Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad
 Header Item Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
 Header Item Closed-Circuit Television Systems Provision
 Header Item Schools Building Projects Status
 Header Item Services for People with Disabilities
 Header Item Road Projects Status
 Header Item An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
 Header Item Teachtaireacht ón Dáil - Message from Dáil
 Header Item Finance (Tax Appeals and Prospectus Regulation) Bill 2019: Second Stage

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 268 No. 10

First Page Previous Page Page of 2 Next Page Last Page

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 Tim Lombard that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to make a statement on the proposed community CCTV schemes in County Cork, in particular the role of the data controller and the timeline for implementation of the scheme.

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 provision of a permanent site for Stepaside Educate Together secondary school.

I have also received notice from Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of State at the Department of Health with special responsibility for disability issues to provide an update on the provision of a new building for the Holy Angels day care centre, Carlow.

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

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to make a statement on the upgrade of the N16 road in Sligo and Leitrim.

The matters raised by the Senators are suitable for discussion and they will be taken now.

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Closed-Circuit Television Systems Provision

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I tabled my Commencement matter as I seek clarification, under the current legislation, regarding the community CCTV scheme pertaining to County Cork. In particular, I would like to know who controls the data and when the schemes will be operational.

  I brought this important issue to the floor of the Seanad because several towns in County Cork, including Bandon, have been approved for CCTV systems. Unfortunately, even though a contract has been signed for the past three years, agreement between the local authority and the Department of Justice and Equality as to who controls, owns and operates the data and who pays for the operation of the system has never been clarified. We are dealing with a scenario where a scheme was put in place that gives the local authority the ability to purchase equipment and sign contracts, which they have done. We now have a system but no operational budget has been put in place and the big issue is who controls the data. Is it the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality or the local authority?

  In the current environment, we are subject to the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and other regulations. The lack of clarification by either the Department or the local authority on this issue means that no CCTV system is operating in Bandon today, which is unfortunate. We have talked about this issue for over a decade yet the systems still have not been delivered. It is unfortunate that local government and the big government in Dublin cannot sit down and sort out the issues that would enable the rolling out of the CCTV system. It is not about making sure that Big Brother is watching society. It is about making sure that when there are anti-social behaviour or litter issues, we can deal with them on the ground. I am very disappointed that we do not have clarity on these issues.

  I have read the latest county manager's report that a feasibility study has been put in place on how much it actually costs to run and control the system. Do we need another report three years later without having schemes in place? Enough feasibility studies have been done and we need action. A deep and meaningful conversation must take place immediately between the Department and the local authority in Cork to ensure that the CCTV systems, for which the contracts have been signed, are delivered on the ground, thus benefiting society as a whole.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Catherine Byrne): Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. His reply is quite long and I may not get through it all.

  I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Minister wishes to acknowledge the importance that many communities attach to CCTV and the sense of security it can bring. He also confirms that An Garda Síochána has previously indicated to his Department that it utilises CCTV in almost every criminal investigation, during major public events and sporting occasions, in the investigation of road traffic incidents and in many other areas requiring police action. The Garda considers CCTV to be particularly effective when the cameras are visible and their presence evident in a way that raises awareness among would-be offenders. The Minister agrees with the Senator on the importance and value of this issue. The law on CCTV is of long standing.

  Community CCTV, as referred to by the Senator, is governed by section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006. This legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must do the following: be approved by the local joint policing committee; have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must also act as data controller; and have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner. This is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes, regardless of how they are funded. These key legal requirements, including the legal requirement for local authorities to act as data controller, have not changed since 2006.  The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, wants to be clear that this long-standing statutory framework does not place an obligation on local authorities to take part in community CCTV. However, if a local authority decides that it is not prepared to act as data controller for community CCTV, this prevents community CCTV schemes from operating in its functional area.

In effect, the current legislative structure is an enabling one which empowers local communities and local authorities to establish a community CCTV system, to which the Garda has appropriate access. This is provided they meet the statutory requirements, including that the local authority is prepared to assume responsibility as data controller.

It may also be of reassurance for the Senator to know that the Data Protection Commission issued a note in November 2018 confirming that there is a legal basis for community-based CCTV and that the general data protection regulation does not introduce new barriers in that regard. The Data Protection Commission confirmed that:

Data protection legislation does not stand in the way of the roll-out of community-based CCTV schemes that have been authorised by the Garda Commissioner. Once the local authority in the administrative area concerned is willing to take on and deliver on its responsibilities as a data controller for the schemes concerned, there is no legal impediment under data protection legislation to the scheme commencing.

During 2019, the Data Protection Commission released general guidance on CCTV on its website, which the Minister would recommend to all those with an interest in this area.

  I could read on. I have about ten pages here.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The script has been circulated and the Minister of State might run over time. The Senator will have the script anyway.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne There is another piece at the end that might make things clearer to the Senator.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Minister of State should go to the end in that case.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne The Minister believes that there may be additional interest for financial support in this area. I can confirm that the grant aid scheme remains open for applications from interested groups in 2019.

  I am delighted to announce that the Minister has recently approved the extension of the CCTV grant aid scheme for a further year in 2020. The Minister hopes that this point is of assistance to the Senator, who had inquired about deadlines in that respect.

  The Minister emphasises that grant funding can be considered only for CCTV schemes which meet the legal requirements for CCTV. He encourages all Senators to join him in providing information on the availability of this funding to all interested groups.

  The answer is quite long and I am sorry I cannot go through it all.

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

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I thank the Minister of State for the response. We are very much aware of the grants available. I believe Cork County Council has drawn down nine of those grants. Four of them are in limbo at the moment over the running costs and who controls the data. Cork County Council has taken a different view from any other local authority. It has an issue with the data and the running costs. The four schemes, particularly the one in Bandon, have been impacted by that. It is a unique situation.

  I call for deep and meaningful discussions between the Department of Justice and Equality and Cork County Council to get a solution to this problem. The legislation is there and we have the will and the budget. We need that interaction between the Department of Justice and Equality officials and Cork County Council officials to overcome the problem. This is nothing more than big government not talking to local government and not having an understanding of the issues on the ground. As a result, Bandon does not have a CCTV system in place even though contracts for some of these schemes were signed three years ago. We have the budget and the grant approval. We now need that deep and meaningful conversation. Otherwise we will just be sending emails and doing feasibility reports with nothing happening on the ground.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, understands specific questions raised by the Senator relating to data control for community-based CCTV schemes in Cork. The Senator will appreciate that all the Minister can do is set out the legal framework. The law on community CCTV is clear and has not changed since 2006. The data control for community CCTV schemes is the responsibility of the local authority. I understand some of the issues the Senator raised and I will endeavour to bring them back to the Minister for more in-depth conversation with the Senator on why the four schemes in Cork have not been put in place. I am sorry if the reply did not give the Senator the specific information he sought. I will ask the Minister to intervene.

Schools Building Projects Status

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to the House.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond I am delighted to welcome the Minister back to the House to discuss a key issue not just for my area but also for south Dublin in general. It relates to the development of a permanent home for Stepaside Educate Together secondary school. As the Minister will be well aware, the school is currently co-located with Stepaside Educate Together national school in its new home in Belarmine in Stepaside. However, the school community - the teachers, parents, guardians, pupils and those living in the vicinity - are keen to get a clear idea when the school will move to its permanent home on the site identified by the Department.

  Many things are at play in terms of acquisition, planning and tender. Mild concern is developing among the school community that the school is reaching absolute capacity in its temporary location with the national school and there is a serious need to make swift progress with the permanent development in the site identified. The school has a waiting list of about 70. When it is full, it will have more than 1,000 pupils in a co-educational facility under the auspices of Educate Together.

  I know the school well. The Taoiseach visited it last autumn and he remarked how quickly this new school has ingratiated itself with the community and how it has engaged in so many activities. It is a wonderful part of south Dublin which I call my home. It is also a growing part of south Dublin where the population is rapidly exceeding the existing requirements in terms of national schools. We have seen a number of new national schools being opened. Two more are to come on stream, including Goatstown Educate Together national school, which will feed into this secondary school in due course. This morning I seek an update on how the school is proceeding.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it allows me the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the provision of a permanent school building for Stepaside Educate Together secondary school, a co-educational school under the patronage of Educate Together.

  The school building project for Stepaside Educate Together secondary school is included in my Department's capital programme which is being delivered under the national development plan. The brief is to provide a new 1,000-pupil post primary school plus a four-classroom special education needs unit together with all ancillary accommodation on a site off the Ballyogan Road adjacent to Leopardstown racecourse.

  The project was assigned to my Department's design and build delivery programme in August 2018 following acquisition of the site. This delivery programme uses a professional external project management team to progress the project through the stages of architectural planning, tendering and construction. Architectural planning commenced immediately and an application for planning permission was lodged with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in December 2018 following pre-planning meetings with the council.

  A notification of decision to grant permission subject to 18 conditions was received by the Department on 13 June 2019. Two of these conditions requiring the provision of an extensive public greenway on third party land were subsequently the subject of a first party appeal by the Department to An Bord Pleanála. The decision on this appeal was due to be received this month, but has now been extended by An Bord Pleanála until 19 January 2020.  The next step in the progression of this school building project is to proceed to tender and construction stages, which will happen as soon as the appeal decision is received. Stepaside Educate Together secondary school is currently sharing a new school building with Stepaside Educate Together national school under a temporary sharing arrangement. As enrolments in both schools continue to grow, it is expected that alternative temporary accommodation on the permanent site will be required to accommodate Stepaside Educate Together secondary school from September 2020. Temporary accommodation provisions are currently being arranged by the officials in my Department, in conjunction with the project management team.

  I want to assure the Senator that we will do everything to ensure that these temporary facilities will be provided with the utmost urgency.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond I have no supplementary questions other than to sincerely thank the Minister for that detailed and full reply and I look forward to working further on this project.

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I thank the Minister and we will await the arrival of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne.

Services for People with Disabilities

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I welcome the Minister of State back to the Chamber.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I thank the Acting Chairman and the Minister of State for being here again.

  I am very disappointed the senior Minister, Deputy Harris, is not here today. In the long term, we may have to look at particular Commencement matters where we should have the senior Minister present. Perhaps this is something that the Minister of State might bring back to the Minister, Deputy Harris, because I have a major problem in Carlow which does not involve a huge amount of money.

  The Holy Angels day care centre, Carlow has been on the priority list for a new school building for more than five years now. The Government, however, has not yet delivered on this building. The HSE has made land available at Kelvin Grove for the new centre and I wish to know if there is a detailed delivery plan for the new school. I am concerned that the site at Kelvin Grove, which is on the vacant property register, has also been promised as a site for a women's refuge. It is marvellous as this facility is meant to have a site; the problem is there is no concrete plan in place. The children, their families, the staff and the management cannot wait any longer as the current conditions in the school are simply not good enough. I reiterate that the staff members in Holy Angels are among the very best in the country but it is not fair to expect them to make the best of things just because this Government cannot organise itself.

  In the summer, following my representations, the Government approved an additional €25,000 for staffing from September to December. This allowed the school management to employ three childcare assistants and two bus escorts. This meant that the centre was able to offer a place to every child on its referral list for the school year. The total number of children currently attending the centre is 31 and they have a range of special needs that are being met by this centre. There is a huge programme to cater for and to implement the services required for these children with special needs.

  As we all know, early intervention is essential for children attending such a specialised service in order to develop new skills and to reach their full potential. The staff at Holy Angels are the main daily providers of care and intervention, and even more so this year due to the significant reduction in occupational, speech and language therapy services. Most of the children who started in the Holy Angels this year are on waiting lists for the same services and now rely on the knowledge and experience of the centre staff to begin the implementation of therapeutic programmes.

  There are big waiting lists across the country and the most vulnerable children in our society, that is, children with disabilities, are not being looked after.

  The new centre has requested €62,000 for the year 2020 to retain its staff members in order that they can continue with what they are doing. I have gone to the Department of Health, to the HSE in Kilkenny-Carlow, and to Minister because unless we get the €62,000, we do not know what will happen in the long term. I have to acknowledge to the Minister of State that the €25,000 that was promised this year was provided recently to Holy Angels. Even though I have repeatedly raised this issue, it is not good enough that I must continually fight for such a small amount of money, which is so late in coming. It is crucial at this point, because it is now about saving jobs there.

  The five staff members who are on temporary contracts at present need to know if they are being retained or will need to seek other employment shortly if no such confirmation is forthcoming. This places individuals and their families in a highly precarious position and the Minister of State should come back to me on this question.

  If funding is not confirmed, the number of children who attend each day will have to be reduced in January. Parents will need to be informed in advance in order to arrange alternative childcare. This is also not ideal and in the approach to Christmas, this will place an unnecessary strain on them. The reduction of staff members in each classroom also will have a negative impact on the standard of care that can be provided without the role of bus escorts. Holy Angels will not be able to provide transport for as many families as it should, because supervision is needed for these children in order to use the bus services . I have raised the issue of the lack of public transport here before. The Minister of State will need to look at this issue.

  My concern that unless this €62,000 is provided in early January, the two bus drivers will need to be put on protective notice and it will be necessary to consider the redundancy implications. This would be a incredibly bad news story for me. This is of great significance and there are two issues on which I need clarification. First, is the Kelvin Grove site and the funding for the building of the Holy Angels day care centre available? Second, will the €62,000 be available from January 2020, to keep the staff there in post and to retain the carers in the classrooms, who look after the most vulnerable children in our society?

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne I will begin by thanking the Senator and by noting I do not have an answer on the question of the €62,000 funding in the reply given to me here. That is something new that has been raised by the Senator now because the Commencement matter did not specifically ask for this. It was on the funding generally for the service, rather than for individuals. I will come back to the Senator on this point.

  I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and thank the Senator for raising this important issue today. I acknowledge the great work the staff of the Holy Angels day care centre do for children with disabilities. The current programme for partnership Government commits the Government to improving services and increasing support for children with disabilities, particularly for early assessment and intervention. Significant resources have been invested by the health service sector in services for children with disabilities over the past number of years. This commitment is guided by two principles, namely, equality and the opportunity of improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

  As the Senator may be aware, the Holy Angels day care centre was established in 1978 and initially served with the focus on the provision of a day care service for children with disabilities of preschool-going age. The centre now exists as a designated special preschool for children aged 18 months to six years of age. The centre caters for children with a range of disabilities such as Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and autism, as well as other rare conditions.

  The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been advised that there are currently 30 children attending the Holy Angels day care centre. The centre has range of facilities to support different aspects of development including a hydrotherapy unit, a soft play area, multisensory rooms, an outdoor play area, family rooms and three classrooms.

  For the past ten years, the breadth of the services at the facility has expanded to providing respite services for children with disabilities and their families. Emergency and weekend respite is provided to children with disabilities aged from nine months to 18 years. The criteria for admission of children aged between 18 months and six years with suspected intellectual disabilities, where services are accessed through a multidisciplinary team, are made by referrals through the early intervention team.

  The HSE provides funding to the Holy Angels day care centre under section 39 of the Health Act and in this regard, the service received approximately €580,000 in 2019. In this regard, the heads of service for the HSE social care visited the Holy Angels day care centre last month and met the chair of the centre's board to discuss the service and funding matters. Other meetings are scheduled to take place in March 2020.

  The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been advised by officials in the HSE that the Holy Angels day care centre has been on a priority list for a new school building for over five years now. There have been a number of challenges in securing an adequate site for the new school building. With the aim of providing assistance to the service, the HSE has designated an area at the site in Kelvin Grove, Carlow, for the Holy Angels day care centre to operate a new school. This project proposal has been submitted to the HSE capital steering committee and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been informed that the proposal has been accepted by the committee and has been approved for prioritisation of funding.  It is important to recognise that all capital development proposals must process through a number of approval stages in line with the public spending code, including details of appraisals, planning design and procurement before a timeframe for funding requirement can be established.

  On the €62,000, I do not have an answer for the Senator but I will come back to her on the matter.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor My dealings on this matter over the last three years have been with the Minister, Deputy Harris, so I had requested that he come to the House to respond to this Commencement matter. He is well aware of the €62,000 because I have met him on a regular basis at meetings, where I told him about it. While the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is always kind and courteous I am disappointed that the Minister is not here today. The loss of jobs and an excellent facility for children with special needs is an important issue and it worries me that the Minister of State's response is that she is not aware of the situation. Provision of the new building has been an ongoing matter for a some time now yet we have been told it is on a priority list. This is unacceptable. We need construction of the new facility to commence within the next year or two because the current facility is not fit for purpose. We are blessed in Carlow in terms of the Holy Angels Care Centre service and staff. Without the €62,000, which is a minimal amount, this service could lose staff and this is unacceptable.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne I do not have any further information to give to the Senator. I do not have any knowledge of the €62,000 to which she referred. I will raise with the Minister the need for this service to be supported until the new facilities are made available. None of us wants to see children, particularly children with disabilities, not being able to access proper services. I will relay the Senator's concerns to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Minister, Deputy Harris.

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

Road Projects Status

Acting Chairman (Senator Tim Lombard): Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to the Chamber.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to take this Commencement matter on an issue that I have raised many times. For those who are not familiar with it, the N16 is a key route between Sligo and Enniskillen, and the north west and Northern Ireland. The road commences at the junction of the N15 at Cartran in Sligo and travels north east past Sligo Institute of Technology and onwards passing above Glencar Lake and entering County Leitrim. It passes through only two towns, Manorhamilton and Glencar, until it reaches Blacklion in County Cavan. Over the Border, the route becomes the A4 road to Enniskillen and onwards connecting to Belfast via the A4 and M1 motorway.

  Sections of the N16 Sligo to Enniskillen are in extremely poor condition, with some sections of it are regarded as some of the worst accident blackspots in the country. There has been some investment on the N16 to address the poor conditions, but it is only in the last couple of years that a more strategic approach has been taken. Two years ago, a route selection process for the N16 was completed, with the aim of a phased upgrade to assist the realignment of several very bad bends. I am glad to note that in recent times plans to correct some of these dangerous stretches of the road have advanced and I welcome that a section of the N16 Sligo to Manorhamilton Road, a 2.5 km stretch between Kilsallagh and Lugnagall townlands, has recently received statutory planning consent from An Bord Pleanála. I look forward to this work being progressed.

  Sligo County Council recently admitted that its work on the Sligo section of the N16 had fallen behind in comparison with the work carried out on the route by Leitrim County Council. I hope this Sligo scheme will be the first of many along this section of the road. I also hope that these works will mark the start of a series of schemes along this stretch which will improve its quality and safety for all road users, not to mention journey times. I cannot over-emphasise the need for good quality primary routes for the continued promotion of business and tourism for the north west. The importance of progressing meaningful works along the N16 cannot be overstated.

  I welcome the Minister of State's views on the matter.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Brendan Griffin): Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin My colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has overall responsibility for policy and funding in regard to the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design, improvement and upgrading of individual roads is a matter for the relevant local authority in regard to local and regional roads, or for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, Tll, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned in regard to national roads.

  Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, NPF. This provides the strategic and financial framework tor TII's national roads programme for the period 2018 to 2027. In the ten years covered by the plan, over €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network. While there has been no major project identified for delivery on the N16 route under the NDP, funding has been provided to carry out improvement works under other programmes funded by Tll. In conjunction with the local authorities in Sligo and Leitrim, Tll is progressing improvement schemes on the N16, which I will outline later. First, I would like to explain that Tll also provides an annual grant allocation to local authorities to carry out maintenance works on national roads in their respective administrative areas. The planning, prioritisation and implementation of the national road maintenance activities that are funded under this allocation are matters for the road authority concerned.

  In regard to minor schemes on the N16, I understand from Tll that the following schemes are being progressed on the N16 route. Under Sligo County Council the N16 Luqatober realignment scheme will result in improvements to a 2.5 km section of the N16 which occurs within the townland of Lugatober and extends between Drumkillsellagh and Lugnagall. The existing road is extremely deficient in terms of horizontal and vertical alignment as well as road width. The project will remove a number of substantially deficient bends on this section of the route and in doing so will improve safety, sight distance end cross sectional width. An application by Sligo County Council to An Bard Pleanála was made on 18 February 2019. The compulsory purchase order was confirmed in May 2019 and the environmental impact assessment, EIA, was confirmed in August 2019. Detailed design and tender documents are under preparation and land acquisition is under way.

  On the N16 Drummahan, under Leitrim County Council this proposed project is a realignment of the N16 at Drummahan, consisting of the improvement of 1.5 km of single carriageway. It is located between Glencar on the Sligo-Leitrim boundary and, as referenced earlier, Manorhamilton, and it adjoins the recent N16 improvement in Mulkaun. An application to An Bord Pleanála was made in March 2018. Leitrim County Council obtained planning approval for this scheme in July 2018. Detailed design and tender documents are under preparation.

  On the Munakill realignment scheme, under Leitrim County Council this proposed scheme is situated in County Leitrim approximately 4 km east of Manorhamilton and consists of the improvement of approximately 2.7 km of national primary route. The existing section of this route at Munakill has a high accident history. The proposed project is a continuation of various schemes completed over the years to remove a current substandard realignment and road width section. The project appraisal plan was approved by the Department in October. Planning and design on this scheme is ongoing.

  The overall objective of the proposed developments are to provide an all-purpose road for the safe transport of people and goods, with the purpose of serving the community in a manner that minimises impact on the environment and is in accordance with national, regional and local policy. In addition, there are a number of pavement improvement schemes scheduled to be carried out on the N16 route in Sligo and Leitrim. Details of these are as follows: Sligo - N16 at Lugatober to Willbrook and Willowbrook to Barroe; and Leitrim - N16 at Pollboy to Cornastauk. A grant of €600,000 was provided in 2019 to Sligo County Council to progress planning and design on the N16 Lugatober realignment scheme. A further €900,000 was allocated for pavement improvement works. Sligo County Council also received €568,000 for maintenance works on the national primary routes in Sligo. The planning and prioritisation of road maintenance activities to be funded under this provision are matters for Sligo County Council.  A grant allocation of €150,000 was provided in 2019 to Leitrim County Council to progress planning and design on the N16 Drummahan realignment scheme. A further grant allocation of €100,000 was provided to progress planning and design on the N16 Munakill realignment scheme. A further €730,000 was allocated for pavement improvement works on the N16 in Leitrim. Leitrim County Council also received €304,000 for maintenance works on the national primary routes in Leitrim. The planning and prioritisation of roads maintenance activities to be funded under this provision are matters for Leitrim County Council.

  As all of these schemes are at an early stage of development, it is not possible at this time to indicate a likely timeframe for construction and completion of these projects but I will keep the Senator fully apprised of what is happening with regard to timeframes. I know the schemes are important to people in that part of country. As the Senator has raised these concerns, we will try to ensure he has open channels to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to get the information as it emerges.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Clearly, the costs of realigning this road are being met from various sources of funding. There is significant investment in other road schemes in Sligo, such as the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin upgrade and the western distributor road in Sligo. Government investment is good news for the north west. I have said many times that with proper investment in infrastructure in Sligo and Leitrim, both counties will be able to drive growth and investment throughout the north-west region. The north west is similar to Galway in that many young couples and businesses want to locate in the region. After many years of underinvestment and underachievement now is time that the north west can leapfrog other areas. Sustained funding in key roads such as the N16 can open the region to more investment. We talk about North-South co-operation. This is a North-South and east-west corridor and we certainly need more business. This road is needed for tourism. This is an important message that I have brought to the Minister of State and I know he has listened.

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin I thank the Senator. With regard to his comment on the north west, there is enormous potential in that part of the country. Wearing my tourism hat, Yeats country in County Sligo has so much potential. It is incumbent on all of us to get the infrastructure right to allow access. Various community groups and local authorities on the ground, working with agencies such as Fáilte Ireland, are doing very progressive work, which will drive demand. However, access is also required, which is why the matter the Senator has raised today is so important. We must get the infrastructure right and ensure there are proper channels to bring people in and out of the area safely. We need a whole-of-Government approach in all sectors of the economy. It is vital that we have safe and adequate infrastructure for the 21st century. There is clearly some catching up to be done. There is pent-up demand after a decade of underinvestment as a result of the economic crisis. I will continue to work with the Senator on all of these issues because I know they are critical for him and the region he is from.

  Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance (Tax Appeals and Prospectus Regulation) Bill 2019, Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I thank the Deputy Leader, Senator Noone, for outlining today's Order of Business. I wish to raise a couple of points, one on the town and village renewal programme. In response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Calleary, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, stated that last year, 224 projects were successful and 66 were unsuccessful. This year,156 projects were successful and 153 were unsuccessful. It is a vastly worse scenario in terms of people getting funding for their programmes right across the country, including all of the areas that are facing by-elections, namely, Dublin, Wexford and Cork. Lots of towns were excluded for various reasons. I do not remember the last time the Minister, Deputy Ring, has been in this Chamber but it is a long time. We have not seen him since we came back in September. It would be useful if we could arrange through the good offices of the Deputy Leader to bring in the Minister, Deputy Ring, to explain the situation. It could be the case that the scheme is so successful that more people are becoming aware of it, more towns are applying and they are applying for more money. I understand that it is a competitive process but people who are going through the process are looking for money for various valid reasons and they are not getting it. It would be useful and interesting to hear from the Minister on that particular point.

  In my memory, we have never seen a Government backbencher express her frustration and embarrassment at the state of the health service, as one of our Fine Gael colleagues in the Lower House did recently at an Oireachtas committee. To be fair to her, she made the point that her child may have been less sick than others, but she was embarrassed by the state of the health service. Other people have been making complaints about units in Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown where bloods cannot be tested there and are put in taxis and sent to Temple Street hospital. The blood is congealing on the way. We have reports of a lot of dysfunction going on in the health service. We need to see the Minister in the House. We are not even at the worst of the winter yet and higher numbers than ever are on trolleys in emergency departments. Despite all the money going into the health service it does not seem to be working in the way it should and it is not delivering a service for citizens. We need the Minister, Deputy Harris, to explain to the House how he is trying to get through it. We have a new chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, whom I knew when he was chief executive of Fingal County Council. I am sure he will do his best but the HSE is an enormous organisation. We know that the money is going into it and it is something we have to worry about.

  I am very concerned at the recent report from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, outlining that as much as €6 billion of the €10 billion a year in corporation tax is temporary. We have rows over fiscal space of €300 million and €500 million each year in the budget and where we might have €1 billion to play around with if we are lucky. The more we have the better. If we had €20 billion I would be delighted, but we are building foundations, increasing Revenue spending and plugging holes in health in particular with this money. It may only be temporary. I hope it is not, but the IFAC is outlining concerns which I share. Half our corporation tax is coming from ten companies, most likely Apple, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and some of the pharmaceutical companies. For reasons of taxpayer privacy we do not know who they are but we can guess. The IFAC is concerned that the level of Government spending is barely prudent. It is very much teetering on the edge of being prudent at this stage. We need the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to come to this Chamber. I do not think I have seen him here for a very long time. He usually sends either the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, or the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. I know he is a busy person managing two Departments but this House needs to know what measures he is putting in place to control Government spending, as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. These windfall gains are great, but if one wins the lottery one year and one starts to live a lifestyle based on winning the lottery every year, when one stops winning the lottery, one has a problem. I would appreciate it if the Deputy Leader could organise those debates.

Senator Joan Freeman: Information on Joan Freeman Zoom on Joan Freeman I acknowledge that it is Thanksgiving Day. I wish the people in Solace House in New York and all the clients that go to them a happy Thanksgiving Day.

  I wish to follow on from what the previous speaker said about the embarrassment of Fine Gael over the state of the emergency department in the children's hospital. It made me look back at Fine Gael's election manifestos in 2011 and 2016. I will read a little from it:

Fine Gael policy on mental health incorporates the recommendations of A Vision for Change. We are committed to reducing the stigma of mental illness, ensuring early and appropriate intervention and vastly improving access to modern mental health services in the community.

What happened during those years? Fine Gael's next manifesto in 2016 stated: "We will publish a plan for the achievement of the faster access to comprehensive and appropriate mental health services, building upon A Vision for Change, with an emphasis on building on [...] reduced waiting times for child and adolescent services." Another reference is quite ironic, namely, reduced admission rates to acute units. Of course Fine Gael has achieved the latter aim because half the units are closed so of course they will show a reduction in acute units. I would like to call in the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, to ask him what has happened to A Vision for Change. There have been two more reviews in recent years, one about six months ago. Where is it at? What is happening? How embarrassing for Fine Gael that it is not coming through with any of the promises it made prior to the previous two elections. We are coming back into the silly season again where everybody will go around door to door promising everything. What is Fine Gael going to promise this year? Will we witness that it will not follow up on it?

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I thank the Leader for facilitating the statements on Cuisle yesterday. Subsequent to that, it was mentioned in the Minister of State's statement that it was not about funding and requests had not been made for funding, when it was clear from those who contacted us, including service users, that a request had been made to the Department.  The Minister of State expressed a willingness to discuss what can be done with the HSE and the Irish Wheelchair Association. We need to listen to people who depend on that accommodation service for respite and a break. It is not good enough to say that they can just go to a hotel. That centre was suitable to meet people's needs and the €1.15 million investment needs to be made. We spent €1.8 million on a printer that has not been used for a year because it was not possible to fit it into the designated location within the relevant building. That is not good enough. These people are much more important than a printer.

  The impact of Brexit on the motor industry has not received enough focus. Obviously, we are extremely concerned about the impact of Brexit on many other industries, not least that relating to agriculture and, in particular, the beef sector, which may incur 80% tariffs. It has been estimated that the UK motor industry will incur a loss of £40 billion up to 2024. Here, 12,000 jobs could be lost in small businesses in Mayo and elsewhere. A large part of their business involves importing cars from either the North or Britain. We need to consider the impact of losing 12,000 jobs, many of them in rural areas. In addition to the job losses, there will be an estimated €231 million tax loss to the Exchequer. The matter needs further discussion and needs to be examined. Mitigating measures need to be introduced for that industry to give it assurance. There will also be an impact on consumers in the context of how much more it will cost to buy cars. People living in rural areas need to have cars. Households there often have two cars. Brexit will also have an impact on people's spending power.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I discovered with some disquiet an issue mentioned in the media yesterday. The Cabinet has given approval for changes in gambling legislation to allow stakes of €5 in gambling machines versus the current limit of 3 cent, with the maximum payout increasing from 50 cent to €500. These gambling machines have been proven to destroy many lives. I remember a campaign in the 1980s to ban one-armed bandits, as they were then called. I am completely perplexed as to where this has come from. Who is advocating for these changes? What lobby group has the ear of the Ministers who decided, apparently out of the blue, to increase the minimum stake from a number of cent to quite a number of euro and the maximum payout from 50 cent to €500. We have a culture now whereby people are beginning to talk more about addiction to alcohol, drugs, pornography and gambling. The UK is going in the opposite direction. I am confused as to the thinking behind this move in respect of gambling machines. Who is advocating in respect of it? Who will benefit from it? Do we really feel that society will be enhanced by having gambling machines that can accept higher stakes and pay out more money? This proposal emerged from the Cabinet meeting held on Tuesday.

  At the very least, we need to talk about this issue. A significant number of vested interests seem to get the ear of the Government. This particular move has been met with surprise and alarm. I ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate a debate as quickly as possible. I presume the Minister for Justice and Equality has responsibility in this area. Why are we doing this and who will benefit? Unless I am completely confused, from my reading of what is involved, this will be very damaging for people who already have gambling addictions. It will also be a gateway for people who do not necessarily have such addictions and it will suck them into something much more dangerous. We should not let this go without rigorous examination. I hope that, potentially, we might put a stop to it.

Senator John O'Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony Yesterday, Sport Ireland received the KOSI report it had commissioned in respect of the governance of the FAI. That report was handed over to the Garda for investigation. The report was due to be discussed by the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, which began the process relating to this matter. Obviously, the joint committee's deliberations in this regard will now be delayed. I call on the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House at the earliest opportunity, preferably next week. I totally support the withdrawal of Government funding, which should not be restored until good governance is guaranteed. We all know that the Garda investigation may run for months, if not years. The guarantee of good governance is absolutely vital but the restoration of the funding is urgent. Coaching programmes, particularly those relating to children, are dependent on Government funding and they are all being held up. Next year, the Aviva Stadium in Dublin will host two UEFA European Football Championship games, which will obviously also require Government funding. An immovable object has come up against an irresistible force and something needs to be done. It is important that the Minister come to the House at the earliest opportunity next week in order that we might be informed as to a timeline for how this will play out. The handing of the report to the Garda yesterday means that the other process is on hold.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I also noticed the newspaper announcement to which Senator Ó Ríordáin referred. I wholly agree with the sentiments he expressed. I wonder who could be encouraging the Department of Justice and Equality to increase these limits for gambling machines in Ireland. As I have never heard of any popular demand for this, I presume it is coming from a group of people who are engaged in that business and who are twisting the arms of politicians. The damage done by these machines, fixed-odds betting terminals, in Britain and here has been enormous. They create substantial poverty and misery among people. The Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 has had the effect of prohibiting certain activities in Dublin city amusement arcades where these machines are located.  One need only walk up O'Connell Street or down the quays or drive to the airport to see massive casinos in operation. The Garda has collapsed in its determination to uphold the law. I am sorry to say that some District Court judges around the country have had the wool pulled over their eyes. Revenue licences have been produced to them in circumstances where local authorities have not yet adopted - and have no intention of adopting - a resolution permitting the casinos in their area. One of the few powers left to local government is to decide on whether these machines will be permitted in their local authority area. It has been decided to allow them in places such as Bray and Bundoran, and that is fine by me. However, the city of Dublin has never authorised the operation of amusement arcades which have these machines. It is plainly and simply illegal. Money is talking. The blatant loophole in our laws which is allowing this to happen without prosecution or enforcement has been allowed to remain for many years. Vast sums of money are being invested in and taken out of the casinos.

  I totally agree with Senator Ó Ríordáin that the time has come for somebody in Government to claim responsibility for the proposal to increase the maximum stakes and payouts. I have the greatest of respect for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, whom I very much like as an individual. Is he seriously going to come to this House to tell us that he wishes to increase the sums of money people can gamble and win on these machines? Will he explain to the House who has asked him to increase the limits? Will he claim it is important for tourism or will he face up to the fact that it would increase misery, the number of people falling into gambling addiction, the consequences for their families, criminality and so on? It is inexplicable that the Government would facilitate the change. There is no demand or good reason for it. The law is being openly flouted in Dublin and it is about time the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Minister for Justice and Equality closed down the casinos in Dublin which are being operated in total disregard of the law of the land.

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

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne Last Monday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. People are being asked to wear purple to mark the occasion. I encourage all people to be more aware of issues facing women and the fact that many women have been through violent situations. I wish to highlight the importance of the day.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I echo the dismay of Senator Freeman at the lack of implementation of A Vision for Change. The strategy was published in 2006 and was to be implemented by 2016, but 75% of it is yet to be implemented. Its funding was scalped in the name of the fiscal rectitude which has eaten away at our health services.

  I refer to Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, which is located up the road from where I live. Several years ago, I was alerted to issues at the hospital by the INMO and nurses working there. Approximately a year ago, I did some work on numbers relating to the hospital. There has been a stark increase of 15%, at least, in attendance at its emergency department. However, facilities or staffing numbers have not increased. The situation there is now being highlighted but it has been going on for some time. The chaos in adults' accident and emergency departments is well known. I tried to highlight the difficulties in children's emergency departments in 2016. We have not reached the high point of need for emergency treatment, which usually occurs in February or March.

  This morning, a paediatric consultant interviewed on the "Today with Sean O'Rourke" radio programme kept referring to an urgent care centre. It was eventually clarified that she was referring to the new children's hospital at Connolly Hospital. We need to get the message out that the facility is open. Although it is only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, we need to advertise it such that parents know they can bring their children there. It opened in July. I would like the Minister to inform the House on the staff ratios there, the status of recruitment and which parts of the service are fully operational. If it is only operating from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., it is obvious that it is only partly operational. We are awaiting the opening of the new children's unit at Tallaght Hospital and the children's hospital on the St. James's site which is being constructed at massive cost. We need to advertise the new satellite children's hospitals. I ask that the Minister come to the House and answer questions on the current operational capacity of the facility at Connolly Hospital.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I wish to highlight a dreadful attack on Fergus Kilcoyne, an Independent councillor from Patrickswell. At 4.45 a.m. last Monday morning, his house was attacked. All the windows were broken and his car was smashed. He, his wife and their children were asleep in the house. His wife and family were terrorised. Gardaí based at Roxboro Road Garda station are carrying out an investigation. The facts are in the public domain locally. It was a significant affront to society and an attack on democracy. We must seek to ensure we stop this type of attack. We should consider whether our legal and legislative systems are sufficiently robust. I have spoken to Fergus Kilcoyne. His main concern is for his family. He operates a business in the village of Patrickswell. The Garda is carrying out a detailed investigation into the matter and I ask that anyone with information contact it. The Seanad should give consideration to our legal and legislative systems in light of the attack and ask the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to come to the House on the issue in the not too distant future. Obviously, extra Garda resources are needed. The Garda Commissioner will attend a meeting of the joint policing committee in Limerick on 12 December to examine specific matters. It was an isolated incident, but we need to show solidarity with colleagues across the country. It is key that anyone with information contact the Garda at Roxboro Road or elsewhere in Limerick to ensure the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to account.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I echo the remarks of Senator O'Donnell. Such incidents occur across the country. There are communities in Dublin that are not policed. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, must explain why the allocation for Garda recruitment was reduced in the budget.

  I wish to raise the issue of housing. It has been reported in today's morning papers that an entire housing estate in Maynooth has been bought for €57 million and the properties are to be put on the rental market. We need a healthy and well-regulated rental market. The regulations must be enforced. What we are seeing over and over again is entire apartment blocks or housing estates being purchased in order to be put on the rental market. This is leading to the breakdown of communities. We need a mix of rental, social housing and other forms of housing. People who are earning a reasonable income should have the opportunity to purchase a house, but they cannot compete with these investors. Earlier this month, AIB and Bank of Ireland put together a fund of €50 million to buy up small residential developments which will be put up for rent. In my area, many young couples were hoping to have an opportunity to purchase one of the approximately 150 apartments being developed in a complex in Mount Argus.  They then read in the newspaper that it was entirely purchased by a fund.

  I know certain Members of this House, mainly on the Government benches, are sewn into the idea of a market economy and they say the market will decide. Ireland was traditionally a homeowner society with people who put roots into communities and created sustainable communities and they wanted to live in those communities in the long term to rear a family, to contribute to society and to build a community. This is no longer happening because we have an ideology that the market decides. That ideology will only offer the children who are in this House today an opportunity to rent for the rest of their lives. They will not have the same opportunity their parents had to purchase a house, to build a community and to build a family, safe in the security of knowing they own their home. We have an economy that is market-driven and we have a party that says the market decides, which was said in this House about co-living. It was said that the market will decide how many co-living units we will have and that we will only see them in the city centre. Now we see them all over the country.

  We have a grave responsibility to the generation sitting in the Gallery so that they have an opportunity to purchase their own homes and rear a family. We have a responsibility to the 20 year olds and 30 year olds so that they will not get caught in a scheme where they will have a pension fund that will only pay for their accommodation. We are not doing any forward planning on families in this State because it is a market economy and that is disgraceful.

Senator Neale Richmond: Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond I would like to raise the issue of the new European Commission that was elected and approved yesterday in Strasbourg at a sitting of the European Parliament. Europe is facing into a difficult five years under the Presidency of new Commission leader, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen. I call on the Deputy Leader to work with other officials in the Oireachtas to invite President von der Leyen to address a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as possible, much like former President Juncker did in recent months. There is much to deal with for Ireland and Europe beyond Brexit, be it the climate emergency, the new European budget, the migrant refugee crisis and so much more and it is vitally important we engage as early and as fully as possible with the new Commission, including President von der Leyen and the Irish nominee, Commissioner Phil Hogan, to deal with all these key issues.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan What Senator Richmond said is important but it is also important that we have a Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and I would welcome an early opportunity to have an updated report on its work, how it is meeting and what it is up to. That is really important. We have a number of slots and maybe we could identify a slot such as a Thursday afternoon for that. I thank Senator Richmond for all the work he is doing in that regard.

  The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission issued its report this morning and it is very significant. This will be examined in the UN on Monday and Tuesday of next week in greater detail. I sent this out to colleagues today. It will be televised and there will be a live link to the proceedings. It will be important to see how we account for ourselves. I ask the Deputy Leader if we could have a debate on this report. There are significant issues in it and there are significant recommendations for this country, particularly in the area of hate speech and hate crime, which we all know about and which we have talked about a lot. There are also recommendations on discrimination against specific groups and a substantial number of groups are mentioned. The issue of the international protection of human rights and trafficking also features in the report. These are three major themes the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has singled out with Ireland and it details how we have acquitted ourselves or not in the issues around human rights and equality within the remit of the Commission. I ask that we would have a specific debate on that.

  I wish the 20 local authorities around this country that are coming here to Dublin tonight having been short-listed and nominated for the local government awards well. It will be an important evening. As Members know, there are 31 local authorities but 20 of them have been short-listed and nominated for specific awards for local government excellence, and that is taking place tonight so I wish them all well.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I would like to raise an important issue in the House this afternoon. We need to have a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, and probably the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on what their priorities are for next year's school transportation scheme. I became involved in this issue last September and October, when we had children and their parents in distress with waiting for tickets and buses not being available. It is a huge issue for rural Ireland. More than 100,000 children use the school transportation scheme every year and 30,000 of them are waiting on tickets, depending on the capacity of buses.

  This entire matter has changed. We are talking about a new era of promoting public transport and the ability to have a carbon-neutral society. Two diesel cars emit the same amount of carbon as one school bus. We have to look at this differently and put a real scheme in place to ensure we have the capabilities and the capacity to take the children who are looking to go on school buses. This debate has to happen now. I do not want us to have a scenario where next summer we will be looking to try to find solutions. The solutions to the problems need to be found now. The planning needs to start now. We need to solve all the issues with the school transportation scheme because we are promoting a society where parents have the ability to work and engage in society but if they are tied to having to take their kids to school every morning and collect them every evening and everything pertaining to that, it makes it hard for rural dwellers to survive. The debate needs to start now. That policy change needs to happen and we need to start to have a focus on how we will ensure we get more kids onto buses. If it does not, we will have the same tsunami next August as we had last August.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I want to bring up the issue of University Hospital Limerick. I know my colleagues in Limerick have raised it already this week but I had a public meeting on this issue last Monday and I would like to share some of the facts Members may not be aware of, while calling for a debate on the issue. The staff there told me that day that there was a new record of 85 patients on trolleys and they predicted that the number will go over 100 this winter. They were certain of that. They also told me that of the €26 million winter fund for hospitals in this State, University Hospital Limerick received the princely sum of €500,000. That is completely inadequate for the emergency that is there. I remind Members the emergency protocol has been operated there every day for the last two years. I have to ask how it can be with Fine Gael in government and with plenty of Fine Gael representatives in Limerick that a pittance of €500,000 was allocated to University Hospital Limerick when everyone here knows the depth of the crisis.

  I also want to give Members examples of the incompetent management in the hospital, something I have been raising in here for years. For example, a person may turn up at the accident and emergency department, where an MRI scan is deemed to be required. Such a person is told he or she will be put in a hospital bed and that he or she can leave at 10 a.m. each morning once he or she is back at 8 p.m. that evening, because otherwise there will be a two-year wait for the MRI scan. Then we wonder why beds are blocked. That is management practice. A nurse who wanted to reduce her hours from 39 hours to 30 hours was told there was no way that would be allowed. As a result she resigned her post, came back in as an agency worker two weeks later to do her 30 hours per week but now the State picks up the tab. Again, that shows a complete lack of cop-on in management. Fine Gael has had nine years to deal with University Hospital Limerick. We consistently break records there. It has been a catalogue of failures. I have called for change in management and for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to intervene. The Minister has dodged my colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, and he does not want to come in and answer questions. I am calling for a debate and I am calling for honesty in that debate because Members of the House all know about what I am sharing here. These practices happen throughout the health service. They just happen to be worse in Limerick than anywhere else. It is time for the catalogue of failures to end, it is time for the Minister to intervene and it is time for people in Fine Gael to hold up their hands and accept they have failed the people of Limerick miserably with University Hospital Limerick.

Senator Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin I would like the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to be invited in to discuss a serious human rights issue that has received news coverage, most recently by the Daily Mail.  Children as young as four are in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, extracting cobalt so that we might have electric vehicles and batteries for them. It is estimated that approximately 40,000 children are operating in these mines. To say that it is not good for their health is an understatement, and there are long-term repercussions for these children. We are mindful of securing the future of the planet by tackling climate change. What is the future for these children? How are our policies contributing to this problem? The biggest cobalt mines are in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the demand is escalating with western policies to electrify transport, which means that car manufacturers are seeking this particular mineral. This is having a knock-on effect.

How are we contributing to solving this problem and what are we doing? I think everybody understands that this is disturbing. We see other investigations by Sky News and The Washington Post. There is much evidence, along with the fact that the Chinese are involved in these mines and the extraction of cobalt. We have placed ourselves on the world stage. We have to take action and see that there is some accountability such that we are not adding to the misery of people who are already living in very difficult circumstances. It is not acceptable. If this is the way that our climate action policies are going to proceed, they are sorely lacking in seeing the bigger picture of how people's lives are being impacted. This is urgent. It is not something new but it is clearly not being addressed. It is timely that the Minister would be brought in to explain to us what is happening and how the human rights of these children are being protected.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen When I read last weekend that the Dublin broadcasting branch of the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, had called for presenters' fees at RTÉ to be capped at the top rate of Civil Service pay, I was pleased to see that journalists were responding to public disquiet about excessive pay at the State broadcaster, especially at a time when RTÉ has a major budget deficit. This motion was passed by 30 NUJ journalists, describing the celebrity salaries as indefensible. I have learned from Kevin Doyle's report in the Irish Independent that the local NUJ branch is effectively being carpeted by the NUJ leadership for speaking out of turn and, in the words of NUJ boss, Séamus Dooley, having a meeting without senior industrial officials being present. It is to be presumed that if those senior industrial officials were present, we would have got a fudge of the kind that some would like to see, with some celebrity journalists having their salaries pegged to much higher salary scales in the commercial semi-States.

  Since September, I have been in touch with the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser to see how the law might operate in a manner that respects RTÉ's independence as a State broadcaster while ensuring that top presenters' pay is tied to recognisable, sensible public sector pay scales. I welcomed the NUJ branch's comments last Saturday but I said that a statutory approach would be needed to ensure that this goal could be achieved in a way that will be fair, transparent and that will stick. Seeing the infighting now going on within the NUJ, I am even more of the view that external statutory regulation is necessary. I hope that when I bring this legislation forward in the new year, the Seanad will take a strong lead with me on this.

  Tá gá le bunús reachtúil, go háirithe de bharr an achrainn agus easaontas laistigh d’Aontas Náisiúnta na nIriseoirí i dtaobh na ceiste seo. Leadership works best when it comes from the top. As I understand it, there are many different levels on which one can be paid in RTÉ. If one is in TG4, one is paid at a lower level than other journalists in RTÉ. We all know about the so-called yellow pack journalists operating both in RTÉ and the independent sector. It was in another context that Senator Humphreys referred a few moments ago to the injustice being done to the next generation, who are being priced out of the housing market etc. If the younger generation working in journalism or teaching simply cannot aspire to the same salary and conditions as more famous people within the organisation simply because they are young and have come into the organisation later, that is no way to build and promote morale. It is no way to protect and promote excellence in journalism either. I am disappointed to see that there is division within the NUJ about this important matter. Our response as a Legislature must be to take a lead and bring forward the necessary statutory basis for sensible pay scales which, though it would by no means be the end of the problem, would help RTÉ with its deficit problem.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I congratulate and thank the 1,500 people in County Roscommon who marched last Saturday to try to get the issue with the Irish Wheelchair Association resolved in Cuisle. I hope that we can work together with all the stakeholders to get this resolved.

  Senator Gavan rightly raised the issue regarding University Hospital Limerick. I was in this situation. The Senator talked about Fine Gael not doing any work. Since we have been in government in 2011, we have made significant changes in healthcare. I was a victim of scaremongering and a political football regarding Roscommon. People said that people would die and that the place would be closed. Hundreds of people are alive today due to the air ambulance. Roscommon hospital is a model for smaller hospitals around the country. A national inpatient experience survey was done in Roscommon hospital and it got a 98% approval rating which I want to put on the record because many people and media outlets had a race to the bottom. Many good things are happening in the health service. Senator Gavan was absolutely right to raise some of the bad things but sometimes I think we lose sight of the great experiences that people have of our health system around the country. It can improve and will never be perfect. Fine Gael in government has done much to change the way that we deliver healthcare throughout the country. I am very proud of that.

  On a lighter note, more than five years ago, our colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of seagulls having lost the run of themselves. There was great mirth. I was a victim of that today. I was on Grafton Street with a sandwich and I was mugged by a flock of seagulls.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Fianna Fáil seagulls.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Sinn Féin ones.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan They were Dublin seagulls, I think.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Leave the Dubs alone.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We will hear the Senator out on this.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan It was very frightening. They were large, aggressive birds. I would be frightened for older people and young children. I have never seen anything quite like it. I understand this is an ongoing situation on Grafton Street especially.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator is right. What time of day or night is he talking about?

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I understand that the Minister, Deputy Madigan, has agreed to the formation of a consultative committee with an independent chair. Where is that now?

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Could the Brexit committee change its remit, perhaps?

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson If seagulls were referred to emergency departments, they would-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan All right now.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I know it is amusing but it is serious as well.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen We do not want to set up too many new committees if we could repurpose some of the existing committees.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Fill up the emergency department in Limerick.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan I understand this group has met. Maybe we should ask the Minister for an update on the committee's report. I understand that it is a serious issue in Dublin and it is to be hoped we can get to it. My colleague, Senator O'Sullivan, was maybe five years ahead of his time but it is an issue that perhaps we should address.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Is it in order to single out a minority of birds for this kind of treatment?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We are not going to have further chat about this at the moment.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I listened, as I always do, with great interest to our colleague, Senator Gavan. I agree with much of what he has to say. Nobody can defend the situation in University Hospital Limerick. Anybody who would defend it would not be doing justice to any mandate. It is terrible. I agree that there are challenges with management. I know that some sort of report is being carried out on the situation with the management of the facility.  They are reviewing emergency department facilities overall anyway. At a ministerial level any request that has come in from the mid-west hospital group for funding for the emergency department in Limerick has been facilitated. The request was submitted for a six-bed modular unit and the Minister provided the money. It is up to the management to get that up and running. I am extremely frustrated with the delay in building the unit and making it operational. We are told it will be operational for next winter. Hopefully it will. We shall wait and see.

  Another thing we all sought was a second MRI scanner. Twenty people get MRI scans in Limerick hospital each day. From next week, there will be 40, doubling the numbers. I understand that many people on trolleys are waiting for an MRI. I do not know if this will be a panacea or a start to resolve the problems in Limerick but I sincerely hope it is. This is not a party political situation, we all want to see it resolved as it is a humanitarian issue.

  I attended two very interesting events today. The first was in the Italian Room in Government Buildings, with the Leader, where we attended the launch of the LGBTI+ strategy. It is a two and a half year strategy to try to break down the inequality in society among LGBTI+ people, including name calling and verbal abuse. I welcome the strategy which was launched by the Minister and Minister of State for Justice and Equality, Deputies Flanagan and Stanton. The Taoiseach gave a video address. It has whole-of-Government support and will be useful. We might have the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, before the House to go through the report's 100 recommendations.

  At 11 a.m. today I attended the yellow flag presentation in the audiovisual room to six schools which have done enormous work to create equality and diversity, diversity in understanding in their primary schools. It is a pity it was not 60 or 600 schools but six schools is a start. I commend the young people from those schools who have already made a significant difference in their communities and education communities. Not only are the children learning from each other but the parents and teachers are learning from the children. I hope that society will also learn from the children. Much has happened in the area of climate action among children who have done fantastic work -----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Thank you Senator.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway -----in terms of their Friday protests and so on. I hope we see a similar approach to breaking down the inequalities that exist in our society -----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator is on double time.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway ---- and I hope that is led by children as well.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I raise the issue of the system that is broken. Lalini Veerassamy, chief of mission of the International Organisation for Migration in Ireland, said direct provision is not bad but she believes standards can be improved. Direct provision is what we have but it is not good enough. It is not right at all. It might be good enough as a first port but it cannot be a forever home. To read yesterday that there are still 700 people living in direct provision centres who are legally allowed -----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We had a debate on this yesterday.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I was at another meeting so I wanted to highlight this now on the Order of Business. I will be two seconds. We attend a lot of meetings. We are not giving enough support and we need to ensure there is a new community and new part of life.

  I wish to raise something I read last week as I think it is important. A man named Denis Kelleher, who I am sure some Members will have heard of, died. He personified the Irish immigrant story. He was a poor shoemaker's son who emigrated to America in 1958 aged 18 years. He started at the bottom of the ladder of a financial firm and worked so hard every day of his life that he rose to greatness and opened his own Wall Street firm. He landed in America with less than $50 and every day he worked he put away money to support his newly-widowed mother home in Ireland. He was a boy who went to school in Killarney and used his great earnings to educate poor Catholic school children through the inner-city scholarship fund in the New York archdiocese. It is a really good story. We need to look at the bigger picture. I tried to get up to speak on it yesterday but I did not.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator is quite right about Denis Kelleher. He helped found Radio Kerry with me.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor That is right, he did too, but the Leas-Chathaoirleach did not even address this in the House. I have a lot more to say.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson He had to leave Killarney to become a millionaire. The Leas-Chathaoirleach was fortunate.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan He is a very famous son of the kingdom.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Has he a vote in the Seanad elections?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan That is the end of that for the moment. I call on the Deputy Leader to respond.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I thank those who raised issues on the Order of Business. Senator Horkan raised the town and village renewal and spoke in detail on the apparent reduction of successful applications this year. The Minister, Deputy Ring, may be due a visit to the Seanad. He has not been here in a while. It would be a worthwhile debate. He also raised the issue of the children's hospital. Based on several contributions today it would be timely for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to come to the House to discuss that and a wide variety of issues including those raised by Senators Gavan and Conway. The Senator also referred to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council's report and pointed out that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has not been here in a while. I cannot suggest that a Minister comes to the House for every thing that is raised but it is something to look at in the new year.

      Senator Freeman referred to the children's emergency department and called for a debate on mental health with the Minister of State, Deputy Daly. He would be more than willing to have such a debate and I will suggest that we do that in the new year, or before Christmas if that is possible.

  Senator Conway-Walsh referred to Cuisle. The House had a debate on this yesterday afternoon. There is a need for the Irish Wheelchair Association to engage with those who will be most affected by this.

  Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to gambling. The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill passed in the Seanad earlier in the year. The media reports refer to the imposition of limits which is the only part that is in the control of the Minister. It will be due back in the Seanad on 12 December when there will be an opportunity for Members to discuss that.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Meanwhile, what about casinos?

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone There will be an opportunity to discuss that.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell In two years' time?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Deputy Leader to speak without interruption.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I refer to the particular legislation.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson It is a particular amendment to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Lads, take it outside if you want to have a conversation.

  There will be a debate on 12 December which is the week after next. I suggest that is an opportune time to raise the matter with the Minister.

  Senator O'Mahony raised a very important issue around sport, the FAI and the ongoing issue with the FAI's funds. This is a very serious matter and he is quite right that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should be brought to the House to discuss this. Hopefully it will be next week. I will suggest that the Leader does this.

  Senator McDowell also raised the limits on gambling. I agree with much that has been said on the limits. It is something that we can discuss with the Minister the week after next. Senator Byrne noted that today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It cannot be highlighted often enough.

  Senator Devine referred to the children's hospital. She made the very constructive suggestion on the need to advertise that Connolly Hospital now has an emergency department. That should be able to alleviate some of the pressure at least. It highlights the underlying need for the new children's hospital. That is something that could be discussed with the Minister in the near future.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the incident relating to Councillor Fergus Kilcoyne.  I do not know the details, but it sounds like a very serious incident. As the Senator said, we must show solidarity to any colleague who goes through such an ordeal. It is absolutely horrific, though I am sure the Garda is dealing with it. None of us want to see that happening and the Senator is quite right to highlight it.

  Senator Humphreys raised the issue of housing and the estate that was purchased in Maynooth for €57 million. I presume that development is targeted at students because of Maynooth university.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys No. They are family homes.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I did not read the article the Senator referenced but there is a need for a wider debate on housing policy and those kinds of purchases. Many of the housing developments being built at the moment are either 100% private or 100% social, and we need to be looking at the mix. I come across many people on the doorsteps who do not expect a house from the State, who are quite willing to pay for it and who are trying to access the housing market. While there is an urgent need for social housing, there is also a very pressing need for those individuals who wish to live in their own localities and only want access to purchasing. I agree with much of what the Senator said on this issue. We should have a proper debate about it in the House in the new year.

  Senator Richmond suggested inviting the new President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to a joint sitting of the Houses. We would all welcome and enjoy that if it is possible to do so.

  Senator Boyhan raised three issues. He stated that he would like a debate on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission's report, which is a good suggestion. The report highlights hate speech, crime and discrimination against certain groups in society, as well as trafficking which has been in focus recently. That would be a good debate to have.

  Senator Lombard raised the issue of school transport, which is a huge issue for rural Ireland and which he is quite right to highlight.

  Senator Gavan raised the issue of Limerick hospital, as he and Senators Byrne and Kieran O'Donnell do regularly in this House. There is a very serious crisis in the management of that hospital. We could do with a specific debate on that particular hospital, but it should also be addressed in the context of a wider debate on the health services.

  Senator Mulherin raised an issue which I also read about during the week. It is frightening to think that 40,000 children as young as four years old are in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It beggars belief that such a thing could happen to such young people, at the start of their lives, in this day and age. Climate action is very important and is all anyone is discussing. We are trying to come up with policy solutions, but I would personally rather drive a diesel car than be a part of policies which require so much cobalt that children are forced to work in mines. We need a debate on that, perhaps in the context of a global climate conversation with the Minister. Many countries are involved in this, and we are in the frame because of our agricultural sector and various other sectors where we need to make improvements. Serious human rights violations in countries around the world must be faced up to, as well as very serious climate violations. Some of those countries are not making serious efforts, in comparison with the efforts of many countries in Europe. The Senator has raised a very important point about something I personally find very disturbing.

  Senator Mullen raised the issue of the NUJ and celebrity RTÉ salaries. He is highlighting a point with which many people would agree. Certain presenters on RTÉ earn three times the Taoiseach's salary - not that the Taoiseach is looking for a pay rise - and the idea that the person-----

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen He just wants security of tenure.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone As do we all.

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

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Senator has raised an important point and I look forward to seeing his legislation when it comes before the House. It seems timely and relevant.

  Senator Feighan raised the issue of the Cuisle centre. He was unable to be present for yesterday's debate on this matter due to a family bereavement. Senator McFadden and I spoke on his behalf and on behalf of Senator Hopkins.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan Senator Leyden as well.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Senator Leyden was here.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan That is what I am saying. He spoke as well.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Many people spoke. I am referring to people who were absent and could not speak for themselves. It appears the Minister is in a bind in this situation, and the Irish Wheelchair Association has made a policy decision which negatively affects the users of this service. Everyone needs to just get together and sort this out. The will to keep this facility in Roscommon seems to be there. Fair play to Senator Feighan, because he went through hell over Roscommon hospital on both a personal and professional level. He must be very proud to see the report in today's papers that the hospital has a 98% satisfaction rate, and must feel vindicated for the stance he took. I hope he is rewarded for his brave stance on that matter.

  On a lighter note, I refer to the issue of seagulls. Every time we talk about this, it gets attention because it sounds so ridiculous. However, it is a serious issue for people, especially in my constituency.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Absolutely.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone It is not only a problem near the sea, because seagulls are now so domesticated that they come onto Grafton Street and terrorise people. It is an issue. In Howth, Fingal County Council has installed special bins that make it much less likely that rubbish is strewn around the place. Many councils all over Dublin have to take that into account.

Senator Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan For the record, it was a sausage McMuffin.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan They are not very shy birds.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone No, and they are clearly fond of sausage McMuffins.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I am glad to say that this is one problem with which rural Ireland is not plagued.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone It is an interesting area because it is hard to know what to do about it. It is raised with me quite regularly. It sounds like a funny frivolous issue to raise but it is quite serious, especially for children as I have heard many reports of them being chased by seagulls. It is, as the Senator noted, quite frightening. I will request an update on this from the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan.

  Senator Conway raised the issue of Limerick hospital, which I have addressed. He also highlighted the LGBTI+ strategy that was launched this morning and the schools involved in a diversity programme. That is to be commended and, we hope, extended.

  Senator Murnane O'Connor raised direct provision and spoke about a billionaire in America, which-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan A very famous man.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I just thought it was a lovely story.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Leas-Chathaoirleach obviously knows that man well.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan He is a great personal friend.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone It is nice to highlight a positive initiative.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor It is.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone It is very common that Irish people who go abroad and do well give back to Ireland. We are very lucky when it comes to that inward investment. On that level, it is very important. People who partake in that type of philanthropic activity deserve to have their efforts highlighted, though oftentimes they do not wish for that at all.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor They are forgotten.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone They are not doing it for praise, recognition or thanks. They do it because they feel they can give back. I thank the Senator for highlighting that.

  Order of Business agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 12.40 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.

Teachtaireacht ón Dáil - Message from Dáil

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Dail Éireann passed the Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill 2019 on the 27th day of November, to which the agreement of Seanad Éireann is desired.

Finance (Tax Appeals and Prospectus Regulation) Bill 2019: Second Stage

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

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Patrick O'Donovan): Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan The proposed Finance Bill (Tax Appeals and Prospectus Regulation) Bill 2019 has three Parts. The first Part contains the Short Title and commencement and definitions section. The second Part is to make amendments to the legislation governing the Tax Appeals Commission, primarily to implement recommendations of an independent review carried out in 2018. The third Part relates to the transposition of the EU prospectus regulations by an amendment to Part 23 of the Companies Act 2014.

  Part 2 relates to the tax appeals process. I am aware that a number of Senators engaged in discussion of this Bill at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. I confirm that the recommendations of Senators were taken into account in the drafting process.

  The Tax Appeals Commission was established on 21 March 2016 under the Finance (Tax Appeal) Act 2015, taking over the former Office of the Appeal Commissioners. Since its establishment, staffing at the commission has grown from two Appeal Commissioners and four administrative staff to five Appeal Commissioners and 22 administrative staff at various grades. However, a number of factors, including the transfer of a substantial number of legacy appeals from Revenue and a change in the appeals process and establishment of the commission, have contributed to the development of a backlog of appeals.

  The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, commissioned an independent review of the workload and operations of the Tax Appeals Commission in 2018. This review examined the governance structures, workload and operations of the commission. The Minister has expressed his full support for the recommendations and work on implementation is ongoing both in the Department and the Tax Appeals Commission. The actions taken to date include a significant increase in the commission's budget, the recruitment of three additional temporary Appeal Commissioners and an increase in staffing of administrative and technical grades in the commission.

  This Bill will enable the progression of another key recommendation of the independent review which is the appointment of a chairperson of the commission. The chairperson, who will also be an Appeal Commissioner, will be responsible for ensuring the efficient operation of the Tax Appeals Commission and will be accountable to the Minister for Finance in this regard. It is envisaged that the establishment of a commission chairperson will strengthen the body's governance and accountability while bringing the commission's structure in line with other similar bodies.

  A number of technical amendments to the Tax Appeals Commission are also being made. The Bill will remove any ambiguity as to the ability of the Tax Appeals Commission to enter into a contract and thus guarantee its independence. It will also clarify some aspects of the existing appeals legislation with respect to the process of appealing a determination to the commission or the High Court in order to facilitate the appeals process.  Part 3 of the Bill will amend Part 23 of the Companies Act 2014 as part of the transposition of the EU prospectus regulations directive. Ireland's prospectus framework is implemented into Irish legislation through statutory instrument and Part 23 of the Companies Act 2014. The Bill provides for amendments to Part 23 of the Companies Act 2014 to complete the transposition into Irish law of EU Regulation No. 2017/1129 of the European Parliament and the Council on the prospectus to be published when securities are offered to the public or admitted to trading on a regulated market. The regulation entered into force on 21 July 2019 and repealed the 2003 prospectus directive. Although the majority of the regulation is directly effective, certain provisions had to be transposed into Irish law through the European Union (Prospectus) Regulations 2019, contained in Sl 380/2019, which were enacted on 19 July 2019.

  The EU regulation harmonises the requirements for the drawing up, approval and distribution of the prospectus that must be published when securities are offered to the public or admitted to trading on a regulated market. It aims to help companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises access more diverse sources of finance by simplifying the rules applying to prospectus documents while maintaining appropriate investor protections. The regulation aims to reduce the overall cost and administrative burden for companies that are required to issue a prospectus, while enabling investors to make informed investment decisions on the basis of the information provided being accurate, comprehensible, concise and easy to analyse. It was originally intended that the required changes to Ireland's prospectus framework would be made through a consolidated secondary instrument. However, on the basis of legal advice it was deemed necessary to make some amendments through primary legislation, and that is why I am here.

  The amendments to Part 23 of the Companies Act 2014 provided for in the Bill are mainly technical in nature. I will also have the opportunity on Committee and Report Stages to debate these matters in depth. I commend the Bill to the Seanad and thank the Senators who engaged at the pre-legislative scrutiny level.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive statement. I will try not to repeat all the wonderful aspects that the Minister of State outlined about the Bill and only say that Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill.

  The Minister of State acknowledged there have been significant issues with the Tax Appeals Commission - mainly the lengthy backlog and the number of cases that are before it. At the end of June 2019, there were under its remit 3,543 active appeals. Since its inception, that list is getting longer where the commission is opening more appeals. In 2016, more than 2,300 appeals were received and 200 were closed. In 2017, 1,700 more appeals were received and fewer than 700 were closed. In 2018, 1,700 were received and 1,400 closed. In 2019, the figures show that up to the end of June, 672 were received and 580 closed. All of the time, the list is getting longer. I appreciate that is the reason we are here. That is the reason we are debating this Bill to allow for an increase in the number of people who can deal with this stuff. There will be three additional temporary appeal commissioners. That is a welcome development. I can certainly put on the record that Fianna Fáil and I will support any measure that helps to further address the backlog and makes the appeals commission even more efficient.

  The appointment of a chairperson on a statutory basis is important. It is certainly of concern that the backlog is getting bigger rather than smaller. It is important that we appreciate that some of these appeals are very large. There is one of over €1 billion in play. Clearly, while the State would like that money, and we all would like that money for the use of the State, it is not the State's money until it has been resolved one way or the other. Whether we have it in an escrow account or we have it sitting somewhere, we cannot use it until we know we have the use of it and it has not been refunded.

  Much of the debate on this Bill has been probably caught up in the tax appeals. The prospectus regulation part of the Bill has not been referred to as much but it is important to realise that now the definition of a local offer can increase from €5 million to €8 million meaning that some small and medium-sized enterprises making offerings up to €8 million can submit a local offer rather than having to issue a full prospectus. That is welcome in the context of people trying to raise legitimate funds to grow their businesses right across the country.

  I do not want to delay the House. We have had problems with the Tax Appeals Commission in the past. There were 25 recommendations published on budget day last year and there has been no update on any of those. The problem has been getting worse. Hopefully, this Bill is part of that. It has been quite slow in coming but, nonetheless, I welcome it.

  I thank the Minister of State for being here. I appreciate that the sooner we get this legislation through these Houses the better. Committee and Remaining Stages are being taken on Tuesday next. I thank Deputy O'Donovan for the work he is doing on all of our behalf.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to the House. This is about the amendment of the Act of 2015. The Minister of State's speech has not been provided.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan The Minister of State read it out beautifully.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Do we get a copy of the speech?

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan It has not been circulated. The Minister of State read it but we did not get a copy of it.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Minister of State read it thoroughly.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan It was comprehensive.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell The two elements to the Bill are the amendment of the Act about the appointment of the chairperson of the appeals commission which appears technical in nature, and Part 3, which is the change to update the definition of EU prospectus law which also looks to be a technical point.

  I would make a general point on the area of tax appeals. There has been various legislation coming through and there has been a considerable backlog in the area of appeals. It has been open to abuse where people have used it to delay decisions being made. Equally, it has been used as a tactic whereby those who want to get a resolution of their tax situation have to wait an inordinate length of time. Therefore, I welcome the fact there are extra resources going into this area.

  The most important aspect of an appeal mechanism for me is that it is comprehensive and takes place in a reasonable length of time. There are many businesses put in a state of limbo until their appeal hearing is completed. In many cases, they wait an inordinate length of time. In my view, if one has appeals heard in a reasonable length of time and they are held by competent individuals, the system should be robust enough to deal with those who are looking for a quick resolution to get on with their business and, equally, to deter those who might use the mechanism as a way of deferring having to make a decision or pay a tax. I wholeheartedly agree with such a system.

  The Bill deals with two particular aspects, the first of which is appointing the chairperson. I did not hear the Minister of State's speech. Has an interim chairperson been appointed yet?

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan We must pass the legislation first.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Has an interim chairperson been appointing pending enactment of the legislation?

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan No.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell When does the Minister of State expect the appeals chairperson will be appointed?

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan As soon as we get this done.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Good. The issue in Part 3, which is to update the definition of EU prospectus law, is technical in nature. Overall, I welcome the update of the entire appeal mechanism, both in terms of resources and ensuring that they are heard and expedited. It is most important in terms of the functioning of businesses.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I thank the Minister of State. He will be pleased to hear this is a Bill I very much welcome.

  The Bill deals primarily, as the Minister of State said, with the two issues of tax appeal and prospectus regulation. Section 5 amends section 4 of the Finance (Tax Appeals) Act 2015, which itself established the Tax Appeals Commission to replace the Office of Appeals Commission. This is important because of the increased number of tax appeals being made. It is worth noting that in 2018, the Tax Appeals Commission closed 1,440 appeals and the amount of tax involved was €560 million.

  The appeals process, as was said, can often be slow, legalistic and increasingly bureaucratic. I would support whatever can be done to sharpen that up to get rid of some of the bureaucracy so that decisions can be made quicker because there is not only financial stress, but all of the other stress, involved.  The Bill will provide the chairperson with a specific responsibility to ensure the integrity of the commission's financial and accounting reporting systems, which is important. Additionally, the chairperson will ensure the compliance with freedom of information and data protection law.

  I will not say much more. We will be examining it on Committee Stage, and I understand the rationale behind the amendments. However, it is important that these provisions do not excessively impede the ability of the taxpayer to appeal the determination by the Tax Appeals Commission to the High Court in good faith and with justification. We will look at that on Committee Stage.

  While we are looking at tax appeals, we have to look also at the Apple appeal. The new chairperson who comes in will be wondering why we are doing that. I will ask the Minister of State just one question. How much have we spent on the appeal in the Apple case?

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan That is not relevant to this legislation, although I take the point.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh The Minister of State might indulge my curiosity.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I am indulging the Senator's curiosity.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh We will have a closer look at this. I welcome the Bill. It will do a significant job for people who are dealing with the tax system. God knows, businesses face enough pressure without being held up by Revenue as well. Transparency is extremely important. I thank the Chair and the Minister of State and I look forward to Committee Stage.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan As no other Senators wish to contribute, I call the Minister of State.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Patrick O'Donovan): Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I thank all Senators who have engaged with the Bill. Senator Conway-Walsh is right that there will be a further opportunity on Committee Stage.

  In the context of the appeals that were closed between 21 March 2016 and 29 October 2019, the total number was 3,750, involving a quantum of €1.3 billion. As of 29 October last, the amount of money still in dispute with the Tax Appeals Commission stood at €3.68 billion. By any stretch of the imagination, these are not small numbers. All the Senators who spoke are right in saying there are legitimate reasons that people want to make appeals. It needs to be done faster.

  Senator O'Donnell asked about the chairperson. That person will be appointed as soon as we can get legislation through, and it has been through the other House. I am delighted Senator Conway-Walsh is supportive. We have often crossed swords on other issues but I am very happy she is supporting this.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan We are all on the same side today.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan It is great and is a sign of things to come.

  With regard to the question on the Apple tax appeal, I am not going to refer to an individual company but I would point out that is not a matter for the Tax Appeals Commission but is an EU matter. I am sure that if there are specifics the Senator wishes to raise with the Minister for Finance at another opportunity, he would be delighted to respond.

  In the context of the overview of the prospectus regulations, I reiterate that the threshold exempting securities offerings from the requirement to issue a prospectus is being increased from the current €5 million limit to €8 million, as provided for in the regulation. Given the increased offer threshold, and following consultation with the Central Bank of Ireland, additional disclosure requirements are to be inserted into the local offer regime to improve the investor protections currently available in section 1361 of the 2014 Act.

  I thank the House for facilitating the debate on Second Stage. It will either be the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, or the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who will take the Bill through Committee Stage and Report and Final Stages.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerry Horkan): Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan We are sorry it will not be the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, who will be here, particularly as he has been so efficient thus far. We could get through it very quickly next Tuesday if he were here.

  Question put and agreed to.

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

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.

  The Seanad adjourned at 1.05 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 December 2019.


Last Updated: 13/07/2020 13:45:04 First Page Previous Page Page of 2 Next Page Last Page