Deputy raised, in respect of seclusion and restraint, an expert working group established by my Department is developing new guidelines for schools on the prevention and management of behaviours that challenge, including the use of physical intervention, where such behaviour is considered likely to present serious risk of harm to the student concerned and-or others within the school environment.  An expert group established by my Department is currently developing new guidelines for schools on the prevention and management of challenging behaviours, including the use of physical intervention where such behaviour is considered likely to present serious risk of harm to the student concerned or others within the school environment. The working group's work on drafting the guidelines is at an advanced stage. It is anticipated that the draft guidelines will be ready for consultation with the education partners later this month. The guidelines will assist schools in responding in circumstances in which students pose an immediate threat of harm to themselves or others. They will be underpinned by the principle that such interventions are never used for the purposes of discipline, should be applied proportionately and should not last longer than necessary. It is expected that the guidelines will underline the importance of recording such incidents and how they are managed.

  The amendments proposed by the Senator involve really important issues. She has contributed to the debate on such issues at many public forums. I thank her for her contribution in this regard. I have availed of this opportunity to update the House on where we are at with these working groups. I reiterate that the legislative structure we are trying to put in place involves a broad mechanism. If we start reaching into different policy areas, the scope of this legislation will be broadened. I am not saying that these two important issues will not be at the heart of the guidelines when the consultation begins after this legislation goes through. Although it would be in keeping with the overall approach and aims of the legislation to single out particular policies in the manner proposed by these amendments, I do not want to narrow the scope of this legislation. I appreciate the importance of these two points. I have had an opportunity to update the House. Unfortunately, for the reasons I have outlined I will not be accepting the two amendments.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I have heard the Minister's response. I acknowledge the work that Senator Ruane has put into these amendments. I support them because they are really important. I know the Minister cannot be too restrictive or prescriptive. The Senator has raised two key issues and has referred to the Ombudsman for Children. It is clear that this legislation will be progressed. I would like to indicate my support for Senator Ruane's position on this critically important matter. The Minister has accepted its importance. It is a question of how it is bedded into the guidelines. I know the Minister cannot micromanage the whole thing because it has so many aspects. Critical educational issues have been raised. They pertain to the role, function and remit of the Ombudsman for Children. I will be lending my support to these two amendments throughout this process as long as they are on the agenda. I thank Senator Ruane for the enormous amount of work she has put into these amendments. I know she has put a lot of work into them. I know she has engaged with many people on them, particularly people who have a particular role and interest in this whole area. I want to say here and now that I am going to stay with these amendments. I am committing to supporting them as long as they stay on the clár.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I welcome the Minister. Sinn Féin intends to support Senator Ruane on these amendments. I know the Minister is aware of the extent of the scandal of reduced timetables. I want to acknowledge his commitment to tackling this issue. We all appreciate why these amendments are so important. Sinn Féin intends to support Senator Ruane on these amendments.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister for his response. Before I say whether I will press these amendments, I would like to know more about the working group that is looking into the issue of restraint and seclusion. I ask the Minister to give that information to me now, or between now and Report Stage. The parents I have been supporting are concerned about the use of exclusion in some circumstances in special schools that were set up specifically to work with kids who have extra needs. Parents in one school have told me about the use of what they would describe as a cupboard with some sensory stuff put on the wall, which had been empty a few weeks previously. We are talking about children who need to have Asperger's syndrome or autism meltdowns. I am not sure whether the Minister has ever seen a child having an autism meltdown. It is something I am very familiar with. I am concerned that staff in schools which have been set up specifically to work with certain children try to restrain those children when they use their normal tools to regulate their emotions. Specific things are required to support a child during an autism meltdown and to make him or her feel safe that he or she will not be harmed. If school staff can stay the course for the few minutes - it could be ten minutes - that an Asperger's syndrome or autism meltdown lasts, the child will come out the other end in a much more relieved and regulated space. The problem is that children in many schools are being punished for using their natural tools for the regulation of their emotions. Their feelings may have been triggered by the sensory stuff they took in during a particular moment.

  I will not name the schools where staff have pulled children into isolation rooms and left them there on their own and in fear. Those who work in a school where children have certain ways of coping should recognise that those children should not be excluded for doing the very things that help them to get on with their school day. The working group can look at the techniques involved in obvious restraints, but I am concerned that some of the more underhand stuff might not come out with a working group. I wonder what kind of engagement is happening between parents and the working group. Some parents are sending their kids to school every day even though they are uncomfortable with the practices at the school. They may have waited a year for a place in the school. They are wondering whether their children are going to be punished - perhaps by being locked away in a room - for displaying a behaviour that is very normal to the condition they have. They have no option other than to send them back there every day. As a mother, I cannot imagine the impossible situation they have been put in. I wonder what kind of engagement is happening with parents who are in this position. They are not speaking publicly at present because they are afraid that their children will lose their school places. There should be an avenue for parents to provide more concrete and specific examples of the use of isolation rooms. Some of these rooms are being reframed as sensory rooms. They were not set up as sensory rooms. They are literally isolation rooms. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. I am happy to withdraw these amendments on the basis that there will be further engagement between now and Report Stage.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh It is clear that the Senator's level of detail and experience on the whole issue of seclusion and restraint is really important. I take it from what she has said that a strong voice, which is focusing on what will and will not work, needs to be heard. This work will be presented to the education partners at the end of November, which is this month and not next month. It is a semi-formal environment. The primary forum is an example. There will be individual and group consultation. I know it will include the National Parents Council, for example. I take the Senator's point that there are experiences out there which need to be heard because they might help to signpost us in the right direction. I am happy to set up a meeting between my officials and the Senator. If she wants to bring in a few parents or teachers who have been involved in this area in the past, I will be happy to facilitate that. I thank the Senator.

  I will not repeat the reasons I am not accepting these two amendments. I have highlighted those reasons. I would like to emphasise that the need for schools to provide key information about their policies, procedures and activities to students and parents and to consult students and parents on individual school plans is central to the charter approach in this Bill. A bottom-up approach will be taken after this legislation has been passed. Each school will have to develop its own policies within the guidelines. The voices of parents and students will have to be at the heart of that. They will want to know what the specific policies for that school are. In the legislative framework, we have presented an empowerment process for parents and students who feel they do not have a voice.  We are all in unison in regard to ensuring we have the proper framework for that to materialise.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

“(k) the procedures relating to the use of seclusion and restraint in the school;”.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

“(4) (a) Schools shall, in addition to 27B (3)(g), provide to both parents and the Department of Education information relating to voluntary contributions, inclusive of the total monies collected annually, and a detailed expenditure of those monies by the school; and

(b) The Department of Education shall publish this information on the website, updating it on an annual basis.”.

I am delighted the Minister has just made the comment that the purpose of this Bill is to ensure that key information is given to parents. In that spirit, I hope he will be supporting this amendment, which seeks to regulate and collate data pertaining to voluntary contributions. I am sure the Minister would agree that is key information for parents. As matters currently stand, the Department has none of this data available to it. We think it is important it should have access to it and that it is published so we know how much is collected by schools on an annual basis. As the Minister knows, some schools are using these voluntary contributions to pay for basics such as light and heat due to under-funding via the capitation grants allocated to them. This is causing substantial pressure to be placed on parents, and students are suffering because of their parents' inability to pay.

  It is a very practical amendment which addresses a data deficit that currently exists within the Department. We all know of the struggles of parents to pay voluntary contributions and, as someone with three teenagers going to school at present, I have first-hand knowledge of it. We all know that voluntary contributions, by their nature, are unjust but we know they are happening, we know they have been in place for a number of years and we know they are not going away any time soon, unfortunately. At the very least, we hope the Minister will agree that this charter should include a requirement for information on voluntary contributions for the sake of transparency for parents in particular, but also for the Department, so we can gauge each year what is the real deficit that schools are looking at in terms of being able to provide optimum supports to students and teachers alike. It is a very practical, simple, common sense amendment and I look forward to the Minister's response on the issue.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I want to indicate my support for Senator Gavan. It is a simple amendment and it should not be complex to introduce. There has been a lot of discussion on this matter. I thank Senator Gavan for bringing the amendment forward. He has my support.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I want to revert to the contribution of Senator Ruane and I compliment her on the work she has done in this area. I also compliment the Minister on the open door policy he has adopted. I am hopeful an agreement can be reached between all in moving forward.

  I compliment Senator Gavan for bringing forward the amendment, which we will be supporting as it makes perfect sense. There is no need for me to elaborate further on it other than to say we will be supporting the amendment.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh At the heart of this legislation is the need to provide more transparency. As the Senator said, this is about information for parents, whether it is €2 that has been collected for a school bus to go to a swimming pool, or a golf classic that has been organised by the local parents association to raise money for the school. It is also important in order to protect schools that people know what the money is going to be used for or where it is going to be spent. That is why there will be very specific guidelines around the transparency structure in regard to the money that is raised and where it is spent. The capacity will happen within the school, which will have an opportunity through its own website to inform parents and the local community.

  The heart of the amendment, if I am not mistaken, is to ensure that we embed and copperfasten that transparency focus. The difficulty I have with the amendment is an issue which was highlighted to me in my first week in the job at a National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD, conference in Galway, namely, initiative overload and the further administrative work for principals and school leaders. To be honest, there is already a heavy administrative burden and the last thing I want to do through this legislation is to add to that. I do not want to compel schools to have a fully filled out administrative form going to the Department on a biannual or annual basis. The school already has been afforded that opportunity through the website and, obviously, my Department officials will have access to all of that information as well.

  While I am conscious of the extra administrative workload, I am also very appreciative of the spirit of this amendment because it is exactly at the heart of what we are doing in terms of transparency of information on where the money is spent. Despite increasing capitation this year, following on from increases last year, we still have a long way to go in terms of dealing with the 11% reduction in 2009. Schools are under pressure and they are doing quite a bit of fundraising, but where they are raising money, it is important that the school community and parents know exactly where the money is being spent.

  Unfortunately, I am not in a position to accept this amendment but I appreciate that at the heart of what the Senator is saying is an attempt to ensure transparency. No doubt, all of that information that will be available publicly on a website would already be made available to our officials. I do not want to add to the administrative workload.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I thank the Minister for the response. We will have to agree to disagree on this. The implication of this amendment is very simple. My own children's secondary school already knows what it collects each year in voluntary contributions. This is not onerous. Transparency is important and it is particularly important that we have transparency in regard to exactly what voluntary contributions amount to each year. While that would be very useful for the Department to know, we know it is not currently collated. This is the opportunity to do it and it would be sad to miss that opportunity. Regrettably, I will have to pursue this amendment.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 15.

Níl
Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Jerry Buttimer   Zoom on Jerry Buttimer   Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Victor Boyhan   Zoom on Victor Boyhan   Boyhan, Victor. Information on Maria Byrne   Zoom on Maria Byrne   Byrne, Maria.
Information on Rose Conway-Walsh   Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh   Conway-Walsh, Rose. Information on Paudie Coffey   Zoom on Paudie Coffey   Coffey, Paudie.
Information on Mark Daly   Zoom on Mark Daly   Daly, Mark. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul. Information on Frank Feighan   Zoom on Frank Feighan   Feighan, Frank.
Information on Aidan Davitt   Zoom on Aidan Davitt   Davitt, Aidan. Information on Maura Hopkins   Zoom on Maura Hopkins   Hopkins, Maura.
Information on Máire Devine   Zoom on Máire Devine   Devine, Máire. Information on Billy Lawless   Zoom on Billy Lawless   Lawless, Billy.
Information on Robbie Gallagher   Zoom on Robbie Gallagher   Gallagher, Robbie. Information on Anthony Lawlor   Zoom on Anthony Lawlor   Lawlor, Anthony.
Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul. Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary. Information on Gabrielle McFadden   Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden   McFadden, Gabrielle.
Information on Kevin Humphreys   Zoom on Kevin Humphreys   Humphreys, Kevin. Information on Kieran O'Donnell   Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Kieran.
Information on Terry Leyden   Zoom on Terry Leyden   Leyden, Terry. Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig. Information on John O'Mahony   Zoom on John O'Mahony   O'Mahony, John.
Information on Rónán Mullen   Zoom on Rónán Mullen   Mullen, Rónán. Information on Joe O'Reilly   Zoom on Joe O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Joe.
Information on Gerald Nash   Zoom on Gerald Nash   Nash, Gerald. Information on Neale Richmond   Zoom on Neale Richmond   Richmond, Neale.
Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.  
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall.  
Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin   Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin   Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.  
Information on Ned O'Sullivan   Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Ned.  
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn.  


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

Amendment declared carried.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Amendment No. 6 is in the name of Senator Craughwell. I call Senator Boyhan to move it.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, lines 15 and 16, to delete all words from and including “may,” in line 15 down to and including line 16 and substitute “shall”.

I wish to hear the Minister's response to the amendment.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh The amendment provides that the national charter guidelines would have to include model charters for schools which boards would have to follow in preparing their individual charters. The national charter guidelines will ensure clarity and consistency of approach across schools, but it is not the Bill's intention that every school's charter will be exactly the same. Schools, by their nature, are different one from the other. They vary a great deal in size and circumstances, from one-teacher schools at primary level to large post-primary schools which cater for 1,700-plus students. They have different pupil and parent cohorts, policies, activities and so on. That is why the approach taken in the Bill allows for the guidelines to contain different provisions for different categories of schools or different categories of children. For example, the requirements in respect of consultation with children may differ between primary and post-primary or special schools and schools with special classes. The guidelines might provide a range of consultation options, from which a school could select the options best suited to its needs and particular circumstances. The approach taken in the Bill, as drafted, allows the Minister flexibility in developing model charters should this become desirable.

  For the reasons I have outlined, I do not consider the provision should be mandatory as schools are not homogenous entities in a single one-size-fits-all model; otherwise, the limited selection of model charters would potentially be too restrictive. I can confirm that, as part of the consultation with the education partners, I will examine whether the guidelines should include templates. Without putting words into Senator Boyhan's mouth, something I would not dare do, having a template might be a possible way forward - for example, having one template for an ETB school, one for a community comprehensive school, one for a primary school and one for a secondary school - to meet schools' charter requirements. It is also intended that the guidelines which must be developed following consultation with the education stakeholders will provide a clear and workable roadmap schools can follow and be sufficiently comprehensive and flexible for individual schools to put in place their own charters at school level. Therefore, while not accepting the amendment, I am looking at developing templates as part of the consultation process. No doubt there will be an opportunity for the education stakeholders to do this and look at a number of potential templates. We are actively considering where we should go on this issue, but we will be at a more advanced stage on Report Stage to talk further about it.

  I thank Senator Craughwell for tabling the amendment. While I am not in a position to accept the specific wording, we are singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of where we want to go.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister for his considered reply and note the emphasis on the templates. It makes a lot of sense. I also note the emphasis on the word "mandatory" and all of the restraints and constraints surrounding it. I am happy to withdraw the amendment at this stage, while reserving the liberty to re-enter it on Report Stage.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I move amendment No. 7:

In page 6, to delete lines 24 to 27 and substitute the following:
“(7) The Minister shall review the charter guidelines every 5 years; and may make such amendments to the charter guidelines as he or she considers necessary or appropriate following this review.”.

This amendment concerns the review element of the guidelines. It is proposed that they be reviewed by the Minister at his or her discretion. Unfortunately, experience tells us that it is a case of "whenever suits", as opposed to when there is evidence that there are systemic flaws. It is for that reason we have tabled a very sensible, moderate amendment to have a review conducted by the Department every five years. I hope the Minister will see it as a reasonable step forward. The difficulty with the existing wording is that it is just too loose. It means that we do not know when or if a review will take place.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I appreciate where the Senator wants to go with the amendment and we are singing from the same hymn sheet in seeking to ensure we will have a minimum period within which to ensure a review will be carried out. Five years is potentially too long. We can look at ensuring one will be carried out earlier, but I am not in a position to be specific in that regard. While not accepting the amendment in its current form, we will proceed to Report Stage when I would be happy to bring forward an amendment to be more specific on the minimum review period and whether it should be five years or less. I, therefore, ask the Senator for a little space and time to consider the issue. I reassure him, however, that I am on the same page in seeking to ensure we will be more specific. The public is very wary of the word "discretion" when it comes to politicians giving their prognosis in dealing with certain issues. Discretion does not mean anything in the eyes of the public when it comes to ensuring there will be a minimum period in which to carry out a review. I, therefore, ask the Senator to consider withdrawing the amendment. I will come back on Report Stage with a more specific minimum review period.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I really appreciate the Minister's comments which are very encouraging. The right thing to do is to withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage. I look forward to further engagement on the issue with the Minister.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey Amendment No. 8 is in the name of Senator Craughwell. I call Senator Boyhan to move it.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I move amendment No. 8:

In page 6, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:
“(a) have adequate personnel, financial and time resources in order to implement the provisions of the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Act 2019,”.

Again, I wish to hear the Minister's brief response.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I thank the Senator for the amendment which would require the Minister, when preparing the charter guidelines, to have regard to the need for a school to have adequate personnel, financial and time resources in order to implement the provisions of the Bill. I repeat again that a lot of schools are doing very well with reference to what we are trying to do through a legislative framework. Many are already operating within constraints in doing administrative work. At the same time, given that the vast majority of schools have their own open, transparent policies and do not require extra financial resources or personnel, the Bill is not about creating an additional workload for school principals or boards; rather, it is about supporting them to ensure there will be better and more meaningful engagement between a school and its students and their parents.  As I said, many schools already do this really well. This will benefit the students and parents concerned, as well as the teachers, principal and management of the school. Its aim is to help improve the overall culture and climate of the school, ensure the concerns are addressed early and that recourse to grievance procedures is greatly reduced and, where used, it is very much a last resort.

  This particular amendment would fundamentally undermine the overall approach of this Bill, which is to ensure every school has and operates a charter in accordance with national charter guidelines. As I already outlined, it is intended that the national charter guidelines, which will only be developed following consultation with educational stakeholders, will be practical and user-friendly, and that their development and implementation will not create a significant administrative burden on schools but will instead provide a clear workable and practical roadmap for schools. For the reasons I have set out, I cannot accept the amendment.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister again for his considered response. I agree with him. He makes a good and rational case and therefore I would like to withdraw the amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I move amendment No. 9:

In page 7, line 4, after “school” to insert “, its teachers”.

I would like to hear a brief response from the Minister.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Much consideration has gone into this particular amendment, as it has gone into all the amendments. The Bill currently requires the Minister, when preparing the charter guidelines, to have regard to the need for a school to foster and promote mutual respect and communications between the school and students and their parents. This amendment would ensure this provision in the Bill also explicitly makes references to teachers. I can clarify for the House that the phrase "communications between the school and students and their parents" as used in this provision of the Bill encompasses communications between the school staff, including teachers, and parents and students. I agree with the Senator that the majority of the day-to-day communication between a school and its students and parents is conducted through the teacher. The teacher is central to the school environment. This is recognised by the approach in this Bill and this provision explicitly ensures that in developing the guidelines, the Minister must have regard to the need for mutual respect in these communications. That being said, I am open to the idea of possibly including the phrase "including teachers" in the legislative framework but we will have to work on the wording. With the indulgence of the Senator, if he were to withdraw this amendment, I would be prepared to work on the wording to bring it back on Report Stage if possible.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister for his considered response. He has made a reasonable offer to work with Senator Craughwell on the rewording of the amendment. He is positively disposed in principle to the idea or the concept of the amendment and therefore I propose to withdraw it with the liberty to re-enter it on the next Stage.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Before we do that, Senator O'Reilly wants to make a few comments.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I am happy with Senator Boyhan's comments. It is an important amendment and I am happy with the Minister's response. As I said at the outset, and the Minister said it himself but it merits saying again, the centrality of teachers to the school community is paramount. That position should be respected and upheld. It is fundamental to how we go about our business. I am delighted the Minister said earlier that teachers will be important stakeholders and will be consulted in the preparation of guidelines. It is very important we do that. I will leave it at that but I thought that was an important point to make.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 10:

In page 7, after line 42, to insert the following:
“or

(c) is so advised by the Ombudsman for Children under subsection (13).”.

I am tabling amendments Nos. 10 and 13 on foot of comments I made on Second Stage on an envisioned expansion of the role of the Ombudsman for Children and how such a provision was included in the heads of this Bill sent to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills for pre-legislative scrutiny before being dropped from the Bill, as initiated, in the Seanad. As I mentioned in the last debate, the committee agreed to support the Government legislation over a Private Members' Bill from Deputy Daly because of the strengthening of the role of the Ombudsman for Children proposed in the heads of the Bill. It is a significant altering of the statutory provisions of this Bill that they were dropped and as far as I can tell, no substantive explanation has been offered by the Minister for their removal. I have therefore tabled an adapted version of head 6 of the general scheme of the Bill to section 27D for inclusion in the Bill to reflect the important provision that was dropped. Amendment No. 10 allows for the Minister to make directions on foot of recommendations from the ombudsman and amendment No. 13 is a substantive provision that largely reflects the head that has been dropped since pre-legislative scrutiny. It would require boards of management of schools to consider any recommendations made by the Ombudsman for Children during an investigation of the actions of a school by the ombudsman. It would also allow the Minister to issue direction to said board to address the matters raised by the ombudsman. Without such a provision, a board of management is under no obligation to take heed of the Ombudsman for Children or engage with it at all. The amendment would also allow for the Minister to issue a direction where he or she agrees with the comments of the ombudsman. This gives the office of the ombudsman real teeth in how it deals with and investigates schools, while still leaving the power to give directions within the political realm, preserving the independence and impartiality of the office of the ombudsman. This was an important part of the general scheme that was debated under pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills and it is not right for it to be dropped without a full and adequate explanation. I hope the Minister can accept the amendment.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I support this amendment. It is important, as I said earlier on, and I am on the record of mentioning on many occasions the importance of the independence and impartiality of the office of the Ombudsman for Children. It goes hand in hand with education and children, and the formation of children. That right is always important and that independence and impartiality Senator Ruane talks about is critically important. I would like to see that strengthened in this legislation. The Senator has raised a number of valid concerns here today and in the past. I wait to hear the Minister's response but my inclination is to support this amendment.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I want to highlight a number of points about these amendments. I know Senator Boyhan talked about the independence of the ombudsman as well as Senator Ruane. The specific basis on which the Ombudsman for Children engages with schools is already enshrined in legislation. The Ombudsman for Children does not engage with schools as a representative or advocate for the complainant or for the Department, but in order to examine the issues raised. It seeks to work in co-operation with schools and the parent or student in question to encourage the resolution of any issues without proceeding to a formal investigation. This approach works effectively in law and in practice. However, the proposed amendments contain anomalies and inconsistencies and would adversely affect the ability of the Ombudsman for Children to engage with schools in a positive and co-operative manner as they currently do in the vast majority of cases. For example, the amendment empowers the Minister for Education and Skills, who is not a party to and has not been involved in the matter under examination by the ombudsman, to direct a school to comply with any suggestions guidance or recommendations given by the Ombudsman for Children whereas it separately provides that a school is simply required to consider any such suggestions, guidance or recommendations when they are received from the Ombudsman for Children. A number of concerns and anomalies came to light when the advice of the Office of the Attorney General came back during the drafting of this legislation. A key concern is that these provisions would have had the effect of fundamentally changing how the ombudsman operates by compelling school boards to consider any suggestions, guidance or recommendations rather than working to encourage schools to take actions to resolve the matter.  As anybody who has heard me speak on this matter will know, I am against using legislation to compel schools to open special classes. I believe in operating in a spirit of co-operation and partnership. I do not subscribe to a philosophy of compelling schools to do things. We have a very formal system in place which promotes co-operation. Schools are encouraged to take action to resolve the matter without having to get into the formal stages of the process. I am in favour of things being sorted out at an early stage where that is possible.

  There is no provision in the legislation pertaining to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children in the issuing of directions by a Minister, even on foot of a completed investigation by the ombudsman. To include a provision that would allow the Minister for Education and Skills to issue directions arising from a preliminary or full investigation by the ombudsman would be a significant departure from the current approach and impact significantly on the manner in which the Office of the Ombudsman for Children carries out its work. It is not something that is sought or desired by the ombudsman. Although the approach in this context has changed from that under the original scheme, it is important to note that the overall objective of the Bill is to bring about a significant cultural change in some schools, with a shift away from reacting to problems after they arise and towards dealing with them at an earlier stage through better engagement, consultation and transparency. Schools will for the first time put in place a standardised complaints procedure such that parents will know the score before they send their four or five year old to primary school. They will know the exact relevant procedure if their son or daughter is in a situation that requires parental involvement. There will be transparency in that regard in all schools.

  These and other measures in the Bill will help to greatly improve the culture in schools and the level of responsiveness to any concern or grievance that arises. They will bring clarity to what is required of schools, students and parents in that regard. The approach in the finalised Bill presented to the House is appropriate and proportionate having regard to the comprehensive framework being put in place and the practical role and legal framework that apply to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children.

  These are two of three amendments the Senator has put forward related to how the work of the ombudsman interacts with the Bill. The Senator also contributed on a previous Stage in that regard. For the reasons I have outlined, I cannot accept the amendments, but I highlight for the Senator that I am actively considering the matter raised in amendment No. 31 and will speak further to it later in the debate.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I am glad that the Minister referred to amendment No. 31 at the end of his reply because my insistence on pushing this amendment is linked with that amendment. They are both about being able to ensure the ombudsman will have some power in these matters. The Minister referred to being able to end disputes informally before they reach a certain point, but the ability of the ombudsman to intervene at an early stage will be removed by section 10. I am willing to consider whether amendment No. 10 fundamentally changes the role of the ombudsman in such matters. There is support for the amendment. I do not want to insert a provision into the Bill that will have a negative effect in that regard. However, I do not wish the Bill to leave this House without the acceptance of either amendment No. 10 or amendment No. 31. I am willing to hold back on amendment No. 10 and see what the Minister and his Department will come back to me with on amendment No. 31 which relates more to a preventative measure. Amendment No. 10 would provide direction in worst-case scenarios, whereas amendment No. 31 aims to prevent matters from ever getting to that point. I would far prefer a preventative measure to be included than what is included in amendment No. 10. I am willing to withdraw the amendment but reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Senator Coffey wishes to comment before the Senator formally withdraws the amendment.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey This is an opportunity to contribute on this important legislation. I note the amendment brought forward by my colleague with reference to the ombudsman and the response of the Minister. The Bill seeks to establish a charter to improve and strengthen communication and co-operation between school stakeholders. That is critical and it is a very good move. I recognise the proposal made in the amendment on the involvement of the Ombudsman for Children.

  I was a member of a board of management for more than ten years and spent eight years as chairperson. We must recognise the responsibility that lies with boards of management in terms of legislation, responsibility and accountability for implementing school policies and the proper operation of a school and its environment. I recognise the voluntary contribution of boards of management across the country. As Senators are aware, board members give of their time and expertise voluntarily and 99% of the time it works well and people engage in a very positive manner. However, as the Minister is aware, in some cases problems arise and that is when things must be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.

  It is my experience that school stakeholders may become isolated when something goes wrong. I refer to the discussion on transparency in the making of voluntary contributions to schools. I also note that substantial State grants and funds are allocated to primary and secondary schools. With that investment comes responsibility and transparency in how the funds are spent. For that reason, I welcome the Bill and, in particular, the charter. This section allows for a ministerial direction where issues arise and efforts to resolve them are exhausted and unsuccessful. That is critical.

  I raise this matter - I know the Minister is wondering - because I have direct experience as chairperson of a board of management of a situation involving financial irregularities at a school. A whole school evaluation was carried out. The matter was brought to the attention of departmental officials, but it was left to the voluntary board members to clean up the mess. There was no charter or help in deciding how to deal with it. Thankfully, a strong board working in the interests of the school, the pupils who attended it and parents who had sent their children to it stayed strong and dealt with the irregularities appropriately. My experience was that there was very little help available from the Department. The situation to which I refer arose long before the Minister was appointed to his current office, but a blind eye was turned to the difficulties being experienced.

  It is critical that we have a charter outlining that parents and students have a right to know how a school is being run. Certain board members will do their best to engage with parents and students, but others may not and that is when difficulties may arise. The Bill will strengthen the hand of boards of management and those who genuinely want to see a school being run well. It will help to fight the problem of irregularities in policy implementation, financial matters or dealing with other issues. I have first-hand experience of these matters. People who know me and the board I was on will know the school to which I refer. I will not mention names in the House because it would be unfair to do so, but if it happened in the school in which I was a member of the board of management, it is happening in others around the country. I make this point to the Minister and his officials who are in attendance. We need to be very careful in how State funds and grants are being spent in schools. A significant degree of autonomy is given to schools in that regard. Boards of management are voluntary and have the best of intentions, but problems can arise. When they do, they must be dealt with swiftly and properly. The charter will be of assistance in that respect, but we have a long way to go before there will be full transparency and accountability for how State funds are spent.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and may be discussed together.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I move amendment No. 11:

In page 8, to delete lines 35 to 39.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I thank Senator Craughwell for tabling the amendment.  Amendment No. 11 provides for the deletion of the provision in the Bill that provides for the Minister to publish a direction issued under this Bill to a school board, together with the name of the school concerned. Amendment No. 12 is a consequential amendment that removes the obligation on the Minister to publish a notice where he or she is satisfied that a direction given to a board has been complied with.

  As amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are connected, I note the new section 27D proposed in the Bill provides the Minister with the discretionary power to give a board of management a direction where he or she is of the opinion that the board has failed or is failing in whole or in part to comply with its obligation to prepare, publish and implement a charter. While it is not intended that this provision will be frequently used, it is an important provision in the context of ensuring compliance with the Bill's requirements. It is based on applying a staged and measured approach. The first step involves the Minister considering and being satisfied that, having regard to the failure concerned and in all the circumstances of the case, all of the relevant steps to address the non-compliance have been exhausted or it is necessary or appropriate to give a direction to the school or both. This ensures that directions will not even be considered without significant efforts being made to engage with the school to resolve the issue. Also, before the Minister issues any direction, the board and the patron are given a formal opportunity to make representations to the Minister, during which time they can also avail of the opportunity to take steps to rectify the issue identified.

  For the benefit of the House, I will outline the steps involved once the Minister has formed the opinion that in all the circumstances of the case a direction is, in fact, necessary or appropriate. Before issuing a direction, the Minister must give the board and school patron notice of his or her intention to give a direction, setting out the reasons and the proposed remedial action. The notice must offer the board and the patron, or both, an opportunity to make representations on the proposed direction and provide the board and patron at least 14 days to do so. The board and the patron, therefore, have an opportunity to rectify the matter before a direction issues or to make representations on the proposed direction. The Minister must, in deciding whether to give a direction, consider any representations. Only where all of these steps have been followed and the Minister remains of the view that a direction is required will the Minister issue a direction.

  As can be seen, a direction will only issue in cases where a school continues to refuse to comply despite significant efforts being made to resolve the issue or where it is necessary and appropriate to do so or both. The Bill provides that in these cases, the direction will be published by the Minister. I believe that the approach taken is measured, proportionate and appropriate. It is not about naming and shaming schools. It will apply where there is serious and persistent non-compliance. It is therefore about ensuring compliance by schools with the Bill's obligations and about ensuring transparency for all in relation to this compliance. For the reasons outlined, this is a key provision in the Bill and it must be retained. Therefore, I cannot accept these two amendments.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I note the Minister's considered response. I propose to withdraw the amendment with the liberty to resubmit it.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I move amendment No. 12:

In page 9, to delete lines 9 and 10.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 13:

In page 9, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:

“(13) Where the Ombudsman for Children—

(a) makes suggestions to a board, or provides guidance to a board, or where following an investigation under the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002, the Ombudsman for Children makes recommendations to a board in relation to the actions of a school, the board shall consider any such suggestions, guidance or recommendations.

(b) advises the Minister of any suggestions, guidance or recommendations made to a board under subsection (a), the Minister may give a direction in writing to that board under this section in relation to the matters conveyed to the Minister by the Ombudsman for Children.".".

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

  Sections 3 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 7

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I move amendment No. 14:

In page 10, line 17, to delete “the” where it secondly occurs and substitute “appropriate”.

I note we are dealing with section 7 and the two amendments. I formally move the amendment and would like to hear the Minister’s considered response to both amendments.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh In response to amendment No. 14, the Bill currently provides for an amendment of section 27(4) of the Education Act 1998 to change the requirement on a student council from one of promoting the interest of the school to a requirement to promote the interest of the students of the school, having regard to the characteristic spirit and policies of the school and the charter. The Senator's proposal amends this provision in the Bill and attempts to restrict a student council, in co-operation with the board, parents and teachers, from promoting the involvement of students in the affairs of the school to promoting the involvement of students in the appropriate affairs of the school.

  The Bill is not altering the current legislative provision on student councils, working in co-operation with boards, parents and teachers, to promote the involvement of students in the affairs of the school. I must emphasise that this provision, which has been in place since 1998, does not in any way empower students to become involved in matters in which they have no proper role. I fully understand the concern about the amendment, such as employment matters.

  In addition, a number of issues arise with the Senator's proposed amendment which would make it unworkable. In that regard, it is not clear what constitutes "appropriate affairs" of the school or indeed who would determine what constitutes those "appropriate affairs". For the reasons outlined, I cannot accept this amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I do not support any of the amendments tabled by Senator Craughwell but I consider it appropriate to speak on this amendment in particular. It is disappointing, at a time when we talk about trying to engage students in their school community and in equal learning opportunities with their peers, teachers and boards, to try to remove, in effect, that ability from them on the whim of a principal or board of management. The question is exactly who decides what is appropriate. That is very unfair to student councils. I am not sure we will get to it today, but in a later amendment I am trying to do the complete opposite, namely, to give student councils more power to set their own rules. I strongly disagree with the amendment, which I was disappointed to see.

  In this House, with the support of other Senators, we strongly pushed to reduce the voting age to 16 in order that people could begin to vote in local and European elections when they are in school. I question the right to tell them what is appropriate and inappropriate when their daily lives are affected by so much. If it is only appropriate when one is discussing the art supplies of a classroom, that minimises the potential for a vibrant student council. I wish to voice my strong opposition to such an amendment.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister for his considered response and the logic behind it. I do not have a particular difficulty with any of what he says. I also note Senator Ruane's concerns and I undertake to pass them on to Senator Craughwell who cannot be present. I have heard what has been said. I am not far removed from any of that myself on a personal level and I share many of Senator Ruane's concerns. I propose that we withdraw the amendment with the liberty to resubmit it.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Is Senator Ruane pressing amendment No. 15?

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I will speak to it first.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Senator Ruane has already spoken to amendment No. 15.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Have I already spoken to it?

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Yes. It was taken together with amendment No. 14.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I did not realise that. I totally missed the fact that my amendment was grouped. My apologies.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I will give Senator Ruane a little bit of latitude if she wishes to speak to the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 15:

In page 10, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
"(c) by the deletion of the following in subsection (5):
“and such rules may provide for the election of members and the dissolution of a student council.”,
and

(d) by the insertion of the following after “affairs” in subsection (6):
“including providing for the election of members and the dissolution of a student council.”.”.

  Amendment No. 15 relates to the role of student councils, as set out in section 27 of the Education Act 1998. I welcome the proposed changes in section 7 of the Bill that student councils will now have set out in statute their role in promoting the interests of the students of a school rather than the interests of the school, as is currently set out in the 1998 Act.

  I also welcome under the proposed new section 27B that the Minister may provide for the charter guidelines to be drafted in consultation between the student council and the board of management of a school. This is a welcome provision that will allow for the engagement of the elected representatives of students with the board of management to develop a charter with the interests of students at its heart. However, for the student council to be an empowered and equal education stakeholder partner in the drafting of the charter, it needs to be able to set its own arrangements for the election of its members and its dissolution. Under the current provisions of section 27, the board of management is able to set arrangements for elections and dissolutions and so feasibly could dissolve a student council at a moment's notice. It could even feasibly arise that the board of management could engage with a student council to draft a charter under section 27B and a board of management that did not like the input of the council into the process could dissolve the council as a result. The reference to "where one has been established" in section 27B(1)(a)(v) would seem to give further latitude to pursue that as a drastic course of action. The question is how a student council can substantively contribute to the development of a student charter when it is only in existence if the board of management allows it to be so.  A council derives its mandate from election by students and not the whim of management. It is to rectify this issue that I tabled amendment No. 15, which would remove the setting of rules for the election of student council members and the dissolution of a council from the remit of a board of management and place responsibility within the remit of the council itself. A democratically elected body should be able to set the rules for its elections and how it will be dissolved. The Irish Second-Level Students Union criticised the general scheme of the Bill during pre-legislative scrutiny on these exact grounds, based on the view that the Bill was changing only the aims of the student council and not addressing the important matters of dissolution and elections. We need to empower young people to get involved in their local school communities through local student democracy and give them a real voice in decision-making at school level. My amendment would give a student council genuine democratic autonomy and legitimacy. I hope the Minister will accept it.

  Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, to the House. I was absent yesterday so I take this opportunity to welcome our new Senator, Senator Hackett, to the House. I congratulate her on her election and wish her well in her career in this House, the finest of the Houses of the Oireachtas, as the Minister of State will attest.

  Amendment No. 36a not moved.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 37:

In page 5, line 36, after "function" to insert ", role in carbon sequestration, biodiversity and pollination".

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 16.

Níl
Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Jerry Buttimer   Zoom on Jerry Buttimer   Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Victor Boyhan   Zoom on Victor Boyhan   Boyhan, Victor. Information on Maria Byrne   Zoom on Maria Byrne   Byrne, Maria.
Information on Rose Conway-Walsh   Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh   Conway-Walsh, Rose. Information on Paudie Coffey   Zoom on Paudie Coffey   Coffey, Paudie.
Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Máire Devine   Zoom on Máire Devine   Devine, Máire. Information on Frank Feighan   Zoom on Frank Feighan   Feighan, Frank.
Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul. Information on Billy Lawless   Zoom on Billy Lawless   Lawless, Billy.
Information on Pippa Hackett   Zoom on Pippa Hackett   Hackett, Pippa. Information on Anthony Lawlor   Zoom on Anthony Lawlor   Lawlor, Anthony.
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary. Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.
Information on Kevin Humphreys   Zoom on Kevin Humphreys   Humphreys, Kevin. Information on Gabrielle McFadden   Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden   McFadden, Gabrielle.
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall. Information on Michelle Mulherin   Zoom on Michelle Mulherin   Mulherin, Michelle.
Information on Ned O'Sullivan   Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Ned. Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn. Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
Information on Fintan Warfield   Zoom on Fintan Warfield   Warfield, Fintan. 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 Neale Richmond   Zoom on Neale Richmond   Richmond, Neale.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Ruane and Pippa Hackett; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony..

Amendment declared lost.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I move amendment No. a37a:

In page 5, line 36, after "features" to insert ", having regard to matters referred to in section 16(6),".

This issue has been addressed before. I propose to amend the definition of "environmental criteria" to ensure the inclusion of the environmental, conservation, geological and biodiversity provisions in subsection 16(6) of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000. This addresses the anomaly we have already discussed whereby the designation of a new protected area requires reference to the scientific and environmental criteria in subsection 16(6) whereas dedesignation requires only a reference to the environmental criteria in the Bill, which do not include all of the criteria in the subsection. I hope the Minister of State might be able to find a way to incorporate the criteria in subsection 16(6) when assessing the environmental criteria concerning the potential dedesignation of a raised or blanket bog.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I second the amendment.

Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Seán Kyne): Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank the Senator. We had a good discussion on this on a number of occasions insofar as it relates to the environmental criteria and blanket bogs under the Bill. The definition of "environmental criteria" has been carefully drafted in consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and, of course, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The Bill was drafted taking into account what has already been done for raised bogs. I refer to an eight-year review. The various attributes set out within the definition link to national conservation objectives and favourable conservation status for bog habitats and the selection criteria set out in Annex III of the habitats directive.  These were utilised for the 2014 review and, as set out in the Bill, would feature in any future blanket bog review.

  In determining the ecological condition of Ireland’s raised bog network for the 2014 review, the criteria used included the area of active raised bog, the geographic range, the habitat quality and ecological diversity. I envisage a similar approach will be used for any future NHA review based upon sound scientific evidence in accordance with the provisions of the Bill.

  I would like to emphasise that I do not foresee that SACs would be used as comparators to justify the dedesignation of an NHA. For example, 75% of the national active raised bog conservation target is to come from the SAC network and the remainder will come from the proposed new NHA network. Any proposal to designate or dedesignate NHAs has to be done in a manner that ensures that the contribution of the NHA network to this target is achieved. The same approach would be adopted for any review of blanket bogs.

  Within the 2014 NHA review, SACs were included in the assessment of Ireland's raised bog resource. The SAC sites were not used as comparators to justify the proposed dedesignation of NHAs and I envisage that would also be the case for any future reviews of blanket bogs.

  I have indicated that departmental officials will liaise with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to see if "a comparison made between” within the definition of “environmental criteria” in the Bill, as per the Senators' concerns, could be replaced with “a consideration of” as proposed by the Senators. I hope that assists in allaying their concerns. I will check that with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in respect of bringing forward an amendment in the Dáil.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I thank the Minister of State especially for his consideration of my amendment to move from a comparison model to a consideration model. That will vastly improve the operation of this section. I also thank him for his assurances regarding SACs. I look forward to consideration of this provision in the Dáil and that will assist matters. The mechanism as currently provided for in the Bill does not mirror the 2014 review in that it required a full overview of all 75 raised bog NHAs. It was a comparison on a full scale as part of the wider audit and consideration. This relates to my amendment No. 50, with which we have yet to deal, which seeks to ensure we will have that same overview. Environmental criteria in this section relate to specific proposals that may relate to a specific dedesignation prospect. For example, it could be geographically limited or it could be one bog, as the Bill provides for, versus another bog. That is why I was keen to ensure all those factors would be properly considered.

  Some of what the Minister of State said has given me some comfort regarding the process. It is vital we move past a blunt comparison tool. It will also be vital that before he gets to the point of making proposals and considering environmental criteria in this section that he has at his disposal a full audit and report particularly of blanket bogs. My chief concern when it comes to blanket bogs and a comparison model is that we do not want to do anything that would create a perverse incentive where people might be encouraged to act on the basis of knowing that a more degraded bog compared to another bog may be dedesignated. We certainly do not want to create any inadvertent or inappropriate incentive.

  I will press the amendment on principle but I acknowledge the distance we have travelled.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendment No. 37a is in the names of Senators Higgins and Ruane. Amendments Nos. 37a to 37d, inclusive, are related, while amendment No. 37c is a physical alternative to amendment No. 37b. Amendments Nos. 37a to 37d, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 37a.

In page 6, line 1, after “are” to insert “significant,”.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister of State for being present for this debate. Amendments Nos. 37a to 37d, inclusive, relate to proposed changes to the definition of "favourable conservation status" within the Bill. The definition is important, as the criteria it sets out will essentially set out how bogs will be evaluated within the review under this new section 18A, which ones will be determined worthy of receiving special status to preserve into the future and which will be designated as a result. The definition, therefore, of "favourable conservation status" needs to be comprehensive, developed and able to fully capture the current and future environmental value and capacity of a bog habitat. While I recognise the Government has committed €5 million in 2020 to peat bog restoration, this will need to double and treble in 2021 to 2022, as €5 million is unfortunately inadequate given the current state of our bog network and habitats and the important role they will need to play in the future in respect of Ireland's targets on climate action. We, therefore, need to ensure the definitions in this Bill that will cover the review of our national bog network are robust and can be stood over.

  Amendment No. 37b proposes to add an additional clause when a bog habitat is being evaluated whereby in addition to judging whether the structure and functions exist for its long-term maintenance and such maintenance into the future, there would be an evaluation of whether such conditions are likely to exist in the future. These are natural biodiverse and organic environments and an assessment of their condition at a single moment in time ignores their future potential. People are also currently being trained in bog restoration and there will be more people with the necessary skills in the future to support work of rewetting, conservation and restoration. By altering this definition to incorporate the potential future growth of long-term sustainability, we need to make this amendment to broaden the definition and to account for the evolving skill base as more and more people become trained in bog restoration.

  Amendments Nos. 37a and 37b are important and make a key change to the criteria on which the conservation status of a bog or species can be considered favourable. The current definition uses terms such as "stable" and increasing" in subsection (a) and "favourable" in subsection (c). However these terms are incomplete in fully assessing the environmental value of a bog habitat in terms of its potential dedesignation, which is why we propose that the term "significant" would also be included in the assessment. It is certainly the case that something may be diminished but it may still be significant. Land may have shrunk but it could still be a key wildlife corridor. A species may have diminished but there may be a small number as a reservation which make it significant. To only view the environmental value of these habitats through the prism of the words "stable, increasing and favourable" is limited and inadequate without also an assessment of their significance. "Significance" is a broader term which the Minister of State can cite in making these crucial evaluations where the limited metrics of their current stability or favourable status can be looked beyond in a fuller, more comprehensive analytic assessment. I urge him to accept these amendments considering the now widespread fears this Bill has aroused in the wider conservation and environmental movements in Ireland.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank the Senator for her comments. We commented on the previous occasion on how some of the carbon fund was being allocated towards peatlands restoration. The Senator mentioned what should be done from 2022. It would be for a future Government to decide the trajectory of the carbon fund as set out by the committee, and where that money will be focused. Whether that will be peatlands will be up to them but the €5 million commitment we have made is a positive start and will allow that important restoration and rewetting work to commence.

  One of the main aims of the habitats directive is to ensure the habitats and species listed in it achieve favourable conservation status. In essence, this means that these habitats and species are being maintained in a satisfactory condition and that situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. In this regard, the definition within the Bill has been derived by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel from the definition of "favourable conservation status" in article 1 of the habitats directive and in the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. I do not propose, therefore, to accept these amendments. The definition is not by accident; rather it is based on the important definitions in the birds and natural habitats regulations. That is in conjunction with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and, therefore, I do not believe there is a need to change the current definitions.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 37b:

In page 6, lines 4 and 5, to delete all words from and including “exist” where it firstly occurs in line 4 down to and including line 5 and substitute the following:
“either exist and are likely to continue to exist for the foreseeable future, or are likely to exist in the near future, or”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 37c:

In page 6, line 5, to delete “and” and substitute “or”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 37d:

In page 6, line 6, after “favourable” to insert “or significant”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

  Government amendment No. 38:

In page 6, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
“‘greenway’ means a recreational or pedestrian corridor reserved exclusively for non-motorised journeys, developed in an integrated manner for the purpose of enhancement of the environment and quality of life in the surrounding area;”.

  Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendments Nos. 38a and 47 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 38a:

In page 6, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
“ ‘recreational and sporting needs’ shall not include golf courses;”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane The amendment proposes a new definition of "recreational and sporting needs" which shall not include golf courses. In the original iteration of the Bill economic, social and cultural needs were included as a factor for consideration. A significant and arguably an excessive concession was made by the Minister of State to also include recreational and sporting needs. This was a regrettable and regressive move. However, in our last debate on the Bill this already extraordinary concession was widened even further in the forcing through of amendment No. 19, an absolutely appalling amendment, to specifically allow for the dedesignation of bog habitats to build, among other developments, golf courses. That Fine Gael Senators would force through this disgraceful amendment against the advice of their own Minister of State was shameful. It flies in the face of any attempt by the Fine Gael Party to speak with authority in tackling climate change and about the protection of national habitats and biodiversity. I hope the Senators who supported the amendment will think long and hard about what their support for that change to the Bill says about the attitude of this House and the Oireachtas to the movement which is demanding action on climate change. It puts all politicians in a bad light and I was ashamed to be a Member of this House when it was tabled. The Minister of State has acknowledged the damage it will do to the Bill and I hope he will be seeking internal disciplinary action within Fine Gael for the mass breaking of the Government Whip.

  There is a definition of "greenway" in the Bill, but there is no definition of "recreational and sporting needs". That opens up a concern about how it might be interpreted. I urge the Minister of State to include some definition of “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats”. The idea that a natural bog habitat would be destroyed to build a golf course would fill most people in the country with horror. We need to provide some assurance that that will not be the case and establish this House as one that is serious about tackling climate change and protecting the natural environment, of which we are the custodians. I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendment. I have also tabled amendment No. 47 which would allow the Minister to ask the EPA to draw up guidelines for what would constitute recreational and sporting needs, in the absence of a definition being added to the Bill, and which I urge the Minister of State to accept as an alternative.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I too was shocked, disappointed and ashamed to be a Member of this House when the Fine Gael amendment was passed last week, particularly given, as Senator Ruane said, that we had already in previous weeks passed a Government amendment to allow for the designation of a natural heritage area to cease on the basis of sporting needs. Why, then, is there a need for a reference to golf courses? I support amendment No. 38a. Bogs cultivate over thousands of years and their removal for the purpose of the development of a golf course is terrible State and Government policy. When we think of the removal of woodlands across the island throughout our history, going from almost complete to minimal coverage, and the environmental impact it has had, we should also consider the impact of the removal of bogs for something that would probably only benefit the next generation in the short term. It would take hundreds of years to regenerate the peat removed. For example, 15 cm of peat contains more carbon per hectare than a tropical forest. For the purpose of the development of an 18-hole golf course, or the extension of a golf course from nine to 18 holes, 40 to 80 ha of peat layer would be removed when 15 cm of thick peat layer contains more carbon per hectare than a tropical forest. We will be supporting amendment No. 38a. As I said, the Fine Gael amendment passed during the debate last week does not differentiate between mass removal and something that might infringe slightly on bogland. It is way too blunt. It is entirely unreasonable to suggest we should enact an amendment to provide for the removal of peatland for the purpose of the development of a golf course. I ask others to support amendment No. 38a.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I understand the purpose of amendment No. 38a is to exclude “golf courses” from the “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats” criterion that is proposed to be included among the criteria to be utilised in selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated or to cease to be designated as natural heritage areas. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 strikes a balance between the need to maintain or restore bog habitats to a favourable conservation status, live up to our EU obligations and work with landowners and turf cutters. Bearing this balance in mind, there may be grounds for amending the boundaries of a natural heritage area to include appropriate recreational or sports facilities so long as areas of active bog habitat within a site can be maintained and areas of degraded bog habitat can be restored. There may also be opportunities to develop recreational facilities such as walking routes or greenways within NHAs, building on existing routes within the sites.

  The Government amendment to the Bill provides that the purposes of a natural heritage area review include selecting the most suitable bog habitats, first, to be designated as NHAs and, second, to cease to be designated as NHAs having regard to various criteria, including “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats”. The provisions of each criterion have been and will continue to be carefully considered in conducting and completing any review of NHAs. In addition, any regard to recreational and sporting needs appropriate to bog habitats in a review of NHAs would be subject to a strategic environmental assessment, including public consultation and the carrying out of any other screening for an assessment or, as the case may be, assessment, if required. I understand the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht would be obliged to consult the Environmental Protection Agency in the strategic environmental assessment process. Therefore, I consider that there are sufficient principles and criteria within the Bill to guide the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in conducting and completing a review of NHAs. Therefore, I will not be accepting the amendments.

  My understanding is Senators Higgins and Ruane have concerns that the provisions in the Bill will allow for new golf courses to be built within raised bog or blanket bog NHAs. I do not believe that was the intention of the Senators and they certainly did not state it in reference to new golf courses, although I know that there was a debate about existing golf courses, which is the reason the amendment has arisen. Therefore, I am willing to consider whether the “recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats” criterion within the Bill might need to be amended to set out clearly that the development of new golf courses would not come within it. Even though I believe there are sufficient principles and criteria within the Bill to guide the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in conducting and completing a review of NHAs, I will also consider whether it would be appropriate for the Bill to be amended to provide for guidelines to be drawn up for what may or may not be considered to be "recreational and sporting needs (including greenways) appropriate to bog habitats". I will look at this issue again in the context of amendments in the Dáil. Given the views Senators have expressed on existing, rather than new, golf courses, I will be discussing the matter with colleagues, departmental officials and at Cabinet level in advance of discussing amendments in the Dáil.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Regardless of what we may or may not believe to be the intention of the Senators, the fact is that this provision allows for new golf courses to be included. The Minister of State has said that this is something he needs to look at. Obviously, it is hard for the Minister of State to stand up and make this case, given that he came out against the inclusion of this provision in the first place and in light of the allowances that were made previously. On that basis, I will press this amendment.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 10; Níl, 15.

Níl
Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Jerry Buttimer   Zoom on Jerry Buttimer   Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Victor Boyhan   Zoom on Victor Boyhan   Boyhan, Victor. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Rose Conway-Walsh   Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh   Conway-Walsh, Rose. Information on Frank Feighan   Zoom on Frank Feighan   Feighan, Frank.
Information on Pippa Hackett   Zoom on Pippa Hackett   Hackett, Pippa. Information on Maura Hopkins   Zoom on Maura Hopkins   Hopkins, Maura.
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary. Information on Billy Lawless   Zoom on Billy Lawless   Lawless, Billy.
Information on Kevin Humphreys   Zoom on Kevin Humphreys   Humphreys, Kevin. Information on Anthony Lawlor   Zoom on Anthony Lawlor   Lawlor, Anthony.
Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig. Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall. Information on Gabrielle McFadden   Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden   McFadden, Gabrielle.
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn. Information on Michelle Mulherin   Zoom on Michelle Mulherin   Mulherin, Michelle.
Information on Fintan Warfield   Zoom on Fintan Warfield   Warfield, Fintan. Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.
  Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  Information on Kieran O'Donnell   Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Kieran.
  Information on John O'Mahony   Zoom on John O'Mahony   O'Mahony, John.
  Information on Joe O'Reilly   Zoom on Joe O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Joe.
  Information on Neale Richmond   Zoom on Neale Richmond   Richmond, Neale.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Lynn Ruane and Pippa Hackett; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.

Amendment declared lost.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 39:

 In page 6, lines 8 and 9, to delete “condition, and the likelihood that measures taken to that end will be effective.” and substitute “condition.”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane This amendment relates to the restoration potential of bogs. We are proposing to remove an additional and unnecessary qualifier to what should be regarded as restoration potential. It is of concern if there is too high a threshold for what bogs may qualify for having restoration potential. Adding an additional criterion for assessing the likelihood that measures taken will be successful is setting the bar higher and brings the assessment further into the realm of subjectivity. Further, we are aware that the skills and workforce for restoring bogs are evolving and what might be considered unlikely now may yet evolve in the future. This amendment would future-proof the legislation and I urge the Minister of State to accept it.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne My understanding is that this amendment seeks to amend the definition of “restoration potential” within the Bill. This definition within the Bill has been carefully drafted and links to the methodology utilised for the 2014 raised bog natural heritage areas, NHA, review. I do not propose to accept this amendment to it.

  The 2014 raised bog NHA review proposes the dedesignation of sites where it has been judged that their conservation potential is expected to be marginal and-or that restoration would be prohibitively expensive for the conservation benefits achieved. The review also proposes the designation as NHAs of 25 currently undesignated raised bogs, which are in public ownership or where there is reduced turf cutting pressure. These sites are to be proposed for designation to make up for the loss of habitat within the NHA sites where turf cutting is to continue.

  The 2014 review concluded that Ireland could more effectively achieve conservation of threatened raised bog habitats through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network. The review clearly set out that the proposed newly configured network would have considerable advantages over the current natural heritage area network, including a greater area of both active and degraded raised bog still capable of regeneration compared to the current network and increased potential for more rapid restoration of raised bog due to the inclusion of State-owned lands into the new network. This is the point, namely, that the network will be enhanced in terms of area and would be reduced in terms of ownership, that is, individual owners, because more State lands would be designated, which would be positive because of the overall view taken by small farmers or small landowners that the State has loads of hectares of land that are not designated, and that these small farmers or small landowners are being targeted. That is a positive development as the overall network has increased with this review.

  The heart of the 2014 review and any future review would be the nature conservation objectives of maintaining bog habitats at, or restoring bog habitats to, a favourable conservation status. Bearing this in mind, any future NHA review would follow a similar approach to the 2014 review, as provided for in the Bill. Therefore, I will not be accepting this amendment.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

  Government amendment No. 40:

 In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“Part VA of Act of 2000

5. The Act of 2000 is amended by the insertion of the following Part after Part V:
“Part VA

BIODIVERSITY
Definitions

59A. In this Part—
‘Agreement’ means the Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland establishing Implementation Bodies done at Dublin on 8 March 1999;

‘biodiversity’ means the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part and includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems;

‘guidelines’ means the guidelines referred to in section 59B(1)(c) and ‘guidelines’, in relation to a plan, programme or strategy or a National Biodiversity Action Plan, means any guidelines the Minister may prepare and publish concerning that plan, programme or strategy or National Biodiversity Action Plan;

‘National Biodiversity Action Plan’ means a plan, prepared by the Minister and approved by the Government prior to its publication under section 59C(4), which contains the objectives and targets for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;

‘plan, programme or strategy’ means a plan, programme or strategy concerning the promotion of the conservation of biodiversity or an amendment of it, or part of a plan, programme or strategy concerning that promotion or an amendment of that part, that may be prepared by the Minister as he or she considers appropriate and approved by the Government prior to its publication under section 59C(1) but does not include a National Biodiversity Action Plan;

‘public body’ means a public body specified in section 59H(1) or prescribed in accordance with section 59H(2);

‘relevant Minister’ means, in relation to a public body, the Minister of the Government who performs functions in connection with that body.
Biodiversity
59B. (1) To the extent that it may affect or relate to the functions of a public body, the public body shall, in the performance of its functions, have regard to—
(a) a plan, programme or strategy,

(b) the objectives and targets in a National Biodiversity Action Plan, and

(c) guidelines that may be prepared by the Minister, where he or she considers it appropriate, providing practical guidance to the public body in relation to a plan, programme or strategy or meeting the objectives and targets of a National Biodiversity Action Plan.
(2) A requirement under subsection (1) shall apply in respect of, as the case may be, a plan, programme or strategy, National Biodiversity Action Plan or guidelines or an amendment of any of them, on and from the date of the publication of a notice under section 59C(5) concerning the plan, programme or strategy, National Biodiversity Action Plan or guidelines or an amendment of any of them.
Publication of plan, programme or strategy, National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines
59C. (1) The Minister may publish a plan, programme or strategy and guidelines on the website of his or her Department and by any other means (if any) as he or she considers appropriate.
(2) Not later than 36 months after the coming into operation of section 59B, the Minister shall prepare and publish a National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines. (3) Not earlier than every third anniversary of the publication of a National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines under subsection (2), and not later than every fifth anniversary of that publication, the Minister shall prepare and publish a National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines.

(4) For the purposes of subsections (2) and (3), the Minister shall publish a National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines on the website of his or her Department and by other means (if any) as he or she considers appropriate.

(5) Not later than 4 weeks after the publication under subsection (1) or subsection (4), the Minister shall publish a notice in Iris Oifigiúil, in a national daily newspaper circulating in the State and on the website of his or her Department, of that publication and the date on which it occurred.

(6) Nothing in subsection (2) or subsection (3) shall prevent the Minister from amending a National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines once it or they has or have been published, and subsections (4) and (5) shall apply, with any necessary modifications, to the publication of those amendments.
Consultation
 59D. (1) The Minister may consult as he or she considers appropriate with public bodies and the public during the preparation of a plan, programme or strategy, National Biodiversity Action Plan or guidelines or an amendment of any of them.

(2) The Minister shall consider any observations or submissions received during consultations under subsection (1) before completing the preparation of a plan, programme or strategy, National Biodiversity Action Plan or guidelines or an amendment of any of them.

Notice

59E.
At least 8 weeks before he or she publishes a plan, programme or strategy and guidelines under section 59C(1) or a National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines under section 59C(4), the Minister shall give notice in writing to public bodies of his or her intention to so publish.
Report by public bodies
 59F.  (1) A public body shall prepare and submit a report to the Minister.
(2) The first report under subsection (1) shall be prepared and submitted to the Minister not later than 18 months after the date the Minister publishes a plan, programme or strategy and guidelines under section 59C(1) or a National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines under section 59C(4), and every report thereafter shall be prepared and submitted to the Minister not more frequently than once every 12 months.

(3) A report under subsection (1) shall specify—
(a) measures adopted by the public body for the purpose of compliance with section 59B(1), and

(b) progress made by the public body in the performance of its functions in accordance with that subsection.
(4) The first report under subsection (1) of a public body prescribed under section 59H(2) shall be prepared and submitted to the Minister not later than 18 months after the date, following that prescribing, that the Minister publishes a plan, programme or strategy and guidelines under section 59C(1) or a National Biodiversity Action Plan and guidelines under section 59C(4).
Direction
59G. (1) The Minister, in relation to the performance by a public body of its functions and having consulted—
(a) the public body, and

(b) where the public body was established by the Agreement, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, may give a direction in writing to the public body requiring it to adopt such measures for the purpose of compliance with section 59B(1) as are specified in the direction.
(2) The Minister shall consult, and agree the terms of the direction with, the relevant Minister before giving a direction under subsection (1).

(3) The Minister, having consulted the public body and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, as the case may be, under subsection (1) and having consulted and agreed with the relevant Minister under subsection (2), may by direction in writing amend or revoke a direction under this section (including a direction under this subsection).

(4) The public body to whom a direction is given under this section shall comply with the direction.
Public body
59H. (1) For the purposes of this Part each of the following is a public body:
(a) a Minister of the Government;

(b) Bord Iascaigh Mhara;

(c) Bord Na Móna;

(d) An Bord Pleanála;

(e) Coillte Teoranta (being a company formed and registered under the Companies Acts as provided for by section 9 of the Forestry Act 1988);

(f) Commission for Aviation Regulation;

(g) Commission for Communications Regulation;

(h) Commission for Railway Regulation;

(i) Commission for Regulation of Utilities;

(j) Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland;

(k) a company formed in respect of a harbour in accordance with section 7 of the Harbours Act 1996;

(l) Eirgrid;

(m) Electricity Supply Board;

(n) Enterprise Ireland;

(o) the Environmental Protection Agency;

(p) Ervia;

(q) Geological Survey Ireland;

(r) Heritage Council;

(s) Iarnród Éireann-Irish Rail;

(t) Industrial Development Agency (Ireland);

(u) Inland Fisheries Ireland;

(v) Irish Lights Commission;

(w) a local authority within the meaning of section 2 of the Local Government Act 2001;

(x) Marine Institute;

(y) National Roads Authority;

(z) Office of the Revenue Commissioners;

(aa) a planning authority within the meaning of the Planning and Development Act 2000;

(bb) Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority;

(cc) Teagasc-The Agriculture and Food Development Authority;

(dd) Údarás na Gaeltachta.
(2) The Minister may, for the purposes of this Part, prescribe a body, other person, company, organisation or group referred to in subsection (3) to be a public body where the Minister is of the opinion that the body, other person, company, organisation or group has functions that have or may have a bearing on matters concerning biodiversity or is in a position to promote the conservation of biodiversity.

(3) The following may be prescribed under subsection (2):
(a) a body or other person established—
(i) by or under an enactment (other than the Companies Act 2014 or a former enactment relating to companies within the meaning of section 5 of that Act) or charter,

(ii) by any scheme administered by a Minister of the Government, or

(iii) under the Companies Act 2014 (or a former enactment relating to companies within the meaning of section 5 of that Act) in pursuance of powers conferred by or under another enactment, and financed wholly or partly, whether directly or indirectly, by means of money provided, or loans made or guaranteed, by a Minister of the Government or the issue of shares held by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government;
(b) a company (formed and registered under the Companies Act 2014 or an existing company within the meaning of that Act), a majority of the shares in which are held by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government;

(c) a body, other person, organisation or group established by the Agreement.
(4) The Minister shall, before prescribing a body, other person, company, organisation or group to be a public body under subsection (2)—
(a) obtain the consent of the relevant Minister,

(b) consult the body, other person, company, organisation or group, and

(c) where the body, other person, organisation or group was established by the Agreement, consult the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.”.”.

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 41:

 In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“Report on exercise of turbary rights
5. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht shall, within twelve months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas containing guidelines and recommended thresholds in relation to the exercise of turbary rights

     including a definition, or definitions, of “household use”.”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane In amendment No. 41, we propose that within 12 months of passing this Act that the Minister produce a report on guidelines and thresholds around the exercise of turbary rights for peat extraction and a definition of what would constitute "household use". We have throughout this debate said that the distinction needs to be drawn between turbary rights, which is the extraction of peat for personal and household use, and commercial peat harvesting which has far greater environmental impacts. We want to ensure and to promote responsible bog management and it has been clear that this is not at odds with turbary rights or traditional practices. The way turf is being extracted has changed. There are, for example, concerns about the increased use of machines and their impact. This amendment is one of several proposals seeking to give clarity to this area. I know the Minister of State has suggested that the regulation of commercial cutting practices and associated machinery falls within another Department and I contest that. However, there is no doubt that the turbary rights as a heritage issue fall directly within his remit. I, therefore, hope that he will accept amendment No. 41.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne My understanding of this amendment is that it provides that the Minister shall lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas containing guidelines and recommended thresholds in relation to the exercise of turbary rights, including a definition, or definitions, of “household use”.

  The focus of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and her Department, is and will be on the management, conservation and restoration of the special areas of conservation, SAC, and NHA networks, which contain bog habitats. In budget 2020, €7 million made up of the carbon and the environment funds has been allocated to embark on an accelerated programme of peatland restoration and conservation works.

  As I already mentioned, I understand that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has advised that the development of a new regulatory framework for smaller-scale peat extraction will be initiated and progressed. Guidelines and recommended thresholds in relation to the exercise of turbary rights could come within the development of this framework.

  Therefore, I have some concerns as to whether it would be appropriate for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to produce the report as requested by Senators. I understand the principle behind the amendment and I will request departmental officials to liaise with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on the matter.

  I am prepared to accept the amendment on the understanding that an amendment on the matter in the name of the Minister may need to be moved when the Bill returns to the Dáil.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate where we have moved with this amendment. I will raise a note of concern which is that that engagement happens, and whether it is possible for the report to be done within his Department, rather than disappearing as soon as this goes to the Dáil. We are apprehensive when we do so much work on amendments here, that they can be accepted, in principle, but lose their force then when the Bill goes to the Dáil. I accept that this is not the case and that it is something that the Minister of State is willing to engage with and look at. We are willing to accept the Minister of State's views on this amendment.

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 42:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“Report on intergenerational justice and equity issues
5. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht shall, within twelve months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas considering intergenerational justice and equity issues in respect of bog lands; to include a consideration of turf cutting, peat extraction, climate change and other environmental considerations.”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Amendment No. 42 would require the Minister to lay a report before the Oireachtas within 12 months considering intergenerational justice and equity issues and how they relate to boglands. This should consider the issues of turf cutting, peat extraction, climate change and other environmental considerations. We acknowledge and support the similar amendment No. 48, which is sponsored by Fianna Fáil Senators and addresses some of the same issues. However, the intergenerational issue is also important and this amendment addresses it. Young people in rural Ireland will not be able to practise the same rights as older generations. Intergenerational justice is not just about young people bearing the worst effects of climate change. It also concerns the way turf is cut now, which may impact on young people's ability to cut turf in the future. In light of amendment No. 48, I will withdraw my amendment. However, I hope these concerns will be added to the Bill in some form in the Dáil and the intergenerational dimension of this issue will be considered further.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendment No. 43 is out of order as it is not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill and creates a potential charge on the revenue.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I was not aware of that.

  Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 are related and may be discussed together.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 45:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“5. (1) Any cutting of turf on bog or bog habitats de-designated under this Act shall be subject to regulation with regard to:
(a) permitted or prescribed machinery;

(b) limitations on quantities of peat extraction per annum;

(c) limitations on commercial activities, without prejudice to turbary rights.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1)(a) shall be set out by the Minister in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant bodies and shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Amendment No. 45 sets out how the extraction of peat from bog habitats that lose designation under this Act will be regulated. This will include limits on the type of machinery allowed, the quantity of peat that can be extracted every year and a limit on the commercial extraction of peat without prejudice to turbary rights.

  Amendment No. 46 is a slight variation allowing for consultation with relevant bodies without specifically mentioning the EPA. I urge the Minister of State to engage with any initiatives looking at turbary rights from an intergenerational perspective and to ensure the rights currently enjoyed are preserved for people in the future. This is an important aspect of intergenerational justice as it concerns heritage and tradition. We must not allow commercial extraction to take place under the guise of turbary rights at the expense of younger generations. I, therefore, urge the Minister of State consider these amendments and to accept one of them if possible.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield We support amendments Nos. 45 and 46. They are reasonable measures. Amendment No. 46 ensures that bogs subject to agreement with turf cutters will be protected and that we utilise peat to heat homes while allowing it to regenerate and continue its role in carbon sequestration. The terms of the regulation will largely be at the Minister's discretion. This will create a clear path to show the EU that we are in compliance with the habitats directive. I welcome the limitations on commercial turf cutting, particularly given the recent High Court decision to revoke regulations in that regard.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank the Senators for these amendments. My understanding is that they provide that the cutting of turf within sites whose designation as NHAs is reversed shall be subject to regulations set by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in consultation with various bodies. This regulation is to concern the machinery to be used, limitations on quantities to be extracted and limitations on commercial activities. Regulation of turf cutting outside of SACs and NHAs is not a matter for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, whose focus is on the conservation, management and restoration of protected sites. I understand this falls to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in accordance with planning legislation. That Department has advised that the development of a new regulatory framework for smaller-scale peat extraction will be initiated and progressed. I will write to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to request that his Department takes account of the issues raised in these amendments in the development of the framework. However I will not accept the amendments.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Given the fact that amendment No. 41, which has some scope to address some of these concerns, was accepted, I will withdraw amendments Nos. 45 and 46.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Amendment No. 46 not moved.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 47:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“5. The Minister shall request the Environmental Protection Agency to draw up guidelines as to what may or may not be considered recreational and sporting activities appropriate to a

bog habitat.”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly I move amendment No. 48:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“Report on climate justice and just transition
5. (1) The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht shall, within twelve months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas considering climate justice and a just transition to a low-carbon economy in respect of turf cutting and peat extraction.

(2) The report under subsection (1) shall contain recommendations in relation to—
(a) protective measures and supports for adversely affected workers and communities,

(b) training and development of alternative low-carbon employment, and

(c) rehabilitation and restoration of peatlands in order to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with any existing obligation of the State on climate change under the law of the European Union or any international agreement.”.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I second the amendment.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly This amendment goes in the same direction as amendment No. 42, which has previously been withdrawn by Senator Ruane. I thank her for withdrawing that in support of our amendment. We feel this is more specific and addresses the issues of a just transition and the communities and workers that have been impacted in a more detailed manner. I hope it can be supported by all sides of the House. The amendment is fully in line with the commitments made in March 2019 by the Joint Committee on Climate Action. It makes reference to climate justice and a just transition to a low-carbon economy in the specific context of turf cutting and peat extraction.

  It is important that an equitable approach, rooted in social justice and early engagement with communities, is taken to the movement away from peat extraction and turf cutting. We cannot have a situation where impacted regions are left at risk of major disruption as is currently the case in the midlands. Protective measures need to be put in place first. These amendments, therefore, call for a necessary analysis in this regard to be made by the Minister. We also need clarity on how and whether emissions are being saved and what steps can be taken to further rehabilitate and restore peatlands in light of our climate and environmental obligations.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I am glad to see Fianna Fáil colleagues engaging with this Bill and I support the amendment. It is constructive, which is why we withdrew our own amendment.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank Senator Daly for his amendment. In budget 2020, €5 million has been allocated to the carbon fund and €7 million has been allocated to an accelerated programme of peatlands restoration within the raised bog designated sites network. The injection of this funding is intended to restore more than 1,800 ha of protected raised bog in 2020. This programme will also contribute to employment in the midlands region.

  In accordance with the Standing Orders of the Dáil and the Seanad, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is obliged to report within 12 months of the enactment of a Bill to review the functioning of the Act. This report is relayed to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. The provision of the report will provide an opportunity for the Minister to set out the restoration measures which will have been undertaken on raised bog NHAs. I understand the issues raised by Senators will also be comprehensively covered in some length and detail in the upcoming climate Bill. It would not be good practice for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to either pre-empt that legislation or to legislate for the same issue twice. Such matters fall in the first instance to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, who has functional and statutory responsibility for the issues converging here. I, therefore, do not propose to accept the amendment.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly Our amendment basically asks for the Minister to make a report. That will not affect other legislation or the work of any other Minister in any way.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 17.

Níl
Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Paddy Burke   Zoom on Paddy Burke   Burke, Paddy.
Information on Victor Boyhan   Zoom on Victor Boyhan   Boyhan, Victor. Information on Jerry Buttimer   Zoom on Jerry Buttimer   Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul. Information on Maria Byrne   Zoom on Maria Byrne   Byrne, Maria.
Information on Máire Devine   Zoom on Máire Devine   Devine, Máire. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Pippa Hackett   Zoom on Pippa Hackett   Hackett, Pippa. Information on Frank Feighan   Zoom on Frank Feighan   Feighan, Frank.
Information on Gerry Horkan   Zoom on Gerry Horkan   Horkan, Gerry. Information on Maura Hopkins   Zoom on Maura Hopkins   Hopkins, Maura.
Information on Kevin Humphreys   Zoom on Kevin Humphreys   Humphreys, Kevin. Information on Billy Lawless   Zoom on Billy Lawless   Lawless, Billy.
Information on Terry Leyden   Zoom on Terry Leyden   Leyden, Terry. Information on Anthony Lawlor   Zoom on Anthony Lawlor   Lawlor, Anthony.
Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig. Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall. Information on Gabrielle McFadden   Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden   McFadden, Gabrielle.
Information on Ned O'Sullivan   Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Ned. Information on Michelle Mulherin   Zoom on Michelle Mulherin   Mulherin, Michelle.
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn. Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.
Information on Fintan Warfield   Zoom on Fintan Warfield   Warfield, Fintan. Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh   Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid. 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 Neale Richmond   Zoom on Neale Richmond   Richmond, Neale.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Daly and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.

Amendment declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 49:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“5. Before an order can be made in respect of a raised or blanket bog under section 18A(5)(b) of the Act of 2000 a report shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on the re-wetting potential of all natural heritage area bogs.”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane With amendment No. 49, we seek to require a report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas before any dedesignation orders of natural bogs can be made under the Act. This report would assess the rewetting potential of all natural heritage bogs. When Dr. Renou-Wilson was before the climate action committee last week, she clarified that the survey previously undertaken on raised bogs looked to restoration potential but did not consider rewetting. The ideal outcome for a bog is full restoration but rewetting is still of considerable value. While a bog which is restored may draw carbon from the air, a bog which is rewetted may still prevent carbon emission. Rewetting is a baseline activity. A total of 46 bogs were designated as having less restoration potential. Those bogs have not been examined specifically for their rewetting potential. We need to know that in any decisions made as to their NHA status, their rewetting potential has been considered. Let us not forget that there has been a direct cost to the State as a result of carbon emissions in terms of both environmental damage and fines paid. These costs will significantly outweigh compensation payments being paid to landowners with raised bogs designated as NHAs. In the future we must move past compensation payments and towards giving landowners payments that actually support carbon sequestration and conservation on their land. We have consistently tried to remove blanket bogs from the Bill. A review over the course of 12 years was undertaken in respect of raised bogs but none was undertaken in respect of blanket bogs.

  With amendment No. 50, we seek to set an overall survey and a baseline minimum. We need to ensure we do not simply allow for consultation over a particular bog on whether it is designated but rather that an overall survey is conducted in order that we know the total blanket bogland we have and its restoration or rewetting potential. This is essential before we look to the process that may lead to the dedesignation of boglands. All 75 raised bog NHAs were fully examined in the past but we have not had any similar examination of our blanket bogs, including rewetting and the other kinds of scientific criteria. This amendment would ensure we have a baseline. The amendment also relates to amendment No. 51. It would be very worrying if we provided a perverse incentive for dedesignation, whereby there would be intentional degradation of bogs in order to increase their likelihood of dedesignation. This must happen before any orders are made and I urge the Minister of State to accept this amendment.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne The 2014 review concluded that Ireland could more effectively achieve conservation of threatened raised bog habitat through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network, which, under the proposed new network, will be 765 ha, compared with an area of 694 ha in the current network. This restoration programme links with the peatland actions contained in the Government's climate action plan. Under the 2014 review, 36 existing NHAs are to remain designated. This includes seven sites which are to be divided, with part to be conserved and part dedesignated, and 46 NHAs which are to be dedesignated, including the relevant areas of the seven sites to be divided, where it has been judged that their conservation potential is expected to be marginal or that restoration would be prohibitively expensive for the conservation benefits achieved or both. Twenty-five currently undesignated raised bogs which are in public ownership or in respect of which there is reduced turf cutting pressure are to be proposed for designation. This is in order to make up for the loss of habitat within the NHA sites where turf cutting is to continue.

  In summary, 61 sites are scheduled to be restored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department as raised bog NHAs in order to maintain or restore active raised bog habitats within these sites. There is a balance within the Bill, as regards the 2014 review of the raised bog NHA network, between the need to protect the environment, live up to our EU obligations and work with landowners and turf cutters, on whose lives these obligations can have a very real impact. I am concerned that amendment No. 49 would upset that balance and I am therefore not in a position to accept it.

  I believe that the current condition, restoration potential and matters referred to in section 16(6) of the Act of 2000 would all be essential components of any future review of blanket bog NHAs. Therefore, I am prepared to accept amendment No. 50 on the understanding that an amendment on the matter may need to be moved in the name of the Minister when the Bill returns to the Dáil. The results of the review of the raised bog NHA network were published for public consultation in 2014. I will consider if the report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas should also be published for public consultation.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I acknowledge the Minister of State's acceptance of amendment No. 50, for which I thank him, but I will press amendment No. 49.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 50:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“5. Before an order can be made under section 18A(5)(b) of the Act of 2000 a report shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on current condition, restoration potential and re-wetting potential, matters referred to in section 16(6) of the Act of 2000 and other such factors as the Minister may deem necessary of all blanket bog natural heritage areas.”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Minister of State has indicated he will accept the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane We welcome that decision.

  Amendment agreed to.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 51:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“5. No order may be made under section 18A(5)(b) of the Act of 2000 where there is reasonable evidence of acceleration in the rate of deterioration of a blanket bog in the 24 months prior to a review under subsection (3)(b)(ii).”.

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane With amendment No. 51, we propose that where rapid acceleration in the deterioration in the quality of a bog has occurred in the previous 24 months, that bog would not be eligible for dedesignation.  I do not wish to name specific examples. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of cases of bogs being used for inappropriate purposes, deemed to be degraded and subsequently opened up for other uses such as building. This amendment will copperfasten the principle that there may never be a reward for the intentional degradation of bogs. This emphasises why we need the snapshot assessment in amendment No. 50, which I thank the Minister of State for accepting. We do not want the provisions of this legislation to cause actors who are working in bad faith to pursue the deterioration of the bogs as a deliberate objective in order for them to be dedesignated. I urge the Minister of State to accept this amendment. If he decides on the basis of advice that this needs to be amended further, he can do so in the Dáil.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank the Senator for the amendment. I emphasise that the purposes of a review of NHAs would include contributing to the achievement of nature conservation objectives for bog habitats and selecting the most suitable bog habitats to be designated, or to cease to be designated, utilising the various criteria set out in the Bill. All of these considerations would be components of any review of bog habitats and would be included in the review. Decisions on the designation or dedesignation of NHAs would not be made in a vacuum. The Bill sets out principles and criteria to guide the Minister of the day in this process. I will, therefore, not accept the amendment.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 52:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
"5. No order can be made under section 18A(5)(b) of the Act of 2000 prior to the publication of regulations by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in respect of peat cutting and small scale peat extraction.".

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane This amendment will ensure no orders for potential de-designation of bogs may be made until the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has issued regulations on peat cutting and small-scale peat extraction. These regulations would be crucial in ensuring the maintenance of bogs following their de-designation. I urge the Minister of State to accept this amendment.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne As I have indicated, I understand the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has advised that the development of a new regulatory framework for small-scale peat extraction will be initiated and progressed. I fail to see a reason the 2014 review of the raised bog NHAs cannot be continued and completed irrespective of the development of this new regulatory framework. It is possible that the new framework will be developed before the review of the blanket bog NHAs is commenced or completed. If so, the new framework can be taken into account, if appropriate, in a future review of blanket bog NHAs. If the new framework has not been developed by the time of a future review, a review of blanket bog NHAs could still take place. I envisage that any blanket bog NHA de-designated arising from a future review would be subject to the new regulatory framework to be initiated and progressed by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. I do not, therefore, propose to accept this amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 53:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
"5. Where a comparison is made between raised bogs or blanket bogs in regard to environmental criteria that comparison shall not be made with a special area of conservation.".

Senator Pippa Hackett: Information on Pippa Hackett Zoom on Pippa Hackett I second the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane It would be helpful if the Minister of State could respond to this amendment, which seeks to provide that when a comparison is made between raised bogs or blanket bogs in regard to environmental criteria, the comparison shall not be made with an SAC.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne Senator Higgins has raised this point in previous discussions. I do not foresee that SACs would be used as comparators to justify the de-designation of NHAs. Any proposal to de-designate or to designate has to be done in a manner that ensures the contribution of the NHA network to national conservation status for bog habitats is achieved. In the 2014 NHA review, the SACs were included in the assessment of Ireland's raised bog resource. The SAC sites were not used as comparators to justify the proposed de-designation of NHAs and I do not envisage that they will be used for this purpose in the future. I am prepared to examine the matter further in light of the concerns that have been expressed by Senators. I am, therefore, prepared to accept the amendment on the understanding that an amendment on the matter in the name of the Minister may need to be moved in the Dáil.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Minister of State has indicated that he is willing to accept the amendment.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I wish I could contribute further on this amendment, but I do not seem to have any notes on it.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson That is fine. We all lose our way from time to time.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I welcome the Minister of State's acceptance of the amendment. We are coming to the end of the amendments to which my name is attached. I thank him for his engagement with Senator Higgins. It is acknowledged that the Senator has put a significant number of hours into this legislation. Her mantle passed to me today because of a clash with the meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Action.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Senator is an able replacement.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane It is not often that a girl from Tallaght stands here for two hours talking about bogs.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Senator is an able, if not briefer, replacement for Senator Higgins.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Would we have got it through it if she was here?

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister of State for his engagement and for the support we have received in the House on this legislation in recent weeks.

  Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Pursuant to Standing Order 154, it is reported especially to the Seanad that the committee has amended the Title of the Bill.

  Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

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

Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Seán Kyne): Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank my officials for their work over recent months and years. I thank all the Senators who have contributed to the debates in this House, particularly Senators Higgins, Ruane, Warfield and Paul Daly. My colleagues have also contributed. It is likely that a number of amendments on this contentious issue, which has been the subject of national debate over many years, will be brought forward in the Dáil at a future time. The proposal to reconfigure the network by including State-owned lands is a positive one that has been warmly received by turf cutters and small landowners. I welcome the work that has been done by Senators on this Bill.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 4.10 p.m. and resumed at 4.30 p.m.

Report of Seanad Public Consultation Committee: Statements

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and call on him to address the House on the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee entitled, Report on Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland.

Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Pat Breen): Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen It is a pleasure to see Senators back in their old home in the grandeur of one of the nicest rooms in Leinster House.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine We deserve it.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt We are worth it.

Deputy Pat Breen: Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen I am sure they are all happy to be back here again. I am delighted to be here following the publication of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee's report on small and medium-sized businesses in Ireland in May of this year. I congratulate Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh for his excellent work on the small and medium-sized enterprise, SME, sector. As an entrepreneur, he was in a strong position to talk about the importance of that sector in Ireland. I also congratulate the Chairman of the committee, Senator Paul Coghlan, on the publication of this thorough and well-formulated document. Documents such as these are important and are useful dictionaries for us when preparing policies in respect of SMEs.

  I adhere to the central premise of the report, which is that the Government should focus its business policies and support to ensure the best business environment in Ireland. The committee is preaching to the converted. I have been working hard on the SME agenda for the past three and a half years in my ministerial role in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. I have frequently and repeatedly promoted Irish SMEs and entrepreneurs at many events throughout the regions and internationally. I have been on many trade missions and have had a lot of bilateral meetings with Ministers and it is amazing that the SME sector is important no matter where one goes. It does not matter what kind of economy it is, even in the largest economy in the world, the SME sector is always important.

  I take note of the many recommendations, such as the recommendation that a coherent and comprehensive strategy for SME development be developed. I am also glad the committee captured the need to increase the capacity of SMEs to participate in global value chains. I was particularly interested in its recommendation that a regional ecosystem approach be adopted, which would involve identifying regions as specialist areas for targeted cluster or hub buildings.

  As a Government, we want to create policies and programmes that are of value to the business community. I want SMEs to feel confident that they are getting the best available supports when they approach any agency or Department of this Government. To do this, it is sometimes important that our country look outside itself for expertise. That is why last year we reached out to the OECD, one of the most reputable research organisations in the world, to carry out work on the importance of the SME sector in Ireland and on how we should move forward.

  I would like to take Senators on the journey I took with the Department and its officials on engaging with the OECD on SME policies and evaluation. Internally, the Department, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I had wanted to take the next step in bringing together SME policies spread throughout the Department, other Departments and a number of agencies. While we were all doing Trojan work to support SMEs, there needed to be a review of what was out there, whether it was working for us, and how it could all be brought together.

  To investigate how best to do this, I led the Irish delegation to the OECD ministerial meeting on SMEs in Mexico City in February 2018. Here, I could see the scope of what the OECD could bring in many areas. Of particular interest to me, because of my responsibility for EU single digital market affairs, was how to digitise SMEs and how to get the best out of the digital world to give our SMEs the competitive advantage we want them to have. I spoke on that matter as part of a panel of experts. These high-level engagements, along with numerous conversations with the Secretary General, Ángel Gurría, gave me confidence that working with the OECD on these topics would be benefit all of us in Ireland.  At the end of 2018 we were provided with an early draft of the review. One of the most prominent recommendations was to form an interdepartmental group, led by a Minister, and consisting not only of policymakers but also of agencies, representative groups, academics and more important - and Senator Ó Céidigh will agree with me on this - to ensure we have the businesses themselves included. We held our first meeting in March. Many of the people we targeted for this group were present at that conference in July and were here when we launched the review last week. Subsequent to this, we broke it up into pillars, asking for members' expertise to drive forward areas such as standards, skills and internationalisation.

  In April of this year, I led the Irish delegation at the working party on SMEs and entrepreneurship. We presented the first draft to the working party at the OECD headquarters in Paris. Four countries peer reviewed it, namely: Canada; New Zealand; Italy and; Sweden. It is important to get a mix of similar open economies with countries like Sweden but also different countries such as Canada. One will then see the best practice models from both types of economy within the review. There was great enthusiasm for the Irish review in the working party, and we received constructive feedback from quite a number of delegates. I met the Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD during that visit and also explored the advantages of the work in the digital area in the OECD, which could be brought into policy in Ireland.

  This is an area of the review and roadmap I would like to emphasise, particularly as it is an area under my remit as Minister of State. Digital advancement is an area where Irish SMEs can bridge the gap with the larger multinationals, particularly in the area of productivity. That is something we will highlight this afternoon during the debate and we will examine how we can get Irish SMEs to be more productive and to compete with the big multinational companies. The Government is concerned about that gap, so much so that it is the theme of Future Jobs Ireland, pillar 2 of which is to increase SME productivity. I remember at the Mexican ministerial summit, the delegates also identified this as an area of priority. We can see the importance of the digitalisation process as an action in the roadmap of the report the OECD presented for us. An area of that report mentions ramping up support for the digitalisation of SME business processes. It is an important area because we know the Irish SMEs perform well in the DESI, digital economy and society, index, as the country with the highest percentage of SMEs selling online, the highest level of e-commerce revenue and the most sales cross-border. However, this recommendation relates to digital programmes such as enterprise resource planning and the use of the cloud. I want to push these solid, tried and tested technologies into the business world of our SMEs. The roadmap we have presented in conjunction with the report recommends that the local enterprise offices take a leading role in this process.

  To bring Senators onwards on the journey, I also spoke at an excellent SME and entrepreneurship strategy conference last July in the Aviva stadium. As Senators know, the keynote address was given by the Taoiseach. Just last week, we launched the OECD report and review with OECD Deputy Secretary-General Knudsen in our Department buildings and we will now work with my officials to drive forward the SME agenda throughout the Government. Following on from this, I will be attending the OECD's digital for SMEs global initiative on 29 November in Paris. Also, I want to let the Senator know of my deep commitment to ensuring Ireland is at the heart of international SME policy. I will also be attending a useful meeting in Helsinki in November. It is organised by the European Commission and it is important Ireland is represented there because this will be the first meeting of the new Commission under President-elect von der Leyen. This meeting will be on the area of European SME strategy. We will get an idea at that meeting of how much the new Commission prioritises SME strategy. That is why I am determined to drive the SME and entrepreneurship agenda through the recently established SME and entrepreneurship consultative group, which I am chairing, and we had the first meeting in March. This brings together policymakers and programme managers from our agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs, all sitting alongside representative groups and businesses themselves. I will lead this group into developing an inclusive SME and entrepreneurship strategy to form part of the Future Jobs Ireland framework.

  Working together, we can achieve far more than each on their own agenda. The all-time giant of basketball, Michael Jordan once said: "talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." We see here today that it requires a collaborative effort, putting aside any differences and working together to a common goal; to make Ireland a great place in which to own and operate a business. That is why the Government places huge priority on the area of entrepreneurship and start-ups. They are really important, particularly for the regions and it is important we have start-up companies growing all the time because when a small company is successful it grows. We have agencies like the LEOs and Enterprise Ireland that will help them to grow on that journey so they can become an export company.

  I would also like to give the committee some background on the current situation for small business owners in Ireland. I understand the importance of SMEs to the Irish economy. The latest CSO business in Ireland report states that in Ireland, SMEs accounted for 99.8% of or 249,450 active enterprises and over 68% of all persons engaged in SMEs generated 50.2% of total turnover in the business economy and over 41% of gross value added was attributed to these enterprises. SMEs are operating in every county, community, town and village and are so strategically important - as Senator Ó Céidigh will know - for all rural areas of Ireland and people in rural Ireland see the benefits of these small microenterprises in their areas. We all know multinationals tend to go into clusters in the large urban areas, and so I believe our policy of having 31 LEO offices around the country is paying off. The LEOs have created a lot of jobs in recent years and I believe they will continue to do so in the future. That is why they are so important for us and I want to see people continuing to live in rural communities. It is to everyone's benefit that rural Ireland prospers and grows. SMEs are the key to this. I am determined to provide the supports that allow this to happen. If we want people to remain in rural communities, especially young people, we need to provide them with quality and rewarding jobs. Primarily through agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices, Irish SMEs can access supports in areas such as access to finance, which is so important for many companies; skills enhancement, because upskilling is extremely important and; assistance in exporting and in research and development. Research and development is really important as well. I always say that companies that do not innovate will evaporate and that is why they need to be evolving all the time.

  The business environment in the regions will not return to what it was in the past. I am not saying that in a negative way. It will be different. We have to adapt to new ways of working such as remote working; co-working spaces; and digital hubs. That is why we are supporting new regional projects such as the Ludgate Hub in Cork, Donegal Digital innovation hub, the Kilkenny-Carlow design innovation hub and the Kildare community network to name a few. Senator Ó Céidigh will know about the hub in Galway city as well, which is very successful. We have invested heavily through the regional enterprise development funds administered by Enterprise Ireland to support regional stakeholders, both in the public and the private sector, to work together and to bring forward initiatives that build on each region's capacities and strengths. So far, we have invested nearly €60 million in 42 projects under the regional enterprise development fund. All regions received funding under that competitive fund. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, will shortly be announcing the successful applicants from the €45 million regional enterprise development fund 3, which was launched in the summer.  In recognition of the key role they play, the funding for LEOs has increased by 22% since I have been in the Department. This is used to assist microenterprises in becoming more competitive and better able to cope with the changing environment in which they do business.

  Most recently in July, two new funds worth €3 million were announced. The first is the competitive challenge fund, a €2.5 million LEO competitive fund to support LEO-led projects, in alignment with the framework of the future jobs Ireland strategy and the regional enterprise plans. The projects will focus on new approaches and emerging innovations towards fostering and creating sustainable employment and improving productivity through collaborative and joined-up approaches. On 4 October, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, announced the approval of 16 LEO projects to receive the €2.5 million support. The second is the LEO productivity challenge fund of €500,000, which is now open. This is an important fund as it is primarily aimed at supporting domestically focused small businesses rather than exporters.

  The funds will help small businesses to identify opportunities in addressing productivity gaps, embedding the Lean practice we all talk about, greening their businesses and, of course, reducing waste. This initiative will also focus on training and capability development, thereby enhancing customer experience, time and performance management. The scheme is aimed at enterprises employing fewer than 50 people in a variety of sectors and will be delivered via 200 productivity vouchers valued at €2,500 each to help them develop a more efficient and productive business operation.

  Enterprise Ireland is supporting indigenous businesses in every county. For example, the numbers in Longford increased from 1,642 to 2,979 in that period. Enterprise Ireland supported companies sustain more than 375,000 direct and indirect jobs nationwide. Enterprise Ireland's records show that last year, 65% of jobs were created in regions outside Dublin. I want businesses to see the wide range of Government supports available to them so they know where to go. This is why I emphasise the importance of the LEOs as the first-stop-shop for many people who want to start a business. I want small businesses to use these supports to seek out new opportunities at home and abroad. I want them to take advantage of the digital revolution going on around us. The digital economy is changing the way we do things and many of the children born today will work in jobs that have not yet been invented. We see the use of robotics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. We must ensure our SMEs embrace this technology. They must be more productive, as the OECD report stated. They must be leaner so they can compete on the global stage. The digital revolution will bring quality jobs to all of us. It will bring quality jobs to every county, town and village in Ireland. The SME sector is crucial, which is why the Taoiseach appointed me as Minister of State with responsibility for small business in 2016. It is a great honour because it represents so many communities in Ireland.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It was my honour in my role as Leas-Chathaoirleach to chair the proceedings of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on SMEs, ably assisted by our excellent rapporteur. I welcome the Minister of State for this important debate. I acknowledge the work he is undertaking to bring about improvements in this challenging brief. I specifically acknowledge the input of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, at the public hearings on this topic.

  SMEs are the main source of jobs in the economy and it is important we do everything to support the sector, which is such a key source of employment. I was a business man before I entered national politics and I know only too well that the operating environment for business in Ireland, particular SMEs, can be challenging. Business owners are men and women who take significant risks to develop their passion. Many of the contributors to the public hearings of the committee spoke about the contribution of SMEs to the social fabric of a community, their importance to sustaining communities through job creation, particularly in rural communities, and their potential role in environmental sustainability. It has been found that the majority of family-owned SMEs measure success beyond profit and growth to a long-term commitment to communities and employees. This underpins the value of SMEs to local communities on whose support they rely.

  Many of the contributors to the public consultation felt there was a lack of support for family businesses. Business owners often work well over 100 hours per week, risking all they and their families have, including their homes and personal assets and finances. As a small open economy, Ireland is, and always has been, exposed to factors outside its control. While SMEs have seen sustained growth in recent years, the potential impact of Brexit looms large as a new challenge for the sector. The importance of safeguarding Ireland's trade interests with the UK is paramount as Brexit unfolds because it will have an enormous effect on SMEs that export goods to the UK. We are inevitably moving towards a less competitive and more expensive trading relationship between Ireland and the UK and SMEs will need time to transition, depending on the nature of the new trading arrangements. While the final shape of Brexit is not yet known, Ireland wants as close as possible relationship between the EU and the UK, including on trade, to minimise the impact of jobs and businesses. I wholeheartedly support this aim.

  The committee heard about the increasing cost of doing business in Ireland and a tax system that puts smaller businesses at a disadvantage are major issues for SMEs. The increasing cost of rent, insurance and rates are of particular concern to SMEs as they threaten the very viability of their businesses and are a barrier to business growth. The capital gains tax rate of 33%, increased from 20%, is at odds with other countries throughout the world. This can adversely impact people who wish to retire or sell on their businesses. An improvement in tax rates would allow SME owners to invest in their businesses or new businesses. The committee has made recommendations in the report on finance and funding supports for SMEs.

  It is a well-known fact that banks have become extremely risk averse since the downturn. The committee heard that the need to sign personal guarantees to get finance to start a new business can be a major deterrent to somebody thinking of starting up, balanced against the risk of giving up a regular salary and removing the safety net of the social welfare system. Ultimately, the fear of failure can become a stronger emotion than the hope of success. The committee has made a clear recommendation in its report that the requirement to sign personal guarantees as collateral should cease.

  Public procurement policy was another issue raised. It was identified by the Construction Industry Federation and other witnesses as a barrier to SMEs tendering for big contracts that should be simplified. The committee has made recommendations in the report to address some of the challenges in this area.

  In line with Europe, Ireland has a rate of 9% female entrepreneurs. The committee heard Ireland could become the best in Europe for female leadership opportunities. Six years ago, 8% of start-ups were female-led whereas last year, 28% were female-led. The committee has made recommendations in the report calling for the development of a national strategy on female entrepreneurship.

  As we all know, SMEs generally start on a small scale but they have the opportunity to become global players. For example, Kerry Group has enjoyed phenomenal success since commencing operations in 1972 on a greenfield site in Listowel, County Kerry. The company has evolved from modest beginnings to become a leading player in the global food industry. Dairymaster, an Irish company based in Causeway, County Kerry, is a leading dairy innovation and technology companies in the world. We have also had the phenomenal success of Fexco, which was started, and is headquartered, in Killorglin. These companies are a perfect illustration of the importance of innovation, which is key to growth.

  The committee heard that entrepreneurial education should be made part of the school curriculum, starting at primary level. The committee acknowledged the great Kerry entrepreneur, Mr. Jerry Kennelly, who started the junior entrepreneur programme.  That programme has made an impact on young students and their thinking. Mr. David Walsh, chief executive officer of Netwatch, reminded the committee that the entrepreneurial mindset comes at an early age when families discuss business at the kitchen table. The Government has a key role in creating the appropriate conditions to support the SME sector. The committee is of the view there should be a stronger unilateral focus at Government level on SMEs and recommends in this report that there should be a dedicated Minister of State for SMEs to develop a policy that fully embraces the diversity of the SME population and the challenges and opportunities this brings, particularly in the context of international developments. The recommendations set out in this report are a valuable and timely input into identifying and addressing the challenges faced by the SME sector and I look forward to engaging further with the Minister of State, who I know takes a strong interest in this issue.

  I pay particular tribute to Senator Ó Céidigh for proposing this topic for discussion and for acting as rapporteur in the drafting of this report. The Senator's practical expertise and insight to business start-ups and job creation was invaluable to the committee during the course of this public consultation. His passion for encouraging and supporting SMEs in starting and developing their businesses was the reason he proposed this topic for public consultation. I also thank our excellent secretary, Ms Bridget Doody, who kept us all on track and made us attend to detail, particularly the Chairman. I acknowledge that as well. I thank all the members of the committee for their engagement in this public consultation. I again sincerely thank all those who sent submissions to the committee and I thank the witnesses who appeared before the committee.

  I have great pleasure in calling on our rapporteur, Senator Ó Céidigh, to address us.

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh: Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh Tá fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit anseo inniu. Gabhaim buíochas leis agus léiríonn sé an tsuim atá aige i ngnóthaí beaga ar fud na tíre agus é inár láthair. I would also like to thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his support in the promotion of this as a topic for investigation and in the preparation of this report for the committee. I very much appreciate that as well as the help from all the other committee members. Gabhaim buíochas le Ms Bridget Doody, Ms Carol Judge agus Ms Ilinca Popa. I also, in particular, thank Dr. Majella Giblin, who is in the Gallery with her mother, Rhona. It is good of her to come here. Dr. Giblin works in National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Dr. Giblin and to Eoghan McCarthy in the National University of Ireland Maynooth, NUIM, who helped with the graphics and county analysis, for their work on academic, evidence-based research along with their colleagues to help develop an evidence-based strategic document to help us as legislators and policymakers to go and create something of substance.

  The purpose of this report arose when I became a Taoiseach's nominee. I asked the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, what he thought my focus should be in the Seanad. I also asked Deputy Micheál Martin what he thought my focus should be separately. Both of them mentioned entrepreneurship and SMEs and told me that is what I know about and that is what is in my DNA. That was my focus. From day one, I started working in this space and in developing this space. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service was also very helpful. This is down to 18 months to two years of a journey that has been in gestation and has been continually developing from there. The purpose of the report is to create the landscape of what SMEs are like in Ireland and to examine where we are. There are two parts to it. There is a cross-sectional part and there is a lateral perspective to it. That is looking at it on an industry by industry basis. We asked questions about what the tourism sector is like in Ireland, what financial services in Ireland are like for SMEs and so on. Then when we looked at in a vertical manner on a county by county basis and we discovered significant differences between SMEs in Dublin, for example, and those in Cork, Kerry and Donegal. For example, in Kerry and Donegal, almost 20% of all the SMEs in those counties are focused on tourism and hospitality. It is approximately 8% in Dublin. The strategy from a policy perspective for SMEs in Dublin is different from what is needed in the regions and that is what the report highlighted.

  As the Leas-Chathaoirleach rightly said, this came from SMEs and the industry. Together with Dr. Giblin and others, we developed the formulation of the model around that. The process was based on direct and indirect evidence. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Minister of State said, 98% of businesses are SMEs. They employ approximately 1 million people around the country and there are 250,000 of them, which is a significant number. The document makes 129 recommendations. I will not go through them now but there are a number of key areas. I recognise what the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, the Minister of State at the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy D'Arcy, and their colleagues have done with SMEs. In fairness, the Government has helped bring this issue up the ladder and up the scale in prominence. I go back to 2012 when the then Government got the pillar banks to say they would allocate €3.5 billion towards loans to SMEs, and that happened. I acknowledge that and we need to push this on to the next stage.

  Many of the issues the Minister of State highlighted are highlighted in the report. I will mention a couple. I will come back to the LEOs but I will give the Minister of State a sense of where we are with the start-ups up to the end of the third quarter of 2019. There were approximately 5,500 start-ups in quarter 3. In total, since the start of the year, 17,120 companies have started up. Some 42% of those were in Dublin, 8% in Cork, 3% in Galway and another 3% in Limerick. I am hugely supportive of Dublin and I am proud of it as a capital but we need to create different types of support mechanisms for the different regions. That does not mean we do not support Dublin. We support Dublin big time. I would be as much of a Dublin supporter as anybody in every way, except in Croke Park.

  The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation produced a report in June 2019 on supporting indigenous businesses. The focus was on State support for businesses. That complemented the document we created because that came from the SME perspective. The OECD report the Minister of State referred to was launched last week. It totals 286 pages and relates to 55 members of the OECD. It is a very significant report. I again appreciate and commend the Minister of State on initiating that report. I read the report at the weekend and it was done in a macro sense, looking at where Ireland is compared with other countries. We are looking at talking to the SMEs to find out where they are and what they want and need. That is in our report.

  The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has stated there are 170 different Government supports from 27 different Departments and agencies. We need to focus on that. The OECD report mentions that as well. In the Department's report in June 2019, synergy was also mentioned, as was connectivity. We do not have connectivity between all the different supports. We are not looking for more money, believe it or not; we are looking for focus and we do not have that. That must be the next layer and the next strategy. That is what the OECD said in its report that compared us with other countries. That would be a positive direction for us to go in.

  Regarding action, we definitely need a Cabinet Minister to synchronise it. The Department highlighted that in a recent report. The Leas-Chathaoirleach mentioned procurement as well. Over the next five years, the State will offer €100 billion in procurement contracts. Irish companies will get less than 3% of that. An SME in any other European country would be getting up to three times that. In fact, SMEs are seriously hindered from tendering for Government contracts. The Minister of State should acknowledge at the end of this debate that this is something he will focus on. I would appreciate that.

  I hope others will speak about female entrepreneurship. That is important and Enterprise Ireland is doing powerful work in a number of areas.  With regard to one such area, I do not know if the Minister of State has seen the document called "Powering the Regions". This is Enterprise Ireland's regional plan. Enterprise Ireland is executing a very good strategy in this area. A person in the organisation called Mark Christal is leading on it.

  Another area which is important to me is that of the local enterprise offices, which the Minister of State mentioned. There are 31 LEOs in Ireland. Údarás na Gaeltachta has been given responsibility for one of them, but it has not been given any funding in that regard. All of the other LEOs are receiving funding to develop small businesses, but the Údarás na Gaeltachta LEO is not. Something is askew there. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State would actively look at this issue. We are not talking about a lot of money but rather just the provision of a few resources.

  I may be coming near the end of my time. All of my colleague Senators here, including the Leas-Chathaoirleach, have direct experience in the SME sector. Senator Devine and I were speaking a while back and I was taken aback when she said that her husband has a business of his own.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan It was fortunate to survive the crash.

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh: Information on Pádraig Ó Céidigh Zoom on Pádraig Ó Céidigh That is what we have in Ireland - resilience. We need to develop that resilience and empower more of our SMEs and people to take the risk. I have judged a variety of entrepreneurial programmes in Ireland and I have seen hundreds and hundreds of business plans. Companies do not grow; people grow. The environment must be provided to allow people to grow. The work our committee has done, the work I have been doing for years, and the research on which Dr. Giblin and her colleagues have been working is all about ascertaining how we can empower people to grow and develop businesses.

  We need to decide on key performance indicators, KPIs, in order to know whether we are doing well or poorly with regard to supports. I mentioned research and development. This is primarily the focus of large companies. Small companies do not do it. That is a fact. Why do they not do it and why do they not access those vouchers? We need to support them in breaking through those barriers.

  The Leas-Chathaoirleach mentioned personal guarantees. These are absolutely critical. I echo what he said in that regard.

  There is another thing which is very important in respect of productivity. The vouchers are part of it, but another big part is education and our connections with people like Dr. Giblin and others. These connections allow us to build a Venn diagram in which there is an overlap between business, SMEs, the intelligence and ability of academics, and evidence-based research. We are very weak on that. We are much weaker than many other countries, hence our research. I ask the Minister of State to drive Cabinet and to lead in developing that area. I am sure he can do it because I know his passion for it. We have spoken about this area on a number of occasions, albeit briefly.

  One of things I am pushing hard is the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018. It has gone through all Stages in the Seanad and is now before the Dáil. I have spoken with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and he and the Government will support it in the Dáil, as will Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Will the Minister of State proceed with this as soon as possible so that it can go through the Dáil and become law by Christmas, because insurance is a huge issue? Insurance and Brexit are the two big issues we hear about in respect of SMEs. We do not have legislation like the perjury Bill in Ireland, although every other developed country has. There is perjury legislation in Northern Ireland and the UK, but not in Ireland.

  Those are my few asks of the Minister of State. Gabhaim buíochas leis. I know he is passionate about this issue. I very much welcome his support and feedback on it. All of my colleagues know entrepreneurship and SMEs, so the Minister of State and I are talking to people who know what this is all about.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt I will start by acknowledging the immense work of Senator Ó Céidigh, who has talked to me about this project on a number of occasions, of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, and of the other committee members present with regard to this report. I say in jest that it is very easy to see the amount of work the Senator and Leas-Chathaoirleach have put in because both are a bit greyer today than they are in their pictures in the report, which were taken before they started. Joking aside, a real mountain of work has gone into this. Today is the first time I have had a really good look at it. I will digest the figures further over the coming days. It is a super body of work which brings many facts and figures together in one place. It is a credit to the committee, as are their recommendations.

  To come back in where the Minister of State left off, it is said that half of the kids born today will work in jobs that have not yet been invented. I believe that is the throwaway phrase. It is really an incredible statistic if one thinks about it. With regard to people my age, people talk about Intel and Facebook. I am sure it is the same for-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator has a while to go yet.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt The Leas-Chathaoirleach should not get excited. Leading on from there, as Senator Ó Céidigh has said, education is the most important thing. Our schools and colleges have to be able to shift and change course very rapidly. They really have to work hand in hand with small, and indeed large, businesses. If they do not, these jobs will not come about.

  I know there has been a slight ramping up of apprenticeships. We have talked about this on the floor here a number of times. There has been a genuine attempt to ramp up the numbers but I feel that people are still caught between a rock and hard place in respect of the apprenticeship schemes. If a kid who is not school-oriented gets fewer than five honours in the junior certificate, he or she will not qualify for an apprenticeship. It may not be the best way to assess some of these kids. Perhaps they should be put into a business, whether in the wet trades, with an electrician, or whatever else, and we can see if they stay the course for a year. If they are keen to progress, one could look at offering them an apprenticeship at that stage. The only way to access apprenticeships if one does not have those qualifications or examination results is to spend three years working with a chippy, a carpenter, or whatever else. That is far too long if we want these kids to progress. It is something at which we can look further. There has been work done but we should look at it further.

  Many of us here are from the same background, that of small business and small enterprise. The helps for people who take a chance, perhaps leaving a State job or something to that effect, to set up a small enterprise are not too convincing. We have looked at the contributions from the State that people who fail can avail of. These have changed recently. Some State help is now available to those who fail, which was not the case heretofore. Even though that is now the case, there is still no correlation between the money one pays into the tax system and what one gets out of the contributory State pension at the end of the day. This is not the case if one is a Senator, Minister or State employee. We really have to look at this if we want to encourage more entrepreneurship and throw down the gauntlet as a small trading nation, which we do. We are very lucky in that we develop great entrepreneurs. There is something to be done there. The maximum contributory State pension is €248 or €250. That is not good enough for somebody taking a big chance. If they are going to be successful, employ many people, and pay a hell of a lot of tax, this is the least we can do. They do get breaks and so on in respect of private pensions but many people start off small and are not thinking that they may have a pot of gold at the end to divert into a pension. It may never happen. Even with regard to the State pension, the State cannot lose because it will be taxed anyway.  That is something else at which we could certainly look. There is a certain amount of red tape. I accept that quite a bit of it comes from the European Union. There was reference to it the other day when Senators Norris and McDowell were discussing certain banking regulations. There is a certain amount of red tape which we in Ireland are also quite good at introducing. I could get into a number of examples, but I will not delay our discussion today.

  I have also picked out the issue of the Cabinet Minister which Senator Ó Céidigh has highlighted heavily. The Minister of State has excelled whenever he has come before the Seanad. I know that his is the junior position, but the area of small and medium enterprises deserves to be served by a full Minister. I have no doubt that having such a position would help to attract more jobs to the country.

  I have two final points related to the county from which I come, Westmeath, in which quite a lot of agricultural activity takes place. I was happy to see the number of small businesses in the county and how highly it rated in some of the graphs included in the report. With reference to agriculture, Burger King has introduced a non-meat burger. I am told that in America one quarter of milk sold is non-dairy. That has happened within a very short timeframe. We have to work to diversify the agriculture sector. We have the land required, very skilled farmers and a lot of know-how, but we have to stay ahead. Senator Coghlan has spoken about the Kerry Group, Dairygold and all of the work great companies such as Origin are doing in producing products, including protein bars and so on. That is the way forward for us and it is something on which we have to work within the agriculture sector. We could be doing smarter things in the agriculture industry, rather than talking about sending stuff to the far end of China. We have very clever guys in the agriculture industry. With the right help from the enterprise bodies, we could do a little more.

  I will throw out a point about the planning matrix. I have a lot of interest in planning since my time as a councillor. If one looks at retail units on the main street in any given town, even in Killarney or outside the gates in Dublin but especially in my own town and many others in the midlands, one sees nail bars, hairdressers, coffee shops, fast food outlets, beauty salons and betting shops. Our main streets are populated only by these cheap service industries which make up much of the small enterprise and industry sector and provide much employment, but most of the jobs are paid poorly. Can we do better in that regard? With councils and enterprise bodies, we have to see how we can do better in the retail sector. We are all aware of Internet retail services and how they have hurt main street retail units, but there is also a big gap in the area, which is something at which we could look, perhaps through the Minister of State's Department. A little more thinking or stability could help to create more productive jobs and might be of some help to us.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and acknowledge his enormous track record in the few years he has been Minister of State with responsibility for this area. I thank, in particular, the rapporteur for the committee, my colleague, Senator Ó Céidigh, and the Leas-Chathaoirleach who is its Chairman. It is a really important piece of work. As I was listening to Senator Ó Céidigh, I was thinking about how we were all small business people. We are involved in enterprise and are like entrepreneurs. I like to keep my language simple. Irish people innately like to make a few bob. We like the challenge of doing something. At the age of 11 years, I kept angora rabbits and sold angora wool. I sent it through the post and was sent back a postal order which I had difficulty cashing. If we bought a bag of sweets for a shilling as little kids, we would cut it open and sell them for a penny each to make a few bob. That is something that is innate to Irish people's psyche. We are dealers. My father was a cattle dealer and I inherited some of his guile and determination, or whatever else one might call it, which drove me to turn a buck and make a bob. I believe it is something all Irish people have. We talk about SMEs and enterprise, but I like to keep it simple. We all like to provide and put a loaf on the table. We realise business is essential in that regard.

  I acknowledge, in particular, Senators Coghlan, Ó Céidigh, Ardagh, Buttimer, Byrne, Conway, Mark Daly, Devine, Freeman and Kelleher who make up the committee. The report is a really important piece of work. I will focus in on it but will not take long. It is 186 pages long and includes 129 recommendations. One of the things I really like about the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on small and medium enterprises in Ireland is that it sets out and talks about our key successes. It acknowledges them, which is really positive. It is not all negative or downbeat but acknowledges our key successes. It also acknowledges and sets out the key challenges we face. It is particularly interesting to see how they were built into the report, which is important. More importantly, it includes 129 recommendations. If the report is to have any meaning and not to gather dust like so many others in the Houses of the Oireachtas and Departments, we need to do something about it.

  One of the other things I like about the report is the quality of the data. That is what gives it integrity and meaning. I have looked through it and the data and evidence are included. I was taken particularly by the summary of the top four industries in each county, based on the percentage of people engaged in each industry. That is a really powerful infographic included in the report. It confirms everything Senator Ó Céidigh has said about there being different horses for different courses. What works in Dublin might not work elsewhere in Leinster, Munster or different parts of the country. That is an important point.

  The report is a great body of work, but it has to have meaning. We need to see its recommendations tracked and a timeline for their delivery. Not everything will happen today or tomorrow. We need to put in place regular reviews of the report to see if it is being implemented. Implementation will be slow, but it is important that the report be implemented and that its implementation be tracked. I know that the Minister of State will agree.

  I was particularly impressed by the report's focus on certain issues, one of which I will single out - the farming and agrifood sector. There is an enormous number of small enterprises involved in the production of artisan foods, from mustard to jam to chutney. The country market scene has really grown in Ireland. It is now a popular leisure activity to visit a country market at the weekend. While we have great companies like the Kerry Group at one level, there are loads of little family run niche businesses at another. If a little business just keeps one household going, it is really good. There is a real need to go back to producing holistic and organic products which are home-produced. We are brilliant at it. It is a matter of bringing artisan craft food companies to a higher level. Some of the big companies started in this way. Big oak trees come from small acorns. Businesses have to start somewhere and then grow. If they are nurtured, they will grow. That is a really important point.

  I welcome the report's emphasis on farming and, particularly, fisheries. This is an island and the potential of the fisheries sector is enormous, but we have to add value to fish products. We could produce fish-meal, but there are many other things that could be done in the fisheries industry. This ties in with the development of the hospitality and tourism sectors, on which the report also places great emphasis. I was particularly impressed by the focus on innovation and collaboration. These are two key and important words which are central to the tenor of the report.  They are particularly good. I want to acknowledge the importance of the data, demographics, research and information in the report.

  In his speech the Minister of State said that on 4 October 2019, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, announced 16 LEO projects, which is excellent. He also referenced the LEO productivity challenge fund, which totals €500,000. It is not enough. I know times are tough and it is hard to get money, but only 2,500 vouchers are required. It is not a lot of money overall. People should not have to jump through hoops to secure funding. I know the Minister would like to do more and that resources do not allow us to do more, but I would like that to be under constant review.

  I am appealing to the Minister of State, his Government colleagues and everybody here. If we are to address the challenges of small and medium business, impediments to local enterprise and give help to the shopkeepers, shoemakers, sweetshops and newsagents which keep our villages and towns thriving, we have to examine how we are funding local government. The reliance on funding the core day-to-day activities of our 31 local authorities through local businesses is grossly unfair.

  The property tax was introduced with great promises. People may recall the leaflets, fanfare and publicity around the local property tax and it was said every citizen was going to make a contribution, and rightly so. I am not against the local property tax, rather, I am against the current mechanism and the fact it does not take into account anyone's ability to pay. I understand the Government is examining reform of the local property tax, which I welcome.

  I do not think it is right and proper that businesses are propping up the funding of local authorities. I am aware that some councillors, who have spoken to me, are striking rates today. Businesses are up in arms because shopkeepers and businesses are always the soft target. I understand the difficulties faced by local government, but the best thing we could do over the next number of years is reform how we fund local government and remove the burden and over-reliance on commercial rates to support it from the backs and shoulders of small, medium and large enterprises and entrepreneurs.

  If we are to ensure things go further, we have to put in place a tracking and delivery mechanism and ensure there is a constant review of the objectives of this report. Well done to all involved.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I welcome this report. It is the second time we have discussed it in the House. I want to speak from a personal perspective. Senator Ó Céidigh made reference to being self-employed. I established myself as a self-employed chartered accountant many years ago and was self-employed for about 12 years before I went into politics. SMEs, in particular startups, were my bread and butter. There is no substitute for experience.

  There are a couple of things in the report which I welcome and a number of others to which I would make an addition. It is important that the report was done. It is important that we have someone like the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, with specific responsibility for SMEs.

  I want to look at Brexit in a positive, rather than a negative, light. I see it as a wake-up call for us on several levels. We have been over reliant on the UK market for many decades. We have to give SMEs the scope to go into other markets, and that is happening through Enterprise Ireland. In terms of Brexit, we must ensure that whatever supports are required to enable the SME sector to reposition are available. This is particularly important for the indigenous and agricultural sectors, which have a disproportionate reliance on the UK market.

  The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, will be aware of the importance of artificial intelligence. Companies which were set up by young people living in Limerick, Clare and the mid west have become multinationals. We need to promote a model whereby we are outward rather than inward looking. Multinationals coming to Ireland are great, but we have to provide an environment where young, vibrant men and women in Ireland can establish businesses, the markets for which are not just Ireland, although that is extremely important, but Asia, Europe and Britain.

  People should not be afraid of failure. People in America set up businesses which fail. Many successful businesspeople have failed two or three times. In Ireland people are still worried that if they set up a business they may fail. People should be encouraged to set up businesses because they learn from experience. When one is self-employed, there is no substitute for putting money into a bank account or seeing that an overdraft has gone over the limit. The late Albert Reynolds was quoted as saying that when the peace process was ongoing he was told that the pressure must be horrific, but he said pressure was going out on a Friday night knowing that if he did not collect £10,000 in all of his dance halls and lodge the money in the bank on a Monday morning he would be out of business.

  In the early years of my business I was not paid by certain clients. I remember going out for three or four hours on a winter's evening to wait for a client to come back so that I could collect my money. I had a young family. We have to create an environment where people are not afraid to fail and we support SMEs.

  That self-employed people are now eligible for jobseeker's benefit is a small but significant and positive change. Payments for the self-employed who become ill is another small but significant change.

  The largest employers in the country are SMEs. Multinationals are fantastic and there are many in our region, which I welcome. However, SMEs are major employers and have a significant status in small towns and villages for myriad reasons. They enable people to rear their families nearby, support local shops and pubs and keep post offices open. We have to look at SMEs in a wider context and ask what we can do to support those being established in rural villages, towns and suburbs.

  This report is extremely important, and it is now important that it is acted on in a timely manner. We will not get everything right. Having been self employed for many years, I learned that it is tough and banks are extremely important. They are not the only essential ingredient, but having access to cash is critical. Many of my clients over the years could not get overdraft facilities. Instead, they got drafts at the start of the month from the local credit union and lodged them to their current accounts so that they could function. That is why I always stand up for the credit union movement. It has started to evolve and needs to get into public banking. One option is the Canadian model, where credit unions have back-office facilities. Credit unions need to take on the banks.

  We need to ensure that the State spends money wisely on behalf of taxpayers in supporting SMEs.  Second, we need to ensure that the State spends money wisely on behalf of the taxpayer in supporting SMEs. I want to see that if somebody wants to have a cut and fail, they should not be penalised to the extent that in many ways they are, both in reputation and in how they are sometimes recognised by banks. This is a feature of being an entrepreneur.

  Third, with Brexit, we need to foster an environment where we take up the challenge. I see no positive aspect to Brexit and I am hoping that it will not happen. It is a wake-up call, however, to tell us that we need to diversify more and more, particularly with the SME sector in the non-UK market, even though the UK market is hugely important.

  I want to see the continuation of an environment being fostered where our entrepreneurs go into the multinational sector but are based in Ireland. I see many of these entrepreneurs going abroad and being based in America. This should not be happening. I would like to see them based in Ireland. I would like to have seen the Collison brothers being based in Limerick. People will have personal reasons for their views. I would like to see a situation where we are doing business in such a way that entrepreneurs from abroad will come into Ireland. There is so much going for us here and what we have in Ireland is a natural entrepreneurial streak. It is a little bit wild and outside the box, which many of us are. It is endemic in the Irish psyche. I very much welcome this support. It needs to be acted upon and we need to continue to create this kind of environment.

  The real dimension is what can we do to get SMEs to set up in their own localities, to employ local people and to suddenly see these blossoming into great multinational companies. We have many examples throughout the country. Fexco is one below in Kerry. We have H&MV Engineering, which the Taoiseach came down to open in Limerick, and companies like ActionPoint and multitudes of others. I want to see that approach being developed and these companies being recognised.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I was not sure if I was the only Dub here, but no, we have a blow-in as well. It seems mostly that this-----

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Senator Boyhan is from County Dublin.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We all have connections with Dublin, whether we like it or not.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine This debate seems to allude to rural Ireland which I understand, but for myself, I get pretty fed up walking down the streets of this wonderful capital city, but seeing the same ubiquitous shops. It has all become very much the same. There is great excitement when one visits the sticks and finds different crafts and foods, which speak of who we are. Unfortunately, big cities tend to become very bland offering something that one will pick up worldwide. It is the SME that is unique and different.

  The Seanad Public Consultation Committee has shown itself, under the tutelage and steerage of our esteemed Chairman, to be an invaluable committee in the past two years. We have proudly covered topics ranging from children's mental health to Travellers' rights. The Citizens' Assembly process has been well-documented and respected in recent times for the positive contribution it makes to our democracy, and I believe the Seanad Public Consultation Committee operates in a similar vein. We invite in the experts and the stakeholders, the people on the ground, and we explore, based on the scientific evidence, what is needed, the data required, and what are the problems and solutions. I look forward to the committee undertaking my own chosen topic; hopefully, we will produce a similarly comprehensive and detailed report and recommendations as was done with this fantastic report we are discussing here today.

  On that note, I welcome the chance to speak and I commend Senator Ó Céidigh on bringing this topic to the committee. I was present during the consultation and it was a very comprehensive and enjoyable listen for me. I learned a great deal.

  As this report indicates, it is going to take some big and creative ideas to support the growth of SMEs in Ireland, especially within the context of political uncertainty, climate change, and Brexit.

  As the engine of the Irish economy, SMEs need a strong State agency advocating for them and providing support to sustain and grow our indigenous enterprise sector. This report recommends that we promote and encourage collaboration, cohesion and communication among the various organisations and bodies delivering supports and initiatives to SMEs.

  In Sinn Féin's alternative budget we proposed the establishment of a new Irish enterprise agency to assist domestic SMEs. This organisation would provide the Government with advice and guidance on what SMEs, retailers and other enterprises want. This agency would ensure that the uptake of State supports and assistance being provided is of an equal standard and quality across the State.

  We need to tackle some of the unfair cost of doing business. One such cost, as spoken about earlier, is in the area of insurance, and Deputy Pearse Doherty has taken a huge lead on this. These costs have become extortionate, ripping off consumers and closing down businesses. Our plan for insurance reform would stamp out fraud, protect consumers, ban price discrimination by the industry and reduce premiums for everyone.

  To do this we need to set up a Garda insurance fraud unit, ban dual pricing by the insurance industry, enact and pass the Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill, abolish premium levies and put €230 million back in consumers' pockets, with State intervention to address the market failure. These measures would ensure fairer insurance premiums for small businesses and stop the rip-off of small businesses by big companies.

  This report also makes 129 recommendations, some of which are around fostering female entrepreneurship. In Ireland, women are less likely to be entrepreneurs than men. Some 65% of new business owners are men, 35% are female. Of particular concern, also, is the fact that men and women differ in the terms of their attitudes and perceptions to entrepreneurship. A higher proportion of male adults in the total population, 52%, believe they have skills and knowledge to start up a new enterprise, compared to female adults at only 33%. In 2013, a higher proportion of men than women reported that they believed they had access to training on how to start or grow a business.

  This seems to be a general phenomenon. In politics, men are often far more self-assured and self-confident than women. The National Women's Council of Ireland and Women for Election came up with the same idea, and asked whether it is how we are socialised as we grow up. Women are a lot more modest than men, and perhaps a bit more shy as well. What were those barriers? Many of these barriers are socialisation, how we are nurtured and reared, our culture, and our ties to home with children, and such issues. Sin scéal eile for another day. It is certainly stark when it comes to businesses and almost every other area of life.

  Some 43% of females cite a fear of failure as stopping them in business compared with 36% of men. Some 25% of females have a role model through knowing a recent entrepreneur where 35% of men do. Further research shows that Ireland has a particularly big disparity between the proportion of men and women in the population who declare they have access to money to start or grow a business.

  It is comforting to know that, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach noted, 8% of first-time start-ups six years ago were by women whereas last year this had climbed to 28%. There is hope for us yet.

  Lack of female participation is bad for business, which we know. The point was also made during the consultation about apprenticeships, referenced a little earlier. There is a push to encourage more women to take these up, but the value of apprenticeships needs to be acknowledged and respected. It really goes against the grain for me that every child should have an automatic rite of passage to university and that this is somehow the be-all and end-all of their maturity.  We know children sometimes have no interest in university but they still go because it is a bit of a doss. I did it myself quite a lot. Apprenticeships need to be valued and respected and we need to get women involved in them. They are of equal value and they provide the practical, hands-on skills we will need.

  The recommendations have invaluable ideas on the overall development of SME but I want to elaborate on two other ideas. We need an increase in the research and development tax credit to 30% for SMEs to help to promote innovation and creativity within our economy. We want diverse and novel thinking, collaboration and Ireland as a leader. A bit more focus on the creation of workers' co-operative development units to promote workers' co-operatives in Ireland would be helpful. Ownership must be shared for society to have a fair and functioning economy that works for workers and for our communities, .

  I caution that we prepare SMEs for a just transition to a carbon-neutral economy. In our climate action mission, we will all have to make serious changes, but we have acknowledged we should not leave anybody behind without support, and that includes SMEs. I welcome this report to the House and commend the work of the committee. There is much we can do to promote this from tackling insurance rip-offs to promoting female entrepreneurship. We need to remember and fully appreciate - to repeat what the Leas-Chathaoirleach said - that family enterprises have more attachment and grá for their communities and their employees. I welcome the 129 recommendations and, hopefully, the Minister of State and future Ministers and Ministers of State will have those recommendations embedded in future policies to support, enable and assist small businesses. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt As Senator Devine is the only lady present, she should get another five minutes.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan The Senator should not encourage her.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Unfortunately, I was just going to say that in accordance with the Order of Business, I am required to call the Minister of State to conclude at 5.54 p.m., which is squeezing Senator Feighan.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I am somebody who grew up in business and employed more than 30 people many years ago long before I entered politics. I welcome this report and I congratulate Senator Ó Céidigh and all those involved in it. A lack of access to finance is a problem for small companies and we know cash flow is the lifeblood of many companies.

  I want to resolve one matter in particular. When the recession happened, most people were in businesses and those business are not fit for purpose now. Retail has changed, for example, but new businesses and companies are embedded in our local communities. People do not fully realise that many of those businesses bought bank shares for their pensions. Most people in the public service, such as ourselves, have a pension but most people in businesses did not have a pension plan and they bought bank shares in Bank of Ireland and AIB. Those bank shares were their lump sum and dividend. That is one thing most people do not understand. Those people ended up with nothing. I know most of my friends who were in business - and perhaps the businesses were not fit for purpose - ended up with nothing. I had a shop that I kept going for as long as I could and the only reason it closed is that I ran out of money. Senator Kieran O'Donnell summed it up perfectly. There was an honesty and a loyalty involved in keeping businesses going. Those people were let down by the State because there was nothing there for them. I am delighted we now have some support for self-employed people through the social protection system. I am watching what is happening. I went into the county council in 1999 and I remember every year the county council used to decide to increase the rates by 3% or 4%.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan The rates?

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan It was shoddy and lazy and I am glad local authorities are beginning to see these businesses were the lifeblood of the streets and they have lost that. I thank the Minister of State for letting me in to contribute. I could talk about this for 20 minutes but I am delighted to get in.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine Senator Feighan should continue.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank Senator Feighan for his understanding. We are caught with the 6 p.m. deadline.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell He is having sleepless nights.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I call on the Minister of State to respond and wind up.

Deputy Pat Breen: Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen I thank all the Deputies who contributed to an interesting debate-----

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan We are Senators. We are not Deputies yet.

Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Pat Breen): Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen I have noted all the Senators' comments. I will inquire into the Údarás na Gaeltachta funding for the LEOs for Senator Ó Céidigh. That is well noted.

  I noted the comments of Senators Devine and Davitt on apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are important. Thankfully, we are gone from the days when mothers and fathers felt that all their sons and daughters should get academic degrees in universities. There is much more value in high-end apprenticeships or whatever type of apprenticeship one undertakes. Many multinational and indigenous companies prefer to have a worker train with them on an apprenticeship. That person often turns out to a good quality worker.

  Senator Kieran O'Donnell mentioned the important of trade missions in diversification. That is very much part of the Department's policy with Enterprise Ireland this year. We have sought to diversify into other markets, such as the eurozone, which is strategically important for us. One time, language was a barrier in those areas but that is no longer an issue. I am always proud to travel abroad with Irish companies on trade missions, particularly with SMEs. I know Senator Devine will not mind me saying many of these are located outside of the greater Dublin area, particularly in the medical technology sector, and they can stand up to any of these big multinational companies, work with them, partner with them and sub-supply them, etc. I am proud of those companies.

  Senator Boyhan mentioned the agrifood sector, which is so important to us. He is correct about the supplementary income for jam makers, sausage makers and cheesemakers. All these play an important role in showcasing Ireland in artisan food, particularly in contributing to the significant tourism business we have in Ireland.

  Senator Kieran O'Donnell is correct we should reward people who take risks. That is important.

  To respond to Senator Feighan's contribution, access to finance is important and it is something we are conscious of for SMEs and small businesses. That is why Microfinance Ireland has played a significant role.

  I thank all Senators who made a contribution. It was a valuable exercise. I am glad we had these constructive statements. It is clear we have a shared appreciation of the fundamental role SMEs play in our economy, not only from the business sense but from a social perspective as well. Senator Devine was born in the Liberties and now represents Tallaght but she knows the importance of SMEs in Dublin as well. They are just as important in those sectors all over Dublin. I have visited them and have seen the important role microenterprises play in Dublin, including in the community context. SMEs are the fabric of the daily life of every village, town and region in the country. Even before we go into the central role of developing the strength and resilience of our economy, our SMEs are also the facilitators of the fabric of life so that people throughout the country can provide immediate employment opportunities closest to the people in their homes and communities. One finds that communities build when there are small microenterprises there. That helps families to avoid commuting, which prevents pollution and helps with our climate obligations.

  On the basis of the contributions, I am reassured we have a shared understanding of the many leading priorities that should be pursued by Government by seeking to develop and strengthen the SME sector across Ireland. These priorities have been reflected in the excellent report carried out by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, in the OECD review, which was launched last week, and in the contributions we have heard this afternoon.

  To recap, we must ensure our forthcoming SME and entrepreneurship strategy addresses all the crucial aspects, including ensuring we have the appropriate targets and support programmes for SMEs to foster the conditions whereby SMEs can innovate, pursue new and emerging technologies, including digitalisation; develop the skills of the owners and managers of SMEs because it is important they have the requisite skills such as the management of finance; create regional ecosystems based on the development of excellence, which will include clusters and hubs that are enterprise-led and; facilitate collaborations.

  A few Senators, including Senator Boyhan, mentioned the importance of female entrepreneurship.  It is important that we put in place and grow female entrepreneurship. Importantly, we must enable and assist our small and medium-sized firms to access export markets and grow exports both in volume and in terms of the capacity of the markets.

  I wish to thank all present, including the rapporteur, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and the committee chairman, Senator Paul Coghlan, for their thoughtful and insightful preparation of this report and for facilitating a positive session this afternoon. I found the contributions positive. It was an hour and a half but it flew by because all spoke from the urban and rural side on the importance of the small and medium-sized business sector in light of the fact that 98% of enterprises in the country are SMEs and they employ 70% of the population.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I thank the Minister of State whose words of wisdom are very much appreciated. I got some ideas that I intend to discuss further with the rapporteur. I believe we can have another follow-up, if I may say so. I thank everyone again. I will call on the Leader in a moment. I thank not only the rapporteur and the committee but especially our secretary, Bridget Doody, who is essential. Without her the committee could not have functioned; her assistance was invaluable, especially to me as Chairman.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I was late getting in. I wish to thank the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, for facilitating the debate tonight.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan He was very good.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I commend him on his words of wisdom and explanation. As a member of the committee, I wish to commend Senator Ó Céidigh on his spirit of endeavour regarding the report and in terms of the accumulation of the various witnesses and the end result. In his opening remarks to the House today he referenced speaking to iar-Thaoisigh and the leader of Fianna Fáil. I know who I would listen to in that conversation. He was right. This is his area of expertise. He is a man of renowned entrepreneurship. His ability has transcended business given his role in Cumann Lúthchleas Gael as well. I thank Senator Ó Céidigh. The Tánaiste is on his way. Perhaps we could allow him a few minutes.

Message from Joint Committee

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Tá Coiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán tar éis breathnú ar an ordú seo a leanas a chríochnú: Na Rialacháin um Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003 (Comhlachtaí Poiblí) 2019.

Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Statements

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, back to the House.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I am grateful for the opportunity to update Members of the Seanad this evening. Since I was last here we have witnessed some important and positive developments in the Brexit process. On 17 October, the European Union and United Kingdom agreed a revised withdrawal agreement and political declaration on future EU-UK relationship. As I have said before in this House, we were content with the agreement both sides reached in November 2018. However, we needed to find another agreement with the current British Prime Minister.

  We have always understood that a Brexit solution would require compromise. When the earlier deal failed to pass through the UK Parliament the new UK Government sought a different solution. In a spirit of compromise the EU engaged once again. While Ireland supported this renewed engagement, our approach remained firm and consistent. Any revised agreement must meet our core objectives, including protecting the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and protecting the integrity of the Single Market and Customs Union and Ireland's place in them. Our partners in the EU understood and supported this approach. Michel Barnier and the task force remained committed to finding a deal that worked for all sides, including Northern Ireland, Ireland, the EU and the UK. We worked closely with them and, when appropriate, engaged directly with the UK as well.

  The new agreement has been reached after much discussion, compromise and flexibility. We welcome it as it meets our core objectives and those of the EU. It preserves much of the original agreement. It secures transition, protects the rights of EU and UK citizens and provides for a fair financial settlement. It gives certainty to citizens and businesses and allows us all to move on and develop a new and, hopefully, strong relationship with the UK post-Brexit. It upholds measures to maintain the common travel area and continued North-South co-operation. It maintains commitments to ensure no diminution of rights and safeguards equality of opportunity as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It confirms that people in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens.

  The revised protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland sees the backstop provisions replaced with new Northern Ireland-specific arrangements. These provide a legally operable solution as well as certainty that at the end of the transition period the benefits of the peace process can continue to be enjoyed by all. This has been a priority for the Government and our EU partners throughout the negotiations. Equally, business leaders and representative organisations in Northern Ireland have been clear about the need to ensure that arrangements protect the gains of the past 21 years and promote economic stability and progress. Customs and VAT provisions mean that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs territory but continue to apply the rules of the Union Customs Code. EU customs duties will apply to goods entering Northern Ireland if those goods are at risk of entering the EU Single Market. No customs duties will be payable, however, if the goods entering Northern Ireland from elsewhere in the UK are not at risk of entering the EU Single Market.

  Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of EU rules, notably all rules related to goods to ensure there is no need for border checks. This avoids any customs or regulatory checks or controls on the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland will be able to benefit from any free trade arrangements the UK signs and will also have access to the Single Market. This unique opportunity allows Northern Irish companies to produce goods for the UK or EU markets. Some of the practical detail will be further clarified during the transition period by the EU and the UK working together in what is called the joint committee.

  Unlike the backstop, which was envisioned as temporary insurance policy, the new arrangements could have a more enduring nature. In other words, they could end up being permanent if people want to keep them in place. However, no one wants to see Northern Ireland remaining in these arrangements if it does not want to. Therefore, a role is provided for a majority of Northern Ireland's elected MLAs to decide if the arrangements are to be maintained in future. Some have asked if parallel consent from unionist and nationalist representatives is needed along the lines it is applied elsewhere to key decisions in the Assembly on devolved matters. However, international treaties and international relations are not devolved matters. They are excepted matters which fall under the competence of the UK Government and not the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly.  Equally, it is important no outcome provides one side or the other with a practical veto. That risks paralysis and there being no solution at all; therefore, the process envisaged in the protocol ensures neither unionism nor nationalism will have a controlling vote, veto or an effective block. The vote of each and every individual MLA and the views of his or her constituents are of equal weight and importance. The UK Government has also given a commitment that before the vote, there will be proper consultation with business and civil society. It should be based on the lived reality and experience of businesses, farmers and citizens, not a proxy for any other issue.

  Ratification of the agreement by both the European and British Parliaments will be the green light for the beginning of negotiations on what I hope will be a broad, deep and flexible partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom, a partnership centred on an ambitious and balanced free trade agreement. The European Union has indicated that it is ready to open negotiations immediately after ratification and created a new task force for relations with the United Kingdom under the leadership of Michel Barnier. The timeline for completion of negotiations is very ambitious as the transition period lasts until the end of 2020. It may be extended once by one or two years if both sides agree and a decision on an extension is needed by 1 July 2020, but that does not give us much time. As Michel Barnier said, the negotiations will be "demanding and difficult", as the Brexit negotiations have been to date.

  As the talks will cover a range of issues of importance to Ireland, it will be vital to continue to ensure our priorities and core principles are appropriately reflected. This will require a whole-of-government effort underpinned by the same coherent, cohesive approach that has characterised our Brexit strategy from the start. Work is under way to identify and elaborate on our priorities, but our approach will remain consistent. We want to see the closest possible relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, while also ensuring adequate level playing field provisions to facilitate fair competition. During this process we will build on our strong relations with the task force and the Commission. We will also continue to engage with Members of the Oireachtas, domestic stakeholders and member states, as I hope we have done appropriately in recent years and months. Substantial work will also be required during the transition period to finalise a range of sensitive issues arising from implementation of the protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement.

  While the risk of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October was averted, it remains a possibility for 31 January 2020 unless the withdrawal agreement is ratified by the United Kingdom and the European Union. As long as a no-deal exit is a possibility, we must be prudent. The intensive work carried out already can be banked for future use, while the additional time available can be used to add to or refine our response measures. We will continue to prioritise certain key issues in the period ahead. It is also important to take into account that some of the no-deal preparedness measures in place may also be relevant if and when a future relations agreement enters into force.

  Brexit, whatever form it takes, means significant change for the people of this island. As we move, I hope, from ratifying and implementing the withdrawal agreement to negotiations on future EU-UK relations, managing Brexit will remain a priority for the foreseeable future. We are determined to rebuild, strengthen and energise relationships, North-South and east-west, for the benefit of all businesses and all of the people. The Government will ensure the intensive work will continue to prepare Ireland for all possible outcomes and make sure we are best placed to advance Ireland's interests in the next phase of Brexit which I hope will happen in the not too distant future. I look forward to Members' comments and questions.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan I am sure the Minister is glad to have something of a break. I am also sure he is not resting on his laurels, but at least he has a break from the frenzy of the negotiations that have taken place in the past few months.

  Fianna Fáil welcomes the fact that the European Union has agreed to a Brexit extension until 31 January 2020. There is no point in going back over the farcical situation that obtained at Westminster when MPs acted like characters in a P. G. Wodehouse comic novel. Because of the volatility of that parliament, even when it comes back in a new form, nobody can take it for granted that we will have a deal. Clearly, the Government, businesses, farmers, importers and exporters must continue to prepare for all eventualities. It would be very foolish for us to take anything for granted at this stage.

  Irrespective of the outcome of the UK general election, priority must be given to filling the political vacuum in the North because, as the Minister outlined in his statement, a good deal of the proposed agreement is contingent on the Assembly being in place to enable MLAs to comment on the continuance or otherwise of the agreement. To a certain extent, we are building on sand until such time as politicians in all parties in the North decide that the Assembly is worth the candle after all of the violence and everything else we witnessed during the decades. We marked the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, yet for the past three years the Assembly has been useless. I note that the Independent Reporting Commission has recently stated the continuing uncertainty vis-à-vis the Assembly is increasing the risk of a return to paramilitary violence, something nobody in these Houses wants to see. Therefore, it is incumbent on the British and Irish Governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement to redouble their efforts to secure some movement on the Assembly. The Independent Reporting Commission has also highlighted the increase in the number of violent deaths and attacks of a paramilitary nature. Everyone witnessed the horror of what happened in counties Cavan and Fermanagh in the case of Quinn Industrial Holdings. The situation is volatile and we cannot underestimate the dangers. I know that I am at variance with other Members of the House and possibly with members of my own party when I say this, but I do not understand why people are calling for a Border poll at this time. I do not see the logic in it. I hope that in the future, possibly the not too distant future, when circumstances touch on being normal in Northern Ireland, a Border poll will take place in a calm atmosphere, but at the moment it would be nothing short of a sectarian head count which would exacerbate emotions. As long as Northern Ireland remains an unreal political entity, there should not be such a poll. I hope the Minister will agree with me.

  Another issue that concerns me is the relationship between this country and Great Britain at this time.  Naturally, where we were involved in a situation that was to a certain extent confrontational, we were not, to say the least, singing from the one hymn sheet. Tensions grew, fuelled, of course, by media and ill-advised comment from the hurlers on the ditch. It is fair to say that relationships between the British community and this community are not at a high level at present. Certainly, they have fallen a long way from the great relationship we had when the late Albert Reynolds and John Major, or Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, had an understanding which led to the Good Friday Agreement. That was a high point in our relationships and we all thought that the past was over and that kind of enmity of "the ol' enemy" was something that we could put aside. I am afraid it is there. I sense it is very much there in certain sectors of the British community. That hostility towards us has surfaced, certainly in some of the less-responsible interviews that we have heard.

  Fianna Fáil, under its leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, will continue to act in the national interest as long as Brexit is in question. It was not easy for my party to undertake, and to commit to, the confidence and supply agreement. We had critics everywhere, including from within, but we have stood up. We went into a relationship with the present Government to create stability at a time when other parties which had the same opportunity ran away. They did not want to know about Government. They did not want to know about responsibilities. They could not wait for Fianna Fáil to underpin the Government so that they could go straight into their default mode of opposition. Maybe when there is another general election things will have changed. However, we did not abdicate our responsibility that time and the country appreciates that. I am sure the Government, despite all the sparing that naturally goes on between the two main parties in Ireland, deep down knows that it would not have been able to achieve anything of the sort with Brexit if Fianna Fáil had not been on side.

  The UK general election on 12 December is entirely a matter for it and I will not anticipate the outcome. Hopefully, the result will provide clarity and a pathway forward because continued uncertainty, as we all know, is bad for Ireland. It is bad for our tourism. It is bad for our business. It is bad for consumer confidence.

  The withdrawal deal, as outlined by the Minister, is acceptable. It is not as good as the deal that was negotiated with the former British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, but, nonetheless, the back stop has been replaced with this rolling consent mechanism. It is new. It is untested and, as I said, it is predicated on a Northern Ireland Assembly being functioning, which we cannot be sure of.

  In terms of preparation, we still have to keep the no deal in our heads and some of the statistics are distressing and worrying. Some 58,000 businesses are still without an economic operators registration and identification, EORI, number. An AIB report states that 41% of SMEs in the Republic and 53% in Northern Ireland have still done no planning whatsoever for Brexit. According to a recent parliamentary question, 30% of export-import companies have taken no mitigating action to address Brexit problems. Up to the end of September, only 14% of the €600 million loan fund for Brexit has been sanctioned for bank lending. This leaves an alarming €514 million in unused Brexit funds. I could quote Mr. Aidan Flynn, the general manager of the freight transport association, who made a stark statement the other day. I could go through all that. I am not a Doomsday merchant. We are where we are at present.

  There is a hiatus. There will be some clarity when the British general election is over. We will have to keep pulling and working together for the good of the country. Whatever way this Brexit turns out, it will be bad but, hopefully, it will be the least worse that it could be.

Senator Ian Marshall: Information on Ian Marshall Zoom on Ian Marshall I thank the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, for his comments on Brexit. I commend the Government and all the civil servants on the work they have completed so far on this because the one word that resonates through everybody and every business in the land, North or South, is "uncertainty", and dealing with uncertainty in business is a problem at present.

  It is important to reference that there has been much focus in the past few weeks and months on the North-South complexity of a land border there but the Tánaiste stressed the point that the east-west relationship, and especially the interdependence of both these islands post-Brexit, whatever that looks like, is equally as important.

  Based on the upcoming elections, we may see change in the current representation in Northern Ireland and we may see the change in the dynamic of the representation we have at Westminster in Northern Ireland. It is an understatement to say there is a nervousness in all businesses and among all citizens north of the Border. Businesses, especially in agrifood, are very concerned that they do not know enough detail at present. Even though the deal will avert a land border, which was a major concern in this House and in the Lower House, the disruption and complexity at the Northern Ireland ports are a concern of businesses with paperwork, with documentation and all the other bits and pieces that will be thrown at them. As much as we have averted one problem, there is a concern that we could have created another problem at the sea ports.

  A number of Senators, led by the Chair of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom, Senator Richmond, were fortunate to visit Dublin Port this morning. The work done to date is a credit to all those involved in the management and the port authorities. They were faced with a number of challenges, such as the size of the site and the uncertainty of what Brexit would look like. In my opinion, and I am sure the other Senators would echo these comments, they have done a commendable job in dealing with the Brexit implications for them.

  I refer to the work done in respect of the stakeholders and the complexity that has been dealt with. The Tánaiste mentioned that the UK Government north of the Border will consult with politicians and civic society on any potential impact or agreements that there will be post-Brexit. I would be interested to know what the Tánaiste's feeling is on the civic engagement because there has been some articles in the press this week about civic engagement and civic dialogue. I have had a bit of engagement with a number of people about civic engagement because sometimes the people are ahead of the politicians on some of these matters. It will be paramount that we have that dialogue. Does the Tánaiste envisage formal mechanisms or what does he see as a way of taking that forward because there is a level of uncertainty with this continual reference to taking a position north of the Border that everyone has a say, everyone is represented and everyone is heard? I would be interest if the Tánaiste could comment on that.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond I am extremely grateful to the Tánaiste, once again, for coming to this House to provide a timely update on what I have said on many occasions is probably the biggest issue facing the State since the Emergency. I am grateful to both the Tánaiste's activities within this House and, indeed, those of the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and all the officials in both the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

  Reflecting on the comments made by the previous two Senators and, indeed, the Tánaiste, it is fair to say that over the past few months much has changed but, ultimately, not much has changed when it comes to this issue. We sit here, possibly not in a period of respite, as a Senator pointed out, but in a period of holding a watching brief as, once again, we look to Westminster to see what might happen.

  I commend the Government on its work over the past number of months and its ability, along with European partners, to maintain the key interests as it affects this island facing into the crisis of Brexit and providing, within the withdrawal agreement and the Irish protocol, a method to make sure that we keep the Border on this island open. That was very important. That was done on the back of years of hard work, particularly by the Tánaiste as well as his predecessor, the Taoiseach and various Ministers of State with responsibility for European affairs.

  It is over to Westminster, once again, and over to the United Kingdom and the four nations within, to select their next parliament and select their next Government which will decide where we go. I just read that Lady Sylvia Hermon is to step down at this general election. I would like to put on record and pay credit to her often lone voice in the House of Commons over the past few years of representing the real concerns of so many people on this island. Lady Hermon is a credit to every single person, regardless of what community or political background he or she comes from.

  There is a pause. While Westminster makes its democratic decision, we wait for what comes next. Will we see a return of the Government?  Do we see an expediting of the ratification of the withdrawal agreement Bill that allows the UK to exit on time on 31 January and, more importantly, allows the EU and the UK to move on to discuss their future relationship, which will be far more complex and, arguably, more difficult than what has gone before? Perhaps the electoral arithmetic will throw up something else. We do not know what that might be and it is not our place to make predictions or recommendations or to get involved at all. That said, we must be consistent in stressing that there cannot be a return to a hard border on this island and we must work as closely as possible with our friends in the UK to make sure that never comes about.

  The withdrawal agreement and the future political declaration that has passed Second Stage in Westminster and been ratified by the European Council does exactly what needs to be done. As Senator O'Sullivan rightly said, there is no such thing as a good Brexit and this House will never hear me say that. That being said, the withdrawal agreement lays the groundwork for the least worst Brexit in the circumstances. Whatever happens in the UK over the coming months, we must make this work. We must move on and try our best to limit the damage. We must point out to the unionist community the many possible benefits for Northern Ireland and work with that community.

  Beyond Brexit there are massive challenges facing this and future Governments and the wider Irish body politic. We were a little lax on those challenges prior to the Brexit vote, but if anything, this should serve as a key reminder of the importance of European engagement for this country. We must make sure that we work with all partners on all issues. Just because Brexit is one of the biggest issues facing the EU now does not mean that member state solidarity is a given. We must continuously work at it and work with the EU. Certainly, we can criticise where criticism is justified, but we must be mindful of the importance of praising the EU when it is deserved. We must conduct a far more detailed analysis of European legislation at every level and continue our work with other member state governments, political parties and politicians. It cannot be just a job for the Tánaiste or the Taoiseach to maintain relationships through European Council meetings and so on. It is the responsibility of the entire Government and the Oireachtas, whether through COSAC, meetings of the Committee on European Union Affairs, or through other engagements, to push constantly for Ireland's objectives.

  Brexit also reminds us of the very important responsibility of all parties in this jurisdiction to invest time and effort in the politics of Northern Ireland. We cannot take the fragile peace or stability for granted. We must work continuously with politicians, political parties, citizens and groups from all backgrounds. If anything, we have to intensify that work, which is a big challenge for everyone, regardless of geography. It can be argued that for the past 20 years we have taken things for granted to some degree, and Brexit serves as a reminder of the dangers of doing so.

  We have not pressed the pause button. One of the worrying issues in the UK at the moment is that while the general election campaign goes on, work on Brexit preparedness has been scaled back. Advertisements have been pulled and engagements have been lessened. We in this jurisdiction need to use this time wisely. Senators Marshall, Ó Donnghaile, Mulherin and I visited Dublin Port this morning to find out about its work on Brexit preparedness. While that work is advancing, as Senator O'Sullivan pointed out, a lot more can be done. While I do not necessarily agree with all of the statistics cited because some may be out of date, we must continuously work on our preparedness. I know that the Tánaiste and his officials will keep up this work, but just because the UK is having a general election does not mean that the Irish body politic and Irish society can step back from Brexit. If anything, now is the time to intensify our engagement, work and preparations. So much of the preparatory work being undertaken by Irish society, particularly by the business and agrifood communities, is just good to do and is not necessarily solely about Brexit. I speak here about things like supply chain diversification and alternative market identification.

  We are at a worrying stage now, despite the many reassurances. We must wait out the next five or six weeks and continue to watch events in the UK, but while we watch, we must continue to do the necessary work here. I thank the Tánaiste and his officials for their attendance and thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to contribute to this debate.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Cuirim fáilte roimh an Tánaiste. I welcome the Tánaiste and thank him again for his ongoing and continued engagement with this House, which has been consistent throughout the course of the Brexit era. One of the great positives, as the Tánaiste knows, has been the coming together of Members in this Oireachtas around Brexit. While we have had differences of opinion and different views on issues, tactics and approaches, our greatest strength has been our unity of purpose in defending the peace process and the hard-won Good Friday Agreement and in ensuring no return to a hard border on the island.

  This is also a political forum, so I am not naive enough to think that people will not make political points, but there has been a marked change in the Fianna Fáil tone and approach in this House over recent Brexit statements. What we have heard is a single, transferable speech about the North. It is a very confined speech. I do not want to use the word "ignorant", but it is at least a very narrow view of the political and social realities there. We have heard how wonderful Fianna Fáil has been in the context of the Brexit negotiations despite it being the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, their officials, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, MEPs in Europe, of which Fianna Fáil had none until recently, and political parties and figures in the North, from which Fianna Fáil abstains, who have done the work.

  I do not think in the current climate that Members in this House should be referring to a core component of the Good Friday Agreement as a sectarian headcount. A Border poll would be an exercise in democratic expression that people are entitled to advocate for and engage on. It is what we all voted for and endorsed on this island, North and South, when we voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement. When we talk about defending and upholding the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts in the context of Brexit and if we are truly serious about that, then we must also uphold and defend that aspect of the agreement. I am amazed that the republican party would refer to an exercise in democratic expression, a right of people here to self-determination, as a sectarian headcount. Senator Marshall comes from a completely different political and ideological background and tradition than me and most of the people in this institution. That gives us a great strength and brings a great wealth to the Oireachtas, but Senator Marshall, coming from the perspective that he comes from, does not say that we should not have this conversation and nor do an increasing number of people like him. They are up for having this conversation. They do not want the same outcome but they are not running away or trying to shut down an engagement in democratic expression. I wanted to make that important point for the record.

  We welcome and support the Brexit deal as it has been secured and do so in the clear knowledge that there is no good Brexit deal. Brexit is being forced upon the people of Ireland, just as partition was forced upon the people, and in both instances it was against our expressed welfare and wishes. I also commend the EU and the Government, parties in the Oireachtas and my own colleagues in Europe, our MEP team and not least, my own MEP, whom I am in danger of losing, Ms Martin Anderson, on their combined efforts over the past three years, which have produced the latest deal. The agreement makes it clear that there will not be a hard border in Ireland or a unionist veto over the planned protections against Brexit. Attempts by the DUP, in particular, to exercise a veto over matters not related to the Good Friday Agreement will not happen. The Good Friday Agreement does need protecting from this deal because it is under no threat from it. Brexit is not a devolved matter. The protections in the deal will be codified in international law, which is very important. It is particularly important when the failure of the British Government to codify in law the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement is considered. We can see the consequences of that failure in the Emma DeSouza case. I am looking forward to meeting the Tánaiste, along with other parties in the North, to discuss that case soon.

  Sinn Féin has supported the Irish Government and the EU throughout the past three years of negotiations. We were the first to argue for a designated special status for the North within the EU, and we gained support for that approach with our motion in the Lower House last year. The past three years have shown clearly that when it comes to the people of Ireland, North and South, the parties at Westminster do not care. It is Britain's interests first or, more precisely, England's interests first. The interests of the people of Ireland will never and can never be taken seriously at Westminster.  As Senator O'Sullivan rightly said, Westminster is a parliament in chaos, which is the problem. Ireland and all the parties working together to minimise the damage of Brexit are the solution. The Government and the parties opposed to Brexit will need to be ever alert beyond the period we are dealing with and especially during the period when negotiations take place on a trade deal between the EU and the British Government. We wish the Government well in that regard. Further to what I have said about the issue of the North, another point on which I respectfully disagree with colleagues is where Senator O'Sullivan argued for the North to become normal. Normalisation was tried in the North but it failed because partition is not normal. It is an anomaly. It is because of partition and the union with Britain that we face this devastation, economic threat and the threat to our peace and progress.

  In welcoming the deal, I again wish the Tánaiste and his colleagues well in their endeavours and work over what will be an intensely important period. There is nothing like negotiations over Christmas, but I know they will knuckle down. They will have an engaged and willing, albeit critical when necessary, partner in Sinn Féin.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I welcome the Tánaiste and compliment him and his team on the great work they have done over the past three and a half years. Any time I visit Westminster and my British colleagues ask me what I think of Brexit, I always say we view Brexit as the British accidentally shooting themselves, but in our foot. It is a difficult situation. Somebody referred to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, giving the subject of history special status in the junior cycle. It would be worthwhile for some MPs at Westminster to read up on Irish history and its complications. Nevertheless, that does not represent the vast majority of British MPs and Lords, who understand the complications of Brexit. Moreover, there is a generosity towards the island of Ireland, which I greatly appreciate. Similarly, in this House and the other, there is a generosity towards Westminster. We have come an awfully long way since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement, and we are in a much better space.

  We have very good friends at Westminster. There are Lord Dubs and Conor McGinn, and I note that in the past half an hour Lady Sylvia Hermon has announced she will not seek re-election. We need people such as Lady Hermon in the constituency of North Down, who was a voice of reason. I hope that whoever takes the seat will be as balanced and measured as she has been since she became an MP in 2001. That such people will not stand is not a good sign. While it is a unionist or Alliance seat - certainly not a nationalist seat - I hope that whoever takes it will look out for the island of Ireland. While Lady Hermon fights her corner and believes in the union, given that is her background, she has always been open, measured, reasonable and understanding of different points of view, which is welcome.

  As I have noted in the few times I have visited Westminster, we work closely with our Sinn Féin colleagues there, who do not take their seats, which is fine. The three SDLP MPs, namely, Alasdair McDonnell, Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie, work closely with us, along with the two Ulster Unionist Party MPs, namely, Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan, and the Sinn Féin MPs. We work closely together to try to articulate a view from Ireland. I wish Ms Ritchie every success in the House of Lords. People attacked her on Twitter but hers is a measured voice we need. She was previously the leader of the SDLP. I wish her every success. It is a bit like our two colleagues in the House, Senator Ó Donnghaile, from one background, and Senator Marshall, from another. They bring a voice from the North from two sides of the equation. It is welcome and it informs us of the nuances of the North and the wider island of Ireland. I always talk about Northern Ireland and have always had an interest in it. My greatest day was the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, and Margaret Thatcher introduced something that gave us a say in Anglo-Irish affairs and that led to the Good Friday Agreement because it opened the dialogue.

  For many years, including during the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women travelled to the UK. We built the roads, taught the children and cared for the sick. While we were well treated, there was no political dialogue between the two countries. It could not have happened in any other place in the world. There was such an impact. My father, grandfather and many others' fathers worked there, but there was no dialogue. Is it not wonderful that we can now travel to London, visit Westminster and talk to our colleagues? The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach can meet the British Prime Minister or the British Foreign Secretary. I was once told that if members of the Government travelled from Dublin to London in the 1950s or 1960s, they might have to wait three or four weeks to have a meeting with a third undersecretary at the British Foreign Office.

  That has changed since our accession to the EU in the early 1970s. It gave us a parity of esteem with our nearest neighbours. Unfortunately, some of those neighbours have not yet accepted that Ireland has moved on from the point of, as another speaker noted, there were just 11% of exports to the UK. We want to be friends. Whatever happens in the next few weeks or months, we will do our best to work with our friends in the UK to get the best deal possible. Nevertheless, we are committed Europeans and Europe has given us a roadmap to a new, prosperous Ireland. Our membership of the EU has helped to break down the divisions on the island of Ireland and those between Ireland and the UK.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney We have to be conscious that the outcome of Brexit remains uncertain. As a Government, country and Parliament, we are still trying to plan for multiple potential outcomes. No deal is now far less likely, but it is certainly still a possibility. The intensive work on no-deal Brexit planning remains very much banked and ready to be used if necessary. We are now focusing on what we had previously described as a central case scenario, namely, the likelihood of getting a withdrawal agreement and then moving into a transition period. We need to prepare for that but also for the potential outcomes. If the UK Government ratifies the withdrawal agreement and the UK leaves the EU at the end of January, a new risk could emerge at that point.  At the end of the transition period, that is at the end of 2020, if the UK does not apply for more time, there is then the risk of not having a deal and not having any managed process or structure to continue that dialogue. We would have the protections of the withdrawal agreement, in the context of the special arrangements for Northern Ireland to prevent Border infrastructure, protect the common travel area, CTA, and everything else that it does, but there could be significant pressure on our east-west trading relationship. We have to anticipate the different outcomes and prepare the country for them, as we have tried to do right throughout this process. That is despite the unpredictability of political debates and outcomes in Westminster.

  For the first time, this week I brought a paper to Cabinet that focused more on preparation for the future relationship discussion than on a no-deal Brexit, although it did focus on both of those issues. We will certainly gear up to ensure that Ireland remains relevant and as influential as we can be in shaping the outcome of a future relationship negotiation. We are fortunate that Michel Barnier will be staying on as the EU chief negotiator, but in a slightly different co-ordinating role. He certainly understands and knows the British-Irish relationship intimately and that will be helpful in the context of the discussion of the future relationship. That will be the case, whatever the issues at stake, whether fishing, data protection or the implementation of the arrangements in the withdrawal agreement.

  We will, of course, also have Phil Hogan as the EU trade commissioner. He obviously understands Ireland's politics and economy and the unique exposure that have in many ways to the British economy. It is true that only 11% to 13% of Irish exports are now going to the UK, that does not tell the full story. Some 40,000 Irish companies trade with the UK every month. In the past two years, approximately 102,000 Irish companies either traded with or through the UK. We know that because the Revenue Commissioners wrote to all of them during the summer to encourage them to prepare for different outcomes to Brexit.

  The relationship for SMEs is important and that future relationship, from an Irish perspective, needs to be as integrated and close as we can make it. That is why the ambition in the future relationship declaration for a quota-free, tariff-free trading relationship on the back of a free trade agreement is one that we will look to shape in a positive way. We will also, however, be supportive of the EU position that if a tariff-free, quota-free trading relationship is to be facilitated, it will also have to have clear level playing field mechanisms in place to ensure that if the UK moves away from an EU regulatory model that we will not compete with the UK at a disadvantage.

  The political declaration is clear that the extent of the level playing field mechanisms within the withdrawal agreement will be directly related to how free the trade will be in the context of access tariffs and quotas. That is going to become a difficult negotiation, as is every free trade agreement, but it is one that I hope we can progress positively to provide as much certainty as we can for businesses. We must also, of course, try to protect the €70 billion trade relationship we have east-west each year with the UK, which is greatly important for us.

  I will say a few words about Northern Ireland because several contributors have made comments on this aspect.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile I did not intend to.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I have said on numerous occasions during this process that I regret that one of the consequences of the Brexit discussions has been a real straining in the relationship between unionism and the Government. We are anxious to try to repair that relationship. We also want to continue to maintain a strong relationship with nationalists in Northern Ireland and, indeed, all political parties there, including those that do not categorise themselves as nationalist or unionist. I have spent much time trying to do that and I will continue to do so.

  Following the Brexit outcome, my biggest priority between now and when we have a general election in this country will be to try to work with my British counterparts and parties in Northern Ireland to repair relationships that have undoubtedly been damaged, particularly in the past year. Northern Ireland desperately needs its own government and it needs the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement functioning and working again. When people talk about trying to create some normality again in relationships North and South, they are effectively talking about getting the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement functioning to their full extent again. Everybody, nationalist, unionist or neither, benefits from that happening.

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

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney That is a major priority for me. The outgoing Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, has played an important and constructive role in working with me in trying to do that. We are trying to do that, however, against a background that is nearly making it impossible. I refer to the pressures of Brexit and the polarisation that has emerged from the Brexit outcomes and negotiated solutions.

  I am interested in talking to Senator Marshall and others about how we could explore civic engagement that could be more constructive than anything existing to date. My experience so far with civic engagement with an Irish Government, a British Government or political parties is that it tends to be nationalists or unionists talking to themselves. For example, when we tried to set up - and this turned out to be very successful ultimately - an all-island civic dialogue on Brexit and surrounding issues, it was unfortunate that representatives from unionism felt they could not be there. They had their reasons and we have to respect that. We need, however, to try to find a way of having engagement, not just at political party level but at business and community leaders level, where people can talk to each other and have legitimate aspirations for whatever future they want for Northern Ireland.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Good.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney They should feel that they can talk about that without being accused of having ulterior motives, being too aggressive or being linked to the violence of the past. That goes for both sides. It is not helpful to call for a border poll right now. That has increased pressure on what is a pressurised political environment. I have said that and I think my perspective is understood. We have to try to settle Brexit issues, get the institutions up and running again and to create real dialogue where there is respect for identity and dreams and aspirations from different communities before we start talking about future constitutional challenges. Those challenges will, of course, be decided democratically consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile That is certainly consistent with what I am calling for, which is a plan and an engagement.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Regarding British-Irish relations, I have said previously, and I am not the only person here that this applies to, that in many ways I am a product of Anglo-Irish or British-Irish relations. I refer to where I have been to university, my family make-up and where my brother and my sister have developed their careers in British cities.  That is the case for so many Irish families. There is a generation in Ireland today, though, that sees Britain as an equal in negotiations and dialogue rather than a country of which we must be fearful or overly respectful in deference or anything like that. It is how we have approached the Brexit negotiations from the outset. We want to deal with the facts, the problems and the complexity that has been thrown up as a result of a decision by the UK as a whole to leave the EU. We are not willing to concede on the basis of political pressure or lobbying. We are trying to deliver an outcome we can stand over, that is politically operable and that protects our peace process while preventing the re-emergence of physical border infrastructure.

  I hope we have always maintained that position in a respectful way. It has frustrated some people but it has been a successful process from an Irish perspective in terms of getting an outcome we can live with. Any outcome linked to the delivery of Brexit has significant downsides but I hope this is an outcome we can live with. I also hope we can persuade many unionists in Northern Ireland who are fearful about the implementation and consequences of the current deal that they can also live with it in a way that is not overly threatening.

  I also reassure people that we will look to put in place new political infrastructure to reinforce the British-Irish relationship in future in the same way that many closely bound countries in the EU do now. For example, these include France and Germany or Portugal and Spain. Britain and Ireland are neighbours and we have an intertwined history. Much of it is very tragic but in more recent years, there is much that is positive. We will look to put in place agreed structures between the British and Irish Governments to ensure we are meeting, at least on an annual basis, and looking at many joint projects together. I hope we can also use the mechanisms, structures and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to do this.

  Like others, I pay my respects to Lady Sylvia Hermon, who has been a British MP for 18 years in the North Down constituency. I got to know her through the Brexit process and I have enormous respect for her. She is a proud unionist but she is an intelligent, tough, fair and open MP who listens but who is not afraid to challenge people. She has been an extraordinary protector of the Good Friday Agreement through what has been a very divisive and difficult debate for unionists in the House of Commons at different times over the past number of years. I would not have spoken about her like this if she were standing for election this time around as I would probably cost her votes by the bucketload by doing so. As she is not standing, I can say that I have enormous regard for her as a unionist, her intellect and her contribution to British politics at a time we needed a voice like hers. It is important to recognise that, shortly after she has made the decision to step down.

  I look forward to returning to this House before the end of the year to give a further update. We will know much more about what challenges Brexit is likely to deliver when we know the result of the British general election on 12 December. I hope we will use some of the time between now and then to continue to prepare Ireland for different outcomes. I will also use some of that time to put thought into how we can create opportunities or windows in Northern Ireland for constructive dialogue between parties to try to find a way after the British general election of re-establishing institutions that can function.

  I have learned - in some ways the hard way - that there is never an easy window in politics in Northern Ireland and there is always a reason not to compromise, whether it is a general election, party conference season or the outcome of the renewable heat incentive inquiry, etc. There is always a reason to pull back and not take a risk. We need to create windows with political parties even in the aftermath of what I am sure will be a very divisive general election campaign in Northern Ireland to ensure we can focus on the re-establishment of devolved institutions that can function and deliver for people in Northern Ireland. When we ask people on the street or in a business about this, they are exasperated by the lack of political decision-making capacity within Northern Ireland, which has been ongoing for three years. We must find a way to change that and it is in everybody's interest, regardless of background, identity or political perspective, to try to find a way of doing that. Otherwise we will face perhaps even more difficult choices around more decision-making coming from Westminster, the Irish Government needing to insist on its role as a co-guarantor of the agreement in future and the potential tension flowing from that. It is not where we want to be and I ask Senators to think about how they can contribute positively to that dialogue.

Teachtaireachtaí ón Dáil - Messages from Dáil

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Dáil Éireann has passed on 6 November 2019 the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill 2018, considered by virtue of Article 20.2.2° of the Constitution as a Bill initiated in Dáil Éireann, to which the agreement of Seanad Éireann is desired.

  Dáil Éireann has passed the Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment Bill) 2019 on 6 November 2019, to which the agreement of Seanad Éireann is desired.

  When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond We propose to sit again next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7.05 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 12 November 2019.


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