Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Recognition of State of Palestine: Motion
 Header Item Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed)
 Header Item Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages
 Header Item Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014: Second Stage
 Header Item Adjournment Matters
 Header Item Medical Indemnity Cover
 Header Item Hospitals Inspections

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Seanad Éireann Debate

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I have received notice from Senator Martin Conway that, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to comment on the shortage of community midwives for home births in Ireland.

I have also received notice from Senator Katherine Zappone of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to outline his Department’s response to the findings of the HIQA report on the unannounced inspection at Tallaght hospital with regard to the continued concerns about hospital infection controls, safety, hygiene and maintenance, especially in the light of the Ebola outbreak.

I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion on the Adjournment and they will be taken at the conclusion of business.

Order of Business

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins The Order of Business is No. 1, Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m.; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Colleagues may remember a very worthy fund-raising campaign that was all over Facebook during the summer, namely, the ice bucket challenge, in which thousands of people participated. Last night I noted that a new campaign has started on Facebook which probably marks the beginning of the end of water charges. People are now nominating each other to burn their Irish Water packs. That campaign started last night.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy It started about three weeks ago.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien No, on Facebook. Fewer than 500,000 people have submitted their information. News of major data protection breaches by Irish Water was verified last night. Ten cases involving individuals' personal bank details being sent to third parties have gone to the Data Protection Commissioner. The reason for all of this is because the Government tried to set up a utility without allowing enough time to do it or providing proper free allowances. It is not being done on the basis of conservation; it is basically a tax. Yesterday I called for the complete suspension of charges and a return to the drawing board. I still believe the Government will do that because, from what I saw last night, this regime under the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Irish Water is dead in the water.

Senator Pat O'Neill: Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill The Senator wanted to introduce it in 2012.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Government has to realise it is not going to get its way. Instead of blaming executives and staff in Irish Water, it should take responsibility for the cack-handed way in which it tried to establish the company over the advice of independent consultants. As Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell called for yesterday, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government needs to come into the House. I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that he come into the House today to address the matter specifically. He should suspend water charges at this stage and address the difficulties. I am formally proposing that amendment.

  I thank the Deputy Leader for facilitating a discussion on the facts that are emerging on how Sinn Féin and the IRA dealt with serious child sex abuse and rape through their own private courts and army. I fully accept what Senator Ivana Bacik said about having a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs at the appropriate time. However, one aspect of the matter has not been considered. Have Sinn Féin and the IRA submitted lists of the people they sent away from their own communities?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator's time has concluded.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I apologise, but this is important. I am calling on Sinn Féin - because I am sure it has not done it - to clarify whether An Garda Síochána and the PSNI are aware of the names of all the people that the IRA interrogated and sent away from their communities, including paedophiles and sex offenders. There could be people living in communities in Dublin, Cork, Monaghan, Belfast and Armagh who are sex offenders or who abused children but were dealt with outside the judicial systems of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and are not on any registered sex offenders list. That is a crucial point which we need to deal with. I ask that the point be raised with the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs in order that the Government would look for Sinn Féin to furnish the list of people with which it dealt, as well as the people with whom it did not deal. We are aware of these people through the brave statements made earlier this week.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is way over time.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien This is something that needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency and I call on Sinn Féin to give its commitment that it will provide the list of people it dealt with or against whom accusations were made to the proper authorities both in the North of Ireland and in the Republic.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I was glad to hear the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government state on "Prime Time" last night that he was meeting Mr. John Tierney of Irish Water this morning and acknowledge that the Cabinet needs to reassure people and give them greater certainty on the structure and roll-out of water charges. It is difficult to listen to Fianna Fáil lecture us on this, given that it signed up to the memorandum of understanding on water charges.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien It is nothing to do with that.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden The troika has been gone since December.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik There have been clear and serious problems with the way it has been rolled out and it is important that the Cabinet moves swiftly in this regard. I asked for the Minister to come to the House on foot of colleagues' requests yesterday, and I understand his office has responded and that the Leader will deal with the issue. I am glad of this because I think we can have a good debate on how the matter has developed since we debated, at great length, the Water Services Bill 2013.

  On the Maíria Cahill case, as Senator Darragh O'Brien noted, I indicated yesterday that we should have a debate generally on the issue of cover-ups and how allegations and statements about sexual abuse are treated within institutions. That would be an important debate. Senators Darragh O'Brien and Jillian van Turnhout dealt with the matter very sensitively when they first raised it, but it was unfortunate that Senator Cullinane employed a different style of contribution. It is a very serious matter and I am glad the Taoiseach is meeting Ms Cahill today and that the Tánaiste met her last week. I understand the matter will be discussed in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, but Senator Darragh O'Brien raised a very serious issue about the way in which abusers were dealt with by Sinn Féin-IRA and, in particular, the allegations we are hearing in respect not only of Ms Cahill but also other victims of abuse, whereby abusers were sent away. That was the way in which Sinn Féin-IRA dealt with them. We have developed careful structures to ensure abusers are not sent onwards to carry out further abuse in other areas. We have seen in the past how, tragically, abusers like Fr. Brendan Smyth were moved from parish to parish and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, abusing children wherever they went. There is a huge issue of child protection that Sinn Féin-IRA have not addressed. This is not ancient history. The abuse Ms Cahill described happened to her in the late 1990s and the interrogations she credibly claims were carried out by the IRA also happened in the late 1990s. This case raises very serious political and legal questions about child protection.

  It is welcome that Trinity College Dublin is launching its five-year strategic plan for the period from 2015 to 2019. I am glad that the rebranding proposals have been dropped. A number of very controversial proposals had been made on a new crest and name for the university but they met with considerable resistance from staff, students and alumni. There is substance to the strategic plan, including in particular ambitious targets for new buildings, developing research potential and building links with international students and colleges. I wish the college well with its strategic plan which is launched today.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Yesterday I spoke about Irish Water. Senator Terry Leyden might have been correct that I was somewhat convoluted in my delivery, but I will make it simple today. Water forms 60% of our bodies and 60% of everything we eat. It is the only reason we are alive. We cannot live without it. When one establishes a monstrosity like Irish Water, one is not setting up an electricity, telephone or gas consortium. We can live without the latter but we cannot live without water. The initiation and development of Irish Water does not have the same contours, methods and systems. They cannot apply. Irish people do not know how, why, where, when or how much it will cost. It keeps changing. They have no proper outline of the matter and they do not know what is going on. If it is to be a public company - I am dubious about this - we have to be given a big say or it will become a private company down the line and we will fill the pockets of the vulture capitalists. That would be like selling off our forests, and we will end up selling off our beaches.

  I want the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come here. He wanted the job very badly and I hear he has marvellous and robust talents. I would like to see his talents on display in this House while he answers our questions. I am not interested in whether he had been on RTE, BBC or Newstalk to tell the people what, why, when and where. He should come into this House to tell us, as elected or selected Members, what is going on. I call on him to come here to tell us what is going on in Irish Water. A good Government cannot allow itself to be undermined on a daily basis by the performance of Irish Water. Water is our right and we cannot live without it. It is not like gas or electricity. It is an extraordinary element in our lives, but it is being battered around. With all these consultants, vulture capitalists and profit making, it seems that is what it is becoming. The Minister is a very robust Member of the Lower House.  He should come to this House and display that robustness, not in front of the television cameras but before the Oireachtas and the Members of the Seanad. That is what the Seanad is supposed to be about. All Senators - this is not an anti-Government-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Yes. I propose that to put our minds at rest the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, come to the House to answer urgent questions about Irish Water and the impasse to date, as a result of which the people are going crazy.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett Thanks to the Leader and the Deputy Leader, there were 16 hours of debate on the water issue in this House. Nineteen of my amendments were rejected by the Minister, but the Seanad did try to play its role and improve its value. Apparently, the debate in the Dáil was completely inadequate, which is the reason many of the problems arose subsequently.

  As of 8 a.m. today, permanent tsb had failed the stress tests set by the European Central Bank. This is a body which was criticising the attempt to have loan-to-value and loan-to-income ratios because it promoted bubbles in the property market. The body is 99.2% owned by the State and would be much better off looking at rules to prevent bubbles and getting its affairs in order. I sympathised with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, yesterday, as he tends to receive advice from large numbers of failed bankers and tax dodging accountants.

  On a happier note, I note the tribute to Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post who died yesterday, from President Obama. He said: "For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession - it was a public good vital to our democracy." We all know great journalists, although we wish they would play a greater role in reporting on proceedings in this House. They are essential to democracy, which is the reason President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ben Bradlee. When as a boy he was recovering from polio, an Irish-American Bostonian family, the Cronans, helped him back to full health; therefore, we sympathise with them today. One of his mottos was, "Hire people smarter than you are and encourage them to bloom." I find this easy to implement and recommend it to other Members of the House.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I am concerned about a letter issued by the human resources section of the Health Service Executive, HSE, to all hospitals advising them that an agency doctor can only be employed for a period of two months in a hospital. There is a huge problem because this year over €250 million will be spent on agency staff in hospitals, many of whom are junior doctors. In many smaller hospitals junior doctors comprise over 50% of all the doctors in the hospital. If this proposal is implemented, people will simply leave the country. This is not the way to do it.

  I am also concerned that the letter was signed by somebody who is leaving the HSE to take up a job with another State organisation. The letter has been written and I am concerned that people will hide behind it in the next few months. We have a problem with the retention of doctors, not only Irish doctors but doctors who come here from abroad. The letter is certainly not the way to deal with the problem. There is a lack of consistency on the part of the HSE in dealing with it and a lack of long-term planning.

  The previous Minister commissioned the MacCraith report, but nothing has been done to implement its recommendations. The HSE has simply left it on the shelf; it is just another report from within the HSE and the Department of Health. I am extremely concerned about the letter issued to hospital managements in this manner and the problems it will cause in the next few months. I ask the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Health and invite him to come to the House to discuss a three, four or five year plan to deal with the shortage of junior doctors in the hospital system.

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 58, motion No. 9, be taken before No. 1. This would ensure the Seanad would consider our motion which calls on the Government to recognise formally the state of Palestine and do everything it can to help to secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order that the citizens of both states can live together in peace and security. Twenty years after the Oslo Accords the prospects of achieving a two-state solution appear to be more remote than ever and the reason is that Israel has done everything it can to undermine the chances of achieving such an outcome. While pretending to talk peace, it has continuously intensified its illegal occupation of Palestine. Its illegal settlements on the West Bank have trebled in size as it has seized more Palestinian land and planted Israeli settlers on it. It has erected a huge separation barrier and implemented an apartheid regime on the West Bank that denies Palestinians the basic human rights their Israeli counterparts take for granted. This summer it executed its third vicious assault in six years on the people of Gaza. Any hope the Gaza ceasefire might lead to meaningful peace negotiations was quickly dashed when, within one week of agreeing to it, Israel announced yet more settlements on the West Bank. It is playing a deeply cynical, long-term game aimed at destroying any prospect of a viable Palestinian state. It has been facilitated in doing this by a largely passive international community that has stood by as Israel has wilfully violated international law and ignored countless UN resolutions. As things stand, Israel has no incentive to engage in meaningful negotiations. It has successfully used its military might time and again to ensure it holds all of the cards. Without wider recognition of the Palestinian state, Palestinian representatives have also been in a weaker position at the negotiating table. It is time to redress this balance. By joining Sweden and other EU member states in recognising Palestine we would make it clear that statehood was a right of the Palestinian people, not an Israeli bargaining chip for it to play in further sham negotiations. In so doing, we would increase pressure on Israel to pursue a genuine peace process that had a real prospect of delivering peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

  Ireland has traditionally been vocal in its support for the Palestinian people and proactive in lobbying on their behalf internationally. We should now be to the forefront of efforts to secure full recognition for the Palestinian state and deliver a viable two-state solution to the conflict. Sweden is not hiding behind a common EU position-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke These are points the Senator could make during the debate.

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power -----or buying the Israeli line that recognition of Palestine is something in Israel's gift in future negotiations, nor should we. I thank the 31 Senators who signed our motion supporting the recognition of Palestine. I also welcome the Palestinian ambassador and his colleagues to the Visitors Gallery. We have an opportunity to do something deeply significant and symbolic. I hope colleagues on all sides of the House will support me, that the Leader will allow this debate to take place and that there will be all-party agreement on the motion.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Palestinian ambassador and his staff to the Visitors Gallery.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy Last Sunday was a relatively quiet day for sports both at national and international level, but it was one of the most important days of the year at club level. A total of 15 titles were decided last week. It was the most important day in the history of the Ballincollig club in Cork when its senior team became county champions for the first time in the club's 128 year history. Portlaoise has won eight county titles, a record, while St. Brigid's GAA Club in Roscommon has won five. However, what did we GAA enthusiasts receive from the national broadcaster? There were three minutes about soccer, two minutes about rugby and half a minute about golf, which was taking place on the other side of the world, and no information on the GAA.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy It is very relevant and the last time I raised the issue-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It is an operational matter for RTE.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy -----you tried to rule me out of order, but, please, give me the chance to develop the point.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is out of order.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy The issue is that the State broadcaster, RTE, is refusing to give the people of Ireland information on our national games. It is the national broadcaster which is subsidised by taxpayers, yet for three years in a row it has tried to prevent ordinary people from finding out what is happening in our national games. That is surely an issue for this House to discuss. I contacted the GAA about it on two other occasions. I was told by the head of sport that it was not possible to show the results of 64 county finals in a television broadcast. There were only 15 games last Sunday and the ordinary people of Ireland who follow the GAA were told to look at the GAA and RTE websites for information.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy Nobody following rugby or soccer was told to go there. It is about time RTE was brought to heel on this matter. I call on the Leader to bring in the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to put manners on RTE in relation to our entitlement to hear what is going on in the world of GAA - our national sports - on a weekly basis.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I commend Senator Averil Power for her contribution today and the motion being tabled, which Sinn Féin supports fully. It is good that it has received cross-party if not all-party support or all-Member support. To have the number of Senators who have put their names to the motion do so is excellent. We are very proud to be part of it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the Senator seconding the motion?

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane No. I assume Fianna Fáil will do so. I will allow it to do so, but I am happy the names of the three Sinn Féin Senators are being put to it.

  I raise the issue of the technological university applications and put a question on that directly to the Leader of the House. As the Leader will know, Waterford IT and Carlow IT are putting forward a joint application for a technological university. It appears that the process is stalled and there are a number of difficulties. There is political support from all Oireachtas Members and Ministers from the south east. The Minister for Education and Skills and the Government are committed to a technological university for the region. We need it and it must happen. Unfortunately, there are forces within the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education and Skills who do not want it to happen. There are elements within the Department or the HEA who are frustrating progress. There are reports that the process is stalled because both institutes will not be able to reach the very high benchmarks which have been set. I support the high benchmarks because it is important if we have new universities that they take their place among the top universities on the island and internationally. I have no difficulty with this. There is a difficulty with the process, however, in terms of the different stages both institutes of technology are at. The Leader will know that it is a very important issue for the people of the south east. I am in no way saying this has anything to do with public representatives in the region who are absolutely united, but there are forces in either the HEA or the Department who do not want this to happen. They cannot win. They must be faced down and we need this to happen as quickly as possible. Will the Leader inform the House as to what is happening in that process? What is coming out into the public domain on the application is very worrying.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane I attended the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meeting yesterday with many colleagues and used the opportunity to raise the Maíria Cahill case. We were addressed by Dr. Andrew Murrison, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office. The same day, the justice committee in Northern Ireland had Minister David Ford before it at the behest of the chairperson there, Mr. Paul Givan MLA. I welcome that on foot of that invitation the public prosecution services in Northern Ireland announced this morning that they will hold an independent inquiry. Mr. Givan sought a statutory inquiry and I put a question in that regard to Dr. Murrison yesterday. Nevertheless, I welcome the independent inquiry and wish to ensure it will be into the three cases of alleged abuse in relation to the Maíria Cahill issue. There are probably other Maíria Cahills out there also. I note Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for the full list to be submitted. It is very important as there are those who are not as courageous as Maíria Cahill. Everyone in the Oireachtas, particularly the women, must ensure that Ms Cahill is further supported. It is fine to have a public inquiry and a television programme, but matters cannot be left to rest there. I wish to ensure we all keep shoulder to shoulder with Maíria Cahill until justice is done and seen to be done for her and everyone else. Everyone is equal under the law, politician or not.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden I second the motion tabled by Senator Averil Power and signed by the majority of Members. I thank the Leader of the House who I understand will accept the motion as a unanimous decision of the Seanad. It is an historic day. As the founder of the Friends of Palestine in the Houses of the Oireachtas in 2003, I note that it is a great occasion when the independent Seanad can legally recognise the state of Palestine. It should become a fully functional state in harmony and co-operation with the State of Israel and not in conflict or competition with it. I welcome to the House the ambassador of Palestine to Ireland, Ahmed Abdelrazek, and thank him for the detailed e-mail to Members. I welcome his colleagues to the House also. I recognise also an e-mail from Boaz Modai, the ambassador from Israel, in which he urges Members not to support the motion. I can only recognise the fact. Israel is taking no action whatsoever to support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. In fact, every move it makes, including the atrocities in the Gaza Strip where so many Palestinians died, has inflamed the passions of other adjoining states and destabilised the Middle East. I recognise today the work of the late Brian Lenihan Snr. who was Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1980. He was the first European Minister to recognise the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. He was a man who looked to the future and he was a wonderful Minister. I am delighted to be here today to be associated with the motion proposed by Senator Averil Power who put forward an extremely good argument which I support fully. I am proud that the Seanad will recognise the state of Palestine today.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I am a signatory of Senator Averil Power's motion and ask the Leader for an early debate on it. It is official Labour Party policy to support a two-state solution.

  I refer to the sale of PTSB's subprime Springboard mortgage business to Mars Capital. That loan book is valued at approximately €468 million, of which €350 million is non-performing. The sub-prime market was the worst aspect of the Celtic tiger and it is very far from the 80% loan-to-value ratios being proposed by the Governor of the Central Bank. One must ask why somebody would want to buy a non-performing loan book. There is a great deal of scepticism among people currently, particularly around rising house values, and a fear that many people in the near future will be dispossessed of their homes. These are Irish people who will lose their homes and be out on the streets to be paid for by homeless services. I have a serious issue with the fact that we still lack legislation to deal with unregulated bodies buying loan books. Mr. Jeremy Masding of PTSB has said this company will abide by the code of conduct on mortgage arrears, but those are empty words. I want to see the legislation we have been promised by the Minister for Finance to protect people in this situation. I ask the Leader to provide the House with an estimated time by which such legislation will be introduced.

Senator James Heffernan: Information on James Heffernan Zoom on James Heffernan I join Senator Denis Landy in his remarks on RTE's coverage of Gaelic games. It is a poor showing in respect of the county finals which are the most important thing to happen to various parishes and villages around the country and do not get the coverage they deserve.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I ruled on this matter.

Senator James Heffernan: Information on James Heffernan Zoom on James Heffernan That is fair enough. I take the opportunity to congratulate the Kilmallock senior hurlers on their fantastic victory at the weekend. The celebrations are probably still going on.

Senator Denis Landy: Information on Denis Landy Zoom on Denis Landy They are managed by a Clare man, of course.

Senator James Heffernan: Information on James Heffernan Zoom on James Heffernan Yes.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator James Heffernan: Information on James Heffernan Zoom on James Heffernan One second. I am just after standing up. I welcome the ambassador, Mr. Abdul Abdelrazek, to the Visitors Gallery and note my support for Senator Averil Power's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.   The Maíria Cahill case was raised a couple of times today. I took on board what Sinn Féin said about how the IRA filled a vacuum in terms of policing and that people did not have confidence in the RUC in the North. However, the regime that was put in place in terms of the police, courts and the justice doled out by republicans - I use that term very loosely - was pretty brutal. It included knee-capping, tarring and feathering and water boarding. People paid with their lives for more serious offences. Where kangaroo courts got decisions wrong there was no leave for appeal. More often than not one ended up in hospital, on the boat to England or down a bog hole. I abhor the reaction coming from the leadership of Sinn Féin on this issue. This is not about Sinn Féin being badger baited or kicked around politically. It is not a witch hunt; rather, it is about trying to get Sinn Féin and those in leadership positions in the IRA and Sinn Féin to come clean and face up to their responsibilities and the mistakes they made. The story being reported today is the most worrying so far. It concerns a kangaroo court in 2002. The excuse about a policing and justice vacuum no longer stacks up. The court to which I refer took place in the Twenty-six Counties, in County Louth, and concerns two brothers who were abused by an IRA man who was on the run.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator James Heffernan: Information on James Heffernan Zoom on James Heffernan A mock court was held in 2002. I support Senator Darragh O'Brien. The Sinn Féin leadership has to face up to this issue. It is the same type of justice we saw take place in the Catholic Church, namely, things were covered up and perpetrators were moved on to other places to continue on. It needs to make a full disclosure to the authorities, North and South, about what it knows and who the perpetrators are in order that victims can be properly recompensed and the perpetrators exposed.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins I join in the welcome to the Palestinian ambassador to the House. I compliment Senator Averil Power on her motion. Like every Member of the House, I want to see an end to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Government will continue to do everything possible at an international level to help to achieve this.

  In the light of the fact that the economy is beginning to improve very quickly, I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the recently published national policy statement by the Government on entrepreneurship. It is a plan to deliver an ambitious increase in the number of start-ups in the next five years. It is a follow on and draws from the expert forum on entrepreneurship which was chaired by Mr. Seán O'Sullivan. Many of the recommendations in the forum were for business and private institutions, but there is much the Government can do to incentivise, support and encourage more people to start their own businesses. The Government plan is to double the number of start-ups over the next five years, to increase the number of start-ups by 25% per annum to 3,000 and to increase the survival rate in the first five years, a critical time for start-ups, by 25%. The plan sets out very clearly what the Government will do to help budding entrepreneurs, including interventions in areas such as mentoring, access to finance and education, and promoting start-ups as a career option. The measures in the plan will be implemented through An Action Plan for Jobs 2015. At this juncture it is critical that the Minister comes before the House to have a broad discussion. There are some very knowledgeable people in the House who would like to have further input into how we could continue to do things better, increase the number of start-ups and encourage young people, in particular, as they progress through education to consider start-up businesses as a future career option.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh I endorse the comments of other Members on the motion regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state. I understand there will be a unanimous decision on this by the House, which I welcome. There needs to be a debate on the issue. We need to develop a strategy because for too long Israel has obstructed any final settlement on this issue. It is most unfair to the Palestinian people who also suffer at the hands of other Islamic states, which is an astonishing situation.

  I am not sure whether there should be one combined debate or two separate debates on pensions and health insurance. I will let the Leader decide. I am concerned about people who try to do things for themselves, work hard to support their children and educate and provide for their families. Such middle class people drive the economy and are being hit on all sides. I am glad that the theft from their pension pots has ceased. It should never have happened. There is an issue about pensions. A majority of hardworking people do not have pensions and will rely on the State pension. The State will find it increasingly difficult to meet the demands made of it in the decades ahead. We need a debate on such people.

  I refer to health insurance. A significant number of people have had to cancel health insurance policies because of their cost. It is entirely unacceptable that many costs, including the health levy imposed on the health insurance industry and charges of €700 or €800 per night for public beds, are being levied. One could get rooms in the best hotels in town for half of those prices. We need to focus on these issues. It is the essence of republicanism that we help people to help themselves, and when they do we should not penalise and make life impossible for them. A debate on these matters would be a valuable contribution to the evolution of policy in this area.

Senator John Kelly: Information on John Kelly Zoom on John Kelly I call for debate on the way we do business. We are doing nothing to help the people in this country to access the public service. We established the HSE to replace what I considered to be a working health board system. It has been a disaster. We established Irish Water to replace the operation of the water system by county councils. They did a good job, but investment in the system when we had money was lacking by previous Governments. We also established the PCRS to replace the medical card system which worked very well at a local level. When all of them failed we blamed communications. We set up helplines. Yesterday I listened to "Liveline" and heard that Irish Water has nice people to deal with the public, but they have no solutions and cannot solve problems. We set up helplines for the HSE and had the same outcome. We set up helplines, even an Oireachtas helpline, for the PCRS. When politicians contact the PCRS to discuss people's difficulties in accessing medical cards we get the same response time and again. I am aware of hundreds of cases which are exactly the same and involve people who are the subject of a discretionary medical card and will be corresponded with in the near future. There is nothing more than this. A person who applies for a medical card and is asked for further information is given 21 days to provide it and when he or she provides it another 21 days elapses before the HSE examines the information. If there is something wrong there is a further delay of 21 days. I know of one man, who is a mature student in college, who has been waiting for a medical card for a year and is surviving on funds from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Dublin. It is outrageous. It is important that we have a debate on the way we do business. Not everything is down to communications problems. The problem is that we changed systems which worked to those which do not. We need to debate all these issues.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I welcome and support Senator Averil Power's motion concerning the recognition of the state of Palestine.  The Cathaoirleach himself recalled the Seanad, most unusually, during the summer to discuss Gaza during the appalling onslaught on it by Israel. It is a horrifying situation to think the Euro-Med agreement is in place with human rights protocols attached to it but which are never even monitored. There were clear violations of international human rights and war crimes committed, yet we continue as if absolutely nothing had happened.

  In the wider sphere of the United Nations, a majority of states now recognise Palestine including a growing number of European states such as Sweden. It would be very timely if we recognised Palestine. This should put some pressure on the state of Israel which seeks to frustrate any efforts at any stage where there is a possibility of peace. Even as we speak, the Israelis are continuing with their illegal programme of settlement development. I strongly support this motion and gather it will go through with unanimous agreement, which is significant in itself. I hope it will soon be translated into action.

  I also want to raise the issue of Watergate. I am not referring to Irish Water but the death of a great man of the press, Ben Bradlee. While some Members might be too young to remember it, I recall the excitement, the cloak and dagger atmosphere of meetings in basements of government buildings in Washington, Deep Throat and the writing of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. This was real investigative journalism. We get a lot of pap in this country of prurient, poking, nosing and snivelling writing by journalists which is then dressed up as investigative journalism. Like hell it is. Anyone who wants to see what investigative journalism is, let them look at the Watergate scandal and the way it was covered by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein under the direction of Ben Bradlee.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan When I hear Senator David Norris on Ben Bradlee, he is correct on the prurient pap we are getting unfortunately.

  I cannot help thinking the Member opposite is overreacting somewhat on the question on Irish Water.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Have a bonus.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I am not actually directing my comments at the Senator but at my good friend, Senator Darragh O’Brien. He likes to jump up and down and put on a bit of a dance on issues he perceives to be populist.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Is it not an issue then?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Of course, it is an issue.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Get to the point then.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Minister is ensuring a more responsive system is put in place. This very day he is meeting with the chief executive officer of Irish Water.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien That is fantastic.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Senators opposite refer to the Seanad but the environment committee, which comprises representatives from this and the other House, is examining the matter. This matter is still in its infancy.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien It is on its way out.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan As Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell reminded us today, water is a most important commodity, without which we cannot do, and there is a significant cost to provide it.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell I reminded the House of that in a different context.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Water has to be piped and treated.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Due to appalling construction, in one estate in Tralee, County Kerry, people are suffering lead poisoning.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill And they will still have to pay for the water.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The truth is breakdowns in the water system were not being handled. What is being attempted now with the new water company will be much of an improvement.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien No problem. There is nothing to see here.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan As some of us discovered in recent days, water costs in England, Scotland and Wales, run into thousands a year. Here it will be done much more cheaply and efficiently. Therefore, hold your whist a short while.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I am glad to be associated with Senator Averil Power’s motion in recognising Palestine. Senator Terry Leyden referred to the great work done by Brian Lenihan Snr. as Minister. Traditional support for the Palestinian people is deeply ingrained in the Irish people. As Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken spent a significant amount of time in the United Nations in the 1950s and 1960s raising the plight of the Palestinian people. The Fianna Fáil Party has a proud tradition in this regard which Senator Averil Power is upholding and following . We are glad to have cross-party support for her motion, which represents the support of the people.

  Matt Cooper has a fabulous article in today’s edition of the Irish Daily Mail, which should be required reading. He asks are we brave enough to pull the plug on Irish Water. Is the Government and every other party brave enough to say a mistake was made that should never have happened? Are we brave enough to admit there will be a cost if we pull the plug but it would be far better to do so? The feedback I am getting is that there is no confidence in Irish Water. I might go so far as to say people hate Irish Water as an entity, they do not want to pay the charges and they are disgusted by the bonuses. I believe the Government will think about this again because it realises a serious mistake was made. A campaign of civil disobedience is going on with people refusing to provide their PPS numbers and return their packs to Irish Water. I support those efforts by the majority of the public. I do not believe the Government will be able to enforce water charges at this stage. Senators opposite should tell the Government this and what is really happening on the ground. It is not enough to throw somebody under a bus. As a journalist said to me yesterday, the message from the Government is it has had to stop doing this because it cannot just keep throwing people under buses. I second Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell’s proposed amendment to the Order of Business because it is an important issue. I am appealing to Senators on all sides to support it. The public is discussing the issue and the Seanad needs to do so, too.

Senator Mary Moran: Information on Mary Moran Zoom on Mary Moran I want to address the courageous and troubling account of the series of events raised by Maíria Cahill regarding the sexual abuse she endured as a teenager and the way in which it was handled when she came forward, particularly by the leader of the Sinn Féin Party, as well as the deputy leader, herself a woman. I call on her to state publicly if she will believe Maíria Cahill’s story. It takes the ultimate courage and strength to come forward and reveal such personal information and waive her right to anonymity as Maíria Cahill has done. I believe she should be commended on her strength, for sharing with the nation what she has endured and for her pursuit of justice and truth. The admission by the leader of Sinn Féin, Deputy Gerry Adams, that kangaroo courts were used to carry out investigations into sexual abuse allegations need to be more fully addressed by him and his party. Maíria and other victims who reported their abuse and were subjected to such a justice system are owed an apology without excuses. I believe Maíria and other victims of abuse deserve more than this from Sinn Féin. The slow trickle of information that has been dripping out, little slips and admissions in the past week on foot of a BBC programme, is wholly unacceptable. The most recent admission yesterday evening by Deputy Gerry Adams, when questioned by the media, that he acknowledged he knew of an IRA link to the Maíria Cahill case is a complete turnaround from what we got this time last week. It is time to be truthful. I welcome this morning’s news that the Oireachtas justice committee may invite Maíria Cahill and Deputy Gerry Adams. I am abhorred by this morning’s story of a second victim from County Louth backing up everything that Maíria Cahill has said about IRA-Sinn Féin treatment of abuse victims and these kangaroo courts. I welcome the move of the justice committee.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is way over time.

Senator Mary Moran: Information on Mary Moran Zoom on Mary Moran I also want to raise the issue of symphysiotomy payment scheme again. We were recently briefed on it and I would like if it were introduced as soon as possible.

Senator John Crown: Information on John Crown Zoom on John Crown I propose an amendment to the Order of Business seeking the attendance of the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection in the House today to outline a timeline on the critical issue of pension reform in the light of the data which came out today from the Pensions Authority. Can anyone imagine how absurd it would be if the Stated enshrined, as part of its policy, an enforcement that people who were in employment were forced to resign and go on social welfare? Can anyone imagine the State telling people we would prefer if they quit their jobs and went on social welfare?  We are doing this every day in the public service, where we have mandatory irrational anachronistic retirement ages enforced on people that bear absolutely no resemblance either to the realities of the health status of people over 60 or 65 years of age compared to the time 140 years ago when the notions of retirement and an old age pension were first introduced. As well as this, there is no recognition of the reality that we are entering a contract with people who are in the public service now, telling them that we will give them pensions that we cannot give them because the money is not there. It has come out today from the Pensions Authority that there is potentially a €440 billion long-term pension entitlement which we have exactly zero ability to sustain in the long term. We rank 20 out of 25 countries surveyed by an international pensions survey on the issue of the sustainability of our pension scheme. It is not a case of taking something away from people by telling them they will not have to retire at 65 years. We are not enforcing a mandate that a person cannot retire at 65 years, but the idea that there are plenty of people who would prefer to be on the plus side of the worker-dependent ratio is concerning and it runs the risk of completely unravelling any growth or recovery in the economy in the years to come. There is no question of taking away the opportunity and the right for them to do it.

  I have seen this many times in the health service. People who were doing onerous busy jobs, seeing patients, doing operations and running research programmes one day and the next day they were coming in to clear their desk, because someone told them arbitrarily that it was time for them to become a dependent on the State. Many of them have gone on to other jobs in the State employ with their original pension. As well as this, it is relevant to what we are hearing about Irish Water. How many of the people at senior levels in Irish Water in public relations and other areas are already in receipt of State pensions?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is way over time.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien There are many of them at senior level.

Senator John Crown: Information on John Crown Zoom on John Crown The system is insane. I will call for a vote to ask the Minister for Social Protection to come to the House to address the matter because this is a national emergency. It may not look like an emergency beside the next election but it certainly will be one.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan I second Senator John Crown's amendment.

  I commend Senator Averil Power for her amendment on the recognition of the state of Palestine. The House has been to the forefront in the matter over the years. A former Leader of the House, former Senator Mick Lanigan, was very involved. I do not intend to anticipate the current Leader, but I understand this may have the agreement of the House, in which case it would be an historic event. I wish the ambassador and his team well.

  On another note entirely I call on the Minister with responsibility for trade to come to the House for a debate on the Irish textile industry, in particular the Irish menswear business. It is something I know a little about because my family was involved in the business for five generations. I did some research lately and I noted that when I took over the business from my late father in 1989 over 73% of my invoices were being paid to Irish companies. If I were still active in the business that would be down as low as 10% or 15% today. If the men present were to look inside the lapels of the jackets of their suits - mine is Magee of Donegal, by the way - many of them would see German and Italian labels. There has been a long tradition, particularly in County Donegal, in the shirt business, as Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill knows, and the suit business, which is struggling. Many jobs are at stake. Some of these are already are being sourced in Third World countries, unfortunately, to compete with the Lidls and Aldis, which are selling suits for €99. A man should see what wear he can get out of them. It is time, while there is still an Irish indigenous menswear business, be it tweed or fine cloths, to debate the matter and to try to help the business in every way we can.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford The good management and governance of the House requires a little common sense, flexibility and goodwill. Appropriate and genuine Order of Business requests have been presented by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell in respect of the water charges fiasco, as it could be called at this stage, and Senator John Crown in respect of the pension crisis. However, we should accept that if we are to have a meaningful debate on these important subjects we certainly need Ministers present. Passing motions to drag in a Minister does not always result in a positive outcome. I am keen to hear what the Leader has to say. It is imperative that both Ministers come before the House no later than next Tuesday. We need a little flexibility and we should give the Leader time.

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

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford That is not particularly helpful.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Senator Paul Coghlan should remember to stay silent when he is winning.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I can travel some of the road with my brother.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator has made his contribution.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford I look forward to the Leader coming back to Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and John Crown. I am keen to have the respective Ministers before the House and a meaningful debate. Certainly, this should be arranged for no later than early next week, if it cannot happen today or tomorrow.

  I wish to address No. 58, motion No. 9, and motion No. 10 refers. Senator Averil Power has proposed that No. 58, motion No. 9, be taken before No. 1 or No. 2. In proposing such a political manoeuvre she has outlined a strong case. Will the Leader indicate whether we will have a debate on this motion? Will we hear from the Minister? Will we be in a position to inquire about Government policy? I have a difficulty with the motion and with what I believe to be a very unbalanced presentation of middle eastern politics in the House. We see one side and only one side of the story. Historically, if we look at this area from the perspective of Israel and the broader Jewish community, this House and the other House have never been sympathetic to the state of Israel or to Jewish people and that is something we should be ashamed of. It is a small, perhaps not perfect, but functioning, democracy in a sea of general dictatorship.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden Not when it bombs Gaza.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford There are two sides to the story.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien There should be two states.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford I believe there should be two states.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is way over time.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford We all recognise that there are states in the Middle East that have no wish for the state of Israel to survive and that is something we should discuss also. We need a full balanced debate not simply a call to populism. I call on the Leader to set aside time for that debate rather than simply rubber-stamping a motion which may be populist - that does not mean it is correct.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill I commend Senator Averil Power for bringing forward the motion. The thrust of the motion is to have a debate and raise valid concerns. The people of Palestine deserve a sovereign right to be recognised as a state. I believe everyone in the House would support the general thrust of that notwithstanding what Senator Paul Bradford has said. Senator Averil Power has put a good deal of work into this and I hope a Minister will come to the House to discuss it. We are all keen to articulate our views in respect of supporting Senator Averil Power's motion in that regard.

  I support Senator Marie-Louse O'Donnell's amendment to the Order of Business. There is a need to have a genuine and calm debate in the House on the issue surrounding Irish Water. We can all shout and play politics with it, but the reality is that we have a semi-state utility which is running away with itself. The sands are changing politically in respect of the decision-making process. Ultimately, irrespective of the current status of Irish Water, if it continues in its current form we could end up with a company being sold and people in other jurisdictions controlling the right of Irish citizens to water and that is wrong.

  We need to have a debate in the House on the matter urgently and Ministers need to make themselves available for such a debate. I know the Leader is determined to bring Ministers to the House but they do not always make themselves available. On this particular issue they should do so. There are serious data protection issues and costing issues, as well as the bonus culture, the salary culture and what is happening on the ground. We could all give examples of what is happening on the ground, such as in County Donegal this morning, for example. We are keen to have a debate to articulate these views.

  I call for a debate to support Senator Jim Walsh in respect of the health system. The health system accounts for approximately 30% of public spending. The Government is rolling out the idea of the money-follows-the-patient model, a model I support because I believe there is more accountability to be obtained from that model than any other.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is over time.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill In the light of the Comptroller and Auditor General's recent report, I would like to have a debate on health spending.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I welcome the United States ambassador to the House for his first visit but, I hope, not his last. It is a long overdue visit. We will obviously be liaising with him in regard to the issue of the 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the United States. It is good to have a great friend of Ireland in Dublin, as well as having him with us in the Seanad today.

  I, too, support Senator Averil Power's motion, which is part of a proud tradition and follows in the footsteps of Frank Aiken and Brian Lenihan Snr. Ireland understands the situation out there better than others, having put soldiers on the ground in Lebanon in trying to ensure peace in the Middle East. Peace comes dropping slow, however, and in some cases it is not coming at all. Ireland has been an honest broker in that regard and is willing to assist in any way possible to ensure peace in the Holy Land.

  I join my colleagues in calling for a debate on Irish Water. It is a fiasco from start to finish. What we were told does not appear to be the truth. The Government stated it was not aware of bonuses yet it is clear it was aware of a bonus culture. The Government told us it did not believe it would cost as much as it did, yet the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government had memos clearly outlining that it would cost millions and billions of euro to put it in place. What we do not have from Irish Water is a plan. There is no plan to produce clean water in every house in County Kerry - none. There is a plan to give bonuses to the people who work in Irish Water, not to the people who provide the water but to those who are managing or mismanaging Irish Water. I would like to see the Minister come to the House to clearly outline the plan to put clean drinking water into every house in Ireland. All we have is a plan to tax every house in Ireland but we need a plan to give people clean water.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I support all that has been said in regard to the motion. I have no difficulty about a move towards recognising Palestine as a state. This is, in fact, policy which is accepted even by Israel itself, I believe, in terms of a two-state solution. I echo the remarks of my colleague, Senator Paul Bradford, that whenever the issue of the Middle East comes up in the House, it is one-sided, although this may not be very popular to say. We rarely hear the Israeli side of things, although it is a country whose people believe they, too, are victims. I often reflect on what might have happened last summer, in the face of the horrendous savagery that went on and the innocent people who were killed, if Israel did not have a protective shield over its own country as Hamas fired thousands of rockets into civilian areas of Israel. I certainly would not like to be living in Israel and have to be subjected to this also. It is just a small point to be made that, whenever we talk about Israeli rights, there are two sides to this story. I would be one of the harshest critics of Israeli policy towards Palestine. They are a superior power but they also see themselves as a nation under threat from those elements in Palestine who are committed to not only a political solution - the two-state solution - but also to extinguishing Israel as a state. Senator Paul Bradford's intervention is timely and appropriate and is one I would support in the context of any debate that takes place in this House about the complexities of the Middle East conflict. There are two sides to this story also.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I join other Members in welcoming the US and Palestinian ambassadors to the House.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden The Moroccan ambassador is here also.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I also welcome the Moroccan ambassador. As I cannot see any of the ambassadors as they are sitting behind me, I am depending on Members on the other side of the House to inform me.

  Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the question of Irish Water which was also raised by quite a number of other Members and proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell did yesterday, that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, come to the House.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I am withdrawing the amendment.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins My office has been in contact with the Minister's office on several occasions in the past few weeks to ask him to come to the House and he has acceded to that request and agreed to come on 5 November. The House is not due to sit next week. If it wishes to proceed and vote on the issue, we will see how that pans out, but the Minister has agreed to come on 5 November.

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden A lot of water will flow under the bridge before then.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins On Irish Water, certainly mistakes have been made, as the Minister has acknowledged. However, what were we to do? Should we just have adopted the Fianna Fáil policy of having a €400 flat charge for the past two years, ignored everybody else and imposed it?

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien It has been Fine Gael policy since 2009. It has been in charge for three and a half years.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins That is not what we are trying to do. We are trying to fix the problem and make up for the errors made.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Fine Gael has been in government for three and a half years.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Order, please. The Leader to continue, without interruption.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins When the country was awash with money-----

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien It is the Government's policy.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins -----Fianna Fáil refused to deal with the problem-----

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien It set it up as a private entity, separate from-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Order, please.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien It is the Government's problem. It made the mess. It should clean it up and stop blaming everyone else. That does not wash anymore.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Please, Senator. The Leader to continue, without interruption.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I know that Senator Darragh O'Brien does not like to be reminded of the facts, but Fianna Fáil would not deal with the matter.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Fine Gael has been in government for three and a half years and is still not used to it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Will the Senator, please, allow the Leader to give his response?

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Government has to take responsibility.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Will the Senator, please, allow the Leader to respond to the questions raised on the floor of the House?

(Interruptions).

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I tried to answer the Senator, but he shouted me down.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I did not get an answer.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins We will accept it for what it is. The Senator does not want to hear the facts.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien They are not the facts.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I note the Senator's points about Sinn Féin which were also made by Senators Cáit Keane, Mary Moran and James Heffernan. It is a valid point that Sinn Féin Members should give the names of the people dealt with in the kangaroo courts, especially for child and sexual abuse. They should be forced to answer these questions, as outlined by a number of Members.

  Senator Ivana Bacik also raised the issues of Sinn Féin and child protection. She lauded Trinity College Dublin for its five-year strategic plan.

  Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell made salient points about Irish Water, having made similar points yesterday. As I stated, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, will be in the House on 5 November when we can question him about Irish Water.

  Senators Sean D. Barrett and David Norris joined in the tributes to Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post. Senator Sean D. Barrett also spoke about permanent tsb and the fact that it had failed the ECB test, about which I am sure we will hear more in the coming days.

  Senator Colm Burke referred to a letter from the HSE regarding agency doctors and the problem with the retention of doctors. The Minister for Health will be in the House on 4 November to hear statements on the health service when I am sure a number of Members will address various points to him.

  Senator Averil Power has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 58, motion No. 9 on the recognition of a Palestinian state, be taken before No. 1."  Ireland has always had the Middle East peace process and the attainment of a negotiated two-state solution as one of the central objectives of its foreign policy. In this context, it has always been our view that formal recognition of a Palestinian state should form part of a comprehensive peace agreement. The need for urgent progress in resuming substantive peace talks and advancing the realisation of a two-state solution was one of the principal messages of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and others who attended the Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo on 12 October. I will, therefore, accept Senator Averil Power's amendment that the motion be taken without debate today, as a great number of Senators across the House have given it their clear support. Last week the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was called away to attend the recommencement of talks on Northern Ireland and was unable to give us the scheduled update he had so kindly promised to give following the recall of the House during the summer to discuss the situation in Gaza. I inform the House that the statements have been rescheduled for 26 November and know that the Minister will be interested in hearing the views of Members on the motion.

  Senator David Norris also referred to the position of Sweden. Despite reports, it has not yet recognised a Palestinian state. The new Swedish Government has merely announced its intention to do so and it is expected that Sweden will move to do so by the end of the year. We will be happy to hear its views when it has decided how it intends to proceed with the formal act of recognition.

  Senators Denis Landy and James Heffernan mentioned the lack of coverage by RTE of national games and county finals, in particular. As the Cathaoirleach mentioned, it is a matter for RTE, but perhaps it might be raised with the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.

  Senator David Cullinane mentioned that negotiations on a technological university for the south east had stalled. That is not my information. My understanding is that the institutes in Waterford and Carlow have held ongoing negotiations which have advanced considerably. As mentioned, the Government is fully committed to having a university in the south east. If the Senator is suggesting officials or others are stalling the process, I can assure him they will not succeed. It is Government policy that the criteria will be met and that we will have a technological university in the south east. I am delighted to hear the Senator state all institutes should and must meet the criteria before a technological university can be put in place.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Senator is missing, which is why it is quiet this week.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senator Aideen Hayden asked when legislation would be introduced to protect people in difficulty with mortgages from sub-prime lenders that had had their loan books sold. I will inquire of the Minister for Finance when it is intended to introduce such legislation.

  Senator Michael Mullins mentioned the Government report on entrepreneurship and called for a debate on the issue with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I will try to have the Minister come to the House in early course for such a debate.

  Senators Jim Walsh and John Crown mentioned pension policy and reform and called on the Minister to come to the House to address the issue. Senator Jim Walsh also mentioned the issue of health insurance. I know that we will not have the Minister for Social Protection in the House today as my office has already been in contact with her, but we will try to get her to debate the issue of pension reform. Obviously, I am unable, therefore, to accept the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.

  Senator John Kelly said there was a need for a debate on the HSE, the PCRS and Irish Water to discuss how they dealt with the public and address the issues raised by him. It would be a wide-ranging debate which possibly would come under the title of public service reform. I will mention the matter to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

  Senator Thomas Byrne mentioned Irish Water and asked that we pull the plug on the organisation. I do not think that would solve the problem of the need for investment in infrastructure in areas where there are boil water notices and water of poor quality. We will have the Minister in the House on 5 November to discuss the matter.

  Senator Ned O'Sullivan called for a debate on the future of the textile industry. I will raise the matter with the relevant Minister.

  Senators Paul Bradford and Paschal Mooney made measured comments when expressing their views on a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. They said there was a need for a balanced debate. I hope that when we have the Minister in the House, there will be balance when discussing the matter.

  Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill mentioned the health service. I can tell him that we will have the Minister for Health in the House on 4 November.

  I think I have covered all of the comments made.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the difficulties in Irish Water and the question of the suspension of water charges be taken today." The amendment lapses as it has not been seconded.

  Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to discuss Irish Water be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: Information on Marie-Louise O'Donnell Zoom on Marie-Louise O'Donnell No, I shall wait until 5 November.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne People cannot wait until 5 November because they are broke. It is a disgrace that we are not debating the matter today.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Averil Power has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 58, motion No. 9, be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.

  Senator John Crown has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Social Protection on the timeline for pension reform be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator John Crown: Information on John Crown Zoom on John Crown Yes.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 26.

Níl
Information on Barrett, Sean D.   Zoom on Barrett, Sean D.   Barrett, Sean D. Information on Bacik, Ivana.   Zoom on Bacik, Ivana.   Bacik, Ivana.
Information on Byrne, Thomas.   Zoom on Byrne, Thomas.   Byrne, Thomas. Information on Brennan, Terry.   Zoom on Brennan, Terry.   Brennan, Terry.
Information on Crown, John.   Zoom on Crown, John.   Crown, John. Information on Burke, Colm.   Zoom on Burke, Colm.   Burke, Colm.
Information on Cullinane, David.   Zoom on Cullinane, David.   Cullinane, David. Information on Coghlan, Eamonn.   Zoom on Coghlan, Eamonn.   Coghlan, Eamonn.
Information on Daly, Mark.   Zoom on Daly, Mark.   Daly, Mark. Information on Coghlan, Paul.   Zoom on Coghlan, Paul.   Coghlan, Paul.
Information on Healy Eames, Fidelma.   Zoom on Healy Eames, Fidelma.   Healy Eames, Fidelma. Information on Comiskey, Michael.   Zoom on Comiskey, Michael.   Comiskey, Michael.
Information on Heffernan, James.   Zoom on Heffernan, James.   Heffernan, James. Information on Conway, Martin.   Zoom on Conway, Martin.   Conway, Martin.
Information on Leyden, Terry.   Zoom on Leyden, Terry.   Leyden, Terry. Information on Cummins, Maurice.   Zoom on Cummins, Maurice.   Cummins, Maurice.
Information on MacSharry, Marc.   Zoom on MacSharry, Marc.   MacSharry, Marc. Information on D'Arcy, Jim.   Zoom on D'Arcy, Jim.   D'Arcy, Jim.
Information on Mooney, Paschal.   Zoom on Mooney, Paschal.   Mooney, Paschal. Information on D'Arcy, Michael.   Zoom on D'Arcy, Michael.   D'Arcy, Michael.
Information on Norris, David.   Zoom on Norris, David.   Norris, David. Information on Gilroy, John.   Zoom on Gilroy, John.   Gilroy, John.
Information on Ó Domhnaill, Brian.   Zoom on Ó Domhnaill, Brian.   Ó Domhnaill, Brian. Information on Hayden, Aideen.   Zoom on Hayden, Aideen.   Hayden, Aideen.
Information on Ó Murchú, Labhrás.   Zoom on Ó Murchú, Labhrás.   Ó Murchú, Labhrás. Information on Keane, Cáit.   Zoom on Keane, Cáit.   Keane, Cáit.
Information on O'Brien, Darragh.   Zoom on O'Brien, Darragh.   O'Brien, Darragh. Information on Kelly, John.   Zoom on Kelly, John.   Kelly, John.
Information on O'Sullivan, Ned.   Zoom on O'Sullivan, Ned.   O'Sullivan, Ned. Information on Landy, Denis.   Zoom on Landy, Denis.   Landy, Denis.
Information on Power, Averil.   Zoom on Power, Averil.   Power, Averil. Information on Mac Conghail, Fiach.   Zoom on Mac Conghail, Fiach.   Mac Conghail, Fiach.
Information on Quinn, Feargal.   Zoom on Quinn, Feargal.   Quinn, Feargal. Information on Moloney, Marie.   Zoom on Moloney, Marie.   Moloney, Marie.
Information on Reilly, Kathryn.   Zoom on Reilly, Kathryn.   Reilly, Kathryn. Information on Moran, Mary.   Zoom on Moran, Mary.   Moran, Mary.
Information on Walsh, Jim.   Zoom on Walsh, Jim.   Walsh, Jim. Information on Mullins, Michael.   Zoom on Mullins, Michael.   Mullins, Michael.
Information on Wilson, Diarmuid.   Zoom on Wilson, Diarmuid.   Wilson, Diarmuid. Information on Hildegarde Naughton   Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton   Naughton, Hildegarde.
Information on Zappone, Katherine.   Zoom on Zappone, Katherine.   Zappone, Katherine. Information on Noone, Catherine.   Zoom on Noone, Catherine.   Noone, Catherine.
  Information on O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.   Zoom on O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  Information on O'Neill, Pat.   Zoom on O'Neill, Pat.   O'Neill, Pat.
  Information on Sheahan, Tom.   Zoom on Sheahan, Tom.   Sheahan, Tom.
  Information on van Turnhout, Jillian.   Zoom on van Turnhout, Jillian.   van Turnhout, Jillian.
  Information on Whelan, John.   Zoom on Whelan, John.   Whelan, John.


Tellers: Tá, Senators John Crown and Ned O'Sullivan; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

  Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.

Recognition of State of Palestine: Motion

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to formally recognise the State of Palestine and do everything it can at an international level to help to secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I thank the Leader for accepting my amendment to the Order of Business in order that we could consider this motion. I understand he is prepared to accept it on behalf of the Government side of the House. It is welcome that 31 Senators from all sides of the House signed the motion in order that we could bring it forward. This is an important and historic occasion for the Upper House of the Oireachtas to be sending this message. While I acknowledge that the motion is being taken without debate, I beg the Cathaoirleach's indulgence to allow me to explain its importance.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I cannot allow the Senator that facility. She discussed the motion on the Order of Business.

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power It is important, in the aftermath of Israel's latest assault on Gaza, that the international community send a clear message of support for the Palestinian people.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The motion is being taken without debate.

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power It is important that we send that message. We have done so, for which I thank Members on all sides of the House.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Is the motion being seconded?

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I second the motion.

  Question put and declared carried.

Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed)

NEW SECTIONS

  Government amendment No. 62:

In page 14, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:
"Repeal of section 40 of Principal Act
20. Section 40 of the Principal Act is repealed.”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 63:

In page 14, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 43 of Principal Act
21. Section 43(4) of the Principal Act is amended by deleting “or section 15(3)”.”.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This is a technical amendment to delete a reference to section 15(3) which has been deleted from the Valuation Act 2001 by the Local Government Reform Act 2014.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne If the Chair will permit him latitude, perhaps the Minister of State might update us on whether further discussions have taken place on provisions we have debated previously because we will not have an opportunity to revisit them on Report Stage. Is he proposing further changes along the lines of the genuine and sincere arguments made on this side of the House?

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris In a spirit of co-operation I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to the Senator. As I outlined to the House in our debates on Committee Stage, my officials have been engaging in a constructive manner with the Irish Hotels Federation on its concerns. Although I believe these concerns have been addressed adequately in the legislation, I asked the federation to make a submission which it has made and which is being legally examined at my end. My commitment to the House is that if I am in a position to do anything on Report Stage to address the federation's concerns, I will do so, while reiterating that I am confident that the legislation will not have the effect suggested. In a spirit of goodwill and in providing comfort and reassurance for those who have given of their time to engage constructively, if it is possible to do anything on Report Stage - I am not yet in a position to indicate whether it will be possible to do so - I am approaching the matter with a view to doing so.

  Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Acceptance of amendment No. 64 involves the deletion of section 19 of the Bill.

  Government amendment No. 64:

In page 14, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 45 of Principal Act
19. Section 45 of the Principal Act is amended by substituting for subsection (1) the following:
“(1) An officer of the Commissioner, or a person acting on that person’s behalf, may serve a notice on -
(a) the occupier of any property (whether relevant property or not),

(b) an interest holder, or

(c) such other person who, in the opinion of that officer or person so acting as aforesaid, has information in relation to such property,
requiring him or her to supply, within a period specified in the notice (being a period of not less than 28 days beginning on the date of the service of the notice), and in a manner specified in the notice, to the person who served it such information as is specified in the notice, being information that is necessary, in the opinion of that person, for the purpose of the performance by the foregoing officer, or another officer, of the Commissioner of his or her functions under this Act.”.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This amendment provides the commissioner, his or her officers or persons acting on his or her behalf with powers to serve a notice on other parties who may be in a position to supply information on a property that enables him or her to carry out his or her functions under the 2001 Act. Heretofore, this compellability was confined to owners or occupiers, whereas a significant number of other parties, including property managers, estate agents, receivers and administrators, may be in a position to provide information to assist the Valuation Office in fulfilling its mandate. Earlier amendments made changes in the area of compellability. This amendment facilitates its outsourcing to an officer of the commission.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 19 deleted.

  SECTION 20

  Government amendment No. 65:

In page 15, lines 26 and 27, to delete “, come into occupation or entered into a new tenancy” and substitute “or come into occupation or a new tenancy agreement has been entered in respect of it”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This amendment is technical in nature and its purpose is simply to improve the wording of the Bill. It tidies up the original wording, but there is no difference in intent from the Bill as published.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 20, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 21

Senator Kathryn Reilly: Information on Kathryn Reilly Zoom on Kathryn Reilly I move amendment No. 66:

In page 15, line 31, after “person” to insert “appointed by the court”.

This amendment is being put forward because section 21 refers to other persons being allowed to enter premises to conduct valuations or allow valuations to take place, but it does not specify who these other persons shall be. The amendment provides that persons with legal authority, other than council officials, would have this power.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank the Senator for the amendment. The amendments to section 47 contained in the Bill were technical in nature and provided that those acting on behalf of the commissioner on a contracted basis also had the power to enter a property should it be required. In practice, this power is rarely used by the Valuation Office which cannot recall an instance in recent years where it has been so required. It is also unlikely to be required in the future, but, obviously, it is necessary to place members of the commissioner's staff and contractors acting on his or her behalf and under his or her direction and control in the same legal position should an occupier choose to obstruct the valuation process.  Any person operating on behalf of the commissioner will be acting on his or her instruction. The section already provides that three days' notice must be given to the occupier where it is intended to use this power. I stress, however, that this is a rarely used power, albeit one that needs to be retained none the less. To add the condition that a person must be appointed by the court would create a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy, dilute the provision and potentially frustrate its operation. For these reasons, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

  Section 21 agreed to.

NEW SECTION

Government amendment No. 67:

In page 15, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 48 of Principal Act

22. Section 48(3) of the Principal Act is amended by deleting “and charges (if any) payable by or under any enactment”.”.

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Acceptance of this amendment involves the deletion of section 22.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This amendment reverses the amendment to section 48(1) and the insertion of section 48(1)(a) that were included in the Bill, as initiated. Amendment No. 10, which has been agreed, amends section 13 of the Act to accommodate what was originally intended in the Bill. Moving the amendment to section 13 takes account of concerns raised about the commissioner dictating the method through which a value would be determined.

  The amendment also proposes to delete the references to "charges" in section 48(3) of the 2001 Act, as the original inclusion of this reference could result in unintended consequences not contemplated at the time of the passage of the 2001 Act. As such, the term is open to the widest interpretation when taken out of context. The continued inclusion of such an open-ended term has the potential to undermine the rationale for section 48, which is to state and underpin the method of determining the value of a property generally. The term "charges" was included in the 2001 Act in an effort to modernise the wording used when bringing over the predecessor legislation, which had been enacted in the mid-19th century. However, it is now considered to be an inessential adjunct to the more clearly defined term "taxes" in a section which, over time, has generally worked well to the benefit of the valuation code.

  The notional rent to be used in calculating the net annual value takes account of any encumbrances on the property. It would seriously undermine the concept of equity and uniformity if otherwise identical properties were distinguished from one another because of particular charges payable on enactment on one property but not on the other. The term may be deleted because its meaning could give rise to diluting and effectively reducing the valuation base.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 22 deleted.

NEW SECTION

23. Section 50 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting “(1): Government amendment No. 68:

In page 16, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 50 of Principal Act

23. Section 50 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting "(1)" before “If”, by substituting in subsection (1) “shall, subject to subsection (2), be an amount” for “shall be an amount” and by inserting the following after subsection (1):
“(2) An adjustment shall be made so that the amount arrived at by such means to be the property’s net annual value is (insofar as is reasonably practicable and in accordance with section 19(5) or 49, as appropriate) determined by reference to the values of other properties comparable to that property as appearing on the valuation list”.”.In page 16, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This is a technical amendment. Section 50 of the 2001 Act involves the use of a method of valuation known as the contractor's method, which relies on the notional cost of constructing or providing a property. When employing this method the net annual value equates to 5% of the aggregate costs, depreciated where appropriate, of the property in addition to the site value. This amendment allows for a further adjustment of a valuation which would bring the statutory valuation methodology in line with best practice valuation. The amendment is intended to ensure that values on the valuation list are correct and relative to one another.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn While the Minister of State has gone some way towards meeting my concerns, he has not gone far enough. I would have liked an amendment that entitled an occupier or owner to seek a review of the rateable value of his or her property by the commissioner of valuation if, at any time, the value of the property changes. While the amendment moves in that direction, it does not go far enough. In the interests of fairness, an owner or ratepayer should be allowed to seek a review if the value of his or property changes. The value of a business can change overnight, for example, in the case of a petrol station located on a main road that is about to be bypassed. In such circumstances, the value of the company will change immediately. This occurs frequently when new stretches of motorway are built, an example being Urlingford, County Kilkenny. In such cases, flexibility and realism must prevail. Many shops in towns and villages nationwide lie empty for a variety of reasons. We need to introduce a measure that encourages ratepayers to seek a review. The amendment does not go far enough in this regard. I ask the Minister of State to consider whether it is possible to strengthen the amendment on Report Stage to give effect to the objective I have outlined.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I support the position outlined by Senator Feargal Quinn. I received a similar representation as that received by the Senator and it made a compelling case. I have forwarded the relevant documentation to the Minister of State seeking guidance and a formal response. The issue should be reviewed before Report Stage.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I also support the position adopted by Senator Feargal Quinn. As he noted, in many cases circumstances beyond the control of the owner of a property will impact on his or her ability to pay. Much of the debate on the local property tax related to ability to pay. Many properties in rural areas are vacant and many county councils have, for the first time, the power to impose half-rates on commercial buildings. While they are not required to exercise this power, it is available to them. Our concern is that the central grant to local authorities provided by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will be cut, forcing them to act with disastrous effects.

  Senator Feargal Quinn made a valid point on the issue of seeking a reduction in the rateable value of a property. There is no point in introducing half-measures. As someone who owned a business for many years, the Senator will be aware of the importance of keeping businesses viable and open. The Government has the power to achieve this by allowing business owners to reduce their rates bills. This would keep them viable and sustain employment.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I support the amendment and the views expressed by Senators Feargal Quinn, Jillian van Turnhout and Mark Daly. Urlingford was mentioned and we have a Kilkenny man in the Chair. I noticed a similar problem in Johnstown when I passed through it last. A major tsunami can strike a town as businesses move out and one must react to such developments quickly. What the Minister has provided for is a determination based on the rateable value of other comparable properties. Is it not possible to provide for a property that has lost a substantial amount of business without comparing it to any other business?

  Senator Feargal Quinn made a valid point. From my memory of transport economics, I understand a petrol station can lose 95% of its business when a village is bypassed, whereas some of the other businesses in the same village will survive because people realise they will be able to find parking and this attracts new business. Filling stations, on the other hand, definitely lose when a location is bypassed. Is it possible to provide for a person who is on the receiving end and to do so not by means of a comparison with comparable properties, as the amendment provides, but by providing that he or she may simply show the accounts of the business? Where these show a significant decline in business and the property owner can demonstrate an ability to pay, the rateable value should be reduced. I thank the Minister of State for taking this into account in his amendment. The Senator raises an important issue for people in Urlingford, Johnstown and other places.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan In keeping with the tone, it is not only bypasses that cause these types of problems. I was contacted recently by someone who took over a failed business that had closed. While the rent for the property had more than halved, the rate bill remained the same. The Bill refers to the best achievable rent and so forth. If a business was not viable previously, it will certainly not become viable if the rates remain the same. One would expect rates to decline in tandem with rents.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank Senator Feargal Quinn and other speakers for their contributions on this matter. The very purpose of the Bill is to speed up the process of valuation and revaluation in order that retailers, suppliers, owners, occupiers and others who find themselves in a premises with an unfair valuation know that the premises will be revalued quicker than is currently the case. This general principle runs through the legislation.

  I am informed that section 27 of the Valuation Act 2001 provides for ratepayers to seek a review. I am interested in hearing Senators' views on this matter which we may be able to discuss on Report Stage. As Senator Feargal Quinn graciously acknowledged, my amendment goes further in the sense that it provides for greater flexibility and discretion to persons who are carrying out a valuation. It allows them to show common sense, whereas under the current legislation they must adhere rigidly to various rules and formulae without being able to apply judgment. While such flexibility is shown to some degree at present, we have not reflected in legislation the need to allow valuers to apply judgment and show common sense.  That is what I am trying to achieve with this amendment.

  The Senator's example of a petrol station that is bypassed is one I used the last day we discussed the Bill. It is a classic example. Amendment No. 45 which I introduced on the last occasion is a new provision which equips the commissioner with additional authority to address anomalies on the valuation list, pending revaluation of the rating authority area. Rather than a petrol station that was busy and all of a sudden is bypassed having to wait for the next round of revaluations, under the Bill, the commissioner will have the authority to address serious anomalies such as this. The petrol station that is bypassed might be the most pertinent example. I am willing to listen to Senators' viewpoints and would welcome their thoughts on this matter on Report Stage. These are the four measures we have taken to try to improve the position.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I thank the Minister of State for that explanation. I would be happy to have the matter re-examined before Report Stage because it should be possible to solve the problem. The Minister of State has gone some way towards doing so, but I would like to see him going a little further.

  Amendment agreed to.

SECTION 23

  Government amendment No. 69:

In page 16, line 13, to delete “current”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 23, as amended, agreed to.

NEW SECTION

  Government amendment No. 70:

In page 16, after line 49, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 55 of Principal Act
24. Section 55(1) of the Principal Act is amended by substituting “at his or her office or otherwise” for “at his or her office”.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris In line with e-government policy encouraging the use of online approaches in delivering public services, the amendment is being inserted as a convenience to the public. It provides for the central valuation list specifying the global valuation of a public utility undertaking to be made available for inspection elsewhere other than at the office of the commissioner, which was the only option available until now. In practical terms, this allows for online inspection, making it unnecessary for people to attend at the Valuation Office to consult the list, unless they choose to do so.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 24 agreed to.

NEW SECTION

  Government amendment No. 71:

In page 16, after line 49, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 56 of Principal Act
25. Section 56(1) of the Principal Act is amended by substituting for the definition of “appropriate year” the following:
" 'appropriate year’ means—
(a) subject to paragraph (b), the financial year immediately following the financial year in which the first valuation under section 19 is carried out in relation to relevant properties situate in the area of the rating authority concerned, or

(b) if the effective date for the first valuation under section 19 carried out in relation to the foregoing properties is different from the publication date, the financial year immediately following the effective date;”.”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 25 agreed to.

NEW SECTIONS

  Government amendment No. 72:

In page 16, after line 49, to insert the following:
“State land
26. The Principal Act is amended by inserting after Part 12 the following new Part:
“Part 12A

STATE LAND

State land

56A. All State land vested in the Minister for Finance, by virtue of section 5 of the State Property Act 1954 or otherwise, immediately before the commencement of section 26 of the Valuation (Amendment) Act 2014, and all rights, powers and privileges relating to or connected with such State land shall, without any conveyance or assignment, stand vested in the Minister for all the estate or interest therein that, immediately before such commencement, vested in the Minister for Finance, but subject to all trusts and equities affecting any such State land continuing to subsist and being capable of being performed.

Legal proceedings

56B. Where any legal proceedings are pending to which the Minister for Finance is a party and the proceedings have reference to land transferred by section 56A, the name of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform shall, to the extent that they have such reference, be substituted for the Minister for Finance in those proceedings and the proceedings shall not abate by reason of such substitution.

Power of Minister

56C. Anything commenced but not completed before the commencement of section 26 of the Valuation (Amendment) Act 2014 by or under the authority of the Minister for Finance may in so far as it relates to land transferred by section 56A be carried on and completed by the Minister.

Instruments to have effect

56D. Every instrument (including any lease or licence) granted or made in relation to land transferred by section 56A shall, if and in so far as it was operative immediately before the commencement of section 26 of the Valuation (Amendment) Act 2014, continue to have effect as if it had been granted or made by the Minister.

Validity of transfer

56E. Nothing in this Part shall affect the validity of any transfer of State land or rights, powers and privileges relating or connected thereto effected by the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2011, the Finance (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2011 (S.I. No. 418 of 2011) or the Finance (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) (No. 2) Order 2011 (S.I. No. 480 of 2011).”.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris It was the Government's intention that, as part of the establishment of the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, all land and buildings previously held by the Minister for Finance would transfer to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. To this end, the functions under the State Property Act 1954 were transferred by Statutory Instrument No. 418 of 2011 and property related to these functions was transferred by Statutory Instrument No. 480 of 2011. However, an issue in relation to the transfer of such State property arose following indications from the Chief State Solicitor's office that in the case of certain property transactions there might be some ambiguity as to which Minister held particular State property, in other words, the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. This issue refers to property vested in the Minister for Finance under section 5 of aforementioned State Property Act 1954 and also in relation to property simply deeded to the Minister, for whatever reason, but which is not readily identifiable as connected with the function held. To address these concerns and for the avoidance of doubt and following consultations with the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of Public Works and the Chief State Solicitor, it would be prudent to provide in primary legislation that all land and buildings previously held by the Minister for Finance are transferred to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Accordingly, the amendment provides for such transfer.

  Senators will be aware that the Valuation Office is to be merged with the Property Registration Authority and Ordnance Survey Ireland. Depending on the timing of the transfer of functions from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to the Minister for Justice and Equality, I may need to make minor technical amendments to sections in the new Part 12A to change references to "the Minister" to the "Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform", as responsibilities under this Part will not be transferring. I will advise the House on the matter on Report Stage.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 73:

In page 17, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 63 of Principal Act
26. Section 63 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after subsection (3) the following:
“(4) Subsections (1) and (2) shall, with the necessary modifications, apply to an existing valuation list as they apply to a valuation list.”.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Section 63 of the 2001 Act confers an assumption of correctness on a valuation list in that the value of a property, as entered on a valuation list, is deemed to be correct. The proposed amendment is a technical one which clarifies that section 63 applies to an existing valuation list as well as to a valuation list. It arises from a possible oversight in the 2001 Act and is merely to clarify the intention that is already understood.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 26 agreed to.

SECTION 27

  Government amendment No. 74:

In page 18, line 42, to delete “report.”.” and substitute the following:
“report.

Occupier may appoint agent

70. An occupier may appoint an agent for the purpose of the service of certificates, notices or other documents under section 66.

Data sharing

71. (1) Notwithstanding any enactment or rule of law—
(a) a relevant person shall, upon a request from the Commissioner, provide the Commissioner with such information in the possession or control of the relevant person as the Commissioner may reasonably require for the purpose of enabling the Commissioner to perform his or her functions under this Act, and

(b) the Commissioner shall provide a rating authority with such information in the possession or control of the Commissioner, pursuant to this Act, as that rating authority may reasonably require for the purpose of enabling it to perform its functions by or under any enactment.
(2) In this section—
‘relevant person’ means any of the following:
(a) a rating authority;

(b) the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland;

(c) the Registrar of Companies;

(d) the Property Registration Authority;

(e) the Property Services Regulatory Authority;

(f) the Revenue Commissioners;

(g) any other person for the time being prescribed.”.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This amendment facilitates the appointment of an agent by the occupier of a property for the purpose of receiving a certificate, notice or other document under the Act. The amendment recognises that a significant number of property occupiers or owners retain agents to represent their interests when interfacing with the Valuation Office on valuation business.

  The amendment also proposes the insertion of a new section to enable better data sharing. The purpose of the amendment is to formalise the sharing of data between the Valuation Office and other public sector organisations. The Valuation Office is an organisation with an extensive reliance on information in order to carry out its statutory functions. Some of its information has already been captured by other public sector organisations as part of their remit. As part of its valuation service function, it also solicits information directly from ratepayers, but it is often not in a position to validate the accuracy or completeness of such data without recourse to other data sets. Without appropriate data-sharing arrangements, the office is sometimes required to duplicate the information collection process by requesting the information from the ratepayer again, with the attendant cost and efficiency implications for all parties.

  The most obvious and important example is the information held by each local authority. It is evident that the Valuation Office which is ultimately performing its functions for the purpose of local authorities levying rates should have efficient data-sharing arrangements in place with local authorities in order to avoid duplication of effort, minimise inconsistency in data quality and to reduce the administrative burden which the State is placing on the ratepayer.

  The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Valuation Office note and accept the principles of data sharing in the public sector which the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has put in place. There are compelling benefits to be derived from putting appropriate data-sharing arrangements in place to facilitate the Valuation Office in producing valuation lists that are fair, equitable and transparent. Such arrangements will be sufficiently precise and proportionate so as to have minimal impact on individual ratepayer's data protection and privacy rights. In general, the data in question are not perceived as data of a personal nature within the meaning of the Data Protection Act 1988 and the Data Protection (Amendment) Act 2003. The extent of the data and their use will, of course, be limited to what the Valuation Office will require in the performance of its statutory mandate. Each data-sharing arrangement will be governed by a protocol which will be subject to the oversight of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan Amendment No. 74 concerns the description of "relevant person". Will the Minister of State outline why the Revenue Commissioners will be included in that regard?

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This is already the practice for the Revenue Commissioners which have relevant market data. One must remember that the entire purpose of the valuation is to determine what would be the notional rent derived from a property on which the Revenue Commissioners could and, from time to time, would have information. By inserting this amendment concerning data sharing, we are putting more safeguards in place in sharing data. It is important to reiterate that, when dealing with personal data, every single measure the Valuation Office seeks will have to be dealt with through an individual protocol with the Data Protection Commissioner setting out very clear parameters. We can discuss the matter further on Report Stage.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan On a point of clarification, I presume the Revenue Commissioners would not have access to information on the profitability or tax clearance certificates of any business.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden Will the Minister of State confirm that the Revenue Commissioners cannot just engage in a general fishing expedition when they are seeking specific information on an individual? In other words, I presume they cannot just trawl through a database for tax compliance purposes.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I am pleased to confirm that is the position for the Senator. I reiterate that this is being introduced for very specific purposes.

  On Senator Tom Sheahan's concerns, I am also happy to reiterate that the liaison with the Revenue Commissioners, should the need arise, would be on rent or market transactions on which the Revenue Commissioners would obviously hold data.

  As with earlier amendments concerning the courts, it is important to note that the Valuation Office tries to and generally does operate on a co-operative basis with ratepayers. We try at all stages to obtain information and work in a spirit of co-operation.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 27, as amended, agreed to.

NEW SECTION

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Acceptance of amendment No. 75 involves the deletion of section 28.

  Government amendment No. 75:

In page 18, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:
“Amendment of Schedule 2 to Principal Act

28. Schedule 2 to the Principal Act is amended—
(a) by substituting for clauses (b) to (e) of paragraph 3(4) the following:
“(b) a division of the Tribunal shall consist, as the chairperson of the Tribunal determines, of one member or of 3 members, chosen, in either case, by him or her;

(c) where a division of the Tribunal consists of 3 members—
(i) at least one of those members shall be the chairperson or a deputy chairperson of the Tribunal,

(ii) the chairperson of such a division shall be the person who is the chairperson of the Tribunal or, if the chairperson of the Tribunal is not a member of the division, the member thereof who is a deputy chairperson of the Tribunal;
(d) the chairperson of the Tribunal shall assign to a division of the Tribunal the appeals to be determined by it;

(e) for the purposes of an appeal assigned to it, a division of the Tribunal shall have all the powers of the Tribunal and—
(i) where a division of the Tribunal consists of one member, that division shall have all powers of the chairperson, and

(ii) where a division of the Tribunal consists of 3 members, the chairperson of a division of the Tribunal shall have all the powers of the chairperson of the Tribunal, and references in this Act to the Tribunal and the chairperson of the Tribunal shall be construed as references to a division and, where a division of a Tribunal consists of 3 members, the chairperson of a division, respectively.”,
(b) in paragraph 4, by substituting for subparagraph (2) the following:
“(2) The Tribunal may, where it considers it appropriate, determine an appeal on the basis of written documentation submitted to it without holding a hearing under paragraph 5 of this Schedule.”,
(c) by substituting for paragraph 5 the following:
“5. (1) The Tribunal may hold hearings and at the hearings may take oral evidence and may receive submissions by and on behalf of all parties to the appeal concerned and any another person appearing to the Tribunal to have an interest in or be likely to be affected by the determination of the appeal.
(2) Hearings of the Tribunal shall be in private.”,
(d) by substituting for paragraph 7 the following:
“7. A determination of the Tribunal, at or in relation to, an appeal (where it is the whole membership of the Tribunal or a division of the Tribunal that consists of 3 members that is dealing with the appeal) shall be that of a majority of its members.”,
(e) in paragraph 11(1)(b), by inserting, after “representative”, the following:
“including, where the Tribunal determines an appeal under paragraph 4(2) of this Schedule, the arrangements with respect to the submission of documents in writing”, and
(f) in paragraph 13—
(i) in subparagraph (2)(b), by substituting “or a person connected with such owner or occupier, or” for “or a person connected with such owner or occupier.”, and

(ii) by inserting after subparagraph (b) the following:
“(c) he or she derives or is entitled to derive an interest in, income, dividend, revenue, profit, share or any other pecuniary benefit from the use, rental, occupation, letting or disposal of part or all of the property.”.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris The Valuation Tribunal is an independent body set up under the Valuation Act 1988 and continued in the Valuation Act 2001 to hear appeals against decisions of the Commissioner of Valuation.  The governing positions before the tribunal are contained in Schedule 2 to the 2001 Act. The amendments to this Schedule are primarily aimed at streamlining and improving the operation of the tribunal, increasing throughput of cases and reducing costs by giving the tribunal more flexibility in how it exercises its function. I am proposing change in a number of areas.

  This amendment provides that a division of the tribunal can consist of one member or three members. At present, a division must have three members. For suitable cases this will allow more throughput at less cost and a more efficient hearing of appeals. The amendment also provides for the determination of an appeal on the basis of written documentation without the need to hold a formal hearing to which all parties would have to be summoned. Again, this will give the tribunal more flexibility to operate in a quicker and more efficient manner. The amendment provides that evidence to the tribunal may be delivered orally by all parties to an appeal. At present, this is limited to the appellant and the respondent.

  Paragraph 13 of Schedule 2 provides that where a member of the tribunal has a beneficial interest that member shall disclose it, shall take no part in the consideration of the appeal and shall not vote or act in the determination of the appeal. This amendment extends what is regarded as a beneficial interest to situations in which the member is entitled to derive an interest in income, dividend, revenue, profit share or any other benefit from the use, rental, letting or disposal of part or all of the property. Current beneficial interest centres on being the owner or the occupier or being connected to the owner or the occupier. Extending what is regarded as a beneficial interest removes any doubt about where a potential conflict of interest could arise. At present, to have a beneficial interest, the member or spouse has to be the owner or occupier or connected to the owner or occupier of the property, as I have outlined.

  I wish to flag an amendment to Schedule 2 that I will propose on Report Stage. It is a technical amendment that will remove any doubt about the tribunal's right to publish its decisions. On Report Stage there will also be amendments to include transitional provisions. The drafting of these amendments is deliberately left as late as possible in order that the scenarios that will obtain when the new legislation is enacted can be predicted as accurately as possible. The transitional provisions have to cater for whatever is in progress when the new legislation takes effect. I look forward to debating them on Report Stage.

  Section 28 of the Bill is deleted as it is no longer required and the amendment to give effect to this was effectively made in the Local Government Reform Act 2014.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 28 deleted.

NEW SECTION

  Government amendment No. 76:

In page 18, between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following:
"Amendment of Schedule 4 to Principal Act

29. Schedule 4 to the Principal Act is amended-
(a) by inserting the following after paragraph 4:
"4A. (1) Any building or part of a building used exclusively for community sport and otherwise than for profit, but not including any building or part of a building-
(a) used on a regular or occasional basis for the sale or consumption of alcohol or in conjunction with the sale or consumption of alcohol, or

(b) used directly or indirectly in the generation of income (not being club membership fees).
(2) In this paragraph 'community sport' means sport, the principal participants in which are inhabitants of the locality in which the building concerned (or part of the building concerned) is situated.",
(b) in paragraph 12A (inserted by the Local Government Reform Act 2014) by inserting ", but in this paragraph "harbour" does not include a harbour in respect of which a company has been established pursuant to section 7 of the Harbours Act 1996" after "whatever situate", and

(c) in paragraph 14(b), by inserting ", other than a body in relation to which such defrayal occurs by reason of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009" after "Exchequer".".

Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill Acceptance of this amendment involves the deletion of section 29.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This amendment makes three changes to Schedule 4 to the Act. Schedule 4 lists categories of property that are not rateable. The first change is to introduce an exemption for buildings or parts of buildings that are used for community sport but that are not used for the sale or consumption of alcohol or in the generation of income apart from club membership fees. The intention is to ease the rate burden on local sports clubs that involve local voluntary effort and that serve a valuable function in their community. At present, if a club has a bar then all of its premises are valued for rates purposes. This is the case even if the bar is only a minor part of the overall facility and the proceeds are used to defray the costs of running the club. This amendment will mean that it is only the commercial part of the club's building that will be valued and not buildings or parts of buildings used for community sport.

  In proposing this amendment I am also conscious that sports clubs can be in competition with commercial licensed premises and other commercial operators. We can all think of examples, particularly in small towns and villages, of such competition. For this reason, I am limiting the exemption: it will not apply to any building or part of a building that is used to generate income that is not club membership income. This means that areas where food is served or prepared, retail areas and so on will continue to be valued. I do not want to put commercial operators at a competitive disadvantage while doing all we can to help local sports clubs in their voluntary efforts.

  The commissioner of valuation will provide guidelines in relation to the part of the sporting facility which may or may not be exempt under this provision and will develop a procedure for gathering the relevant information. I am also informed by the commissioner that the buildings or parts of buildings valued will be published and that this can be inspected through the website of the Valuation Office. This will increase transparency and discourage any abuse of this provision by a club which might try to minimise its valuation by stating that a smaller part of the building is used for commercial purposes than is actually the case.

  The second change to Schedule 4 is a technical amendment that brings the qualification of "harbour" which used to be in section 15(5) of the Act into Schedule 14. Section 15(5) of the Valuation Act 2001 has already been deleted by the Local Government Reform Act 2014.

  The third amendment relates to exempt properties occupied by a body established for the purpose of caring for elderly, handicapped or disabled persons - in other words, nursing homes. Paragraph (14) of Schedule 4 to the 2001 Act has the effect of exempting nursing homes not established for profit but whose expenses are defrayed wholly or mainly out of money provided by the Exchequer. The purpose of this provision is to obviate any possibility that nursing homes that are operating for profit but funded from the fair deal scheme would endeavour to be exempt from rates under this paragraph. The effect of this amendment is that nursing homes that obtain funding from the Exchequer but that also operate for profit will not be exempted from rates. This is the current situation in relation to nursing homes, but I am using the opportunity of this legislation to clarify the position.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I apologise for indicating too early, but I have been sitting here for two previous sessions of Committee Stage in order to raise these points.

  I welcome the amendments. They are very creative and will support good community organisations and sporting organisations and also the invaluable work of nursing homes. It is excellent to see this.

  I wish to raise an issue in regard to child care settings, as it is a similar type of setting to that being discussed, but we need to explore it. Before I begin I wish to declare an interest. I am the chairperson of Early Childhood Ireland. It is a pro bono position, a Government position. I say this in case anybody feels there is any conflict in any issue I raise.

  I thank the Minister of State's officials, who provided a very comprehensive briefing on the Bill before it commenced on Committee Stage. I learned a great deal about valuations at the briefing. I spoke about this issue on Second Stage in October 2012. There are about 4,700 early child care and education settings in Ireland which employ about 22,000 staff. They offer full day and school care for about 67,000 children and their families. Those figures are increasing all the time. The services are available in every corner of the country from small playgroup settings to very large settings ranging from ten children to 300 children. The service can be a charity, a not-for-profit body or a commercial operation. We do have the full spectrum.

  Let us take a brief moment to consider the importance of early childhood education. The Minister of State has talked about sporting and the nursing homes. Early childhood education has proved to be a return in investment for the State but, more importantly, we know the importance for children in their development. This is one of the reasons we need to look more creatively at the rate situation in respect of these settings. The ECCE scheme which the Government heralds is an excellent scheme under which we offer a preschool year. The take-up rate of 96% among those who are eligible is great. It shows that the State and parents recognise the importance of early childhood care and education, but sustainability is a key issue. Since its introduction, a recent survey conducted by Early Childhood Ireland shows that 46% of crèches and preschools around the country have indicated that their financial stability has decreased. Under the scheme no additional charges can be made to parents. I am not arguing for additional charges, but the problem is that the rates charged are different throughout the country. Under the scheme the State has agreed to provide a particular amount for early child care settings. It sets out the number of staff and the amount of space that must be available. We are regulating all these components, yet the rates valuations can be very different around the country. I am looking at Senator Feargal Quinn because he will appreciate the difficulty of sustaining a business under this model. Early child care education settings are profitable in certain parts of the country but not worth it in other parts, purely because rates are the variable factor that can make it unviable, as they go off the Richter scale in some places.

  There are a few issues. Charities are exempted, but the difficulty is that not-for-profits are not. We need to look at the not-for-profit model where we have community-based organisations. It should be possible to have those exempted. Based on the Government amendments, it is certainly something that could be done. Perhaps we might look at educational establishments.  There is a standard in Aistear, a State-designed curriculum. If these early child care settings are implementing the State curriculum, surely they should get recognition for doing so. There is also Síolta which provides guidelines on spacing requirements.

  We need to look at where we put early child care settings. We know that 80% of a child's development occurs by the age of 3. At just 22 months a child's development level can accurately predict his or her educational outcome at 26 years of age. That means that at 22 months we know the educational outcome for a child. That fact reinforces for me the importance of early childhood education. The State needs to do what it can to support early childhood education.

  Perhaps the difficulty lies with designated educational establishments. The Minister of State will probably say to me that the difficulty is that some of these organisations are for-profit. I am not against people making a profit and I can understand the State does not want, in any way, to support reducing that opportunity for people. Let us look at what the Minister did with the sports organisations in terms of alcohol. Can the for-profit parts be sectioned off? Most of these child care settings, even the for-profit ones, provide a free preschool year. That means that they provide a free preschool year by the State with these requirements and restrictions. Are we saying the other elements of their business needs to support same?

  We also know that many parents support a second preschool year and that the second preschool year is essential for children with special needs. Many parents will come forward and say to the child care setting: "I will pay for this because I know how important it is and see how important it is for my child." The difficulty with saying that only those in the scheme will be exempt is we are saying "we do not want to take a child with special needs for the second year, who will be paid for, because that will make us in violation of the rules". Instead, the State should do everything that it can and I would prefer if the State paid for that child. In this case, parents are willing to pay but the child care provider is saying that the interpretation of wholly or mainly has changed. It used to be they felt it was over 50% but they are now saying it is 100%. In my briefings with the officials they said: "Well, we probably overlooked it." There is nothing in writing in order that child care providers know, quite comfortably, that they can take two or three children. How many children are allowed? What percentage is it? What is meant by "the business is wholly or mainly" in terms of the free preschool year? How does a child care setting know it can offer the service when it is 100%?

  There is a real issue with children being turned away from child care settings. In 2011, there was a change in the applications of rates across the country which stated the exemption applied only to child care services that are exclusively or 100% ECCE funded, and did not offer any other services, as additional services are and were not considered educational.

  We have a State curriculum, plus Aistear and Síolta so the State could easily add the rule that the State curriculum must be implemented in the extra time. The provision puts an enormous pressure on the services and will have a detrimental impact on some children, especially children with special needs. It will also have a detrimental impact on children with learning difficulties, language difficulties, and speech and language difficulties. Parents would like to avail of the scheme in all these areas and in their local community.

  I wish to raise another issue on rates. We are encouraging child care places to literally comply with the regulations without extra space even though we know children need space. In some places, I am told, gardens are included while in other rateable areas gardens are not being included. Children should be allowed to play outside. I know a fabulous child care setting in Donegal where the children spend the majority of their time outdoors. It is an outdoor crèche so the children spend 90% or more of their time outdoors all day, every day. We should encourage child care places to have outside spaces and other areas of play. Child care places need a kitchen and a corridor. Extra facilities are needed, but they all add up to a rateable value.

  The Minister of State can say: "We look at each building and go up or down but that depends on the building. We do not look at the purpose or use of the building." If rates are increased in an area then a shop or commercial outlet can change its product. As a business or commercial model, even the private child care settings cannot increase the number children. They cannot say we will stack them three high and pack more in. A child care setting is not that type of business model even for private operators. We need to encourage such settings. We must ensure they are available throughout Ireland and in every location. There is a need for a more creative way forward. Perhaps we could glean ideas from what has been done with the sporting and nursing organisations.

  I have met people who run early child care settings throughout Ireland. I have been told their businesses are about to collapse because of the rates issue. It is the only variable that they cannot control and they are finding it extremely difficult.

  I shall end on the following point. At this stage in Ireland we all recognise and agree that early childhood education is important but ten years ago that was not the case. The State must ask itself what it can do to support the delivery of such education in every community. The scheme has been brilliant because it has moved us away from the traditional question of whether a mother is working or not working and now focuses on the importance of education for the child. The scheme is not about the status of the parent but the child's ability to be in a child care setting in his or her local community yet still be in an educational environment that is very different from primary school.

  Early childhood is a key developmental time in a child's life. I appeal to the Minister of State - I have had several conversations with him about it - to come back on Report Stage and find a way to at least alleviate the problem for some. Obviously I would like to see how we could provide relief for all who provide early childhood education in Ireland.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I support Senator Jillian van Turnhout's comments. I presume she will table amendments on Report Stage and can inform her that we are willing to support them. I am also sure that the Government will listen carefully to what she says.

  I want to talk about the subject of this amendment. Here today a fraud has been perpetrated on the sports clubs and sports community of Ireland. A number of weeks ago Fine Gael Deputies were all over the country in response to Deputy Barry Cowen's Bill in the Dáil announcing that clubs with bars would be exempt from rates. We were all happy that the Government had decided to accede to our wishes. There are less than a dozen clubs in County Meath that are in that position. I appeal to all Senators and the GAA and FAI to listen to me because this is a very serious issue. Previously, under the 2001 Act, land developed for sport was exempt from rates. Today the Minister is changing that provision and deleting the exemption. He now includes the bars and is delineating them; therefore, we welcome the measure. He is also now bringing into the rates net any club that leases premises for commercial purposes which is basically any club in the country. Practically every single GAA and soccer club that I know rents out their pitches. That is what the Minister is getting at and that is what he is going to make rateable.

  Part of the section states "used directly or indirectly in the generation of income". I was not aware that such clubs were subject to rates. The fact has certainly not been brought to my attention by anyone. The only organisations that made representations to me were the clubs in Meath GAA which had bars, which amounts to about six or seven clubs. There are some rugby and soccer clubs in the same situation also.

  This proposal is an attempt to remove the exemption for land developed for sport and to bring in clubs that rent out their pitches or all-weather pitches. These clubs were given grant money but use the income generated by rentals to pay off loans they got to put with the grant money. The proposal will be very seriously opposed by all sides in this House and by the sports community throughout the country.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I support my colleague's comments on this section and our request that the Minister looks at it. We oppose what seems to be the Government's intention in this regard.

  For many years, like many colleagues, I have been involved in GAA clubs. They rent out facilities, halls, astro turf pitches, etc., in order to pay back debt and to run the club. No one is making money out of the venture. These are all voluntary organisations which require the income to make sure their bills are met and the doors are kept open. They provide facilities for the community and for young people. That is the job of the GAA, the rugby clubs and soccer clubs. Therefore, the Government should encourage their efforts.  I also support Senator Jillian van Turnhout's comments on child care facilities. In fact, I have serious concerns in this regard. The provision for early child care in this country is not what it should be. Child care facilities in small rural towns and villages throughout the State require assistance from the Government. Charging them rates will not assist them - instead, they should be exempt. The availability of affordable child care is essential for families where there is a necessity for two breadwinners. Child care will not be affordable where rates are imposed on community crèches, a cost which will inevitably be passed on to the families who avail of their services.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I support the points made by Senator Jillian van Turnhout and ask the Minister of State to review this issue. There are other aspects of Government policy, particularly the early years strategy, wherein the importance of early childhood education is acknowledged. It is important that all aspects of legislation, whether relating to commercial enterprise or otherwise, speak to the overall thrust of Government strategy, particularly on something as important and relevant as the education of our children.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I understood, correctly or incorrectly, from the what the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, told us that by not moving my Valuation (Amendment) Bill 2013, its provisions would be incorporated into or provided for in this Bill. My concern is ensuring there is equality as between in-town and out-of-town retail enterprises. Many of our towns have been decimated by the development of huge-scale, edge-of-town shopping developments, largely of the supermarket variety. Moreover, in recent times, many local authorities have imposed charges for car parking in towns. The Retail, Grocery, Dairy and Allied Trades Association, RGDATA - which happens to be my nominating body - is very concerned, as are traders and retailers in towns throughout the country, that many of these out-of-town stores are providing large-scale surface car parking free of charge. That is a totally inequitable situation which places in-town retailers, many of whom have suffered greatly, at a major disadvantage.

  Planners have a great deal to answer for in terms of what has happened up and down the country. In many cases, they have succeeded in wrecking towns. This is something of a side issue but one of which the Minister of State is well aware, because we have had several conversations about it. I look forward to hearing his observations in this regard.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan I agree with the points made by Senator Jilian van Turnhout who made her case far more eloquently than I could have done. Any government should be judged on how it treats young people and older people in our society. It is generally agreed in this and the other House that the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, is very approachable, accessible and helpful, but he is also the youngest Member of the Dáil. The question of nursing home provision is much further down the line for him as a personal consideration than it is for me or my colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I am just out of the crèche.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan He has reiterated today that nothing will be done for nursing homes by way of these provisions in terms of their being exempt from rates. I know of a lady with no remaining family who has been in a nursing home for nine years. She is fortunate to be accommodated under the fair deal scheme. The State has been moving away from the provision of beds for the elderly through community hospitals and county homes. It all seems to be moving into the private sector and nursing homes. For many people, however, private nursing home charges of anywhere between €700 and €1,000 per week are financially prohibitive.

  Will the Minister of State check what the cost to the Exchequer would be if rates were removed from nursing homes providing end-of-life care? That is the first obstacle we would have to overcome. Such a development would be a practical and compassionate way of giving something back to older people and their families. To be clear, I am not digging out here for the care providers, which is to say the nursing home owners. I am saying that for elderly people and their families who are paying between €700 and €1,000 per week for this care because they cannot get a bed in a community hospital, we should weigh the situation up and introduce some degree of fairness into it. If these homes were exempt from rates, we would be looking at a substantial reduction in charges. Many of them provide an excellent level of care - it could be described in many instances as deluxe or five star - which includes occupational therapy, physiotherapy, chiropractor services and so on. I hope the Minister of State will bear in mind the position for many older people. I will be in that situation much sooner than he will.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I will come to visit Senator Tom Sheahan when the time comes. I thank all Senators for their comments. I will deal first with the issue of community sports facilities. There may have been a misreading of the amendment, which I would like to clarify. I am stating clearly and categorically that we are not deleting paragraph 4 of Schedule 4 to the principal Act, which refers to "land developed for sport". There was a suggestion we were attempting to dilute it.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne We know what is in the legislation. We can see that for ourselves.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I did not interrupt the Senator. The latter used very emotive language, including the word "fraud". I have been very clear since I first took Committee Stage of the Bill - this is the third occasion on which I have done so - as was my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, when he dealt with Deputy Barry Cowen's Bill in the Dáil, that we have no interest whatsoever in seeking to rubbish that Deputy's Bill. We saw what he was trying to do, which is why we did not object its proceeding. At the time, the Minister outlined in the Dáil what he saw as the technical difficulties with that Bill. I have outlined the same issues in this House. Senators may disagree with me, but to call our position fraudulent is unnecessary.

  What we are trying to do in this amendment is to enhance the provision in paragraph 4, which states that land developed for sport is exempt, by improving the current situation. As it stands, a sports club the premises of which include a bar or other location of commercial activity, must, under the 2001 Act, pay rates on the whole lot. This was debated at the time of the passage of that Act, which was before my arrival in the Oireachtas, and a solution could not be found. I can understand it given that it is a tricky and technical issue. I have tried to come forward with a common sense compromise that reduces the rates bill for sports clubs by decoupling the commercial element from the voluntary sports activity element while also taking into consideration the need to ensure other business are not disadvantaged. To take an example from rural life, where we have a village pub and a GAA club, which has a bar, across the street from one another, we cannot have a situation where only one of them is paying rates. There has to be a differentiation between commercial and non-commercial activity. I am happy to tease out this issue with Senators.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne We accept that, but what about pitch rental?

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris We would all agree that the Aviva Stadium or Croke Park should not be exempt.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Is the Minister of State saying those stadia were exempt before but will not be after this Bill is passed?

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris The situation in this regard is not changing. Commercial activity within sports club will still be rateable. We will have to take a common sense approach as to what constitutes commercial activity.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The Government amendment refers to generation of income rather than commercial activity.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I am outlining the purpose of the amendment. I am also outlining that we cannot have legislation which is completely prescriptive as to every possibility. There is a great difference between renting out the Aviva Stadium and renting out the local GAA club in a town in County Meath.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne However, both are now rateable. There is no distinction.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris There is a distinction. As I said, guidelines will be published by the Valuation Office which will flesh this out.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Where is that stated?

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I am giving the Senator a commitment that it will be done.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne There is no statutory provision for it.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Guidelines will be published by the Valuation Office.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne How can we know that will happen, unless provision is made for it in the legislation?

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris It is quite difficult to explain when the Senator keeps interrupting me. I am happy to be challenged-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Please allow the Minister of State to continue.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I will also be happy to tease out the issues on Report Stage. This Bill is an honest attempt to improve the situation. The Senator is quite correct that it is not abolishing all rates for all sports clubs. Commercial activity will still be rateable, but Senator Byrne will have to agree that it will improve the current situation. It will lessen the rates bill. Under current law, if there is commercial activity the entire place is rateable. We are trying to move beyond this. I welcome the Senator's views on the mtter.

  Senator Jillian van Turnhout and other Senators raised issues relating to child care. I am eager to try to do something on this issue, but I am anxious to tease it out as well. It is not as straightforward as I thought when I first looked at it, but I am still hopeful we can do something on it. The current legal position is that there are three categories of child care providers under legislation. One is charitable organisations which provide child care facilities for charitable purposes and other than for profit. These are exempt. If a charity is running a crèche for disadvantaged families, it would not pay any rates. However, it must be exclusively charitable. Second, there are ECCI-only providers, early childhood cluster initiative. If the preschool year is the only service provided in the preschool in the premises, it is exempt.

  The third category is everybody else. To be truthful, that category is too big. I accept the Senator's argument that something should be done for them. It is a fair point. The fact that a charitable crèche or child care provider is exempt and a not-for-profit provider is not is a very difficult position to defend. However, this is where one encounters the technical difficulty and it is the reason I cannot give a commitment to the House, although I am earnestly trying to do something about it. With respect to what we have done with the sports clubs, whether one agrees or disagrees with it, it is possible to separate the sports clubs physically. One can point to the bar and say that room is rateable, but the rest of the club is not. It is harder to decouple the children who are paying, the children who are not paying, the children funded by Pobal and, perhaps, the children paying full fees. The children will move around. It is a valuations Bill and it is trickier to work out the decoupling physically.

  It is also important to point out that valuations tend to be fixed. Again, whatever modality one uses would have to recognise that the valuation will be fixed for a period of years. The number of children in certain schemes or being paid for by a certain method might change, but the valuation model does not offer the opportunity to revise that every year with a new intake of children in September. Those are the difficulties.

  The Senator also referred to the lack of consistency. I met a number of child care providers recently and they raised this point. A crèche in one county might be exempt and a child care provider in another county might not. Even within counties there is definitely a lack of consistency and I am anxious to use this legislation to try to achieve consistency and fairness.

  I will examine the point made by the Senator about the State curriculum, but if I am able to make a targeted intervention I am inclined to look at the group with charitable status and not-for-profit that is currently paying rates. I look forward to Report Stage to see where we can go in that regard.

  Senator Paul Coghlan raised the issue of out-of-town car parking. Indeed, his Valuation (Amendment) Bill 2013 was discussed in this House on 12 December last. We have had a number of conversations about this. The Bill sought to provide for the valuation of car parking spaces for rate purposes in retail centres. It provided that the value of any car parking spaces should be determined on the basis of the annual charge calculated by reference to the higher of the local authority charge for parking or the cost levy on shoppers for the use of the space concerned. The Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, accepted the Bill because he understood what the Senator was trying to do.

  My officials have explored the intent of what the Senator is trying to achieve, which I consider to be important, and the advice I have received is that the Valuation Act 2001 already provides for the valuation and rating of car parking spaces in retail centres. Where there is a charge for car parking, the car park is valued separately and entered on the valuation list. Some car parking facilities carry significant valuations. In shopping centres where there is no charge this often reflects the terms of the retailer's lease and the value of the car parking is deemed to be subsumed into the rateable value fixed on the retail units in that centre. Parking facilities will be reflected in the premium on the rent paid, and higher rents mean higher valuations and higher rates. To use the method of valuation proposed could be at variance with the norms of valuation enshrined in legislation and encoded in practice both here and internationally and could have significant implications for rating legislation.

  I am aware of what Senator Paul Coghlan is trying to achieve and my officials tell me we are largely achieving it. I suggest the Senator meet my officials between now and Report Stage to tease out the concept and to assure himself that we are on the same page in this regard.

  With regard to nursing homes, Senator Tom Sheahan is correct that the legislation does not propose a change and I accept that it causes him concern. The Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill cannot be the answer to all the ills and ailments facing society. It is a valuations Bill and there are other ways the State can, should and does provide intervention relating to nursing home support, care of older people and support for the elderly. Do we want a situation whereby the State differentiates between businesses, both of which are making profit, based on the service they are providing? That is a genuine, broad policy question that can be debated, but it is a slippery slope if the State can decide that the Senator's profitable business on the main street in Tralee is more important than my profitable business on the same main street in Tralee. That is the question that must be examined.

  The Senator asked a question about the cost. I will try to gather some statistics in that regard and refer back to him.

  The other point I should make, which is applicable to the arguments I have made relating to sports, child care and nursing homes, is that for every person who is taken out of the rates or valuation system or for every valuation reduction, the pie remains the same and somebody else must pay. If a profitable nursing home or a nursing home established for the purpose of making a profit is removed from valuation, somebody else in that locality will see an increase in their valuation. It is a balance and we are earnestly trying to get it right.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I did not understand clubs which rented out pitches were liable to rates. They are not paying rates, as far as I know. I have not received representations from them, but have received representations about the bars. What is proposed has nothing to do with commercial. In fact, the word "commercial" is not used. The Minister has kept the exemption for sports facilities but has introduced qualifications of that. One is for the bar, which we can accept. We fully agree with it and there is no need to justify that change. The Minister will include the part of the building that is used on regular occasions for the consumption of alcohol or used directly or indirectly in the generation of income. However, in many cases that would be the entire GAA pitch or club or the entire soccer pitch. If the Minister says the building does not include pitches, I will be happy to hear it, but I doubt it because these people would be using dressing rooms and so forth. What about the local societies that use GAA clubs for meetings? Will they cause a rates issue for GAA or soccer clubs that did not arise previously? That is what is intended in this provision.

  The Minister says the Valuation Office will introduce guidelines. The Oireachtas should set out the guidelines and establish what is and is not rateable. In fairness to the Minister, I have not accused him of a fraud. I have accused Fine Gael Deputies of a fraud when they issued press releases-----

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I am one of those, too.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The Minister might have done so in his constituency. They issued press releases welcoming this great provision for GAA clubs. When I met the clubs in County Meath, about seven of them were affected. Now, on reading this provision, it will be 70. The Minister will have to clarify this. The sports sector is watching this debate in an effort to find out what is happening, because the Minister's answers have not been clear. We do not wish to charge rates to voluntary sports bodies around the country. That is not what Deputy Barry Cowen was seeking in this Bill. He sought to tighten the provision and have the rates only apply to the bar area of a club. Perhaps the Minister might provide a little more clarity on this. We will oppose it.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Is the issue Senator Mark Daly wishes to raise the same?

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Yes.

Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney Senator Jillian van Turnhout has raised a separate issue and I want the Minister of State to deal with this specific issue.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I understand Senator Jillian van Turnhout will table an amendment on Report Stage.

  This is worrying, which is why we are having this debate. This must be removed. There is a difference between generating income and generating income for commercial purposes. GAA clubs, as a necessity, rent out halls to other sporting organisations for indoor soccer, basketball and so forth. Rugby clubs do the same. They all do it. They also rent out their dressing rooms for the use of outdoor facilities in the winter, such as synthetic grass pitches for which planning permission is required to erect the spotlights.

  This will cost sports organisations millions of euro.  The relevant section states it refers to facilities used directly or indirectly for the generation of income. When dressing rooms are rented for €70 an hour, they are being used to generate income. That is a fact, whether it is a GAA, soccer or rugby club. I would debate whether a synthetic grass pitch is a building. Planning permission is required to erect spotlights. Along with dressing rooms, halls for meetings and basketball courts are rented to local communities for training for winter games. That is specifically provided for in the Bill. I take the Minister of State's bona fides on board in terms of guidelines, but they need to be introduced here. I strongly suggest there has to be an amendment to this section.

  The Government will charge sporting organisations money and thousands of organisations will be affected by this. Millions of euro will be sucked out of them. All they want to do is provide sports and activities for young people and the community, and they should be supported in that respect. They will not be able to pay for insurance for the teams on fields and buy footballs, rugby balls and soccer balls because they will have to pay commercial rates.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Before there is widespread panic, let us be very clear. The purpose of the amendment is to reduce the rate bills for sports clubs. One can argue that the system needs to be tightened and suggest how that should be done. I am happy to engage on those points between now and Report Stage and consider any amendments which would ensure what we are trying to do is achieved. I am more than open to this.

  There is and always has been a principle in valuations of de minimus, and that will continue for guidelines. The Valuations Office is not in the business of checking whether an upstairs meeting room was rented out to an organisation. The purpose of the amendment is to improve the current lot. If there are amendments on Report Stage to tighten this up and Senators wish to meet my officials to discuss them, I am happy to facilitate this.

  Senators can do as they wish, but they should not try to create panic. I want to be very clear, as Minister of State with responsibility for this Bill, that its purpose is to reduce the rate bills for sports clubs. I am giving an assurance to sports clubs in this country that between now and the passing of the Bill that is what will be achieved, and it is something which has not been achieved in previous valuations Bills. It was discussed in this Chamber and the other House in 2001 and no progress was made on it, because it is a tricky area.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Sports clubs are exempt.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Clubs with licences are being charged rates on their entire operation.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I accept that.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris That is not fair and is what we are trying to address. We are not trying to introduce new charges on sports clubs. I have legal advice on the amendment I proposed. I outlined the guidelines and my openness to further engagement on this between now and Report Stage. The amendment is an honest effort to improve the lot of sports clubs. If we have to go further between now and Report Stage to address any concerns I am more than happy to do so.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I ask the Minister of State to be very clear about the purpose of paragraph (b) in the new section. It refers to buildings or parts of buildings used directly or indirectly in the generation of income. Why is that provision being introduced?

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris It refers to commercial activity, such as a golf shop or a pro shop. There is a massive range of sports clubs which are involved in a significant variety of activities. If a serious level of income is generated, that is a different matter. I have been very clear in all my public comments. The Fine Gael Deputies who have upset the Senator by issuing those statements-----

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I was delighted. I welcomed the Bill, until I read this.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris -----have also been very clear that this is not about commercial activity not being rated or the generation of serious income. I hope I have been emphatic that we are not referring to the diminutive income suggested by the Senator. The guidelines which will be issued and the practice to date reflects this. The Valuations Office has a very good track record on this issue.

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan I hope Senator Thomas Byrne is not trying to justify a tweet sent about this Bill costing sporting clubs millions of euro.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I am trying to minimise-----

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan It is a tweet which may have been sent.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The Minister of State referred to serious income. There is nothing about serious income in the amendment. He referred to commercial activity, but there is nothing about that in the amendment. It simply refers to buildings used directly or indirectly in the generation of income no longer being exempt. That surely sends a message that any club which rents a pitch or dressing room will be affected. The Minister of State said it means something different-----

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris The Senator is reading the amendment in isolation.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne -----and referred to golf shops and pro shops. I do not want to exempt a golf shop.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Good.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Such shops should pay rates. I want to exempt a club which rents its pitches.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris So do we.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne That is not what the amendment states.

Senator Aideen Hayden: Information on Aideen Hayden Zoom on Aideen Hayden I am experiencing a certain sense of déjà vu. I am hearing the same conversation going around and around. As I understand it, the Minister of State has indicated that he wants to clarify the position. He has offered the Senator the opportunity to meet with his advisers. I propose a phrase which might clarify this. Instead of "otherwise than primarily for profit" and "used directly or indirectly for the generation of income", the amendment could state, "used directly or indirectly for commercial purposes." That might be considered by the Minister of State's adviser. He has offered Senator Thomas Byrne the same opportunity and perhaps he might take it in order that we can bring this to a conclusion.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank the Senator for her constructive suggestions. Income generation tends to come from commercial activity. The generation of income does not mean the nominal receipts of income. I do not want to get tied up in a word game. I have outlined very clearly the intention of the Bill and the amendment, which is to improve the lot we have inherited and make things better for sports clubs. We want to provide clarity and update and modernise the legislation. To add any more would be to go around the houses, and I know the Acting Chairman will be relieved that I will not do that.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I welcome the commitment of the Minister of State to examine the issue of early child care and I am happy to work with him on that. I understand if someone is exempt from rates the pie stays the same and has to be divided. The reality is that the pie does not stay the same for early child care settings. Where they are providing the State free preschool year the rate per child, space requirements and number of early childhood educators required are set by the State.

  The variable is rates. A child care provider in Fingal told me it is charged rates as high as €20,000, but those in other parts of the country are charged €10,000 or are exempt. Consistency, whether one is for profit, is a major issue. I understand children can be in different rooms, but those availing of the free preschool year are all the same room because they are all the same age. The State has defined the space. A provider should be able to state that it has X number of children in the scheme, therefore, it should be exempt. We have to find a way to address this because the costs of providing the State scheme for some early child care providers are prohibitive. Many are on the brink of saying they cannot afford to provide the scheme.  Why are we allowing other children in not-for-profit and private child care providers subsidise a State scheme which the State is hailing as free for all children? In many areas, other parents are subsidising the scheme because they are paying for the extra space needed for this child care place. We have recognised the importance of early childhood care and education. I want to ensure that wherever people are located, they can access early childhood care and education. While this legislation cannot answer all of our ills, it should not contribute to or add to them. We must work to ensure we minimise these ills. I am happy to take up the Minister’s offer to work with him between now and Report Stage to see what we can do in this regard. This is a larger issue than people realise. When child care providers start closing, people will ask why they did not pay attention. Rates are a massive issue for these care centres and are one of the main variable factors for them.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 17.

Níl
Information on Bacik, Ivana.   Zoom on Bacik, Ivana.   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Barrett, Sean D.   Zoom on Barrett, Sean D.   Barrett, Sean D.
Information on Brennan, Terry.   Zoom on Brennan, Terry.   Brennan, Terry. Information on Byrne, Thomas.   Zoom on Byrne, Thomas.   Byrne, Thomas.
Information on Burke, Colm.   Zoom on Burke, Colm.   Burke, Colm. Information on Crown, John.   Zoom on Crown, John.   Crown, John.
Information on Coghlan, Eamonn.   Zoom on Coghlan, Eamonn.   Coghlan, Eamonn. Information on Cullinane, David.   Zoom on Cullinane, David.   Cullinane, David.
Information on Coghlan, Paul.   Zoom on Coghlan, Paul.   Coghlan, Paul. Information on Daly, Mark.   Zoom on Daly, Mark.   Daly, Mark.
Information on Conway, Martin.   Zoom on Conway, Martin.   Conway, Martin. Information on Heffernan, James.   Zoom on Heffernan, James.   Heffernan, James.
Information on Cummins, Maurice.   Zoom on Cummins, Maurice.   Cummins, Maurice. Information on Leyden, Terry.   Zoom on Leyden, Terry.   Leyden, Terry.
Information on D'Arcy, Jim.   Zoom on D'Arcy, Jim.   D'Arcy, Jim. Information on Mooney, Paschal.   Zoom on Mooney, Paschal.   Mooney, Paschal.
Information on D'Arcy, Michael.   Zoom on D'Arcy, Michael.   D'Arcy, Michael. Information on Mullen, Rónán.   Zoom on Mullen, Rónán.   Mullen, Rónán.
Information on Hayden, Aideen.   Zoom on Hayden, Aideen.   Hayden, Aideen. Information on Ó Domhnaill, Brian.   Zoom on Ó Domhnaill, Brian.   Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
Information on Higgins, Lorraine.   Zoom on Higgins, Lorraine.   Higgins, Lorraine. Information on Ó Murchú, Labhrás.   Zoom on Ó Murchú, Labhrás.   Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Information on Keane, Cáit.   Zoom on Keane, Cáit.   Keane, Cáit. Information on O'Brien, Darragh.   Zoom on O'Brien, Darragh.   O'Brien, Darragh.
Information on Kelly, John.   Zoom on Kelly, John.   Kelly, John. Information on O'Sullivan, Ned.   Zoom on O'Sullivan, Ned.   O'Sullivan, Ned.
Information on Landy, Denis.   Zoom on Landy, Denis.   Landy, Denis. Information on Power, Averil.   Zoom on Power, Averil.   Power, Averil.
Information on Moloney, Marie.   Zoom on Moloney, Marie.   Moloney, Marie. Information on Quinn, Feargal.   Zoom on Quinn, Feargal.   Quinn, Feargal.
Information on Moran, Mary.   Zoom on Moran, Mary.   Moran, Mary. Information on Reilly, Kathryn.   Zoom on Reilly, Kathryn.   Reilly, Kathryn.
Information on Mullins, Michael.   Zoom on Mullins, Michael.   Mullins, Michael. Information on Walsh, Jim.   Zoom on Walsh, Jim.   Walsh, Jim.
Information on Hildegarde Naughton   Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton   Naughton, Hildegarde.  
Information on Noone, Catherine.   Zoom on Noone, Catherine.   Noone, Catherine.  
Information on O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.   Zoom on O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.  
Information on Sheahan, Tom.   Zoom on Sheahan, Tom.   Sheahan, Tom.  
Information on van Turnhout, Jillian.   Zoom on van Turnhout, Jillian.   van Turnhout, Jillian.  
Information on Zappone, Katherine.   Zoom on Zappone, Katherine.   Zappone, Katherine.  


Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Ned O'Sullivan.

Amendment declared carried.

  Amendment No. 77 not moved.

  Section 29 deleted.

NEW SECTION

  Government amendment No. 78:

In page 19, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“Amendment of Schedule 5 to Principal Act

30. The Principal Act is amended by substituting for Schedule 5, to it, the following:
“Schedule 5

Plant Referred To In Section 51
1. A construction affixed to a relevant property (whether on or below the ground) and used for the containment of a substance or for the transmission of a substance or electric current, including any such construction designed or used primarily for storage or containment (whether or not the purpose of such containment is to allow a natural or chemical process to take place), but excluding any such construction used solely to induce a process of change in the substance contained or transmitted (in paragraph 2 referred to as the ‘substance concerned’).

2. For the purposes of paragraph 1 the following shall not be regarded as a construction used solely to induce a process of change in the substance concerned, namely any individual item of plant used or primarily used—

(a) for containment or transmission, or

(b) for one or more actions or a series of actions,

that may take place, before or after, the occurrence of action that induces, in a separate construction affixed to the property, a process of change in the substance concerned.

3. The fact that particular plant is not used on its own, but rather is used in conjunction with one or more other items of plant, does not disbar it from being regarded as an individual item of plant for the purposes of the preceding paragraphs.

4. All fixed furnaces, boilers, ovens and kilns.

5. All ponds and reservoirs.”.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This amendment relates to rateable plant as referred to in section 51 of the 2001 Act, particularly with regard to the individuality of certain components of plant in manufacturing and industrial processes. For the purpose of valuation, plant is specified in paragraph (1) of Schedule 5 of the Act. However, there is an exclusion from valuation of any constructions which are designed or used primarily to produce a process of change in a substance contained or transmitted. For instance, such a process could be a chemical change, distillation or fermentation in various forms, depending on the type of plant or process in question.

  The long-established interpretation has been that the vessels or component parts of the plant where a process of change takes place are exempt from rates but that other items of plant, including structures and elements used for storage, are rateable. The High Court recently ruled by way of a case stated to it by the Valuation Tribunal that certain manufacturing plants in their entirety were exempt from rateability by virtue of the exclusion as currently contained in paragraph (1) of Schedule 5. In the light of the ruling by the High Court and with a view to protecting the rateability of plant, as was intended by the legislation as defined in paragraph (1) of Schedule 5, I propose this amendment so as to restore the position of the rateability of plant to that which existed before the High Court ruling and to bring greater clarity to this area of valuation for rating purposes.

  The original Schedule 5 exclusion exempts the plant now used for storage or containment but which was designed to induce a process of change. This anomaly is also being addressed in the amendment. The amendment now proposed seeks to ensure each individual component of plant is clearly discerned as being rateable or non-rateable in the valuation assessment. It will make certain that all constructions used for containment or storage of substances are to be valued, regardless of whether the change process occurs in such construction either before or after the substance has been transmitted through and-or temporarily contained in the quite separate constructions that are excluded from valuation because their specific purpose is to induce a change.

  The important issue is to distinguish clearly between constructions used for storage, which are to be valued, and constructions used solely to induce a process of change as part of the manufacturing process, which are exempt from valuation. The purpose of this amendment is to address potential implications for ratepayers and local authority funding which could arise if the court's interpretation of non-rateability in this case is extended to other industries involved in manufacturing plant on a nationwide basis. This amendment seeks to reiterate the status quo in regard to differentiating between storage and the change process.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne While I am not going to delay on this amendment, the business community should be aware of this measure. This will bring about big changes after what was decided in the High Court. I object to what is happening in the Bill, and I have made this point time and again. I did not realise this fully because I did not read the admittedly helpful notes from the Government on this Bill as I wanted to do my own reading on the Bill before I read what the Government was stating. However, while I was making the allegation that these amendments were designed to overcome court cases, in fact, it is its specific intention to overcome a High Court case where taxpayers and ratepayers got a bit of a break. Now, we are coming in to say the court was wrong and that we must change this. There should be huge concern about this as it will increase rates bills pretty dramatically for some businesses. I do not believe it is a fair use of parliamentary procedure that we just come in and change court decisions. It is fundamentally wrong.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I also have a concern about this and would like the Minister of State to put my mind at rest. I understand the point he is making and what is being aimed at. The idea is to render some types of plant and equipment, which the High Court recently found to be exempt from rates, again eligible for rates. The words used are such that plant which is "used solely to induce a process of change" is exempt from rates. Will this change on the basis of this amendment? The High Court judgment of December 2010 found that plant used in the manufacture of concrete and asphalt qualified for exemption, a view that the Valuation Office was opposed to and has since appealed against to the Supreme Court. It is still with the Supreme Court and has not been considered. It seems the amendment seeks to change the legislation to rule out the vast majority of plant from exemption from rates.

  I would like the Minister of State to put my mind at rest because this would be very serious. Despite everything we read in the media, the overwhelming majority of construction companies have a huge challenge on their hands, despite having the opportunity to create jobs. I know something about the construction business in recent years and know it has fallen on very difficult times. It is disappointing that the Government is attempting to disqualify companies which otherwise would have been able to enjoy this exemption. I would like the Minister of State to put my mind at rest.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I echo what Senator Feargal Quinn said. Sometimes the taxpayer can actually win in the courts. While we talk about entrepreneurship, the sometimes defensive reaction on behalf of the Exchequer is: "Let us go and rewrite the rules. That will teach them to bring cases. You can never overturn the State. You argue with city hall and city hall always wins." We have very long-winded, verbose documents about the nature of entrepreneurship but if a sector has had its tax burden reduced, that is a stimulus to that sector.

  I would be worried, particularly as Senator Feargal Quinn has said this is now with the Supreme Court, which means we go from overturning a High Court decision to trying to anticipate a Supreme Court decision. I would have liked a discussion on the principles of what is involved. I would be reluctant to support the position that if the taxpayer gets a break, and presumably those cases cost a large amount of money, the first reaction of the State is to change the rules because the State looks embarrassed if the citizen wins the odd one, although this happens very rarely in the courts. These are my concerns.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This amendment seeks to clarify and outline what has always been understood to be the view of the Valuation Office and, one presumes, this House when passing legislation in 2001 regarding an exclusion from valuation of any construction designed or used primarily to induce a process of change as opposed to storage. If there is a storage container at Dublin Port, it is rateable, regardless of what is stored in it, regardless of whether it is construction material or anything else. Therefore, is it appropriate that if it is stuck onto another property or piece of machinery, it no longer be rateable?

  We are not attempting to overturn High Court decisions, as it is the job of the courts to interpret the law of the land and the job of the Houses to make laws. Therefore, it is incorrect to say we are seeking to overturn a High Court decision, although I understand what is being suggested by Members.

  It is rarely I disagree with Senator Sean D. Barrett, but I must disagree with him on the idea of giving the taxpayer a break. While this is not a crime, I will use the analogy that it is not a victimless one. It is a case of one taxpayer versus another. As the base remains the same, one taxpayer wins and the other does not. Some of the court decisions with which this legislation has dealt concerned geographical issues, of which I know Senator Thomas Byrne and others would be well aware, concerning motorways and the like. When such a company wins, another ratepayer in certain counties must pay. This is not about being on the side of one taxpayer over another. The job of the Government and the Oireachtas is to be on the side of the taxpayer in an overarching sense; it is not our job to be on the side of a specific taxpayer or set of taxpayers. What the amendment tries to do is to clarify and reinstate the position, as it was always intended by the House in the passage of various valuation Bills.

  Amendment put and declared carried.

  Sections 30 and 31 agreed to.

TITLE

  Government amendment No. 79:

In page 3, to delete lines 5 to 9 and substitute the following:
“An Act to amend the Valuation Act 2001 and to facilitate the drawing up and compilation and maintenance of valuation lists so that the valuations fixed on rateable properties in a rating authority area are both (insofar as is reasonably practicable) correct and equitable and uniform relative to each other, to provide for the undertaking, by the occupiers themselves, of all or one or more of the steps in the valuation of certain premises, to provide for certain matters relating to state property and to provide for related matters.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris It is proposed to change the Long Title of the Bill in order to reflect the importance of the correctness of valuations and their relativity to each other, as already provided for in section 49 and otherwise in the principal Act. The important and overriding principle is that the valuation of properties is determined correctly by reference to the values of other comparable properties in the same rating authority area. It is a fundamental principle of valuation practice that all values entered on a valuation list are not only a correct reflection of the value of individual properties but also that all values are consistently applied and correct relative to each other. This is an issue we have debated to a great extent and will continue to debate. It is the relativity of the value of property that determines the proportion of rates in a rating authority area which an occupier will be asked to pay. The amendment is being made to remove any room for ambiguity in the method of valuation used and reinforce correctness and uniformity as overriding principles which underpin the rateable valuation system.

  An amendment to the Long Title is also proposed to reflect the provisions in the Bill which provide the opportunity, where appropriate, for occupiers of properties to undertake certain steps in the valuation process which will assist towards the assessment of a valuation. Such a provision is designed to speed up the valuation process in certain areas where it is likely to be beneficial and cost effective. This is referred to as the "occupier assisted valuation". It is only right and appropriate that the Long Title of the Bill accurately reflect the content of the Bill. What I have attempted to do is reflect the various amendments passed on Committee Stage.

Senator Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Will the Minister of State, please, explain in more detail the omission of the term "self-assessment" from the Long Title? He has explained it in a roundabout way, but will he state explicitly that it is gone? It was one of the key parts of the Bill as announced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. I am not going to go over the argument again, but the Long Title goes to heart of some of our objections to the Bill.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I note the points the Senator has made and the points on which we have differed during this constructive debate and take the opportunity to say I expect some of the issues we have teased out about child care and sports clubs, as well as the concerns of the Irish Hotels Federation, can be rectified on Report Stage and that the legislation will be improved as a result. That will be a good day's work for the Oireachtas and I am grateful for its input.

  I do not intend to reiterate the arguments I have already made about amendments Nos. 21 to 25, inclusive, and 27 to 30, inclusive, about occupier assisted valuation, other than to restate the view that the use of the term "self-assessment" has led to confusion. Contributors to the debate on the issue expressed the view that ratepayers in areas in which properties had been revalued would be at a disadvantage in not being able to self-assess. It was never the intention that the system of self-assessment would allow ratepayers to determine their own valuation. Valuation for rate purposes is a very different exercise and self-assessment in that context is always going to be within tight guidelines. The role of the Valuation Office is to assess liability, not to collect any element of the rate payable.

  By helping to avoid confusion in previous amendments to the Bill and referring to it in the future as "occupier assisted valuation", the term more accurately reflects what happens in practice. I reiterate that, in practice, the Valuation Office may request occupiers to assist in the valuation of their properties. In order to facilitate this, the office will provide them with indicative valuation levels based on market evidence available to the office. Ratepayers can propose a different value which will be examined by the office for correctness and an alternative valuation can be proposed by the commissioner, if necessary. The Bill, as amended, will give occupiers providing valuations of their own properties the right to make representations where the valuation they submit is not accepted. This is a right they did not have under the original Bill.

  In the context of outsourcing, the modernisation of some provisions, the honest efforts made to improve matters for sports clubs and child care services, streamlining the appeals process and allowing occupier assisted valuation, the Bill will lead to a better valuation system. I note that Senator Thomas Byrne and I disagree on this issue, but I respect the difference between us.

  Amendment put and declared carried.

  Title agreed to.

  Bill reported with amendments.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan Next Tuesday week.

Question put: "That Report Stage be taken on Tuesday, 4 November 2014."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 13.

Níl
Information on Bacik, Ivana.   Zoom on Bacik, Ivana.   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Barrett, Sean D.   Zoom on Barrett, Sean D.   Barrett, Sean D.
Information on Brennan, Terry.   Zoom on Brennan, Terry.   Brennan, Terry. Information on Byrne, Thomas.   Zoom on Byrne, Thomas.   Byrne, Thomas.
Information on Burke, Colm.   Zoom on Burke, Colm.   Burke, Colm. Information on Crown, John.   Zoom on Crown, John.   Crown, John.
Information on Coghlan, Eamonn.   Zoom on Coghlan, Eamonn.   Coghlan, Eamonn. Information on Daly, Mark.   Zoom on Daly, Mark.   Daly, Mark.
Information on Coghlan, Paul.   Zoom on Coghlan, Paul.   Coghlan, Paul. Information on Leyden, Terry.   Zoom on Leyden, Terry.   Leyden, Terry.
Information on Conway, Martin.   Zoom on Conway, Martin.   Conway, Martin. Information on MacSharry, Marc.   Zoom on MacSharry, Marc.   MacSharry, Marc.
Information on Cummins, Maurice.   Zoom on Cummins, Maurice.   Cummins, Maurice. Information on Mooney, Paschal.   Zoom on Mooney, Paschal.   Mooney, Paschal.
Information on D'Arcy, Jim.   Zoom on D'Arcy, Jim.   D'Arcy, Jim. Information on Norris, David.   Zoom on Norris, David.   Norris, David.
Information on D'Arcy, Michael.   Zoom on D'Arcy, Michael.   D'Arcy, Michael. Information on Ó Murchú, Labhrás.   Zoom on Ó Murchú, Labhrás.   Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Information on Gilroy, John.   Zoom on Gilroy, John.   Gilroy, John. Information on O'Brien, Darragh.   Zoom on O'Brien, Darragh.   O'Brien, Darragh.
Information on Hayden, Aideen.   Zoom on Hayden, Aideen.   Hayden, Aideen. Information on O'Sullivan, Ned.   Zoom on O'Sullivan, Ned.   O'Sullivan, Ned.
Information on Heffernan, James.   Zoom on Heffernan, James.   Heffernan, James. Information on Power, Averil.   Zoom on Power, Averil.   Power, Averil.
Information on Higgins, Lorraine.   Zoom on Higgins, Lorraine.   Higgins, Lorraine. Information on Quinn, Feargal.   Zoom on Quinn, Feargal.   Quinn, Feargal.
Information on Keane, Cáit.   Zoom on Keane, Cáit.   Keane, Cáit.  
Information on Kelly, John.   Zoom on Kelly, John.   Kelly, John.  
Information on Landy, Denis.   Zoom on Landy, Denis.   Landy, Denis.  
Information on Moloney, Marie.   Zoom on Moloney, Marie.   Moloney, Marie.  
Information on Moran, Mary.   Zoom on Moran, Mary.   Moran, Mary.  
Information on Mullen, Rónán.   Zoom on Mullen, Rónán.   Mullen, Rónán.  
Information on Mullins, Michael.   Zoom on Mullins, Michael.   Mullins, Michael.  
Information on Hildegarde Naughton   Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton   Naughton, Hildegarde.  
Information on Noone, Catherine.   Zoom on Noone, Catherine.   Noone, Catherine.  
Information on O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.   Zoom on O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.  
Information on O'Neill, Pat.   Zoom on O'Neill, Pat.   O'Neill, Pat.  
Information on Reilly, Kathryn.   Zoom on Reilly, Kathryn.   Reilly, Kathryn.  
Information on Sheahan, Tom.   Zoom on Sheahan, Tom.   Sheahan, Tom.  
Information on van Turnhout, Jillian.   Zoom on van Turnhout, Jillian.   van Turnhout, Jillian.  
Information on Zappone, Katherine.   Zoom on Zappone, Katherine.   Zappone, Katherine.  


Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Ned O'Sullivan.

Question declared carried.

  Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 4 November 2014.

  Sitting suspended at 2.15 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Moloney): Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except for the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also, on Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.

  Government amendment No. 1:

In page 10, line 4, after “imposition” to insert “or the amount”.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe This amendment to section 9 of the Bill refers to the regulatory powers of the National Transport Authority, NTA, in restricting the imposition of additional charges on top of the maximum clamp release and vehicle relocation charges provided for in section 14. As well as being able to restrict the imposition of any such charge, the amendment will enable the NTA to limit their monetary amount. What this does specifically is to give the NTA the ability to play a role in relation to the monetary amount of a clamping fine. The intent of this particular regulatory function is to future-proof the Bill against any charges above and beyond the clamp release or vehicle relocation charge that clamping operators or parking controllers may contemplate imposing. An example of such a charge might include the imposition of an administrative charge for processing clamp release or vehicle relocation payments. Therefore, the amendment enhances the role of the NTA in relation to additional charges that may be brought in in the future.

  Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Moloney): Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 are cognate and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Government amendment No. 2:

In page 10, line 34, after “circumstances” to insert “, different hours of the day”.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe These amendments, particularly amendment No. 4, relate back directly to the debate we had on Committee Stage, specifically proposals and amendments that were put forward by Senator Sean D. Barrett.

  Amendment No. 2 elaborates on the different circumstances under which the NTA may set various requirements and conditions in relation to the regulation of clamping authorities. Explicit reference will now be made to the different hours of the day in which clamping activities are conducted. Although, on reflection, I believe the reference in subsection 2(c) to different circumstances is broad enough to grant this flexibility to the NTA, I nonetheless do want to explicitly underline this principle within the Bill.

  Amendment No. 4, which follows on from amendment No. 2, arises directly from Senator Sean D. Barrett's suggestion and proposed amendment last week on Committee Stage. Consistent with that approach, this amendment makes clear that when making regulations to specify maximum charges, the NTA may specify different charges for different times of the day. Having already made the point in relation to amendment No. 2, the reference here to different circumstances is now sufficiently wide to grant flexibility to the NTA. In the interests of consistency within the Bill, I want to reiterate this principle in section 14.

  To relate this back to the debate on Committee Stage, one of the concepts that Senator Barrett was articulating was the need to relate the cost of the activity to the time of day in which the activity takes place. The point the Senator made is that there could conceivably be a different cost involved in unclamping a car in the middle of the night as opposed to unclamping a car in the middle of the day, that being driven by the cost of wages, operating equipment and so on. He made the point that it was important that there be recognition of this within the Bill and recognition that undue and disproportionate costs can be incurred not only by the person being clamped but also by the clamping operator.

  Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 relate to sections 9 and 14 which focus on non-statutory clamping areas, and seek to bring this broader recognition of unusual costs that may be incurred by the clamping operator. They seek to deliver the objective of Senator Sean D. Barrett's proposed amendments on Committee Stage through what I believe to be stronger and more specific drafting.

Senator Pat O'Neill: Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill I welcome this change by the Minister and thank him for taking on board what Senator Sean D. Barrett proposed on Committee Stage. Will the Bill now read: "different circumstances, different hours of the day and different areas"? Is it correct that different areas will still be included in the Bill? We said the last day that the NTA might set a charter of rights through regulation.  If somebody's vehicle is clamped, he or she still has a right in regard to the length of time that the vehicle may be clamped. Will the Minister try to provide in regulation and through the NTA that different charges will apply if a vehicle is left clamped for longer than 30 minutes or one hour, or by the time the individual concerned has contacted the clamping agency? Is that what will apply depending on the time of day and the area in which the car is located?

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I thank the Minister for describing the amendments very eloquently. Differing circumstances strike me as a lawyer's goldmine, whereas extra costs may be incurred getting a car back at, for example, 2 a.m. We reflected that in the literature. It would also get the point across to the person whose vehicle is clamped that it is what the Parliament decided, whereas the notion differing circumstances may lead to more arguments at 2 a.m. A nearby university campus imposes additional charges. That is not profit maximisation; it is the campus trying to make its property available for students, staff and visitors. It is not in the business of making a profit at anybody's expense but it is expensive to deal with people who want their cars back at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. after they were illegally parked. I strongly support amendments Nos. 2 and 4.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe In regard to Senator Pat O'Neill's question on whether different areas will be retained, the answer is "Yes". That is most clearly outlined in respect of section 9, which retains the reference to areas, circumstances and, now, hours of the day. In regard to his point on a charter of rights for people who are clamped, this is an issue that the NTA could consider based on the delegated powers this Bill will accord to it.

  In regard to the points made by Senator Sean D. Barrett, the amendment as currently drafted retains the word "circumstances" because it is something the NTA would need to be aware of when it prescribes its charges. By inserting a reference to different hours of the day, the amendment seeks to introduce another factor which will be considered when the costs to which the Senator referred are being developed. As I have noted, it is a worthy addition to the Bill based on the input offered by the Senator and I am pleased to incorporate it.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 3:

In page 14, to delete line 23 and substitute the following:
“(b) in respect of a relocation charge, is €50,

or such other amounts as stand, for the time being, prescribed by the Minister in lieu of the charge, after consultation with the NTA.”

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe This amendment pertains to section 14 of the Bill and deals with the issue of maximum clamp release and relocation charges in non-statutory areas. It provides that the default charges of €100 and €50 for clamp release and vehicle relocation, respectively, can be varied by the Minister by order, following consultation with the NTA. This amendment is related to the amendment tabled by Senator Sean D. Barrett on Committee Stage. This part of the Bill creates a default power for the Minister if the NTA does not make use of prescribing relevant charges. If it does not prescribe charges, section 14 permits a default charge to apply. This amendment gives the Minister greater power to determine the level of charge, as opposed to the original Bill which specified the level of charge and gave no power to the Minister to vary it. The default charges are a backup mechanism because it is my expectation that the NTA will make use of its new powers. This section seeks to create a power that would only be exercised if the NTA does not make use of the powers that are being granted to it and the amendment gives powers to the Minister of the day to vary the charges.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I am happy to support the Minister in this regard and wish the NTA well in its efforts. In regard to the relocation charge of €50, I understand Dublin City Council charges €160. It might actually displace illegal parking into the premises with which we are dealing. During the debate on the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Simon Harris, pointed out that parking spaces will continue to be taken into account in the valuation of shops for rateable purposes. The idea that this is free space is not accurate because costs arise for the businesses concerned and we do not want to create incentives for people to use their spaces for unlawful or wrongful parking simply because the local authority's relocation charge is higher. The Minister captured what we were trying to achieve in our earlier debate and I support the amendment.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe It is a fair point that a displacement effect could unintentionally have been created by the earlier draft of the Bill. My expectation is that the new powers granted to the NTA will be used, although that will be its choice. Section 14 seeks to create a default power that would be available to the Minister of the day to vary the charge if the NTA does not use its powers.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 4:

In page 14, line 28, after “circumstances” to insert “and different hours of the day”.

  Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Marie Moloney): Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney Amendments Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, and 12 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Government amendment No. 5:

In page 15, lines 24 and 25, to delete “or, where no such period has been specified, as soon as is reasonably practicable”.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe These amendments focus on section 16, subsections (5) to (8), inclusive, and section 31. These sections refer to the removal of clamps or the release of vehicles and amend section 101B of the Road Traffic Act 1961 in respect of the immobilisation of unlawfully parked vehicles.  This group of amendments seeks to deliver the objective that was outlined by Senator Sean D. Barrett on Committee Stage, namely, that the Bill ought to specify a default period of two hours within which a clamp must be removed or a vehicle released once the relevant charge has been paid. If we go back to one of the last amendments that we discussed, that created a default power for the Minister on the issue of charging. This is seeking to be consistent with the last amendment in creating a default power for the Minister in relation to the period within which a clamp must be removed or vehicle released once a relevant charge has been paid.

In section 16, which deals with the removal of a clamp or release of a vehicle, I have provided the default period in a newly inserted subsection, subsection (3). This insertion gives rise to a number of consequential amendments to subsections (1), (2) and (4), the most important of which are to delete from subsections (1) and (2) the references to "as soon as is reasonably practicable".

Amendment No. 12 carries this two-hour default provision into the newly substituted section 101(b) of the Road Traffic Act 1961. This is inserted by section 31 of the Bill, which provides for clamping activities on the public road. In subsection (8)(c)(ii) I have replaced the words "as soon as is reasonably practicable" with "not later than two hours".

Out of the different amendments that have been made, the key one is to replace the phrase "as soon as is reasonably practicable" with the wording "not later than two hours"

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I welcome the Minister. People are cross, annoyed and furious when this happens, but we cannot really expect the clamping or declamping vehicle to be nearby. I have seen in some of the places around town where clamping is liable to happen, the two-hour figure mentioned. I suppose the message is, "We know it is annoying; please calm down and come back in two hours and collect the car." There is no point in fuming around getting increasingly cross because it is unreasonable to expect to be released quickly, particularly at night, when it may take some time to mount the whole operation. It also creates a legitimate and rational expectation in the mind of the customer, who may think that a vehicle is immediately going to whistle up and release the clamp once the charge has been paid. These are complex operations covering large areas of the city and I think that the Minister has chosen an interesting and worthwhile solution. People will know what they can expect, namely, the declampers will be back within two hours but we cannot guarantee anything less and the best thing is not to get too irate. They are probably irate enough already having been clamped. That captures what we were trying to accomplish on Committee Stage. I am delighted to support the Minister on this provision.

Senator Pat O'Neill: Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill I welcome this provision also. It is what I was getting at in relation to a charter of rights. It is important that we have a time period in the Bill in order that if somebody's vehicle is clamped, he or she knows that the vehicle has to be released within two hours. If not, the charter of rights will have to come into effect in relation to what rights customers have. It is welcome that there is a timescale in the Bill and I thank Senator Sean D. Barrett for tabling that amendment.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 6:

In page 15, lines 29 and 30, to delete “or, where no such period has been specified, as soon as is reasonably practicable”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 7:

In page 15, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:
“(3) Where no period stands specified, for the time being, in clamping regulations in which a clamp fixed to a vehicle in a clamping place shall be removed or a vehicle shall be released in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2), the clamp shall be removed or the vehicle released, not later than 2 hours, after payment of the relevant charge.”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 8:

In page 15, line 34, after “concerned” to insert “or subsection (3)”.



  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 9:

In page 17, line 23, to delete “under this section”.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe This is a technical amendment. Section 20 refers to the role of the clamping appeals officer. The reason we are proposing to remove this phrase is that the independence of the clamping appeals officer extends to all sections of the Bill under which they have duties and functions. On reflection, the words "under this section" are not appropriate because they infer that the independence of the role is limited to a particular part of the Bill. An appreciation of and respect for their independent duties is a theme for the entire piece of legislation.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 10:

In page 18, to delete lines 10 to 15 and substitute the following:
“(5) Where a determination of a clamping appeals officer is to revoke a decision of a parking controller under section 19, the parking controller concerned shall refund to the appellant any fees or charges that were paid by or on behalf of the appellant in respect of the clamping activity concerned.

(6) When making a determination under this section, a clamping appeals officer may make such order as to costs as he or she considers in the circumstances appropriate.”.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe This refers to section 21 of the Bill and the role of the clamping appeals officer in relation to hearing appeals. It deletes lines 10 to 15, inclusive, in page 18 and substitutes two new subsections (5) and (6). The first of these concerns the parking controller. Subsection (6) is a key subsection. It refers back to the concept of symmetry that was introduced by Senator Barrett on Committee Stage. He made the point that if somebody who is being clamped should have the ability to allow unreasonable or undue costs to be considered in relation to the charge that is levied upon him or her, then surely the clamping operator should also have the ability to guard against frivolous or vexatious appeals. This is particularly relevant in the context wherein an appellant wins an appeal, in which case the Bill provides that the appellant's costs in bringing the appeal must be refunded by the parking controller to the extent determined by the appeals officer. However, as Senator Sean D. Barrett pointed out, there is no corresponding provision to allow the parking controller to recover some of his or her costs if it turns out the appeal was vexatious in nature. These amendments seek to create a more level playing field in this area. I believe that the impartiality and judgment of the independent clamping appeals officer will be brought to bear on the issue of costs. This Bill does not bias the officer one way or the other, but it does seek to deal with the issue of vexatious costs being generated by somebody who has been clamped. This amendment creates the ability for that to be recognised.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I welcome this amendment. There can be fault on both sides and they are now provided for. That is to be commended.

   Amendment agreed to.

   Government amendment No. 11:

In page 20, line 37, to delete “Act” and substitute “Part”.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe This is a technical amendment. The Bill should now state that "a direction or notification under this Part shall be addressed to the person concerned."

  Amendment agreed to.

   Government amendment No. 12:

In page 25, to delete lines 21 and 22 and substitute the following:
 "(ii) where no such period is prescribed, not later than 2 hours after payment of the prescribed charge or its waiver.".

  Amendment agreed to.

  Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

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

Senator Pat O'Neill: Information on Pat O'Neill Zoom on Pat O'Neill On behalf of the Government group, I thank the Minister for bringing this important Bill before the House. People might not think clamping is a particularly pressing matter but, as everyone has said, it is an emotive issue. The Bill has strengthened citizens' rights and the rights of businesses and non-statutory premises in relation to the enforcement of clamping. The Bill progresses things. I hope it will not have to come back to the House for tweaks. The Minister has done a great job bringing it here.

Senator Sean D. Barrett: Information on Sean D. Barrett Zoom on Sean D. Barrett I second every word Senator Pat O'Neill has just said. I thank the Minister. This has been a very proud and happy day for the Seanad. We have always wanted to play that role and the Minister has been very receptive to what we have been saying. The Bill goes to the Dáil incorporating many interesting new elements, which is one of the roles of the Seanad in assisting the total Oireachtas in the preparation of legislation. I have served in my previous career on many advisory bodies and State boards, but nothing beats Seanad Éireann when it comes to making public policy, as we have in the last few days. It has been very rewarding and shows that when the House performs and has a listening Minister, it can assist the Oireachtas. It is very important. As the holder of a university seat, I try to bring the wisdom of 64 academic departments to bear. We all want Ireland to make progress under so many headings and are impatient to do work like this every day. I thank the Minister for the role he has played.

  The co-operation of the Minister and his officials with the Seanad is a model we hope to follow again many times. Over a year ago, the public decided they wanted the Seanad. Doing the work we have done with the Minister to discuss the various aspects of clamping was most important. We are really only warming up to repeat the exercise and assist on many further occasions Ministers and the Oireachtas as a whole in making Ireland a better place. The founders of Seanad Éireann and the original Senate in the Free State could be proud and happy about what has gone on here today. It would have been impossible without the Minister's approach to us. I thank him very deeply and personally for his participation.

Senator Marie Moloney: Information on Marie Moloney Zoom on Marie Moloney I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill to the House. I reserved my thanks on Committee Stage until today when I knew the Bill was going through. I concur with Senator Sean D. Barrett on bringing Bills through the House and I thank the Minister in particular for taking on board suggestions and proposals from the Opposition and incorporating them in the legislation. It is great to see the Bill go through. I hope its passage in the Dáil is as painless. While the legislation and the amendments have been discussed in detail, it was great to see the Bill pass so easily. I wish the Minister the best of luck with it in the Dáil.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan I commend the Minister and his officials for getting the Bill through the House. In particular, I thank the Minister for being in listening mode throughout and for picking up on valid points raised by various Members. I compliment him on his total command of his brief and the lucid, clear manner in which he has addressed each of the issues. I am quite impressed by his performance.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe I thank all Senators for their contributions to the Bill as it has moved through each Stage. I thank my officials for the huge work they have put into the Bill and all the support they have afforded me during this process. The Bill has already borne the impact of the committee system within the Oireachtas. As I said on Second Stage, the Bill went through a consultation process at the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, which produced a report. That report included the input of all the people who will be affected by the implementation of such a Bill. From that input, my Department asked what was the best way to move forward on issues which are commonly acknowledged to be of concern.

  I want to pick up on a point made by Senator Pat O'Neill on clamping. While it is a matter which should affect a minority and then only rarely, like any activity, whether it happens frequently or infrequently, that is discharged in a public place and affects citizens, it must be done within a framework of good regulation and good law-making. That is what this Bill has sought to do.

  I acknowledge in particular all Senators who have contributed. Concepts have been introduced including a charter of rights for those who have been clamped, a point on which Senator Pat O'Neill has touched. All other Senators dealt with areas of concern regarding issues such as signage, the times at which clamping takes place and the role of the clamping company. They are all issues I have sought to take on board at each Stage of the Bill.

  I acknowledge, in particular, what Senator Sean D. Barrett did in terms of the number of amendments he proposed and the strength of many of them. I was very pleased to see that many of them really improved the legislation and will ensure that when I bring it to the Dáil it is a better Bill due to that input. I thank him for that and acknowledge all the other Senators who have spoken, deepened my own understanding of the issues and given me ideas for how to continue to strengthen the regulation of the sector.

  I will bring other Bills to the Seanad on issues such as the influence of drugs on drivers and matters concerning the marine sector, and I look forward to hearing the views of Senators on those. I am sure I will hear further ideas then that merit work and changes to those Bills also. I thank my officials and all Senators for their work. The Bill leaves the House as a stronger piece of legislation.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 3.10 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.

Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014: Second Stage

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The great Middle English poem, "The Owl and the Nightingale", contains a section in which the owl is impugned for her untidy nest, bad behaviour and disgusting manners. The owl replies majestically by saying that whatever about this, it is nailed to the barn door of the crucifixion to warn off the other birds. That is, and has traditionally been, the attitude of the Government - to nail the asylum seekers to the door of the barn to frighten off any presumed inflow of asylum seekers.

  I thank David McCarthy and Dr. Liam Thornton of University College Dublin and NASC, National Immigrant Support Centre, which is issuing a statement in support of this Bill.

  The Bill seeks to draw a line under applications for refugee status, subsidiary protection and-or leave to remain where there has been no ultimate determination of these claims within four years. Systems and processes in place for determining what status an individual should be entitled to, if any, have not been fit for purpose. I can offer an example, a court case in January 2014 dealt with by the distinguished former High Court judge, Ms Justice Maureen Harding Clark. This decision from the High Court in A.A.M.O (Sudan) v. Refugee Appeals Tribunal involved a Sudanese national, Mr. A. A., who had applied for asylum in Ireland in 2009. This was refused by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner. Mr. A. A. appealed the decision to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, RAT, but the Refugee Appeals Tribunal refused to recognise Mr. A. A. as a refugee. He then had to go to the High Court.

  In opening her decision, Ms Justice Harding Clark stated: "Sometimes the court is called upon to review a decision which is so unfair and irrational and contains so many errors that judicial review seems an inadequate remedy to redress the wrong perpetrated on an applicant. This is such a case." She noted, in significant detail, the poor decision of the RAT member. At paragraph 22, Ms Justice Harding Clark stated the nature of the errors with the RAT's decision infected the legality, fairness and constitutionality of the decision. Her astonishing assessment of the behaviour of the RAT member occurs in paragraph 23 where she stated that the sole reason for the RAT rejecting the asylum claim is that the tribunal member simply did not like the applicant. The decision was sent back to the RAT, which again refused Mr. A. A. refugee status in the face of clear evidence that Mr. A. A. fell squarely into the limited definition of what is a refugee. Only on a third hearing of the RAT did Mr. A. A. gain refugee status in this country.

  The Bill also seeks to deal with people who have had a deportation order issued against them but it has not been effected, leaving them in a type of limbo. The Government's stated position is quite reasonable, but action is non-existent. The statement of Government's priorities for 2014 to 2016 states: "While ensuring continued rigorous control of our borders and immigration procedures, we will treat asylum seekers with the humanity and respect they deserve. We are committed to addressing the current system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers to make it more respectful to the applicant and less costly to the taxpayer." Let us see the colour of the Government's money. Nothing has happened.

  In late July, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, stated the direct provision system required radical reform. He said as much a couple of weeks ago in this House when my colleague, Senator Rónán Mullen, raised this issue. The Roman Catholic Church, in the person of the Bishop of Elphin, Dr. Kevin Doran, speaking at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Sligo, said that when people applied for asylum it is reasonable for the State to make a fair judgment as to whether they should be given refugee status, but it is not reasonable that the process should go on for years, nor is it fair that men, women and children should be required to live in conditions which prevent them from living a normal family life, developing their skills or earning their own bread. The bishop went on to say: "Living such a half-life would suck the music out of the soul of any human being." What a wonderful phrase from a Roman Catholic bishop speaking in Sligo.

  How can we stand over it? Consider the time line. In 1999, on International Human Rights Day, the then Government proposed the system of direct provision. In 2001, the Reception and Integration Agency was established, taking over from the director of asylum seeker support. In 2002, to show how Irish public attitudes are formed, the Irish Mirror carried a headline stating, "Free Cars for Refugees" and "Cash grants to buy BMWs". One hears everywhere that they are given free cigarette money, free cars and so forth. In 2003, community welfare officers were legislatively prohibited from providing rent supplement to asylum seekers and, in 2004, the habitual residence condition was introduced and asylum seekers were further prohibited from this system. In 2007, there was an attempt by the Department of Social Protection to place the direct provision payment on a legislative footing, but this was scuppered by the Department of Justice and Equality. One Government Department was fighting against another.

  In 2008, there was the first attempted legal challenge. A gentleman who was sleeping in a factory took a case to the High Court and won it, but s it did not go to a conclusion, it had no general application. His case was sorted out.  In 2009, FLAC successfully challenged the blanket exclusion that appeared to operate denying asylum seekers any social system payments. That was a legally binding decision but it was overturned by the Government introducing legislation, not to address the wrong but to the copperfasten the wrong that was being done.

There were 4,360 asylum seekers at the end of 2013: 86% of all asylum seekers have been in direct provision accommodation for 12 months or longer; over 15% of all individuals in direct provision have been there for over seven years; 43% of individuals in direct provision accommodation have been condemned to such accommodation for five years; 1,666 people, or 38% of all those in direct provision, are children; there are more people in direct provision now than people detained in prison; and €850 million of taxpayers' money has been paid out to the people who administer this scheme for profit.

Despite recommendations by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the Free Legal Advice Centres, the Irish Refugee Council, NASC and the Irish Immigrant Support Centre that is based in Cork, that HIQA be responsible for independent inspections and complaints mechanisms, the Government has completely ignored their call. We had the recent case where the commercial manager of one of these places excluded members of NGOs who were going to visit. The payment of €19.20 - how niggardly - per adult per week and €9.60 per child per week has been the same for the past 13 or 14 years ever since the system was introduced.

Ireland does not participate in either Council Directive 2003/9/EC laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers or Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection. There is no legislative basis for the system of direct provision in Ireland. Ireland does not currently operate a single procedure for the processing of applications for international protection.

I would like to refer to another court case in the North of Ireland where Mr. Justice Stevens quashed an order to return a Sudanese family because he noted:

....the significant hardship asylum seekers in Ireland face, including their inability to work on pain of criminal sanction, the low rate of subsistence allowance, communal accommodation, meals, a hostile environment towards family life, isolation and health problems.

He continued by saying:

The well-being both emotionally and financially of the primary carer and the importance of that to the well-being of the children in her care would point significantly to the best interests of the children being to remain in Northern Ireland.

I mentioned "The Owl and the Nightingale" and the idea that good conditions for asylum seekers would effectively act as a draw. This is scuppered by a report carried out in 2002 for Oxfam and the Refugee Council in the United Kingdom entitled Poverty and Asylum in the United Kingdom. The definitive conclusion reached was that the prospect of receiving benefits was not a significant factor influencing their decision to come to Britain and most wanted to work and support themselves rather than be dependent on the state.

Let me come to the issue of food - a very basic thing. People coming from different traditions, different religions and different family traditions want-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Terry Brennan): Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan Tá nóiméad amháin agat.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I should be shown some latitude as there was a long delay before the Chair was occupied.

  People attach values to food that are often determined by attitudes, belief and environmental and religious practices. People in the centres live in a situation of disempowerment. The majority of people recently surveyed who live in these circumstances complained that the food provided did not cater for the diverse cultural needs of asylum seekers. In addition, the food system does not allow religious asylum seekers to freely practice their various religious practices. It was unsuitable for babies, toddlers and children, was high in salt, sugar and fat content and they spoke about their own disempowerment. We should at least provide cooking facilities in all direct provision centres, consult the residents about their food needs, ensure staff employed by direct provision are attuned to the needs of these people, and allow kitchens to be used at night during the month of Ramadan by Muslim asylum seekers.

  Before I finish I would like, with the Cathaoirleach's indulgence, to put the voices of a couple of people on the record. These are voices of people talking about their food. Yesterday, for instance, my friend went to a friend's house, cooked a chicken with sauce there and brought the leftovers home. I said to him "Put it in the fridge as you will get sick keeping it in your room as it is too hot." He said he would not put the leftover chicken in the fridge because if he did someone else would take it.

  Let me give another instance. A person stated:

For myself, I could do with one extra piece of fruit a day. They say it comes from higher, they cannot give it to you and there is nothing they can do. I don't want to argue. You know you have to say thank you. They say if you go back home to Africa people there are starving. If you don't want food, go back. We have no choice. You have to follow. I heard the chef say this and I strongly rejected it and asked him to clarify. He said this is our European dish and if you do not want it in Europe, go back home.

Another person said, "Frankly, I feel I am eating in Guantanamo as security people are standing there with walkie-talkie radios, talking to each other and it is not a place you would wish to eat."

  The issue of food is a very bad one. I would like to indicate now what I will take up when I conclude the debate. There are other issues such as overcrowding, the financial allowance and comparison with good practice, even patchy practice in the rest of Europe. Ireland stands ashamed and condemned by this and by the inaction of Government on this important matter of human rights. I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout I second the Bill. I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome Dr. Liam Thornton and David McCarthy to the Visitors Gallery.

  I welcome the support we have received from NASC for this Bill. I believe this is reflective of a growing momentum, both politically and in the public domain, to address the unacceptable conditions referred to by some as warehousing and even as open prisons imposed on individuals and families residing in direct provision accommodation.

  I would like to mention again the work of the former Seanad cross-party group on direct provision that is now open to all Members of the Oireachtas. Yesterday evening, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh held a briefing with Ms Sue Conlan from the Irish Refugee Council and Mr. Reuben Hambakachere from the IRC's core group of asylum seekers and refugees. Both Ms Conlan and Mr. Hambakachere are members of the recently established working group formed to examine the improvements to the protection process and the direct provision system, the establishment of which I have warmly welcomed on the floor of the House.

  In the group's composition I am delighted to see personal experience, academia, civil society and departmental views represented. I wonder if additional space might be available to incorporate more members currently or recently residing in direct provision accommodation. I ask the Minister of State to confirm when the working group will meet for the first time. I understand the first report of the working group's proposal is anticipated before Christmas and wonder if its schedule of meetings and detailed terms of reference have been formalised.

  Let me return to the Bill before us. I welcome and thank Senator David Norris for the opportunity to second the Bill. I believe it is a fair, workable and appropriate solution to the State's current inability to deliver a speedy and robust yet fair and transparent status determination system. I welcome the Government's commitment to the introduction of a single protection procedure.

  My many and specific concerns about direct provision have been put on the record of this House on many occasions. In summary, I approach it from a children's rights perspective. Mr. Hambakachere put it perfectly yesterday at the briefing when he said, "Children in direct provision are children like any other children and parents in direct provision are parents like any other parents."

  As of June 2014, there are 1,420 children in direct provision which is about one third of all residents. I recognise that those who have spent a significant time in direct provision may be at different stages of the status determination system or have deportation orders outstanding and may be engaged in litigation before the courts. However, of the 4,296 current residents in direct provision accommodation, over 2,093 - nearly half of all residents - have been in the system for four years or more. Startlingly, over 16%, or 698 people, have been in direct provision accommodation centres for a period of seven years or more. Many of the children among this number were born in direct provision and so they are countless. I have met them and there are children aged between five and nine years in this State who know nothing other than direct provision. For me, this is an unacceptable state of affairs and a moral failing on our part. This Bill is an attempt to begin discussions on the difficult and complex issue of regularisation of status for those who have been here for some time.

  It is particularly appropriate that the Minister of State is in the House because I welcome and support the role this Government and others play in campaigning for the 50,000 or so Irish citizens who have irregular migrant status in the United States.  The Bill seeks to focus our minds on similar people from other countries who want the same compassion and rights in Ireland as we are currently seeking for our brothers and sisters in the United States. We cannot contradict ourselves in the Seanad when we are in the United States arguing for regularisation of status. The Bill offers an opportunity to bring some humanity to the determination and deportation process. It will act as a catalyst to ensure we get the single protection procedure right and consider claims fairly and accurately within a limited period. The Bill maintains strong protections to ensure the Minister can, for clear and specified reasons, remove a person from the State even if she would otherwise qualify for a residence permit.

  As Senator David Norris said, we are open to engaging with others in the House and elsewhere to modify and clarify issues with the Bill in its current format, but I urge that the Bill would proceed to the next stage. This would send a clear message indicating that we are serious about regularising the status of these people and that it is not acceptable for the only experience of certain children between five and nine years of age to be in a direct provision centre. We stand over this message. The Minister of State will go to the United States and use the same arguments I am using on the floor of the House today to argue that our brothers and sisters in the United States should be regularised and I agree with him. Let us not contradict ourselves in the House today. Let us show compassion. Let this go to the next stage.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome Senator David Norris's Bill. It is a genuine attempt to put this issue back on the agenda. The House can be proud of the role it plays in terms of highlighting this issue. I commend my two colleagues, Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Jillian van Turnhout. They were involved in what was initially the Seanad all-party group on direct provision, which is now the Oireachtas all-party group on direct provision. Unfortunately, the Government is not in a position to support Senator David Norris's Bill. This is not because it does not agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator David Norris but because of numerous different concerns and issues. I do not intend to go into them because I am sure the Minister of State will do so in his address.

  I believe Senator David Norris is making an honest effort to deal with a situation which is appalling and unacceptable. We have spoken ad nauseam in the House about direct provision and the conditions that people are expected to live in. Some have been living in direct provision accommodation  for up to a decade. Some children in certain families will be born there and will still be in direct provision at nine years of age. There are many examples of that and of families sharing only one room, of parents who cannot watch television because their children are in bed and of children who do not have the freedoms of normal children to play or grow up in a normalised environment. It is an archaic system, brought in to deal with a crisis at short notice and it is clearly not working. It is inhumane, seen as such by international bodies and it is something we need to deal with as a Government. I welcome the clear commitments from the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, in this area as well as his energy. When he came to the House he spoke on this issue with passion, clear commitment and intent. We should facilitate him with the space he needs to bring forward an acceptable resolution to this problem.

  I also welcome the review group and the steering group to which Senator Jilian van Turnhout referred. People such as Sue Conlan on the group will bring empathy, experience, understanding and a deep familiarity with the problems and outrageous challenges with which people within the direct provision community have been living on a daily basis for many years, unfortunately. I understand the Irish Refugee Council has certain concerns about the Bill.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The council was not consulted.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I take these concerns seriously because I have worked with the Irish Refugee Council.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout They can be dealt with on Committee Stage.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I went to Lisbon in Portugal with Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh for a day to look at what they believe to be a more acceptable practice for dealing with people who come requiring asylum.

  Unfortunately, the Government is not in a position to accept the Bill, but I believe the issue is moving on, and far quicker than previously. Considerable credit should go to some of the reputable journalists in the country who have continuously highlighted the issues and concerns associated with direct provision. I have in mind Carl O'Brien of The Irish Times who has been relentless in his coverage highlighting this scourge in our country and our time. It is worth acknowledging Brian O'Connell on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" also. He has visited these centres and has been forthright in his reporting. The producers of "Today with Sean O'Rourke" deserve to be mentioned in this regard also.

  I have said it in this House in the past and I will say it again - it is my contention that in 20 or 30 years time a Taoiseach will be standing up in the Dáil delivering an apology to the young people and those forced to live in direct provision. It will be an apology similar to that offered to the people who lived in institutions and in respect of whom the State turned a complete blind eye. That will happen and it will be a shame on our generation in the same way as it has been a shame on other generations the way certain citizens have been treated. I am flagging this because we can do something about it. We must do something about it.

  Thousands, even millions of Irish people have gone throughout the world and have been badly treated or well treated, depending on the circumstances. Often we refer to the signs in certain countries that stated, "No dogs, No Irish" and so on. We are all appalled at that type of thing, but what we are doing with the people who are coming in to this country seeking asylum in direct provision centres is no better.

  The Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, is competent to deal with this issue, especially given his role with the diaspora and I wish him well in that regard. It is a group of people often forgotten, especially those who fall on hard times. We all hear about the success stories, the people who leave and then become millionaires or get elected to various parliaments throughout the world. However, we do not hear about the people who fall on bad times. The Minister of State has already started a new process and conversation in that regard. Unfortunately, it is with no joy that I say we will not be supporting the Bill. This is not because we do not agree with the principles or what Senator David Norris is trying to achieve. It is simply because there are technical aspects to it that are simply not working.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan. I am somewhat puzzled about why the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, is not present. I mean no disrespect towards the Minister of State, for whom I have considerable regard. I have some idea of why the Minister of State responsible is not here today; it is probably because he would agree with the Bill, if what he has said is correct.

  Since the introduction of the system of direct provision successive Governments have failed individuals. In this regard I include Governments led by my party in the past ten or 12 years. I have had many occasions to meet people involved in direct provision. For this to go on as long as it has is wrong, although I do not lay all the blame at the feet of the Government. We have an opportunity today to make a real start. I spoke to my party leader and other colleagues in my party on the matter. While the Bill may not be perfect - no Bill on Second Stage is perfect - there are certain amendments we are keen to bring forward.  The only way to achieve this is to allow the Bill to complete Second Stage. The House could subsequently discuss how best to refine it in the light of some of the valid comments on its unintended consequences.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout and, most eloquently, Senator David Norris gave the key facts and figures for the numbers of people in direct provision accommodation, many of whom have been in the system for three, five or seven years. None of us would wish to live in this way. I have spent some time in the United States lobbying on behalf of undocumented Irish people, as is my responsibility. On one visit to Washington and New York in 2010, Congressmen and Senators of both parties raised with me directly the issue of direct provision. The Washington Postfeatured a headline on the issue in the week we arrived. The Minister of State will be aware from his role that many of our colleagues and peers in the United States have a clear view on our efforts to achieve fair play for our citizens residing there, most of whom are working and none of whom is locked up in a direct provision centre. I have been asked by colleagues in the Republican and Democratic parties to explain the reason people have spent seven, eight or nine years in Ireland undocumented, without a pathway to citizenship and unable to work.

All Senators have relatives or forebears who worked abroad, in some cases illegally. Cousins of mine had illegal status in the United States until recently. Irish people are afforded the opportunity to work in other countries and many of us have done so. Many made good abroad and even where they did not do so, they were at least given an opportunity to contribute to the countries in which they lived. Successive Governments, including the current one, have precluded people from demonstrating their worth to this country. This creates problems, including racism, because people talk down the good people in question by saying they are not working or contributing to the State. The reason they do not work or contribute is that they are not given an opportunity to do so.

I listened to the previous Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, make noble statements on direct provision in which he described the system as wrong and in need of reform. More recently, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, announced the establishment of a working group to deliberate on the issue. He informed us that addressing it was a priority for him. Today, Senator Martin Conway agreed with most of the points made by Senator David Norris. What is the problem? Senator Martin Conway has indicated that a number of technical issues arise, but how does one address technical issues in legislation? One does so by introducing amendments on Committee Stage.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway The Irish Refugee Council has a problem with the legislation.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I am not aware of many Bills that completed Second Stage and were not subsequently amended on Committee and Report Stages. This Bill makes a start and allowing it to proceed to the next Stage would send a message to more than 4,500 people in direct provision accommodation that the State was doing something and there might be a pathway forward. The Government has not even set a clear timeframe for delivering legislation on this issue. Senator Martin Conway has effectively stated that while he has great sympathy for Senators David Norris and Jillian van Turnhout and the 4,500 people in direct provision centres, he is not prepared to do anything about it. That is also the message the Government is sending by refusing to accept the Bill. The House should pass Second Stage and thereafter examine the imperfections and technical issues to which Senator Martin Conway referred. Perhaps the Minister might indicate what these technical issues are.

  The Irish Refugee Council is not a legislator, whereas the Seanad and Dáil are. Any issue arising could be addressed on Committee Stage.

  The Bill presents Senators with an opportunity. Speaking as the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party in the Seanad, I am aware that my party's track record in the area of direct provision has been shameful in many instances. It was for this reason that I pushed hard to have my party support this Bill. If one is doing something wrong, one has the choice of continuing on the same path or changing tack by acknowledging where one was wrong and setting out to change it. None of us would like to live in a direct provision centre with no light at the end of the tunnel. Why do we expect other human beings to live in conditions in which they have no future?

  As Senator Jillian van Turnhout noted, there are children who have not lived anywhere else than in direct provision accommodation. They were born in this country and they and their parents have not been given an opportunity to contribute to the State. I implore the Minister of State to allow the Bill to pass Second Stage. Let us then, as a group, draw up proposals to address issues or concerns that arise by means of amendment. In the absence of an agreement to do so, I expect the Minister of State to indicate precisely what the Government proposes to do to address this matter and when it will produce and implement legislation.

Senator Mary Moran: Information on Mary Moran Zoom on Mary Moran I welcome the Minister of State. Senator Darragh O'Brien has claimed the Government will not address the issue of direct provision. There is not a Senator who does not want the system to be changed and the terrible wrongs that are taking place put right.

  I commend Senators David Norris and Jillian van Turnhout for proposing the Bill. From my work with Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, I am aware of the excellent work he has done on this issue. He has made Senators much more aware of what is taking place in the direct provision system. Just over one year ago, a replica of a direct provision site was erected close to Leinster House to show people exactly the atrocious and awful conditions in which people had to live. This has been ongoing for much too long. One of my main issues with the direct provision system is that companies are making millions of euro out of the hardship endured by those living in such centres.

  It has been argued that the Government does not care. The establishment of the working group on direct provision is the primary reason the Government will not accept the legislation. Let us wait on the working group's recommendations and work together from there.

  At the end of 2013 the Reception and Integration Agency was accommodating 4,360 individuals, of whom 1,666 were under the age of 18 years and 451 were between the ages of 18 and 25. I share Senator Martin Conway's view that a future Taoiseach will apologise for the direct provision system. It is not acceptable that children have spent their childhood in direct provision accommodation. We all recognise the fractured and complicated nature of the asylum system. This is a time for listening to the views of the working group before deciding what should be done.

  Since the Minister of State, Deputy Áodhán Ó Ríordáin, was appointed, he has vocalised what many of us have been working on-----

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Where is he?

Senator Mary Moran: Information on Mary Moran Zoom on Mary Moran I cannot answer that question. I ask for Senator Darragh O'Brien's co-operation in this matter. We should consider the recommendations made by the working group when it reports back to the Government.

  Senator David Norris referred to the payments of €19 and €6 per week made to adults and children, respectively. No one could live on these amounts. I read recently that toilet paper had been limited, with people being allocated a certain amount. This is an inhumane practice. Progress must be made on the issue.

  I thank Senator David Norris for tabling the legislation and allowing Senators to have a conversation about the issue. Unfortunately, the technical issues with the Bill mean that it will be necessary to await the report of the working group before progressing.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an díospóireacht seo.

  The irony of this debate is that it is happening at the same time as the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions is having hearings on direct provision. I apologise because I will have to leave after delivering my speech, and that is no disrespect to anybody in the House, but we have been calling for those hearings for the past year.

  I do not disagree with any of the sentiments that have been raised about direct provision and, in fact, I agree with them wholeheartedly. However, I do not believe the Bill before us is about direct provision but rather about the legal status of people seeking asylum. Sinn Féin welcomes any efforts that aim to remedy the issues around direct provision and we have worked tirelessly on this issue in the all-party group on direct provision. We have repeatedly raised the issue with various Ministers, both in this and the other House, and with the Ombudsman, and we have worked closely with NGOs and asylum seekers themselves. Even as we speak, as I said, this issue is being debated in the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on foot of our call to extend the powers of the Ombudsman on oversight of direct provision, which is very badly needed.

  Nonetheless, we have very serious concerns about this Bill. Simply put, we do not feel this is good legislation and it could possibly be a retrograde step. For example, I have heard the comparison made between Irish immigrants in the United States and direct provision. The opening sentence of the explanatory memorandum of this Bill states: “with an estimated 50,000 Irish immigrants in the United States with an irregular migration status, it is important that Irish law deals compassionately with issues relating to migration status”. I agree that Ireland should deal compassionately with issues relating to migration. However, it is inaccurate to conflate or compare undocumented Irish people in the United States with people in direct provision accommodation in Ireland. Direct provision is a fully-fledged State-run system where, even down to the minutiae of food, people lack autonomy, individual choice and the most basic human rights.

  The Bill aims to deal specifically with applications for refugee status, subsidiary protection or leave to remain that are outstanding for a period of four years, its intention being to clear some of the backlog of applications before a proposed new single protection procedure comes into force. The Bill also seeks to regularise the status of people who have been issued with deportation orders but are still resident in the State after a period of 12 months. However, for regularisation to take place, there needs to be irregularity. People who have outstanding applications for either refugee status or subsidiary protection cannot be said to have an irregular status. Instead, they are awaiting a decision on applications made under Irish law, which is itself in compliance with either international or EU obligations.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris No, it is not.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh In addition, notwithstanding that applications for leave to remain follow a notice from the Minister of Justice and Equality that he or she is considering deportation, until that application has been determined, refused and followed by a deportation order, it cannot be said that a person is in the country irregularly. The use of the term “regularisation”, therefore, erroneously implies that those with outstanding applications in the three categories specified in the Bill have acted in a way that requires sanction by the State.

  People with outstanding applications for a form of international protection are entitled to a decision on that application. There are defined entitlements that flow from either refugee status or subsidiary protection being granted. These include family reunification and the right to a travel document, neither of which is included in the rights which it is proposed will attach to residency in the Bill. The priority should, therefore, be to ensure final determination on those applications within a specified period, for example, six months, rather than the State being able to circumvent the obligation to provide international protection by granting ex gratia leave to remain. This may include active consideration of outstanding applications for judicial review against the Refugee Appeals Tribunal to ascertain if they can be returned to the tribunal rather than remaining in a High Court list of undetermined duration. Notwithstanding that a person will not be required to secure residency under the Bill if enacted, there is evidence that people who have opted for leave to remain when offered this under an ad hoc scheme operated by the Department of Justice and Equality, the most recent of which is for those resident for five years prior to April 2014, have not fully understood the implications of doing so and have been left, for example, unable to pursue family reunification applications.

  The Bill automatically excludes people who should have an opportunity to be considered under a regularisation scheme. These include an immediate family member of the applicant who has been the subject of a deportation order and people with subsisting deportation orders which have not been in force for 12 months, regardless of the country to which the Minister proposes to return them. In addition, the Bill gives power to the Minister to revoke a residence permit issued in accordance with the Bill, if enacted, and to make a deportation order. The circumstances in which the permit can be revoked and a deportation order issued are too wide and there is no right of appeal against revocation and the issue of a deportation order. For example, revocation can take place after a term of imprisonment of one year has been ordered by the court, deportation can be ordered if the Minister deems the person’s removal “conducive to the public good”, for which there is no definition in the Bill, and revocation followed by a deportation order can occur when there has been “falsified or concealed information” in an application.

  I hear the calls of my Opposition colleagues that we should allow the Bill to go forward to Committee Stage, when we could put forward amendments. However, I am afraid I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of amendments the Government has accepted from us on any Bill we have put before these Houses. I would have no faith that if the Bill went-----

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien How would the Senator get a Bill through?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris We have the numbers to vote it through.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout There would be the perfect opportunity to amend the Bill.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I would have no confidence-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That is the argument for it.

Acting Chairman (Senator Ned O'Sullivan): Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh to continue, without interruption.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I would have no confidence in this Government accepting amendments on this issue. Although certain Ministers such as the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, are saying the right things, there is not full Government backing for change in the system. I say to Senator David Norris that I am not in a position to support the Bill, although I believe there are fundamental issues. I certainly support and applaud any efforts that are being made to change the system and I have serious issues with the direct provision system, as the House knows.

  I ask the Minister to clarify once and for all the Government’s position on direct provision. We hear one thing from the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and very different statements from the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. When I asked her to clarify the position last week, she would not do that. I also want to ask the Minister when the first meeting of the newly-established working group on direct provision will take place. Although people have been informed they are on the group and that it is to report before Christmas, they have not even been told when the first meeting will be.

  While I will work tirelessly with everybody here to have direct provision abolished and a proper system put in place, I am afraid I am not in a position to support the Bill today. I apologise but I have to leave to attend the committee.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris On a point of order, I want to inform the House that Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh is incorrect when he says there is no provision for travel in the Bill. Section 7(2)(b) expressly provides that people in this situation shall enjoy the same rights of travel within, to or from the State as those which apply to Irish citizens. The Senator is incorrect.

Acting Chairman (Senator Ned O'Sullivan): Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan That is not a point of order.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I welcome the Minister. I thank the proposers and seconders of this Bill for bringing it forward. I know there is a lot of work involved in preparing any Bill and explanatory memorandum, and I want to pay tribute to them for doing this. I know both the proposer and seconder are very passionate about this matter and they are using this forum to raise it and to bring forward a debate, which I welcome. However, the Government position has been set out quite clearly.

  It is important in dealing with this issue that we look at the changes that have occurred since we came into government. I pay tribute to the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, who brought in a number of important changes. These include the introduction of new statutory arrangements governing the processing of subsidiary protection applications in the State, the decision to publish the protection Bill in January 2015, which will be published in January 2015, and the commitment which was given in the Government priorities 2014-16 to establish an independent working group, which has now been established. It is important also to see the seriousness of the Government in regard to the composition of the working group, which includes the following members: Judge Bryan McMahon, who has been appointed chairperson; Sue Conlan from the Irish Refugee Council; Eugene Quinn from the Jesuit Refugee Service; Fiona Finn, the chief executive officer of NASC; Greg Straton of SPIRASI; and Tanya Ward, the chief executive officer of the Children's Rights Alliance. These are just some of the people on this very experienced working group, all of whom have a huge contribution to make to ensure we get the changes that are required. I thank the Minister for bringing forward the changes and for establishing the working group.

  The changes made in November 2013 in regard to dealing with applications for subsidiary protection are also important.  Therefore, it is not a case of the Government standing idly by and doing nothing to bring about change. Changes have been made, but it is important that we continue to make changes where necessary. For that reason, it is a little early to bring forward a Bill on this issue. We should consider waiting for the group-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris After 13 years.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke In fairness, we have made a number of changes and have committed to making further changes and ensuring they are properly implemented. Since November 2013, we have transferred responsibility for processing applications to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, ORAC. New arrangements have been made, including interviewing of applicants, an appeal mechanism has been introduced, internal resources have been redeployed to deal with the caseload, a legally qualified panel has been set up to assist the ORAC with processing applications, and the UNHCR is to assist with training and implementation of the new processing regime. These are some of the changes that have been brought about in the past 12 months.

  The Minister committed to publishing the Bill regarding protection in January and the working group is due to report by Easter 2015.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout The timeframe has moved. We were originally told it would report by Christmas.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke The commitment is to report by Easter 2015.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout: Information on Jillian van Turnhout Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout That is the first I have heard of that.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke Let us look at the issues carefully and ensure the Bill is carefully planned in a constructive manner so that we have a comprehensive scheme in place in the future to deal with this issue. Members who have been involved in debate on direct provision accommodation  and in highlighting the deficiencies in the system have brought this issue forward, and I welcome that. However, it is also important that we approach the issue carefully and ensure we get long-term rather than short-term solutions. That is what we are asking on this matter and it is the reason we support the Minister in her approach to this debate.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, as I know him as somebody who listens and pays attention. The arguments being made are valid and Senator David Norris has put significant work into this Bill. The argument has been made and I suggest that we accept the Bill on Second Stage. We can then correct any anomalies in it on a later Stage.

  Some Members have argued that the Government never accepts amendments, but it does. The Protection of Children's Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically Propelled Vehicles) Bill, which was sponsored by Senators John Crown, Jillian van Turnhout and Mark Daly, was amended almost entirely on Committee Stage. We could do the same in the case of this Bill. This afternoon, three amendments put forward by Senator Sean D. Barrett were accepted on the Vehicle Clamping Bill. There are plenty of examples of the Government accepting a Bill and then changing, adjusting and improving it on Committee Stage. That is what should happen in regard to this Bill today.

  The argument we are making concerns direct provision for a number of people who come into this country seeking asylum and hoping to be able to work, but who are not allowed to work. I believe people should be allowed the basic right to live a normal life if they are still waiting after four years for their situation to be resolved. That is a reasonable case to make.

  On the right to work, Ireland has been widely criticised internationally for not allowing asylum seekers to work. In the United Kingdom, Malta and Bulgaria, asylum seekers may work a year after their application has been lodged. In Poland, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium, the wait is six months. In Austria, asylum seekers only have to wait three months, and in Sweden people can work the day after their application is lodged. This Bill's proposal that people must wait four years until they have the right to work if their case has not been resolved is, therefore, quite modest. We must reach a happy medium on this. If a person is willing to work, he or she should be given that chance. This Bill recognises that. If adjustments are required, let us ensure those adjustments are made.

  As somebody who was in business for many years, I know the trauma people have faced. I remember a particular man who worked for me and was a very good worker. He told me he came from Portugal, so when I visited Portugal I sent him a card, but later I learned that he was not from Portugal but from Russia or somewhere else. He had a family with him, but was not able to work without telling lies or breaking the law. I believe there is no use in allowing talented and experienced people be effectively locked up and not allowed to contribute to society.

  The business world can make a lot more of a contribution in this area. The input of organizations such as IBEC and ISME could be very beneficial when considering the future of the asylum system here. Consider the fact that many asylum seekers have language skills - I assume practically all of them have - and the fact that we have a massive shortage of language skills in this country. Consider the opportunity to deal with this shortage by allowing asylum seekers, after four years, to get into the workforce and use their language skills in a business, perhaps in helping a business expand into a foreign country. We need to open up a dialogue with business organisations in this regard.

  Can the Minister of State confirm that the Government will not in fact be considering the right to work in the upcoming review of the direct provision system? If that is the case, as someone with a business background I find it extremely regrettable. Last year I visited the Google headquarters here and found it interesting to see the number of people walking around with microphones and earphones. I asked the Google boss what they were doing and he told me they were selling to different parts of the world. He explained that Google ensures that if it has a customer in eastern Stuttgart, somebody with an eastern Stuttgart accent will ring them. I understand that because, without bias, I know that if somebody from Donegal rings somebody in Cork, they may experience difficulty. The same might be true for Kerry also.

Acting Chairman (Senator Ned O'Sullivan): Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan It happens with Cork fellas in particular.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn I know that there is such a communication difficulty. Many of us get phone calls from people in India or some other place trying to sell us computer parts.

  In this Bill Senator David Norris is making the point that people waiting over four years should be allowed to engage in a normal life while waiting for their situation to be resolved. We need to look at this from a business perspective. Those people who have been here for over four years waiting in direct provision for a decision should get priority in order that the backlog is cleared and those who have probably endured the most pain are cared for. Will the Minister of State inform us whether there are plans for future policy to give priority to those who have been waiting in direct provision for long periods? Could we even include something in this Bill to ensure some priority is given to people who have waited over four years? This would ensure that people who may be suffering as a result of waiting so long are given priority and that their cases might be resolved more quickly.

  I would like to touch on one other issue, that of mental health. We are aware that those who have had to wait for long periods suffer significant stress and sometimes mental health problems. The onus of responsibility is on the Government and the people to ensure we have a way of providing for people who come here seeking asylum.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The importance of the Bill before us is that it focuses our minds in an urgent way on a humanitarian situation in our jurisdiction. There is no greater measure of a nation's worth or compassion than the manner in which it deals with immigrants. No country has more experience of that than Ireland, because our people have travelled throughout the world. We have varying stories of how they were received in the countries they adopted. Currently, there are 50,000 people from Ireland in America who find themselves in an irregular situation. I am sure that if we were debating that issue, we would pull out all the stops to ensure the people concerned were treated with the dignity to which they were entitled.  The same applies to those who come to our shores because of extreme deprivation. It is the Irish story all over again.

  I am pleased that Judge Bryan McMahon will chair the working group. I cannot think of anyone more suitable, an eminent and compassionate gentleman in every sense of the word. This Bill could help him and his group in the work they have to do.

  I do not say this in a derogatory or insulting way, but we are actually condemning people to non-person status, in some cases for seven years. I genuinely do not believe we want to have this on our national CV. It could be grossly misrepresented abroad whenever we were making a case about human rights in other jurisdictions. If one does not have a job and finds oneself unemployed, there is a lack of dignity. If work is available but one is not allowed to work, it is a unique form of deprivation and amounts to a lack of human rights. Were it not for the fact that the Bill is before the House and that Members such as Senator David Norris and others have raised the issue in the past - I have spoken about it on several occasions - the easy way out would be to sideline it and forget about the suffering of the people concerned.

  Let us not talk about the adults involved but the children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in limbo with no control over any possibility that they might get out of the situation. I do not think anybody in public life or any citizen of Ireland wants to see this continue into the future. The Bill is balanced in many ways. It would provide for basic human rights, whether it be employment, social welfare payments and so on, but it would not open the floodgates. It is evident in the draftsmanship that it is about tackling a problem. We can think about the live register and wonder about what might happen if some of the immigrants about whom we are speaking were to take up jobs, but that should not be a consideration. If we use that yardstick in this case we only demean ourselves as a people. There must be a broadness of mind in doing what is fundamentally right given our history as a country, more than any other. I do not know what the Minister of State's position will be, but I agree with Senator Feargal Quinn that unless we are afraid of ourselves as legislators, we will have plenty of opportunities to engage in debate on Committee Stage. If the worst should happen and we meet an insurmountable obstacle we cannot overcome in a focused debate, rather than depending on the Order of Business to raise the issue, it would provide much food for thought for Judge Bryan McMahon and his working group and the Government.

  The bottom line is that we are honest brokers and seen as peacemakers internationally in arguing for human rights. This morning we took on board the plight of the Palestinians. There are so many issues on which we have shown ourselves to be strong advocates of human rights. This is an issue on our own doorstep which, under any circumstance, cannot be justified. We have legislation which we have the privilege to debate and if it flounders here, not only will we have lost an opportunity but we will have added salt to the wounds on the sense of inhumanity abroad.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan. I commend my colleague, Senator David Norris, for introducing the Bill to debate this and related issues which we have debated a number of times around the direct provision system and those seeking asylum and permission to reside in Ireland. I commend the Senator for making a thoughtful contribution to what is, undoubtedly, an ongoing debate.

  Before dealing with the Bill, I wish to refer to an issue on which others have commented, that is, whether Private Members' Bills, motions and amendments have been accepted in this House. The Government has a good record in accepting amendments, something on which Senator Feargal Quinn commented. Three amendments tabled by Senator Sean D. Barrett were accepted by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris To the Vehicle Clamping Bill.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik -----to the Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014. Today, at the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, reminded us that she had accepted an amendment proposed by Senators Katherine Zappone and Jillian van Turnhout and others, on which I had supported them, to extend the powers of the Human Rights and Equality Commission. It is a substantive amendment which will strengthen the work of the commission, the membership of which we approved today after a good debate at the committee. We have had motions on this issue also in the House. As an Independent Member, I had Private Members' Bills accepted. It is not just a matter for the Government; it requires a good deal of collaboration on a cross-party basis, as we saw when Senator Averil Power tabled the motion on the recognition of a Palestinian state which, as Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú mentioned, many of us across the floor supported. That is the strength of this House - we work well on a cross-party basis. I, therefore, commend Senator David Norris and welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill.

  I agree with the Bill in principle to regularise the position of those who have spent a long period in a legal limbo. That is what the Bill is about. However, we are at the commencement of a process to achieve real change in the direct provision and asylum application systems in Ireland, which is hugely welcome and about which Senator Colm Burke and others have spoken. I, therefore, ask Senator David Norris to give a little more time to the process which is ongoing. A working group has been established.

  I should start at the beginning. On 11 July the Government, having reshuffled Ministers, issued a new statement of priorities which specifically addressed the direct provision system and agreed to reduce the length of time applicants spent in the system through the establishment of a single application procedure and the establishment of an independent working group. In this House on 17 September we discussed a motion on direct provision which was taken by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who promised reform. The following day he was due to meet stakeholders with a view to establishing a working group and on 30 September in the other House announced its establishment. In fairness, the explanatory memorandum to Senator David Norris's Bill acknowledges the appointment of respected independent experts to the working group on the protection and direct provision systems, chaired by Judge Bryan McMahon, which may also result in positive changes to the protection system overall. It will result in positive changes, about which there is no doubt. On 13 October the Minister of State announced the membership of the working group, having announced on 30 September that its chairperson would be Judge Bryan McMahon. As others mentioned, the membership includes representatives of the Irish Refugee Council, the Jesuit Refugee Service, SPIRASI, the Children's Rights Alliance, UNHCR Ireland, independent academics and so on. It is a really good working group.

  The Minister of State has many times strongly criticised the direct provision system, a critique we all share across the floor of the House. The system has been in place for 14 years; it is not the creation of the Government. Those of us who were in opposition have acknowledged that it was created as a stop-gap measure to ensure individuals would be housed and given shelter. It was intended as a short-term measure, that the individuals concerned would be in direct provision accommodation for no longer than six months. The figures have been quoted many times.  From the Reception and Integration Agency's own figures 68% of those who are in direct provision spend three or more years and the average stay is 48 months. I recently visited Hatch Hall, a direct provision centre a stone's throw from here and met individuals who had been in the system for ten years. Undoubtedly the system was not set up with that purpose. As I said on 17 September, practical changes could be made to ensure greater respect, dignity and better conditions for those in direct provision accommodation. Simple steps could be taken such as creating self-catering units which are in place in two of the direct provisions centres.

We can improve the conditions in direct provision centres. Three issues have been identified as needing to be addressed. The Bill does not address all of these issues but the working group is addressing a much more comprehensive set of issues. It is addressing the conditions in direct provision as well as the length of time people spend in direct provision. That will be addressed not just by the working group but through the mechanism of the single protection procedure to be introduced through the legislation, to be fast tracked through the Houses. It is anticipated that the Bill will be passed by Easter 2015 and the Minister may comment on this.

I understood the working group would report by Christmas. Senator Jillian van Turnhout and I both did a double take when we heard it would be done by Easter. In fact we received a briefing from the Department of Justice and Equality which does say Easter, but I would appreciate if the Minister of State could clarify it.I did check. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, in his speech to the Dáil on 30 September referred to "the working group which will be asked to submit a first report to Government by the end of the year". At that point, there was a December deadline. Easter was spoken of as the deadline for implementing reforms, which will be fair, but we need more clarity on that issue.

The Bill seeks to regularise people's position and to ensure a right to work is built in at a certain point. I am not clear on when that should be or on the categories to whom it should apply. I am not sure that I could say for certain that this Bill takes the correct approach. It applies, as I read it, to a large category of persons, not just those who have had applications for asylum refused and who have been in the system for more than four years, but a broader category under section 4(2)(c). I would need more clarity on the categories to whom it is intended to apply.

We need to see overall reform of the immigration system. That is acknowledged and that is beyond the scope of this Bill or that of the working group, but I anticipate the working group's report.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.

I support Senator David Norris's Bill, but I did not intend to speak on it. The longer I was listening to the contributions, the more frustrated I became with what I was hearing. It seems that everybody in this House agrees we need a solution. Everybody in this House agrees that what Senator David Norris has produced is a solution, albeit it may be a rough diamond.

  I want to go back in time. I left Ireland as an economic refugee when I was 16 years of age to go to the United Kingdom. I was treated fairly. When I arrived on the island of Britain, I had hope, I had the expectation of a job, a career. I had something to look forward to. God help the poor individual who arrives in Ireland and all he or she can look forward to is direct provision accommodation.

  Some years ago when my business failed I remember finding myself in the sitting room with the walls coming in around me because I could not find the motivation to get up and do something about it. Imagine if one has the motivation and there is nothing one can do because an organisation says one cannot do anything. This is fundamentally wrong in every sense of the word. This summer I visited Ellis Island, and I could imagine what it would have felt like to arrive into this massive hall, but at the other end there was hope of a career, hope of advancement and a future. What future is there when one is locked into direct provision accommodation?

  I have had considerable experience in the past number of years of working with those who came to this country as refugees. I have never encountered the work ethic that these people have. They have hopes and dreams for their children.

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

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell With all due respect, the Senator is saying, " Hear, hear," but at the same time he is knocking -----

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I have met them also and have experienced exactly the same.

Acting Chairman (Senator Ned O'Sullivan): Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan Senator Gerard P. Craughwell to continue, without interruption.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell We should be working together to solve this problem. We should be doing it straightaway. We should be giving these people hopes and dreams. I apologise for calling them "these people", they are our brothers and sisters. We talk about technical issues. I am not long enough in this House to understand filibustering, but to me that is what is happening.

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

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Let us get off the podium and move together. The issue can be resolved on Committee Stage. If Senator David Norris has produced a rough diamond, which in all fairness, I would be rather surprised about, let us polish it on Committee Stage and stop talking about reports that will arrive God knows when and get down to work together and solve the problem; let us begin that when we take a vote on the Bill.

  I thank Senator David Norris for bringing forward this Bill. I did not intend to speak, but I am glad to be here to speak about it.

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

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan): Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House to respond on behalf of the Government to the Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2014. I thank Senator David Norris for introducing the Bill, Senator Jillian van Turnhout for seconding it and all those who spoke, including, Senators Martin Conway, Darragh O'Brien, Mary Moran, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Colm Burke, Feargal Quinn, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ivana Bacik and Gerard P. Craughwell. I do not know if this is Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's maiden speech, but let me congratulate him for being here.

  Unfortunately due to other unavoidable commitments, neither the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, nor the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, was in a position to be here. I am delighted to be here, as I have a particular interest in this area.

  Almost every Monday evening, in my clinic in Tralee, somebody will visit to which the subject of our discussion will apply. I thank Senators David Norris and Jillian van Turnhout for outlining the objective of the Bill and the rationale for bringing it forward at this time.

  The Bill clearly seeks to address the position of persons who entered the State's international protection system and who after four years are still awaiting a final decision on their request to remain in the State. As Senators will know, this is a situation of which the Government is very aware as reflected in its responses to date to addressing the delays in the protection system.

  There is no doubt that it is taking far too long for applicants to work their way through the protection system in Ireland and for a final determination to be reached on their application. However this is a complex area of law and administration and there can be many reasons for the delays that arise. I will return to those shortly. The need for the existing arrangements to be changed is reflected in the long-standing policy to introduce a single application procedure in the area of international protection.

  Since taking office, the Government has taken a number of actions to address the difficulties that have arisen in this area over the years. I think it would be helpful to the debate if I set out what has been done to date and the plans for the future. Before doing so, as it is important that Members understand the context in which those actions and future plans are being taken, I will take the opportunity to set the scene, so to speak, for the House.

  What people are we talking about? There are approximately 3,700 persons with asylum or subsidiary protection application decisions pending. In terms of the number of people who it is intended to bring within the ambit of the Senator's Bill, 48% of those persons are in the system for four years or more.   As I have said, there are reasons, to which I will return, why this is the case.

  How are such applications investigated in Ireland? Under the current law, there is a very cumbersome process. The current system is multi-layered and sequential. It requires that the investigation and decision relating to the refugee application, including any appeal that may be taken in that regard, be completed first. Only then may a person who is refused refugee protection have their application for subsidiary protection investigated and decided upon at first instance and appealed thereafter in the event of a negative decision. A person who is refused international protection is then liable for deportation from the State. However, as part of the process, such persons may seek permission to remain in the State under immigration law. Senators will recognise the unwieldiness of such a system and the need for a simpler, more streamlined and efficient procedure. However, even that is not the totality of the opportunities available to persons to have issues relating to their applications for international protection to be addressed.

  Overlying all of what I have just described is the opportunity for applicants for international protection to seek leave from the High Court to judicially review any, or every, decision made on their application as they make their way through the process. While recognising the entitlement of everyone to seek redress from the courts, in many instances the delay in finalising cases is due to applicants challenging negative decisions by initiating judicial reviews at various stages of the process simply in order to delay the date of arrival at a final decision in their case and their departure from the State. The initiation of judicial review proceedings on any one decision can add between three and four years to the time it takes to reach a decision in respect of that application, such are the delays currently being experienced in the courts. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 applications cannot be finalised because of such legal challenges. Hence the need for a single application procedure. This is the approach adopted in every other European Union member state.

  As Senators may be aware, the Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 contains a number of commitments in the area of asylum. This was referred to by Senator David Norris. Of particular relevance to the Bill being discussed today is the commitment to introduce a protection Bill to establish a single application procedure. Work on the Bill is ongoing in the Minister's Department and the expectation is that the Bill will be published at the start of 2015 and enacted by Easter 2015. In preparing the Bill, I understand the Minister's Department is also examining to what extent the new single procedure can be applied to persons currently in the protection determination process.

  In addition, the Government has committed to establishing an independent working group to report to the Government on improvements in the protection process, including direct provision and supports for asylum seekers. The terms of reference and membership of the working group were announced last week. Among the issues to be considered by the working group is the length of time persons spend in the protection applications system, the non-execution of deportation orders, and the impact that court proceedings have on the finalisation of decisions. These two initiatives will go a long way towards addressing the issues which have given rise to the Senator's Bill.

  I might add that the Government has already introduced new statutory arrangements governing the processing of subsidiary protection applications in the State, following which significant inroads have been made in processing the backlog of cases involved. The European Union (Subsidiary Protection) Regulations 2013, introduced in November last year, substantially enhanced the arrangements for investigating subsidiary protection applications by replacing what was an entirely paper-based procedure undertaken in the Minister's Department with an investigation procedure involving a personal interview, now undertaken by the Office of Refugee Applications Commissioner, and the right to an oral appeal before the Refugee Appeals Tribunal against any negative first instance decision. A panel of legally qualified persons was also established to assist the commissioner with the investigation of these applications. Under these new arrangements, some 1,600 applicants have indicated their wish to proceed with the investigation of their applications, while a further 205 persons have applied for subsidiary protection since November 2013. By 10 October, a total of 609 investigations, or 38%, had been completed. These new regulations have been widely welcomed by civil society.

  Although the Bill before us today is clearly well intentioned and motivated by a concern, which the Minister herself shares, about the length of time people spend in the protection system, it could have potential negative consequences which perhaps have not been envisaged by the Senators concerned. Before going any further and for the avoidance of doubt, the Minister wishes to put it on the record that Ireland is not closed to immigrants. It must not be forgotten that 30,000 students arrive here every year from outside the European Union, the great majority of whom can work up to 20 hours a week in term time and 40 hours outside term time. The thousands of students here from other EU member states can obviously work on a completely unrestricted basis. Each year over the past number of years alone, over 80,000 people from outside the European Union who have been allowed to remain in the country longer than three months have, as they are required to in law, registered their presence in the State. The vast majority of these immigrants have the opportunity to work in the State. Moreover, last year alone, nearly 30,000 immigrants were granted Irish citizenship. Obviously they can all work on the same basis as any Irish citizen.

  Having said that, the Minister considers that the Bill essentially amounts to a standing amnesty for those who would seek to make false protection claims in the knowledge that if they can hold out for four years they will gain residence status. This is a potential magnet for false protection claims and irregular migration, not least in that it also confers potential benefits in respect of family members. Senators should be aware that in some cases these exceed those benefits available to persons who use legal migration channels. False protection claims also delay the processing of genuine protection applications. The Bill also actively incentivises the evasion of deportation orders. Fundamentally, it fails to appreciate the distinction between delays arising from the framework of the protection system itself and those generated by the actions of applicants.

  The application of the proposed regularisation framework to persons seeking international protection, as compared with persons whose presence in the State is "irregular", is considered to be inappropriate. Persons seeking international protection status are not irregularly present in the State, as such persons are legally present until such time as their protection application is finalised, at which point their temporary permission to reside in the State ceases to be valid. The State has a legal obligation under national and EU law to investigate all protection applications made in this jurisdiction. Applications must be examined individually and decisions based on the specific merits of each case.

  In addition, where regularisation is to be applied in appropriate cases, Senators should be aware that in agreeing the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum at the European Council in October 2008, member states made specific commitments "to use only case-by-case regularisation, rather than generalised regularisation, under national law, for humanitarian or economic reasons". While the pact is not legally binding, the political commitment among member states, then and now, is clearly against any form of process that would in any way legitimise the status of persons present in the State without first examining the merits of their individual cases.

  In Ireland's case there are also considerations based on maintaining the integrity of the common travel area with the United Kingdom, which must be taken into account. Any significant departure from well established policies in this respect would have a major impact on the operation of the common travel area both here and in the United Kingdom.

  It must also be emphasised that broad regularisation programmes are problematic, particularly as they could give rise to unpredictable and potentially costly impacts across the full range of public and social services.

  Without going into the detail, the Bill does give rise to a number of significant questions, not least of which include the lack of clarity therein in relation to what happens to extant protection applications in circumstances in which the applicant stands to gain the automatic residency provided for in section 6; and the automaticity with which residence must be granted without any prior consideration of exclusion grounds of the type set out in section 8 of the Bill. At a minimum, national security and criminal background checks would have to be considered.  Furthermore, there are potential legal difficulties arising from section 5 which would require the revocation of deportation orders lawfully made, thus calling into question the basis on which the order was made in the first place. Accordingly, and for the reasons which I have already outlined, the Minister is opposed to the Bill even at a conceptual level.

  The Minister hopes Senators will acknowledge the efforts being made by the Government to address long-standing and difficult issues relating to Ireland's protection system. In that regard, the Minister wishes to make it clear to the House that the Government intends to proceed with its planned course of action on the legislation front and looks forward to receiving the recommendations of the working group to report on the improvements that can be made to the current protection system, pending the introduction of the protection Bill.

  A number of issues were raised with regard to the establishment of the aforementioned working group. The chairman is the former High Court judge, Mr. Justice Bryan MacMahon, who is an excellent choice. He has been present at all of the confirmation of citizenship ceremonies for the last four years. Those ceremonies are testament to the Government's commitment to the regularisation of the status of asylum seekers who come to this country. The chairman will be writing to working group members in the coming days and the first meeting is expected to take place in the week commencing 3 November. I will raise Senator Jillian van Turnhout's question about additional members on that working group with the Minister. The terms of reference for the working group were announced last week.

  The system of direct provision was referred to by several Senators today and one of the terms of reference of the working group is that members would consider what improvements could be made to the system. As I read it, direct provision is still Government policy and the working group will be examining how the system can be improved. I hope that clarifies matters in that regard.

  I thank Senator David Norris for raising this very important issue. Although I am standing in for the Minister today, this is an issue that I face almost every Monday evening in my clinic in the Grand Hotel in Tralee, County Kerry. I can really empathise with those people who have been waiting so long for their situation to be regularised. I hope the commitment I have given here on behalf of the Minister will be fulfilled in order that by next June we will have a structure in place that will give hope to those people who wish to regularise their status.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris This Bill was not drafted in the belief that it would be a panacea for all the shortcomings and complexities of the current situation. That said, where is the hope here? What we are being presented with is a kind of endless long-fingering which is a great mistake. I have already corrected Sinn Féin representatives who said there were no provisions for travel in the Bill, which there clearly are. It seems there is a kind of puffed up vanity thing going on for Sinn Féin and I deplore that.

  The Minister of State spoke about the right of the Minister to deport individuals and so on. That right is plainly provided for here in section 8(1)(iii), which states that a residence permit can be revoked and a deportation order issued if "the deportation of the person would, in the opinion of the Minister, be conducive to the common good". The Minister of State also argued that this Bill is a potential magnet for false protection claims but that is very easily rectified.

  The chief executive of Nasc, Ms Fiona Finn, who is a member of the working group, has fully supported this Bill. Where does the Government stand now, when a member of its own working group is supporting this Bill? The Minister of State also made reference to vexatious appeals to string things out but the Government has already indicated that it will take a fast track approach to this. The most telling phrase in the Minister of State's response was that the Bill is "unpredictable and potentially very costly in its impact". That is where the real nub is. The Government is afraid it will cost a few bob, rather than handing out €19.20 to asylum seekers.

  Reference was made to a lack of clarity with regard to what happens to extant protection applications in circumstances where the applicant stands to gain the automatic residency provided for in section 6 of the Bill but this could all be amended and looked at again. There is nothing to stop a protection application at all in the legislation. The Minister of State also spoke about the automaticity with which residence must be granted without any prior consideration of exclusion grounds of the type set out in section 8 of the Bill. He also referred to the potential legal difficulties arising from section 5 which would require the revocation of deportation orders lawfully granted. The State has a right to decide who enters and who stays and no court in this country would challenge the right of the Government to make such decisions so that is a lot of utter and total hot air on the part of the Department.

  I thank all those who took part in the debate which was very informative and useful. However, things are being left to linger, like the case of a woman in a wheelchair in a second floor apartment who is concerned about what will happen if there is a fire. A fire could happen any time in the next six months. We are told "wait six months and something might happen" and maybe it will, but what about that woman in her apartment?

  I wish to deal with the situation of children. It is appalling to think that children do not have proper provision for play. Some of these children have been through school and are waiting to go to university but they are treated as aliens. They get €19.20 per week but are expected to fork out €10,000 for fees. How about that? That is a plain injustice. The fifth report of the special rapporteur on child protection highlights the need for research on "the potential or actual harm which is being created by the particular circumstances of their residence including the inability of parents to properly care for and protect their children and the damage that may be done by living for a lengthy period of time in an institutionalised setting which was not designed for long term residence".

  On the issue of overcrowding, the Housing Act 1966, section 63(b) states that a house shall be deemed to be overcrowded where "the free air space in any room used as a sleeping apartment, for any person is less than four hundred cubic feet (the height of the room, if it exceeds eight feet, being taken to be eight feet, for the purpose of calculating free air space)". Direct provision centres are overcrowded according to the Housing Act of 1966. Section 63(a) of the same Act states that a house shall be deemed to be overcrowded when the number of persons ordinarily sleeping in the house and the number of rooms therein are such that "any two of those persons, being persons of ten years of age or more of opposite sexes and not being persons living together as husband and wife, must sleep in the same room". That is happening all over the place. It is an absolute outrage and a scandal. The slow motion approach is a reproach to all of us.

  I had intended to speak about comparisons with other countries but we are about the worst in Europe. I completely reject what the Sinn Féin representatives said about people in America. The situation is actually worse because they are not fleeing torture or war but are economic migrants, which we, in this country, simply reject out of hand. I thank Senator Feargal Quinn for putting the comparative situation in Europe into perspective. We should really be ashamed of what we are proposing to do.

  Question put.

  The Seanad divided by electronic means.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Under Standing Order 62(3)(b), I request that the division be taken again other than by electronic means.

Question put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 25.

Níl
Information on Barrett, Sean D.   Zoom on Barrett, Sean D.   Barrett, Sean D. Information on Bacik, Ivana.   Zoom on Bacik, Ivana.   Bacik, Ivana.
Information on Bradford, Paul.   Zoom on Bradford, Paul.   Bradford, Paul. Information on Brennan, Terry.   Zoom on Brennan, Terry.   Brennan, Terry.
Information on Byrne, Thomas.   Zoom on Byrne, Thomas.   Byrne, Thomas. Information on Burke, Colm.   Zoom on Burke, Colm.   Burke, Colm.
Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P. Information on Coghlan, Eamonn.   Zoom on Coghlan, Eamonn.   Coghlan, Eamonn.
Information on Crown, John.   Zoom on Crown, John.   Crown, John. Information on Coghlan, Paul.   Zoom on Coghlan, Paul.   Coghlan, Paul.
Information on Daly, Mark.   Zoom on Daly, Mark.   Daly, Mark. Information on Conway, Martin.   Zoom on Conway, Martin.   Conway, Martin.
Information on Heffernan, James.   Zoom on Heffernan, James.   Heffernan, James. Information on Cullinane, David.   Zoom on Cullinane, David.   Cullinane, David.
Information on MacSharry, Marc.   Zoom on MacSharry, Marc.   MacSharry, Marc. Information on Cummins, Maurice.   Zoom on Cummins, Maurice.   Cummins, Maurice.
Information on Mooney, Paschal.   Zoom on Mooney, Paschal.   Mooney, Paschal. Information on D'Arcy, Jim.   Zoom on D'Arcy, Jim.   D'Arcy, Jim.
Information on Mullen, Rónán.   Zoom on Mullen, Rónán.   Mullen, Rónán. Information on D'Arcy, Michael.   Zoom on D'Arcy, Michael.   D'Arcy, Michael.
Information on Norris, David.   Zoom on Norris, David.   Norris, David. Information on Hayden, Aideen.   Zoom on Hayden, Aideen.   Hayden, Aideen.
Information on Ó Domhnaill, Brian.   Zoom on Ó Domhnaill, Brian.   Ó Domhnaill, Brian. Information on Higgins, Lorraine.   Zoom on Higgins, Lorraine.   Higgins, Lorraine.
Information on Ó Murchú, Labhrás.   Zoom on Ó Murchú, Labhrás.   Ó Murchú, Labhrás. Information on Keane, Cáit.   Zoom on Keane, Cáit.   Keane, Cáit.
Information on O'Brien, Darragh.   Zoom on O'Brien, Darragh.   O'Brien, Darragh. Information on Kelly, John.   Zoom on Kelly, John.   Kelly, John.
Information on O'Brien, Mary Ann.   Zoom on O'Brien, Mary Ann.   O'Brien, Mary Ann. Information on Moloney, Marie.   Zoom on Moloney, Marie.   Moloney, Marie.
Information on O'Sullivan, Ned.   Zoom on O'Sullivan, Ned.   O'Sullivan, Ned. Information on Moran, Mary.   Zoom on Moran, Mary.   Moran, Mary.
Information on Quinn, Feargal.   Zoom on Quinn, Feargal.   Quinn, Feargal. Information on Mullins, Michael.   Zoom on Mullins, Michael.   Mullins, Michael.
Information on van Turnhout, Jillian.   Zoom on van Turnhout, Jillian.   van Turnhout, Jillian. Information on Hildegarde Naughton   Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton   Naughton, Hildegarde.
Information on Walsh, Jim.   Zoom on Walsh, Jim.   Walsh, Jim. Information on Noone, Catherine.   Zoom on Noone, Catherine.   Noone, Catherine.
Information on Zappone, Katherine.   Zoom on Zappone, Katherine.   Zappone, Katherine. Information on Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.   Zoom on Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.   Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  Information on O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.   Zoom on O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.   O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  Information on O'Neill, Pat.   Zoom on O'Neill, Pat.   O'Neill, Pat.
  Information on Reilly, Kathryn.   Zoom on Reilly, Kathryn.   Reilly, Kathryn.
  Information on Sheahan, Tom.   Zoom on Sheahan, Tom.   Sheahan, Tom.
  Information on Whelan, John.   Zoom on Whelan, John.   Whelan, John.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and David Norris; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Question declared lost.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Ar 10.30 maidin amarách.

Adjournment Matters

Medical Indemnity Cover

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I raise the matter of home births and related midwife indemnity issues because I have been contacted by a number of constituents. The Minister is familiar with the issue and I am interested to hear his reply.

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Senator for raising this matter.

  Subject to overall Government policy, staffing of the health service is primarily a matter for the Health Service Executive, HSE. However, there are issues concerning the provision of midwives for home births and I welcome the opportunity to comment on these.

  There are a number of areas of the health service where staffing shortages exist, including certain categories of consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, theatre nurses and community midwives. The fact that there may be shortages of certain staff categories does not mean that the HSE is not committed to providing the relevant service. Regarding home births, I have recently stated and wish to reaffirm my view that pregnancy is not a disease but a physiological condition. There was a time when practically all births took place at home. There is no reason women with a normal low-risk pregnancy should not have their babies delivered at home by a community midwife or in a midwife-led unit. It should be a mother's choice within safe guidelines. It is the policy to respect an individual's choice in childbirth.

  Currently in Ireland there is a national domiciliary midwifery service available to eligible expectant mothers who wish to avail of a home birth service. This service is provided by self-employed community midwives on behalf of the Health Service Executive. The midwives concerned enter into a contract or memorandum of understanding with the HSE. Each self-employed community midwife who agrees to be bound by the terms of this contract or memorandum of understanding is covered by the clinical indemnity scheme, operated and paid for by the State Claims Agency. This scheme covers clinical negligence or medical malpractice arising from the provision of community midwifery services.

  The latest memorandum of understanding came into operation on 1 March 2014. The criteria for eligibility for individuals to provide a home birth service on behalf of the Health Service Executive were drafted by a group of experts including midwives and obstetricians. The new governance arrangements for the home birth service are designed to provide a safe service for both mothers and babies availing of this service and provide clarity in the contractual arrangements between the HSE and midwife. There are currently 18 self-employed community midwives who have signed a contract of employment with the HSE. The delivery rate by these midwives reduced from 288 births in 2002 to 161 births in 2012. The figures for 2013 have not been published yet. Their work is supported by designated midwifery officers in each HSE region. These officers act as advocates for women opting to have home births and provide professional support for self-employed community midwives practising on behalf of the HSE.

  Ultimately, midwives choose whether to become self-employed community midwives and many have chosen not to take up this role, preferring security of employment with the HSE. The expansion of midwife-led units and greater availability of home births as an option is among the issues that the general review of maternity services being carried out over the course of the next twelve months will consider.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply on a matter that we will return to in this House in due course.

Hospitals Inspections

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I am asking the Minister to outline the response of his Department to the report on the unannounced inspection of Tallaght hospital, which was published by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, last Thursday. The report summarised the results of two unannounced inspections of Tallaght hospital in July and August this year. The findings were disturbing and raised serious concerns relating to infection control, patient safety, basic hygiene and hospital maintenance. What is the Department of Health doing to ensure these matters are addressed efficiently, effectively and quickly? This is not the first HIQA report to flag health and safety concerns at Tallaght hospital. In 2012 an investigation highlighted issues relating to quality, safety, governance and care and, consequently, Tallaght hospital implemented many significant changes but I wonder whether the concerns have been addressed fully. The new report suggests more effort is required.

  The July 2014 inspection found that Tallaght hospital had "insufficient clinical microbiology resources in place to routinely enable a timely response in the treatment of patients with serious infections". That HIQA report also stated that frequently used patient equipment was found to be unclean, thereby posing a potential risk of inter-patient transmission of infective material. Hand hygiene has proven essential to patient safety and the prevention of hospital-acquired infections, as the Minister knows, but Tallaght hospital has failed to meet the national targets for hand hygiene set by the HSE for 2012, 2013 and those of the most recent audit of May 2014. According to the HIQA report, records provided to the authority after the July inspection show only 26% of all staff had attended hand hygiene training.

  How will the Department ensure patients do not leave hospital sicker then when they arrived? Many people living in Tallaght and surrounding communities cannot afford to opt out of the public system and pay for private health care. How will the Department ensure such people do not hesitate to seek necessary medical care and guarantee a basic standard of patient safety for all those treated in public hospitals? We must address these problems before it is too late - patients and medical professionals are facing high risks and high costs. There is global anxiety relating to Ebola. Does the Department believe we can afford to wait to fix these issues that plague Tallaght hospital and the local community? Can we expect hospitals to cope with outbreaks if basic, routine standards of hygiene are not met?

  I have discussed this matter with HIQA and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, and I feel the situation at Tallaght hospital is urgent. Basic hygiene issues can be efficiently solved with increased training, higher educational standards and routine environmental audits. Has the Department done anything to help Tallaght hospital meet hygiene standards? We must reinvest in Tallaght hospital after a long period of Government austerity as there are chronic staff shortages among medical professionals and in administration. These shortages must be addressed and I commend the hospital on its recent efforts to recruit staff following the report. The current demand in the local community for health services far exceeds the hospital's capacity to deliver - some wards are operating at 105% capacity when that figure should fall between 80% and 85%. Is the Department supporting the hospital to alleviate the burden of under-staffing and over-capacity?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and for the opportunity to update the House on the response to the recommendations of the HIQA report on the unannounced inspection of Tallaght hospital.

  As Minister for Health, I take the prevention and control of health care associated infections very seriously and I welcome the publication of this report. Health care associated infections represent a major cause of preventable patient harm and, in some cases, death and increased health care costs. Since late 2012, HIQA has been carrying out a monitoring programme based on the national standards for the prevention and control of health care associated infections in hospitals throughout the country. On foot of these inspections, HIQA's reports provide an independent assessment of hospital hygiene and identify areas where hospitals need to improve.  On 17 July the Health Information and Quality Authority carried out an unannounced inspection of Franks Ward and the William Stokes Unit in Tallaght and several non-compliance issues were identified, including compliance with hand hygiene regulations, in maintenance work programmes in the two wards and certain processes relating to infection control monitoring. I understand the hospital responded speedily to clarify the issues raised by HIQA and outline the remedial actions taken in response to the non-compliance issues identified.

  On 28 August the hospital was reinspected by HIQA to examine the progress made in the two clinical areas inspected in July. The recently published HIQA report acknowledges that, overall, significant improvements were observed during the reinspection in August, indicating that the hospital in Tallaght was working towards addressing the issues raised in the first report. Positive steps include: hand hygiene training; a refurbishment and repair programme for the two wards subject to the inspections; commissioning a Legionella risk assessment; recruiting to fill a specialist post to re-establish the surgical site surveillance programme; a local policy for the prevention of nosocomial invasive aspergillosis and the recruitment of a full-time locum microbiologist to enhance the hospital's clinical microbiological services. I understand the application of these measures will be monitored as part of Tallaght hospital's ongoing quality improvement plan to ensure consistent progress. The hospital has further committed to resolving in the coming weeks any outstanding issue relating to HIQA's report. I am confident that the hospital remains fully committed to ensuring the highest level of compliance with the national standards for the prevention and control of health care associated infections.

  The role of the Department of Health is to put in place the correct policies, legislate for them and drive the programme for Government. Some years ago inspections such as this never took place. When I was working in the health care sector, there was no HIQA in place or the authority was just starting off and hospitals were left to their own devices. Now, we have a far better situation because we have legislated for HIQA, the authority is in place and its staff go in to hospitals to carry out inspections unannounced and hold them to account. Sometimes people read in the newspapers about these reports and may think it is a sign of a bad health service. In many ways, it is actually a sign of a good health service because we now have a regulator, the staff of which go into hospitals, institutions for the disabled and mental health institutions to find out what is wrong, document it and then require hospitals to act on the problems identified before going back to reinspect. This is a major improvement in the health service, albeit perhaps some might not see it that way.

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The Minister has outlined how Tallaght hospital is responding to these reports and identified that it is good that they are being produced. It is helpful for him to outline the way in which the hospital is responding, as this will offer support to members of the local community when they think about the hospital. The inspections do not necessarily cover staffing capacity issues; they do not examine the problem or comment from that perspective. However, I appreciate, in particular, the Minister's comment on the recruitment to fill the specialist post, as well as the other things the hospital is doing. I trust the Minister's response will be part of a process in communities rediscovering their positive connection with the hospital, which is important.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I have worked in Tallaght hospital where I undertook some of my training. It is a hospital of which I am very fond. I have worked in the medicine for the elderly services; therefore, I know the William Stokes Unit well. I was in it last month.

  That the hospital has hired a new microbiologist and put in place additional resources is welcome. It is important to say good hand-washing and hygiene procedures cost nothing. In fact, they save a considerable amount of money. We should never allow lack of resources to be used as an excuse for bad hygiene - it is not an excuse, a point on which I know the Senator will agree with me. In my local hospital, Connolly hospital, doctors are not given a parking permit until they have undergone training in good hygiene and hand-washing procedures. There is a 90% success rate. Perhaps the idea might be pursued in other hospitals.

  Reference was made to Ebola. Many groups have expressed concern about our level of preparedness to deal with cases of Ebola and highlighted the need to be prepared. The situation is evolving. However, there is one thing of which I am absolutely sure: if we have a case of Ebola in Ireland - there will be one or maybe two cases - it will be dealt with in one hospital. Unfortunately, between now and the end of the year, many more people will get sick or possibly even die as a result of hand hygiene and medication errors and senior decision-makers not being on the floor when they are supposed to be. I call on all those who have expressed concerns about how prepared we are to deal with cases of Ebola to ensure they are doing all they can do in their workplaces to prevent damage caused by common infections, rather than worrying excessively about one that is very rare.

Senator Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone That is noted and well said. I thank the Minister for his leadership.

  The Seanad adjourned at 5.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 23 October 2014.


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