Seanad Éireann Debate
Chuaigh an Leas-Chathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30
Machnamh agus Paidir.
Reflection and Prayer.
Business of Seanad
The need for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to give a progress report on the application for world heritage status for the monastic site of Kells, County Meath.
I have also received notice from Senator Colm Burke of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for Finance to address the delay in the processing of appeals to the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal and if he will undertake to have all appeals dealt with in an expeditious manner.
I have also received notice from Senator Mary Moran of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to outline the measures being taken to address the shortage of disability housing in County Louth.
I have also received notice from Senator David Cullinane of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for Education and Skills to explain why a temporary English as an additional language, EAL, post sanctioned on 1 September in DEIS band 2 junior school, An Teaghlaigh Naofa, is to be suppressed from 23 October in spite of the fact that the number of pupils returned before 5 October who required EAL support was above the figure of 20% specified in part 2, section 4 of Circular 0005/2015.
I have also received notice from Senator Paschal Mooney of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to state if it is her intention to reintroduce funding for the community-based CCTV scheme which commenced in 2005 and supported local communities, with the goal of increasing public safety and reducing the risk of anti-social and criminal activity.
I have also received notice from Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to intensify political efforts to provide a long-term solution for the many undocumented Irish in the United States.
I have also received notice from Senator Marc MacSharry of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for Finance to clarify the interest rate that will be charged by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund in providing funding for private companies to build homes.
I have also received notice from Senator Mark Daly of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to outline when the Government will put in place a national policy on speed restrictions on roads by schools, crèches, hospitals and community buildings.
I have also received notice from Senator Marie Moloney of the following matter:
The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to examine the possibility of providing grant aid for the installation of security alarms in private homes.
I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion. I have selected the matters raised by Senators Thomas Byrne, Colm Burke, Mary Moran and David Cullinane and they will be taken now. Senators Paschal Mooney, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Marc MacSharry, Mark Daly and Marie Moloney may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise.
Senator Thomas Byrne: Táim fíor-bhuíoch den Leas-Chathaoirleach as an deis a thabhairt dom an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a ardú ar an Tosú inniu. Tá a lán moill ag baint leis an rud seo agus ba cheart don Aire Stáit an scéal a thabairt dúinn faoin mhéid atá ag tarlú.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter of the submission of the town of Kells and its monastic sites, among others, as part of a tentative list of properties for future nomination for inclusion in the world heritage list. Brú na Bóinne, comprising Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in County Meath, is a world heritage site. Under the previous Government, work was done in 2008 to nominate other properties for submission to UNESCO, the international body that classifies places as world heritage sites. The monastic site at Kells was included as part of a list of early mediaeval monastic sites in Ireland. There are a number of such sites which include Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Glendalough, Inis Cealtra, Kells and Monasterboice. Kells, or Ceanannas Mór, is where St. Colmcille established a religious settlement in 550 AD It is one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. There are a number of buildings and places of interest in Kells, including St. Colmcille's house, the Kells monastic site, the Market Cross and the round tower. All of these symbols are synonymous with the town of Kells. Will the Minister of State give an update on what has happened since 2010 when the application for world heritage status for the town and its archaeological site was made? When the application was made in 2010, we were told by the then Minister, Mr. John Gormley, that the site would have to be on a tentative list for at least one year before it could be inscribed as a world heritage site. We were also told that it would take at least two years for this process to be completed.
I know from those who have raised questions about other sites which have been put forward for tentative status that it appears precious little has been done by the Minister responsible for it. From talking to some of the local councillors in Kells, I understand it has not appeared on any local authority agenda since the last local elections. I would have thought the local authority would have been a key partner with the Department Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in ensuring the Kells monastic site received world heritage status.
A significant amount of work has been done in Kells in the past five years by voluntary and community groups, including the Tourism Forum, the Local Heroes programme and many others, to promote the town. They should not be left in a vacuum. The ultimate responsibility lies with the Minister and the local authority. I would be grateful for an update on the position.
Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Joe McHugh): Tá mé ag glacadh na ceiste seo ar son an Aire sinsearach, an Teachta Heather Humphreys. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Byrne as ucht na ceiste seo a ardú. Tá suim mhór agam san ábhar seo ós rud é go bhfuil ceangal dearfach idir mo chontae féin agus Contae na Mí, mar shampla i gcomhthéacs Naomh Colm Cille. Dá bhrí sin, tá mé sásta labhairt faoin ábhar seo inniu.
Having a site progressed from being on a national tentative list to its inscription by UNESCO on the world heritage list is a long and involved process which requires comprehensive management plans for the site, full agreement with local interests, significant local authority actions and support and the production of highly detailed nomination documents that require significant financial investment. Each stage of the process has to be quality controlled and checked by experts to ensure the nomination documentation reaches the high standards laid down by UNESCO. We are working at all times to UNESCO standards and requirements, not to any local framework.
Ireland's current world heritage tentative list has come about from a comprehensive, thorough and detailed process undertaken by a panel of Irish and international heritage experts specifically appointed for that purpose. The tentative list produced by the expert group contains a list of seven potential nominations, including early mediaeval monastic sites, of which Kells forms part, with Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Glendalough, Inis Cealtra and Monasterboice. The expert group believed these six sites were exemplars of the early Irish church's rich cultural and historical past which played a crucial role in Europe's educational and artistic development.
In September 2013 my Department held a seminar to explain the next steps in the process to the local authorities and local groups from the areas with proposals which had successfully made it on to the tentative list. The objective was to gauge the extent of the support which would be available to advance these proposals, as well as to set out the work that would be involved and the associated costs. The seminar was followed by a series of working group meetings related to each of the sites. My Department, together with world heritage experts, was there to facilitate discussion.
My Department's view is that without strong local enthusiasm and backing, there is little prospect of success for any nomination. This bottom-up approach is also UNESCO's favoured policy. As Kells is in a serial nomination with other sites and part of a representative sample of Irish monuments, unless all of the component parts enjoy local support, there is much less scope for a nomination to proceed further. The representatives who are now most actively engaged with my Department in pushing on with their proposals on that basis are those from the Burren and the Royal Sites of Ireland.
Although other nominations may not be moving ahead as quickly, this does not mean that they are removed from the tentative list. My Department would be delighted to engage again with representatives of the areas in the early mediaeval monastic sites nomination, if the local communities and especially the local authorities which must generally take the lead are interested. However, without all involved firmly on board, the rationale for the nomination does not have the necessary standing or completeness.
My Department has sought and continues to work with local interests to bring forward the nominations of the internationally important archaeological sites on our tentative list. This will continue to be the approach.
Senator Thomas Byrne: For the Minister who is legally and internationally responsible for arranging world heritage status between UNESCO and the Government to claim there is not enough interest in these areas is outrageous. I have never seen a town more committed to its heritage tourism than Kells. The people are working tirelessly and engaging with the Department. One group met the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, last June about protecting some of these sites, but it has heard nothing back. Perhaps the Minister of State might deal with that issue. That was a complaint I heard two nights ago. The town of Kells and the groups there are doing tremendous work. The idea they are to be blamed for this not progressing is outrageous. To blame the local authority is also outrageous because it is the Minister who takes the lead under the UNESCO proposals.
The Minister is passing the buck. It is about time she got the groups and local authorities from all the monastic sites, Clonmacnoise, Durrow, Glendalough, Inis Cealtra and Monasterboice, together to get this going. The truth is this has been going nowhere. It is the Minister who needs to take the lead. It is surprising to see the Burren as one of thse sites actively pushing on. I know that Deputy Michael McNamara from County Clare was complaining in the same vein as me about this issue only a few months ago. I have certainly heard nothing about the Royal Sites of Ireland being pushed. The Minister needs to re-engage urgently with all of the communities and local authorities in the areas involved. It is her responsibility, no one else's.
Disabled Drivers Grant Eligibility
Senator Colm Burke: I welcome the Minister of State. I am raising this issue as a result of a family coming to me about their 52 year old daughter who has an intellectual disability. The family are the main carer for their daughter. Every morning for the past 35 years they have been driving her to a Cope Foundation facility in Cork and collecting her every evening. They applied for the disabled driver’s tax concession grant, but they were turned down. They appealed the decision, but they were advised that it would take six to seven months. I find this unhelpful and unsatisfactory, particularly when the parents who have moved on in age have been caring for their daughter for that length of time.
SI No. 353/1994, Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994, only applies where a person has a physical disability. Where a person has an intellectual disability, no tax concessions are available. I have examined the regulations and the Act. It is only a matter of time before someone decides to call for a judicial review of this matter because there is discrimination involved. These parents are providing and caring for their daughter and while they are doing everything possible for her, they are being denied a simple concession they have sought, whereas if the child had a physical disability, they would qualify for each of these concessions. I acknowledge the main issue pertains to the delay, but the other issue, in respect of SI 353 of 1994 and the relevant section of the Finance Act 1989 with which one is dealing and under which the regulations were introduced, also must be addressed. However, the main issue is the delay in dealing with the appeal process. Moreover, my understanding is that appeals must be dealt with in Dublin and even though the people in question are from Cork, they must travel to Dublin to deal with them. However, the delay is unsatisfactory. I raise the matter in that context.
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Damien English): I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Finance who regrets that he is unable to be present owing to other business. He apologises and would have preferred to have been present himself had this been possible.
The Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal is a body under the aegis of the Department of Finance and it is for that reason I am responding to the Senator on behalf of the Minister for Finance. The medical board of appeal acts as an appeals body for those applicants refused a primary medical certificate by a senior medical officer of the Health Service Executive. The primary medical certificate is required to access the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme which provides relief from VAT and vehicle registration tax, up to certain limits, on the purchase of an adapted car for transport of a person with specific severe and permanent physical disabilities, assistance with fuel costs and an exemption from motor tax. Accordingly, the medical board of appeal provides an important function in providing citizens with an appeals process, ensuring a greater degree of consistency and fairness in the award of primary medical certificates.
Perhaps I might first outline the recent history of the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal to provide some background on the functions and remit of this body for the Seanad. Prior to 1989, there was only one medical criterion for eligibility for the disabled drivers (tax concessions) scheme. An applicant's general practitioner certified whether an individual met that criterion. This gave rise to inconsistencies across the State and in 1989 it was decided to extend the number of medical criteria to five. At the same time, it was decided that medical officers at an applicant's local health board should determine whether an applicant met the criteria for eligibility for the scheme. This both extended the scheme and ensured a consistency of approach. In that context, it was necessary to establish the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal to provide for an appeals process. The board was initially composed of three part-time members, one of whom was appointed as chairperson. Following the enactment of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994, the scheme was extended to passengers for the first time, which increased the workload of the board substantially. As the board was essentially working on a part-time basis, prospective delays grew rapidly through to 2004 to a point where people were waiting for more than one year for an appeal to be dealt with. As a first step in tackling the delays, provision was made through secondary legislation for the independence of the board, as well as an expansion of the number of members of the board to five.
In June 2005 the Department of Finance reached an agreement with the National Rehabilitation Hospital to provide two permanent staff for the board, one a full-time administrator and one a medical consultant who also would act as chairperson of the board. At the time, €300,000 was provided in the Estimates to staff and resource the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal. On 29 June 2005 officials from the Department appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service to inform the committee of the steps taken to tackle the delays, including the new moneys allocated to the board. Additional legislative action was also taken which allowed the Minister to appoint more members to the board of appeal, if required. These actions bore fruit and the number of applicants awaiting an appeal fell from a high of 824 in May 2005 to 406 in June 2006. At the end of last month, there were 110 applicants awaiting an appeal, which equates to a waiting period of approximately four to five months.
The board meets for 24 sessions per year, one of which is held at Mercy University Hospital in Cork city, and assesses, on average, 15 appeals per session. The Minister for Finance does not agree that there are undue delays in processing these applications. First, one must remember the board relies on the membership of medical professionals who have full-time practices, from which they must absent themselves to present at these sessions. In the light of this, the Minister believes 24 sessions per year is a reasonable number. Second, I have stated the board, on average, deals with 15 appeals per session. Given the independence of the board in the exercise of its functions, the Minister cannot and would not wish to suggest an increase in the number of appeals per session, as this might not give the board an adequate amount of time to assess each appeal properly. The Department of Finance keeps the operation of the board and the number of applicants awaiting appeal under constant review.
Senator Colm Burke: I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I am not sure whether I agree with its contents fully. However, on the issue I have raised about intellectual disability where there is huge discrimination, I have referred to a case in which the parents are elderly but still are on the road each day to look after their daughter and were the State to provide full-time care, there would be a huge cost to it. In this case, all the parents are seeking is the concession in respect of car tax on the car which they are being refused. They live in a rural area without public transport and even if public transport was available, the person concerned must be accompanied by an adult at all times. It is in this context that I ask that the current regulations be considered to ascertain whether this family can be catered for because they have done everything possible to care for their child who, as I stated, is now 52 years of age.
Deputy Damien English: I again thank the Senator. While I do not have to hand the exact details of the case, as the Department has stated, it keeps all such issues under review on a regular basis. I certainly will feed in the example raised by the Senator in terms of the situation faced by the family. On the point raised by the Senator, I note that they do not seek access to the whole lot, but this probably deals with many more issues than simply motor tax on the car. However, I certainly will revert to the Department and raise this matter with it. In addition, the Senator has raised a second issue which I will bring to the Minister's attention directly.
Local Authority Housing Provision
Senator Mary Moran: I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, for coming to the House to take this matter on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. I have raised this Commencement matter on foot of serious and urgent representations I received over the summer, which I have attempted to resolve both at local level and with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Before making representations, I have raised repeatedly the lack of suitable disability housing for those in need in County Louth. I am dealing with a few serious cases that I intend to highlight as a representative sample, in which the quality of life of the individuals concerned is being impeded owing to the lack of suitable housing in the area to which to transfer the individuals concerned and their families. In some cases, the medical issue or disability has been exacerbated owing to living conditions or accidents have occurred on stairs. I do not raise these matters lightly or without approaching them from numerous angles with Louth County Council and various council members. There simply is no suitable housing to be found for those with a disability on the housing or transfer list.
I have made hundreds of calls, attended meetings and written letters and e-mails about specific cases in the past two years. In one case, the person concerned has provided an abundance of medical evidence proving the current living conditions are unsuitable, yet she still remains in a two-storey home. Two years later, I continue to be informed that there is no accommodation suitable for the family.
The representations I mentioned which I received over the summer are also of extreme urgency. The case involves a young family, with four young children, that received the devastating news that, due to a diagnosis of bone cancer, their four year old son must have his leg amputated on 4 November. This young child's mother also delivered a new baby last Friday. When this little boy comes home from hospital in a wheelchair with his family, he will be returning to a two-storey house that does not have a downstairs toilet or facilities for wheelchairs downstairs. I understand the child's condition is extremely painful and his parents must carry him up and down the stairs several times during the day for toileting and at bedtime. I visited the house and completely agree it is not suitable for a wheelchair. I raised this issue in July in the hope that by November something would be in place, namely, either the house would be adapted or the family would be accepted onto the transfer list to move. Unfortunately, nothing has happened since July. I have been most disappointed with the response to the case. Once the housing transfer form was submitted, it took a number of weeks and several telephone calls for the family to be contacted. When they were contacted initially, they were told the matter would be dealt with in due course. That is okay if somebody is seeking assistance, as I understand there are priorities, but this case is a major priority. At the very least, an occupational therapist should have attended the home at the earliest opportunity, as far back as last July, to make the necessary assessment in order that when a house became available, these matters would already have been addressed. What the family is going through is life changing and very stressful. This young boy will have to use a wheelchair after his surgery and he will come home to a house that is not wheelchair accessible. There are not enough bedrooms and there is not sufficient space in the house. I am disappointed with the response in each of the cases I have raised and with the provision of disability medical housing in County Louth.
In May this year €10 million was allocated in funding for supports for people with a disability. I would not raise the cases if they were not so urgent. I ask the Minister to examine such cases and improve the provision of disability housing.
Social housing is a key priority for me and the Government, especially the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Paudie Coffey. Under the social housing strategy 2020, the total targeted provision of more than 110,000 social housing units will address the needs of the approximately 90,000 households on the housing waiting lists, while also providing scope to address further emerging needs, as in the example the Senator raised. Social housing targets have been set for each local authority, including Louth County Council, up to 2017. The targets set and the funding allocated are being invested by local authorities in a combination of building, buying and leasing schemes designed to accommodate 25% of those on the housing waiting lists. The target for County Louth is 778 units, the delivery of which is supported by an allocation of €57 million.
In line with the targets set for social housing delivery, the Minister and the Minister of State announced a major social housing construction programmes in May and July this year, with an investment of €492 million covering all 31 local authorities, involving more than 2,800 housing units. It included more than €150 million for approvals under the capital assistance scheme which supports approved housing bodies in the provision of housing for homeless persons, the elderly and people with disabilities. The announcements included 75 new social housing units specifically for County Louth. Further details of targets, allocations and projects are available on the Department's website.
The assessment and allocation process for social housing support takes into account situations where a member of a household has a disability such as in the case outlined by the Senator and allows local authorities to prioritise the allocation of accommodation in these circumstances. Under section 63 of the Local Government Act 1991, a local authority is, subject to law, independent in the performance of its functions. Under section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and associated regulations, elected council members set down council policy on the allocation of local authority housing in its allocation scheme, including determining the order of priority for the allocation of dwellings by the authority. The chief executive of the local authority is required to make allocations, including decisions on transfers for existing local authority tenants, in accordance with the scheme. I understand Louth County Council's scheme provides that transfer applications will be considered in situations where a transfer would relieve a serious medical condition, including a physical or mental disability.
Section 22 of the 2009 Act also provides that the chief executive may disregard the order of priority given to a household under an allocation scheme where the household is being provided with social housing support arising from specified exceptional circumstances, including exceptional medical or compassionate grounds. Support is also provided for local authorities to meet the needs of tenants with a disability through funding for adaptations and extensions to social housing units. In May the Minister allocated €10 million for these supports for 2015, an increase on the figure in recent years, with almost €440,000 being made available to Louth County Council.
In summary, local authorities have a range of options available by means of which they can address cases of specific need, whether through use of the increased funding for adapting existing houses; or by making an alternative social house available where this is more suitable or acquiring a property if that is considered the most appropriate option in individual circumstances.
The Senator will appreciate that the Minister cannot directly tell the council what to do or to whom it should give a house, but a range of options are available to address cases such as the one outlined by her. One of these measures should be available and I hope the matter will be resolved shortly.
Senator Mary Moran: I am very disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, is not in the House to take this matter. It is one thing to say this or that scheme is available and that €10 million has been allocated, but the family sought assistance in July. It would not have cost anything for somebody to go out and assess the position. It is now October and the child's operation is next week, yet an occupational therapist has still not even visited the house. The Minister of State is talking about what might happen in the future.
The other case I mentioned is two and a half years in progress. I am told the person concerned is on the list and that she is a priority, yet nothing is happening. We can have all of this in writing, but if the case is not moving, the system is not working. The Minister must intervene and ask about the success rate and where houses have been allocated. I am in contact with the council every day, but we need movement. There is no point in saying something will be addressed. I ask when that will happen. The cases to which I refer cannot wait for another year or two years.
Deputy Damien English: The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, is sorry he could not be here; he would be if he could. He is aware of the case and I will report back to him. The Senator must appreciate that it is his job to set out the policy and provide funding for it. The funding has been allocated to Louth County Council. The decisions made daily on who get houses and when occupational therapists visit are ones for the local council. I will raise the Senator's concerns with the Department which is in constant liaison with the various councils. I cannot explain why an occupational therapist has not been able to visit. That is not a decision for the Minister but for the local authority.
Deputy Damien English: I do not question the fact that the Senator has raised the matter, I am just saying I cannot account for a council's decision not to send an occupational therapist to visit a house. I do not understand that. I will raise the matter with the Minister.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Mary Moran has made her case and the Minister of State has responded. I do not think we can do anything further today. It is a very sad case. Perhaps the Senator might talk to the county manager in her local county.
Senator David Cullinane: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and thank him for taking this Commencement matter.
It was with shock and dismay yesterday that I opened an e-mail from the Department's primary allocations informing me that the temporary EAL post sanctioned on 1 September is being suppressed on 23 October. I don't understand this as we have the children enrolled. The number returned before 5 October was well over the 20% indicated in Circular 005/2015, part 2, section 4. We are a DEIS band 2 junior school catering for girls aged four to eight years. We have always applied for and retained temporary language support staff, as we have always exceeded [the requirement] - I quote again from the circular, '20% of total enrolment of the school is made up of pupils that require EAL support'. This year we have 30% of children requiring EAL support so I'm struggling to understand why this year is different, considering the numbers for previous years - 31% for 2014, 25% for 2013, 22.5% for 2012, 23% for 2011, 25.5% in 2010 and 29.5% in 2008.
Each and every year, including this year, the school has well exceeded the figure of 20%. The question the principal is asking is why the position this year is different when the school is well above the 20% threshold. The principal goes on to say:
One teacher cannot be expected to adequately cater for the needs of all 93 children who need EAL support. I would also like to make you aware the children for whom we have concerns about and who are not reaching milestones as expected have been referred for speech and language assessment. The constant response we receive back is that children must receive two years English language support before a complete assessment can be made. Therefore, from now on it will be first class before we can cater or refer an EAL child who has started in junior infants and it could be second class before they are assessed. Our most recent S&L report states 'it takes the average child between three and five years when exposed to full-time schooling and supports to speak a second language as well.'
If the Minister of State has the figures, will he outline to us how many EAL temporary posts there are in the State? There were 400 in 2008 and I believe there are now fewer than that. There were cutbacks in a number of budgets. Is that what this is about? Are we moving the goalposts of the 20% figure? Are we now simply looking at how many posts we have and dividing it by the number of schools to come up with a new percentage that schools have to reach? This was a post for this school. Schools and principals have these battles every year, but when they are planning ahead for the year and are told in September that they have a post and it is pulled from them, it creates a challenge for the school and a worry and concern. I do not know if the Minister of State has a positive response for me, but if he does not and if it is a response that he received from the Department which is par for the course in dealing with Commencement matters, I ask him to take it back to the Minister directly and alert her to this issue. I hope it is one that can be resolved for the betterment of the children in the school.
Deputy Damien English: I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the position on the support provided for schools with a high concentration of pupils that require language support such as the one he has raised.
Teacher allocations are approved annually in accordance with established rules based on recognised pupil enrolment. Schools are very well informed about the rules. Reforms introduced in the 2012-13 school year created a single simplified allocation process for both learning and language support. At primary level, learning and language support hours are allocated on the basis of mainstream classroom teaching posts in the school. Schools have autonomy to deploy this resource between learning support and language support depending on the specific needs of the school. The new arrangements also provided for additional permanent teaching posts to be given to schools with high concentration of pupils that require language support. Further additional temporary support is also provided, as necessary, on the basis of appeals by any of these schools to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board.
The criteria used for the allocation of teaching posts for the 2015-16 school year are set out in Primary Circular 0005/2015 which the Senator quoted and which is available on the Department's website. In addition, the staffing appeal process at primary level includes the provision whereby schools with a high concentration of pupils requiring English as an additional language can apply for additional temporary language support posts. These language support, EAL, allocations are made on the basis of appeals by schools to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board, using projected enrolment for the following September.
The school referred to by the Senator has one permanent language support post. The school submitted an appeal under the English as an additional language criterion to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board. The board upheld the appeal at its meeting in March 2015 and allocated one additional temporary language support post to the school, subject to the school achieving its projected enrolments on 30 September 2015. The school was informed in March. The Senator said September but the school knew in March that it had this post. The school would have been very clearly told that it was subject to enrolments on 30 September 2015. That is usually very clear, but that does not seem to be the case in the case mentioned by the Senator.
While schools must have at least 20% EAL pupils to apply for a temporary EAL post, not all schools with that percentage of EAL pupils will receive a temporary EAL post. As stated in Circular 0005/2015, additional post or posts may be approved "having considered the circumstances outlined by the school and having regard to the high number of pupils requiring EAL support". As the projected enrolment of pupils requiring language support was not achieved on 30 September 2015, the temporary language support post has been withdrawn. The school will retain its permanent language support post. The Primary Staffing Appeals Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.
I thank the Senator for raising the issue and giving me the opportunity to outline the process and bring some clarity to it. If the Senator has additional information we are missing, I will bring it to the Minister's attention.
Senator David Cullinane: The answer does not bring clarity. In fact, it raises more issues. In the Minister of State's response he says the criterion used in the allocation of teaching posts for the 2015-16 year set out in Primary Circular 0005/2015 which I quoted is that 20% of the total enrolment of the school is made up of pupils who require EAL support. It then goes on to state that while schools must have at least 20% EAL pupils to apply for a temporary post, not all schools with the percentage of EAL pupils will receive a temporary post. It goes on to state, in terms of the school I have mentioned, that having considered the circumstances outlined by the school and having regard to the high number of pupils requiring EAL support, the numbers were not achieved. What is the percentage? It seems to be very subjective. It was very clear in the past - it was 20%. It now states it has to be at least 20%, but it depends on the high number. What is a high number? That is the challenge principals face.
Deputy Damien English: The Senator asked me if I had all of the figures for all posts in the country. I do not have them, but I will get them. To be clear, on the school mentioned by the Senator, the projected figures on which it won its appeal in March did not materialise in September 2015. The projected enrolment of pupils who would require language support was not achieved by 30 September. That is why there was a change. I will seek the other information the Senator requires.
Order of Business
Senator Maurice Cummins: The Order of Business is No. 1, Children First Bill 2014 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m.; No. 2, Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 71, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 19, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Senator Marc MacSharry: We will not oppose the Order of Business. Can a debate be organised on the situation developing in Northern Ireland? I acknowledge there was a debate in recent times, but the revelations yesterday north of the Border in a number of reports and further revelations on this side of the Border are concerning. Everybody is committed to the peace process, with 98% of the people voting for it. However, there have been allegations in the past few years about internal police forces and procedures whereby child abusers were diverted to other locations. This issue was raised by Máiría Cahill, a candidate in the forthcoming Seanad by-election, which is concerning. When we hear a claim that an army council directs the operations of a democratic political party, without prejudice to anybody in that party, it is one that requires an explanation and a debate which I am sure, as a political party, it would welcome in its own interest. This morning's contribution by Deputy Mac Lochlainn on Newstalk in which he described these reports as "nonsense" was not helpful. A prerequisite to the talks in the North which we all wish well should be that Sinn Féin, the UUP and the DUP accept and welcome the report and commit to addressing issues raised in it. Again, without prejudice to anybody, that is the kind of positive and direct approach that needs to be seen rather than a pattern of denial which frankly, without prejudice, adds nothing but suspicion to anybody who is involved in democracy, from whatever party and no party.
I again raise the issue of rural crime. I am sure all Members at different times, certainly those based in rural and regional communities, have raised it. I believe one reaps what one sows. The facts are the Government has closed 139 Garda stations and the latest recruitment drive which produced 200 gardaí nationally has resulted in none of them being deployed to Sligo and Leitrim and only five to County Donegal. I refer to the north-west region, which is where I live. This morning a supermarket and pub were the subject of a robbery. The town has no Garda station and the nearest Garda station is located 30 miles away. In such situations it is difficult for gardaí to reach a crime scene on time, which is why I say the Government has reaped what it sowed.
Apart from the Government decimating rural Ireland through its closure of community services such as Garda stations, locations such as Dromore West in County Sligo which is where this latest robbery took place have now become targets for sophisticated criminal gangs. This morning's robbery was carried out by a gang of five who used heavy machinery. The robbers knew what they were doing, seamlessly carried out the crime and did not care about alarms going off. Sadly, because of under-resourced Garda stations and a lack of people on the ground these criminals have not yet been apprehended. We hope they will and wish the Garda well in that regard. I would like the House to debate rural crime and work out what can tangibly be done to restore normality to rural communities throughout the country in order that all of the people, including business people and the elderly, can feel safe in their homes or business by having a visible presence of gardaí in the shape of Garda stations and personnel.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the passage of Second Stage of the Marriage Bill through the Seanad last night. The legislation was greeted with a celebratory atmosphere in the House. The Visitors Gallery was full and the overflow was accommodated in the nearby AV Room where people could watch the debate. It was a heartening and welcoming experience to be part of the debate. I hope the Bill will achieve a speedy final passage through the House tomorrow in order that we can see the first marriages take place between same-sex couples without further delay.
It is welcome that we will debate Report Stage of the Children First Bill today after the Order of Business. It is also welcome that the Government has accepted two amendments tabled by my colleague, Senator Jillian van Turnhout, which relate to the abolition of the defence of reasonable chastisement. This development is hugely important and something that is long overdue. It is great to see the Seanad as a Chamber in which the Government accepts amendments of this kind and I know that we will have a good debate.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the victims of crime. Is there a projected date for the introduction in the House of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill? This morning the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality dealt with the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. During the course of the debate powerful submissions were made by eight NGOs who work with victims of crime. They included the Victims' Rights Alliance, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, and other groups. In the course of their submissions the NGOs reminded us that the Bill was important because for the first time it provided a statutory framework for the protection of victims' rights in the criminal justice system. It is also a Bill that will implement an EU directive that must be transposed in Ireland by 16 November. The legislation has reached the heads of a Bill stage. The committee is hastening through its pre-legislative scrutiny of the legislation. I wonder can we get it into the Seanad without undue delay. During the submissions we also heard from Safe Ireland, which this morning released its data on domestic violence which contained some frightening figures. As it pointed out to us, the appalling tragedy where Garda Tony Golden was murdered highlights the serious issue of domestic violence and domestic abuse.
I ask the Leader for a debate on Northern Ireland in the light of yesterday's reports of paramilitary activity in the North. As it happens, I will be in Stormont tomorrow and will speak at a conference in Belfast. It is good that we have close links with our parliamentary colleagues in the North. To that end, I ask the Leader to consider at our next meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges what role the Seanad can play in supporting the peace process and bringing about the restoration of the institutions in Northern Ireland. When former Senator Martin McAleese was here, one of our speakers in the House was the head of the Orange Order. There may be some other way in which the Seanad could support those who are trying to ensure there is a return to proper structures in the peace process and proper parliamentary structures in Northern Ireland.
Senator David Cullinane: I, too, would welcome a debate on the North. We debated the matter in this Chamber a number of weeks ago. On that occasion the contributions made by most of the Senators were comprised of a long list of political charges against Sinn Féin. Nothing constructive was offered on how to solve the problems with the peace process or successfully conclude the talks.
I wish to respond directly to Senator Marc MacSharry who asked about the claims made by MI5 in a report that had been published. I recommend that people read the report in full and not take their cue from headlines broadcast by the media or from anywhere else. I urge people to read what the report actually states. In it MI5 shared its view that some members of the IRA believed the army council had a direction in regard to Sinn Féin. I wish to state that is untrue. I have been an elected member of the Ard Chomhairle of Sinn Féin for the past three years and was elected on the floor of the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis. The media come to my party's Ard-Fheis every year. I am elected democratically by the membership of my party because that is how it works.
Senator Marc MacSharry wants to talk about criminality. I can tell him that the only political party that I am aware of that had, in its ranks, people who were convicted of criminality and for taking brown envelopes of cash and stuffing them into their pockets, is his own. These acts went to the very highest level of his party. If he wants to have that debate, my party will have it with him. As I said in this Chamber a number of weeks ago when we debated crime, it does not matter to me who is involved in criminality. If some former members of the IRA are involved in crime, they should be ruthlessly pursued by the authorities in the North and the South. Yesterday in the Dáil my party's justice spokesperson, of whom the Senator spoke about, supported stronger cross-Border initiatives to bring the people in question to justice. Sinn Féin wants such people to be brought before the courts and convicted. Sinn Féin and its members have put their lives on the line by standing up to such individuals who are involved in criminality in Border areas and the North. I contrast the leadership given by Martin McGuinness on all of these issues with the leadership of the Fianna Fáil Party that has, for political and electoral reasons, taken a harder line than that of the DUP. Let us contrast all of this with what Mr. Peter Robinson, MLA, said and did yesterday. He is now back in the talks and wants the DUP back in the Executive. That is what we should focus on. I would welcome a constructive debate. I hope we will look at the real issues, not at contrived crises, which happens all of the time for political and electoral purposes. We must identify the real issues in the peace process in the North that need to be addressed in the same spirit that was applied to the process which was supported by people like Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, Martin McGuinness, MLA, Deputy Gerry Adams and Albert Reynolds. They were all part of a constructive peace process. Let us get back to that type of politics. We must ensure we make the agreements work, that the institutions stay in place and that we have institutions in the North that work in the best interests of all communities. I would welcome a debate and hope the Leader can arrange it as soon as possible.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I agree with Senator Marc MacSharry and some aspects of what was said by Senator David Cullinane. We all wish the talks well in the North. The two separate reports are in agreement, as regards headlines, that a former paramilitary organisation is still in existence, albeit not for military or terrorist activities. Unfortunately, in the supposedly democratic society on both sides of the Border, particularly on the other side of the Border in the south Armagh district, there are some crime families who may have been members of an illegal organisation that run the areas as though they are still their personal fiefdoms. In the area I mentioned there is a proliferation of blue metal community alert type notices imbedded in walls here and there which some Members have probably seen. The citizenry are being advised that if they have anything to report in terms of disturbance in the community or otherwise, they should ring this number, but it is not the number of the police force. There should be only one police force.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Unfortunately, there is not normal policing as we know it in the South or other areas in the North. This issue needs to be addressed. There is so much more that all of us can say arising out of the two reports and as such I would welcome a debate on the matter.
Senator Terry Leyden: I, too, welcome the appointment of Professor Philip Lane, economics professor at Trinity College Dublin, as the new Governor of the Central Bank. It appears an unseemly row has broken out between the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, over that appointment. They should not be washing their dirty linen in public. It undermines the credibility of the new Governor that the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, is not in agreement with his appointment. It is disturbing, to say the least, particularly in the European context, that there is a doubt, cloud or shadow cast over the appointment of this highly reputable person which, I think, everybody here welcomes.
I ask that the new Governor investigate the activities of Mars Capital which acquired the 2,200 loans from Irish Nationwide Building Society. Mars Capital is a vulture fund which, although registered in Ireland, does not appear to be under the control of the Central Bank. I cannot find any evidence on its website that it is under the control of the Central Bank. It was brought to my attention this morning that it was regularly in touch with compliant customers and mortgage holders about their accounts. I would regard this as a form of harassment. I would like to see Mars Capital brought under the control of the Irish Central Bank, in particular with regard to mortgage loans and interest rates. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Finance to come to the House for a debate on the matter which I may also raise as a Commencement matter.
Senator Mary Moran: I reiterate my sympathy to the family, friends and Garda colleagues of the late Garda Tony Golden. The scene last Thursday in my local parish church was one of devastation and immense grief that another member of an Garda Síochána had been gunned down in a cold-blooded murder. When I visited the family last week, the late Tony Golden's wife and mother-in-law pleaded with me to ensure something was done to ensure our laws on bail for people who had been convicted of serious crime, as in the case of the person who carried out this murder, were changed.
We must ensure the Border is adequately manned and patrolled. I welcome the announcement that 27 additional gardaí are to be deployed to the Dundalk district, but I hope this will be a permanent resource, not only a token six-week presence, as happened following the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. We need to wake up. It was devastating, not only for people in the locality or members of An Garda Síochána, to whom my heart goes out but people generally that we were faced with the murder of another garda less than two years after the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. I, too, would welcome a debate on activity in the North of Ireland. While we have previously had such debates, there are now more serious allegations to be discussed, as highlighted in the reports published yesterday. I agree with Senators that we all have a lot more to say on this issue.
I also pay tribute to the people of Blackrock and Haggardstown who came together from last Sunday and have showed what true community spirit is. It was unbelievable to see people, some of whom knew the Golden family, while others did not, coming together and doing whatever they could to help, including making tea, providing refreshments, directing traffic and so on. It was a proud moment, if one could take anything at all from it. I hope that in the long term it will be a source of comfort to the family. Blackrock is renowned for the fact that the tide comes in very seldom. Last week, even the sea was silent and the atmosphere in Blackrock was reflected in the heavens.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Tacaím leis na moltaí atá á ndéanamh go mbeadh díospóireacht againn maidir le cúrsaí an Tuaiscirt, an proiséas síochána agus an ról atá againn anseo chun é sin a chur chun cinn. I support the calls for a debate on issues in the North. It is important at this stage that we focus on the real issues at hand, including budgetary issues and their implications, the proper functioning of the institutions in the North and how we can foster North-South relations. In the aftermath of the visit to this House by Drew Nelson of the Orange Order, an invitation to the House was issued to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It would be timely if the Seanad were to reissue that invitation to the new First Minister, when known, and the Deputy First Minister.
Tréaslaím le Dónall Ó Cualáin atá ceapaithe mar leas-choimisinéir an Gharda Síochána. Is garda as Conamara é. Fear breá é a bhí ag feidhmiú i gceantar an iarthair. Guím gach rath air san ról sin. I again call for a debate on the direct provision system, particularly implementation of the recommendations of the working group on direct provision. We have rightly had a lot of discussion about the Syrian refugee crisis and how it is to be handled, but I am concerned that the new accommodation to be provided in this regard, as per the advertisements for same, will be direct provision plus. There are 4,000 people languishing in direct provision centres, in respect of which there are many recommendations made in the working group report, including an increase in the €19.10 per week benefit provided for the people in them. I expected the announcement of such an increase in the budget last week, but I have not yet been able to obtain clarification on the matter. There are huge concerns within the direct provision centres about the manner in which the working group report recommendations are being implemented, how it is being managed, who is in charge and so on. I understand there have been a number of changes in personnel in the agencies leading the work. It is important that the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, come to the House to update us on the matter.
Senator Paschal Mooney: Yesterday I raised the issue of the departure of the boxing head coach, Mr. Billy Walsh. This morning I attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications with the chairman designate of Sport Ireland, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, who reiterated much of what he had said during his interview on television last night. What has emerged out of all of this is that the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, has serious questions to answer. For the benefit of the House, it is funded almost totally by the taxpayer and is, therefore, accountable to the taxpayer. Last weekend the president of that organisation assured the Minister of State with responsibility for sport that the matter of Mr. Walsh's tenure would be resolved, yet two days later he tendered his letter of resignation. There was much anger conveyed at the meeting this morning, not only by Mr. Mulvey but also by members of the committee, about the details which had emerged in the past week. It was not about money. Mr. Walsh is a true patriot and did not wish to leave Ireland, but he is leaving tomorrow. He is the best boxing coach in the world, as Mr. Mulvey put it, and from this small nation. We are ranked fourth among boxing nations because of Mr. Walsh's tenure. The point made by Mr. Mulvey which I would like to convey to the Minister is that the IABA showed disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring; the Irish Sports Council and the taxpayer. This has to stop. The organisation is dysfunctional and must be held to account. Will the Leader convey this message to the Minister of State? Perhaps there might be an opportunity for him to come before the House to outline the relationship between sports bodies and the Department in the context of the new sports body being set up. It is important that we clarify what the relationship is. Is it fair, right and equitable that all of the taxpayers' money is being given to an organisation that is getting rid of Mr. Walsh because that is what it is doing? The IABA has more or less stated it does not want him and that he can go. As Mr. Mulvey said, it issued a crocodile tears statement yesterday that it regretted the matter and wished Mr. Walsh the best of luck. That is unacceptable. To thumb the nose at the democratically elected Government of the country and the Minister of State who is responsible for providing sports governing bodies with taxpayers' money is not acceptable either. In normal circumstances, I would propose an amendment to the Order of Business to have the Minister of State brought before us because the departure of Mr. Walsh is imminent, but I will not do so. However, I strongly urge the Leader to convey these comments which I am sure are supported by all sides of the House to the Minister of State and to have the Minister of State to issue a public statement, possibly later today, outlining his plans for the future governance of the IABA and perhaps to take money off it and give it to the high performance unit as a separate autonomous body, as has been done in the United Kingdom, in order that the boxers will not suffer as a result of this and that the dysfunctional group of dinosaurs in the IABA is brought to account.
Senator Catherine Noone: I welcome the rounding to be introduced for one and two cent coins from 28 October. There is an awareness campaign running. There was a successful trial held in Wexford in 2013 and 85% of participants were satisfied. As I said previously when I called for this to happen, people tend to hoard one cent coins because they do not want to carry them. Therefore, I welcome the development. It is not the biggest issue in the world, but it is certainly a cost to the State and I am glad to see the move happening.
I commend Laya Healthcare for an activity programme it has introduced across the country. It was piloted last year when it received a very positive response. It is called Super Troopers. Research involving 379 national school teachers and almost 1,000 parents nationwide indicates that the programme which incorporates activity homework has been a success, with 71% of teachers and 70% of parents confirming that taking part in it resulted in an increase in children's daily activity. Meanwhile, one in four teachers remarked that children's concentration levels had improved as a result. Children are also feeling the benefits, with 57% of those aged between four and 12 years admitting to eating more fruit and vegetables and 64% saying they drank more water. It is vital that children get used to being active at a young age; it is all about preventive health care and the good of the nation.
Senator Paul Bradford: I heard many of my colleagues call for a debate on Northern Ireland in the light of the publication of two important reports yesterday. I certainly support their request. When we reflect on the difficulties on that part of the island which are profound and serious, we must remember that the starting point is that for the past 21 years or thereabouts we have had relative peace in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We are, therefore, starting from a positive perspective. Not too many Members of this or the other House served when we had a daily diet of bombs, bullets, murders, condemnation, hopelessness and despair. Therefore, let us not forget that we have moved a long way and that people on all sides and none have been responsible for this. That must be the starting point. There are very profound troubles to be addressed, but I have often made the point that if we can ensure the current generation, particularly in Northern Ireland, at least stops killing each other, perhaps the next might grow closer and that there will be a stronger community ethos and stronger and more normal politics. That is what we must aim for. The reports are significant and perhaps serious, but they are not really surprising because they simply tell us what we know. We have been walking and dancing on egg shells for the past ten, 12 or 15 years so as not to cause difficulties, but we are reaching a stage where we must be a little more blunt in our analysis and discussions. We will want to hear much more from Sinn Féin about its relationship or otherwise with the army council-----
Senator Paul Bradford: -----which I think is a throwback to former times. It probably consists of some sad old men who are still meeting and talking about the war which they actually lost; their plans to drive 1 million Unionists out of Northern Ireland which they have failed to do; and their plans to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Ireland which they have failed to do. We are sometimes afraid to remind them that if they had been fighting a war, they would actually have lost. Let us move forward and have a constructive debate and appreciate the peace we have enjoyed on the island for the past 20 years, but let us also deal in a mature fashion with the problems that remain. Let those who want to live in the past be consigned to history because most people on the island, North and South, have moved on.
Senator Martin Conway: I echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Paul Bradford. We can engage in negative or positive politics. While there are problems that must be addressed, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have come a long way. The best way to deal with the situation in the North is to have cool heads and try to be as professional as possible in our dealings on it. We owe this to future generations.
This is mediation awareness week, as perhaps some Members of the House might be aware, but I suspect many are not. Many practitioners involved in mediation, be it through professional bodies, the Family Court, company mediation services and NGOs, are giving of their time this week to promote mediation services. When one thinks of the problems in the North, society is always conflicted. Individuals, community groups businesses and families become involved in conflict. Is it not far better to deal with issues through mediation to come up with solutions rather than having to go into four goldmines to make millionaires of barristers and senior counsel? Mediation services are in their infancy in this country and have to gain huge traction. I commend all of the professionals who are working voluntarily this week to promote such services. I also commend Councillor Josepha Madigan, a Fine Gael councillor in Dublin South, who has written extensively and published books on the issue. Mediation is the way forward. Perhaps we might organise a debate on the issue at some stage. I have tabled a Private Members' motion on it in the past. It may now be time to celebrate mediation awareness week by committing to having at least statements with the Minister for Justice and Equality on how she sees the future for mediation in the country.
Senator Terry Brennan: With Senator Paschal Mooney, I attended this morning's meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications which was addressed by Mr. Kieran Mulvey, chairman designate of Sport Ireland. Having listened to him, I believe the IABA has serious questions to answer. We had the best boxing coach in the world at our disposal. He has had great success not alone at home but also across the world. In the year before the Olympic Games it is a sad loss for the sport and the country. It was not an issue with remuneration. Apparently, all the man wanted was respect. He was not being respected by the IABA. It is a sad state of affairs. To lose a man of his calibre is the United States' gain and Ireland's loss to sport.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: On the Northern Ireland issue, cool heads are needed now and people will decide the fate of Sinn Féin. However, regardless of the outcome for Sinn Féin, the nation needs peace above everything else. Everything needs to be stabilised. I would support having a debate on Northern Ireland.
Senator Maurice Cummins: Senator Marc MacSharry called for a debate on Northern Ireland in the aftermath of yesterday's reports. As has been stated, we had a debate on Northern Ireland only a few weeks ago, but I will try to facilitate a further debate, given that so many Members have requested it in the aftermath of the reports mentioned.
Senator Maurice Cummins: Senator Mary Moran reiterated the sentiments expressed by Senator Jim D'Arcy about the murder of Garda Tony Golden. She commended the people of Blackrock and Haggardstown who had acted as a community last week.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh called for a debate on the reports on Northern Ireland, including the Garda report. He also called for a further debate on the report of the working group the on direct provision system. We will try to facilitate that debate. As he knows, we have had a number of debates on the issue. Senators Paschal Mooney and Terry Brennan referred to the debates at the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications and Mr. Kieran Mulvey's presence there today. They are right in saying the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, has serious questions to answer. It showed complete disrespect to the Minister and the taxpayer. Whatever about funding the IABA, it is important that the high-performance unit be funded properly and that our boxers receive the financial support they need to continue their good work in bringing such success to the country. Perhaps the high-performance unit might be divorced from the IABA.
Senator Catherine Noone spoke about the proposed abolition of 1 and 2 cent coins, a development which has been welcomed by many. The Senator also commended Laya Healthcare for its Super Troopers programme which, as she outlined, has many benefits.
Senator Paul Bradford referred to the situation in Northern Ireland. He is 100% correct in stating we have come a long way. We have moved a long way from the time when we would come into the House and hear about bombings and killings which had taken place. As he indicated, the reports on the army council and other matters are significant. However, to many, they are not surprising. Even while discussing these problems, there is a need to move on and try to facilitate talks that will ensure the Executive will be up and running properly in Northern Ireland. Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war and we must ensure that will continue to be the case.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames referred to a number of matters about which she was concerned. I have addressed the issue of crime and the legislation which will be brought before the House. We will try to facilitate a debate on housing with the relevant Minister. I understand there will be further announcements in the next couple of weeks, at which stage perhaps we might invite the Minister to come before the House.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames might table a Commencement matter on the specific health item she mentioned. On what the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has done, there will be an extra 400 beds in the system before the end of the year. That is a very positive step in the health service.
Children First Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages
Acting Chairman (Senator Michael Comiskey): Before we commence, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also on Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded. I welcome the Minister. Amendment No. 1 is a Government amendment and also in the name of Senator Jillian van Turnhout. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together.
In page 5, line 12, to delete "and to provide for related matters." and substitute the following:"to provide for the abolition of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement and, for that purpose, to amend the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997; and to provide for related matters.".
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly): I will address amendment No. 1 first. This is a technical amendment to amend the Long Title of the Bill in order to provide for the abolition of the defence of reasonable chastisement by way of an amendment to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, as proposed in amendment No. 2.
Deputy James Reilly: This amendment proposes to amend the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 and provide for the abolition of the defence of reasonable chastisement. As I stated on Committee Stage, the Government is fully committed to the elimination of corporal punishment and protecting children from violence. This amendment not only abolishes the defence of reasonable chastisement but will also convey a strong message which, I hope, will lead to a cultural change across society in Ireland that corporal punishment is wrong. Senator Jillian van Turnhout proposed an amendment in this regard on Committee Stage and I requested her to postpone the progressing of it until Report Stage in order that the work already well under way in my Department on the issue could be finalised. I thank her for her co-operation in that regard. This is a very important issue and it is one on which we share an objective. Many Members of the House who spoke on the issue on Committee Stage clearly share the same objective. The Senator supports the amendment as brought forward by me today.
I take the opportunity to mention the late John Boland, a former Deputy and predecessor of mine, who is survived by his widow, Kay. On 26 January 1982, when he was Minister for Education, he introduced a regulation banning corporal punishment in schools. That regulation came into effect in February 1982. We are joined in the Visitors Gallery by the relatives of the late Dr. Cyril Daly, whom I knew very well and who was also a great exponent of banning corporal punishment when it was neither popular nor profitable to do so. As a result of his stance, he found himself in conflict with those powers that he held in such dear esteem.
The amendment provides for the total abolition of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement. It does not create a new offence but rather removes something that has its roots in a completely different era and societal context. The measure asserts that there is no circumstance in which it may be seen to be in order to hit a vulnerable person, in this case a child; that from a child's perspective, there is nothing reasonable about being on the receiving end of corporal punishment; that Irish parents are no less protective of their children, nor less progressive in their parenting practices, than those in the other 19 European countries where a statutory ban on corporal punishment is in place; that the Government, by its laws, will protect and vindicate the rights of children; and that Ireland is diligent in meeting its international obligations in the area of human rights. The measure represents a significant advancement in the protection and rights of children. It reinforces the developing impetus in parenting practices in Ireland to use positive discipline strategies in upbringing of children which reject the use of corporal punishment.
The environment in which the amendment can be taken is one that takes account of the children's rights referendum. The referendum marked a milestone in the country in regard to children. The people voted in favour of children having rights and those rights that must be respected. The action we are taking is a further step in recognising those rights, making the amendment to the Constitution all the more real.
I would also like to say a word about positive parenting where we support children's self-discipline and behaviour by means of a learning strategy rather than through punishment. Positive parenting is strongly advocated by many parenting support groups and programmes. The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, has published a parenting support strategy which was launched in October 2013. As part of the strategy, the agency has launched its 50 Key Messages document, an evidence-informed guide for parents and practitioners of key messages that are important in raising children. Family resource centres around the country provide positive parenting programmes which people will find beneficial. In other jurisdictions where similar measures in this area have been introduced research shows the number of parents who thought it acceptable to use corporal punishment has fallen and continues to fall.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout: The Minister, Deputy James Reilly, is always welcome to the Seanad. He is, however, particularly welcome today.
Senator Terry Leyden: I welcome the Minister and his senior staff to the Chamber. I congratulate Senator Jillian van Turnhout on this amendment which I fully support instinctively as a parent and grandparent. Without the support of the Minister, this would not have been possible. I admire the work and research the Senator has put into it. As deputy leader of the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe, I am especially pleased to be associated with it because it would have been to the forefront of the Council’s agenda.
Giving leadership to neighbouring countries is an interesting development. On foot of the work done by Senator Jillian van Turnhout and in the light of the support she received, the fact that it is permitted in those jurisdictions will put pressure on their legislatures to consider the issue. What is happening here certainly proves a point. If there were no Seanad, this amendment would not have been included because nobody in the Lower House sought to move it. No Deputy decided to pursue it in the manner in which Senator Jillian van Turnhout has done. Had this House been abolished, the amendment would never have been moved. There would have been no amendment and the current position would have continued to obtain. The latter is a worthwhile point and the people recognised it. The Minister is following in the footsteps of his late colleague from north Dublin, John Boland, who brought about the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. This was a major innovation, particularly as all Members, including the Minister, will recall being in school and the fear and terror we experienced. I attended a Christian Brothers school and have a great deal of respect for that order. I will never attack the Christian Brothers because they gave me a good start in life. I refer, in particular, to Brother O'Dwyer who gave me great support at school and whom I have always regarded highly. Nevertheless, the Christian Brothers had leather straps made which allowed members of the order to inflict maximum torture on pupils. I recall the fear of getting "six of the best", as it was called, and seeing teachers standing on their tiptoes in order to inflict the maximum pain. That has stayed in my memory. This fear was not just for myself because I was not punished that much, although, like every child in the class, I was given six of the best at some stage. I recognise the name of John Boland in the Chamber today. He was a former colleague of the Minister in north Dublin and I presume he knew him well. He was the Minister who brought about the abolition of corporal punishment at a time when there was a lot of resistance to the proposal. Looking back, was it not right that it was abolished?
Senator Terry Leyden: Teachers could physically abuse pupils in front of their peers in the classroom. If I look back to my own childhood, it was like that of Senator Jillian van Turnhout who was blessed with her mother and father and the manner in which they gave her support. That support has built her up and given her the courage to bring forward these amendments. However, I recall going home to a loving mother - my father was a stonemason and worked away from home a great deal - who was there to greet me with a cup of tea and some biscuits. I looked forward to that moment. There was never fear in my home and I was fortunate in that regard. Moreover, one continues with the example one receives with one's own family and that was something to which we never needed to resort. It is nothing about which to boast, but I was fortunate this did not arise.
I wish to make one point on which the Minister might respond. This provision should not lead to overuse or abuse of the resources of An Garda Síochána. However, a reasonable approach should be taken. One might call it a phasing-in approach whereby people will be aware of the position, will not abuse the law and will not be able to resort to this defence if they are actually challenged or if charges are brought against them. It is important that from the time the President signs the Bill into law, anyone who sees a child being abused, by a parent or otherwise, will have the right and use it to inform a member of the Garda that wrongdoing is taking place and that the law is being broken. I refer to public demonstrations of abuse which will be quite evident, which one can foresee and about which one can do something. Privately and internally, a child will be able to contact the helpline, which is fine, but the Minister should be aware of this point. The publicity that will arise from this provision and parents' awareness of it will go a long way toward achieving compliance and ensuring parents will not use force against, abuse or slap their children . There are many other ways to do it. Every family is different, but this is an important development and I am delighted to be associated with it.
I again congratulate Senator Jillian van Turnhout on her initiative in tabling this amendment. In particular, I congratulate the Minister and his officials. I presume this measure was approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday last; therefore, I take the opportunity to compliment the Cabinet also. I do so because this may not be as popular in some quarters as it might be in others. However, popularity does not matter - we are concerned with the rights of children. As the Senator noted, why pass a referendum without introducing this measure? In a sense, there was a contradiction in that the people approved a children's rights amendment without something being done to protect children in their homes or otherwise. I again say, "Well done," and offer my congratulations. I thank the Minister for going along with the amendment in the House. It shows his independence of thought and ability as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I have great faith in his ability and long may he continue his work.
Senator Marie Moloney: I add my voice to the welcome for the amendment. I also welcome the Minister and thank him, in particular, for accepting it. He gave Members great heart on Committee Stage when he stated that if he had his way, the amendment would be accepted. I spoke at length on the amendment on Committee Stage, but I reiterate my thanks and appreciation to Senator Jillian van Turnhout for the work she put into it. She has been the driving force behind it. One sometimes might hear people stating a Senator was not elected to the Seanad but instead was nominated. Senator Jillian van Turnhout has proved today why she was nominated to be a Member of this House. She brought her expertise with her having worked with the Children's Rights Alliance and now, having utilised it, has accomplished what she set out to achieve. Today I am proud to be part of a Government party which has accepted the amendment. I speak on behalf of all my Labour Party colleagues who support fully the amendment and are delighted that it has been accepted. I am sure our leader, Senator Ivana Bacik, will reaffirm this point when she speaks.
In recent weeks I have discussed this proposal with people and told them what is happening. Approximately 99% of them are in agreement with the proposal and state it is fantastic and represents a great move on the part of the Senator. Some others have a little reservation about it. One point that arises continually relates to people's concern abjout how it will be policed and how we will know if children are being slapped at home. I recall that when the smoking ban was introduced, people thought it would never be possible to police it. However, the ban came into force and it worked. Moreover, because it involved an entire cultural change, it stopped people smoking in private houses. People who visit my home will go outside for a fag. I have never stopped them from so doing because I do not really like it in the house. Although there was no obligation on them to leave a private house to go out and smoke, they did so nevertheless. The smoking ban appears to have involved a culture change for people and I believe what is proposed will also involve a cultural change. That change will focus people's minds on the issue. They can concentrate and conclude they can no longer slap a child. Regardless of how gentle one might be in doing so, one cannot slap a child. I believe 99% of the people are honourable and will abide by this law.
I thank all those present in the Visitors Gallery who have put a lot of work into this measure in conjunction with Senator Jillian van Turnhout, the Minister and his officials. It is a great day on which I am proud to be present in the Seanad. What we are doing shows that this House was worth keeping.
Senator David Cullinane: First and foremost, I commend the Minister for bringing forward the Bill. It is a good day for Ireland and the State that the passage of the Bill through the Houses is reaching its conclusion. I sat on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children for the first two years in which I served in the Seanad and it was an issue the Minister constantly supported and raised. He received full co-operation from my party, as well as cross-party support and support from the Independent groupings and that has helped us to reach the position at which we have arrived. I also commend Senator Jillian van Turnhout for her eloquent contribution. Her tabling of these amendments which the Minister has accepted means that this is a good day for the Seanad and governance in the State. It is far too often the case that what we are witnessing does not happen because, although reasonable amendments are tabled, they are not accepted as a result of the fact that they are put forward by the Opposition. I am pleased that on this occasion the amendments are being accepted.
It also is important to state we have come a long way during the past 30 years in how we deal with issues pertaining to children's rights. This culminated in the referendum which, again, my party supported. It was fantastic to see that referendum proposal being passed, even though many people, for spurious reasons, did not support it. I am proud Sinn Féin supported it. I am glad that the Opposition and Government parties which supported the referendum proposal on a collective basis managed to get it over the line.
In many respects, the Bill flows from that referendum outcome and strengthens the safeguarding of children. It puts key elements of Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children, 2011, on a statutory footing. It also introduces mandatory reporting of child protection concerns for key groups that provide services for children. Many thousands of children in the State and across the island have been abused. Many of them were failed by organisations and the State. We have all learned many valuable lessons on how we deal with these issues. That is for the good of all concerned.
I welcome the important amendments to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement from the Statute Book. It is a good day for the State. I will not say what year I was in because that might give away who the teacher was, but in one of the years when I was in primary school, we had a teacher who had a long stick and used it occasionally to smack all of the children in the class. There was only one teacher in the entire school at the time who used the stick. Fortunately, that does not happen any more. That shows we are progressing all the time.
Reference was made to parents who smacked or used correction to chastise a child. I have two children, one of whom is aged eight years and the other, four. They can be very trying at times, like anyone else's children. They try my patience but I have never once raised my hand to either of my children and I never will. However, I will not demonise people who see it as valid to give a child a slight smack. I do not agree with it; it is wrong. What we need to do is to deal with it in legislation to make sure that it is not right and that we send a message collectively from the Oireachtas that we do not tolerate such behaviour any more. While a person might consider it to be the right thing for him or her to do, that he or she is not doing anything wrong or that this is the way he or she wishes to chastise his or her child, it does not work, it is not right and it is not fair. We have all seen parents in pubs or at open air events give a child of two or three years of age a smack. That is most unfair and not the way we should chastise children when they do wrong.
I commend the Minister for the significant work he has done. He should be commended for this personal achievement. The Government should also be commended, as should all of the Senators who have done their own work on it. I single out Senator Jillian van Turnhout and commend her for the really good job she has done, given her experience and what she has brought to the Seanad on children's rights issues.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the Minister and the groups and individuals who are present in the Visitors Gallery to witness the Bill go through. I wholeheartedy welcome these two amendments. I say, "Well done," to Senator Jillian van Turnhout and congratulate her on her tenacity in pursuing this issue. That has brought us to this day when we see this historic Bill being passed, in particular for the reason that it will abolish the ancient and very much outdated defence of reasonable chastisement.
Senator Mareie Moloney rightly spoke about the cultural change that will undoubtedly be consolidated and strengthened by the passage of the Bill. I am also a parent of young children. That cultural change has happened. It is now seen as very much unacceptable to physically chastise a child. We have come to realise that there is nothing reasonable about physical chastisement, despite that outdated term we still use. It is really good to see the law catching up with it, the Minister accepting the amendments and the Bill being passed. I commend the Minister and his officials for their work in taking the amendments and getting Government support for them.
This morning the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality held hearings on the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill. We heard from children's rights groups on the protection of the rights of child victims of crime. The Bill is very much in keeping with that overall framework of laws in which we are providing greater protection of children's rights and the rights of child victims of crime. The laws are within the overarching framework of the children's rights amendment that we passed successfully some years ago, as referred to by other Members. As leader of the Labour Party group, I add my words of support and commendation. I congratulate Senator Jillian van Turnhout for her work on the Bill. I thank the Minister, in particular, for using the Seanad in this way. As other speakers said, it is a good day for the Seanad when we see Private Members' amendments being accepted by the Government in the House and Bills being strengthened and improved as a result.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: I endorse the amendments. I welcome the Minister who has always been a great servant of children. The children of Ireland are well served by him. When he was Minister for Health, he took steps to ban smoking by adults where children were present in cars. He listened most attentively on Committee Stage to what Members said. I was in his company on the sad occasion last Thursday. Everybody who was at Garda Golden's funeral was moved by the two year old, three year old and five year old children following their father's hearse. We knew that the Minister's heart was in the right place. I am delighted that he has accepted the amendments.
Senator Imelda Henry: I, too, congratulate Senator Jillian van Turnhout, not just for her contribution today but also for her several contributions in the past four and a half years since she came into this House and even before she became a Member of it. She is absolutely committed to the welfare of children. It is a pleasure to know her. I sincerely congratulate her on everything she has done so far. I have no doubt that she will continue to support children for many years to come. I thank the Minister for accepting the amendments. He is doing a fantastic job. I congratulate him on his commitment to children. He should keep up the good work.
Deputy James Reilly: I will make a few comments as concerns were raised by Senator Terry Leyden about the effect of the amendments on Garda resources. Tusla will still be the first port of call. No new offence is being created. Matters will be dealt with in the way they have always been addressed very seriously by Tusla if there are allegations or reports of a breach of the legislation.
This is progressive legislation. We have had a number of pieces of progressive legislation in recent years, all of which I welcomed.
Even when we were in the darkest of times financially, we did not forget the things that were important in life and our values as a people.
In page 20, after line 21, to insert the following:
Abolition of defence of reasonable chastisement
In page 24, line 21, after “1991” to insert the following:“, including a person taking care of one or more children (other than that person’s own such children) in that person’s home, but not including any such person who is a relative of the child or children or the spouse of such relative”.
I will be very brief on this amendment because I support fully the substance of the Bill. With this amendment, the section would provide that a mandated person would include a person employed in a preschool service within the meaning of Part VIIA of the Child Care Act 1991, "including a person taking care of one or more children (other than that person's own such children) in that person's home, but not including any such person who is a relative of the child or children or the spouse of such relative". We dealt with this issue on Committee Stage and believed there was reason to bring it forward again on Report Stage as a number of other amendments had been submitted. The problem for us is that the Bill defines a mandated person as a person "employed in a pre-school service within the meaning of Part VIIA of the Child Care Act 1991". Part VIIA of the Child Care Act includes childminders caring for four or more children, other than their own, but exempts childminders caring for three or fewer children. The aim of the amendment is to ensure inclusion of childminders caring for three or fewer children while still excluding relatives. We discussed this matter on Committee Stage but felt it was important to resubmit the amendment.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout: I second the amendment for the purposes of debate, but I appreciate, as I have said to Senator David Cullinane, that we probably have not had enough time to debate the issue in full. It is one I support fully in principle.
Deputy James Reilly: Schedule 2 specifies professions or occupations for the purposes of specifying classes of persons to be mandated persons in accordance with the Bill. Amendment No. 3 proposes to include a person taking care of one or more children in his or her home who is not a relative of the child. One of the reasons a person taking care of a child in his or her home is not a mandated person under the Bill is that the categories of persons set out in Schedule 2 were included in the Schedule on the basis of their professional qualifications and ongoing contact with children. The focus on a small, qualified cadre of mandated reporters will, based on evidence, improve the quality of reports made to the agency. The receipt by it of better quality reports from persons who, by virtue of their training, qualifications and professional experience, are well equipped to recognise harm to a child is likely to have a positive effect on the process of assessments of the risk for a child. The list of mandated persons was developed following detailed consideration of both the objectives of the legislation and the reserach paper on how mandatory reporting was dealt with internationally. As indicated, as the persons included in the list have been selected on the basis of their qualifications, role and professional expertise, it means that they are aware of risks to children and their responsibilities in that regard. It is anticipated that reports from these persons are likely to be of a high quality, which will assist the agency in carrying out assessments of risk in a more effective and efficient manner.
The reason childminders are not included in the requirement for mandatory reporting is that the childminding sector is not homogenous and a wide variety of arrangements, including personal family arrangements, pertain. In that context, it was considered overly onerous to impose a mandatory requirement on such a heterogeneous group of providers. However, it is important to note that, while not required to do so under the legislation, any person can and should report any concern about a child to the agency in accordance with the Children First national guidance which will operate in tandem with the legislation. This position applies to childminders as well to as any other person who has contact with a specific child or children, whether in the context of service provision or otherwise. In comparison, the formal childminding sector, namely, crèches, will be covered by requirements relating to child safeguarding statements and mandated reporting.
The Senator's concern to protect this group of children should be alleviated by the fact that there are many other professionals in contact with this group of children, including nurses who are mandated persons and GPs. In this regard, the recent extension of GP medical cards to children under six years of age should ensure greater contact between this group of children and their GPs. This is shortly to be extended further to under-12s next year. GPs are also mandated persons under the legislation. For these reasons, I am not accepting the amendment.
On what Senator Terry Leyden had to say about Garda resources and so forth, in other jurisdictions mandated reporting of this nature has led to a massive increase in reporting, with no increase in prosecutions or real cases being identified. A balance needs to be struck.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout: It would be remiss of the Seanad not to congratulate the Minister wholeheartedly on the Bill. While we can say it is long overdue, it is before the House. The Minister has done the work to put child welfare and protection provisions on a statutory footing. We are solidifying good intentions, which has to be commended. This needs to be resourced and the Minister took positive steps in securing these resources in the budget. I have no doubt that he will continue to do so. For me, this is an emotional day, given the repeal of the defence of reasonable chastisement. I commend the Minister for having the courage to bring it forward. On so many issues, he has proved that he is a children's champion. He is an outstanding Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I thank him wholeheartedly for all he has done for the children of Ireland. He has taken a critical leadership role, for which I thank him.
Senator Terry Leyden: I thank the Minister for the Children First Bill. With the amendment, the Title is absolutely correct, as has been very much proved by the Minister with the support of his officials. The opinion of the Attorney General was also sought in this regard and I thank the Minister for the clarification. I was not trying to put a damper on the Bill, but the point is that Garda resources are stretched. It is important, therefore, that the agency will investigate claims and that the matter may then go further. As the Minister said, that is a very important issue.
I did not realise Mrs. Boland, widow of the late John Boland, was in the Visitors Gallery. She is very welcome. I was in the Dáil with the late John Boland when nobody in this House was here. He was an excellent Minister. It has taken a long time, from 1982 to 2015, to extend those rights. With respect to the Minister, the encouragement received from Senator Jillian van Turnhout and the support of everyone in the House certainly made it possible. We are all very pleased and honoured to be in the House today. Is it not amazing that it took so long? When the then Minister, the late John Boland, brought this forward, it was not as widely accepted as we may think. In fact, there would have been much resistance to it and educationists felt the classrooms would be chaotic, that there would be no discipline, no power and no control, but he proved them all wrong. That is one of his many legacies as Minister in the Department of Education. That stands out today because of Senator Jillian van Turnhout's amendment. It is a wonderful occasion. As we approach 2016, there is no better recognition of it than, after 100 years, we giving children rights as, I think, was envisaged in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Senator Sean D. Barrett also said this was very good and something we should be pleased to say on the eve of the 1916 Rising celebrations. That it will be enacted for 2016 is a very good day's work. I am delighted that the Minister has taken on the portfolio for children and youth affairs with gusto. He has such authority in the Cabinet that he was in a position to persuade it to accept the amendment tabled by Senator Jillian van Turnhout.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: I welcome Mrs. Kay Boland to the Visitors Gallery. I had not seen her before I spoke earlier. Schools are smuch happier places since the late John Boland banned corporal punishment in them. The entire country will be happier because of what the Minister has done today with the unanimous support of the Seanad. This really is a great day for children.
Senator Marie Moloney: We have laid thanks and praise on Senator Jillian van Turnhout, but it would be remiss of us not to thank the Minister for the work he has done today. Since he became Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, he has always put children first. We congratulate him on being a fantastic Minister. Yesterday and today have been two historic days for Ireland. I am proud to be part of a Government party that achieved this.
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015: Committee Stage
Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Ann Phelan, to take Committee Stage of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015. Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and 39 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
In page 4, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:“ “low carbon” means an aggregate reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 80 per cent (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050 across the electricity generation, built environment, and transport sectors; and in parallel, an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector, including forestry, which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production;”.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 were submitted by Sinn Féin and are very similar. They seek to set targets rather than aspirations. We had some lengthy exchanges on Second Stage when I outlined the major flaws in the Bill, one of which is the fact that while the Bill is high on rhetoric and aspiration it is very low on setting targets. That makes a mockery of bringing forward a Bill on climate change because the whole point of doing something on climate change is to put in place targets for actions that will reach a conclusion and deliver something. If we do not do that, there is no incentive to design a plan to bring about meaningful reductions.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: I agree with Senator David Cullinane. We want this to happen. It has to be quantified in order that we can measure progress. Senator Ivana Bacik introduced a Bill in 2007 on the environment and the last Government introduced one in 2010. There have been many delays in bringing forward this Bill. We should know what the goal is and whether we are making any progress.
I have spent many hours and days in the dungeon at the banking inquiry. It is necessary to motivate public administration with quantified targets and the progress we are making. Many knew what was going wrong in the Irish banking sector but nobody did anything about it. For example, the St. Patrick’s Day massacre occurred but by 29 September nothing had been done and then the banks came looking for €64 billion. We need to galvanise and motivate environment policy to reach goals.
This issue has become more urgent. President Obama is seriously concerned about climate change. The Irish-Canadian Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has said that financing the decarbonisation of the economy is a major opportunity for long-term investors. We want progress to be quantified to attract investors and become less aspirational. We all share the same aspirations and support the Minister of State in this regard, but let us make it such that we will do it and have something positive to report at the Paris conference at the end of November and early December and show that Ireland has moved on from general philosophising about the way the environment is deteriorating and to quantify it, set targets and galvanise the public agencies into doing something about it. The need in Senator David Cullinane’s amendments is overwhelming. We will have to do this some time. Let us make today the starting point. Even then, many would say it is too late.
Senator Paschal Mooney: We have also tabled a similar amendment under section 3 which is included in this group of amendments. I am a little concerned that we might miss our targets, even as far out as 2050. Just this week, the European Union published an audit of European countries' fuel needs and Ireland has one of the highest levels of imported fossil fuels, at 89%. In the context of this amendment and the Bill in general, what moves is the Government making to reduce that very high dependence? For example, will wind energy generation, a very controversial issue in this country, make much of an impact? It is welcome that today the Government has allocated €3.5 million to a number of pioneers involved in wave energy projects. There are three Irish companies involved, including one in Galway.
I was a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly sub-committee that prepared a paper on wave energy. I believe at the time the Minister of State was a member of that committee and will be familiar with it. I know that it is a long way down the road. When we were taking evidence, the expert witnesses told us we were at the same stage of wave energy development as the Wright brothers when they were trying to get an aeroplane off the ground for the first time. Therefore, it is at that very pioneering level. That was a bit of a shock to the system and somewhat disappointing because I thought that, with the way technology was moving so fast, we would have reached a much higher level of development. However, that is how matters stand. The Government is obviously committed to developing wave energy. Owing to its location, Ireland seems to have the best possible environment for the development of wave energy projects - primarily off our Atlantic coast which I think is the best in the world.
Amendment No. 2 refers to "an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector, including forestry, which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production". It is often stressed that the herd numbers in the country and the high levels of CO2 these animals discharge, through a variety of sources, are adding to the high levels of carbon emissions. While I am not an expert in agriculture, am I correct in stating that, with technology and through the mix of foodstuffs, we are having some success in reducing the levels of carbon emissions from the cattle herd? The Minister of State may have a comment to make on that issue because it is certainly a contributory factor.
Further to Senator Sean D. Barrett's point about the need to achieve the targets proposed by the Government, I seem to recall that the targets we set ourselves for 2005 or 2010 under the Kyoto agreement, way back in the day, were reached primarily because of the rapid decline in economic activity rather than any attempt by the Government at the time to reduce it. Now that economic activity is picking up again, is the Minister of State concerned that this may pose a challenge and the Government's ambitious targets might be compromised to a degree? I appreciate that she cannot wave a magic wand on the issue and that we need to consider the long term. In an international context, Ireland is not the worst offender in this regard. That is why we all welcome the proposals made in the Bill.
Senator Aideen Hayden: As Members are aware, the word "target" has come into this debate on a number of occasions and there are many targets. For example, the Europe 2020 strategy contains a European target for cutting emissions at a European level and so forth. I do not believe we should enshrine targets in legislation, which is where we should put provisions that are legally binding. While we can all aspire and targets can be very motivating, at the end of the day we have signed up to a number of international treaties that are binding on the country. This legislation has been a long time coming and welcomed by every organisation in the field. It is good legislation which should not be undermined by defining in legislation things that I do not believe can be enshrined in legislation and which are purely targets.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Ann Phelan): The proposed amendments seek to include, in some fashion, domestic greenhouse gas mitigation targets in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 seek to include a definition of "low-carbon" which has effectively been borrowed from the Government's national policy position on climate action and low-carbon development, as published in April 2014. It goes without saying that I stand over the vision of low-carbon transition outlined in the national policy position document. Further to an amendment introduced on Report Stage in the Dáil, section 32B contains an explicit reference to the need to have regard to the Government's policy on climate change. However, I do not accept that the content of the national policy position should be replicated in statute. This is because Ireland is already subject to legally binding greenhouse gas mitigation targets up to 2020. Negotiations at EU level are ongoing to agree mitigation targets for all member states up to 2030. This process of target setting is likely to continue up to 2050. Accordingly, putting in place our own statutory mitigation target for 2050 now would be likely to cut across and interfere with the European Union's target-setting process. The result would either be that our target would be below that of the European Union, rendering it redundant, or that it would be above the EU target, indicating that it is not a least-cost option, thereby putting Ireland at a competitive disadvantage with our EU neighbours.
Amendment No. 3 calls for the insertion of a mitigation target for 2050 in order to secure an aggregate reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of at least 80% by 2050. As stated, I am opposed to setting a quantitative target for 2050 separate from that to be set for us as part of an EU target setting process. Moreover, I believe a single economy-wide target for the State is quite inappropriate, giving our unique emissions profile. This profile is characterised by a large agriculture sector where mitigation potential is low.
Amendment No. 39 calls for the inclusion of a target of close to 100% decarbonisation of transport, construction and energy sectors and carbon neutrality in agriculture by 2050. This is a grossly unreasonable expectation in respect of any country. If it were taken seriously, it would decimate the economy and society. Although substantive decarbonisation of approximately 80% may be achievable outside the agriculture sector by 2050, the marginal abatement cost of achieving close to 100% decarbonisation by 2050 would be truly enormous, even assuming it would be technically feasible in the light of the state of low-carbon technologies currently available. Accordingly, I cannot support the amendments and call for their withdrawal.
Senator David Cullinane: We certainly will not be withdrawing the amendments. In response to the Minister of State' scripted response, targets are set in many areas. We had to set targets for how much waste could be sent to landfill. That obviously led to greater use of recycling and the reusing of waste. Unfortunately, many of those targets were set by the European Union, not by the State. We were dragged, kicking and screaming to take action on some of those issues. However, targets were set and met. A number of local authorities in the State were brought to court for not reaching them and being in breach of European legislation.
It is not fair to say legislation is not a place in which to set targets. It certainly seems to be the norm in Europe. On issues such as energy and climate change, one of the strengths of the European Union is that it tries to set targets to ensure countries live up to their obligations. If we do not do so, to what do we aspire and what do we mean by a low carbon economy? At least my party has tried to define it. Fianna Fáil has tabled a similar amendment which I should have acknowledged in my earlier contribution and which Senator Sean D. Barrett supported. The Government has not defined what such an economy means. As a result, it will not matter what happens in five years time because it will claim to have achieved its targets. To claim that reaching at least an 80% reduction by 2050 will destroy the economy is scaremongering of the highest order. I am not sure who wrote the speech, but it probably was civil servants. I disagree with the claim and think it is nonsense.
I do not accept the Minister of State's weak response. She has not addressed the question of why clear targets have not been set but spoke about the national policy which falls short by far. Ireland has a big problem with climate change, but it is not on its own. I accept that Ireland is not as bad as a lot of other European countries and does a lot better than many others, but globally we are failing. As we have not arrested the problem, the position is deteriorating and it will deteriorate even further, unless we get our act together. Many very powerful senior politicians in other areas seem to take climate change more seriously than this state. It is for these reasons that I shall press the amendments to a vote.
Deputy Ann Phelan: It is the Senator's prerogative to decide whether he should accept my policy statement. I draw his attention to the fact that the first national mitigation plan under the Bill will set out the greenhouse gas mitigation policy measures to be implemented in the following five years. Therefore, it would be premature to itemise them at this stage.
In terms of the mix of mitigation policy measures that will be brought into force in the immediate future, sectoral mitigation inputs from both the energy and agriculture sectors will be included in developing the national mitigation plan. They will address issues related to energy mix and progress in achieving efficiencies in the agriculture sectors. As I said, it is up to the Senator to decide whether he should accept my reply, but I can confirm that I do not accept the amendments.
The Committee divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 22.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Kathryn Reilly; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
In page 5, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:"(1) In pursuit of a low-carbon Ireland by 2050, the Government shall endeavour to secure an aggregate reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2)
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I put no question. Some Senators have said they cannot hear because of the noise in the Chamber. Will those Senators who have no business in the House and who want to chat please remove themselves from the Chamber?
The Committee divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 25.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Darragh O'Brien; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
In page 5, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:"(a) a target of reducing CO2 emissions by at least 80 per cent on 1990 levels by 2050,".
In page 5, line 35, to delete "have regard to" and substitute "be consistent with".
The purpose of this amendment is to substitute the words "have regard to" with "be consistent with". In a dispute I could "have regard to" what person X says and then ignore it and decide in favour of person Y. Are the words "have regard to" strong enough in the promotion of the goal we all share? The amendment seeks to ensure consistency with the items listed in the Bill, including paragraph (a), the ultimate objective specified in Article 2 of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change done at New York on 9 May 1992 and any mitigation commitment entered into by the European Union in response or otherwise in relation to that objective; paragraph (b) the policy of the Government on climate change; paragraph (c) climate justice; paragraph (d) any existing obligation of the State under the law of the European Union or any international agreement referred to in section 2, and paragraph (e) the most recent national greenhouse gas emissions inventory and projection of future greenhouse gas emissions, prepared by the agency. It seems that one would have to comply with the obligations in paragraph (d) which refers to the law of the European Union.
Deputy Ann Phelan: This amendment seeks to substitute the phrase "have regard to" with "be consistent with", as provided for in section 3(2) which deals with matters that must be considered when the Government approves a national mitigation plan or national adaptation framework. I appreciate the sentiments behind the Senator's amendment, but as the list of items to be considered in section 3(2) may sometimes compete with one another, it may not always be possible to be fully consistent with them simultaneously when approving either national plan. Accordingly, the phrase "have regard to" is the most appropriate to use in that it requires a balancing of considerations rather than strict compliance with each. I am, therefore, unable to accept the amendment.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: I thank the Minister of State for her response. Many people would say we should have strict compliance and prioritise the climate change goals over some other considerations. I will withdraw the amendment, but it is important that we comply with the targets set, lest we are faced with the same crisis in the environment sector as occurred in the banking sector, the hearings on which I attended for many days and months. The phrase "constructive ambiguity" was also used at the banking inquiry. I do not like the use of this phrase in the context of the environment either; I would prefer to use the word "quantification". However, I appreciate what the Minister of State had to say.
In page 6, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:"(d) the principle of climate change justice for developing countries and countries vulnerable to climate change,".
I am sure the Minister of State will agree that while climate change impacts on developed countries, it has a profound impact on developing countries, particularly in food and energy production. There are many issues we could discuss. The objective of the amendment is to ensure climate change justice would feature in the Bill such that it would have legislative backup. As I laboured this point on Second Stage, I do not propose to do so again now, but I would welcome the Minister of State's support for the amendment.
Deputy Ann Phelan: The amendments seek the inclusion of a reference to the principles of climate change justice in section 3(2). I am surprised they have been tabled, given that there is already a reference to climate change justice in section 3(2)(c) following an amendment introduced by the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, on Report Stage in the Dáil. Accordingly, the proposals appear to be redundant. I, therefore, ask the Senator to withdraw them.
Senator David Cullinane: We were seeking the inclusion of the reference in this section also. While I appreciate, as stated by the Minister of State, that the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, has inserted similar wording in other parts of the Bill, I would still like to press the amendment, although not to a vote.
In page 6, line 11, to delete "18 months" and substitute "6 months".
Section 4, as drafted, reads:
(1) The Minister shall—(a) not later than 18 months after the passing of this Act, andmake, and submit to the Government for approval, a plan, which shall be known as a national low carbon transition and mitigation plan (in this Act referred to as a “national mitigation plan”).
Why delay further? During the lifetime of the previous Government the former Minister Mr. Gormley introduced a climate change Bill in 2010 and I am informed that Senator Ivana Bacik introduced one in 2007. This is not exactly something we must invent ourselves. Climate change has been around as a subject of research and public policy for a long time and it is time the officials in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government speeded up and stopped delaying the process by 18 months. It should be ready to go now. The Paris conference will take place in about five or six weeks time and asking for a further delay of 18 months is unreasonable. Again, the torpor that was manifest in the Department of Finance with regard to banking appears to apply here with regard to environmental matters. That is not good enough.
Deputy Ann Phelan: The proposed amendment seeks to shorten the timeframe for the production of the first national mitigation plan from 18 months after enactment of the Bill to just six months. Again, I appreciate there are voices both inside and outside this House which are concerned about the timeframe for the production of the first national mitigation plan, having regard to our pressing mitigation targets up to 2020. The original timeframe in the Bill was set at 24 months after enactment. However, having regard to concerns in this respect, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, introduced an amendment on Report Stage in the Dáil to reduce the timeframe to 18 months. I realise a timeframe of 18 months may not be short enough for some. Nonetheless, I consider it is the bare minimum necessary to allow robust mitigation policy measures to be developed and then made subject to strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment pursuant to European Union directives, as well as to statutory public consultation procedures. As all Members sometimes are pilloried for not consulting sufficiently, the 18-month timeframe is the minimum. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendment and, again, call for its withdrawal.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: In 2010 Mr. Gormley, in his carbon Budget Statement, stated his Bill would provide "a strong legislative framework [to support the] transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable [economy]." Consequently, there are papers in the Custom House that presumably have been gathering dust for the past five years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2014 left us in no doubt about the precise nature of the challenge. It concluded the evidence of climate change was unequivocal and showed how man-made emissions of greenhouse gases were driving climate change. Consequently, I will press the amendment, albeit not to a division. However, I will try to get across the message from the Parliament to the permanent government that it should get a move on and stop delaying tactics in matters to do with climate change.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: It is probably redundant at this stage, as the Minister of State has replied on the issue of quantification. While I remain a supporter of quantification, there is no point in going through the same debate twice. That is what I was seeking to do and, consequently, with the permission of the Chair, I will not move amendment No. 8
In page 7, line 39, to delete “to have regard to” and substitute “comply”.
Section 4(7)(a) refers to the need to have regard to existing obligations "under the law of the European Union". I believe we should comply with our existing obligations under the law of the European Union and that is why I tabled the amendment. While I do not wish to call a division on the amendment, I wish to put it to the House that Ireland should comply with the law of the European Union and not have the phrase, "to have regard to", which is not strong enough, particularly when one is dealing with the law.
Deputy Ann Phelan: This is similar to previous amendments. The proposed amendment seeks to replace the phrase "have regard to" with the word "comply" in section 4(7) which deals with matters that must be considered by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Government when performing their functions under section 4. There necessarily are competing considerations when developing and approving a national mitigation plan, all of which cannot be complied with fully at the same time. Accordingly, I believe the phrase "have regard to" constitutes the correct approach which requires a balancing of considerations. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment and, again, call for its withdrawal.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: I, again, thank the Minister of State. If a Member of this House is stopped by a member of An Garda Síochána, he or she is required to comply with speed limits, not just to state he or she had regard to them, saw the sign but just kept on going. A culture of compliance is needed in this area. As I stated, probably prematurely the last time, I will not seek a division on the amendment.
In page 8, line 11, after “measures” to insert “, including the management of soil carbon and the protection and re-wetting of wetlands,”.
Deputy Ann Phelan: The proposed amendment calls for the inclusion of a reference to the management of soil carbon and the protection and re-wetting of wetlands when the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Government perform their functions under section 4. In the first instance, I fully accept that both the management of soil carbon and the protection and re-wetting of wetlands are proven means of maintaining and developing carbon sinks, which are an important option in reducing our overall carbon footprint as a state. As such, these activities fall under the heading of mitigation policy measures. The Bill does not make reference to any particular mitigation policy measure for good reason in that the nature and extent of such measures will change over time and up to 2050, as successive mitigation measures take effect. For this reason, I do not consider it appropriate to single out these particular mitigation policy measures for inclusion in the Bill. Rather, they more properly belong to the content of the iterative national mitigation plans where specific soil carbon and wetland management measures can be specified. For this reason, I cannot accept the amendment.
In page 9, line 1, to delete “laid before Dáil Éireann” and substitute “adopted by resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas”.
I seek to amend section 4(10) which states, "A national mitigation plan shall be laid before Dáil Éireann as soon as may be after it is approved by the Government". As I wish to involve the Seanad, I have proposed the substitution of "both Houses of the Oireachtas". The Seanad has a proud record in this session in terms of the acceptance of amendments and only this morning the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs accepted amendments tabled by Senator Jillian van Turnhout and received a round of applause. This could happen in this area in the future and that is the aspiration. The Seanad has a strong record dating back to the 1920s in being interested in environmental matters and it should be involved in this provision. I do not know whether this was an oversight or whether somebody thought the referendum to abolish this House had been passed, but the Seanad is still playing a notable role in environmental matters. This should be recognised in the Bill.
Senator David Cullinane: I agree with the remarks of the previous speaker. I have made reference a number of times to the all-party consensus which appeared to be evident at the environment committee, which is good and positive. On the subject of political reform in the future, I have no doubt that it will again be a topic of conversation for a while, for whatever Government takes office after the next general election, until we all settle into the old ways of doing business. However, it strikes me that a good way of drafting legislation would be to draw from the reports of committees where there was all-party consensus. If we had done that on this issue, this legislation would be different. I agree with Senator Sean D. Barrett that both the Seanad and the Dáil should sign off on these plans. They should not be simply presented to, or laid before, us. As they are so profound, it is important that we have a proper debate and discuss them. The Oireachtas, the people elected by the people, should be signing off on them. It seemed on Committee Stage that this had all-party consensus but that seems to have dropped away in the meantime, which is a source of regret. I, therefore, support the amendment.
Senator Martin Conway: I do not disagree with my colleagues on the other side of the House on this issue. I do not see what harm there would be in laying the plans before the Houses of the Oireachtas, if for no other reason than to keep the issue on the agenda. Senator Sean D. Barrett is quite right when he speaks about the proud history of this House on environmental issues. In particular, we think of the late former Senator Éamon de Buitléar, for example. Other Senators appointed by previous Taoisigh definitely brought an environmental aspect to the House. Current colleagues to do so include Senators Fiach Mac Conghail and Jillian van Turnhout who tabled amendments on another Bill which were accepted this morning. There is a logic to the amendment and I am interested to know why the Minister of State will not agree to the proposal. Too much is laid in the Library of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It should come to this House, if only for noting, perhaps even without debate. There would be a value in it.
We now have pre-legislative scrutiny in Oireachtas committees. This morning the pre-legislative process on the criminal justice (sexual offences) Bill took place at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality where eight or nine bodies gave their views. I have no doubt that the committee will be influenced by some of the material identified during the course of that process. In other jurisdictions such as Germany this happens all the time. It moves from an Executive-led politics to, at least, coexistence between the Executive and the Parliament. We see the role of the Commission in terms of the European Parliament and the ever-increasing number of checks and balances in the past couple of treaties. There is consensus across the political divide on this issue.
I am filling in today for Senator Cáit Keane, our spokesperson on the environment, who is not in a position to attend. I know that this is an issue that has been brought to her attention by people interested in it. I am interested in hearing why we do not want this to occur and what are the objections.
Deputy Ann Phelan: The proposed amendment calls for the national mitigation plan to be adopted by resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas rather than simply laid before Dáil Éireann after its approval by the Government. I strongly take issue with this proposal as the Government, rightly, should be the sole, approving authority and be held accountable for its approved national mitigation plan. Requiring approval by the Oireachtas as a whole undercuts the role of the Government to the detriment of accountability. It also exposes the adoption of the critically important integrative national mitigation plans to the vagaries of those who may wish to play politics. Surely no one would consider this a desirable outcome. I, therefore, will not be accepting the amendment.
Senator David Cullinane: I am flabbergasted by the Minister of State's response, a copy of which should be given to every citizen of the State if that is what the Minister of State believes. She believes only the Government should make decisions, not the Oireachtas. This includes the Minister of State's party colleagues on the back benches. She is saying the Cabinet should make decisions and the Oireachtas does not have any role, that we are not clever enough and that we should not have the ability to hold the Government to account. That is what the Oireachtas is there to do.
The Minister of State's comments are seriously outrageous and I take grave exception to them. I do not know from where they have come, but it is an absolutely outrageous response to what is a reasonable amendment. It shows the disrespect some Ministers have for the Oireachtas and elected representatives and demonstrates that sense of hierarchy that the Government and the Cabinet should make all the decisions and everything should be signed off on by them. So much for the democratic revolution about which the Taoiseach spoke if that is the response of the Minister of State. I cannot not let it go. It is one of the most bizarre and outrageous responses to an amendment I have heard from any Minister in this House.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: I echo the observations of Senator David Cullinane. We have a parliamentary democracy and citizens have serious concerns about what is happening to the environment, but we have a serious non-response from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government which does not want to be called to account. I am so proud to be a Member of this Oireachtas. We will leave office shortly and have an election and while we stanched the flow of money out of the banking system, for which huge credit is due to the Government, we have not reformed the permanent government. It will make the same mistakes again in banking and finance and the answer we have just received illustrates how arrogant it has become towards the elected representatives of this Parliament. It will be a task for the next Government to sort it out. This is showing blatant disregard for Senators elected to this House to represent our constituents. We are concerned about something which we know has been sitting in the Department since 2010, but the Department is looking to delay it further. The Department does not want to be responsible to the Oireachtas, which is a shameful approach for any public servant to take towards democracy in this country.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson: I totally agree with Senators David Cullinane and Sean D. Barrett. The comment the Minister of State read out is outrageous and I do not believe the Minister of State believes it herself. It is something that has been handed to her. I hope she, as a democratically elected Member of the Oireachtas, does not believe it. This House is an important part of the Oireachtas. To say the Government would be afraid this House would play politics with the issue is totally unacceptable. I cannot believe the Minister of State read out that reply in this House. Senator Sean D. Barrett's amendment that the plans would be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, not just the Dáil, is reasonable.
We are all given to understand that the Cabinet has been reduced to a sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is quite obvious from the Minister of State's response to the amendment that the Government wants to reduce this House and the Dáil to nothing but talking shops. As a democratically elected member of this part of the Oireachtas, I will not accept that. I urge the Minister of State to rethink what she said in this very proud part of the Oireachtas and to evaluate its consequences.
Senator Martin Conway: We can all get caught up in the language used and while I would be in unison with my colleagues, I would not express outrage at the Minister of State. Unfortunately, Ministers are regularly handed scripts. If Ministers had the time to analyse their content, which they do not, the language would probably be quite different. It is a political issue, but it certainly is not a political football. This House can be proud that when it comes to important issues, we deal with and have robust debates on them, but we certainly do not turn political issues into political footballs.
The Committee divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 23.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Sean D. Barrett and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
In page 9, line 13, to delete "24 months" and substitute "6 months".
The purpose this amendment is to substitute the timeframe of "6 months" for "24 months". The 24 month timeframe refers to the time that can be taken from the passing of the Bill for the submission to Government of a plan to be known as the national climate change adaptation framework. The question that arises in this respect, as arose in respect of section 4 where the delay involved was 18 months, is why would we not do this now. There is such consensus, concern and an urgency about the environment that further delays do not seem to make any sense. We have known about this problem. There are papers prepared in the Department, as well as plenty of research. We have Nicholas Stern's report and his latest book is entitled, Why Are We Waiting? He is a noted environmentalist of the highest standing and international repute. The purpose of my amendment is to ensure we do this and not delay doing so for another 24 months.
Senator James Heffernan: I support the amendment. We can have all the documents and legislation in the world, but we cannot achieve much if we are not serious about tackling climate change and enacting climate change legislation. That is the problem I have with the Bill. I like its spirit, but if proper targets are not written into the legislation, there is no incentive to fulfil the obligations contained in it. The biggest challenge facing the human race is climate change. Every country has to play its part. Sitting on our hands and leaving this adaptation framework gather dust for longer than it should is not good enough. It is a reasonable request that the timeframe of 24 months be reduced to six months and I fully support it.
Deputy Ann Phelan: The proposed amendment seeks to shorten the timeframe for the production of the first statutory national adaptation framework from 24 months after enactment of the Bill to just six months following its enactment. As with the national mitigation plan, I understand the motivation behind the proposed amendment. However, the national adaptation framework will be a very complex document which will prescribe the sectors for which sectoral adaptation plans must be developed. Therefore, considerable preparatory work will be required. The draft framework will be subject to statutory public consultation procedures and, as a consequence, I believe 24 months is the correct timeframe to be allowed for its development. I also note that 24 months is the maximum period. If it were possible to do it sooner, it would be done. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendment and call for its withdrawal.
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and the ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow [...] have diminished, and [the] sea level has risen.
It should not come as any surprise to the Department that we want action on this issue. I will press the amendment, but I will not call for a vote on it.
Senator Denis Landy: Yes. I indicated that I wanted to do so before Senator Sean D. Barrett indicated. I, too, expressed concern about this issue on Second Stage. I listened to the Minister of State's response. This matter has been examined by the Department and we have received a response from it in the form of the reply the Minister of State has given to us. I am hopeful the timeframe involved will not be 24 months. When I raised this issue on Second Stage, the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, was taking the Bill and he stressed that it was the outside timeframe. I completely accept what both Senators on the other side of the House have said, that we cannot continue to sit on our hands and allow these matters to go on in the way they are. There must be an urgency about this matter. If we get a further indication from the Minister of State that 24 months is the outside timeframe and that we will endeavour to expedite what is provided for in the section as quickly as possible, it will provide some comfort that a period of 24 months may not be required. That will certainly make me happy, although I will not speak for Members on the other side of the House. While I note the amendment is being pressed but not being pushed to a vote, the Minister of State might respond further on this point as it is an important one.
Deputy Ann Phelan: It is important to point out and reiterate that the national adaptation framework will be a complex document that will prescribe the sectors for which sectoral adaptation plans must be developed. It is also to draw the Senator's attention to the fact that the draft framework will be subject to statutory public consultation procedures and they in themselves have to be adhered to. I note that if it is possible to do so sooner it will be done. I sense the sense of urgency and nobody wants to delay anything any longer than necessary but statutory public consultation procedures have to be adhered to.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: No. We have discussed the role of the Oireachtas. I disagree with what the Minister of State said the last time, but I do not require her to say it repeatedly. Both Houses should be involved, but we have already had that discussion.
In page 10, line 11, to delete “Dáil Éireann” and substitute “both Houses of the Oireachtas”.
It is the same principle. I believe the Oireachtas should be involved. As we have had the debate and a vote on it, I do not wish to press the two amendments.
In page 12, line 6, after “relevant” to insert “published”.
The subsection refers to "relevant scientific or technical advice". It is under the heading to the section which reads, "Matters of which account is to be taken, and consultation, for the purposes of sections 5 and 6." It is a matter that, as I said, has wide implications for public administration. We spent many months at the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis and there was evidence that there had been a lot of verbal advice and no records - there seemed to be a tradition of not writing things down. Many of the written records seem to have disappeared. Saying, "I said something to the Minister in a corridor and that was the advice," was a feature of the banking inquiry, I regret to say. We have to take this on board. That is why I want to have published written advice which could be examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General or committees of the Oireachtas. The word in the ear, in the tradition of public administration, has served us very badly, to the tune of having to give banks €64 billion. There has to be a signal that this is the end of it. I want the advice to be subject to scrutiny, written down and available for surveillance by both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is the "Whatever you say, say nothing" approach to policy in Ireland that I am putting under pressure with the amendment. I do not want to have it on a basis of constructive ambiguity but on a firm basis on which we can judge whether the advice was worthwhile and would know who gave it and who takes responsibility for it. We have not been doing this very much in administration.
Deputy Ann Phelan: The proposed amendment seeks to insert the word "published" before the phrase "scientific or technical advice" as one item that must be considered. When the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Government perform their functions in respect of national adaptation frameworks and sectoral adaptation plans, I appreciate that publication is a necessary element of the peer review process of academic articles. However, the phrase "scientific or technical advice" is a somewhat broader concept and includes valuable learning which may not be in the form or yet in the form of published academic articles. It would be restrictive to limit relevant scientific or technical advice only to published articles, not least because the climate change advisory council might proffer such advice to the Minister or the Government outside the concept of formal peer review. This does not necessarily limit its value. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.
In page 12, line 15, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.
The Government "may" consult the advisory council. This is a kind of "shrug your shoulders" concept. What is the point in having an advisory council if the Government will not consult it? That is what it is there for. A view has been expressed in this debate that policy making involves a few people on the inside who do not really have to write anything down - it is a case of "a word in your ear" and so on. In this case, they have discretion as to whether they should listen to the advisory council. These are complicated issues. I have always found that the more ideas there are the better. To give the Government power to have an advisory committee and ignore it is bizarre. It is not open democracy, reform of public administration or participation in the world of ideas, which, as J. M. Keynes said, are far more powerful, whether for good or ill, than vested interests. Why does the Government not want to consult its own advisory council and why does it want the discretion to ignore it? It seems to be a particularly strange way to set up an advisory council. I hope there will be eminent people on it and that we will always be interested in what they have to say and that they will be addressing committees in the Oireachtas and talking to Deputies and Senators. Protecting the environment is the responsibility of all of us. I would like to see a more participatory and less restricted, traditional view, as reflected in the section, as it stands.
Senator James Heffernan: I cannot see any reason this amendment should not be accepted by the Minister of State. It seems reasonable that an advisory council being set up by the Government should be consulted. That is what the setting up an advisory council should be about. Section 7(2)(b) provides that the Minister shall consult but the Government does not have to. I do not see where that will get us. I have certain issues with some of the members that will be on the board of the advisory council and appointments to positions in the Environmental Protection Agency. I do not like what this may lead to. It may lead to a clandestine, "behind closed doors" scenario where vested interests will have a greater influence in this sector than people who are concerned about the environment. A lot of people involved are the polluters the legislation is trying to control and they are very influential. They make a lot of money. Before decisions are made, the advisory council, even though it may not be perfect in its constitution, should be consulted if it is supposed to be an advisory council to the Government and not just overlooked.
Senator Martin Conway: The amendment proposed by Senator Sean D. Barrett makes eminent sense. Including the word "shall" as opposed to "may" should not a big issue if there is an advisory council in place with the necessary expertise, even if it may vary in opinion. It is an advisory council and it is there because its members have certain expertise. One cannot help but think that a situation such as this is similar to the sub-committee of the boxing association not putting Mr. Billy Walsh's contract to the board. One has to rely on the expertisem available. Again, the council might not always agree, but I cannot see why a matter could not be referred to it. That said, to be fair to the Minister of State, she may have a perfectly logical explanation for this. As it stands, however, I have to agree with the sentiments of Senators James Heffernan and Sean D. Barrett.
Deputy Ann Phelan: It is worth pointing out that the climate change advisory council is an independent body. The proposed amendment would make it mandatory, rather than optional, for the Government to consult the council when performing its functions with respect to national adaptation frameworks or sectoral adaptation plans. Nobody is going to overlook the council.
By way of background, the climate change advisory council will publish its own annual and periodic review reports and their content will be available to the Government. Moreover, the Government's primary role in respect of national adaptation frameworks and sectoral adaptation plans is one of giving approval. This is an executive function and I do not believe it is appropriate to require the Government to consult anyone or anything else in such executive decision-making. Therefore, I will not be accepting the amendment.
Senator Sean D. Barrett: We were assured this body would have parity with the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, with which the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, quite happily consults. There is dialogue between them, but it does not diminish the very high standing of the Minister in the Oireachtas or the country. That is why we have advisory bodies. The dialogue could be creative and, obviously, the Minister finds that to be the case. I thought it was accepted that the climate change advisory council would have parity of esteem with and the same standing as the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, with which the relationship works perfectly well.
In page 12, to delete lines 30 to 35.
I propose to delete the references to the first four members of the advisory council. We must have independence of thought and action. People within the broad bureaucracy seem to act in union. That was a feature of the banking crisis, where they called those who disagreed with them the contrarians and marginalised them. That consensus can be extremely dangerous. The first member of the advisory council is the director general of the EPA. The advisory council may wish to make reflections, good, bad or indifferent, on the EPA. Sustainable Energy Ireland may also have widely differing views on energy policy, given that we regularly have widely differing views on the issue in this House and some of the most stimulating debates we have are on various energy factors. In both cases, why do the insiders automatically have seats on the advisory council? The position is more serious in the case of Teagasc, an agricultural development agency charged with the task of promoting agriculture, which is a major source of pollution. Therefore, that body is compromised. The last body mentioned is the ESRI and the evidence Professor John FitzGerald gave to the banking inquiry illustrates my point. When the Department of Finance did not like what the ESRI was doing, somebody rang to complain and that person was code-named "Nervous Nellie".
Senator James Heffernan: The make-up and membership of the advisory council are the main flaws in this legislation. This flies in the face of what the Bill is trying to achieve. There will be an advisory council that basically will be hand-picked by the Government of the day or people who have been appointed to various other bodies by the Government of the day. We will end up with a lot of company men and yes-men who will certainly nod and go along with the words, "Yes, Sir, No, sir, three bags full, Sir". They are in the know and, if one likes, the golden circle. For example, the director general of the EPA comes from a background of representing the incineration industry. She has no qualms about her personal position that she does not see the role of the EPA as protecting the environment, as seen in her statement that she does not see the EPA rushing out to prosecute known polluters. Sustainable Energy Ireland has not exactly covered itself in glory in this area either, having a lot of connections with and conflicts of interest with the wind energy industry lobby organisation. In the case of Teagasc, as Senator Sean D. Barrett pointed out, the agriculture sector is not taking protection of the environment seriously. In addition, the director of the ESRI is going to be looking out for big business.
My problem concerns the communities where known polluters operate, given that potentially they will receive licences in the future. They are being protected and the Bill will move towards protecting them further into the future. If the Government is serious about dealing with climate change and having advisory groups and bodies, having company men and yes-men is not the way to go. We need proper, scientific, evidence-based research that is the most up-to-date on climate change and emissions. We need people who are not there to protect big industry but who have the protection of human and animal health and the environment at their core. Having these vested interests on the advisory council by way of legislation is the most fundamental flaw in the Bill. It does not inspire confidence in me or the communities with which I have been dealing which have been fighting battles against known polluters in Limerick, especially in the Shannon Estuary area. I support Senator Sean D. Barrett's amendment, as I believe the Minister of State should do.
Deputy Ann Phelan: The proposed amendments call for the complete removal of ex officio members from the climate change advisory council. The council has 11 members and is chaired by Professor John FitzGerald. There is international expertise in Professor Ottmar Edenhofer who has been the chairperson of IPCC working group III. There are five other members who bring a wealth of experience to the group. I am concerned that calling for their removal would rob the advisory council of valuable insights into the realities and practicalities of policy implementation in Ireland. The point about the practicalities is very important. We have renowned international expertise on the panel. We are all in favour of robust mitigation policy measures being developed and implemented in a timely fashion. The role of the advisory council is to provide advice in this regard. It would be strange if the council did not have at its disposal, as full members, experts in policy implementation. The four relevant organisations, the EPA, SEAI, Teagasc and the ESRI, all have great expertise in policy implementation. They also have a wealth of talent and infrastructure behind them to lend assistance to the council when and if required, particularly where relevant research is concerned. Forgoing this support around the main table would do a disservice to the requirements and demands of the low-carbon transition agenda. Moreover, the advisory council has already been established on a non-statutory basis and is already working on its various tasks. Changing its composition now would be problematic and impractical. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendments.
Senator James Heffernan: I am disappointed because I have seen how the EPA operates. It granted a licence to Aughinish Alumina, a known polluter in my area. People's livelihoods have been destroyed. I have seen evidence of questionable practice where people's health has been put severely at risk by that polluter in that area. The Environmental Protection Agency gave it a licence requiring a bond in case of a major catastrophe involving its waste ponds. That section of the licence agreement was subsequently deleted and a licence without any bond was granted. I do not trust the EPA or its director general. I do not have any faith in what the EPA does, while it is still protected by legislative immunity which the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has failed to tackle on a number of occasions.
The Minister now plans to appoint somebody who was appointed from the incineration industry to the advisory body that is supposed to protect people from emissions. It does not stack up and it is wrong that these yes-men, company-men and insiders who have been operating very questionable practices under the Department's watch will now be on an advisory council that tells us what is best for the environment when they have clearly failed communities throughout the country in their obligations in terms of what is good for the environment.
I have made the Minister of State aware of another potential issue coming down the tracks which the Department needs to take seriously. I refer to the proposed gasification unit in my constituency. It will cause serious trouble for the Department, as it is locally already. The Department has been warned of this, but it has failed to take action. I do not trust any of those CEOs or directors general as having better knowledge than people at the coalface or those scientists with publications whom Senator Sean D. Barrett mentioned. Having insiders, yes-men and company-men on the advisory council undermines the advice that will be given to the Government. I am dismayed and we will press the amendment to a vote. The ultimate failure of the legislation is having insiders again calling the shots.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 24.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Sean D. Barrett and James Heffernan; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
United Nations Principles for Older Persons: Motion
That Seanad Éireann notes the ratification by Ireland in 1999 of the United Nations Principles for Older Persons which include:and calls on the Minister for Health to:- Article 6: “Older persons should be able to reside at home for as long as possible”;
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who I know is interested in this issue. A student at Oxford once told Albert Einstein that he had set the same examination questions as in the previous year. Einstein said the questions may have been the same but that physics had moved on and that, therefore, the answers would be "very different". It is how we answer things that may change.
Google explains everything to us. The wisdom of experience is explained through it, not through the experience that goes with a human being’s age. Philip Roth, the novelist, said old age was not a battle but a massacre. The older I get, the more I know what he is talking about. The Government should not add to the massacre. Depression is rife among older people. We rarely hear about it because it is the preserve of another chronology. We are not educating enough doctors to study gerontology. It is the least sought after medical specialism in America.
Nursing homes cost five times more than independent living. That brings me back to my point about the fair deal scheme. Did nursing homes really find their route in giving ageing people a better way of life, better than what they had in their other lives? No; they were created to clear out hospital beds. The place where we are most likely to spend part of the frail last years of our lives was never really created for us. I fully accept that we have quality and standards in nursing homes and that they are safe. However, it is not happy sometimes. A person might have left his or her apartment, but he or she is no longer allowed to do things because it is not safe. One might have made one’s own jewellery. Now, one just plays bingo, watches a DVD and has passive entertainment but not purpose. Health and safety have closed down much of the creativity in nursing homes and what older people can do in them. The elderly have less freedom than children. What we forgot in all our protection in pursuing health and safety was how to make life worth living. The elderly are frail, weak and cannot argue for themselves. People like us are here to argue for them. Why have we not burned nursing homes to the ground? There is one in Dublin that I would burn to the ground. It is because we do not really believe anything else is possible. We believe it is sort of possible under certain conditions. That brings me back to Pádraig Pearse and the lack of a clear vision.
We need to develop assisted living as the norm, building it in every village and town. I believe when one is away from home, one has lost one’s freedom, no matter what one’s age. I also believe older people should never disburse decision-making to their children. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 will be very helpful. Children are not in charge of their parents. Neither are nursing homes. Elders are in charge of themselves, even when they lack capacity because there was a time when they did have capacity and they can make these decisions. In the lobby of Leinster House the Proclamation stands. It talks about human rights. This is one.
Privatisation of home care means that one hour of home care costs €25. At 168 hours a week, that comes to €4,200. In 2026, 16% of the population will be over 65 years. We now have what are termed young-old, people aged between 65 and 74 years; middle-old, people aged between 75 and 84 years, and old-old, people aged 85 years and up. That is how long people are living. If one buys into the fair deal scheme, one cannot reverse one’s decision.
There are 36,000 people in nursing homes, equivalent to the population of Sligo town. According to the ALONE report, some 12,000 of them do not need to be there. Up to 12% of elders in nursing homes engage in passive suicide. I saw it myself. Up to 57% of the budget for older person services is being allocated to just 6% of the older population. The percentage of the elder population in nursing home care in Ireland is 35% greater than the EU average. In the past five years there has been a significant decrease in supports for older people to age at home. The level of support has been cut by €1.6 million and the housing adaptation grant by €30 million. I understand everything had to be cut, but we must start reversing it. There is too much money going to 80% of stand-alone nursing homes. We need to parallel that money in communities. We put people’s names down for nursing homes because we do not know or have not developed good home care supports. The average length of stay in a nursing home is two and a half to three years. There is no incentive to reverse that pattern. Strategies are no guarantee of implementation.
We wait for occupational therapists to tell us what we already know. We are not acting like we should in a smart economy but as in a bad economy in terms of bad health. I have just read the WHO report on ageing and health, in which Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, stated, "There is no “typical” older person ... older age does not imply dependence". We need less emphasis on congregated care and more on community care.
Almost 2,000 years ago St. John said, “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you do not want to go." I rest my case. I am delighted that the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is in the Chamber because she has a genuine interest in elders. I would like to see policies reversed, with fewer stand-alone nursing homes. Instead, I would like to see care being provided in the community where the elders deserve to be, in the core of what they built themselves in their lives and want to come back to.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout: I second the motion. I thank my colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, for tabling it and helping to us understand the rationale behind it. We all know it instinctively, but she has hit it home for us all. I have long been a believer in balancing supports and the need to invest more in community services. We tend to over-emphasise the medicalisation of too many issues, when we actually need to look at their humanisation oto ensure people can get the help where they need it.
I am delighted to second the motion. My own father is in a nursing home. I have nothing against nursing homes. He had a severe stroke and is high dependency but receiving high-quality care. However, there was a period when he should have been receiving care in the community, but the service was not available. That is why I have chosen to drill down into one area to illustrate why I am so honoured to second the motion.
Four years ago the Government launched its strategy, National Policy and Strategy for the Provision of Neuro-Rehabilitation Services in Ireland 2011-2015. As the title suggests, the intended lifetime of the policy ends in two months time. Now is a good time to see what has been achieved. It will not take me long because there has been nothing, not even an implementation plan. As Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell said, the difficulty has been cutbacks which have affected all services but particularly neuro-rehabilitation and services for older people. In general, the total number of community support hours has fallen, according to Age Action’s figures, from 11.97 million in 2009 to 10.29 million last year, despite an increase in the number of people who wish to access the services available.
The Government rightly lauds the success of the Health Service Executive’s national stroke programme in transforming acute stroke services across the country. We have seen the death rate from the disease cut by 13%, against both demographic and international trends. This means that more people than ever are returning home after a stroke, but the community rehabilitation services that enable survivors to maximise their recovery and quality of life are as bad as ever. At the most vulnerable time of their lives, in the wake of a major brain injury, survivors are effectively abandoned at the hospital gates and left to face the future with no support or services. The Irish Heart Foundation's "Cost of Stroke in Ireland" research illustrates just how badly stroke survivors are being failed. It should be underlined that the problem is not about how much money is being spent but where it is being spent. The study estimates that the direct cost of stroke to the State is up to €557 million a year. Of that €557 million a year, €414 million goes towards nursing home care and less than €7 million goes on community rehabilitation services. How does this fit into Government policy to keep people at home? We are saving more lives than ever from stroke due to improvements in hospital services and amazing staff. The system then waits until after it can help to maximise the recovery and after it can help people return to and remain in their homes before it spends any money on them, instead of switching the focus to rehabilitation. We know that saves lives in instances of stroke and saves quality of life, which is at the core of the motion being put forward by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell.
I would like the Government to look at the issue of early supported discharge programmes which Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell called a fair deal for home. We need a way to ensure we can care for people and that they can receive the resources they need in their own homes. The report of the ESRI and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland last year concluded that over 3,000 stroke survivors could benefit from early supported discharge programmes. That would reduce the number of hospital beds used by 24,000 annually, freeing up vital space to ease the crisis. The data from the three early supported discharge pilot programmes in the Mater, Tallaght and Galway University hospitals indicate bed savings of between eight and 14 days per patient, with improvements in self-reported quality of life, which is absolutely at the core of what we are talking about from 9.5% to 19.4%. Some will say this is evidence from urban areas but, for example, Galway University Hospital recorded the biggest bed day savings, even though the current programme only serves rural dwellers who make up to one third of its patient numbers.
I support the motion because it is about the quality of all our lives. If one looks at the UN principles for older people, one will see that they are about ensuring people have choices, that services are available and that we do not needlessly put people into hospitals. We have to ask what the roles of the hospital and the community services are. I have experienced it with doctors on night call - all too often the easy option is to send a person to an emergency department because the doctor is covered. We need to drill down and provide supports at home.
My in-laws are Dutch and I see the amount of community support provided and the way the system is tailored around the home in the Netherlands. If people need supports in their home, they will be provided - people ask for them when they want them. My father-in-law is quite ill and able to ring and have a doctor within 20 minutes on every occasion. We should be striving to provide support in the home when and as it is needed. We need to ensure older people have access and the optimum level of physical, mental and emotional well-being. We also need to look at other services. I have been discussing the medical services, but there should also be educational, cultural, spiritual and recreational services. I am sure we can debate this matter further.
I second the motion wholeheartedly. This debate is part of a journey. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has done considerable work in this area. I hope this contributes to that debate, but I really hope it adds to action and a change in policy rather than platitudes.
Senator Colm Burke: I welcome the Minister of State. I thank my colleagues for bringing forward this Private Members' motion. We face a major challenge in the next few years in how we develop policy in this area. Just because someone reaches a certain age does not mean that suddenly there is a dependency. One lady who lives in my area is 99 years old and she still drives a car. I have a connection with another person who is 91 years old, confined to a wheelchair and lives on her own. She wants to live on her own because she does not want to go into a nursing home. People can live on their own and can continue to live the life they want to live rather than being confined to a nursing home. We need to examine how we do this and how to bring about the necessary changes to make sure more and more people can stay in their own homes and live there for a longer period.
Ireland will be a society for all ages that celebrates and prepares properly for individual and population ageing. It will enable and support all ages and older people to enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing to their full potential. It will promote and respect older people's engagement in economic, social, cultural, community and family life, and foster better solidarity between generations. It will be a society in which the equality, independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity of older people are pursued at all times.
It is a very important vision statement and we need to make sure every word of it is followed through. I brought forward a Private Members' Bill, the Health (Professional Home Care) Bill 2014, which set out quite clearly why we needed to improve the monitoring of home care and make sure we planned for home care provision and that there was proper supervision and regulation of it. The provision of home care is about making sure there is proper planning, risk assessment, a care plan and that it deals with issues such as the handling of money, about which older people worry, manual handling, training and its cost. It is important to look at this issue.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I compliment Senators Marie-Louise O’Donnell and Jillian van Turnhout for their initiative in tabling the motion. We are all great at talking in these debates but not so great at coming up with innovative solutions. I agree with much of what Senator Colm Burke said. I am sure we will all agree with each other in the debate as there will be no contention.
As my favourite Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is aware, the problem is that she is the one who is left with too few resources for her entire portfolio which encompasses mental health, ageing and the elderly. They are the people who are more vulnerable in society and their voice is not as loud as it ought to be. When we have debates such as this, we all agree and tomorrow, unfortunately, it is a case of business as usual once again.
We must push the boat out and think outside the box. I suggested previously in the House that a pilot scheme be set up whereby the means test for carer’s allowance would be abolished, with protocols to encourage the 12,000 people who do not need to be in care to go home with the assistance of an aunt, niece, first cousin, neighbour, brother or child. The Minister of State should ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, to consider this. In addition to the support outlined and the provision of carer’s allowance of some hundreds of euro per week, the people concerned should be given a medical card and, where necessary, a home care package to assist. Protocols could be put in place to ensure people are not just on the make in becoming a carer for someone who does not need a carer. No doubt there are enforcement measures and assessment criteria that would see through such applicants.
The cost per week for district nursing homes run by the HSE in counties Sligo and Leitrim ranges from €900 to €1,550 and various sums in between. It is not as simple as one being better at delivering the service than others; it is to do with the complexity of patients’ needs and the services provided. If one takes away carer’s allowance, a number of home help hours, includes the respite care grant and a medical card and takes away prescription charges, the per week charge would struggle to get to €800, as opposed to sums ranging from €900 to €1,550 to keep a person in a nursing home. I accept that we are in an era where we are trying to reduce social welfare payments and we do not want social dependency, but there is not an elderly person in a home who does not have a relative capable of providing a level of support that might facilitate them in their home, who does not have a job and who would not be prepared to do this work. A carer provides flexibility that a person in nine to five job, five days a week, could not provide. That would be something worth doing. It could be done on a pilot basis, for example, in Sligo, or even for one nursing home or a group of nursing homes to see whether it would work, how much it would cost and what could be saved. Given all the factors involved, such an approach must be worth trying. It is not the case that I am looking for any credit.
I would welcome a response from the Minister of State on the issue, not today, but after she speaks to her officials, the Department of Social Protection, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to see whether we could try such an approach. Perhaps we might get all parties to include it in their manifestos in advance of the general election, whether it is held in February, March or whenever else. It could be a real winner, not in securing votes but for older people. The votes would undoubtedly come, but that is not the point. None of us has covered ourselves in glory in recent Administrations. When the money was available, we had one-upmanship and pensions and supports increased, but it was never enough. When it came to cutting back, there was too much of a focus on taking the money back. It was easy to do that and people just had to accept it.
I do not wish to be overly political but let us consider the savings made on prescription charges. Before the last general election the charges were to be abolished. The then Opposition spokesman on health, Deputy James Reilly, was most vociferous on the almost criminal aspect of the charge. It is difficult to disagree with that perspective. Then the charge was increased from 50 cent to €2.50. One could ask how much we collected. I suspect the amount was negligible.
The same is true of the changes to the criteria for medical cards for those aged over 70 years. There were other small changes such as to the telephone allowance and the respite care grant. We all welcome the return of the latter, as it was a key support for the 77,000 families in receipt of carer’s allowance. Carers save the Government of the day €4 billion a year. What divides me politically from perhaps the Minister for Social Protection or the Minister for Finance in recent years is that people who were earning more than €100,000 a year were expected to be hit for another 1% or 2% in the more difficult budgets of recent years. They would not have liked it, nor would they have wanted it and it would not have gained anybody any votes, but they were better heeled to sustain the hit, rather than the few hundred million euro that was saved or gathered as a result of increases through such measures as the increase in prescription charges or the cut to the bereavement grant, changes in the criteria for receipt of the medical card and under the drug payment scheme, which figure increased from €120 to €144. They made a significant difference to people’s lives. As someone with a mortgage and everything else who has faced up to the recession as best I can, if asked whether I would have been prepared to pay a little more for to ensure relative security for older people, I think I would. I urge the Minister of State to please look at this as a possibility. By all means, she can come back and tell me I am crazy and why, but I think it is worth a try. Let us hope there is never a recession like this one again, but if there is, next time I hope we can focus on taking a little more from the people better placed to sustain it, even though they will not like it.
There is a nursing crisis that has been caused by a number of reasons. First, we are training one third fewer nurses per year since 2008. I read a press release from the INMO today which outlined that the number of nurses at the beginning of 2008 was 39,000, while today there are 34,200. There are approximately 4,800 fewer nurses in the system. Inevitably, that takes its toll on services such as home help. An aggressive recruitment policy is not paying off, largely because pay and conditions are being judged as insufficient by graduates who want to go elsewhere. There is also competition from private nursing homes. That is another area on which the Minister of State must focus.
I have tried to be innovative and come up with suggestions. I hope the Minister of State will try to take them on board and come up with a response. I commend the Minister of State for her commitment to her job, but I condemn the lack of foresight on the part of her colleagues in government to provide her with the resources she needs to look after the most vulnerable in society in terms of those with mental health issues and the elderly.
Senator John Gilroy: Sometimes old age is seen as a burden. Others think the accumulated benefits of ageing such as knowledge, experience and wisdom mean that it is not a burden but something that is welcome and necessary. As a society, people and policy makers, we must acknowledge our attitudes to ageing and see where they fit into the dichotomy of views on ageing. This takes on an increasing importance as the population ages. It is unhelpful to think of elderly people as a homogenous group. I know a man in Glanmire named Joe who celebrated his 90th birthday on Saturday night last. He still cuts grass using his ride-on mower. As a psychiatric nurse, I have spent a long time looking after elderly people and those who suffer with mental health issues. There are people in their early 60s who do not enjoy the benefits of good health. It is important, therefore, that we do not lump everyone together in a homogenous group and state all of those who are elderly have the same needs.
There is no family in the country that does not experience the joy of living with a parent or relative who is becoming increasingly elderly. In parallel to the ageing process is the decline in people's health, etc. It is important that we put the needs of elderly people at the top of our policy agenda. There has been a recent move in that direction. We see it in the Bill that was debated last week in the Dáil on increasing the age of retirement. The Minister of State has also placed the fair deal scheme at the top of the political agenda. She has made great moves in delivering in this area and that fact must be acknowledged.
Many families, including my own, have required the assistance of the State. An elderly, widowed relative of mine was happily living alone until we started to notice a decline in her health. For example, some days she would forget to eat her dinner. In hindsight, they were signs of the onset of Alzheimer's disease. They were not recognised, of course, although one would think I, as a psychiatric nurse, would have been able to spot them. However, the onset of the disease can be insidious and slow and can go unnoticed. The onset of the disease required that a pathway of care for my relative be put in place. It is interesting that it was generally a good experience for us. The main initial concern of my elderly relative was terrible because it was loneliness. It was not a specific illness or disability but loneliness is debilitating. I know that the Minister of State understands this point. This relative came to live with us, but we needed support. The voluntary sector offers fantastic support in this regard. The services offered by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and the Carers Association are fantastic if, unfortunately, limited, given the demands on their time and resources. We used the private sector extensively.
I will mention one group called Home Instead. The service offered was wonderful and affordable because, although a private organisation, tax reliefs were available. This relative only had her pension, but she could afford 20 hours a week, with someone from Home Instead coming and sitting with her, minding her and chatting with her. At the end of the year, marginal rate tax relief was available, which set us up nicely for the following year. We should consider extending the tax relief available on such schemes or find some other mechanism. We were lucky that we could afford to do it. A large number of people cannot, which is unfair. Is there some way it could be extended, be it by means of the tax system or otherwise? I am not saying we should replace the statutory and voluntary bodies, but we should allow the private sector to complement what is being done. In doing so, we would relieve some of the burdens placed on the State's resources.
We had a negative experience when my elderly relative had to go to hospital. She fell one night and injured her shoulder. We had a very poor experience at the emergency department. The emergency services are always topical, but the service was very unsatisfactory. Once she was in the system, however, the service was fantastic. Access to it was the problem. After she was patched up and came home, she was grand and decided, in consultation with us, that her needs would be best met in a nursing home. We applied for the fair deal scheme and got a place in a short space of time. It was a place in Dublin which I will mention because I was so impressed with the level of care. It is called Kiltipper Woods and located beyond Rathfarnham. The level of care provided was fantastic. I tell this story to illustrate the way the private and public sectors can complement each other. We should be looking at all opportunities to see what we can do to join seamlessly the public, private and voluntary sectors. There is huge scope in this regard. The Minister is active in this area and it is something she is sympathetic towards, for which I commend her, but it is such a difficulty for people facing the challenge of finding the best care for elderly relatives. Of course, we should not speak passively about the elderly because they have to be participants and partners in their care.
Senator Thomas Byrne: Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis na Seanadóirí Ní Dhomhnaill agus van Turnhout as ucht an rúin seo a chur os comhair an Tí anocht. I thank Senators Jillian van Turnhout and Marie-Louise O'Donnell.
I am glad this motion has been tabled, fortuitously, this week. Peter Sands, a Member of this House for a number of months in 2007, was a fiercely active man in the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and various societies for the aged and retired people. He did tremendous work in his community and nationally and his service in that and many other regards was recognised in his appointment to the Seanad, albeit for a temporary period. I remember him today.
I hope that in our actions and, in particular, our words we will make sure the protection, welfare and health of older people are at the centre of our society. Ireland can be the greatest little country in the world in which to do business, but, as my party leader has asked on a number of occasions, is this the greatest little country in the world in which to grow old? We all aspire to growing old in good shape and with good facilities and security available to us. The one thing the elderly need and demand from the political system is a sense of security and safety. They demand a safety net. They want to know that they will be okay and that if they get sick they will be looked after. If they live alone, they expect that they will be protected. If they do not have independent means, they expect the State to recall the sacrifices they made and the hard work they did throughout their years, whether in rearing children or contributing to their communities. At the end of their lives they hope this will be remembered and recognised and that practical support and actions flowing from the words of politicians will be available or carried out for their benefit.
Various issues affecting the elderly have been rehearsed in the debate. Like all Members, I speak to elderly people all the time. They tend to know the politicians in their constituency, much more so than young people. Perhaps that is due to a familiarity built up over many years, although some are very much part of a political tradition. Among the measures they point to as having a particularly harsh effect on their lives and lifestyles is the prescription charge. Senator Marc MacSharry said there was a promise to abolish it prior to the previous general election, but he is wrong. The then Fine Gael spokesperson on health, Deputy James Reilly, now Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, committed to abolishing it once he took office in March or April 2011. That gave false hope because it was not an election promise; it was, presumably, a commitment flowing from the programme for Government. Not only did he fail to abolish it but the charge has escalated. If this teaches us one thing, it is that whenever a charge or tax is brought in, it only goes one way. Taxes never reduce or disappear. A harsh lesson has been learned in that regard. A charge of 50 cent was applied with the best of intentions and with the support of many people to ensure medicines would be used for the purpose for which they had been provided and to ensure they would not be provided unnecessarily, but this sensible arrangement has simply morphed into a tax that is having an impact on the elderly who would love to have seen movement on this issue in the budget.
Another issue the elderly raise regularly is the loss of the telephone allowance, which has been much more than a financial loss. They had the security of knowing that they could stay in contact with their relatives, friends and the Garda, if necessary, but they now face the additional costs associated with having a monitoring device, which are considerable. This affects the security of the elderly and it is incumbent on us all to work to have the allowance restored.
While I appreciate that the Minister of State's Department is not responsible, I have received a number of complaints about the new system for monitoring alarms. The community groups that provide and supervise the systems for the elderly state Pobal is requiring them to do a great deal of work that ordinarily would have been done by public servants. The organisation is putting a great deal of bureaucracy in their way to maintain these community alert systems. This is scaring many of the groups involved and I hope it will not have a negative effect on the provision of such systems. Many groups were happy dealing with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government because they knew the officials involved. There was significant upset a few years ago when the telephone allowance was cut, on which there were various political debates. Generally, officials in that Department were helpful to community groups that administered these schemes. However, the changeover to Pobal has not gone smoothly, according some of those to whom I have spoken. Some changes are necessary, but the process of change needs to be explained better and improvements need to be made to bring the community groups along. This issue has been raised by genuine people who assist the elderly in the provision of monitored alarm systems. Many of them give of their time voluntarily to organise the schemes and often they are elderly themselves. More power to them that they are doing this.
If there was movement on the telephone allowance and the prescription charge, it would give a deeper sense of security to the elderly who need to feel secure. Respect for one's elders in an ancient tradition in this country. The extended families of fadó, with the elderly granny sitting in the corner being looked after, are no longer as prevalent and care homes tend to look after more of the elderly. That derives from our own traditions, while all of the practical actions derive from UN principles for older persons, of which previous speakers have, thankfully, reminded us.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I welcome the Minister of State. I compliment Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell on tabling the motion which was seconded by Senator Jillian van Turnhout. It is apt at this time. The proportion of over 65s increased by 21% between 2006 and 2013 and the number in this age group is projected to increase by approximately 20,000 each year in the next few years, rising to between 850,000 and 860,000 by 2021. The proportion of over 80s is set to increase even more dramatically. The Government has initiated a number of proposals and initiatives, including the national positive ageing strategy 2011 to 2016. The programme for Government committed to implementing the strategy in order that older people would be recognised, supported and enabled to live independent, full lives, which is the key point. The elderly population should be allowed to live in their own environment for as long as they can and all Governments should assist in every way possible to ensure they have the comfort and security of their own home, with the necessary supports to facilitate this. It is much cheaper to do what the people themselves want, which is to stay in their homes, with the necessary supports provided, rather than putting them in nursing homes under the fair deal scheme at a cost to the State of more than €1,000 a week. The scheme is an absolute necessity, as many people cannot live on their own and need the service, but others would love be in their own home, with the support of family or community and voluntary services. That is what we should aim to do in order that we help in any way possible.
Not so long ago the Minister of State visited a supportive care home in my city. The Holy Ghost residential home caters for 60 residents who do not require full-time medical and nursing care. They are provided with meals, entertainment and medicine, but they are ambulant. However, without this service, they would be availing of the fair deal scheme at a cost to the State of more than €1,000 a week. This care home which provides these facilities through charitable work, investments and so on receives €50 a week for each resident. This cannot and will not continue. The home will close eventually, unless it receives adequate State support in the interests of the elderly people concerned. The Minister of State has seen at first hand the work being done in the home. There are a number of other supportive care homes in the south east, in particular, which require support and they would save the State significant moneys in the process.
As well as supporting the elderly, we must think of ways to save money. However, money is not being saved by giving this group €50 per week to support elderly people, while others are getting €1,000, albeit obviously for the increased nursing care and so on which one would receove in a nursing home. This is not a nursing home; it is a supportive care home. While I do not often support Senator Thomas Byrne when he speaks in the House, I support his comments on monitoring alarms and so on. They are crucial to people living alone in particular. My own mother had one and it was essential. These devices are a source of support for elderly people and give them a little confidence. If, as the Senator states, red tape is now preventing people from getting these alarms in a timely fashion, it should be eliminated. As I stated, they are a source of support for elderly people.
This House formed the Seanad Public Consultation Committee at the behest of the independent Taoiseach's nominees. One of the committee's first reports was on the elderly and it made a number of recommendations, many of which have been attended to, while others need to be. However, Members should not forget it was the committee's first report. It was initiated in this House and it is right and fitting that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has followed up on that report and that Members should review it, as well as the entire system of supports for elderly people, because it will not be too long before they are in that state themselves. Consequently, one must look after the elderly as best as one possibly can, as one is judged by how one can support elderly people. The Minister of State is doing and has been doing everything possible, particularly during the first three years of the Government's term in office, when the cupboard was bare and there was not a penny to spend. However, now the Government has begun to get the country moving, some growth is being achieved in the economy and so on, money should flow prudently to those areas which need it most. I do not believe one ever can spend too much on the elderly population.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: I say, "Well done," to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell for bringing this excellent and relevant motion before the House. It starts by stating, "That Seanad Éireann notes the ratification by Ireland in 1999 of the United Nations Principles for Older Persons". While listening to other speakers, I calculated that by the time I was 75 years old, there possibly would be in excess of 1 million people just like me who would be heading for 80. The Minister of State and I probably will be in a home together, having a chat about old times, but a tsunami will hit us in the form of the challenge as to how we will manage the needs and the dignity of older citizens.
As a mature and sophisticated worldwide web accelerates, evolving faster than anything people ever have experienced, the young and agile smartphone generation live in an instantly connected world. In comparison, the older generation gets left behind as their world become lonelier and disconnected. As we strive to evolve into a sleek, efficient economy, in the past five years Members of the Oireachtas have cut the numbers of gardaí, although, as Members have noted, fear is one of the greatest enemies of older citizens who crave security and have the right to feel safe in their homes. Many local post offices have closed and telephone allowances have been cut. The giant supermarkets have closed many corner shops, thus culling the vital lines of human communications and friendships our elders love and need. I need not remind Members that loneliness is the greatest dread that cloaks older people. Rural public transport is pathetic in places and with online banking being the order of the day, the icing on the cake is the curse of modern technology, namely, the computerised answering service stating dial 1 for customer service, dial 2 for accounts, dial 3 for ALONE or dial 4 for credit card information. If one dials 4, one must enter one's account number and PIN and then wait and hope to goodness a human being may come on the line and they rarely do for another 35 or 40 minutes. Members who have not seen the film "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", it is worth a look. After the death of her husband, Dame Judi Dench is on the telephone to a call centre in India and the call centre girl had never been trained emotionally on how to accommodate and deal with an older person who had just lost her husband and it is a serious business.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: It is somewhere to "age in place" for older people who might not be able to manage a three or four-bedroom house or garden but could easily manage a one-bedroom apartment, were it located in the heart of a town. It is an alternative to institutional residential care for older persons and a model that creates a society for all ages. This development is within walking distance of shops, services and public transport, not for an able-bodied individual but for a person with arthritis, bronchitis, angina or similar. It has on-site intergenerational facilities and emphasises what people can do rather than what they cannot do. It is about wellness rather than illness and 12 years after first being envisaged, McAuley Place, located in the former Mercy convent in the heart of Naas, consists of 53 apartments. I love its website and ask all Members to have a look at it. They should all book in because Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell should note the rent is only €85 per week, with a service charge of €10 per week, while tenants pay for their own electricity. It is about living an independent life but as part of a community. It is about being the boss of one's own life, having access to the arts and opportunities to engage in lifelong learning. It is about living where one's age is not an issue. It is about where one is more aware of what one can do as opposed to what one cannot do. Residents have opportunities to volunteer, make new friends and maintain old friendships. They have easy access to shops and services and live 130 paces from a bus stop that gives one access to Dublin Airport and, therefore, the entire world.
Living there entails being challenged to go outside one's comfort zone and is about ensuring one can maintain or regain the optimal level of well-being. It is great not to need a car. It is about having enough stress to keep one challenged but taking away that stupid stress of being obliged to manage alone. Incidentally, speaking of stress, I could talk for hours with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell on the subject, but I have three people who are over 90 years and, to be honest, it is stressful. As for somewhere like the McAuley centre, I sometimes think it would be great to be able to free up three-bedroom houses for families. Older people could move in to be safer and in a collective. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell and I could discuss the property tax and how we access it online to pay it because we have not a clue without help. It is about having choices about what one does every day and having the expectation of the unexpected. It is about being proud of where one lives. While it is not a home, it is home. A wonderful concert will be held there this evening which I would attend, were I not present in the Chamber. A total of 17 musicians have been gathered and everyone in the town of Naas will attend; it is not just for the elders. One might think that is all very well for older able-bodied people, but I ask the Minister of State to visit the centre with the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. It is a piece of low-hanging fruit in that with planning and not too much cost, villages like it could be built throughout Ireland and the Minister of State and I could book in later on. Believe it or not, this debate is about planning for our future.
What about those who must enter nursing homes? Again, I have one such person who is in a nursing home. Luckily, my own experience is wonderful and I cannot express my admiration and awe for the carers I have encountered. However, Members must envisage nursing homes that provide much more than a television set on a wall. Nursing homes are needed that have sensory rooms and a screen showing lovely movies from the years when the guests themselves were young to allow them to reminisce. Nursing homes are needed in which animal lovers are able to pet a lovely carefree dog. As Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is aware, I adore dogs and bring two dogs into the nursing home every Saturday. For old people with serious dementia, in particular, my blessed dogs give pleasure. They do not care what age one is or what one looks like. They will sit on people's laps and stare at them adoringly. It is amazing what a care dog can do. Young actors - there are enough of them around - could read aloud to residents and teenagers should come to perform classical dance. Personal instructors should come to teach chair yoga, that is, gentle exercises and meditation. In some nursing homes daytime television is the order of the day, but daytime television is a way to disimprove one's mental health.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien: Only 10% of us have provided for an enduring power of attorney, which shows that there is a lot to be done. If it is legal by 2035, I would like to give a living care directive to my medical and legal team, which would mean that I would not have to take antibiotics to combat a chest infection when I am 85 years old and feel I am no good to anyone and a burden to myself and my family. In such circumstances, I would want to be able to go.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I, too, compliment the Senators who tabled the motion. We all agree that this is not a debate about charity but about our obligation as a people to those who built up the country, worked, paid their taxes and reared their families. Sometimes there is the wrong perception because at times we seem not to value the worth of people because they have reached a certain age. It is quite easy in a debate like this to advance a set of statistics to prove or disprove a particular point. I do not want, in any way, to say we cannot give consideration to those statistics which are important, but there is an attitude of mind that must be considered. Very often that attitude of mind permeates a lot of our discussion and communications. At times we think only of younger people, how they must be served and provided for, rightly so, but it is also important to have equality, about which we talk in a democracy.
I do not know how many Members have had the opportunity of visiting a community day care centre. I strongly recommend everyone do so, particularly in rural Ireland. I can think of one centre that I visited in Kilmalley, County Clare, which is a model in every sense of the word. There are many messages to be learned from it. The people who go there once a week spend the whole week in anticipation because they love it so much. When they go to the centre, they meet their neighbours, they reminisce and encourage each other. The ladies can have their hair done and everyone has lunch there. That is all part of the service provided. The message I have learned is that when one has the right model and the right personnel in charge of any project for older people, it will work.
Some Members will have had what I would regard as a very distressing experience of seeing an older person being brought to a nursing home. There are times when one cannot do anything about this, but there are many occasions when it happens simply because parts of the structure that would enable people to remain at home and mobile are missing. I urge Members to always try to remember that the old person who has been placed in a nursing home feels deserted and that nobody loves or cares for them anymore. We must keep that in mind. I know of cases where people receive home help for just one hour during the day, which is sufficient to keep them at home. It gives them a sense of independence, a sense of worth and the respect to which they are entitled. As I said, we could all advance statistics, but I am not going to do so in this case. However, I will say increasing the level of home help from one hour to two hours could make all the difference. We are not talking about hundreds of cases but about thousands. When a loved one wants to look after a parent and his or her home needs to be adapted, the pace at which the decision is made is important. If it takes too long to reach a decision, the operation may fall apart entirely. As a result, the adaptation will not take place and the parent will end up in a nursing home.
We must admit that family structures have changed and are not what they were and that people are out working. We must be cognisant of all these issues. We are not going to be able to set the clock back, but we need to move a little faster in our understanding that things have changed in the same way as communication has changed. For example, there are now social media and many old people are outside such technology. I have even heard of old people who were able to drive a car, but when roundabouts came into existence, they would no longer drive their car. That is how a simple change in lifestyle can affect older people. We often make changes for the better, but in most cases without considering their impact.
The media can also play a role. We often hear about great achievements by people being presented in the media. However, there are achievements that do not always press a button or set off lights. I refer to the achievements of older people in their communities which I have seen in various committees and organisations. The organisations also play an important role. The GAA, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the Irish Country Women's Association and the farmers organisations, etc. are the bodies that keep in contact with older people. I always recall the time when President Mary McAleese appealed to organisations to look out for older people. I heard the comment made by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell and agree with her 100% that if one leaves an animal unattended for a few days at home, one is likely to have an official visit. Very often we do not look out for older people in the same way. There was the dreadful case in Tipperary which was published in the newspapers recently and absolutely mind-boggling. We need to look out for older people and bring back the community spirit of the past. I urge people to look out for people when the weather is not good, etc.
I said I would not quote statistics as I do not think this is the time for political point scoring. In terms of what has to be achieved, I wonder in what way will what we have said here inform change and a response to the problems encountered.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I hope this is just the first debate we will have. It would be well worthwhile to come back in the near future and have a further discussion because this subject is important. The people concerned are assets to the country and we need to look after them and fulfil our obligations.
Senator John Kelly: I agree with all of the Members who have spoken so far. I also compliment Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Jillian van Turnhout for tabling the motion. We are all on the side of the elderly, but will there be any action after all of this talk? I have worked with older people and know that we have made some good strides, but a lot more needs to be done. I will outline one of the improvements that have been made. This time last year in order to qualify for the fair deal scheme, one had to wait between 14 and 16 weeks and pay upfront but now the waiting period is only two weeks. That is a massive improvement in waiting times, which is welcome. However, there has not been enough investment in home care packages and the home help service. I know from talking to home helps in my county, as I have said in the past couple of years, that one is no longer talking about home help hours but home help minutes. Home helps have been asked to visit houses for 15 minutes to do whatever they can, but that is nothing. Massive improvements need to take place. More investment in home care packages and home helps would also result in a saving on the fair deal scheme.
An issue I raised in the Seanad some weeks ago is that there is no joined-up thinking between Departments. Each Department has a budget and Departments do not talk to each other. For instance, I know a lady in my county who suffered a stroke some months ago. She is in a bed in Galway, at a cost to the State of €100,000 a year. All she wants is a grant from the local authority to adapt her home to make it suitable for her to be looked after by her family. The grant would be €35,000, but because she is a little over the limit, she does not qualify for it. If there was joined-up thinking between Departments, the Minister for Health would say to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government that they could save €65,000 just by giving this woman a grant. The money is all coming from the same pocket.
As has been said by other speakers, we all know elderly people who do not want to go into a nursing home. They want to be cared for at home. Michael Lambert who was the oldest man in Ireland and who died last year at the age of 107 years was a neighbour of mine. He never spent one day in a nursing home and was in great health up to time of his death. We should be doing more for the day care centres mentioned by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. I visit the day care centre in my town on a regular basis. It plays a big part in keeping somebody in his or her home. It is vital for his or her sanity. I also visit the psychiatric day care centre. For some unknown reason, in the past couple of years the psychiatric services have all been about saving money. I received a call from two psychiatric patients who attended the day care centre in Ballaghaderreen. They were frightened by the threat of the bus service being withdrawn. Even though clinical decisions had been made by the chief psychiatrist that they should attend the day care centre in Ballaghaderreen, rather than one in Castlerea, somebody in administration decided it would cost too much and is threatening to remove it. We talk a lot about what we should be doing, but we are not actually doing a lot about it.
My last point concerns how farmers are assessed for the fair deal scheme. There is a difference between the farmer I know in rural Ireland and the rancher in County Meath. Farmers have small farms that are not worth a lot. I do not think their farms should be assessed against them as a business once they go into a nursing home. A smart farmer who can think ahead and is clever enough to transfer his or her land to somebody else in excess of five years before is fine because his or her land will not be assessed against him or her when he or she goes into a nursing home. If somebody does not think ahead about the day he or she might have to go into a nursing home - I know that the IFA is thinking about this issue - and his or her land is assessed against him or her when he or she go in, it could mean that he or she could lose the entire farm. The people concerned could be bachelors or they could have a family. They might want to keep the farm in the family name. If somebody transferred his or her property to somebody else four and a half years ago and he or she needs to go into a nursing home today, one would think that in six months time when the five-year period is up, the land would no longer be assessable, but no, it would be assessable for the duration of his or her stay in a nursing home. I urge the Minister of State to look at the plight of farmers in this respect. If a farm was assessed on the same basis as a house for a three-year period, that would be very acceptable to all concerned.
I agree totally with some of Senator Mary Ann O'Brien's remarks about elderly people or anybody trying to access services on the telephone and being told to dial 1 for a particular service and 2 and 3 for others. I made one such telephone call today and eventually gave up. I suggest there be dedicated telephone lines for elderly people for the services they need. It can be clear that if one gives the Department of Social Protection one's PPS number, it knows what age one is. There should be dedicated telephone lines for persons over the age of 66 years where it is vital that somebody answers the telephone because what elderly people have to go through is nonsense.
Senator Paul Bradford: I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome the motion and thank the Senators for moving it. I am surprised to learn that we ratified the 1999 UN convention because when one looks at the services-----
Senator Paul Bradford: Not old age, I hope. I was surprised to learn that we actually had ratified the 1999 UN convention because we are certainly not complying with it. I am not even sure what efforts are being made to comply with it. Are we doing anything? Have we done anything in the past ten, 15 or 20 years to assist elderly people to reside at home for as long as possible? The answer is absolutely not. Have we improved health care provision, notwithstanding the economic meltdown? Again, the answer is absolutely not. What provision is there for elderly people in cultural or educational services? It is minimalist. We have gone backwards rather than forwards.
Last week the budget was replayed in this House and elsewhere. The debate about the elderly revolved around the fair deal scheme - the nursing home subvention as I call it. There was a modest but welcome increase in the old age pension. However, if one asked elderly people throughout the country what services and aspirations for which they were hoping from the Government, they would talk about security in their homes, certainty of health care and trying to remain in their homes for as long as possible.
The Minister of State is doing her best to try make progress on the fair deal scheme. Many months ago in the House, as did my colleagues, I raised the issue of the very lengthy waiting period for assessments. We have become obsessed with the scheme as somehow being a solution to the problem of providing care for the elderly. We see the decent nursing home bed and decent nursing home provision as meeting the aspirations of the elderly. We must recognise that the vast majority of the elderly do not want to be in a nursing home. They want to be at home with their family and in the community. We have completely failed to respond to that aspiration.
Senator John Kelly gave the figures in an individual case in Galway. We can all talk about such cases. We can all talk about cases where, because of our very narrow definition of means for receipt of carer's allowance, we are refusing carer's allowance payments to family members and neighbours which would cost the State a maximum of €10,000 per annum. In many cases, those who fail to receive the assistance end up in residential care, at a multiple of the cost to the State. Owing to the economic meltdown, changes to the public health nurse scheme and the home help scheme have resulted in people seeking long-term residential care rather than care in the community.
Our focus is wrong. We receive on a monthly basis lobbying calls or letters from the nursing home organisations. Of course, I would lobby too because it is a profitable venture. This is not charity but a cold and clinical business. Insofar as the State can respond, we are responding to that business, perhaps not as sufficiently as they would wish, but we are not responding on the much broader issue of attempting to allow the elderly remain at home. I know that in the response of the Minister of State, the Minister and all politicians we will claim that we aspire to allowing the elderly to remain at home, but we are failing to do so. Senator John Kelly is a former community welfare officer and former member of the council, but I can remind the Minister of State that there was a time when an application under the very basic disabled person's grants scheme which was processed locally resulted in a modest grant of €1,500, €2,000 or €3,000 being paid to somebody for minor improvements to his or her house to improve accessibility to allow him or her to stay at home. Now there is no point in approaching the council to seek a grant of €1,500. The cost needs to be €15,000 or €30,000 before it will even consider it. We really have lost the run of ourselves and common sense has gone out the door. The schemes in place worked well such as the home help scheme, the disabled person’s grants scheme and the carer’s allowance scheme in its early days and they were real solutions. We must go back to those practical solutions because they worked. No matter what progress the Minister of State makes with the fair deal scheme, there are anomalies, a fact highlighted by Senator John Kelly. Even if we remove the assessment waiting lists, it will not solve the problems of those who want to stay at home. It must be a question of focusing on care in the community, changing the carer’s allowance scheme, providing sufficient home help packages, freeing up the old disabled person’s grants scheme and making them work.
I commend the Senators for moving the motion and causing us to reflect on the issue once again. We are failing the elderly. The country is facing a pensions crisis, with an entirely new set of demographic problems. If we think progressing the fair deal scheme is the answer to it, we are sadly mistaken.
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell started off on a high note. I was fascinated by her description of those who had reached a certain point in their lives when they could dispense with wisdom. That is the type of later life experience I want and that she wants, too. Thankfully, there are still some people with some joy in their hearts.
Having listened to the most recent speakers, however, I must admit I am not certain I want to get to that stage in life at all. If that is how people see what it will be like in later life, it is worrying. We must deal in facts. Of course, when one looks to the future, one has to have aspirations, but facts are important also. For example, there are 575,000 people over the age of 65 years. Of these, 4%, 23,000 are in nursing homes. Up to 50,000 are in receipt of home help. It might not be 24-hour care, but they are in receipt of it. Up to 13,600 are in receipt of home care packages, which is an enhanced home care provision. Every time I talk about psychiatric units, psychiatrists tell me we are not there yet. I am never certain where "there" is. I am never certain that when we get there, should we be there at all. Surely, it will change and we should be open to change. Members know that the majority of older people lead happy and fulfilled lives.
I have said many times that I am charged on three fronts. In the context of mental health, I am charged with closing down big institutions and bringing people out of them. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú is involved in one area with me. When it comes to disabilities, I am also charged with ensuring people come out of institutions. However, when I addressed a conference on nursing homes, I made it clear that it appeared to me that I was charged with putting older people into nursing homes. I have no intention of doing this. Later life is about much more than dependency and so forth. We now have a single assessment tool which means that it is quite difficult to qualify for the fair deal scheme to move into long-stay care. The evidence is that people used to live for three years in a nursing home setting. Now, they are living in it for half of that time and it tends to be more end-of-life, high-dependency care. That is a good development. I know that I do not want to end my days in a nursing home. I most definitely do not want to end my days in a single room at the end of a corridor that lives up to HIQA standards. I want to live in circumstances appropriate to my needs. I am concerned that the focus of this discussion is that it will all end in tears and that we are all doomed. It is about more than this and we should aspire to it being more than that.
When I am calling for more resources to be put into this sector, we need to stop talking about age. Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell gave the example of 99 year olds living independently, perfectly happy and with no supports. However, there are 40 year olds who need home help. It should be more about needs rather than age. That would change our vision. What would I do if I were a member of a new Government starting out and could determine what would happen in this area? I believe we should have a new ministry for primary and social care, separate and independent from the Department of Health. If one looks at the list of what Members said older people need, I have very little responsibility for many of things included in it. The telephone allowance, the need for safety at home, alarms, carer’s allowance, the issue of prescription charges, all have nothing to do with me. They are all delivered by other Departments in a different way and with a different focus. Accordingly, how can one have can have joined-up thinking, as Senator Paul Bradford demanded? Surely, it could be done if there was one Department with responsibility. We must start to think of how we could do this better. The housing adaptation grants are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. If I told the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government that the €22 million allocated for such grants should be my responsibility, I can imagine the answer I would receive. We must have a more co-ordinated, more cohesive and more visionary approach to dealing with the ageing population.
For the past four years the Government was doing its very best to ensure the country did not go down the tubes. It was about maintaining services. We now have a little more flexibility, which is why we are putting more money into home help and home care packages. We should not assume, however, that we know what is best for others. Senator Mary Ann O’Brien spoke about how she wanted to be able to make decisions for herself when she reached 85 years of age. Just today, the Dáil concluded its deliberations on Report and Final Stages of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: It will be taken in this House on 10 November. That legislation will ensure Senator Mary Ann O’Brien will be able to make those decisions for herself. Bringing it through the Lower House has taught me that one can never assume what someone else wants. By the way, I met the group to which Senator Mary Ann O’Brien referred last week and some progress was made in enhancing the service it will be able to provide.
Sometimes there are people in that circle who will not allow that movement to happen and the assisted decision-making (capacity) legislation will allow people to make those decisions for themselves because it will be an offence to coerce or to put undue pressure on someone to make a decision contrary to his or her own best interests.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell: The Minister of State is a formidable opponent. I am not surprised colleagues are absent. I do not mean this is an accusatory way, but this is a profound issue and it will be the major issue of the decade. It is more profound than water charges or arguing about, or because of, territory. I know Margharita Solon who imagined and developed the McAuley centre in Naas, County Kildare. I have read all of her work and spent time there during the year. When I spoke to her about older people, she said, "Who are you talking about?" I replied, "Well, the older people who live here." She asked, "What do you think you are?" She pointed out that they were human beings. I take the Minister of State's point in that regard. She referred to agelessness. We will all get old, but that is life. I asked Ms Solon what the residents did when they needed a doctor. She said, "What do you do when you need a doctor? You ring a doctor." She was also interesting on cultural change and isolation, whether one was young, middle aged, old, married or single.
I thank the Minister of State for taking the motion and standing up to much of my contribution because she is right. However, there does not have to be neglect or institutionalisation. We should put more imagination and creativity into caring for people at home and use templates from around the country, including the brilliant ones in Cork, that are working well. It does not always have to be one way. That is what I was talking about.
I was a member of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, as was Senator Jillian van Turnhout, who seconded the motion. It was amazing. It was the first time I realised that old people got depressed. That issue was highlighted in results produced by the Centre for Ageing in TCD. One thinks of loneliness, but older people do not talk about their depression in the same way. It seems to be the preserve of a younger cohort. The Proclamation states no one who serves the cause of the Republic "will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity...". I was arguing the case for humanity, as was the Minister of State.
The problem about being old is that people are never old, they are always young. We think of them as old. I oppose the fact that 80% of nursing homes are stand-alone businesses. The business template takes over and the residents are secondary to it. The homes have to look at the way they operate.
In response to Senator Marc MacSharry, the Government should examine the possibility of providing the fair deal scheme within the home. It might work because the participants could perhaps hand over a higher percentage of the value of their home when they die. We do not pass on; we die. That is another myth.
In some Nordic countries there is an adoption process for older people. I like that extraordinary idea. It works because many couples and individuals are lonely and would be happy to have somebody to look after. They might not have had the privilege of parents or grandparents and might love to adopt an older person. There are also crèches within nursing homes, which is a wonderful idea.
The issue is not about money. We need to be creative and imaginative with our nursing home structure because we need nursing homes. I have met the most extraordinary people in care in nursing homes and caring for older people in them through my work outside the House. The arts, music and culture can be used imaginatively in them.
I do not want to end my days in a nursing home and neither does the Minister of State. If I was to write a paper on the reasons, or if she was to talk to me outside about this following the debate, we would outline what was wrong with them. What I mean by this is that they do not work for the person but work according to the business template.
The Minister of State made a good point about having a ministry for primary and social care, for which she made a massive case. She would be good as Minister. If I was in her position with her knowledge built in the past four years, I might use that platform in the next general election. She has been amazingly communicative and it would be interesting to marry the different responsibilities of Departments for older people in one central Department. They do not talk to each other, yet they affect people's lives through delays and so on. It would be a good platform and the Minister of State should use it, given her knowledge. There is nobody better to bring this about. I thank her for taking the motion. I will return to this issue which is not going to go away as time and tide stop for no man.
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