Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad
 Header Item Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
 Header Item Medicinal Products
 Header Item Employment Rights
 Header Item National Planning Framework
 Header Item An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
 Header Item Sitting Arrangements: Motion
 Header Item Report on Supreme Court Judgments: Motion
 Header Item Social Welfare Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
 Header Item Finance Bill 2020: Report and Final Stages
 Header Item Finance Bill 2020: Motion for Earlier Signature

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 273 No. 10
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 2 Next Page Last Page

Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I have received notice from Senator Fiona O’Loughlin that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, she proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to ensure that the drug, Patisiran, is made available to those suffering from hereditary amyloidosis.

I have also received notice from Senator Paul Gavan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to make a statement on the difficulties being faced by persons working as content moderators.

I have also received notice from Senator John McGahon of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to consider the provision of funding for the housing maintenance section in Louth County Council.

I have also received notice from Senator Sharon Keogan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to make a statement on the restrictions in place on the number of housing units that may be built in each local authority area.

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

The need for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to make a statement on the proposal for a deposit protection scheme for tenants.

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

The need for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to make a statement on the supports available to those affected by the avian flu.

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

The need for the Minister for Education to make a statement on the site acquisition for Summercove National School, Kinsale, County Cork.

I have also received notice from Senator Gerard Craughwell of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to provide an update on the provision of overseas allowances for Irish citizens who represent Ireland as secondees to the OCSE special monitoring mission in Ukraine.

I have also received notice from Senator Emer Currie of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to increase the number of medical interns in response to Covid-19 and to encourage more graduates to stay in Ireland to undertake training as doctors.

I have also received notice from Senator Lynn Boylan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to make a statement on the impact of energy consumption by data centres.

I have also received notice from Senator Barry Ward of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to set out the provisions that will be available to local authorities for the management of harbours within their functional areas.

The matters raised by the Senators are suitable for discussion. I have selected those raised by Senators O’Loughlin, Gavan, McGahon and Keogan and they will be taken now. The other Senators may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise.

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Medicinal Products

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin The issue I want to raise before the House, and it is not the first time that I have spoken about it here, is the area of hereditary amyloidosis. Like many Members, I would not have heard about this very debilitating and difficult disease if it had not affected somebody that I know very well. Pat Tinsley is a well known and well loved member of the Newbridge community whose life has been absolutely destroyed by this degenerative disease. This debilitating and fatal illness attacks the heart and nervous system of patients.  As it progresses, it causes loss of sensation, limb weakness and pain. The drug patisiran, which helps alleviate and manage symptoms, is available in the UK and the US but is not available here.

  Pat is running out of time and desperately needs this drug, as do approximately 30 other people in Ireland. Thankfully, the Department secured a significantly enhanced budget with an extra €50 million for new medicines in 2021 but I have been informed that this budget allocation will be insufficient to cover the costs of all new medicines in 2021. I know that the HSE is committed to providing access to as many new medicines as possible from the resources provided and I urge it and the Minister to include patisiran in that list.

  Some 4,000 of my constituents signed a petition calling for patisiran to be made available to Pat and the other sufferers of this disease and I am speaking on their behalf. I have submitted that petition to the Minister for Health, the chief executive of the HSE and the Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Health. According to the HSE, the required National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, NCPE, health technology assessment report was received by the HSE on 24 February 2020. At that point, under a different Government and regime, it was recommended that patisiran not be recommended for reimbursement unless cost effectiveness could be improved relative to existing treatments. Patisiran was then considered at a meeting of the drugs group in July 2020 and, unfortunately, no recommendation was made then.

  The agenda of the December 2020 drugs group meeting was full and patisiran was added to the list of items for the next available meeting. Patisiran currently sits as the third item for consideration on the draft January drugs group agenda. The drugs group is expected to provide a recommendation to the HSE executive management team on the basis of all of the available evidence at that time.

  I understand that the HSE executive management team is required to consider a range of criteria which include unmet need, clinical evidence, economic evidence, budget impact and the resources available. I urge the executive to remember that behind these statistics and criteria lie real people who desperately need this drug. Those with amyloidosis understand that other people are also waiting for drugs but there is a huge sense of urgency for sufferers of hereditary amyloidosis due to the rapid progression of the disease. I am pleading with the Minister of State and the HSE on their behalf. They absolutely need to have this drug and if they do not get it, the quality of their lives is at risk, and even their lives are at risk.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan I thank Senator O'Loughlin for raising this important issue and for giving me the opportunity, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to speak on the reimbursement of patisiran for hATTR amyloidosis. I fully understand that access to potentially beneficial drug treatments is an extremely important issue for people with this condition.

  As the Senator is aware, the HSE has statutory responsibility for medicine pricing and reimbursement decisions under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. The Act specifies certain criteria for decisions on the reimbursement of medicines which include unmet need, clinical evidence, the resources available to the HSE when making reimbursement decisions and budget impact. HSE decisions on which medicines are reimbursed by the taxpayer are made on objective, scientific and economic grounds, on the advice of the NCPE. It uses a decision framework to systematically assess whether a drug is cost effective as a health intervention.

  The Minister is advised by the HSE that it received an application in December 2018 for the reimbursement of patisiran for the treatment of hATTR amyloidosis in adult patients with stage 1 or stage 2 polyneuropathy. In January 2019, a full health technology assessment, HTA, was commissioned by the HSE. In February 2020, following the HTA, the NCPE recommended that patisiran not be considered for reimbursement unless cost effectiveness could be improved relative to existing treatments.

  In July 2020, the HTA report, the patient group submission received during the HTA process, and the outputs of commercial negotiations were reviewed by the HSE drugs group. The drugs group was unable to recommend in favour of patisiran at that time. The drugs group therefore sought additional patient and clinician engagement input via the rare diseases technology review committee, RDTRC, to assist the group in making its recommendation to the HSE executive management team.

  In September 2020, the rare diseases technology review committee reviewed the clinical data previously submitted as part of the established pricing and reimbursement process and heard from consultants involved in the specialist management of patients with this illness. In November 2020, the committee convened again and continued its review of patisiran, which included patient input on the impact of this illness. Following these meetings, the committee finalised a statement summarising the clinician and patient engagement on patisiran, which was forwarded to the HSE drugs group for consideration.

  The HSE has advised that patisiran currently sits as the third item for consideration on the January drugs group draft agenda. The statement from the rare diseases technology review committee will be considered by the drugs group along with the health technology assessment and the outcomes from commercial negotiations.

  As the Senator will be aware, additional funding of €50 million was provided for new medicines in budget 2021. This funding will allow the HSE to approve medicines which have been recommended by the HSE drugs group on the basis of efficacy and value for money in line with the 2013 Health Act. The application for patisiran remains under consideration with the HSE and the reimbursement of this medicine will be considered in this context.

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I have listened closely to what the Minister of State has said and I accept that last February and July, a decision was made in the negative on patisiran but things have changed rapidly. The fact that an extra €50 million was included in the budget in order to treat rare diseases is important and an absolute game changer. I accept, of course, that there has to be criteria for the spending of public money on medicines. However, the 30 people who we are speaking about are lucky that we know that there is a drug that can absolutely help to support them with their difficult symptoms. That is hugely important. I accept that the whole reality of trying to negotiate with commercial pharmaceutical firms is something that we need to do. We need to have that negotiation. I hope that the Minister of State will intervene to ensure that those 30 people, including my friend Pat, will have the opportunity to access patisiran in early 2021.

Deputy Frankie Feighan: Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan The Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has received a number of representations on this matter from patients and concerned family members. I fully appreciate that this is a worrying time for patients, families and carers, and I hope the Senator's friend Pat and any other people who want this drug will get a good result. The Minister and I hope that this process comes to a satisfactory conclusion for all concerned. It is important to note that the HSE executive management team is the decision-making body for the reimbursement of medicines under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. It will, on receipt of the outcome of the drugs group's deliberation, make the decision as to whether patisiran will be reimbursed.  The Senator is absolutely right that the additional funding for new medicines provided in budget 2021 will allow the HSE to provide access to evidence-based, cost-effective medicines, and ultimately to provide more medicines to Irish citizens. This item is third for consideration on the draft January drugs group meeting agenda, and hopefully there will be a positive outcome. The decision on this issue is made by the HSE executive management team, on receipt of the outcome of the meeting of the drugs group.

Employment Rights

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I wish to raise a serious issue today, namely, the work of social media content moderators. These people carry out a new form of work which is horrific in nature but regrettably is essential. On a daily basis, these workers will view and filter out the worst acts of humanity posted online in order that they do not appear on our screens. This is done through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It may come as a surprise to the Minister of State that approximately 2,000 workers in Dublin are working in these horrific jobs. The positions are outsourced, insecure and low-paid. They are doing the worst of work to protect us, but unfortunately, this comes at a cost to their own mental health. They are subject to serious psychological damage and injury due to being exposed to explicit content during the course of their everyday work.

  We need to address the problems of these workers, as we now know this is causing post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and other psychological damage to many of those workers exposed to this type of content. A month ago, an open letter was published from more than 200 Facebook moderators, including well over 100 workers based in Dublin, that was addressed to the CEO of Facebook, as well as the chief executives of the recruitment company CPL and of Accenture. In this letter, Facebook content moderators wrote to "express our dismay at your decision to risk our lives - and the lives of our colleagues and loved ones - to maintain Facebook's profits during the pandemic". Another line from that letter stated the moderators did:

Facebook’s most brutal job. We waded through violence and child abuse for hours on end. Moderators working on child abuse content had targets increased during the pandemic, with no additional support.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, said in the Dáil last month that this work is essential and he recognised that it has to be done. He stated that if there is any problem, employees should contact the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, and that he believed no such complaints had been made. To be frank, this is not good enough. It suggests that no problem exists, when in fact, we know that major problems exist. The reality is that these are agency workers on low pay, and in making complaints, they could see themselves risking their jobs.

  Earlier this year a reported settlement of €52 million was made in a court case in which it was alleged that Facebook failed to protect workers tasked with moderating disturbing content from the grave mental health aspects of the job. More than 11,000 people who have worked as moderators for Facebook in the US will qualify for compensation under the settlement agreement. A 2019 report from The Verge found that workers were paid as little as $28,000 per year, and I can tell the House that the rate of pay in Ireland is just €14.36 per hour. That is what these workers get paid for watching thousands of horrific videos each day, with very little mental health support.

  There is another key issue here that must be addressed. Why are these jobs being outsourced? Facebook is the second or third most valuable and profitable company in the world. Yet it has chosen to outsource these essential roles to agencies and to pay the workers a distinctly low rate of pay for the horrific work that they do. From what I can see, they are effectively being treated as yellow-pack workers. Someone in the Government must recognise that this is not right. This is fundamentally wrong. I dread to imagine how horrific this work is. Indeed, one of these workers had to go home and explain to their families that they could not discuss their work with them. As this will be a "Prime Time" exposé in years to come, the response of the Minister of State to this issue will be very important. I ask him not to provide a regular Civil Service response. I ask him to tell us what the Government will do to actively engage on this issue to protect these vulnerable workers and to ensure that something changes fundamentally for them.

Deputy Frankie Feighan: Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan I thank the Senator for raising this matter. First, I wish to state there is a strong legislative regime in Ireland to protect all workers in respect of their working conditions, including work-related health and safety. On the issue of general working conditions, there is a comprehensive body of employment rights legislation for which the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, is mandated to secure compliance. This legislation protects all employees who are legally employed on a contract of service basis. Where an individual believes he or she is being deprived of employment rights applicable to employees, that individual may refer a complaint to the WRC where the matter can be dealt with by way of mediation or adjudication leading to a decision, enforceable through the District Court. WRC inspectors can also be asked to investigate certain breaches. Complaints can be made on a single online complaint form available on the WRC's website, www.workplacerelations.ie.

  In respect of the health and safety of workers specifically, we have a suite of workplace health and safety legislation designed to prevent and mitigate against work-related accidents and injuries. In this regard, social media content moderators should be treated by an employer in the same way as any other worker who is potentially exposed to hazards. The employer must ensure that appropriate training is provided and must carry out a risk assessment with a particular focus on potential hazards for the worker and must prepare a safety statement based on this risk assessment. A written safety statement should include an assessment of all hazards and risks and should set out how the safety and health of all employees will be protected. Proper risk assessment, along with mitigation measures, is the foundation for all workplace health and safety.

  The HSA has an extensive range of advisory and guidance material available to employers to assist them in identifying and managing specific workplace hazards and risks. In addition, any content moderator concerned about his or her health and safety arising from the manner in which his or her work is organised can contact the authority, in confidence, for advice.

  The Senator asked what protections are available for those working as content moderators. Where a social media company outsources work such as content moderation to another company, that company is responsible for the totality of the employment relationship with the employees that do the content moderation work. This means that the company has the same employer obligations under both employment rights and health and safety legislation as any other employer. Also, content moderators have access to the services of State bodies, such as the WRC and the HSA.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I am genuinely very disappointed by that response. I am a former trade union official and the Minister of State has spent the last four minutes reciting the current employment law protections. Respectfully, I am aware of them. The problem is that the protections in place are not working in respect of these content moderators. There is no right to collective bargaining in this country, which undermines much of the collective protections that are currently in law.

  Another line from the workers' letter that was published states:

The current crisis highlights that at the core of Facebook’s business lies a deep hypocrisy. By outsourcing our jobs, Facebook implies that the 35,000 of us [2,000 in Dublin] who work in moderation are somehow peripheral to social media. Yet we are so integral to Facebook’s viability that we must risk our lives to come into work.

The simple call of these workers is for the practice of outsourcing to be ended.

  The Government needs to engage on this issue. What is happening in our city at the moment is nothing short of scandalous. I ask the Minister of State to at least give a commitment that the Government will immediately engage with Facebook, and bring in the company to ask it why it is outsourcing these positions. It is fundamentally wrong and it is immoral.

Deputy Frankie Feighan: Information on Frankie Feighan Zoom on Frankie Feighan First, I again note there is a strong legislative regime in place in Ireland to protect all workers in respect of their working conditions, including work-related health and safety. However, I urge these employees to engage, in the first instance, with their employer to see how their concerns can be resolved at workplace level.   Second, my colleague, the Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, who is responsible for media policy, including online safety legislation, is currently advancing a regulatory framework that will deal with online safety.

  Lastly, the Tánaiste stated, in response to a priority question on Tuesday, 20 November, that "content moderators working for social media platforms play an important role in preventing the wider distribution of explicit content on these platforms". He has said that he is willing to meet these workers and-or their representatives to hear first hand any particular health and safety concerns they might have associated with the work they carry out.

National Planning Framework

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Sherlock): Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. Has it been communicated to him that someone else will ask Senator McGahon's question?

Deputy Peter Burke: Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke No.

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Sherlock): Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock Senator Keogan is next as Senator McGahon cannot be here.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan I sincerely thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting my Commencement matter and welcome the Minister of State who has come here to respond to my question.

  I previously served as a county councillor in Meath and, therefore, realise how vitally important clarity is for everyone in the formation and execution of housing policy and development plans. I seek clarity for the public who need housing, for the elected councillors and for the chief executives of the 31 local authorities that form and execute housing policy in their respective local authority areas.

  Undoubtedly, there is a clear and pressing need for more housing to cater for the people who currently live in Ireland and those who emigrate to Ireland. Increasing supply, apart from anything else, could have a dampening effect on increasing house prices and alleviate affordability to some extent. What is not known is precisely how many housing units will be needed over the coming decades and whether there are ceilings or strict parameters on the number of units that each local authority may build. Reliable, accurate data on population trends and demographics is vital for ensuring that the number, type and location of housing units suit the evolving needs of our growing population. There does seem to be conflicting data and estimates as to the exact number of housing units that will be needed to meet demand over the coming years and decades until 2040.

  The national planning framework states, "Annual housing output will need to increase to 30,000 to 35,000 homes per annum in the years to 2027", and will be subject to monitoring and review. I welcome the publication of the report by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, entitled Regional Demographics and Structural Housing Demand at a County Level. The report contains expert opinions on the trends that feed into the targets of housing units that will be needed. Section 5.6 of the report is interesting in light of the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic. Between 18,000 and 20,000 units only will be completed this year on account of the cessation of construction during lockdown. However, the report notes that the pandemic could ease pressure on housing demand.

  A particular concern of mine is the Dublin region and surrounding counties known as the commuter belt. The ESRI report outlines different scenarios of population growth. Its baseline scenario predicts that regions of the east and midlands are expected to experience the fastest population growth and will capture the majority of the total expected population growth over the period from 2016 to 2040 of 55.6% or 500,000 people. This evidence points towards the need for more housing to be built in the east and midlands. Contrary to this urgent need, I am aware that some local authorities have dezoned lands that were zoned for residential development, and that includes Meath and Kildare. This includes the so-called post-2019 land. Such dezoning has been done contrary to the policy contained in the spatial strategy whereby land zoned for development would not be subsequently dezoned. Can the Minister of State comment on the matter? Can he call on local authorities to ensure that they do not dezone land that will be needed to meet demand in the future?

  On 1 December the Minister of State, or another Minister of State from his Department, was present to discuss the national planning framework when it was clearly stated that "the national planning framework does not either remove one-off local needs planning for rural houses or impose rezoning or de-zoning population caps". It seems that local authorities have received conflicting information on the number of housing units to be delivered in the future. I hope that the Minister of State's answer to my question will eliminate uncertainty about these policy matters.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Peter Burke): Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke I thank the Senator for raising this matter and providing an opportunity for me to clarify this very important position.  As the Senator is aware, there is an urgent need to increase national housing supply to meet existing housing demand to the greatest extent possible in the shortest time possible, while also accommodating projected national housing demand likely to arise as a result of future population growth. Anticipated population growth is projected to be around 1 million people by 2040. The national planning framework, NPF, sets out a spatial strategy to accommodate that level of population and related housing growth over the next 20 years. In particular, the NPF seeks to ensure more balanced regional development led by the growth of Ireland's five cities and five identified regional and cross-Border drivers. It also aims to ensure that a greater proportion of housing demand arising in Ireland's cities and towns can be accommodated within and close to those cities and towns and thereby avoid sprawl into surrounding counties. The NPF is explicit that, rather than focus on seeking additional housing development in locations that have been subject to rapid development and require infrastructure and services to further catch up, some locations should include planning for a greater focus on deficits, such as targeting greater employment and the needs of existing communities, as well as housing.

  More broadly, there is a need to encourage increased housing output nationally to meet NPF targeted population growth in the years ahead, especially over the next decade. To assist in the preparation of individual city or county development plans over six-year timelines, an NPF roadmap circular was issued to all planning authorities in 2018, setting out targeted population growth for each county to 2026 and 2031. These targets remain valid. To build on this work, earlier this year my Department commissioned the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, to carry out independent research into structural housing demand in Ireland to 2040. The ESRI research report was published earlier this week and further develops the population projection model that was used for the NPF. What the ESRI work is telling us is that factoring in existing housing demand, together with future projected demand, will require annual average national demand for just over 33,000 new households per annum to be met over the next decade. To meet this average over the period means that there is a requirement to substantially increase national housing output from the current estimated 2020 level of 18,000 homes to 20,000 homes.

  Achieving projected levels of population and housing growth in accordance with the NPF will require an increase in annual average housing output in almost every local authority area in Ireland, also recognising that there are some local authorities where recent levels of housing supply are close to or exceed annual average NPF targets. These mainly comprise commuter counties adjoining Dublin, as articulated by the Senator, and are currently meeting a proportion of the very high levels of housing demand arising in Dublin, which is not being met by new housing within the existing city area.

  To facilitate convergence with the NPF development scenario, we will enhance the alignment of public investment with NPF objectives to stimulate urban brownfield and public transport-led housing development at scale in Dublin and the other cities, including measures to encourage accelerated regional city growth and balanced regional development.

  In the coming days, the senior Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will issue a circular to all 31 local authorities with guidance required for NPF targets and new ministerial guidelines that describe a housing supply target methodology for development planning, to be issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act, as amended. This circular and guidance will reflect the balanced approach necessary to ensure the six-year local authority planning cycles, while converging towards the preferred NPF scenario, can also reflect both the capacities to increase housing delivery and actual levels of housing output on the ground in the near term. It is also critical to meeting national housing supply targets during the next phase of activity and output and will form an essential part of Ireland's economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Sherlock): Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock I thank the Minister of State. The Senator has one minute to respond.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan I thank the Minister for his response and I will try to respond in one minute. The original projections of the ESRI for the population were developed using best practice. The input assumptions of the adjustments made by the Department for policy-based intervention are questionable. It should be noted that the migration assumptions used were and continue to be far below the historical data as observed by the CSO since 2016. The ESRI baseline assumed a net inward migration figure of 8,000 people per annum from 2016 to 2021, rising to 12,500 people thereafter. The reality has been of the order of three or four times that figure over the period to 2020. In the past four years, a minimum of 85,000 people do not seem to have been accounted for. There is a discrepancy in the ESRI report and the press release issued over the weekend in the media, which referred to a figure of 33,000.

  I welcome the Minister of State’s acknowledgement that the national planning framework will require an increase in annual average housing output in every local authority. Will he clarify to which cities he is referring? Do they include Drogheda in County Louth, which has been seeking city status for the past five years? I welcome the circular the senior Minister will send out to local authority chief executives in the coming days. They certainly need to know exactly what is happening as unfortunately there is no certainty in that regard at this time.

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Sherlock): Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock I ask the Minister of State to provide the Senator with a copy of his contribution.

Deputy Peter Burke: Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke I will certainly do that. I thank Senator Keogan again for her response.

  The national planning framework was underpinned by the key actors in terms of the methodology in devising population growth and the ESRI was central to that. The NPF is a roadmap for the delivery of planning and sustainable growth in our country over the next number of decades. Central to that, and this is clearly mapped out and articulated in the NPF, are our five cities and growth centres. There is significant capacity for growth in the regions, with 50% of growth to take place outside the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, ERMA, region. There have been significant pressures, as the Senator noted, in the greater Dublin area. We will immediately - I hope to do so this week - clarify the ESRI report through the circular that will issue to all 31 local authorities, which will make the pathway very clear.

  It is clear that we need high-quality homes but we also need them in the right places. That is key to the work we are doing in the Department.

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Sherlock): Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock My apologies to the Minister of State. I understand his contribution is available to Members. I thank him for coming to the House. I also thank Senator Keogan.

  Sitting suspended at 11.17 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding arrangements for the sitting of the House on Thursday, 17 December 2020, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the joint report on the response of the Houses of the Oireachtas to the judgments of the Supreme Court in the Kerins case, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, the Social Welfare Bill 2020 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and to conclude no later than 4.15 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, only include those set down or accepted by Government; No. 4, the Finance Bill 2020 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude at 7 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; and No. 5, motion regarding the earlier signature of the Finance Bill 2020, to be taken on conclusion of No. 4, without debate.

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin There is one woman on my mind this morning. Indeed, she has been on my mind all night since I saw her last night on "Prime Time". Anybody who saw and heard Geraldine Mullan from Moville in Donegal either last night or this morning could not have been but so incredibly moved by her loss, grief and sense of dignity and the very strong message she wanted to give to everybody. Geraldine lost her husband and two children on 20 August in a car accident and is now all alone with no family. The message she sent out last night was to cherish those close to us and ensure that we take the time and opportunity to tell them we love them because we never know if we will have that chance again. It is a very strong and significant message from a wonderful woman who is going through the most horrific grief.

  I wish to raise the announcement by the Minister for Defence regarding the Defence Forces' commission, which is very welcome. It was in the programme for Government and was part of my party's manifesto. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dig deep and get things right. This commission will examine where the Defence Forces will go from here. I have a concern that the scope is limited. It is wrong that the Department of Defence is not mentioned because it is the entity with the money and power, puts in policy in place and has the Government's issues. We have an opportunity to try to get this right so the fact that the Department will not be included is wrong. We should ask the Minister for Defence to come to the House for a debate on that.

  An issue that came to my attention during the week is youth mental health in my county. It is a problem around the country but the scale of need in Kildare is not reflected in resource allocation. County Kildare has the highest number of young people in the State at 36.6%. When we compare that with the total population of our neighbouring counties - Offaly and Carlow - we can see that Kildare has a larger population. The problem is that in six of our towns, young people must wait between eight and 12 months for some type of counselling. This is shocking when we look at the statistics relating to levels of mental stress and suicides among young people. I reiterate my previous call for a Jigsaw service to be established in Kildare.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Writing in The Irish Times today about the Canada-Europe trade agreement, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, Senator McDowell is rightly critical of what he regards as the cavalier approach of the Government to Oireachtas scrutiny. As we know, CETA would involve giving foreign corporations the power to sue sovereign states outside our legal system through the investor court system. Whatever about whether giving away such a power away should be subject to a referendum, the idea that the Dáil would have been given a ludicrous 55 minutes to debate such a far-reaching issue says something about the Government's attitude to the role of the Oireachtas.

  When I look at this week's Order of Business, I see that the Appropriation Bill will go through all Stages, as will the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017. I understand that in order for money to flow, the Appropriation Bill has to be passed in December. The question is why it is only coming now. When one looks at something like the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, however, one can see that it is legislation which will require thorough analysis.  It deals with all sorts of issues, whether it is revenge porn or other situations involving a breach of copyright of intimate photographs or images and so on. This should be put to the Seanad for a debate at all Stages just before Christmas. This shows contempt for the job we must do as legislators. I do not know what the Government wants. Does it want to move to a dictatorship or something? We have been at a point for a long time now where public respect for politicians is quite low. I do not think that is a newsflash to anybody here. The Government takes the legs from under us when we try to do the very job we are put here to do, which is to look at legislation thoroughly, speak about it on Second Stage and come forward with amendments on Committee Stage, which the Government just might think are worthwhile, and then it will come back with some version of its own on Report Stage. None of that can happen if the Government runs legislation through at all Stages. There is a profound disrespect for both the Dáil and the Oireachtas at the moment. The Government knows it can push through what it wants when it wants with its heavy majority. There are, however, consequences to that approach. There will be a further deepening of public contempt for politicians and the job of legislative scrutiny, which is vital to a parliamentary democracy.

  In conclusion, we are at the time for new year's resolutions. Could we have a new year's resolution that this pathetic and insulting rushing through of legislation at all Stages will stop? Can we start by saying the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 will be broken and brought into the new year so we might, at least, have a separation of Committee Stage from Report Stage? I ask the Leader to think seriously about what is going on here and come back with a positive response. I believe I speak for more than just myself on this issue.

Senator Rebecca Moynihan: Information on Rebecca Moynihan Zoom on Rebecca Moynihan I want to address the issue of two tents occupied by homeless people being set on fire yesterday in Dublin city centre. I imagine everybody across the House will condemn this type of criminal behaviour. I hope the Garda will do all in its power to bring those perpetrators to justice. To have something like that happen just before Christmas in the most vulnerable of situations must be absolutely devastating.

  I raised the issue of co-living in the House previously. I came into this House to welcome the co-living ban by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I believe, however, clarification is needed around it before Christmas. There have been two more applications since that ban was announced, one to convert the Phibsborough Shopping Centre into a co-living development and another in my own area where 240 co-living spaces are planned in Player Wills.

  Developers are currently in the midst of lodging applications to get them passed straight through. We need immediate clarification from the Minister about when his updated guidelines will apply and if things in pre-application consultation will get through the ban. I understand that legislation and guidelines cannot be applied retrospectively but we can hurry up deleting those particular sections from the ministerial guidelines and make sure we do not see a slew of pre-Christmas applications for co-living.

  I will raise another issue on the Order of Business. Yesterday, I attended a vigil outside the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital for the many thousands of women and pregnant people who are going through pregnancy under Covid-19 restrictions and cannot bring their partner with them. The Government has been fair regarding the 20-week anomaly scan, ensuring partners are a central support and allowing them to be present. There are, however, a whole host of other reasons women and pregnant people need the support of a partner when attending maternity services.

  The Covid-19 situation is different from what it was in March. We know there are different approaches to it. We know, for example, that it is airborne. We know that masks and social distancing work. We have been in this situation for almost a year now. There must be a way over the long term of ensuring pregnant people have the support of their partners. We have 19 different maternity hospitals across the country and there needs to be a uniform approach. I do not think there is urgency and recognition on behalf of the Government or the masters of the hospitals in ensuring partners or birthing partners can safely attend the birth of their babies. This is causing undue hardship and mental health difficulties to an awful lot of people over the long term.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I want to echo the comments made by Senator Mullen. I have said before that the Legislature and the Executive both have jobs to do and at the moment, as Senator Mullen has pointed out, the Legislature is not being allowed to do that job properly. We have seen that with the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA, and many other instances that have been mentioned.

  Last night in the Dáil, the Government did not oppose the Sinn Féin prevention of homelessness Bill. Considering the annual report from Threshold that was launched last week, I ask that this House seek a similar consensus to speed up the passing of necessary housing legislation. Two main points stood out in that report. A shocking 45% of all notices of termination are issued because the landlord indicates his or her intention to sell the property. We need better legislation that protects long-term and even lifetime renters. It should be possible to sell properties with renters in situ.

  The lack of inspections of private rental properties by local authorities has reached such a level that many landlords feel confident enough to advertise rental properties that do not meet basic standards. I mentioned this in the House last week. They know there is little chance they will face inspection. It is time we had an NCT style inspection of properties before they are advertised. That could be implemented if the political will and consensus exists.

  I also want the House to know the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Sports, Culture, Arts and the Gaeltacht recently agreed its work programme for 2021. I welcome the committee members' support for my proposal to examine the work undertaken to achieve a gender balance in traditional and contemporary arts, and the need to address issues of discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying in the sector.

  It is almost five years since Waking the Feminists began a year-long grassroots campaign to advance equality for women in theatre. This year, allegations of sexual assault, harassment and coercion in the Irish traditional music scene came to light through the #MiseFosta hashtag movement on social media. I once again commend the women who came forward to share their stories. It is imperative that the Oireachtas hears from those campaigning for change as well as the people in the organisations and the festivals that are in a position to implement that change.

  I commend the work of FairPlé, the organisation advocating for fairness in traditional music, and the Mise Fosta social media movement that emanated from it. At last weekend's TradTalk2020 festival, FairPlé launched an anti-harassment policy to prevent bullying and sexual harassment in the performing arts sector. As we move back towards live events, it is important that organisers of any events in the near future adopt and promote those guidelines.

Senator Róisín Garvey: Information on Róisín Garvey Zoom on Róisín Garvey Táimid ar ais arís inniu ag caint mar gheall ar uisce. I was just thinking that a person would not put dirty petrol or diesel into his or her car yet we have a huge issue of water quality in this country. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, carried out a big survey and tested much of the waters in Ireland. Some of its finding are horrific. I will throw out a couple of figures because I like a few statistics to back up any issues I bring to the House. It tested all the rivers in Ireland between 2013 and 2019. Some 47% of the sites have unsatisfactory nitrate concentration levels and 44% of these have increased in the last six years. We are going the opposite way and getting worse. We have been highlighting water issues for a few years now and no U-turn is happening. We put the water into our bodies and our children drink it. If a woman is finished breastfeeding, she uses the water with powdered milk. This is a huge issue.

  I have been contacted by constituents with E. coli poisoning. I know of three families who all happen to have daughters of six or seven years of age who have had kidney failure. They have been left with a lifelong illness. That is the E. coli raw sewage side of it; there is also the nitrates and phosphates aspect. Some 34% of sites have unsatisfactory phosphate concentration levels.

  We just have to stop and say we have not even got the basic issue of water right in this country. I will keep bringing this issue up until I see something happening. In County Clare alone, raw sewage discharge is going straight into five places. I believe there are 47 all over Ireland; it is not unique to County Clare. We need to call the Minister into the House and ask what is going to happen.  Irish Water says it will only work where there is existing infrastructure in terms of improving it. There are many places that need infrastructure where there is none in place. Some of our water infrastructure has not changed since the days when 20 people lived in a village where now 400 people could be living. I will keep raising the issue of water services until we get some answers and action on it. We have issues around phosphates, nitrates and E.coli, which are damaging for all of us but most damaging for the most vulnerable, our younger and older people. I ask the House to support me in calling for the Minister to come into the House to discuss this issue and let us hear about actions being taken.

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne I echo the remarks of my colleague, Senator O'Loughlin, concerning the courage and dignity of Geraldine Mullan in the interview on "Prime Time" last night. I commend "Prime Time" and Miriam O'Callaghan for the sensitivity with which they handled it. It shows we all have challenges in life but that interview really put things in perspective.

  I wish to briefly raise two issues. Yesterday the Data Protection Commissioner announced that Twitter would be fined €450,000 for a data breach. It is the first time a tech giant has been fined by the Data Protection Commissioner. Twitter was not only fined for its breach but for its failure to notify the Data Protection Commissioner of the breach and the failure to properly document what happened. Many European data regulators believe this fine was very much on the low side and I would share that concern. Until data privacy is taken seriously and some of the social media giants are tackled in a stronger way, they will continue to behave in this way. I have called for a debate on this issue previously but in terms of our relationships with tech giants we need a fuller debate.

  The other issue I wish to raise is the impact Brexit will have for Rosslare Europort. There has been good news in that we are seeing a number of additional direct sailings from Rosslare. We will need more direct sailings. Rosslare Europort will need to become a tier 1 port in the event of whatever Brexit happens, whatever deal we get. The completion of the M11 from Oilgate to Rosslare is essential to cope with all the traffic that will be coming through. If the Oilgate to Rosslare route - the dual carriageway - is not completed, we will see further traffic jams. Councillor Willie Kavanagh who lives in Oilgate regularly talks about the problems he sees in village because of where the M11 currently ends. In discussing the Brexit issue, I ask that the M11 to Rosslare Europort be fully completed.

Senator Emer Currie: Information on Emer Currie Zoom on Emer Currie I want to state how concerned I am about the Covid numbers, hospital capacity in the North and the ability of its health system to cope. This is not new. Covid numbers, in the main, are higher in the North and have been more worrying during the past six months. During the second wave the virus was running at four times that in the South. Two weeks ago, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, there were 100 deaths in a week. The North's population is two fifths that of the South. I will let the Members do the maths in working out just how tragic that is.

  Five people died on Monday, may they rest in peace, and 419 tested positive; six died yesterday and 486 tested positive; and 13 died over the weekend. If this was a community Members represented, imagine how they would feel, but this is our community. These are really scary numbers for families and for burnt-out healthcare workers and their families facing into Christmas. It should be a concern for every politician North and South. The heads of the Northern Ireland hospital trust on Monday warned that hospitals would be overwhelmed in January with a spike and unbearable pressure - those are not my words - but that is already happening. Hospitals that have been at over-capacity or near capacity for weeks are treating patients in car parks. Seventeen ambulances were outside emergency rooms yesterday and that was the same for all the emergency departments in the North. The situation is better this morning but that does not mean it will not get worse. That includes Altnagelvin Hospital that serves Donegal. This situation has the potential to be catastrophic. The health minister, Robin Swann, who, by all reports, was reluctant to lift the restrictions after the two-week circuit breaker, is to consider the restrictions on Thursday. I ask the Minister for Health to update the House on how this impacts the Border and how we can help the hospitals in the North.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Leader for setting out the proposed Order of Business today. The item I wish to briefly raise is a proposal that we would have a motion regarding the Joint Report on the Response of the Houses of the Oireachtas to the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Kerins v. McGuinness case. This is a profound piece of work. It has been a long time coming.

  The Cathaoirleach, as chair of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, knows about this. This has come before us, we have no knowledge of it and there is no explanatory memorandum on it. I have said previously it would be helpful when bringing forward motions such as this one to have a small concise explanatory memorandum. We received this yesterday. I checked with the Oireachtas Library today and this report has been laid before the Houses. The timeframe is too tight.

  I heard another Senator speak about coming with facts. I like to bring facts to the House too. Last night I read the Library service's Spotlight: The Decision of the Supreme Court in Kerins v McGuinness. I commend and recommend every Member of the House before they leave here today would contact the Library and get that document dated 30 October 2019. I do not intend to go into it now other than to say the Oireachtas Library and Research Service did an amazing report on these issues. These are profound issues regarding people coming before the Oireachtas. We need to have a discussion on this issue.

  I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on it early in the new year, if possible. These matters will be in the media today, tomorrow and the next day, yet we in this House will not have discussed them. There is a problem when we will be reading in our national press about something as significant as this. This is a very significant case. It has major implications for outside bodies coming into these Houses. It has major implications for us and our responsibilities on Oireachtas joint committees. I ask Leader to facilitate a debate on this report early in the new year.

Senator Erin McGreehan: Information on Erin McGreehan Zoom on Erin McGreehan Like my colleague, Senator Currie, I want to raise my worries and fears over the Covid numbers. Senator Currie articulated very well the problems in the North. We need to hold tight and strong on Covid. We had 41 new cases in Louth last night. We can think of all those people's close contacts who are now in quarantine for Christmas. I beg people to mind themselves, watch what they do and listen to the Chief Medical Officer's advice for people to reduce their contacts because none of us wants to give Covid to a loved one. We want to make sure our grannies, grandads and vulnerable members of our families are with us next Christmas. We should think of next summer. We can have a Christmas party in July. We are on the verge possibly of a having a serious lockdown come January. As Senator Currie said, the North is in now in crisis. We heard a radio interview on "Morning Ireland" this morning about the numbers and the backlog going into emergency services. Definitely we need to help out the North, if it is at all possible. We need to relieve some of the pressures for those patients and the front-line workers up there but we need to make sure that, come January, we are not in a similar situation down here.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney I want to raise the issue of equality and what it means. A report in The Irish Times today quotes the Balance for Better Business survey, a Government supported survey. It notes that of all the executive director appointments in the last 18 months in the Republic of Ireland, not one woman was appointed during that time.  There was a target of having at least one woman in senior management in all publicly quoted companies in Ireland by the end of 2020 and we will fall far short of that. In fact, almost two in every five publicly quoted companies here are all male in their senior management. That is not even their boards; that is just their senior management. That is a disgrace. When I was a child I remember Noelle Campbell-Sharpe attempting every year to get on the board of the bank and the great discussion that caused at the time. I did not appreciate then what that meant but it is appalling that, a couple of decades later, we are in a situation where women are still trying to breach that ceiling. That is a disgrace.

  An experience I had in recent weeks was of a couple of women coming to me who have made claims for the likes of optical benefit or whatever using their new, exciting PPS number that was issued to them under the great leadership of the then Minister, now the Leader, Senator Regina Doherty, in that Department, only to find that as a qualified adult, the benefits they had under their husband's PPS number have not transferred to their new PPS number. They were refused under their own PPS number and had to put up their husband's number, which seems a peculiar anomaly. I am sure there was not an intention to do that but it smacks of inequality. We need an urgent debate in the House on equality and what that means for 2021.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan A few years ago, on 23 January 2015, something very strange happened. This country flew its flags at half mast for the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was without doubt one of the world's greatest butchers and tyrants. We now know, thanks to the pioneering work of Irish journalist, Sally Hayden, that things are getting worse rather than better in Saudi Arabia. Members can see in this morning's edition of The Irish Times that she reports that African and Asian migrant workers are being locked up in unsanitary conditions, tortured, beaten and, in some cases, killed in Saudi Arabia. This relates to new research by Human Rights Watch and she went on to report:

Inside the centre [where these poor migrant detainees are kept they are] beaten with rubber-coated metal rods, which allegedly led to three deaths between October and November. Other interviewees said they had seen people, who were badly injured, being taken out of the centre and never returned.

Saudi Arabia, one of the world's richest countries, has no excuse for detaining migrant workers in appalling conditions, in the middle of a health pandemic, for months on end.

[One can see] video footage of people crammed together, allegations of torture and unlawful killings are shocking ...

Detainees told the organisation that they are being held in cramped rooms with as many as 350 other people.

It is impossible to all sleep at once, so they take it in turns to lie down. There are between two and five working toilets, and there is no access to showers or soap.

I could talk at length, but for the time available, about Saudi Arabia's appalling role in the war in Yemen and our complicity in that war because we continue to facilitate the US military in Shannon. It is disappointing that Sinn Féin is the only party to ever raise that issue but so be it. We are used to it at this point in time. I call for an urgent debate on the crimes and the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. There has been a consistent silence on the part of Government parties with regard to this issue. I hope and trust that will change today in the Leader's response.

Senator Mary Fitzpatrick: Information on Mary Fitzpatrick Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick I wish to remind the House that today, 16 December, is the deadline for submissions for the BusConnects bus corridor project. The Cathaoirleach will be familiar with it. It is a highly ambitious programme to improve our public transportation and address climate action but I also see it as a social equality issue in terms of providing better public transport services in the city to everybody.

  The public bus is relied on by both young and old and provides great independence of travel. The project projects an investment of approximately €2 billion over ten years. Today's consultation deadline relates to the proposed 16 bus corridors which, if they are implemented, would deliver 230 km of priority bus corridors and 200 km of priority cycle routes. It is an ambitious and important project for the city but this is the third round of public consultation. It was conducted during the Covid-19 restrictions. I commend everybody who has engaged, including the individuals, homeowners, residents and residents' groups, associations and businesses but it has been difficult. I urge every Member of the House to make a submission because this is not just for us, the Dubliners. It is for people outside the city in the county and those who will visit the capital in the future to benefit from it. I urge all Members to include in their submission a real push on the National Transport Authority, NTA, to deliver park and ride facilities with corridors and to ensure there is an increase in the capacity of environmentally friendly buses. I have asked the NTA to do this but we should be charging the authority to at least evaluate the cost of making public transportation free to everybody under the age of 23, essentially taking the over-65 free travel and providing it to young people, to get them into the habit of using it to go to school, college or training. If we are making this big an investment in the infrastructure let us make the service available.

Senator Garret Ahearn: Information on Garret Ahearn Zoom on Garret Ahearn This week, Bus Éireann announced a new bus route from Portroe, in north Tipperary, to Limerick, which is very much welcomed. It is the first time Bus Éireann has operated a bus route from Portroe to Limerick. In September, Bus Éireann also announced the discontinuation of the Cork-Dublin express route, which has major implications in County Tipperary, in particular in Cahir and Cashel. My colleague, Councillor Declan Burgess, has done a good deal of work to try to ascertain the facts behind the decision that was made because from our perspective, and certainly from the perspective of Councillor Burgess, this route is used extensively by students and people from the area but particularly by tourists coming into the country. When they travel from Cork to Dublin, they often stop off in Cahir and Cashel to visit the sites. The announcement was made in December that the route would be discontinued. That is commencing in January. I would appreciate an update from the Minister for Transport on the future plans with the express route. It is being discontinued temporarily. What are the future plans for it? When will it be brought back? Has analysis been done on the number of people who use the route? Has the benefit it gives to towns like Cahir and Cashel and other rural areas been acknowledged, as well as the impact its removal will have on them? I would appreciate the Minister for Transport coming into the House to make a statement on that.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell To follow on on the theme of transport, the BusConnects programme from the National Transport Authority is the subject of a major public consultation process and today is the last day for residents in Dublin to put in their observations on it. I want to make one comment of general, not local, application about that. There is a danger in putting traffic engineers in charge of a process who get it into their heads that bus transport in an urban area is the only solution and that other traffic such as lorries, vans and ordinary cars are somehow the problem. There is a simplistic notion that everybody's traffic needs are the same but they are not. If one has to bring one's children to a crèche or visit one's aged mother-in-law every day, buses may be completely useless for that. We can have buses flying in every direction and they are of absolutely no assistance to somebody whose daily existence requires car mobility. I want to put on the record of this House that we should never get involved in a process where the engineers come up with the idea that bus transport is the answer to everything. I am not saying it should not be radically improved but we should not get into a position where we have tunnel vision and the result is massive traffic congestion for all other forms of transport.

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne The temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, was introduced by the previous Government as a badly-needed and welcome measure to support businesses and workers during the pandemic. It proved to be a lifeline for many businesses across the country and kept workforces together in order to be prepared to ramp up work and production once the crisis passed. Many businesses adapted their work practices and changed marketing strategies to survive. Some businesses in the craft and retail sector increased their presence online in order to survive and, for many, this has, thankfully, proven successful.

  As we come to the end of the year, Revenue is now assessing these businesses in the context of the wage subsidy scheme and for some it is proving a sobering experience as their hard work and change of direction has meant that the 25% reduction in turnover necessary has been slightly missed and, as a result, Revenue is demanding the return of the scheme funding. My office has been contacted by one business whose trade has been devastated by the earlier lockdown. Their shop, selling high-end goods mostly to the tourist trade, was shut down and their craftspeople would all have been let go were it not for the TWSS. However, the couple in this case fought back, borrowed money to establish an impressive online presence and worked day and night to reposition their business. They paid VAT to Revenue even though they could have warehoused the debt because they felt that we were all in this together and wanted to pay their bills on time to the taxpayer.

  After an extremely stressful and expensive year, when their business went through hard work and innovation but survived, imagine their shock at getting a demand from Revenue that the TWSS funding be repaid. That is €30,000 they do not have because their turnover dropped by close to 20%, not the 25% threshold. That is all in spite of the fact that Revenue stated initially that if the original self-assessment was reasonable, it would not seek to claw back the subsidy for the original period.

  The couple fought tooth and nail to hold on to their business, pumping borrowed money into it, and are now being penalised for their hard work. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to contact Revenue and in the spirit of the battle against Covid-19, urge it to be flexible in the manner in which TWSS recoupment is done. It should take into account the extraordinary efforts to which businesspeople went to keep their businesses open and trading and accept the fact that new trading practices and business innovation, which cost businesses a lot, were a part of the bigger picture in saving enterprises and jobs. It would be a cruel irony if repaying the support received was the final nail in the coffin for this business.

Senator Micheál Carrigy: Information on Micheál Carrigy Zoom on Micheál Carrigy I raise an issue that has been raised by a number of other Senators, namely, the issue of fathers being at natal appointments and the birth of their children. In early December, it was announced that women attending their 20-week scan will now be able to be accompanied by their birth partners within Covid-19 restrictions. That is a good start but more is needed.

  Birth partners being allowed for other scans or antenatal appointments is important and its lack is disappointing. All over the country, different maternity hospitals have different restrictions. Over the past number of months, we have heard of cases of women who had miscarriages and had to sit there on their own and deal with the tragedy. The partners of other women have only been able to see their child over FaceTime because they were too late to attend the birth. I understand that a one-size-fits-all approach may not work but we cannot stop birth partners from being with their partners during this time. Continued maternity ward visiting restrictions across the country are making expecting mothers fearful about giving birth, as well as leaving women who have given birth without the support of their partner with questions. I understand that hospitals must prioritise the safety of all patients and staff and do everything they can to ensure that hospitals are protected from the ever-present threat of Covid-19, but more needs to be done.

  One expectant mother contacted me on behalf of mothers in my area of Longford-Westmeath. With the advantages of rapid Covid-19 testing, could this matter of expecting parents be looked into? A birth partner with a negative result should be allowed to attend appointments.

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I thank my colleagues. I will work backwards, if that is okay. Senator Carrigy and another Senator brought up the non-uniform nature of the rules around maternity services for couples in Ireland over the past couple of months. The Senators are right. The decision to allow partners go to the 20-week anomaly scan is welcome but, speaking from experience as someone who has done it a number of times, every visit is important. Mothers are anxious. Somebody who is very close to me has a relative who had a baby in the past couple of days. She came home within 24 hours because of the restriction of not being able to see or have her husband or partner with her. The same applies to extended family, waiting to see this new gorgeous bundle of joy that has arrived just before Christmas. It is not right or fair. I have asked the Minister to liaise with the service providers but I will write a letter and ask for a statement on the uniformity of services, but also on the advancement of the care and provision of services that should be available to all couples who are going through what should be a wonderful time of a pregnancy and birth. I will certainly do that today and send a copy of the letter to the Senator.

  Senator Kyne raised the wage subsidy scheme and it is something that I have mentioned on a number of occasions in this House, during both Commencement matters and on the Order of Business. We have debated the unfair application of it by one particular blue-chip company, which is ongoing. We have some 2,300 applications from Aer Lingus employees looking to avail of the short-time working scheme because they were put on 50% and 30% work rosters during lockdown. Every one of them is being denied the application because of mismanagement of the wage subsidy scheme.

  The Senator highlighted another anomaly. When we established the wage subsidy scheme, it was to maintain the employee relationship with the employers and to support those employers to keep the businesses ticking over during the periods of downtime so that they would be ready and able to come back up again. It would be a shocking shame if the recoupment of this money made sure that a business was not viable. Many of our businesses are vulnerable but we need to make sure that our continued support for them will ensure that they maintain their viability through the next number of months until we see the end of our engagement with the pandemic. I cannot assure the Senator that I will get access to the Minister between now and Christmas to get a response to the request for him to make a statement in this House, but I will certainly write him a letter today and ask him to address the anomalies with regard to the recoupment of moneys from the Revenue Commissioners for our struggling businesses up and down the country.

  Senators McDowell and Fitzpatrick brought up BusConnects. They are right that today is the last day for submissions. There has been considerable engagement and I think it has been positive, particularly considering that it has happened during a pandemic. Members of this and the other House have made sure that their communities are represented. The Senators are right that the bus is not the answer to everybody's needs. One would sometimes be forgiven for thinking that it is the only answer to everybody's transport needs. It is important that we do not get trapped in that mindset. Engineers, while they are wonderful and we need them, would have one believe that a particular route will solve everybody's needs but it will not. It might actually solve some people's needs at the expense of others, in which case we will find ourselves back here in another cycle of conversations about lorries, trucks and their negative and positive impacts on cities and towns. The commuter is more important. Some commuters do not have the option to take a bus because of their obligations in the morning or evening time. We need to be careful that we do not fall into that mindset and I encourage anyone in this House or watching these proceedings at home who has not made an application or submission to BusConnects to do so before close of business today.

  I do not have an answer for Senator Ahearn on the express route. I will today ask the Minister if he can get me a statement and I will come back to the Senator before close of business. It is unfair that, in a number of weeks, an express route on which even a relatively small amount of people rely on - which is not the case for this route, on which a large number of people rely - will close. It is unfair to those affected not to have any visibility of what is going to come in the future, if it will be a short-term suspension of services or services will come back sooner. I will get as much information as I can for the Senator today and will drop it to his office before close of business.

  I do not have an answer Senator Gavan and I am sorry to say that I was not even aware of the issue he raised. It was horrendous to hear of such abuses of human rights by an incredibly wealthy country. I was not even aware that we flew the flag at half mast. It makes one question why we would have done that for someone who might have a dubious reputation. Why we would do it for one person and not others is probably something that we need to question. I will today request from the Department of Foreign Affairs a debate on human rights and this particular issue, but it will be the new year before it happens. I will come back to the Deputy straightaway on the matter.

  Senator Carey brought up a matter. Senators are probably sick of me because we regularly bring up equality of opportunity for women in Ireland during these debates but it is really quite startling that not one female has been appointed to a board in the past number of months.  We are all busy and concentrating on other important matters, but equality of opportunity across every State service is important. The highlights of the inequality have been raised a number of times. The first of our Seanad panel debates will take place the first week we return. It will relate to the gender pay gap. While that is not quite what the Senator raised, it is the start of a series of debates in which we will thoroughly investigate inequality of opportunity, not just for women, but for minorities and other disadvantaged groups as well.

  We need to be clear on what "equality" means for everyone who does not experience it. While driving yesterday evening, I listened to the father of a child with special needs on the news. I was struck by something he said about the inequality that some children with special needs experienced in accessing services in school and the health services. This is not to denigrate anyone delivering those services. They are wonderful people, which I know first hand, but there are not enough of them. The father stated that, if the inequality was based on a child's race or sex, there would be blue murder in the country and that it is on the basis of children having needs over and above some other children that their inequality is not getting mainstream attention. It should. The question of equality in how we deliver our services is important.

  Senators McGreehan and Currie discussed not just the worrying Covid-19 numbers in Northern Ireland over recent weeks, but also how our two communities interacted. It is a signal to us that, but for the grace of God, we could have been in the same position in a number of weeks. The UK, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany are making pre-emptive strikes for fear of what is to come. We are all aware that our actions determine how the virus reacts and we are all probably sick to our back teeth of being told what we have to do, but we need reminding because people can grow relaxed over the festive season and believe that the situation is fine. We cannot relax. We need to be very cautious. I will ask the Minister to make a clear statement on how the Republic intends to offer its services to our neighbours to ensure that we are in this together and the citizens of the island of Ireland get looked after by all of its service providers.

  Given how confined our business is this week, I am not in a position to offer Senator Boylan a debate on the joint report arising from the Kerins case in the Supreme Court. I will clarify something lest there be any ambiguity. The Senator stated that there was no memorandum in the offices this morning as if this was Government business. It is not Government business and, therefore, we did not prepare the memorandum. Rather, this is the Oireachtas reacting to how the Houses conduct their business. I am a member of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, which has had lengthy and numerous meetings in recent weeks going through each recommendation that has been put to us by the Oireachtas arising from the Kerins judgment and the requisite changes to the Standing Orders and practices of our Oireachtas committees. Oireachtas officials have been good and gracious to us in explaining a number of difficult points. I am aware that equivalent debates have been held by the Dáil's Committee on Procedure. The two procedural committee members have been asked to agree the suggested changes, having debated them at meetings. However, I take the Senator's point that Members have not had an opportunity to debate them in this House or the Dáil. We need to agree this motion on laying the report before the House, but I will arrange for a debate after Christmas so that the matter can be teased out fully, albeit after the fact. I wanted to put on the record of the House that this was not Government business. Rather, the CPP asked me on behalf of the Cathaoirleach to draft this motion and table it for the House's agreement so that we could lay the report before the Oireachtas.

  Senator Byrne discussed the Data Protection Commission's, DPC's, fine. Significantly, this is the first time that the DPC has levied a considerable fine against one of our platform companies that is headquartered in Ireland. I agree that there was some surprise yesterday that the fine seemed so small compared to the organisation's scale and reach. It will be interesting to see the reaction from other EU member states and how they view the lead taken by the DPC. European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, for whom I have great admiration, is a gutsy lady and international politician. Yesterday, she launched the digital markets act and the digital services act, which I hope will have a profound effect on these large giants in how they treat mere mortals like ourselves who use them for social and recreational purposes. In some cases, major digital services companies have manipulated their majority status in recent years to ensure that they got preferential treatment in international trade over competing actors. I look forward to the two acts going through the EU and coming to us to be scrutinised. There needs to be a debate on this matter and it must be held in public. This leads into the debate we will have on Friday regarding Coco's Law, which I will address in a few minutes.

  Turning to Senator Garvey, I have asked for a debate on water. There is a standing invitation. Shockingly, the quarterly reports do not show any improvement at 37 sites around our lovely country. In fact, there has been disimprovement. We must scratch our heads and wonder what in God's name we are doing with all of our talk and the awareness that is out there if we are not seeing improvements in water quality.

  Following the matter being raised last week or the week before, we have decided to have a rolling schedule as part of our weekly business after Christmas, please God. There will be a rolling section on climate issues every week. I intend to ask every Minister to attend on a schedule to give the House a departmental update on Ireland's climate action controls, measures and plans. This will not necessarily start the first week after Christmas, but I hope to see it happening thereafter.

  Senator Warfield mentioned yesterday's reports on homelessness. While the numbers are disappointing, I have scheduled a debate on housing and homelessness for the beginning of the new year. Although that is not finalised, I hope to provide the details to colleagues over Christmas and let them know our plans for the couple of weeks after we return in January. There is a long-standing invitation to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, but I appreciate that he has been busy in recent months with the Planning and Development Bill and the provision of his new service plan for housing delivery. I will revert to the Senator once I have an exact date.

  Senator Moynihan has raised her issue on a nearly weekly basis. It is testament to her passion and commitment on the subject. I assumed that, when the announcement was made, it was relatively clear. Maybe I am naive, but I understood that anything that was in the throes of the planning application process could not be stopped because it had started and would be allowed to complete and that anything new was to be a no-no, but that is clearly not what is happening in practice. On behalf of the House, I will have to see what was meant exactly. I will ask for clarification and a statement. When I get it, I will ensure that Senators get copies. We are all aware - actually, not everyone will agree with me - that there was a brief time for this particular type of provision. We have moved well past that now and the Senator is right, in that people are probably chancing their arms because there is misinformation. There should not be misinformation, though, and I will try to get clarification.

  I do not want to take issue with the way Senator Mullen raised his objections, not least because he was entitled to do so, but also because he may not know that he was incorrect. We have a majority in the House, but that is not the way I would like to do my business and it is not the way I have been doing it. Senator Warfield raised the issue on behalf of Sinn Féin. The objection is to the schedule for this week. Senator Mullen stated that it showed "profound disrespect" for the Parliament and that it was "insulting" and "pathetic", but we have a meeting every Wednesday and the order is agreed by consensus. If there is not consensus, we change the order until we get consensus. The order before the House today is what was agreed last Wednesday with the exception of a change that I requested yesterday to take Committee and Report Stages of the Social Welfare Bill together today.  It was done by consent and not to be disrespectful. I have no intention of throwing around my weight. I do not really think I have any weight. The collegiate nature of this House should be, wherever possible, to do our business by consent. That will not always be possible because there will be times when we disagree with one another. However, it is not the way I do my business and it is certainly not the way I want to do my business. I am sorry the Senator feels disrespected but at the meeting last week, his group representative agreed to the schedule. We always have, apparently, dealt with the Appropriation Bill in all Stages. It is not unique to this Seanad or this year. Apparently, it is a Bill that mostly has appreciation and acceptance and does not create any discord. It probably goes through without a vote.

  Regarding the other Bill, the reason for the arrangement and the acceptance of it by all Members is that we want to get it passed. As it is not finishing in the Dáil until Thursday, the earliest I could get it was Friday. We all want to get it passed and that is because of the determination of Jackie Fox over the last number of years, as well as Labour Party colleagues and all colleagues, including the Minister for Justice. It will have a profound impact on making the world and Ireland a safer place for our daughters and sons. That is why it was acceptable to put it all together on Friday: because we all want the same thing. That will not stifle debate and there will probably be people who put forward amendments that will be accepted or rejected but, at the end of the day, we want the same thing and that is why the unusual step of taking all Stages of this Bill on Friday is being taken. We want to get it passed before Christmas, we want to give Jackie the legacy her daughter Coco richly deserves. It is within our gift to do that before Christmas and that is why we agreed, unusually, to take all Stages of the Bill. We did agree that we would not do that before, which is why the Stages of all other Bills have been separated in the first instance.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Will the Leader take a point?

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Of course.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I thank her for her comprehensive answer. I want to make it clear I am not having a go at her. I do not wish to do that. She is constrained, as the Leader of the Seanad always is, by the logic of power around here. I also support that legislation. I am talking about the Government, rather than the Leader. She has to do what she has to do.

  I do not care if everybody at the leaders' meetings agreed to it. This is always bad practice. The only time legislation should be taken at all Stages is in an emergency situation and this is not an emergency situation. It is important legislation which will try, hopefully with everybody's support, to secure the common good. However, it is not right outside of emergency situations to dispense with the possibility of people hearing each other's opinions on Second Stage and coming up with ideas for amendments, which might be so good that they should go back to the Dáil for consideration. When legislation is put through all Stages in one day, particularly coming up to Christmas, we all know what is happening.

  I know there is an emotional charge behind this legislation and it is named for a person who suffered profound injustice but none of that takes away from the fact that we have a serious duty as legislators. That is being lost here and it is being constantly lost. I ask the Leader to reflect on that. Even if there is unanimity, it does not make it right. That was my point and it was not targeted at the Leader personally. We all know she has to do what she has to do and let us not pretend otherwise.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I need to be clear. If the Leader accepts an intervention, it is 30 seconds.

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty To be fair, I do not take it personally at all. I want the Senator to know it is not a Government thing. There is not a sledgehammer from anybody across the way saying we have to do this. I felt we wanted to do this this week and I think the Senator is being slightly disingenuous to the people who will make contributions on Friday. It will not lessen our view, our scrutiny, our wish and ambition to change and make it better. If there is an amendment here on Friday, it will have to go back to the Dáil. It is as simple as that. That is the way it works. We try, though it will not always be possible, to do the business of the House by consent and I continue to do that.

  The Senator is right that it is not best practice to have all Stages on the same day. Of course we would not do it if we did not think it was an emergency. I do not agree with the Senator because I think this is really important. Too many of our children are being bullied viciously online and there is no legislation to protect them when perpetrators are caught and we have the evidence. What exists in Ireland at present is a wet, soggy sponge which does nothing for our children. The legacy of this young lady who passed away far too early and the determination of her mother, Jackie Fox, will be honoured by the House and by Parliament on Friday when we send the legislation, please God, to the President to get it passed.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen When will the legislation commence?

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty It was commenced nearly three years ago.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen When will it commence when enacted?

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty As soon as the President signs it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Please Senator. This is the Order of Business. The Leader is responding. There has been one intervention.

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I refer to the very first contribution around the Defence Forces. We have a wonderful new Secretary General in the Department of Defence. I know her well because I had the privilege of working with her for four years. She should have an obligation and an entitlement to make submissions to the new strategy going forward so I will write to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and of Defence today to make sure that Department is included. It would be wonderful to see a Jigsaw in Kildare and in every one of our communities. It provides invaluable service and could probably do with a doubling of its budget to provide such service in the future.

  Watching Geraldine Mullan last night was heartbreaking. We bring up in this House desperately and vitally important points on legislation, Bills and motions. However, when one looks at that woman, the raw pain she goes through and the loss she has had to endure, it causes other issues we raise in here to pale and provokes a realisation that one's family and time with one's loved ones are absolutely key and king. I wish that woman incredible peace because she will need enormous support from her extended family, her community and all of us. No woman - no person - should have to live through the loss she is living through. It is a pertinent reminder that we all need, not just at this time of the year when we are more emotional than at other times, to cherish and love our family and friends because one only gets one opportunity.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly She is in our thoughts and prayers at this time.

  Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting Arrangements: Motion

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders relative to Public Business:
(1) The Seanad shall meet in the Dáil Chamber at 12.30 p.m. on Thursday, 17th December, 2020, and the following arrangements shall apply:
(a) Commencement matters shall be taken in accordance with Standing Order 29;

(b) Standing Order 30 shall stand suspended;

(c) The Order of Business shall be proposed at 1.30 p.m.;
(2) The Seanad on its rising on Thursday, 17th December, 2020, shall adjourn until 10 a.m. on Friday, 18th December, 2020, in the Dáil Chamber.

   Question put and agreed to.

Report on Supreme Court Judgments: Motion

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move:

That Seanad Éireann takes note of the Joint Report on the Response of the Houses of the Oireachtas to the Judgments of the Supreme Court in the Kerins Case (laid before Seanad Éireann on 15th December, 2020), and hereby agrees and adopts, with immediate effect, the amendments and additions to the Standing Orders of Seanad Éireann relative to Public Business recommended in Part 3 of the Report.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 12.38 p.m. and resumed at 1.19 p.m.

Social Welfare Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

SECTION 1

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I welcome the Minister. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and form a composite proposal. They may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
“ “Act of 2010” means the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2010;”.

The Minister is welcome back to the House. I acknowledge her as a decent and hard-working Minister who has done a great deal for this country since the pandemic hit and before it in her previous ministerial roles.  What I will say here is about the issue and not the individual Minister in charge. I need to put this on the record because I realise she must have worked 23 hours a day over the past several months to keep the people of this country in the welfare entitlements they have.

  What I am speaking about today is class K PRSI. We are here today to pass the Social Welfare Bill 2020. When the first Irish social insurance scheme was set up in 1911, it was seen as a contract between the citizen and the State and not a commercial relationship. I ask the Minister at the outset whether this relationship has changed. Is it no longer a contract between the citizen and the State? It was based on very simple rules of entitlement based on contributions. It has remained so ever since, with the exception of one Bill, which provided for the introduction of class K PRSI for public office holders. That legislation was introduced at the height of an economic mess the country found itself in. It is my belief it was poorly thought out and it was, in some way, the Oireachtas tipping its hat to the hard-pressed citizens of the State who were forced to bail out the State from an economic mess, which was overseen by this House at the time, through reckless carry-on and by reckless banks.

  I am not going to go into the historical side of what happened between 2007 and 2011, when the legislation was introduced, but a lot of legislation was introduced at the time, including FEMPI legislation, that was reactionary. It hit the hardest pressed in society and people suffered badly. We might say those involved in the Oireachtas at the time, and I was not, did not really suffer that much as a result of class K PRSI being imposed on us. At 4% of salary, the least we might do was make the same contributions as every citizen of the State to the social welfare system. However, bringing us into the PRSI net using class K PRSI was, for me, a significant and almost seismic shift in the policy of the Government at the time.

  In 2018, councillors were removed from the net and put into class S PRSI, which is for the self-employed. This is a bit of a nonsense because they are not self-employed. It was done because I took action to ensure councillors would be treated properly by the State. They became beneficiaries of the class S PRSI. It is deeply regrettable it was not retrospectively applied to them because many of them have suffered problems with their old age pensions and with entitlements to various benefits but we will move on.

  As it stands, class K PRSI is arbitrary. It became a class of PRSI specifically for Oireachtas Members, judges, and the President, apart from unearned income of people with stocks and shares. It created an anomaly on top of an existing anomaly. Thankfully for the sake of councillors, the movement to class S changed things for them. We never thought about Members of the Oireachtas. The State is the employer of Members of the Oireachtas and has a duty of care to them. Not every Member is fortunate to have a double job. Indeed, in my case when I came into the Oireachtas, I was forced under statutory instrument to take a career break from my job as a teacher. The only professions forced into a career break on taking a seat in the Oireachtas are teachers and lecturers in institutes of technology. At that time, I took a hit in salary from the top of the teacher salary rate down to €65,000 a year. It was a pay cut of approximately €8,500 but I was damned delighted to take it because I am extremely proud to have been elected to the House on three occasions and I regard it as a tremendous privilege to be here.

  Following the 2020 general election, something happened that brought focus to the impact of class K PRSI. A number of our former colleagues, some of them extremely hard-working high-profile people, lost their seats having only been in this establishment for one term. Let us couple this with the unforeseen prospect of a pandemic that hit the State. By the way, all of us in the House might as well be honest and admit from the outset that when people lose their seats, there is a severance payment. It is a small amount for somebody who has only served one term, and the entitlement to a pension as an Oireachtas Member, contrary to public opinion, is not until people reach the age of 55. Young Deputies and Senators in their early 30s who lost their seats suddenly found themselves in a situation where they had to go to the Intreo office to sign on. When they went there, they found they had no entitlement to unemployment benefit, despite having paid 4% of their salary to the insurance fund every month while they sat in this House. As reckonable employment contributions are now averaged over a lifetime, we have placed these former Members in a second peril, which is we have permanently damaged their entitlement to their contributory old age pension. When the time comes they will find they have a four-year gap and that will impact their entitlement to a pension.

  The chilling effect of class K PRSI is not only monetary. It also has broader implications for democracy, equality and diversity in political representation. The lessons learned by those who have lost their seats is that if ordinary-type employees paying their PRSI are fortunate enough to get elected to this House and have no other income, they had better think twice before they take their seats. If they lose their seats they will not just lose their income but also their entitlement to benefits. From this point of view, it directly impacts democracy and the way democracy works.. Are we turning the Houses of the Oireachtas into a place for the privileged in society who are well-heeled and able to afford to come in here as a second job? Are we turning the Oireachtas into a place where somebody who is already extremely wealthy can come in and contribute to legislation? I hope not. I hope this House represents all of the citizens of the State, with all of the diversity that exists in the State and all of the poverty that exists in the State. I expect this is the way the House should operate.

  We have gender quotas to encourage the election of women at national level. While they are sitting Members, they pay PRSI but it gives them no entitlement to benefits while they are here or after they leave. This is particularly important when we speak about women. Class K represents a serious barrier to the participation in politics of women and the unemployed and low paid of both sexes. If this persists there is a grave danger that participation in politics will become the preserve of the wealthy, those with jobs on the side and other external sources of income. This is not what we want as a nation. It is not what we want from our national Parliament. We are trying to move away from this. I compliment the Minister's party on the introduction of quotas to ensure we tried to create a level playing pitch. We still have a long way to go but we have tried to do this. It is tremendous to see the Minister as a female in the role. It is wonderful and it is a testament not only to her own skills and expertise but to the fact we have moved forward a small piece as a society.

  The issue of the lack of maternity leave is in the news at present following the good news of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. I am delighted for her and I am sorry she is not here to congratulate her. It is great news. It is the first pregnancy in a House. I know from a woman's point of view it is full of trepidation and excitement. From my point of view, I remember when our first child was born I was totally and utterly wondering what the hell was going on.  When the child was born, God bless her, I just could not understand that I had to change nappies as I did not do that sort of thing. I learned these skills.

  The truth of the matter is that if one of the Deputies or Senators who lost their seats was fortunate enough to get a job and would now be a year into their job, their social welfare record would be broken. Their entitlement to maternity leave is gone.

  While I am talking about maternity leave, I must express my absolute disgust at the political system in this country that does not have in place a system whereby a woman who has delivered a child is entitled to the same career opportunities as any other occupation in society. They should be able to take their maternity leave and we should have in place a system - which we put in place very quickly for the pandemic - that one can have virtual and remote meetings. There is no reason a Deputy, Senator or Minister who has just had a child should not be able to observe the operation of the House, whichever Chamber we are talking about, from home and cast her vote from there. God Almighty, it is not a great deal to ask for.

  Thankfully, we only had two children, as I do not think I would have been able for any more. However, I saw my wife struggle between career and children and no matter how helpful I was, my wife always felt that she had to carry a bigger load than any other member of the family. Most women here would probably agree with me that they carry a bigger load. Certainly, we men can feed children and can learn to change nappies and things like that, but at the end of the day it is not the same as having to recover after a nine-month period and after the trauma of delivering a child. I have seen first time mothers lying beside a cradle in order to ensure that if the child woke up they would be able to meet the needs of the child. I know this as I have eight sisters and thankfully all of them have been able to produce children. It is totally and utterly unacceptable to expect a woman to be in here in Leinster House, in the Dáil, the Seanad or a council chamber within a day of delivering a child.

  To return to class K PRSI, it is not popular and I will win no accolades in this country for defending Members of the Oireachtas and their entitlement to welfare payments. Nobody will thank me for that. Quite frankly, I do not give a continental damn. What I do care about is that we have an equal system across the working population of this country, irrespective of who or what one is. If there is an entitlement there, one should have it. We have an obligation to look after anyone paying class K PRSI in this House who has no other employment when they come to retire, if they do not qualify for a full Oireachtas pension. I will not qualify for one because we brought in the Single Pension Act, which again militates against people who move from one career into another. It is a simple thing to repeal this. I agree wholeheartedly that we should pay PRSI. I will work with anybody to ensure that Members of this House pay it but we need to be aware of the fact that not everybody is privileged enough to have a second job or to stay in this House long enough to earn a full pension from the House. I am the first person to say that anyone who has a full pension from the Oireachtas should walk out of here and be damn thankful to have that because there are so many people out there who do not have that.

  Equality and everything that the social contributions system stands for must be respected by this House, and not just for the people outside this House but for all people. I am asking the Minister to accept my amendment. I am sorry for speaking on and on about it but it is vitally important. For those former Members who lost seats, some of whom are probably watching this today, I am deeply sorry that they find themselves in a situation that they have had to go to social welfare for assistance or for supplementary welfare because they do not have enough to live on. Remember, the lump sum that they received when they left here lasted a very short time and we are now over a year into a pandemic. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his time.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I thank Senator Craughwell and call Senator Ardagh to speak now, please.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. I also thank Senator Craughwell for bringing these amendments forward.

  On the face of it, it seems to be manifestly unfair that those who pay PRSI contributions have no benefits stemming from it. In the past number of years where we have had a particular influence in this House the public have become aware of the fact that one needs one's social welfare credits to continuously accrue if one is to be entitled to one's contributory pension down the road. I see my colleague, Senator Higgins, present in the House who has led the charge on pensions for women with a focus on their contributions and their disregards. I am aware that the Minister has so much going on today and her Department has done a great amount of work both in publishing this Bill and in the months gone by, but perhaps she might consider this amendment for her next social welfare Bill. The situation is very unfair.

  We also want to ensure that we have a very good calibre of politicians in this House. As my colleague has stated, it should not be just for people who can afford it. We want to attract the best, people who think about their future and where things are going, are of good quality and should be in this House. Perhaps they may also be considering whether they will be getting social welfare credits. This is a basic thing when we consider our future and whether we are going to receive a pension or not. Senator Craughwell made me smile as I thought of his progression towards changing nappies and his sympathies for mothers but it is true. Many young mothers do carry much of the burden staying up at night and perhaps doing a little bit extra. It is probably not said but we women do a little bit more. The men are great these days. They are all changing nappies. It is not just the women. It is important for the Minister to have a look at this issue and I hope that she will do this in the future because at the moment it is just unfair. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I thank Senator Craughwell for putting forward these amendments which are very important. As Senator Ardagh has said, these relate to many issues and we have had significant discussions on pensions in this House. We talked about the fact that care was not recognised properly in our pension system. We had some improvement whereby care credits were being recognised as to someone's pension entitlements. The problem was that while there were credits finally being given for care, the overall amount of credits or contributions that were being required does look like it is going to go up. That is a concern as we are moving from a situation where one might have been able to access a reasonable pension with 20 years contributions, whereas now it might be 30 years total contributions, or indeed 40 years. I will certainly fight this tooth and nail if it is attempted.

  Very few people have a full contributory record. What I know from having worked with the Older and Bolder alliance was that the vast majority of those people on reduced pensions were women. The care issue is one that we have discussed at length in this House and I recognise that it is not part of this Bill, although I notice some positive care-related measures in the social welfare Bill. The real concern is, however, in regard to another gap that might emerge where if one chooses to enter public life, a person will create another gap for himself or herself. It will be much harder for that person to have that 30 years of contributions that one might need. It is very hard to see how one would do it. It is of particular concern.

  It is different for those who might have owned their own businesses or have been in self-employment. If one has been an employee and has been paying PRSI in that way, however, then one is creating a new gap in one's total contributions. If that person is a woman and already has a gap that is only partially being recognised through care credits, it is just another way in which people will find themselves falling short of the requirement that they need to meet for a proper pension. People may say, "Yes", but will that person not get a brilliant pension from being a public servant, and so on? For councillors it is not the same, but for Oireachtas Members, there is, of course, a pension. There are also, however, the many years of life in between potentially losing one's seat, if one does opt for public life. People are also aware that perhaps these systems and measures were designed on an assumption that people go into politics and stay there their whole life and leave at 65.  Not everybody is going to be a career politician. Sometimes people who are passionate about issues enter politics for five or ten years. I can think of excellent people who were in this House and, indeed, in the other House last year who contributed brilliantly over a five-year period but are not here now. They are now trying to find their way in the world again but many are quite a long way away from reaching 65 or 66 years. I am glad that there seems to be a movement against raising the age one can qualify for a pension to 67 years. These people have a big gap ahead of them in terms of what they do and they cannot avail of the Intreo schemes and back-to-education option. Leaving aside the financial amount one receives as a jobseeker's payment, it is also the suite of supports to help one make the next step in one's career that people do not have an entitlement to if their contributory record has disappeared.

  In the very first Social Welfare Bill that I debated back in 2016 I secured a small but important concession because the then Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, agreed to my proposal. Previously one could only make voluntary contributions for a period of 12 months but now that has been increased to five years. That fact is very relevant if one knows people who lived abroad for a couple of years and have come back or tried a new career or life abroad but things did not work out. I urge people to be aware of the increased period and make voluntary contributions before the five-year gap, although that is not necessarily now an option for many people.

  We have discussed the gender issue in terms of councillors. In the past few years, councillors have quit mid-term because political life was so hard and they, as councillors, were paid so little. If there are no contributions made in the previous two years, then a person is pretty invisible when it comes to a lot of what is offered by the social protection system. One can imagine that when one approaches two years in the job when political life is hard and is not paying as much as hoped for, then one might well decide to leave. One asks oneself why stay in the job because if one does not jump now then one's social protection record will not provide entitlements. Therefore, we need to make sure this issue is addressed. While a gap in contributions has not been mentioned in this Social Welfare Bill, I encourage the Minister to consider it and talk to people from all across the House as to how it might be addressed into the future. A total contributions approach is not part of this year's social welfare budget but I would love us to have an opportunity to discuss how we can make the system equitable and fair.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard Where public representatives fit into our debate on class K is important. In many ways, we need to broaden the debate because we must attract people to participate in public life. In my part of the world in Cork, the five youngest members in local government from 2014 to 2019, across all parties, refused to run for re-election. So the young people who were elected when they were in their early 20s and early 30s decided to step out of politics after just five years. I am friendly with all of them and am aware there were disillusionment and pay factors. Encouraging people to enter politics is a huge issue and stamp K is definitely one aspect but there is another massive issue. If we do not attract a wide range of people then only a certain sector of society will enter politics, which is not good for democracy, politics or anything else.

  I hope that in the lifetime of the current Dáil, we will have a genuine debate on what we want for our public representatives and politicians and how best to serve society. The current system is attractive to people in a certain age bracket who are mainly from a certain demographic and approaching retirement. Unfortunately, for a person aged between 25 and 30 five years in public life is an awful burden because it is a burden on one's family and on one's existence if one wants to get married or have kids. There is no support throughout the entire system of local authorities to help and support councillors through that period of life.

  We need to have an in-depth debate about class K, where councillors fit into the system, what we expect from them and where both of these Houses fit into the equation. The Senator is correct because traditionally, a politician in this House could remain here for between ten and 15 years. However, 40% of politicians serve just one term and so must move on. It is because of that there is a gap. We must also ensure that what happened in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s does not happen now. As we need to change our policies and approach, we need to have a real debate across the entire Oireachtas. It is set in law that we must have local elections in 2024. Therefore, we need to solve this issue by 2024 or a vast number of young male and female politicians will leave politics because public life is not worth it. Society will be affected by that as the proportion of young people per head of population has totally changed over the past 20 years. Stamp K is definitely a part of this whole debate that we must have on governance.

Senator Mark Wall: Information on Mark Wall Zoom on Mark Wall I thank Senator Craughwell for tabling his amendment. As other Senators have stated, it is important that we discuss this issue. I note that the Senator has continuously raised this issue in this Chamber. I have read a report he made in February 2016 to the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which is not the current committee.

  Today, I would like to concentrate on a potential barrier that prevents people from entering public life. Every political party and group encourages young people to get involved. One does not think about pensions when one is young, going to college or a young adult. It is only much later that one thinks one will need a pension in 20, 30 or 40 years but sometimes that is too late, which is why we need a discussion. Senator Lombard is right that we need a cross-party discussion.

  Public life and democracy are essential for us all. There should be no barrier to prevent men or women from entering public life. I have spoken to a number of people who lost their seats over the last number of years. Many of them have raised the problems that they have experienced with social welfare and their future pension problems. Today's debate is timely because in the next couple of years, many people will put their names forward for the local elections in 2024. Many of them will be people who will experience public life for the first time and they need to know there is a back-up plan. For many of our colleagues who, unfortunately, lost their seats, for a long time there was no back-up plan. When they went to their local Intreo offices they were told that there was nothing available as they had made no payments during the previous two years, which is a huge problem that must be resolved.

  Senator Craughwell has been on this journey for a while. It is, however, time for me and others in the House to start to discuss this issue and to ensure there are no barriers. I hope that the Minster will consider his amendment.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney I thank Senator Craughwell for raising this issue and for his email. I received his email and in panic rang a friend who is an accountant to verify whether the issue raised by Senator Craughwell was true because it was not something that I had considered before. While I hope that at no stage will I need to claim social welfare, it is good to be mindful of the current situation.  The cynics out there would listen to us and say that when a Government Senator and an Opposition Senator agree, it must be about entitlements for Members of the Oireachtas. I am wary of that so I imagine that the Minister would also be wary of that in considering amendments. In the context of such a fantastic Social Welfare Bill, which provides for an exceptional spend and investment in our State, to slip this in, which is what we would be accused of in the media, would be unwise. It certainly suggests that we need a much wider debate about attracting people into politics, retaining them and how we support them after they leave politics. I had the experience where a former Member of the House needed to be shown how to do up a curriculum vitae because the Member had been in politics since they were only so high. Probably their nappy was being changed while they were out on the road canvassing.

  The point is incredibly well made that there is a disproportionate impact on women in politics. Attracting women into politics and retaining them, as the Minister so articulately said, is really the challenge. I am very fortunate that my husband never refers to baby-sitting our daughter. He has been the primary carer from the moment she was born and he is exceptional. I am fortunate that I am able to be here because I have someone at home who is doing that and parents who can visit me, so to speak, on Oireachtas TV. We need a debate. It would be wise for the House to ask the Leader to provide time for a discussion on the pathway to politics as a very noble career. All too often, politicians are pilloried, criticised and accused. We see lots of feeds on social media about corruption and brown envelopes when the history of politics in this country shows that an exceptionally small number of people have chosen a path of ill repute, while an exceptionally large number of people make great personal sacrifices. While we may differ on policy and ideology, there is no doubt regarding our sincerity in wanting to have a better country for all our citizens and that all of us come here basking in that privilege. We need a debate on this.

  In Senator Craughwell's email to us asking for our support for this amendment, I learned a piece. I also learned something from Senator Higgins's contribution today with regard to voluntary contributions. This suggests that we probably need a wider campaign around understanding our entitlements. Fine Gael members distribute leaflets to constituents and areas entitled Know Where You Stand. The practice originated with Deputy Bruton. I have learned loads from that over the years but we probably need it at national level because when we have so many entitlements and there are so many things to access, we probably need it to be put down in a way that is reasonably accessible. I thank the Senator for commencing this debate, which needs to continue. I will be raising the matter again on the Order of Business and I think we all should. I will ask the Leader to facilitate a debate.

Senator Lisa Chambers: Information on Lisa Chambers Zoom on Lisa Chambers I concur with many of the comments we heard from across the House. It is not every day that one finds cross-party agreement on an issue that needs to be discussed more extensively. There is definitely an issue with regard to younger people entering politics who may be disadvantaged by taking up a role in public life. That should never be the case. We must look at the impacts of that and how we can improve our legislation in this regard. I thank the Senator for introducing the amendment. Discussing it is very worthwhile and it will prompt further debate. I note what Senator Wall said about the next local elections and how we have time to try to address these issues. It is good that we are starting early. I support the amendment in principle.

Senator Micheál Carrigy: Information on Micheál Carrigy Zoom on Micheál Carrigy I welcome the Minister to the House. I support what Senator Craughwell is proposing but I do not think a debate on the Social Welfare Bill is the right time for his proposal. Everyone said the last day that this was a fantastic Bill for the people, particularly during Covid.

  The Senator's proposal has sparked a real debate on the pay and conditions of councillors. A large number of us are former members of local authorities. Senator Lombard gave the numbers in Cork. By 2019, 10% of councillors elected in 2014 had resigned their positions. They did not even run in the local elections in 2019 but resigned during that term. That figure is stark.

  There is a bigger issue that we need to address. The Moorhead report published some months ago needs to considered on a cross-party basis. It states that 20 hours is the average weekly workload of a local authority member, which is way off the mark. Those of us who were local authority members know we put more than 40 hours a week into the job. While I agree with the sentiment behind the amendment, now is not the time to make it. However, it opens up a bigger discussion we need to have on councillors' pay. If we are to have people putting their names forward in 2024, we need to pay them properly. The breeding ground for most public representatives in the Dáil or Seanad is at local authority level. If we want people to continue to put their names forward and challenge for positions, we need proper pay and conditions put in place.

Senator Ollie Crowe: Information on Ollie Crowe Zoom on Ollie Crowe I echo what has been said and compliment Senator Craughwell on his work on this issue. In fairness to the Senator, he has raised it for a number of years. In Galway, we had young councillors, particularly in Galway County Council, who only served from 2014 to 2019 and left it at that because the pressures of their jobs meant it was not feasible or manageable to continue. I spoke to a Member who served in this House for nine years. As we are all aware, politics is a difficult business and there are good days and bad days. Unfortunately, the gentleman in question lost his seat. It was not until that happened that he realised the huge financial implications and that he had nowhere to go. The fear I see in Galway city and county is that we are not encouraging young people to enter politics, which is a major challenge. As Members of the Oireachtas, we must be very conscious of that because this should not be a race to the bottom, which seems to be the way it is going. I am hopeful that the position will improve.

  I welcome the Minister to the House. From campaigning last January and previously, I can say that the pension age remaining at 66 is a major and contentious issue. I am fully aware that we have a three-party coalition but I would like to send that message to the Government today. I compliment the Minister on setting up a commission and appointing the relevant people to it. It will be the middle of next year at the earliest before the commission reports. It is important that people with 40 years' service who want to retire be entitled to do so. It is degrading to suggest anything different. Naturally, as we are all aware, there are jobs in which it is possible to carry on working until 70. That is fine but there are other professions and trades where it would not be suitable. If people have the opportunity to retire, it is a must for them to be able to do so at 66 years if they have 40 years' service. To state the obvious, it also creates other opportunities for younger people.  We have to be conscious of that. We will all agree that it was a big issue for the general election in February. We need that commission to come back and inform us and make the right decisions, going forward. I will leave it at that for the moment.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly We have now thoroughly discussed both the amendment and the section. We have even discussed some other sections a little prematurely and we will bear that in mind as we move forward.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I thank Senator Craughwell for tabling the amendment but, as I indicated in the House on Monday, I will not be able to accept it. I am happy to consider it and will certainly ask my officials to look at the matter. Senators Ardagh, Higgins, Lombard, Wall, Seery Kearney, Chambers, Carrigy and Crowe have spoken and I understand and appreciate the points that all of them have made. It is important that we have a broader discussion on the issue. We know former Senators and Deputies who have young families, unfortunately, lost their seats at the most recent election, and have been unable to get jobs, particularly due to the fact that we find ourselves in a Covid-19 environment. They have been left with no income and, regardless of what party they belong to, that is a tough situation for anyone to find themselves. It is tough for people who have worked hard and contributed to both Houses and their constituents, whom they represented. The fact is that they cannot even sign on for credits. People who lost their seats are, of course, entitled to a severance payment and that also has to be considered when we look at this issue.

  Senator Seery Kearney is correct that we need a wider debate. We need to look at other things here. For that reason, I think that it should be referred to the relevant Oireachtas joint committee. I respectfully suggest that the Senators write to the committee and ask it examine this issue in its entirety. I am happy to co-operate with that committee in any way I can and provide the information that it may require. Whatever recommendations are arrived at, we need cross-party support for this particular issue. That is important.

  We need to look at maternity and paternity leave for Members of these Houses. It is only fair for that to be a part of the discussion. Senator Chambers recently had a baby. Senator Ardagh has young twins who are almost a year old. It is not easy juggling all of those demands. My family has grown up but, as a working mother with two young people, it was not easy to juggle everything. It is particularly difficult to do so for rural Deputies who are living in whatever part of the country they are. It is difficult to have a family and be present in the Dáil; there is no question about it. I know that others have looked at the issue but it is always good to look at things again with a fresh set of eyes.

  Technology has changed our lives this year. Senator Craughwell is correct that there are many things that we are doing now that we never thought we would be doing. We need to use technology to its maximum. I am a big advocate for remote working and there is no reason we cannot encompass what we need to do in supporting mothers and fathers. It is not easy for a father who is living in Donegal and travelling all the way to Dublin. He may not see his kids from Monday to Friday. The Leas-Chathaoirleach knows all about that. Living in Cavan, he cannot go home every night. It presents challenges.

  We need to look at the matter. I accept the spirit in which this amendment has been brought forward but, unfortunately, I cannot accept it. I am happy to work with the Senator to try to highlight the issue and find solutions.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Before I call on Senator Craughwell to respond, I ask colleagues to bear in mind that we have given this matter considerable discussion and there is a consensus. I ask them to consider not repeating the entire process.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell The Minister has brought forward a fine Bill and I am sorry that my two amendments are the only ones. I sincerely hope that they do not overshadow the fantastic work that the Minister and her officials have done in the horrendous times in which we live.

  I have no regrets about bringing forward this amendment because the matter has to be debated. I am honoured that all of my colleagues in the House see that the profession of politics needs to be examined. Senator Lombard talked about the young councillors in Cork leaving their roles. Senator Carrigy referred to the fact that 10% of all councillors did not run for election. Senator Seery Kearney mentioned voluntary contributions. What she does not know is that there are two levels. If one comes into these Houses with a class A PRSI, as I did, it means a voluntary contribution is €5,500 per year. That is prohibitive and one could not avail of it. That is why I brought up the issue of class K five years ago. A class S PRSI voluntary contribution, on the other hand, is only €500. It makes it prohibitive for anybody who came in here on class A PRSI. That is something at which we need to look.

  I regard class K as a tax on public service. It is wrong in every sense of the word and I am delighted that there seems to be cross-party support for this.

  Senator Lombard spoke about the young. During the summer, I commissioned a report on the Seanad from a number of students in UCC. I asked two of them to prepare a report for me and it turned out to be a most exciting couple of weeks as the group grew to around about 25 students of politics in UCC who all contributed to it. The outcome was excellent. Many of us might not think so because it is quite critical of the House, but it was fantastic to see the energy involved.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I am going to have to draw the Senator to a conclusion.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I will finish quickly. Senator Lombard is right that we need to get young people in here. In doing that, we need to ensure that we give those young people a career path that offers them alternatives.

  I thank the Minister for taking the time to listen to this debate. I am not going to press the amendment. I believe the point is made and that we, as politicians, will be big enough to step back and examine the entire profession. I thank everybody for their contributions.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I thank the Senator. I think we have discussed the issue very well. I thank him for his constructive conclusion.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Section 1 agreed to.

  Section 2 agreed to.

NEW SECTIONS

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
Contributions by Public Office Holders

3. Section 14 of the Act of 2010 is repealed.”.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Amendment No. 3 has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I want to make a point about amendment No. 3. It is important for those who think-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly May I read to the Senator the explanation as to why it has been ruled out of order?

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell It is out of order because it involves a charge on the Exchequer. I need people to know that what I was trying to do was to bring in a social welfare charge that we would pay.  I was not trying to make Deputies and Senators exempt from paying social welfare contributions.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly That is well understood. I thank the Senator for that. Amendment No. 3 has been ruled out of order.

  Amendment No. 3 not moved.

  Sections 3 to 18, inclusive, agreed to.

  Title agreed to.

  Bill reported without amendment.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly When is it proposed to take the next Stage?

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Now.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Bill received for final consideration.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly When is it proposed to take the next Stage?

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Now.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Is that agreed? Agreed.

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

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I thank all Senators for their co-operation and invite the Minister to respond to the debate.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I thank Senators for their courtesy and co-operation in ensuring that the Bill was passed in good time in order that it could go to the President for signature. A good number of the amendments in the Bill will make a difference to people's lives. Social protection is here to help people and to give them that helping hand whenever they need it. It is the support mechanism that we have as a State to provide a basic income in certain circumstances. The amendments will kick on 1 January after the President has signed the Bill into law.

  I again acknowledge the wonderful contribution of the staff of the Department during this very difficult year in terms of Covid. They have processed 13 million claims, which is the equivalent of seven years of claims for jobseeker's allowance in the space of almost nine months since last March. I thank them once again for the work they have done on behalf of the Department. Finally, I thank all Senators and wish them a very happy Christmas as the House will adjourn at the end of the week.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I thank the Minister and return the same felicitous remarks to her on behalf of Senators.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 2.15 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.

  5 o’clock

Finance Bill 2020: Report and Final Stages

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of a recommendation who may reply to the discussion on the recommendation. Also on Report Stage, each non-Government recommendation must be seconded.

  Recommendation No. 1 in the names of Senators Sherlock, Bacik, Hoey, Moynihan and Wall arises out of committee proceedings.

Senator Marie Sherlock: Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock I move recommendation No. 1:

In page 1. In page 9, to delete lines 9 to 24 and substitute the following:
“ “(iib) Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment (within the meaning of the Act of 2005),”,
and
(b) by inserting the following after subsection (6B):
“(6C) The payments, commonly known as the pandemic unemployment payments, made under section 202 of the Act of 2005 on and after 13 March 2020 to the relevant date (within the meaning of section 7 of that Act), shall be exempt from income tax and shall not be reckoned in computing income for the purposes of the Income Tax Acts.”.
(2) Paragraph (b) of subsection (1) shall be deemed to have come into operation on and from 13 March 2020.

(3) Paragraph (a)(i) of subsection (1) shall be deemed to have come into operation on and from 5 August 2020.”.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I second the recommendation.

Senator Marie Sherlock: Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock On Committee Stage, I made very clear on behalf of my colleagues in the Labour Party our deep unease - this is shared by other colleagues on this side of the Chamber - regarding what we believe is the retrospective application of income tax to the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, between 13 March and 5 August. I listened very carefully to the comments the Minister of State made, especially with regard to the income tax classification of PUP income received in the context of Case IV of Schedule D and also the need to reclassify this as Schedule E in order to be able to offset personal and PAYE tax credits. We accepted that point and asked the Government to table a recommendation in this regard. However, as this was not forthcoming, we have brought forward a recommendation in conjunction with the Free Legal Advice Centres. The latter has written on a number of occasions to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, expressing its alarm about section 3 of the Finance Bill.

  Our recommendation is that for the period before which PUP had statutory basis as a payment, namely, 13 March and 5 August, it would not be considered reckonable income for income tax purposes. We accept that the payment has been subject to income tax since 5 August. However, we believe that the principle of retrospection in the context of income tax is wrong. Last week, I also mentioned that there is a great reluctance and resistance on the part of the Government to enter into a conversation about the retrospective application of tax changes to any other part of our tax code. As a result, we are not convinced why it is acceptable in the context of income tax.

  I ask the Minister of State to accept our recommendation, which we believe is very reasonable and which solely deals with the period between 13 March and 5 August when the payment was classed as an emergency payment. We hope that he will accept the recommendation.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Sean Fleming): Information on Sean Fleming Zoom on Sean Fleming I thank the Senator. The recommendation differs from that put forward on Committee Stage in that it proposes to exempt the PUP from taxation for the period prior to 5 August, rather than maintaining that the payment is not currently taxable.  The Senator has accepted that the payments have been taxable since August and is now proposing that payments from March, when they were introduced, until that date in August be non-taxable. I repeat that the PUP is and always was taxable. There is no question here about retrospection of taxation.

As I advised on Committee Stage, it bears reiterating that the main purpose of section 3 is to confer on PUP recipients, both employees and self-employed, an entitlement to the employee tax credit, thus allowing those concerned to offset the credit against their tax liability arising from receipt of the PUP. That is what section 3 is about, as discussed on Committee Stage. It is about making sure that those on the PUP can offset their employee tax credit or PAYE allowance against that payment. If we do not do so, it would result in more tax being paid on the PUP. In the absence of such an approach, the PUP would fall to be treated for income tax purposes as case IV, schedule D income, that is, miscellaneous income not falling under any other heading. In such circumstances, recipients of the payment, that is, employees or self-employed persons who have lost employment due to Covid-19, would be liable for the gross amount of income tax arising on the PUP payments that they receive.They could use neither the employee tax credit in the case of employees, also known as the PAYE credit, nor earned income credit in the case of self-employed persons to abate the gross tax liability. That is what section 3 is about, as discussed on Committee Stage.

Of its nature, the PUP is a taxable payment and, having regard to considerations of equity, grounds to move away from that position are not strong. The Government and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, have been consistent on that point, essentially from the outset. Several parliamentary questions have been tabled on this exact issue since the payment came in. Questions were tabled on it right through May, June and July, long before the August date was even mentioned. Is it fair and equitable that recipients of the PUP are subject to tax on that income, just as those who continued in employment or those in receipt of the temporary wage subsidy payment are subject to tax on their emoluments?

Furthermore, the PUP is an income support and shares the characteristics of jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's benefit for the self-employed, both of which are taxable. It would be inequitable if the PUP was not to be taxable while jobseeker's benefit is subject to tax. Indeed, as a general rule, all social welfare payments are subject to taxation unless specifically exempted. It is for these reasons that I do not see the logic in exempting the PUP from taxation as proposed, but taxing it after 5 August. What the Senator is actually saying is that she accepts it is taxable. I am saying it is taxable from when it was introduced in March. The recommendation accepts that it is taxable from August but the Senator wants it to be not taxable prior to August. How can people in receipt of the PUP after that date in August be liable for tax while those who got it before August would not be liable for tax? There is zero equity in that approach, in my view. A person on the PUP at the end of July and a person on the PUP at the beginning of August are entitled to be treated the same way under the tax code. It is the same payment and there should not be a differential in that regard. It would be most unfair to tax people in receipt of PUP in one month, while those who were on the payment in the previous month are not taxable.

I refer to the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act 2020 that was debated in the Seanad on 29 July. The then Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, made it clear during that debate that the payment was always taxable. That legislation was passed in the Seanad on 29 July and came into effect on 5 August following signature by the President. Section 6 of the Act provides:

Benefit to be paid or provided for out of the Social Insurance Fund shall include such sums as the Minister may estimate on the basis that may be agreed between the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of the payments, commonly known as the pandemic unemployment payments, made under section 202 on and after 13 March 2020 to the relevant date ...

That legislation, which was passed through the Dáil and the Seanad at the end of July and then came into effect, clearly states in section 6 that the relevant date in terms of income received is 13 March. Claims for the payment may have been submitted some days before that date but, in terms of payments received, 13 March is the relevant date as set out in legislation. I cannot see how we can go back and untangle that Act which was passed through the House, signed by the President and came into legal effect on 5 August in order to change the relevant date for receipt of the PUP. That legislation states the relevant date is 13 March 2020. That date did not come from nowhere. It is specified in legislation passed by the Houses. In the context of the PUP, the relevant date is 13 March as set out in the legislation passed in the House at the end of July. I cannot see how there could be any equity in amending that legislation, which sets out that the effective date is 13 March, by providing that those who got the payment in the first three or four months should pay no tax but those who got it in months 4, 5 or 6 should pay tax. I just cannot accept that approach. I cannot accept the proposal in the recommendation that some people who received a payment, the relevant date for which as specified in legislation is 13 March, in one month should be exempt from tax, while those who got it in a later month would be subject to tax. The Senator accepts the payment would be subject to tax from 5 August. The recommendation would mean that a person getting the payment in a particular month would not have to pay tax on it while a person getting the same payment the next month would have to pay tax on it in circumstances where there is no relevant basis for that date. The relevant date in the legislation as passed here several months ago is 13 March.

  On that basis, not only do I not wish to go there in terms of the recommendation, it would be utterly unfair for people who began receiving the PUP later in the year as they were not laid off in the early stages of the pandemic to be taxed whereas those who came in the first wave of PUP would get it tax free. In many cases, it could be the same person. I could not accept such a situation. I know the recommendation is designed to assist, but I cannot see how there is any equity in what is proposed in terms of treating people differently in respect of the same payment depending on the month in which they received the payment. On that basis, I am unable to accept the recommendation.

Senator Marie Sherlock: Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock I thank the Minister of State for his reply but I am disappointed by it. I believe the goalposts have been shifted since Committee Stage, when Senators were told that people would be horrified to discover that they would not be able to offset some of their tax liability for the PUP against their personal and PAYE tax credits. The recommendation clearly attempts to deal with that by separating the period before 5 August from the period after 5 August. The Minister of State has made his point. Obviously, I have not won the argument. However, I will take a positive from this because, to my mind, this is breaking new ground. It acknowledges that it is possible to introduce a payment or tax change and then retrospectively change its status several months later. I look forward to the Government being open to the concept of retrospective application of changes when we are debating issues relating to other parts of the tax code. Up to now, it has not been open to that. I will take it from section 3 that the Government is willing to countenance retrospective application into the future. Even if it is not welcome in the context of income tax, it will certainly be very welcome in other areas of the tax code.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Sean Fleming Zoom on Sean Fleming As set out in the legislation to which I have referred, that is, the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act 2020, the period of applicability in the context of the payment is from 13 March onwards. That legislation was passed by this House on 29 July and then brought into effect on 5 August. I wish to confirm that those are the dates in question.  I do not agree with the Senator's interpretation: it was always taxable from day one. I never had a different view. Most people do not have a different view. I accept that some people have a different view, but I do not share the interpretation that we are doing anything retrospective. It was always taxable from 30 March under the schedule we mentioned under the legislation. The Senator has tried to say I am establishing a precedent, but that is not the case. As far as I am concerned, it was taxable from day one, as we have always said. I am consistent in that regard. I accept the Senator might disagree with that point of view, in the same way that I disagree with her view that we are making retrospective changes.

  Recommendation put and declared lost.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Recommendation No. 2 has been ruled out of order as it involves a charge on the people.

  Recommendation No. 2 not moved.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I move recommendation No. 3:

In page 10, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:“5.Within six months of the enactment of this Act, the Minister shall lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the operation of section 195 of the Principal Act, which shall include an analysis of the amount of revenue foregone as a result of the authorisation of exemptions under that section to serving or former public office holders(within the meaning of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005), and to individuals who received income in excess of €100,000 which was chargeable to tax in the year of assessment immediately preceding the year of assessment in which they duly made a claim to the Revenue Commissioners under that section.” 

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I second the recommendation.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen The proposed recommendation No. 3 relates to the recommendation I sought to introduce on Committee Stage and is similar to recommendation No. 2, which has been ruled out of order. I note your ruling, a Chathaoirligh, and the explanation which I received from you on the grounds that it could involve a charge upon the people or upon the Revenue, as per Standing Order 41.

  I note that you stated that it has long been held by successive cathaoirligh, and in the other House, that the reference to a charge on the people refers to the imposition or the increase of a public taxation measure and that a charge on the Revenue is a reference to public expense. I believe there is a significant ambiguity in the wording of Standing Order 41 because of the phrase "the people" as opposed to "people". Bunreacht na hÉireann is quite clear that references to the people are generally references to the people as a collective and it seems to me that a more obvious interpretation of Standing Order 41 would be that the imposition of a charge on the people refers to the imposition of some kind of public expense and that the imposition of a charge on the Revenue would basically amount to a tax cut. Having regard to the fact that the Constitution already significantly curtails the extent to which the Seanad can make recommendations in respect of a money Bill, the broadest possible interpretation should be given to the meaning of Standing Order 41, so as to facilitate Seanadóirí in their work. In the event of any claimed ambiguity, as I believe there is here, then the benefit of the doubt should be given to the legislator seeking to do his or her work in that regard. Having said all of that, I respect your decision. I suppose it is a matter now to see whether there would be support for a clarification of the standing order, to allow a situation that I and many others here would regard as much more sensible, which is that given the restrictions on the Seanad on money Bills, that there would be a broader latitude when it comes to proposing measures that would increase taxation, as in this case, by narrowing the scope of an exemption.

  All that said, recommendation No. 3 seeks at the very least to provide that we would now begin to establish how much revenue is being lost to the State by what I believe is the overly broad application of the artists' exemption, indeed I would say, the abuse of the artists' exemption. This recommendation would provide that within six months of the enactment of the legislation the Minister would lay before the Houses a report on the operation of section 195 and to include an analysis of the amount of revenue forgone as a result of authorising exemptions to serving or former public office holders, as applies at present. In the case of former public office holders, those who are in receipt of a pension of €20,000 or more, and to individuals who received income in excess of €100,000. The recommendation does not refer to the amount of pension being received by the former public office holders that would be among the subjects of this report. The report would also indicate the tax lost to the State where individuals who have received income in excess of €100,000 in the previous year of assessment are availing of the artists' exemption.

  I note in passing that the wording is slightly different from what was in the recommendation on Committee Stage. That was to try to address the point made by Senator Higgins on that occasion. I am not sure whether I have done so in a manner that is satisfactory to her, but it improves the recommendation somewhat by providing that it would be in the year immediately prior to the year of assessment that the €100,000 threshold was exceeded. The point here, as I stated previously - I will not labour it again because I set it out at length on Committee Stage and it is on the record of this House - is that this exemption was always only intended for artists and writers who were low paid and impecunious. I mentioned the cultural memory of the artist starving in the garret for the sake of his or her art and that it was as a gesture to the importance of the creative community in society that this artists' exemption was introduced, providing that a person could earn up to €50,000 before he or she would be liable for tax, or that they could earn €50,000 tax-free. I said that was a potential value of €20,000 lost to the taxpayer, or shall we say sacrificed by the taxpayer, for the sake of the merit of the work being done by these artists and writers. I do not believe that it was ever intended to be within the scope of the relevant section of the tax code that a highly paid broadcaster writing his or her political memoirs or a sports star's memoirs would come within the scope of the artists' exemption.

  I brought to the attention of the House the fact that the Arts Council had commented on the overly broad application of the artists' exemption by the Revenue in the past. I also drew to the House's attention the fact that a very high percentage of appeals was successful where the artists' exemption was refused. I strongly urge on the Minister to consider even at this stage that this is not the way things should be, that this is not the proper use of the artists' exemption. In fact, where biographies or autobiographies are concerned, for example, a biography of an artist or writer, the view of the Arts Council is that this might qualify for the artists' exemption only in circumstances where it sheds new light upon the person's work. It is not just the story of the person's life that is required. In order to meet the threshold of eligibility for the artists' exemption, if it is not a directly creative work but it is a book about an artist or a writer it should in some way shed new light on the interpretation of the artist or writer concerned. We are clearly a long way from any of that in the way this section is operating.  While I regret that the recommendation cannot be put to the House because of the operation of Standing Order 41, we can at least begin the process of reform by providing that there will be a report done on the operation of the section and the money being lost to Revenue as a result of the excessively broad application of this tax exemption that is being availed of by people who are in no way low paid or impecunious.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I listened very carefully to the lengthy debate last week on this recommendation and Senator Mullen has a point. It was a real pity that the Minister of State rejected every request last week for a report on how we might better align our financial plans for the future. Just like the request we made last week, this request has merit. I think, or at least I hope, no Member would be comfortable with wealthy people availing of the artists' exemption. There is something fundamentally unfair about that. Senator Mullen seems to be suggesting that a report be completed on the degree to which this is an issue. I do not imagine the completion of such a report would cause too much difficulty or time on the part of the Minister of State's colleagues in the Department. It is a sensible suggestion to make. I have no doubt but that the Minister of State will reject the suggestion, which is disappointing but there is a fundamental point here. There are very wealthy people, albeit perhaps a small number, who are availing of this artists' exemption when it was never designed for them. The point is that it is fundamentally unfair. The Minister of State should take this point on board and seek to have a report written on this issue.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I wish to make two points. First, I concur that the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges must examine the issue of the interpretation of "the people". If one interpretation has 4.5 million people behind it and the other has a few individuals, we really need to think about that and examine it. Given that these are only recommendations and that the powers are already constrained, it would be appropriate that we do not unnecessarily further constrain ourselves, particularly on the issue of tax. I have always sought to look to some the tax reliefs, because they should be subject to scrutiny on how they are applied. This exemption is one such case.

  In respect of the arts, it is good that we support the artists and we need to support the arts in Ireland. I acknowledge that artists in Ireland have had one of the most extraordinarily difficult and challenging years. Absolutely and unequivocally, we need to support artists. Indeed, the artists' exemption is there because in the balancing of cost and benefits, it was felt that it is something that is very important. I welcome it being acknowledged. It is a foregoing of revenue when there is any tax relief but I believe we get a lot more as a State in general from the tax relief that we afford to artists than from some of the other tax reliefs that are in place. For example, the still marginal rate of private pension tax relief is fundamentally inequitable. However, while there is an important role for instruments such as this in supporting the artists, it is appropriate for it to be examined and considered in order that we can ensure that it is performing as it should.

  I recognise that the Senator has tried to take on board one of my points. I believe that in examining it, the focus should be beyond just one previous tax year, because for many artists, particularly writers, there may be five or six years in which there is no income and one year in which there is a high income. Therefore, the focus of the examination should be income over a five- or ten-year period. I have spoken about wealth taxes before and I strongly favour the introduction of a wealth tax. In cases where people are earning extremely high amounts, sometimes millions, in the absence of a wealth tax and where tax on capital assets is not being captured in that way, it is appropriate to consider whether this tax relief is needed in such cases. It is always useful to re-examine those issues.

  It may be outside the Minister of State's remit but other than looking at the tax reliefs for artists, there are a number of ancillary measures that could be taken, including looking at how grants are provided, how we address social protection, and how we recognise the realities of the lives of artists. There is a suite of measures that should be looked at.

  In respect of the Minister of State's remit, the recommendation that has been made is a reasonable one. I am sure Senator Mullen would be happy for the Minister of State to expand its terms and engage in other issues, as might be related. It is worth an examination and maybe we would see some interesting proposals and revisions in respect of this. For example, tax credits could be looked at in respect of artists who are on very low incomes and are not even in a position to benefit from tax exemptions. There is scope for examination and it is a useful discussion to have.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Sean Fleming Zoom on Sean Fleming We discussed the issue, the principle, the background and the information that led Senator Mullen to put this recommendation forward on previous Stages. We had quite a detailed discussion and the Senator provided a lot of information on the matter.

  Section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for the exemption of certain earnings of writers, composers and artists and allows the Revenue Commissioners to make determinations in respect of artistic works in the following categories only: a book or other writing; a play; a musical composition; a painting or other like picture; and a sculpture. Guidelines were drawn up by the Arts Council and the then Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, for determining whether a work which falls within the scope of the activities listed in the section is an original and creative work and whether it has, or is generally recognised as having, cultural or artistic merit and consequentially can qualify for the exemption. For most categories of work, once a determination is made by the Revenue, the exemption will apply not just to the works submitted with the application but also to any future works in the same category. In these instances, an individual need only make a fresh application if the category of their work changes, for example, from books to music. The exception to this process is where the works in question are non-fiction books. Due to the restrictions imposed by the guidelines governing the scheme on non-fiction books, it is necessary to submit a new application in respect of each new non-fiction work to ensure it comes within the eligibility criteria set out in the guidelines.

  There have been three legislative changes to section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act included in two Finance Bills in the past 15 years. Two of these changes concerned the maximum amount of exempt income allowed under the scheme and the third change was made on the foot of infringement proceedings being threatened by the EU Commission. This change expanded the eligibility for the scheme to residents of all EU and EEA countries, where previously it was only open to residents of this State. As stated by the Minister for Finance at the time, the policy basis of the artists’ exemption is to provide "further encouragement to the creative artists in our midst and to help create a sympathetic environment here in which the arts can flourish".

  On the issue of excluding certain public representatives and public servants from the scheme, I do not see how it is relevant to the objective of the measure to exclude a person solely on the basis of their former employment. As a general principle of tax equity, the source of other income should not determine the tax treatment of the income from an artistic endeavour. As I am sure the Senator will agree, artistic inspiration and talent can be found in all sorts of unexpected places - even among retired public servants and public representatives, as I mentioned previously.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Sean Fleming Zoom on Sean Fleming We are not excluded from making an artistic contribution to the country.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen More honoured in the breach.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Sean Fleming Zoom on Sean Fleming Regarding otherwise high-earning individuals, in addition to the €50,000 cap, those claiming the exemption that also avail of other specified reliefs, continue to be subject to the high earners' restriction, which limits the amount of tax relief that can be utilised in any one year to €80,000 before the restriction begins to apply. It is now a more limited scheme targeted at supporting artists on low incomes and individuals who, without the exemption, may have to earn their income elsewhere to continue in their artistic field. The point is that there is a high earners' restriction in respect of the amount of specified reliefs that can be claimed by an individual. People cannot combine different levels of exemptions and have each one treated separately. To that extent, there is a cap on the total amount that can be claimed because of the high earners' restriction.  On that basis, it is not necessary to further limit the relief to those who had a particular income outside the scheme in any of the three previous years and, accordingly, I cannot agree to the suggestion that a report is required as proposed in the recommendation before the House.

  I will provide one or two further pieces of information and elaborate on why I believe this is a fair and reasonable approach to take. There was a written question which Senator Mullen mentioned the last day. He asked if the Arts Council complained to Revenue about exemptions for ghost written biographies and political memoirs. One might say it is a small point. There was no issue between the Arts Council and the Revenue Commissioners at any stage. Revenue operated the scheme in accordance with the advice given to it by the Arts Council in respect of biographies rather than autobiographies. The wording of this guidance was, however, ambiguous and the Tax Appeals Commission, which is independent of Revenue, took a different view in its interpretation of the guidelines. This resulted in the determination at the appeal stage that the exemption should be granted, despite having previously been refused by Revenue. Revenue did not make this determination. It went with the scheme guidelines from the Arts Council but, on appeal, the commission granted the exemption, independently of the Revenue Commissioners, in that particular case.

  My other point relates to the criteria for autobiographies or biographies. The conditions are that the work must be a biography or an autobiography that, in the opinion of the Revenue Commissioners, incorporates the author’s unique insight into the subject matter and is regarded as a pioneering work and also makes a significant contribution to the subject matter by casting new light on the person or by changing the generally accepted understanding of the person. That is the rule.

  The real reason I believe it is not necessary to accept this recommendation - and I was of this view previously but have had it confirmed - relates to the number of claimants who had an income of more than €100,000. This could apply to any year but I will give the Senator the details for the year for which I have figures. With regard to the specific information requested in the recommendation, while it is not possible to identify the public officeholders and public servants specified in the first part of the recommendation or to pick out those groups, I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that, in 2018, there were 266 taxpayers who claimed the exemption and who received income in excess of €100,000 which was chargeable for tax in the 2017 tax year. The figures are from 2018, based on the 2017 tax year. Some 266 people in that category had received income in excess of €100,000 but that cannot be broken down into groups such as retired public servants and retired politicians. That is the overall figure. The associated tax costs of the artists' exemption for these 266 cases in 2018 was approximately €1.7 million, which represents an average of €6,390 per person.

  I have been in the Houses a while and, in my view, the information the Deputy seeks is available through the normal parliamentary process. A recommendation on the Finance Bill 2020 is not required. As I have said, I am here a while and I know that this can be examined through parliamentary questions or through questioning the Revenue Commissioners when its representatives appear before a committee of the House, including the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. Even the Arts Council would be able to obtain this information. All I am saying is that obtaining the information I have just provided did not require a report. It is available from Revenue.

  If people look at the income tax returns people make, there is a special line under which the artists' exemption is claimed. I do not know the line number off the top of my head, but there is a specific line. The Revenue can immediately provide figures as to how many people claimed an exemption under that heading. In 2018, there were at least 266, but probably a whole lot more as this only includes those with an income of more than €100,000. This figure popped right out of the computer. A report is not needed. The Senator does not need to wait six months, he could follow up on this next week if he chose to do so. It is not necessary. That information can be obtained from Revenue.

  With regard to any issue arising in a detailed assessment of its annual report, Revenue has excellent computers which will allow this issue to be followed up. How else could it handle all of the employment wage subsidy scheme or the temporary wage subsidy scheme? It has really up-to-date computers and can produce that information to Members of the national Parliament, whether Deputies or Senators, if they choose to pursue the matter. There are also several avenues within the Houses through which this can be followed up on by individual Members without the need to provide for a report under the Finance Bill.

  Perhaps an official could someday interpret the provision as allowing him or her to refuse to provide such information to Members of the Dáil because he or she is required to provide it in the six-monthly report under the Finance Act and that Members must wait until that report is ready. In a strange way, this recommendation could slow the flow of information currently available to Senators and Deputies. For that reason, it is better not to proceed with this.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen I thank the Minister of State for his extensive response. He covered a lot of ground at great speed. It did him no harm. I will certainly read up and reflect on everything he has said. I am very grateful to him for establishing the number of taxpayers with incomes in excess of €100,000 who availed of this exemption and for providing that figure of €1.7 million, which is a significant sum of money which could do a significant amount of good and which does not need to be in the pockets of people who have earned more than €100,000. The Minister of State makes the point that it is not possible to distinguish who among that number are public servants. I have said this on the previous occasion but I will reiterate it; the tax code frequently distinguishes between categories of people. The reason it is appropriate to exclude public officeholders and public servants more generally from availing of the exemption is because of the particular situation of income security that comes with their role. In no way am I suggesting they are not capable of producing works of cultural and artistic merit, but the point of the artists' exemption is not to reward everybody who produces works of cultural and artistic merit but to assist those among them who are impecunious or who may otherwise be in severe financial straits. That is the point of the distinction, which is reasonable and not excessively punitive.

  I take on board what the Minister of State has said with regard to the Arts Council and Revenue. I will again have to look closely at this issue but it is my understanding that, in 2013, the Arts Council complained to Revenue that its role was being undermined by the tendency to grant exemptions to ghost written sports biographies and political memoirs. As far as I know, that is true. It is also the case that the ministerial guidelines say that for non-fiction books to be considered they should be works with a cultural theme, such as a biography or autobiography of a writer or painter. In other words, the book must relate to art and creativity in a direct way. Even then, these guidelines say the work should only qualify if it is a pioneering work casting new light on the subject matter or changing the generally accepted understanding of the subject matter. I will read back carefully on what the Minister of State has said but I do not believe any of it displaces that concern.

  I thank the Minister of State for his response. I knew that he would not accept the recommendation. As to the question of whether the requirement to produce such a report would, in some way, clog up the flow of information to the Houses, as I believe the Minister of State is suggesting, I find that difficult to believe. I do, however, take his point that information is available. I hope, that information being available, that the Government will now act. Why would €1.7 million be wasted in this way?

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

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen It is at least €1.7 million because the figure does not include those who may be on very significant salaries just under €100,000 who are availing of this tax exemption and who may be public officeholders and so on. I ask the Minister of State and the Government to look at this issue. There is currently a significant drain on the public purse, to say the very least. People are making enormous sacrifices, many people are up against it and we are borrowing shedloads of money, which will have big consequences in the future, particularly if interest rates increase. Even in respect of relatively small sums of money like this €1.7 million, there is an issue of attitude.  If it can be demonstrated that very well-off people are getting that money, when it should be going to the Revenue and into the Exchequer to pay for much-needed services for vulnerable and disadvantaged people, etc., would it not send out a healthier and better message of prudence, responsibility and solicitude for the common good to take the attitude that now this loophole has been drawn to our attention we should clean it up and tie it up? That is not what we are hearing from the Government today, however, which I regret. However, the point having been brought up now, I hope that perhaps this aspect will be looked at again at an early occasion by the Government and that a future Finance Bill, or another Bill, will tie up this loophole. I hope that will happen and that the Minister of State will take that message back to the Government.

Recommendation put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 24.

Níl
Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Garret Ahearn   Zoom on Garret Ahearn   Ahearn, Garret.
Information on Lynn Boylan   Zoom on Lynn Boylan   Boylan, Lynn. Information on Catherine Ardagh   Zoom on Catherine Ardagh   Ardagh, Catherine.
Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul. Information on Malcolm Byrne   Zoom on Malcolm Byrne   Byrne, Malcolm.
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary. Information on Micheál Carrigy   Zoom on Micheál Carrigy   Carrigy, Micheál.
Information on Annie Hoey   Zoom on Annie Hoey   Hoey, Annie. Information on Pat Casey   Zoom on Pat Casey   Casey, Pat.
Information on Rónán Mullen   Zoom on Rónán Mullen   Mullen, Rónán. Information on Shane Cassells   Zoom on Shane Cassells   Cassells, Shane.
Information on Marie Sherlock   Zoom on Marie Sherlock   Sherlock, Marie. Information on Lorraine Clifford-Lee   Zoom on Lorraine Clifford-Lee   Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
Information on Fintan Warfield   Zoom on Fintan Warfield   Warfield, Fintan. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
  Information on Ollie Crowe   Zoom on Ollie Crowe   Crowe, Ollie.
  Information on John Cummins   Zoom on John Cummins   Cummins, John.
  Information on Emer Currie   Zoom on Emer Currie   Currie, Emer.
  Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul.
  Information on Regina Doherty   Zoom on Regina Doherty   Doherty, Regina.
  Information on Aisling Dolan   Zoom on Aisling Dolan   Dolan, Aisling.
  Information on Mary Fitzpatrick   Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick   Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  Information on Robbie Gallagher   Zoom on Robbie Gallagher   Gallagher, Robbie.
  Information on Róisín Garvey   Zoom on Róisín Garvey   Garvey, Róisín.
  Information on Seán Kyne   Zoom on Seán Kyne   Kyne, Seán.
  Information on John McGahon   Zoom on John McGahon   McGahon, John.
  Information on Eugene Murphy   Zoom on Eugene Murphy   Murphy, Eugene.
  Information on Fiona O'Loughlin   Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin   O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  Information on Pauline O'Reilly   Zoom on Pauline O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Pauline.
  Information on Mary Seery Kearney   Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney   Seery Kearney, Mary.
  Information on Barry Ward   Zoom on Barry Ward   Ward, Barry.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Gavan and Rónán Mullen; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.

Recommendation declared lost.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Recommendation No. 4 has been ruled out of order.

  Recommendation No. 4 not moved.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I move recommendation No. 5:

In page 80, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
“PART 6

REPORTS
57. The Minister shall, within 6 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas in relation to carbon pricing and carbon levies outlining—
(a) how the Government intends to apply the principle of common but differentiated responsibility between individuals and corporations, and

(b) the potential implications of such pricing and levies as regards costs associated with EU emission reduction commitments and future liabilities under investment protection systems.”.

Senator Marie Sherlock: Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock I second the recommendation.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins This report which I am suggesting in this recommendation would look at the intersection of three issues of great significance to the public and to our collective future. These issues concern how we collectively take responsibility for and engage with the costs relating to climate action. I refer to taking action in the face of the existential threat posed by climate change. Globally, it is estimated that the chances of staying in any kind of safe zone regarding climate change are 33% or less. We are increasingly looking at a catastrophic crisis globally. The countries which have contributed the least to the crisis, namely, those which have not contributed the greatest amount of carbon emissions, are already bearing some of the most devastating impacts.

  One of the aspects associated with the principle of climate justice within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the question of common but differentiated responsibilities. It recognises that while all of us face a collective challenge, there are those who bear a greater responsibility for causing these issues and who should also bear a greater responsibility to act in respect of them. My recommendation seeks to take a similar approach regarding how we should look at this issue on a national level.  On an international level, I am passionate about climate justice. I know we have just transition but that is a different thing. It is more about how we do the policies and how we reflect things; it is about the way. Climate justice is about how much must be done and just transition is concerned with the detail of how it is done.

  It might be worth considering a similar kind of process in relation to the responsibilities of corporations and citizens. Unlike others in this House, I support the changes in carbon pricing. I am not supporting them because I believe in the concept of lifestyle nudges or anything like that; it is more serious than that. I support the increase in carbon pricing because the price of fossil fuels has been subsidised for too long. The social and environmental costs have been held and carried by states. The Pigovian principle is the justification, even though there is no behavioural proof or evidence behind it. The principle holds that when a cost has been externalised and the public and the state have been required to carry it, that should be reflected within the price of carbon. That is why our priority must be to address issues like energy poverty so that those who are most vulnerable are not impacted disproportionately by the inevitable and necessary changes in the price of carbon to reflect the fact that it already has a cost that was being carried by the global south.

  When we take the Pigovian principle a little further, we can see that addressing this issue at the point of purchase is missing an enormous part of the picture. We have moved ahead in relation to changing carbon pricing and increasing fuel costs at the point of purchase but we have not done very much to address the huge carbon costs and the fact that most of the benefits over decades that have led to the crisis we are in now have been reaped by corporations but they are not paying their part. When the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Act went through the Houses earlier this year I pointed out that there should be a levy on the capital assets of the major fossil fuel companies so that we do not see what we have seen elsewhere in the world, whereby the cost of cleaning up such companies is also borne by the public.

  When I talk about that principle of common and differentiated responsibilities, I am asking the Minister of State to consider how we might ensure that corporations pay their share. Globally, 20 companies are responsible for one third of the world's carbon emissions. Last year, 100 companies were responsible for 71% of the world's emissions. This is not simply a matter of everybody turning off the lights when they leave a room, as everyone who grew up in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s has already been trained to do. There are some very large players who have made money for the last ten to 20 years and who have caused a lot of the damage. They should be asked to pay their share as well. That is why, alongside accurate carbon pricing that reflects the real and devastating cost of carbon, we also need to have levies on corporations.

  There are two other elements to the report I am seeking. There is the question of the common but differentiated responsibilities but there is also the fact that the public is carrying a disproportionate amount of the cost of dealing with climate change and reducing emissions. The people of Ireland are carrying a larger burden than corporations in terms of energy costs and payments for energy. The people are also carrying a much larger burden in terms of paying the penalties. Today the people of Ireland are paying a €50 million penalty because Ireland has not taken the kind of substantial action needed to reach its renewable energy targets. Again, the public pays at the point of purchase but companies are not captured at the point of production. The public pays the fines for the State's failure to deliver on its targets. I am glad to say that today the Joint Committee on Climate Action had its final meeting of the year. It will produce a report and recommendations on how the climate Bill can be strengthened in that regard but the public is paying those fines.

  Now we are also facing the prospect of the public carrying a whole set of other costs if the State wants to open us up to further arbitration through the investor courts provided for under CETA. We are already vulnerable in respect of the energy charter. Ireland has been extraordinarily lucky to avoid investor and corporate courts so far. There are many countries around the world which would argue that we are lucky to be in that position, including Australia which has just passed legislation to ensure the country will never again sign up to such investor courts because of the damage they have done in areas such as public health policy. Ireland is vulnerable under the energy charter, as is all of the EU.

  There are many cases going through investment protection systems at the moment involving the corporations which created the costs and the damage we have talked about and have put countries in the position of having to pay fines. In terms of climate law, France diluted its climate protection laws which were meant to restrict natural gas and oil production because of the threat of legal action by the Canadian company, Vermillion Energy Inc. The energy company Uniper is preparing a lawsuit against the Netherlands over its planned withdrawal from coal. Since 2012, the Vattenfall company has been suing Germany for its nuclear phase-out, with compensation and legal costs potentially amounting to more than €6 billion. There are 117 countries which have had to answer claims through investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, courts. Some countries are facing huge legal fee bills. This is the chill effect of regulation because when a company takes a case, it can cost €2,000 to €3,000 per day. Some cases last for ten years, resulting in legal fees of tens of millions of euro, leaving aside the final ruling. Corporations are being facilitated to take cases against us when we introduce environmental regulations, if they believe the cost of compliance with such regulations will diminish their future profits. They can seek compensation from us but if we do not introduce environmental regulations, we will be paying fines, and rightly so. In the meantime, the people continue to be told that it is up them to stop climate change.

  There is a huge imbalance in how we are approaching these issues, some of which falls into the area of finance in the context of investment protection mechanisms. Let us be clear about CETA - the trade part is already happening. A full 98% of tariff reductions have already happened. The trade part, because CETA is a mixed agreement, is an EU competency and is already under way. However, the investment protection component and the investor courts, which create the aforementioned kinds of liabilities for states, are a separate vote. They are a separate vote because the European Court of Justice ruled that the decision to open a state up to financial and legal liabilities is so significant that it cannot be decided at EU level and that the investment protection mechanism must be ratified nationally. An attempt was made to slip the vote through these Houses this week. That vote relates to the investment protection part of CETA. It has no relationship to the trade part of the agreement, which has been happening since 2017 but it has huge implications for how we deal with the kind of environmental crises that we are facing in the next ten years. What are the implications if we choose to sign up to this and to vote for it? Bear in mind that no one is asking us to do this and that ten countries have not ratified the agreement yet. Nobody is making us schedule this vote and there is no deadline from Europe on it. When we vote on it, the decision is irreversible.  It will take us 20 years if we try to get out of it and those 20 years are the 20 years in which we can avoid irreversible climate change. They are a very important 20 years.

  We talked about some of the energy cases earlier, which really relate to the fossil fuel companies. Many European countries are trying to get out of the ISDS and the investment court elements of the energy charter. There is talk of withdrawing entirely from the energy charter or amending the energy charter because European countries recognise that we will not be able to address climate change as we need to if we leave ourselves open to compensatory cases from the fossil fuel companies which have driven this crisis.

  We are at a very significant point of decision. I urge the Minister of State in whatever role he might have to urge that Ireland would not rush this decision, as it certainly seemed willing to do this week, and give it serious consideration. Has there been full risk-proofing of what this means? Is there a reserve fund - I do not see it in the Finance Bill - to allow us to meet the legal costs that may come? Is all our legislation proofed? Are we confident? Has there been a modelling of cases which investors, including some of the investors facilitated under the Minister of State' remit, might take against Ireland? Have there been case models? Has there been a full risk assessment? If it is available, it would be very useful to have it and share it with us in the House.

  Ultimately the responsibility and the burden of proof is on those proposing such measures to show that they are safe, of benefit and necessary. It is the precautionary principle writ large. The precautionary principle is that when risking great harm, as we are doing with climate change, the burden of proof sits with those who are proposing the action which could cause the harm to show that it is safe. I feel that burden of proof has not been met.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Sean Fleming Zoom on Sean Fleming Recommendation No. 5 calls for a report on carbon pricing and carbon levies, outlining how the Government intends to apply the aforementioned principle between individuals and corporations, and the potential implications of such pricing and levies as regards costs associated with EU emission reduction commitments and future liabilities under investment protection schemes.

  The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, principle of common but differentiated responsibility acknowledges that the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible co-operation of all countries in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with the common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities of individual nations.

  Climate change is a global issue and the need to act collaboratively to face this challenge is recognised on an international scale. Reflecting our commitment to addressing this global challenge, Ireland is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, which together provide the international legal framework for addressing climate change. As a member of the EU, Ireland also participates in the EU emissions trading system, an essential tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ireland also committed to reaching national targets for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions under the EU effort sharing decision and EU effort sharing regulation.

  The Minister for Finance is also a member of the global coalition of finance ministers for climate action. Additionally, the Central Bank of Ireland has joined more than 30 other central banks as a member of the network for greening the financial system.

  In November 2020, the Government welcomed the adoption of the task force on climate-related financial disclosures by those corporate entities which are already engaged with the task force. We are further actively encouraging greater uptake as more Irish firms look to accelerate and scale their own climate transition plans.

  Addressing the threat of climate change is a priority for this Government as is reflected in the programme for Government. As one of the most significant challenges facing the country, it is a whole-of-government and societal issue that requires a joined-up effort.

  Getting carbon pricing right encourages businesses and people to do what is right for the environment while leaving the choice of how they do so to them. It makes each of us responsible for our share of the problem and rewards those who pollute the least. It is not, nor will it ever be, the primary Government response to fighting climate change but it is a vital part of a package of policies and measures, each of which will make some contribution towards our climate targets.

  The current carbon tax policy of incremental annual increases has cross-party support and has been advocated for by the Climate Change Advisory Council, the Citizens' Assembly on climate change and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, among others. As recommended in the programme for Government, this policy has been informed by evidence-based research completed by the Economic and Social Research Institute. The Government will continue to be informed by up-to-date research in this field and is fully committed to this policy, which forms a core part of our efforts to combat climate change.

  Accordingly, I cannot accept the Senator's recommendation. I have outlined all the international bodies involved in this. Much of the Senator's contribution related to asking why we cannot tax the companies responsible for fossil fuel production and sale. In Ireland we can only pass finance legislation that is relevant to Ireland. A number of the cases the Senator mentioned relate to companies that are not in Ireland taking other jurisdictions to court on various issues. Regarding what is relevant to Ireland, Ireland is almost entirely dependent on imported fossil fuels. This leaves us with very little ability to tax the production of the majority of fossil fuels we consume. We are in an unusual situation in that we are not independent in respect of our fuel sources. In the main, Ireland is dependent on imported fossil fuels. The idea of taxing production of fossil fuels does not arise to a great extent in Ireland.

  Companies involved in the oil and gas production sector in Ireland already face a double rate of corporation tax at 25%. I know everybody is familiar with the 12.5% rate but some corporations do not qualify for the 12.5% rate. They already pay corporation tax at 25% in addition to the petroleum production tax for which a minimum rate of 5% applies. Therefore, those in the oil and gas production sector pay corporation tax of 30% or more. This means they are contributing if they produce it. I believe that is substantially dealt with by that high rate of tax relative to the main rate of corporation tax at 12.5%.

  The only other domestically produced fossil fuel is peat. It was either produced by individuals for private consumption or by Bord na Móna, which is already committed to cease peat production by 2028. Along with Bord na Móna, some private individuals may harvest from bogs for their own domestic purposes, which is not extensive but there is an element of it.

  If the new tax is applied to the companies involved in the sale of fossil fuels in Ireland, the cost of such taxes would simply be passed on to consumers at the pump. As we are importing the fossil fuels and because it is not being produced here in most cases, if the companies which sell it on to Irish people are to be taxed, there is only one way that goes: it will be passed on to the customer.

  Certain sectors, which do not pay carbon tax, such as those involved in electricity generation, aviation and certain energy-intensive industries, such as steelworks, cement etc., come under the scope of the EU emissions trading system and therefore carbon pricing is incorporated into these industries separately from the carbon tax. The current price of the EU carbon allowance permit is approximately €25 per tonne of CO2 produced. We have the situation the Senator is referring to. Very few of the companies that produce the fossil fuels are in Ireland to start with so I do not know who will be taxed by the tax. Some involved in the gas production sector would be taxed. Those in that sector are already taxed at 30%, which by a long way is the highest rate of corporation tax payable by any business sector in the Irish economy.  That is compared with those on a maximum rate of 12.5% and against which some people have allowances that can be offset. The only other producer of fossil fuel in Ireland is Bord na Móna, which is to cease production.

  There are other "large polluters", although they are not producers of fossil fuel. They create substantial CO2 emissions. As Members know well, there is a separate mechanism at the EU level to deal with all these major companies. I might have mentioned it here the last day or some previous day but it takes in approximately 100 of these large companies in Ireland. It is a publicly available list and the Environmental Protection Agency is involved. They have licences for CO2 emissions and if they need to exceed the limit, which they should not, they can get more of an allowance through the emissions trading system and will be paying a rate of €25 per tonne of CO2 in order to continue operating plants. There has not been much emissions trading in that system recently and there is a high tax on it, albeit separate from the carbon tax. That happens if companies exceed permitted limits for CO2 emissions and there are not many cases of that. There might be some but the overwhelming majority, if not almost all, of those 100 or so companies come within those limits.

  Applying carbon taxes to aviation and shipping can only be done at EU level due to carbon leakage. Put simply, if Ireland imposed a tax on shipping or aviation fuel, the providers of these services would simply choose not to refuel in Ireland. That is a simple fact of life. The aviation industry in particular is gradually being brought under the remit of the EU emissions trading system and companies will be caught at an EU level, with the price of the CO2 emissions to be determined. That price of carbon emissions from the sector will be applied at an EU level and this will not just be an Irish matter, although Ireland will be involved.

  In a nutshell, there are very few producers of fossil fuels in the country. This is an international debate and because of our circumstances, there is not as much of a heavy concentration in Ireland in any event. Producers in the oil and gas industry here are paying a very high level of tax, like the Senator is seeking. It is already happening. Those not in the system pay for their emissions through the emissions trading system at EU level as well. The only other company that is in the production of fossil fuels currently is Bord na Móna and it is getting out of the activity.

  All in all, the Senator's comments are interesting but this does not have as much application in Ireland as one might have thought. On that basis, it is not necessary to have this report. If a very large part of the Irish economy was involved in this area of production of fossil fuels, it is something we would address in general and not just through this Finance Bill. The various committees of the House and the Departments would deal with it in any event. It is not an issue of the same scale as it is in other countries. I am not in a position to accept the proposal.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins There are a few different issues. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, does not fall under the scope of the Minister of State's Department but I was speaking to the same kind of justice principles being applied.

  The Minister of State spoke about the companies that could be affected. There is a quote from 2017 from Vermilion when it took a larger share of the Corrib gas project, indicating that "as a result of our tax pools in Ireland, we do not expect to incur current income taxes in the Ireland business unit for the foreseeable future". That is Vermilion and the Minister of State remembers the Canadian company we mentioned that is threatening legal action against France for its climate laws and which has succeeded in diluting those climate laws in France with the threat of legal action. I mention this as the company took over much of Shell's area in the Corrib gas fields and it does not imagine it will pay income tax for the foreseeable future. That is not next year or in this quarter. On the books there may be a tax but it is not really being applied. I note Shell E&P Ireland had received €186 million in tax credits. Much like we know some of the wealthiest people do not tend to pay their 40% or 41% in tax, we also know that many of these companies are not paying significant tax.

  I would prefer for us to move as a State to saying we do not want any more offshore drilling and exploration, even to these companies paying tax on what they produce. Maybe we do not want offshore extraction from the Corrib gas fields. If we ratify the investor court system, will we be more vulnerable to potential cases from Vermilion? Will it just take cases under the energy charter or might it take cases against us through the other mechanism that we are looking to hand to it?

  It is interesting to compare what is on the books with what is happening. We have scope and we can look to other ways to make companies pay their share. There is the question, for example, of levies on capital assets relating to the clean-up cost of exit from fossil fuels. That can be a specific and ring-fenced project. There is also the question of levies on imports. We can bear in mind that Ireland is not a little country floating on its own but rather it is part of the European Union. Maybe we need to say we have an opinion on the distribution of the cost of carbon carried by those purchasing energy versus the levies placed at a European level and cost in the emissions trading scheme. Perhaps the costs should be much higher for companies not meeting their targets.

  The Minister of State was not able to address the bind in which the people have been placed. If we do not act on climate change, not only will we see a devastating impact but we will also pay fees like we did today, with €50 million having to be paid because we did not meet our targets. If we act on climate change - and we need to - there is a shadow threat being introduced with the potential for investor courts. Let us not put the public in a bind and let us try to ensure that we can work in imaginative ways to ensure companies contribute. We must support and stand beside the public, which is paying an increased cost of carbon, by ensuring the State makes ambitious policies and changes.

  As I stated, today we finished pre-legislative scrutiny of the climate Bill and, as a committee, we put forward some very strong recommendations to improve the legislation. These are not all the recommendations I might have wished for but they are very strong recommendations nonetheless. I want to see us implementing those climate policies fully and in an ambitious way so they are matched in every Department, including the Minister of State's, with imaginative ways to ensure that those businesses, industries and companies that have driven this the most would pay their share. At this fragile moment in history, we should not give another hostage to fortune in the form of a liability attached to our progress on climate action.

  Recommendation put and declared lost.

Question put: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 4.

Níl
Information on Garret Ahearn   Zoom on Garret Ahearn   Ahearn, Garret. Information on Lynn Boylan   Zoom on Lynn Boylan   Boylan, Lynn.
Information on Catherine Ardagh   Zoom on Catherine Ardagh   Ardagh, Catherine. Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul.
Information on Niall Blaney   Zoom on Niall Blaney   Blaney, Niall. Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
Information on Victor Boyhan   Zoom on Victor Boyhan   Boyhan, Victor. Information on Fintan Warfield   Zoom on Fintan Warfield   Warfield, Fintan.
Information on Malcolm Byrne   Zoom on Malcolm Byrne   Byrne, Malcolm.  
Information on Micheál Carrigy   Zoom on Micheál Carrigy   Carrigy, Micheál.  
Information on Pat Casey   Zoom on Pat Casey   Casey, Pat.  
Information on Shane Cassells   Zoom on Shane Cassells   Cassells, Shane.  
Information on Lisa Chambers   Zoom on Lisa Chambers   Chambers, Lisa.  
Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.  
Information on Ollie Crowe   Zoom on Ollie Crowe   Crowe, Ollie.  
Information on John Cummins   Zoom on John Cummins   Cummins, John.  
Information on Emer Currie   Zoom on Emer Currie   Currie, Emer.  
Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul.  
Information on Aidan Davitt   Zoom on Aidan Davitt   Davitt, Aidan.  
Information on Regina Doherty   Zoom on Regina Doherty   Doherty, Regina.  
Information on Aisling Dolan   Zoom on Aisling Dolan   Dolan, Aisling.  
Information on Mary Fitzpatrick   Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick   Fitzpatrick, Mary.  
Information on Robbie Gallagher   Zoom on Robbie Gallagher   Gallagher, Robbie.  
Information on Róisín Garvey   Zoom on Róisín Garvey   Garvey, Róisín.  
Information on Seán Kyne   Zoom on Seán Kyne   Kyne, Seán.  
Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.  
Information on Vincent P. Martin   Zoom on Vincent P. Martin   Martin, Vincent P.  
Information on John McGahon   Zoom on John McGahon   McGahon, John.  
Information on Erin McGreehan   Zoom on Erin McGreehan   McGreehan, Erin.  
Information on Eugene Murphy   Zoom on Eugene Murphy   Murphy, Eugene.  
Information on Joe O'Reilly   Zoom on Joe O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Joe.  
Information on Pauline O'Reilly   Zoom on Pauline O'Reilly   O'Reilly, Pauline.  
Information on Mary Seery Kearney   Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney   Seery Kearney, Mary.  
Information on Barry Ward   Zoom on Barry Ward   Ward, Barry.  


Tellers: Tá, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne; Níl, Senators Lynn Boylan and Paul Gavan.

Question declared carried.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Now.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Question, "That the Bill be returned to the Dáil", put and declared carried.

Finance Bill 2020: Motion for Earlier Signature

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move:

That, pursuant to subsection 2° of section 2 of Article 25 of the Constitution, Seanad Éireann concurs with the Government in a request to the President to sign the Finance Bill 2020 on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to him.

  Question put and agreed to.

  The Seanad adjourned at 6.58 p.m. until 12.30 p.m. on Thursday, 17 December 2020.


Last Updated: 17/12/2020 13:21:32 First Page Previous Page Page of 2 Next Page Last Page