Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding
 Header Item Parking Regulations
 Header Item State Airports
 Header Item Rural Resettlement Scheme
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Domestic Violence Bill 2017: Committee Stage
 Header Item Report on Use of Section 12 of Child Care Act by An Garda Síochána: Statements
 Header Item Tourism: Statements
 Header Item Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017: Second Stage
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)
 Header Item EU Regulations: Motions
 Header Item Proposed Sale of AIB Shares: Statements
 Header Item Business of Seanad

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 252 No. 4
Unrevised

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.


Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I have notice from Senator Robbie Gallagher that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to outline when he intends to introduce the next programme of rural sewerage schemes, and whether every county in the State will benefit from this scheme.

  I have also received notice from Senator Maura Devine of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to make a statement on the directions he has given to Dublin local authorities with regard to engaging in public consultations on the updating of city parking by-laws in order that residents are given priority for parking within their estates.

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

The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to make a statement on whether Government policy relating to regional airports needs to be reviewed taking into consideration the failure of Shannon Airport Authority, SAA, to achieve key goals in line with its current business plan with regard to passenger numbers and new jobs, the subsequent decision by SAA to downgrade the airport to cut costs, and the need for SAA to note the calls from a range of groups, including local unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, for a rethink on these cost-cutting measures.

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

The need for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to give details and a breakdown of the figure of €696,000 which his Department has said was paid to the rural resettlement initiative over the past five years, and a breakdown of the amount that was paid directly to the rural resettlement initiative for administration purposes and the amount that related to the funding of the 21 voluntary houses.

  I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion. I have selected Senators Gallagher, Devine, Gavan and Craughwell and they will be taken now.

Commencement Matters

Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach seo ar maidin. The Minister of State is very welcome to the House this morning and I thank him for his presence. I want to discuss the issue of rural sewerage schemes. The Minister of State's Department has a multi-annual rural water programme that runs from 2016 to 2018. It is due to expire at the end of this year. One of the areas for which funding can be got is group sewerage schemes where clusters of households are on septic tanks, which in many cases are troublesome from an environmental perspective. As the scheme is due to expire, I am interested to know the Minister of State's plans for a new scheme and how it will evolve under his new announcement. There was huge demand in terms of uptake of the current scheme. I understand 17 local authorities made applications and 83 submissions for funding were received from those local authorities. Unfortunately, in its current guise the scheme is very limited, as the Minister of State is aware, in that only two schemes in the State are funded each year. I am sure he will agree that is inadequate, and I ask that he might address that to ensure every county would benefit from some form of funding to deal with this issue.

  As I said, the scheme in its present guise is quite limited and onerous on members of the public. Householders who wish to form as a group to seek funding have to form a limited company, hire engineers and collect moneys. That is onerous on the groups involved. I would like to see the local authority taking complete control of such issues and taking the burden off people who, with all due respect to them, are not qualified to deal with them. In many cases, the local authority has an overriding function to ensure all matters are dealt with accordingly, so that should be taken from the local authority. I would welcome Minister of State's comments on that.

  The other issue the Minister of State might comment on, while we are graced with his presence, is funding for individual septic tanks. When people were asked to register their tanks initially, it was done under the perception from Government that funding would be made available to householders with troublesome septic tanks. Unfortunately, when they registered, it became clear that was not the case. People are only eligible for funding where a member of a local authority discovers that a septic tank is not functioning properly. That is unfair and that scheme should be looked at also.

  I thank the Minister of State again for his presence here and I would welcome his comments on both issues.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I think the Senator got two bites of the cherry, but I am sure the Minister of State will be able to handle it.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English No better man. He is well able to do it. He is a typical Monaghan man. He squeezes as much as he can out of it.

  I thank Senator Gallagher for raising these issues. I am happy to answer them as best I can. My Department's new multi-annual rural water programme 2016-2018 was developed through a working group of key stakeholders involving local authorities, the water services transition office, Irish Water, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes as well as my Department. The programme provides for the funding of demonstration group sewerage schemes through measure 4(d), where clustering of households on individual septic tanks is not a viable option, particularly from an environmental perspective.

  In January 2016, local authorities were invited to submit bids under the programme. The invitation envisaged no more than two demonstration group sewerage projects being brought forward under the measure in any one year of the three-year programme. That is in line with the sanction received by my Department in December 2015 from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to increasing the maximum grant per house to €6,750, which is up from €6,500, to cover a limited number of new demonstration group sewerage schemes.

  In addition, sanction was also given for these new demonstration group sewerage schemes, in exceptional circumstances, to benefit from a supplemental grant, subject to my Department’s approval, where the project represents the most economically advantageous option.  Where a supplemental grant is approved, the overall level of funding from the rural water programme is limited to approximately 90% of the cost per house subject to a minimum contribution of €2,250 per house.

  It is important to acknowledge the inclusion of these demonstration group sewerage schemes within the overall new multi-annual funding programme. Last year, 2016, represented the first year in transitioning to the new funding framework for the rural water programme. Therefore, we are in the early stages of this new approach. The demonstrations will allow my Department, over the course of the programme, to determine the appropriate enduring funding levels and relationship with the current grant scheme.

  As new demonstration group schemes have been identified for the duration of the programme, and given that only two demonstration projects can be advanced in any given year, my Department does not propose to modify the programme at this point. My Department will give consideration to the scope of the measure under the programme from 2019 onwards having regard to the implementation of the existing multi-annual rural water programme, which runs to the end of next year. My Department also will give wider consideration to the report of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services as it relates to the rural water programme. That report is still being worked on. There is an interest and a desire in the Department to do more in this regard, but it all depends on what funding we get from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

  The demonstration projects are moving forward. Given that the Senator has mentioned it previously, I know that he is interested in the Milltown project. A range of projects could be moved forward if we were able to secure funding, so we will keep that in mind as we roll out the programme, particularly its first phase.

  Regarding funding for septic tanks, it was clear at the time that people were being asked to register their tanks in order that local authorities could manage the situation from an environmental perspective. There was never a commitment that money would be available for every issue. The then Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, made it clear that, where a problem was identified following a test by a local authority, a grant would be made available if someone needed help correcting the environmental issue. There has been a low level of testing in some areas, but that testing is targeted on key areas where there are environmental concerns, generally near waterways. However, no major concerns have been raised about the grant.

  Concerns were raised in this and the Lower House that thousands of difficult situations would arise, but that has not happened. As with many issues that are raised in the Houses in a big hullabaloo, the panic was not necessary and the situation has been relatively calm since. There have been a couple of cases and we might discuss them, but if an environmental risk is flagged to a local authority, it generally conducts tests on a number of septic tanks or bioCycles in the area to determine whether there is an issue. That can then lead on to the issue being addressed.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I thank the Minister of State for his response. I appreciate that his Department is under financial constraints and can only spend the money as it is given it, but he should consider extending the scheme and examining how it is constructed. Finding funding is an onerous and unfair responsibility on groups. Perhaps local authorities could be given sole control of the matter.

  I take the Minister of State's point about individuals in both Houses jumping up and down but it is only because they have received representations from their constituents. There is an issue with septic tanks. Were a grant available to an individual householder to upgrade his or her septic tank without a prior inspection being required by the local authority, there would be many more applications.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I forgot to mention that I agree with the Senator, in that we can examine those onerous conditions. I have met many groups that have spent much money trying to organise something. We will consider the matter at the review stage. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is committed to trying to find more money for this. We are on the same page.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan This particular issue brought a great deal of ire down on poor Commissioner Hogan when it went through this House some years ago.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I do not know whether I would use the word "poor", but I take the Cathaoirleach's point.

Parking Regulations

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I welcome the Minister of State. This matter relates to the direction given to local authorities regarding residential car parking. We can all say with certainty that this matter has caused a great deal of hassle in areas. Being Dublin-centric, I am speaking about Dublin. I will not address individual requests, angst or fights but there is a great deal of anger and disbelief about the requirement on people to pay for car parking outside their own front doors. We must examine all of the Dublin local authorities' by-laws in their entirety. Will the Minister of State ask local authorities to engage in public consultation in order to update by-laws and provide priority parking for residents on their own streets? Other people leave their cars in their areas and spend the day in town or at work or go on holiday and leave their cars behind for considerable lengths of time.

  I asked the Oireachtas Library and Research Service to undertake a research paper on this matter. It is a wonderful research paper. The service examined the five European cities of Edinburgh, Exeter, London, Paris and Amsterdam. While they have no priority parking for residents, there are novel ways of providing residents with parking close to their homes. I would like to send the paper on to the Minister of State.

  We need to modernise how people live in the city, with all of its demands on roads and parking. The idea is for people to make less use of their cars, but people will realistically have to use them and park them safely outside their own homes.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I thank Senator Devine for raising this issue. If it is okay, I will take the debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who could not make it this morning.

  I wish to clarify the Minister's role in this matter. The parking of vehicles on public roads is controlled either through the application of prohibitions and restrictions under road traffic (traffic and parking) regulations made by the Minister under section 35 of the Road Traffic Act 1994 or by by-laws made by local authorities under section 36 of that Act with respect to public roads in their functional areas. The power to make by-laws is, therefore, conferred on local authorities by the Oireachtas through primary legislation.

  Under existing legislation, there is no power for the Minister to give direction to local authorities regarding public consultation so that city parking by-laws can be updated and residents given priority for parking within their estates. Responsibility for traffic management is devolved to individual local authorities, including those in the Dublin area, to enable them to manage and regulate affairs within their own functional areas. Through by-laws, local authorities have responsibility for determining where parking places will be, the level and payment of fees and the conditions to be applied.

  Before making by-laws under the Act, local authorities are obliged to consult the Garda Commissioner, give public notice of their intention to make the by-laws and consider any observation or objection that results from that process. This process affords the opportunity to members of the public to have a say in and an input into the shaping of the policy to restrict or prohibit parking in specified circumstances on public roads in specified areas. Any feedback or representation received must be considered by the elected local authority prior to the making of any by-law.

  It is appreciated that a certain inconvenience can be experienced by residents when parking congestion arises on a daily basis on public roads in residential areas. At some locations throughout this city, for example, motorists may use residential areas to park if they are working or as park-and-ride facilities while they commute onwards by bus, rail or tram to work and collect their vehicles later that day upon returning, which can cause parking challenges for residents. As the Senator mentioned, people might park in an area for a week while they go off on holiday.

  However, there is no legislative provision to reserve parking on a priority basis on specified public roads exclusively to those who reside on them or in the relevant estates. The policy behind this reflects the fundamental principle under road traffic law that the use of public roads is for public purposes. This means that private individuals should not be able to exercise proprietary rights of any nature over our public roads.

  While there is no provision for priority parking on public roads by residents, those who wish to avail of on-street parking in their own residential areas, where paid parking operates under by-laws made by the local authority, can apply for a resident's permit from the local authority, which allows them to park on their streets without having to pay the applicable parking rate for the duration of such parking. I trust that this clarifies the Minister's position for the Senator.   If the Senator has carried out research, like all Ministers, Deputy Ross will be glad to avail of that and will certainly have it looked over by the Department. I will personally make sure he gets it. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service does great research and I am sure the Senator has access to good research from her own. We are trying to be an open Government and, if there are good suggestions, we will look at them.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I thank the Minister of State. I was hoping the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport might have a bit more influence over transport issues within cities and urban areas. I have been conducting an online survey for the past month, asking about priorities in the Dublin South Central area. Issues of housing and health are coming up as top priorities, but they are followed by car parking. While it might seem a small thing, it is an important issue within a neighbourhood in terms of providing leisure space and a sense of ownership, and it is also conducive to good neighbourly relations. I will send this research to the Minister, Deputy Ross, and ask him to comment on it. If he makes a statement, we will try to work from there. I believe this is essential as we go forward, given roads in smaller estates which were built when it was not foreseen that we would all own a car are not capable of dealing with the level of parking demand.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I look forward to the day when parking takes over from housing as the No. 1 issue. It will come very soon, trust me.

State Airports

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan It is always nice to see the Minister of State and he knows he is always welcome here. He is a fine man, in my books, apart from his politics.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English Likewise.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I am disappointed the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, once again, has chosen not to be here.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan By way of clarification, the Minister said today did not suit him and that the matter could be deferred to another day that would suit him. Obviously, the choice had to be made. To be fair, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has been here several times. I gave out to Ministers last week so I must defend those who try to come here.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I take your point, a Chathaoirligh.

  I want to raise the issue of Shannon Airport, which has confirmed it is introducing a range of cost-cutting measures which will include reducing the status of the airport and restricting the number of larger airlines transiting through the airport. Management at the airport met with the three unions representing staff a few weeks back to inform them of the plans, which will include the re-categorisation of the airport from category 9 down to category 7, which will limit the number of larger airlines transiting through Shannon.

  This news came as a complete shock - a bombshell, in fact - to the staff working in Shannon. I can tell the Minister of State first-hand that many staff are now worried about how the airport has been struggling financially since it separated from the Dublin Airport Authority. One of the staff said to me that staff feel Shannon cannot survive on its own. They feel this reduction in status reduces it to the same level as Knock or Kerry airports. They know it is losing money and they feel a category 7 airport is for smaller aircraft, effectively making Shannon a Ryanair airport for European destinations. Union officials are currently talking to staff at the airport to decide how to respond.

  I want to put this in context. The original business plan for the airport painted a rosy picture of achieving 2.5 million passengers by 2021 and adding 3,000 new aviation jobs in the first five years as a stand-alone operation. Behind the spin and bluster, Shannon has completely failed to achieve anything like these figures. In reality, passenger numbers increased from 1.4 million to 1.7 million by 2015, but 2016 saw just a 2% increase in to 1.74 million, a figure way below growth in comparable airports. This compares to 3.6 million travellers who were going through Shannon in 2007. It is depressing to think that those passengers also include the hundreds of thousands of US troops who should not be there, but that is a whole other issue for another day.

  Shannon management are now working on a new masterplan, as they describe it, or perhaps that should be a cunning plan, in the Blackadder Baldrick sense of the term. The reality is that instead of increasing jobs, the airport now wants to cut jobs via a downgrading of the status from category 9 to category 7. A key consequence is that Shannon would no longer be nominated as a diversion destination for aircraft travelling across the Atlantic. This is a very retrograde and short-sighted proposal. The name of Shannon Airport is synonymous throughout much of the Western world as a safe haven for flights that encounter difficulty. It is part of the unique brand that Shannon has had to offer for decades. Now, the management want to ditch this brand, with all the goodwill and name awareness it generates, in order to cut services and jobs.

  It is increasingly apparent that management have no credible vision for the future of the airport and that the decision to hive off Shannon from the DAA has been a significant mistake. The Minister needs to take responsibility. I would remind him of the words of his predecessor, Deputy Leo Varadkar, with regard to Shannon, when he said:

I think it is defeatist to think that we can’t achieve modest growth by 2021. Quite frankly, if Shannon can’t achieve that kind of growth by 2021, there is no future for the airport...

Clearly, right now, we are miles behind the targets we need to hit.

  In conclusion, Shannon Airport has a proud history of transatlantic travel and international status. The people of Clare and Limerick are seeing that tradition and history being rolled up into a ball and thrown in the bin by current management, who made empty promises and have clearly failed to hit targets they themselves promised to deliver. Rather than job growth, we have job cuts, and we now have the prospect of relegating the airport's status, a shameful prospect that no Government should stand for. I ask the Minister to recognise the need for an urgent review of policy with regard to our regional airports, Shannon international airport in particular.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I thank Senator Gavan for raising this issue. It is always a pleasure to spend time in his company, which I appreciate. We are touching on a familiar subject when it comes to Shannon Airport. I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. As the Cathaoirleach said, while he could not be here, he did offer to take this matter at another time. He is quite generous with his time, when he can be. As we know, Ministers must at times commit to other diary engagements and these debates often take place at short notice. I think it wrong to complain he is not here when he offered to deal with this at a more suitable time.

  The Government's policy in regard to Shannon Airport is clearly set out in the national aviation policy published in 2015. The policy recognises that Shannon Airport holds a strategic importance for connectivity to the mid-west region and also serves as a gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way. I understand a major consideration for the Government in deciding to separate Shannon Airport from the DAA in 2012 was the serious decline of passenger traffic at the airport. Shannon Airport was loss-making since 2008 and passenger numbers plummeted by over 60% from 3.62 million in 2007 to 1.39 million in 2012. A consistent decline on that scale was always going to be challenging to address and would take time. However, since its independence, Shannon Airport has not only succeeded in reversing a five-year decline in passenger numbers, but has recorded four years of successive increases, with cumulative passenger growth of over 24% in that period. That is not to be sniffed at and is quite a good percentage. In 2016, passenger numbers at the airport increased for the fourth consecutive year, with almost 1.75 million flying through the airport, a 2% increase on 2015, with a number of new airlines and services.

  Shannon Airport Authority is a subsidiary company of Shannon Group, the commercial semi-State group established in September 2014. The group's strategy is to improve air connectivity, develop its commercial property infrastructure and enhance its portfolio of tourism heritage attractions, all of which will attract more people to live and work in the region. Shannon Group is an enabler, providing the right environment for foreign direct investment and indigenous industry to prosper.

  The latest data from the IDA shows the mid-west was the fastest growing region outside of Dublin in 2016, with 16 companies that announced new or expanded operations, citing the global connectivity provided by Shannon Airport as a key reason for basing themselves on the west coast. The year 2016 saw the largest increase on record in employment growth by IDA client companies in the mid-west, making this region the fastest growing nationally for FDI at more than 10%. I spend a lot of time in the Limerick and Shannon area, given my involvement in enterprise and job creation programmes and in trying to future proof companies and jobs. As the Minister has said, much of the feedback suggests that connectivity is a key part of business decision making. The Government and the various authorities involved recognise this, as is borne out in our policies.

  The Shannon Group has advised that it is currently focused on providing quality infrastructure to entice more FDI and indigenous investment to the region. To this end, Shannon Commercial Properties, the group's property company, is investing over €26 million in property solutions at Shannon free zone to give the IDA and enterprise agencies the tools they need in attracting investment and jobs to the region.  I understand that Shannon Commercial Properties will have developed over 200,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing, warehousing and office space by the end of this year. This new business accommodation will assist the job creation agencies in enticing more employment and investment to the area.

  Like any business owner, the Shannon Airport Authority is conscious of the need to control its costs so that it can remain competitive and continue to attract new airline business in an increasingly competitive international marketplace. In this regard, the company has engaged with staff and union representatives on a range of proposals, one of which is to operate at category 9 on a flexible basis rather than to operate permanently at that level on a 24-7 basis all year round. This proposal has led to claims of the airport being downgraded, which have been repeated here. That is not the case. What is being proposed is an optimal use of resources in line with best business practice, thus ensuring that resources are deployed more efficiently and when required. I am informed that this flexibility will enable the airport to operate at optimal manning levels in order that it might be as efficient and cost-effective as possible and contribute to a more efficient operating model at the airport without any material impact on flight operations.

  The categorisation of an airport is from a fire-and-rescue perspective. It is dictated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO. The categorisation is based on the size of the aircraft that operate through an airport and outlines the minimum number of fire appliances and fire-fighting media required to operate at the appropriate categorisation.

  Shannon Airport currently operates at category 9 level on a 24-7 basis all year round. As I stated at the outset, the operation of the airport is the statutory responsibility of Shannon Airport Authority. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport believes that the airport authority is doing a satisfactory job in a very competitive environment. He believes that it should be encouraged in its efforts to run the airport as efficiently as possible, ensuring the future viability of the company for all of its staff and customers, and securing the airport's position as one of strategic importance for the connectivity of the mid-west region.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan May I comment?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Very briefly. We are two minutes over the time that was allocated.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I thank the Cathaoirleach. I shall be very brief.

  I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I am not encouraged by it because he did not address two of my key points. First, the promise of jobs in the Shannon area that have not materialised and, second, Shannon Airport no longer being able to accept aircraft on diversion flights, which is integral to the reputation of Shannon and its branding. To be frank, for him to say that there has been no downgrading is incorrect. The staff believe that the airport is being downgraded. There are no circumstances under which this Government should allow that to happen.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Minister of State has no more to answer as he is not the line Minister. He has made his case.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I cannot speak about all of the parts of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I can speak from a job creation point of view. In my previous post I spent a lot of time dealing with the educational institutions, at all levels, that are located in the Shannon area and in Limerick. Those institutions contribute to the job creation prospects of the area. They are flexible in terms of the courses they provide in conjunction with businesses in the area. I have no doubt that this is where we will see a growth in jobs in the future. A great deal of work is being done by the Shannon Airport Authority and across all of the different levels of education. Therefore, I am quite confident about future job creation in the area. My confidence also stems from the work being done by a number of Departments.

Rural Resettlement Scheme

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell The Minister of State is earning his keep this morning. I thank him for coming to the House to provide clarification on a statement made in respect of a Commencement matter tabled by Senator Conway on 14 December last year.

  Mr. Jim Connolly asked me to bring this issue to the attention of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Mr. Connolly is the founder and Chair of Rural Resettlement Ireland. To date, over 800 families have been resettled in rural areas. The project has been hailed as a major contributor to rural regeneration. As the Minister of State will know, Rural Resettlement Ireland is a registered housing body that provides free services to anyone who wishes to relocate. Rural Resettlement Ireland received core funding from the Department every year until it was cut in 2012. That move resulted in the final and very regrettable closure of the organisation this year.

  During a Commencement debate last December, the Minister of State said:

[T]o guarantee that the rental properties supported by RRI are sustainably managed and maintained, fees for the management and maintenance of capital loan and subsidy scheme supported properties continue to be available to it, subject to compliance with the relevant terms and conditions. These fees, together with loan and interest charges, amounted to more than €696,000 over the past five years.

From my discussions with Mr. Connolly, and having had sight of the audited 2016 accounts for the charity, this is at best an inaccurate figure due to unclear accounting or, at worst, an outright misrepresentation of the facts. To place the matter in context, the 21 social houses referred to represent only 0.25% of the 800 families resettled since 1990. The Department's management grant paid to all voluntary housing bodies is €436 per house or €9,156 per year, which amounts to €45,780 for five years. This is a far cry from the €696,000 referred to during the Commencement debate last December. While it is true that amortisation, which is an accountancy term, of the Government grant appears in Rural Resettlement Ireland's accounts, it relates to the normal method of building 21 houses with non-repayable mortgages. This does not translate into ongoing cash support in any way and to imply that it does is wrong. The immediate clarification of this aspect is a matter of personal and public significance to Mr. Connolly, who is seriously aggrieved by the statements.

  The rural resettlement initiative is one of the most successful voluntary initiatives ever undertaken in this country. The scheme has provided one-to-one relocated services for 800 families who have rejuvenated rural communities. It has give the families an exceptional qualify of life in communities of their choice through sustained co-operation with the Department, State agencies, family and local services. Rural Resettlement Ireland built up a wealth of experience, wisdom and knowledge that cannot easily be replaced. Since its State funding was cut in 2012, Rural Resettlement Ireland has still managed to assist almost 40 families to move to rural areas in private rented housing. The work has been done entirely on a voluntary basis. I find it incomprehensible that this project had its funding cut in 2012 and is now being wound up during one of the worst urban housing crises that this country has seen. Instead of cutting funding to a recognised housing body with a wealth of experience, one would have imagined that it would have been viewed as a viable solution.

  Earlier this year, when speaking about the Government's Action Plan for Rural Development of 600 towns and villages, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, said that people are needed to revitalise towns. In light of decreasing rural populations, initiatives that promote relocation should be encouraged. The Minister's grant aid for home purchase and renovation is laudable. However, we must remember that not everyone has the money to purchase his or her own home and, for many, long or medium-term rental is the optimum solution.

  What Mr. Connolly and Rural Resettlement Ireland have achieved through relocation has been more enduring and successful than any Government policy. We need more , not less, of such inspirational commitment, which has been given over decades. Far from misrepresenting or discrediting the work of Rural Resettlement Ireland, however accidentally, we should applaud it and give it the due acknowledgement in respect of its indisputable success.

  I ask the Minister of State to clarify the position regarding figure of €696,000 to which I refer. I also ask him to give serious consideration to the reinstatement of the grant aid to Rural Resettlement Ireland, which would allow us to harness the wealth of knowledge and experience that it has accumulated. I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to come to the House. I hope that he will answer my queries, particularly my call for the re-establishment of Rural Resettlement Ireland. We have been told that there are many houses available in rural Ireland, so all we need is to get Rural Resettlement Ireland and similar organisations up and running again.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The context of the question that was supplied to me is a little different from what he has asked today. I shall endeavour to answer all of his queries to the best of my ability.

  Let me be clear, I took that debate in December. I thought I went out of my way on that occasion to praise the work done by Mr. Connolly and Rural Resettlement Ireland over the years. I wish to make it clear that Mr. Connolly and Rural Resettlement Ireland have done great work. I am very conscious of the more than 800 families that have been helped. I have watched numerous programmes that featured the work. Certainly, the debate on the previous occasion should not have left Mr. Connolly with the wrong impression. If I need to talk to him directly, I shall do so.

  The original question tabled by the Senator did not feature this matter so I may be unable to reply to everything. We have discussed this matter on two occasions. I have definitely discussed it with Senator Conway and with other Oireachtas members from the Clare area. I have complimented and recognised the work of Rural Resettlement Ireland. Mr. Connolly has engaged with the Minister's officials about ways to develop and fund new rural resettlement projects. There is a homeless situation in many of our larger cities and urban areas, yet there are many vacant properties in rural areas. We are trying to join the dots in terms of this matter. We have engaged with Mr. Connolly because of his expertise and we are happy to continue to do so. There should not any doubt about the quality of his work or that of his organisation. If anything I said last December gave that impression, then I am happy to correct same.

  I shall clarify matters that relate to the rural resettlement initiative. From 2011 to 2016, my Department provided €696,228 to Clare County Council. This money was solely in respect of 21 properties developed by Rural Resettlement Ireland. The funding was provided under the terms of the capital loan and subsidy scheme, CLSS.  The capital loan and subsidy scheme, CLSS, provides capital funding via the local authorities to the approved housing bodies, including Rural Resettlement Ireland, to construct social housing for those on the waiting lists of the local authorities. More than 10,000 social homes have been delivered through the CLSS since it was commenced in 1991. Under the CLSS arrangements, local authorities access funding from the Housing Finance Agency through loan finance arrangements. In turn, the local authorities provide this funding to the approved housing bodies by way of a non-refundable loan, provided that the AHB complies with the terms and conditions of the CLSS. The local authorities repay the loan finance received from the Housing Finance Agency over a 30-year period using the funding they receive twice yearly from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Of the overall amount of €696,228 provided from 2011 to 2016 by the Department to Clare County Council in respect of 21 Rural Resettlement Ireland properties, the sum of €662,220 relates to the servicing of the loans the council received from the Housing Finance Agency. A smaller amount of €34,008 relates to the management and maintenance subsidy paid to Clare County Council for the dwellings occupied by tenants of Rural Resettlement Ireland under the terms of the CLSS.

  Unlike local authorities, approved housing bodies do not receive capital funding from the Department for the upkeep of their housing stock or for upgrading works. Instead, the approved housing bodies rely on rental income plus the management and maintenance subsidy to maintain their stock. Similar to the funding received for the servicing of the loans, the management and maintenance subsidy is provided to the approved housing bodies via the local authorities. To qualify for the management and maintenance subsidy, dwellings of the approved housing body must be let to tenants approved for housing by the local authority.

  To clarify this matter, the figure of €696,228 provided by the Department between 2011 and 2016 relates to the 21 houses developed through the capital loan and subsidy scheme by Rural Resettlement Ireland at various locations in County Clare. The figure is broken into two elements: €662,220 of funding provided by the Department to Clare County Council towards servicing the loans, and the balance of €34,008 for the management and maintenance subsidy paid to Clare County Council. I can confirm, therefore, that none of the funding included in the €696,228 relates to the administration of the rural resettlement initiative. Separately, grant assistance was historically provided by the Department to Rural Resettlement Ireland as a contribution towards its administrative costs. In the five-year period to which Senator Craughwell refers, €30,081 of such funding was provided: €20,081 in 2011 and €10,000 in 2012. I hope this clarifies the matter and it was certainly not my intention in December that there would be any doubt around that. I am glad to have had the opportunity to clear that up. I am sorry that I did not realise that was reason the Senator asked the question in the first place.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I thank the Minister of State for his reply. There is no doubting his commitment to the housing crisis, or indeed that of the senior Minister. It might be no harm to contact with Mr. Jim Connolly and also to reconsider or to try to organise that the agency would not close but rather would continue to do its good work. We need to get people back into rural Ireland. I thank the Minister of State for attending.

  Sitting suspended at 11.13 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.

Order of Business

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Order of Business is No. 1, Domestic Violence Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 2 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the audit of the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act by An Garda Síochána, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3 p.m. with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time to be shared, and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 2.56 p.m.; No. 3, statements on tourism, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m. with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 4.22 p.m.; No. 4, Private Members' business, the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and if not previously concluded, to be adjourned after 90 minutes; No. 5, motion regarding an EU regulation on insolvency proceedings, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, without debate; No. 6, motion regarding an EU regulation on justice, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 5, without debate; and No. 7, statements on the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8.15 p.m., with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time to be shared, and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 8.10 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan For clarification, did the Leader say the Private Members' Bill is to be adjourned after 90 minutes?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Yes.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan It is normally two hours but the Leader is amending it to 90 minutes.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Yes, following a conversation with Senator Ruane.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh I wish to raise the pending retail IPO of AIB. It is the view of the Fianna Fáil group that the Minister, Deputy Noonan, should press the EU for a relaxation of the fiscal rules to allow the proceeds from the sale of the stake in AIB to be used for capital investment.

  Not a day goes by in this Chamber when one of us does not raise the issue of homelessness, substandard maternity and children's hospitals, poor rail and transport services and underinvestment in our schools. We believe the proceeds from the sale would be better used for investment purposes than debt reduction, given the needs of our citizens at this time and on the eve of Brexit. Our party spokesperson, Deputy Michael McGrath, has also written directly to the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, urging him to reform and review the fiscal rules in order to facilitate additional capital expenditure in member states and, in the case of Ireland in particular, to allow the use of the proceeds from the sale of AIB and future proceeds from NAMA for investment in capital developments such as housing, hospitals and schools.

  Deputy McGrath highlighted the fact that capital expenditure diminished significantly during the economic crisis and we currently had a serious infrastructural deficit. He made the argument against a backdrop of historically low interest rates and the view from the EU that low interest rates will continue for some time. I call on the Minister for Finance to reconsider this matter and for a debate in this House on the sale of AIB before the matter is concluded.

  I welcome the new traffic management measures introduced by Dublin City Council, albeit that they have been introduced in a haphazard fashion. There has been a devastating road traffic accident today on the Kimmage Road Lower, in which a vehicle overturned, and I hope that nobody has been hurt. We need to look at road safety more vigorously in this country and I call for a debate on the subject in this House.

Senator Billy Lawless: Information on Billy Lawless Zoom on Billy Lawless The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 passed Second Stage in this House on 12 April. When I raised this a fortnight ago, the Leader promised that Committee and Remaining Stages of the Bill would have been debated by tomorrow and I am disappointed that this will not now happen.

  I have submitted amendments to the Minister for Justice and Equality to address the technical issues the Government flagged on Second Stage to ensure that all licensed premises would be allowed to open on Good Friday. My staff have spoken with the relevant officials in the Department of Justice and Equality and were informed that they have drawn up a list of amendments. We have no difficulty with this as it is in everyone's interest that the Bill does exactly what it is intended to do and ensures that every licensed premises is open on Good Friday, something upon which all parties in this House had agreed.

  We have spoken with the Department again today and it appears that a draft memo of the Government amendments went to all relevant Departments last Friday, with a response expected in approximately five days.  I understand the draft memorandum then has to go to Cabinet for approval. Once again, I ask that the Leader firmly sets out when Committee Stage of this Bill will be scheduled in Government time, as promised.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Today, the chief executive of AIB has acknowledged the role played by taxpayers in the bailout of his bank. The sheer scale of the taxpayer bailout of €20 billion should warrant a more transparent approach to any potential sale of this State-owned bank. Any plan to sell part of this public asset should be clear in its reasoning. The plan to sell up to 25% of the shares has been announced with the Minister, Deputy Noonan, providing little or no rationale. This is a profitable bank from which the State received €250 million in dividends last year.

  There is no reason AIB should not be kept as a State bank to invest in our economy and to operate in competition with the private banking sector. The only reasoning offered so far is that state banks are not successful. This is not true. There is no basis for this whatever. Some of the best performing banks in Europe, such as those in Germany, are state banks. Every bank in this State that collapsed was a private bank. In one of his final acts as Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan is not being honest with taxpayers. These are the people who bailed out AIB and ultimately own 99.9% in shares. It is no surprise that AIB was far more receptive to public pressure on issues such as the standard variable rates and the sales to vulture funds. With any proposed sale, we will lose accountability. Even when it was State owned, they had to be brought kicking and screaming before the finance committee to examine the variable rates. That process is ongoing. When it is privatised we will have no accountability whatsoever. There needs to be a full debate and clarity provided on this and I would welcome Deputy Noonan coming into this House to explain why he wants to sell it now and why he is not negotiating the fiscal rules in order to allow us to spend any dividends from AIB in capital funding. We need explanations because it is the people who suffered most, the SMEs, the mortgage holders and the rural branch users who will now be at the mercy of unaccountable private investors. This is a huge price to pay in order to cobble together a legacy for the Minister, Deputy Noonan. It is a bad deal. We are not in September 2008 where my colleagues here to my left had to huddle into a room.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Sinn Féin supported the bank guarantee.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh We did not vote for the bank guarantee. Let us make this clear.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Leader, please.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Yes it did. It is on the record.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh We did not. I want to clear this up. On 17 October -----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I ask the Senator to take a second. Respect the Chair. The Leader has ample time to respond later and make his case. Do not interrupt the speaker. It is bad manners. I hate crossing the Leader. Senator Conway-Walsh, please conclude.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh The Leader was notorious for his heckling when he was in the Dáil-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Do not enrage the situation.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson It may be his last day as Leader.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh -----and he has continued doing that.

  We are in a very different position now, in that we have the time to sort out a good deal with regard to AIB for the people. We are not huddled together in a room. Sinn Féin did not support the bank guarantee when it came back to the Dáil in October of that year, I want to make that clear. We have an opportunity now and I appeal to Deputy Noonan to come into the House and have a rational debate on this and provide the transparency and honesty that people need around this.

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

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black Yesterday, I was delighted to hear the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling that the policy of banning asylum seekers from working was unconstitutional. This is a landmark decision with major implications for how we treat asylum seekers in this country. I have raised it here before and human rights organisations have been saying it for years but the system of direct provision is a disgrace. We have an obligation to treat people with basic dignity and respect and that includes the right to work. Who benefits from stopping talented, ambitious people from realising their potential and contributing to their communities? Who benefits from telling bright young children in education that they can go no further in their studies or employment? This particular case was brought by a Burmese man who had spent eight long years in direct provision without the right to work a single day in that period. Imagine what it must feel like to go that long without being able to seek employment to provide for oneself or contribute to the community like one's neighbours. He noted how this had led him to suffer from depression and to an almost complete loss of autonomy. We owe this man a huge debt of gratitude. While the State dragged its heels and refused to address this injustice, the perseverance of this man in pursuing this case has now forced the Government to act. Credit to him and to all those in direct provision who spent years fighting this ban. They have done a huge amount to improve the lives of asylum seekers in Ireland.

  The onus is now on the Government to respond humanely. The court has adjourned the case for six months, which means that we in Leinster House have until just before Christmas to sort this out. I am concerned to read reports in this morning's newspapers suggesting that the common travel area and Brexit negotiations may be used as an excuse to implement an overly restrictive right to work. We should not go down this route. We should use this ruling as an opportunity to look at our employment policies when it comes to asylum seekers and extend them generously. It is also important to note that at their hustings in Cork at the weekend, both would-be Fine Gael leaders expressed support for this idea. It time to put their money where their mouths are and I ask the Government to outline its plans on this issue as a matter of urgency.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I support Senator Black's comments and welcome the Supreme Court decision yesterday on the right to work. It is a hugely important decision for asylum seekers in Ireland and I very much welcome it.

  I call on the Leader to amend the Order of Business. I do not often do this but it is a matter of some urgency. I am seeking an amendment to the Order of Business to take a Labour Party motion on delaying the sale of the State's stake in AIB. A text of this motion has been circulated to colleagues this morning. It is the same motion that passed in the Dáil, which was also a Labour Party motion.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan It is not on the Order Paper so I am not sure that we can deal with it.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I am asking the Leader to amend the Order of Business that we might have a debate on the text of the motion. It has been circulated. I know it is not on the Order Paper but I am conscious that the decision-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I think it can be circumvented that way.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I think I can circumvent it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I bow to the Senator.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Given that the decision was made by Cabinet yesterday, flying in the face of the Dáil vote in support of the Labour Party motion on 18 May to delay the sale of AIB shares, and given that we will not sit for another two weeks, I will not have an opportunity to put this motion again. I am asking that the Leader take account of this. I know we have a busy day today but I am conscious that we have an extra half hour to spare given that the time allocated to Private Members' business has been reduced. On behalf of the Labour Party Senators, we would be happy to take the motion in the Minister's absence and vote on it in this House. It is a matter that is quite urgent.

  Senator Conway-Walsh has spoken eloquently about the rationale for the motion, but briefly, in order that colleagues are aware, the motion simply calls on the Government to postpone the sale of AIB shares until we have sought and achieved a change to fiscal rules to permit greater levels of capital spending. It is somewhat ludicrous that the Minister for Finance has admitted that the proceeds of the sale of 25% of AIB will pay down just over 1% of our national debt. We in the Labour Party say that a far better use of the funds would be to put it towards capital investment, the investment that we all acknowledge is needed. Just this week, the future of health care report was published. Labour's Deputy Alan Kelly was on the committee and Labour has welcomed it, as have all parties. The report outlines an ambitious plan towards a single-tier health system but a key part of the plan is a €3 billion transition fund to provide for one-off system-changing measures. We say that fund would be a far better location for the proceeds of the sale of AIB. We need to delay the sale of our share in AIB to ensure that we can in fact put it towards investment in health or housing or public expenditure of the sort that is so desperately needed across the public service.

  There was support across the Dáil for this motion and I ask colleagues across the House to support my proposed amendment to the Order of Business in order that we can take this urgent motion today.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan For clarification, I take it that the Senator is proposing a debate with the Minister of Finance on the proposed sale of AIB shares be taken today?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Yes, I am proposing that although we would be happy to have the debate in the Minister's absence if his availability is a difficulty.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan We will see the Leader's response.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik We wish to have a debate on the motion and a vote on the motion today.

Senator John O'Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony As spokesperson on sport, I raise the farcical situation that has come to light in recent days in regard to the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.  One could not make up what has happened and what is emerging. There are two different boards, each saying it is in charge. A team has been picked by a high performance director who has not been sanctioned by the committee. There are people not turning up at meetings with Sport Ireland and the Minister, which were arranged to try to resolve the situation. This did not start today or yesterday. When I was chairman of the committee on sport, we had the Irish Amateur Boxing Association in before us explaining why it lost one of the best coaches and high-performance people in the world. Is this now going to happen again? Boxers who had failed drug tests were allowed to travel to Rio. The coaches did not even know about it and were only informed as the draw was being made in Rio. It is simply not good enough. The boxers are the innocent people involved here. I understand that more than €700,000 has been allocated this year for the high-performance unit. We had a report and recommendations in respect of Rio. We were told they were going to implemented but that does not seem to have happened.

  I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy O'Donovan, to come in here next week and explain exactly what is happening. There is a great contrast between this trouble and the joyous scenes in Skibbereen following the rowing. Anybody involved in sport would want to have one body with everybody singing from the same hymn sheet, working together and achieving success. In this case, however, we have a dysfunctional family that agrees on nothing, leading to a farcical situation which needs to be resolved once and for all.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan There is bad news and good news today about the Cork-Limerick M20 route, with which the Leader and everybody else will be familiar. It is probably the most badly-needed piece of motorway in the whole country. Shock and anger is being expressed by councillors of all descriptions today at the paltry €1 million that has been granted. That sum might knock out another 100 m of road. The good news, however, is that the potential new Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has announced that it is going to be a priority of his, if and when he is Taoiseach. What is gas is that it was he who axed the project in 2011 when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. There is good and bad in that.

  On a point of information, I was not here last week for the launch of the latest edition of Nealon's Guide. When is it proposed to produce our own Seanad general election report, which I am sure many Members, especially new Members, will be anxious to get their hands on?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I understand that it is currently being produced. That is probably not a matter for the Order of Business. We will keep the Senator posted.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell The Leader will know that I frequently have a go at the Government when I feel it is important. Today, however, as the current Taoiseach exits office, I want to place on the record of the House the job he has done in respect of Brexit, along with the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy. I am just back from a COSAC plenary meeting in Malta at which we had all 27 countries sitting around tables. Mr. Michel Barnier gave a speech on Brexit and spoke about openness, transparency and various other things. As he drew his speech to a close, he addressed the special, unique position of Ireland. I have never been so encouraged as I was listening to him speak about the problems of Ireland. The second speaker, a Ms Hüber I believe, also raised the special, unique problems of Ireland at the end of her speech. Every speaker in the hall - there were 27 or 28 of them - acknowledged the unique problems Ireland has with its Border and trade with the UK. Clearly, our foreign offices in all 27 member states have worked extremely hard. We may not get the coverage here to which we are entitled; we are not aware of the amount of work that is being done as the media has ignored it. I wish to place on the record of the House my congratulations to the outgoing Taoiseach. I have given him the odd lash every now and then but today I congratulate him.

  I cannot sit down without having a lash, and my topic is the Jadotville medal. We were promised some action and there is a matter on the Order Paper which I think my colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn will address. Do we want every one of the Jadotville people to be dead before we make a decision on these medals? What the hell will it cost to strike a medal for each and every living member? What will it cost to give them some recognition------

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Leader responded to this matter yesterday. He made a commitment in the Senator's absence. It would be unfair for Senator Craughwell to comment further when he was not present yesterday. The Leader will probably reply in a minute.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I feel deeply aggrieved about the matter.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator has stated his position very clearly. I am sure the Leader will respond.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Thank you.

Senator Ray Butler: Information on Ray Butler Zoom on Ray Butler I wish to raise the issue of paid parking in rural towns, which I have spoken about before. There is unfair competition when it comes to town centres. There are facilities on the outskirts of some towns with free parking and they are being given planning permission. If there is free parking outside the town centre, paid parking in the town centre should be scrapped because it is unfair competition. We have a new situation in my county of Meath whereby traffic wardens have been privatised since 1 February. They are writing tickets like they are going out of fashion, for profit. Is this going to happen in Kells, Trim and the rest of rural Ireland?

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I blame Fine Gael.

Senator Ray Butler: Information on Ray Butler Zoom on Ray Butler The main role of a traffic warden is to keep traffic flowing. To be writing tickets for profit is totally against the Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act 1975.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan That is what privatisation does.

Senator Ray Butler: Information on Ray Butler Zoom on Ray Butler Are these tickets being written illegally? I want the Minister to come in here in order that we can find out what is going on in respect of paid parking being privatised. Are we going to close down town centres in rural Ireland? It is just not good enough. If it is happening in County Meath it is going to happen all over rural Ireland.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris It has been happening for years in Dublin.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I want to get the attention of the Leader.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I always pay attention.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn This is important. I appreciate that the Leader has tried to help with the issue of the Jadotville medals. I ask the Cathaoirleach to bear with me. I briefly raised the issue with the Minister of State in the canteen this morning. I asked when he would meet with myself and Senator Craughwell. He said he would come in to the Seanad at some point but is not going to meet us. He is not going to address the medals issue. He said that to me this morning. He said he has a different plan.

  As the Leader knows, we have acted entirely in good faith. We drafted a motion supported by most Members of the House but have withheld it for months to avoid dividing the House. The Minister of State has refused to meet with myself and Senator Craughwell although we are supported by the majority of Senators in wishing to do something honourable for those men. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, to bring in the Minister of State. He should respect the majority of Members of this House and address the issue in an honourable way. We tried to be fair up until now and the Leader knows I have acted in good faith. It has all changed since I spoke to the Minister of State this morning, however. If he can give medals commemorating 1916 to all members of the Defence Forces, why can he not give medals to the heroes of Jadotville?

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

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I want it sorted today once and for all. There must be respect for the majority of Members of this House. I want a statement from the Minister of State with responsibility for defence and for him to do the honourable thing. We have acted honourably up until now. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, for the Minister to come to the House today to make an urgent statement on what he is doing.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The proposed amendment is noted. The Senator will have to get someone to second it later.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I formally second my colleague's amendment regarding the sale of AIB shares. It would be a nonsense if this House did not express an opinion on this issue. This will probably be the biggest fiscal decision made in the past two years. We have young children in the Public Gallery today. We constantly hear of the problems and the need for investment in schools. We constantly hear of the need for investment in our health service, in our roads and in public transport. On many occasions Senators in this House have called for investment in the motorway connecting Limerick and Cork. I, myself, have been seeking investment in public transport, specifically in respect of Dublin. There is a proposal for Dublin public transport that would require an investment of €1 billion in the near future.

  If the Minister cannot come to the House, I think we should have an open debate in the House and the motion should be voted on. Over a week ago, I put the Leader on notice that we would be tabling such a motion, and he asked us to delay it until the Minister was in the House. I listened to the Minister's contribution and I felt there was no justification for the sale at this stage. In fact, we will receive approximately €250 million in dividends from AIB which will come back to the taxpayer in 2017. There has been no cost-benefit analysis on future profits that could be made through dividends from the State's shares in AIB.

  Under the current rules, if this sale goes ahead, that €3 billion will be used to pay down debt. That would be 1% - big deal. If we delay, we have an opportunity to make the sale in autumn and to make sure that money can be invested in much-needed infrastructure projects. The Labour Party has already started discussions with our sister parties across Europe with regard to changes in the fiscal rules and has received great support in the matter. The recently elected President of France has also indicated a need to change the fiscal rules in this area. There is no benefit in proceeding with the sale this month. If we delay until the autumn, there is an opportunity for an additional €3 billion to be invested in much-needed infrastructure throughout this country. I strongly believe we need to debate this in this House today.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I welcome the doubling of funding, from €650,000 to €1.3 million, that is being provided to aid the crackdown on illegal dumping throughout the country, which is wrecking many lovely, beautiful spots in various counties. I am glad the Minister, Deputy Naughten, acted quickly in doubling this funding because I know the Department is swamped with requests from local authorities and community groups in this regard. Some time ago I suggested that these people be properly named and shamed. If that requires amending legislation, so be it. At a minimum, these people's names should be posted on the websites of the council and the Department. That would act as a further deterrent. I know this funding is a preventative measure, but it is an important starting point to be followed, please God, by further robust and strong-handed measures to tackle this illegal scourge. Perhaps in time the Leader would consider bringing the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to the House to update us on how his proposals are working.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I wish to raise only one issue, which relates to Coillte. We know that Coillte has 390,000 ha under forestry in this State. That is an enormous natural and national asset and resource, and it is very important. There has been great discussion on the possibility of elements of Coillte being privatised or sold off. We know that there are a further 90,000 ha dedicated to biodiversity, or non-core forestry activity, which is a vast amount of land. As I say, this is a very rich natural and national resource and asset. It is important to have the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, in the House at some stage in the future to have a debate about forestry - where it is going, what plans there are for it and the greater vision for forestry for the next two to three years. He is very committed to the forestry sector. He lives in Wicklow himself.

  Will the Leader consider the possibility of extending the time for the Minister, currently scheduled from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., by an extra 15 minutes? One does not need to be a mathematician to know that there are a number of people in the House who will speak. If one person from every group speaks, including one or two of the other Independent Members who are not aligned to any group, 60 minutes will not be sufficient for all speakers and a response from the Minister. It is physically not possible to have one person from each group and the two non-aligned Independent Members speak for eight minutes and have the Minister respond, all within 60 minutes as the Leader is proposing. Could we even get 15 minutes, if possible? We will clearly not have eight minutes and we will be talking in a jam jar. The Minister will not have an opportunity to respond. That really is not satisfactory. If it is at all possible, can we have an extension, possibly by 15 minutes, just to facilitate meaningful debate?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I will let the Leader deal with that when he responds.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan First, I second the amendment by my colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn. It is very important. I believe everyone would accept that we have acted very honourably in respect of this issue. We would hope for that to be recognised. I was not planning to speak, but I wish to offer my words of support to my colleagues in the Labour Party with regard to their amendment today. Regardless of our views, and clearly this is an ideological issue, it would be disgraceful if this Chamber was not allowed to debate the issue of the sale of AIB before it goes ahead. It is the biggest decision that will be taken this year. We all have views on it. For us on the left, it is clearly the wrong move. I find it bizarre that those on the right would adopt this Thatcherite mentality of selling off an asset which we had to bail out. It makes no sense financially. To be frank, not a day goes by that we do not hear people on every side of the Chamber demanding extra resources for key projects.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Senator is good at that himself.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Here are billions that are available and yet it looks as if the Fine Gael Party is intent, with its rightward drift, on ensuring none of those projects will be fulfilled. We hear the issue of the M20 motorway quite rightly being raised again today. I would hope that, in the interests of recognising that this House has a role to play in debating this, we would have a debate on it. Frankly, it would be disgraceful if this did not happen today.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Empty rhetoric.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I do not need to speak. I was just going to second the Sinn Féin amendment on Jadotville, but that has already been done. I should say that I was going to do so as a native of the Belgian Congo.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I thank the Senator for his brevity.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I dtosach, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an chinnidh a rinne an Chúirt Uachtarach inné maidir le cearta oibre. I welcome the unanimous decision taken yesterday by the Supreme Court on the right to work of people seeking asylum. We need to get real about the issue of asylum. We also need to look at the right of people in that system to education. We certainly need to look at scrapping direct provision and I want to see us debate that again as soon as possible.

  I wish to raise a very distressing issue this morning. It is in respect of lives being put at risk in rural areas due to a lack of ambulance services. It is not I who is saying this. A local GP in Connemara has highlighted this issue due to frustration. Last Saturday night, he was called at 11.30 p.m. A call was placed for an emergency, blue light ambulance. This was for a potentially life-threatening acute illness in a 60 year old man. If an ambulance had been based in Carraroe, it would have been with the gentleman in approximately ten minutes. Unfortunately, the doctor says, as is frequently the case, no ambulance staff were available in Carraroe and the estimated arrival time for the ambulance was 57 minutes. He goes on to outline the dangers of that and the fact he felt afraid that the patient would die at the side of the road. Thankfully, he did not. On another occasion last year, however, the response time was 120 minutes and, on a different occasion, an ambulance had to come from Roscommon to Carraroe, which is totally and utterly unacceptable.

  I have raised these issues in this House on an ongoing basis since I was elected in 2011. I have got the deaf ear from every Minister who has ever come in to discuss them. I know that people in Leenane in north Connemara have raised this issue as well. They have had meetings with the Minister, Deputy Harris. The Minister gave them a lovely hearing and was very concerned with their issues but fobbed them off again to the National Ambulance Service. The Ministers, Deputy Harris, Deputy Varadkar and, the former Deputy, now Senator Reilly, all washed their hands of this issue. When is the Government going to get real and realise that this is a life and death issue? In 2015, for example, one of our proposals was to put €6 million from the budget aside to make eight more ambulances and crews available throughout the country. That was the same year in which €6.5 million was spent on setting up the administrative system for the water conservation grant, which never happened.  The Government has certain priorities in the way it is spending money, but it is certainly not spending it on rural ambulance services, which it needs to do. This is a life and death issue. There has been an outcry among GPs on this and other issues. We need a debate about rural ambulance services and health services in rural areas.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Tá an t-am istigh.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh I ask the Leader to implore the Minister, Deputy Harris, to do something about the issue and to make the crews available because if there is a fatality, it will lie at his door and the door of the Government and I do not want to see that happen.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly I concur with the remarks of Senator O'Mahony about the Irish Athletic Boxing Association. For many years and in previous Olympics the performance and achievements of our boxing team were the envy of many other sports. Boxers were the standard bearers of Irish sport. It is 100% proof of bad corporate governance to hear yesterday on the radio and read today in the newspapers where they are at currently. They did not become bad boxers overnight or over the past four years. The state of the sport and its organisation at the moment is totally due to poor corporate governance and bad leadership. When the Minister facilitated a meeting yesterday to try to find a resolution, it was most disrespectful to him that one member of the board did not have the decency to turn up to the meeting. Amateur boxing is a big beneficiary of the sports grants that are available in this country and, at the end of the day, that is taxpayers' money. The Minister should pull rank and step in to take control of the association. That is his prerogative and duty, and especially given the way he was treated yesterday, I would have no problem with such an approach by the Minister, with him knocking heads together and removing some people if he has to. The situation is most unfortunate because we all took great pleasure from the sport. It was easy after we had victories to praise those involved to the high heavens, in council chambers or in this House, but they have let us down, and it is not the boxers who are at fault. The message that should go out from here is that the problem has nothing to do with the boxers but relates to corporate governance. The issue is mismanagement by the people at the top. The matter must be addressed immediately.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I have been contacted a number of times in recent weeks about the worsening phone coverage in County Carlow that does not seem to be specific to any one provider. Mobile signals seem to have deteriorated, which is impacting not only on the service to residential customers but also on businesses, especially in rural areas. The mobile phone network is essential for businesses seeking to stay in contact with customers and suppliers. Coverage is more important now than ever before as more and more businesses rely on the mobile phone network for email access. People's reliance on smartphones is set to increase in the coming years, so it is important the necessary investment in the mobile infrastructure takes place to support this growth.

  We need a state-of-the-art mobile and broadband coverage to support jobs and growth, and the mobile phone operators have been focusing on large urban areas. That is the reason I raise this issue today. Carlow town is getting a new broadband system, but the improvements are confined to urban areas and are not available in rural areas. That is having a massive impact on rural areas. I read in the newspaper today that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has a catch-up strategy for those who are left behind. It outlines how he will ensure we have post offices, a GP service available in rural areas and the provision of broadband. Will he also include phone coverage? Reference is also made in the strategy to the provision of money for roads. This is a whole new system. We need to look at phone coverage and broadband in rural areas because they are affected. The situation is very bad in County Carlow and surrounding areas. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House to address the issue?

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke Today the representative group, Nursing Homes Ireland, NHI, is in Buswells Hotel meeting Oireachtas Members. I encourage Members to meet the NHI if at all possible. The group has raised a number of concerns, in particular the change in the mechanism for the calculation of commercial rates. I spoke to one nursing home provider who told me the home's commercial rates have increased from €18,000 per annum to €54,000. That is a huge added cost to the budget of the nursing home and provision will have to be made for it. The cost will have to be spread down the line. The National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, was to come back by 1 June with a review of nursing home rates and the rates being paid to private nursing homes, but my understanding is that the review will not now be published on time. I am concerned about that because nursing homes took a substantial reduction in recent years in what they were being paid for caring for elderly people. More than 23,500 people are covered under the fair deal scheme. Nursing homes provide a service and, on the one hand, the State and local authorities are imposing a higher charge on them - the rates have doubled in many nursing homes - but, on the other hand, the NTPF has not indicated when it intends to publish its review of rates. It is important to deal with the issue as nursing homes have increasing costs. Nursing homes are also faced with increased insurance costs, as the rates have doubled and trebled in a lot of places. Perhaps the Leader could arrange for the Minister to deal with this issue. I understand the Minister is also carrying out a review of the fair deal scheme. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, to the House to address this issue and also to discuss long-term planning for the provision of nursing home care.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I join other colleagues, including my party leader in the House, Senator Ardagh, in supporting the call for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come to the House today to discuss the impending sale of 25% of AIB. It is important that whatever money is raised from the sale is put back into the infrastructure of this country and not sent to the bankers of Europe.

  I also support the amendment proposed by Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn on Jadotville. I have no reason to doubt what he said but if it is correct it is disturbing. The motion calling for recognition for the survivors of the Jadotville massacre was signed by almost everyone in this House bar the Government Members. Medals should be presented to the survivors. The situation is disturbing. I have no doubt the Leader has been attempting to facilitate a meeting with the Minister of State that was referred to by Senator Mac Lochlainn-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn That is correct.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson -----but we had the Minister of State in the House last week and we had a very good debate with him. However, he never mentioned the motion which I believe has been on the Order Paper for approximately six months. I understand it was intended to take it without debate but, first, it should be put on the Order Paper as it stands and it should be debated. Two hours should be allocated for such a debate. The Minister of State with responsibility for Defence should come to the House and clarify his intentions in relation to the medals.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank the 17 Senators who spoke. Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, Bacik, Humphreys and Wilson raised the sale of shares in AIB. The Minister has outlined that it is his intention, on behalf of the Government, to sell some of the shares in AIB. It is extraordinary to listen to some of the Members of the House today, some of whom have been in government, some of whom were in the Government that wrecked the country and the banking sector, and some of whom are on a motorbike to nowhere. We campaigned as a country on the European fiscal compact treaty in 2012, which the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil supported.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan The austerity treaty.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The treaty committed us to certain terms and conditions. As Members know full well, the benefits of the sale of AIB shares can only be used for debt write-down. In an ideal world we would all love to take the money from the sale of the shares in AIB and spend it on our pet projects. I assure the young people in the Gallery who are present today that the Government, on behalf of the people, will not be a party that wrecks the country. We will be responsible, stand up for the sovereignty of our country and ensure we never go back to the days when the Members opposite were in government and they destroyed the country.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Standing up for the sovereignty of the country by giving money to Europe.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is easy to be for nothing and against everything in the Chamber every day, Senator Norris.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I was against the fiscal treaty. I spoke against it in the House and then voted against it.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The reality, as Members will know,-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Le do thoil,-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The irony of it all is that the hypocrisy of Sinn Féin knows no bounds. It was in Greece with its flags and posters standing side by side with Syriza and Mr. Varoufakis, saying that they would not surrender.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh And the citizens of Greece.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer And what happened? Mr. Varoufakis has gone off on his bike. Greece and the poor unfortunate people-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris He was dismissed.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The poor mistreated-----

(Interruptions).

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The poor people of Greece-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Mr. Varoufakis was dismissed and he was 100% right about Europe.

(Interruptions).

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer -----today have an unemployment rate of 23%-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That is because of Europe-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer -----when our country has a rate of approximately 6.4%.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris -----and the bureaucrats in Europe.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Our country is on the road to recovery-----

(Interruptions).

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer -----because of the Fine Gael-Labour Government and the present Government. I, on behalf of the Government side in this House, will not allow Sinn Féin to wreck our country further.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Wow.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Will the Government do that by itself?

(Interruptions).

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan It is early for interruptions. Allow the Leader to respond and Senators will have a chance at some other time to-----

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys After all, it might be his last performance.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh That is what I was going to say.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris We hope that he will remain on as caretaker.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will take my chances, Senator Humphreys.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys To be honest with the Leader, this may be everyone's last performance if Leo calls an election.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer As Senators know full well, including Senator Humphreys, who was a Minister of State, the sale of AIB was going to happen. As to the brave commentary of Senators Gavan and Conway-Walsh regarding the nationalised or non-private banks, they should consider their history and records.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Will the Minister come to the House and answer the questions?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Senators are doing people a disservice by claiming that there is no accountability or regulation of the banks. There is now. The previous and current Governments have ensured that there will be no more light-touch regulation.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris There is not an awful lot of regulation of the banks.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Who is in prison?

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris The banks were goosed out of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The good news-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris They can do what they bloody well like.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer As Members know full well-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris They have been charging illegal interest. They have putting people out of their homes who could not pay that illegal interest.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Norris, allow the Leader to continue.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris That is what the banks are at.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan The "Bankers' Party".

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Allow the Leader to continue. We have a-----

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris He is being provocative on the subject of the banks.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is about time that people got real about certain things in the House. Our responsibility as Members means that we must be objective in how we run the country and govern. On behalf of the young people in the gallery, we must ensure that we have a country to hand back to them, one in which they have a future and can learn from us and our mistakes. This and the previous Government have given our people hope, so I will never apologise for what they have done.

A Senator: Hear, hear.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The sale of AIB was always going to happen.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh The bankers and vulture funds can do what they like.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The bank has returned to profitability and the Minister, with the Government, has made the decision to sell. The good news is that the Minister will come to the House at 6 p.m., so the Senators can debate the matter. I hope that Members will not play party politics and that there is a proper debate. The voodoo economics of Sinn Féin must be scrutinised for everyone to see.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh And the leprechaun economics of Fine Gael. That is not me saying it.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan And the Seanie economics.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Ardagh raised the issue of traffic management in Dublin.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh It is €250 million for the vulture funds.

(Interruptions).

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Let us move on. There will be a debate at 6 p.m. The Senators should acknowledge that the Leader has consented to a debate and move on, please.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Sinn Féin Members opposite should consider their colleagues in government in the North.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan That will be a matter for this evening's debate.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Some day, and I hope that I will not be here for it, the Sinn Féin Members will play a different tune when they are in government.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh We certainly will.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh We will wait for that election.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I look forward to them waving the flag.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris They have always known how to deal with the banks.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer That is a different matter.

(Interruptions).

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I certainly will not rise to that bait, but Senator Norris is right.

  Senator Lawless raised the important matter of the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill. As he knows well, I am not slowing the matter down or obfuscating on it. There has been an ongoing liaison between my office, Senators Lawless and McDowell and the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality regarding the Bill. Work on it is proceeding. We have asked for it to be expedited. On behalf of the Government side of the House, I am not stalling that work or refusing the Bill to be laid before the House. I have asked the Department to liaise with Senator Lawless personally. I can do no more other than ensure that this side does not prevent the Bill's continuation.

  Senators Black and Gavan referred to yesterday's Supreme Court decision. I welcome the decision and look forward to the Government's response. It has six months to do so. Direct provision was discussed on yesterday's Order of Business. The Government will ensure that there is a positive response. We must welcome yesterday's decision. As I said on television last night, I have friends in the direct provision centre in Cork. They are members of my political party and make a valuable contribution. As Senator Ó Clochartaigh mentioned, these people want to be able to contribute to society through their work. The Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, have been working towards that. We will debate the matter again.

  Senators O'Mahony and Paul Daly raised the issue of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA. It is unacceptable that we are once again seeing turmoil, upset and internal fighting within the IABA. As Senator Paul Daly rightly said, the boxers were the envy of everyone thanks to their performances. It is disappointing. Senator O'Mahony is a former Chairman of the sports and tourism committee. In his personal capacity as a manager and coach of high-performance athletes, he is right to question what is happening.

  We celebrated at the weekend. In the Cathaoirleach's native west Cork, the O'Donovan brothers, Mr. Shane O'Driscoll, Mr. Mark O'Donovan and Ms Denise Walsh won medals while representing Ireland in rowing. There was pride, unity and strength. That the boxing world is in turmoil again is disappointing and frustrating. When someone of the calibre of Mr. Bernard Dunne is being undermined, it poses the question of why. What is it all about? When people wear the green jersey and represent their country in sport, in this instance in the ring, it is about winning and representing our country with pride.

  There is a duty on those who are charged with running the IABA to show unity and ensure that boxers receive the most advantageous, high-performance and quality training that they can get. Mr. Dunne should be empowered in his role, not disempowered. That Mr. John Treacy and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, were treated disrespectfully poses the question of why. I appeal to everyone involved that they sit down, thrash this out and come out of the room united so that our boxers, who are of the highest quality, as the Senators said, are able to win for all of us.

  I believe that Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to the M20 but I missed a part of what he said. He will be glad to hear that be our leader Deputy Varadkar or Deputy Coveney, the M20 Cork-Limerick road will be a priority. As every Senator from the south knows, that road needs to be upgraded as a priority.

  I will pass on Senator Craughwell's message of good will to the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy. He is a fine Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs.

  Senators Craughwell, Mac Lochlainn and Wilson raised the matter of the Jadotville medals. My next point will be made with sincerity. With Senator McFadden, I have spoken to the Minister of State. I have made the case to him. I will not have a political row in the Chamber but my understanding is that the Minister of State has a different view of his meeting with Senator Mac Lochlainn in the canteen this morning. In saying that, I have given a commitment. By text, the Minister of State gave me a commitment after our meeting. The Defence Forces are conducting an archival review, which will be of assistance in forming a decision. The Minister of State is willing to meet. Rather than divide the House on a matter that, on this side, Senator McFadden and I have pursued strongly, I guarantee Senator Mac Lochlainn that we will meet the Minister of State-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Today?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer He is not here today. He has gone to an event.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Will he meet us first thing in the morning?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will speak to the Senator after the Order of Business.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn No. I need an assurance. This is-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn A Chathaoirligh, may I respond briefly?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Senator will not negotiate with me here.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Let us-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Then there will be a vote and the House will divide. We have been messed around for months now.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer All I can say is-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn, there is a way of dealing with issues.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn How can the Minister of State meet the Government Senators but not meet Senator Craughwell and me?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Allow the Leader to respond.

(Interruptions).

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn For months, we have looked for a meeting-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer All I can say-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn -----just to know where we stand.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I will put a question to the Senator shortly and he will have the means of dealing with this matter. Allow the Leader to continue.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer As for my bona fides in this regard, I will revert to the Minister of State after the Order of Business.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I have no problem with the Leader but the Minister of State has treated us with utter contempt for months. He showed me utter contempt in the canteen this morning. I need to meet him today or first thing in the morning with Senator Craughwell.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator has made his point. The Leader to continue.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn If we can that assurance now, we will not divide the House.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will revert to the Senator before the close of business today.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I want an assurance now.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I cannot give the Senator an answer because I have to go back and talk-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I propose that proceedings be suspended for five minutes-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan No, I am not going to do that.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn ------to give the Minister of State an opportunity to say when he can meet us-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn -----and clarify the situation.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator has a choice. Sometimes there are difficult decisions to make. If the Senator is unhappy with the Leader's response on behalf of the Government, he can call a vote.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn That is fair enough.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan It is a matter for the Senator.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will endeavour to have the meeting with the Minister of State either this evening or tomorrow. I know he is not available this afternoon. I may not be here tomorrow for that meeting - I would like to be - which is why I am not negotiating with Senator Mac Lochlainn. He is not Leader of the House yet. Some day, he may be. There is a way of doing business and Senator Mac Lochlainn should not be doing business in the House in the manner in which he is. He will not bully me. I am prepared to have-----

(Interruptions).

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn For how many months have I been raising this issue? How many times have I raised it? What does it take to meet a Minister of State for 15 minutes-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn -----just to clarify what he is going to do? How more fair could I be?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn should resume his seat.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn How many times have I said to the Leader that I would withhold the relevant motion, which has been------

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn should resume his seat and respect the Chair.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn -----agreed by the majority of Members of this House? I have acted in good faith but I have been treated with utter contempt. I should not be told that I am bullying anybody. I have been treated with utter contempt, as has Senator Craughwell.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Leader to reply.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I cannot-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn What has happened this morning is absolutely disgraceful.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan We should move on if the Senator cannot accept the assurance-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn The Leader has acted in good faith but the Minister of State has treated us with utter contempt.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn has made his point very strongly.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer After the Order of Business, I will endeavour to go to the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, to seek a meeting. I cannot answer for him no in respect of tomorrow or later today. I cannot say whether he will have room in his diary. I will not be available tomorrow morning because of diary commitments. I will endeavour to organise the meeting for whatever time the Minister of State is available. I will not make a commitment I cannot honour. I have always acted in good faith on this matter, as has Senator McFadden. We have never resiled from wanting unity on the issue. It ill behoves us all to have this type of debate in the Chamber.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn What the hell does the Cathaoirleach expect me to do? What does he expect me to do?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator has made his case.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn For months and months-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Butler raised the issue of pay parking-----

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn We have held this motion back for six months.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn------

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Hang on. I should not be told that it ill behoves us to debate the issue in this way. We have held the motion back for six months.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn should resume his seat.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Six months. This morning I was told that there has been no progress. Nothing.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Mac Lochlainn should respect the Chair and resume his seat. He has a way of dealing with the issue if he is not satisfied

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Butler raised the issues of pay parking and privatisation. I agree with him in that regard and am happy to have the Minister come to the House.

  Senator Paul Coghlan raised the issue of illegal dumping. All Members welcome the provision of extra funding to combat this and agree with the Senator that there should be a name-and-shame campaign in that regard.

  Senator Boyhan raised the very important issue of Coillte. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House to address that issue. The previous Oireachtas discussed and dealt with the issue of the sale of Coillte.

  In regard to Senator Ó Clochartaigh's point concerning the ambulance service in Connemara and other rural areas, there has as he knows, been investment in many different types of ambulances for rural and many other areas. I would be happy to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, come to the House to discuss the matter.

  As I am often in Senator Murnane O'Connor's home town of Carlow, I share her concern regarding the issue she has raised. She is absolutely correct to voice frustration at the very poor mobile coverage, not just in Carlow town but also on its periphery. It straddles the Laois-Carlow-Rathvilly area but the coverage is appalling. The Carlow to Abbeyleix road is a black spot for communication coverage. I will have the Minister come to the House to address that issue.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor If I can make one point-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Can the Senator please not interrupt?

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I want to compliment the Leader on his action this morning. Can I just compliment-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan This is not a council chamber. The Senator will please resume her seat.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor The Leader had a great time this morning supporting World MS Day.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator will resume her seat.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Today is World MS Day. Well done to the Leader.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator's behaviour is very disrespectful.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor The Leader had a great morning.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senators cannot be allowed to interrupt in order to thank or contradict the Leader.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Today is World MS Day.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan There is a very busy schedule today. I know some Senators would like me to suspend the House for 15 minutes but that would defeat the purpose. The House is sitting until 8.30 p.m. The Leader should be allowed to conclude.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of Nursing Homes Ireland. To be fair, he has been a very strong voice in this House for nursing homes. In terms of the issue of the commercial rate, as I have said previously to the possible future Minister, Senator Murnane O'Connor, it is an independent process. The issue raised by Senator Colm Burke in terms of the imminent National Treatment Purchase Fund report is one about which we should all be vigilant. It is an important issue.

  I missed the point raised by Senator Gavan on the Order of Business.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan My point related to supporting our colleagues in terms of the AIB motion. That is fine. Apologies.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Gabh mo leithscéal. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is available to come to the House at approximately 6 p.m. We have had a robust debate but I want the same result as Senator Mac Lochlainn in regard to Jadotville. Rather than divide the House, I propose to revert to the Senator because I am not aware of the Minister of State's schedule for tomorrow. I have requested that he meet us and rather than divide the House-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I thank the Leader. The Leader has accepted amendment No. 1 proposed by Senator Bacik. Will he come back to the House with a proposed schedule and details?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will. I hope the Minister will be available at approximately 6 p.m. but I will confirm that.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Senator Bacik has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Finance on the proposed sale of AIB shares be taken today." This amendment has been accepted in principle and the Leader will revert to the House with the details. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I thank the Leader for that. Can he clarify that the Minister will attend the House to debate the motion at approximately 6 p.m.?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will revert to the House with the times.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The amendment is agreed subject to details to be confirmed.

  Senator Mac Lochlainn has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, on the award of medals to veterans of the siege of Jadotville be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I know the Leader is not available tomorrow morning. However, Senator Craughwell and I have repeatedly sought a meeting with the Minister of State and we wish to have that meeting. If the Leader can undertake to arrange that meeting for any time this evening-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Leader is currently in an impossible situation.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I appreciate that. I will not divide the House but I wanted to make that point clear.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer For the information of Members, the staff of my office have liaised with the Minister of State's office to organise the meeting. To be fair to Senator McFadden and I, we have sought that meeting and spoken to the Minister of State about it-----

(Interruptions).

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer There is a different version to that told by the Senator.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I remind the Leader that we were promised a meeting after Easter. He knows we were promised that meeting.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator has made his point.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn I am going to take a leap of faith and accept that-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I will put the question if he does not sit down.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn -----on the basis of the assurance given by the Leader, the meeting will take place by tomorrow morning.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan All right.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Can the Leader provide an assurance that the meeting will take place within the next 24 hours?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will revert to the Minister of State's office to request that he meet Senators Mac Lochlainn, Wilson, McFadden and Craughwell and myself.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Within the next 24 hours.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I will ask for it to be held in the next 24 hours but I cannot give a commitment that it will be. I cannot govern the Minister of State's diary but I will endeavour to have-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan There has been enough debate on the issue. Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Yes.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 16.

Níl
Information on Catherine Ardagh   Zoom on Catherine Ardagh   Ardagh, Catherine. Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm.
Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana. Information on Paddy Burke   Zoom on Paddy Burke   Burke, Paddy.
Information on Frances Black   Zoom on Frances Black   Black, Frances. Information on Ray Butler   Zoom on Ray Butler   Butler, Ray.
Information on Rose Conway-Walsh   Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh   Conway-Walsh, Rose. Information on Jerry Buttimer   Zoom on Jerry Buttimer   Buttimer, Jerry.
Information on Paul Daly   Zoom on Paul Daly   Daly, Paul. Information on Maria Byrne   Zoom on Maria Byrne   Byrne, Maria.
Information on Máire Devine   Zoom on Máire Devine   Devine, Máire. Information on Paudie Coffey   Zoom on Paudie Coffey   Coffey, Paudie.
Information on Paul Gavan   Zoom on Paul Gavan   Gavan, Paul. Information on Paul Coghlan   Zoom on Paul Coghlan   Coghlan, Paul.
Information on Alice-Mary Higgins   Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins   Higgins, Alice-Mary. Information on Martin Conway   Zoom on Martin Conway   Conway, Martin.
Information on Gerry Horkan   Zoom on Gerry Horkan   Horkan, Gerry. Information on Maura Hopkins   Zoom on Maura Hopkins   Hopkins, Maura.
Information on Kevin Humphreys   Zoom on Kevin Humphreys   Humphreys, Kevin. Information on Tim Lombard   Zoom on Tim Lombard   Lombard, Tim.
Information on Colette Kelleher   Zoom on Colette Kelleher   Kelleher, Colette. Information on Gabrielle McFadden   Zoom on Gabrielle McFadden   McFadden, Gabrielle.
Information on Billy Lawless   Zoom on Billy Lawless   Lawless, Billy. Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.
Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn   Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig. Information on Kieran O'Donnell   Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell   O'Donnell, Kieran.
Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor   Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor   Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer. Information on John O'Mahony   Zoom on John O'Mahony   O'Mahony, John.
Information on Gerald Nash   Zoom on Gerald Nash   Nash, Gerald. Information on James Reilly   Zoom on James Reilly   Reilly, James.
Information on David P.B. Norris   Zoom on David P.B. Norris   Norris, David. Information on Neale Richmond   Zoom on Neale Richmond   Richmond, Neale.
Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh   Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh   Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.  
Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Ó Domhnaill, Brian.  
Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile   Ó Donnghaile, Niall.  
Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin   Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin   Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.  
Information on Grace O'Sullivan   Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan   O'Sullivan, Grace.  
Information on Lynn Ruane   Zoom on Lynn Ruane   Ruane, Lynn.  
Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid.  


Tellers: Tá, Senators Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and David Norris; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.

Amendment declared carried.

  Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.

Domestic Violence Bill 2017: Committee Stage

  Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Amendments Nos. 1, 52 and 53 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
“ “domestic violence” means any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse, (even if all or any of those incidents, when viewed in isolation, may appear to be minor or trivial), inflicted against an applicant or a dependent person by the respondent and includes all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence. In relation to “domestic violence”—
(a) “coercive behaviour” is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the applicant or a dependent person by the respondent;

(b) “controlling behaviour” is a range of acts designed to make an applicant subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour;

(c) “psychological” means violence inflicted against an applicant or a dependent person by the respondent and includes, but is not limited to, all, or any of the following:
(i) threatening (including threating suicide) to use violence against, molesting or putting in fear;

(ii) harassing by persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating;

(iii) damaging property;

(iv) ill-treatment of one or both of the following:
(I) household pets;

(II) other animals whose welfare affects significantly, or is likely to affect significantly, an applicant or a dependent person’s well-being;
(v) causing or allowing a dependent person to see or hear the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse of an applicant; or puts a dependent person, or allows a dependent person to be put, at real risk of seeing or hearing that abuse occurring. However, an applicant who suffers abuse as defined by “domestic violence” is not regarded as having—
(I) caused or allowed a dependent person to see or hear that abuse; or

(II) put a dependent person, or allowed a dependent person to be put, at risk of seeing or hearing that abuse.”.

Amendments Nos. 1, 52 and 53 are being discussed together. Amendment No. 1 provides a definition of domestic violence that captures not only acts of physical violence, including sexual violence, but also acts of psychological and economic abuse, including stalking and other forms of harassment, and acts which are undertaken to exercise coercive control over their victim. A law against coercive control has recently been introduced in the United Kingdom. The aim of the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 should be to reduce and prevent violence in domestic relationships by recognising that domestic violence in all its forms is unacceptable behaviour and by making sure there is effective legal protection for victims of all forms of domestic violence, not just the customary physical abuse of which we are all very intolerant. I thank my colleagues in the National Women's Council, Safe Ireland and others for all their support in tabling these amendments.

  This Bill refers to domestic violence 36 times without attempting to define it, thereby implying that what is meant by domestic violence is clear and understood. However, reports and statistics to date do not reflect that position, and therefore it is essential that the Bill provides clarity. There is a real opportunity to do in the Bill. The committee on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has called on the Government to introduce a specific definition of domestic violence into our laws. In 2014, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality said that domestic offences, given their seriousness, must be clearly defined.

  When determining what this definition should look like, we should look to the Istanbul Convention, to which we must adhere. It defines domestic violence as all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur in the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, regardless of whether the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim. This is set out in Article 3 of the convention. The convention also states that violence against women includes threats of the acts listed above as well as coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

  The National Women's Council of Ireland has called for a clear statutory definition of domestic violence that reflects modern understanding and it should capture not only acts of physical violence, including sexual violence, but also acts of psychological and economic abuse, including stalking and other forms of harassment, and acts that are undertaken to exercise coercive control over their victim. Furthermore it should recognise that violence within the home is not limited to intimate relationships and can extend to all members of the household.

  Inserting a definition into legislation is a feature of other common law jurisdictions. In particular, New Zealand has had a definition of domestic violence since 1995 which has been amended several times since enactment as social norms and expectations continue to change and new evidence about how to stop violence occurring continues to emerge. The definition recognises that a distinguishing characteristic of intimate partner violence and child abuse is that violence can be a pattern of harmful behaviours occurring over time that can result in the victim's life being controlled by the perpetrator in a very real way.

  I urge the Minister to accept this amendment. I thank the National Women's Council of Ireland for its help and assistance with this amendment.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I support amendment No. 1 in addition to amendment No. 52 in my name as well as the names of other Senators. It is rather difficult to provide a completely exhaustive list of behaviours. I have had a communication about a situation in which a woman was being coerced, controlled and intimidated by her husband, outlining the methods he used. These included putting on the hot water system and consistently leaving the taps running in order that enormous bills would mount up. There was also telephone and other abuse. It is rather difficult to produce a completely exhaustive list. However, the absence of any kind of definition causes a problem and it might lead to a conclusion that domestic violence is the only thing that is contemplated by the Bill. I have the highest regard for Barnardos as an agency and it has given us strong indications that it would support this Bill.

  I point out that I think there is a typographical error in paragraph (c)(i), which reads "threatening (including threating suicide)", which I think should be "threatening suicide".

  The situation in terms of women is very worrying indeed. The numbers that are being supplied to me are quite horrifying. In 2015, just two years ago, 9,712 women and 3,383 children got support from a domestic violence service. That is astonishing. Some 1,471 women and 2,093 children stayed in a refuge. That is a very interesting figure. It shows a shift in balance from the first figures. The figure of 9,712 women and 3,383 children shows a complete preponderance of women and a considerably lower number of children. When it comes to staying in a refuge, the situation is reversed, where it is a smaller number of women and a considerably larger number of children. That shows the vulnerability of children in these situations of domestic violence.

  What is more worrying is that 4,796 requests for refuge could not be met.  On one day in 2015, 502 women and 269 children sought and received support from a domestic violence service. Some 112 women and 147 children were accommodated in refuge but - and here is the real stinker - 18 women could not be accommodated in refuge. In the past week or two we have been very concerned about a small number of homeless families who were not accommodated and slept in their cars but this is much worse. It is one thing to be homeless and uncomfortable in a car but these people are exposed to the danger of violence and the danger of harm being visited upon them.

  We would not be alone in introducing definitions of controlling and coercive behaviour. In the United Kingdom, section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 defines controlling behaviour as a range of acts designed to make persons subordinate and-or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape, and regulating their everyday behaviour. Coercive behaviour is defined in a far more extensive way and includes threats to a child, threats to hurt a child, threats to publish private information, denying people access to transport, isolating them from friends and family, depriving them and monitoring their time and their bank accounts. In British Columbia in Canada, the Family Law Act, chapter 25, part 1, defines family violence as, "physical abuse of a family member, including forced confinement or deprivation of the necessities of life, but not including the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or others from harm". It also includes sexual abuse of a family member, attempts to physically or psychologically abuse a family member and the exposure of a child to the threat of physical violence.

  My amendment shows the significance of the previous amendment because it refers directly to controlling or coercive behaviour and states what is required to establish that an offence has been committed. In the absence of a definition, this is substantially more difficult so it is important to have one. The definition goes with amendment No. 52 and proposes that a person commits an offence if he or she repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person that is controlling or coercive. It is assumed by the Minister that everybody knows what controlling or coercive behaviour is but it is no harm to have a definition. It exempts a parent because a parent has a right and an obligation to control the behaviour of a child and if a child is behaving inappropriately it would be part of his or her learning process. There follows a series of definitions relating to when people are members of the same family, etc. I will support amendment No. 1, which gives the definition and leads into amendment No. 52.

   I have no difficulty in supporting amendment No. 53, although I am not as strongly in favour of it as I am in favour of amendment No. 1 and my own amendment No. 52.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the opportunity to engage in constructive debate on this Bill, which we all welcomed on Second Stage, and I am sure the Minister will be amenable to looking at many of the proposed amendments. A number of us have worked on amendments with different NGOs and I welcome those in the Gallery, particularly the representatives from SAFE Ireland. I thank the National Women's Council, Women's Aid and Barnardos, all of which have fed into the background work for the potentially constructive reforms of this Bill.

  Amendments Nos. 1, 52 and 53 broadly relate to defining an offence of domestic violence, in particular to include controlling or coercive behaviour in such an offence. Senators Norris and Kelleher spoke very eloquently on both amendments and I support both. Indeed, the Labour Party, along with others, put forward amendment No. 52. The CEDAW committee recommended that we introduce a specific definition of domestic violence and the justice committee of the last Government, of which Senator Conway and I were members, recommended a specific offence of domestic violence. Very moving testimonies were given at the committee hearings by survivors of domestic violence and they advocated a specific definition of domestic violence. This would have a practical import but also an impact that is cultural and educational and will change attitudes. It will challenge myths about domestic violence as well as the dismissive attitude towards domestic violence that one still encounters at different levels of society. The tendency to dismissiveness has not been helped by the phrase itself, which has been widely criticised academically. By calling it "domestic violence" it somehow trivialises or de-emphasises the reality of the harm involved. For all of these reasons it is vital that we have a definition and the definition in amendment No. 1 is very helpful, though we would be open to debating how it could be improved upon.

  Amendment No. 52 seeks to insert a specific offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship and I am grateful to SAFE Ireland for the very considered submission it made on the need for such an amendment to the legislation. Others have spoken about the recently introduced offence in English legislation, in the Serious Crime Act 2015 where the offence of coercive or controlling behaviour, recognised widely as a prevalent and very significant part of domestic violence, came into force 18 months ago. A study by Jane Monckton-Smith of the University of Gloucestershire stated that control was seen in 92% of domestic killings. This is the extreme end of domestic violence and it is often presaged by a culture of control within the relationship.

  There was some doubt about how effective the UK legislation would be and whether it would be possible to police and enforce a law against coercive and controlling behaviour but we can be heartened by the prosecution figures from Britain which show that, of 155 defendants prosecuted for coercive control in 2016, 59 were found guilty and 28 sent to prison.  There have been substantive prison sentences handed down in some of these cases, which have been widely reported on, the most well known, probably, being that of the murder of Natalie Hemming, which was the subject of a Channel 4 film. While that was a homicide, it was a case that involved a high level of coercive and controlling behaviour, which, as we know from various studies, is very much a feature of many abusive, violent relationships. It is important that we would seek to introduce by way of this legislation a similar offence in Ireland to deal similarly with this type of controlling or coercive behaviour that falls short of the type of physical assaults currently the subject of most prosecutions under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. It is also important that in introducing a definition of domestic violence we include within it a specific reference to controlling and coercive behaviour.

  For all of those reasons, the reasons put forward by the NGOs that have worked on the front line in terms of providing help and support for survivors for many years and on the basis of the arguments already put forward by colleagues and likely to be put forward by other colleagues, I ask the Minister to consider these amendments in the round and to come back to us on Report Stage with provisions that might take account of our concerns and address the need for definitions, particularly of domestic violence, as well as of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I thank the Minister for being here again today and for her work on this Bill. I commend Safe Ireland, the National Women's Council, Women's Aid and Barnardos on the great work they have done in making our jobs a little easier. I commend, in particular, the women and children who have experienced domestic violence because without their feeding in of the information and their experiences, the aforementioned organisations would not be able to enable us in what we need to do in terms of this legislation.

  Sinn Féin and I support these amendments. I commend all of my colleagues who have put a lot of work into trying to improve this Bill. This is not about changing the Bill but about enhancing it and making it better. Amendment No. 1 in particular is important. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the definition of domestic violence. In the absence of training for judges and the judicial and legal systems as a whole, a better definition of domestic violence will give instruction and guidance to ensure better outcomes and justice for women and children experiencing the crime of domestic violence. In all of this, we must be mindful of the crime that it is. If, in terms of this Bill, domestic violence is recognised as a crime and is defined as such, we will have done a service to those women and children.

  I am conscious of the time allocated to consideration of the Bill today and the need to have it enacted. As we are speaking and as we heard this earlier in the week women and children are being tortured in their own homes as a result of domestic violence and abuse. Every hour and every day in terms of the passage of this Bill, counts. We need to have it enacted so that it can protect women and children as soon as possible.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I welcome the Minister to the House. I acknowledge the enormous effort and work she has put into this legislation. I am particularly delighted that she is here today to see this Stage of the Bill through the process. As stated by Senator Conway-Walsh, domestic violence is a crime against families and children and their right to innocence. It is a crime against women and, in some case, men. The reality is that there are men suffering domestic violence. I have many of them at my office where they came to share their grief, including that nobody believes them.

  When people experiencing domestic violence seek help they do so as a last resort. There is a lack of training or understanding of these matters in the Garda Síochána, which is not altogether its fault. The same applies in respect of the courts. Two weeks ago, a woman and a child appeared before the District Court with no supports and a social worker saying they were telling lies. Why is it that much of the time people do not believe, particularly children? Why is it that 11, 12 and 13 year old boys and girls, who tell of their grief, concern and abuse, are not believed? We must allow children to talk and we must facilitate that engagement. We must listen but we also must believe. I would like to leave here today confident that we have addressed the issue of the need to believe children and people who make complaints. People do not make up stories of abuse. People do not want their relationships to fail: they want their relationships and their family units to succeed. Everyone wants that. That is the place we need to come from in terms of our understanding of this issue.

  I acknowledge the Minister's work on the Bill, which consolidates the law on domestic violence into one piece of legislation. It will provide additional protections for victims of domestic violence and, importantly, it will, or should, meet the requirements of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul convention, which is a really important convention. This is about creating safety for women, children and families. I acknowledge the briefing document provided to the Oireachtas by Safe Ireland. It is a very informative document. The agency has taken the time and the trouble to assist us in our legislative work. There is collaboration between the NGOs and other agencies on this issue. People are sharing their personal experiences. It is not easy to do that. It is not easy to share that one's family relationship has broken down. It is not easy for any man, woman or child to say, "I am a victim of crimes in my own home"; "I do not feel safe in my own bed" or " I fear my lover or what was once my lover and companion". That is not easy to do. We need to be there to support people. This Bill attempts to do that. I thank all of the people outside of this Chamber who have suffered and contributed to this Bill and have kept the pressure on over many years to see it enacted.

  I support all of these amendments. I thank the Members of Seanad Éireann for the work they have put into this Bill. I refer in this regard to the usual ten or 12 Members who-----

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

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan -----research and table amendments, contribute to the debate on them and, importantly, remain in the House to hear the Minister's response. There are many who come in here, chaw-mouth, and leave. The people here now are consistently here on these issues. I acknowledge that they are here to listen and to engage. This is about ensuring we have a better Bill. It is about supporting the Minister and others in the creation of good legislation. I wish the Minister well with the legislation and I thank her for taking the time to be here today.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I join with other speakers in welcoming the Minister to the House and in congratulating her and all of the civil society organisations, including Safe Ireland, the National Women's Council of Ireland, Women's Aid, Barnardos and others, for their work in driving this Bill forward. I believe these amendments will strengthen the Bill and thus deliver the outcome all of those who have put work into it over the years have been seeking.

  The crucial amendment is the amendment proposing a definition of "domestic violence". There are more than 36 references to domestic violence in the Bill but no definition of what constitutes domestic violence. The Minister will understand the importance of a clear definition of what constitutes domestic violence.  There is not a common understanding of it in society, within families or across Europe. The Minister signed Ireland up to the Istanbul convention and I know she is eager to move to the next stage of ratification. There can be no doubt that the comprehensive definition of domestic violence in the Bill, which is also a Council of Europe definition, is what we need because it is comprehensive and includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence. My colleague spoke about economic violence with regard to adult safeguarding. These are all intertwined areas of control. Many of us have heard examples of that from advocacy organisations. Almost everyone here will know of examples in their own lives involving friends, families or neighbours who have been in abusive relationships, the subtleties of that abuse and its inter-linking aspects.

  I note a typographical error has been pointed out. We are very open to working with the Minister on the question of a definition, but it must be based on and enshrine the definition of domestic violence in the Istanbul convention, that is, the Council of Europe convention. It also must include definitions of coercive behaviour and controlling behaviour. That must be spelt out.

  In terms of the psychological definition, we acknowledge that the list as we have phrased it is not comprehensive because psychological cruelty can take very innovative forms and we recognise it may need to be expanded. These are to give an example to and plant a question mark in the minds of those supporting those who have experienced domestic violence about the types of activities engaged in, which might seem subtle but are important in terms of harassment within the family and the effect of the threat of violence. I will touch on that when dealing with amendment No. 52.

  On the question of definitions, as others have said, it is not necessary to send this signal legislatively. It sends a clear message, educationally and culturally, to those who are enforcing the law but also to the victims of violence in that when they experience something which feels like intimidation and abuse, it is abuse and they are able to look to that. It sends a signal to perpetrators and potential perpetrators and it also sends an important signal across Europe. I represent this House at the Council of Europe and I see that there is a backlash and a push regarding domestic violence. We need to be part of the advance guard that fully supports the Istanbul convention and its definitions. We will be happy to work with the Minister on that.

  On amendment No. 52, which the Minister will see has comprehensive support across the House, this amendment takes this a step further, which is to talk of coercive and controlling behaviour as an offence. Its omission is regrettable. Barnardos and almost all of the advocacy groups have spoken about the fact that domestic violence as a specific offence is not included in the legislation. It is a real omission and this proposal in respect of coercive and controlling behaviour is an opportunity to address that.

  We know from the Garda Inspectorate reports that even though domestic violence is not recognised as a crime, it is a volume crime. The Garda Inspectorate report describes it as one of the highest volume of incidents which occur and are recorded, even though we now know, as it has emerged in recent years, that they were under-recorded. We know there is a huge volume of incidents of domestic violence and we need to acknowledge that. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecution has expressed its concerns about prosecution but we have seen in the United Kingdom that there have been successful prosecutions. As mentioned by my colleague, there were 59 successful prosecutions, and 125 other cases were taken. Unless we have a crime of controlling and coercive behaviour, we will neither address nor capture domestic violence.

  If we look to something like assault, we are literally talking about a tiny part of the picture. For example, as damaging as any assault is the linking of that assault to somebody's experience. I refer to someone who walks around in fear for months because they know that when they engage in normal behaviour such as contacting a family member or talking to their co-workers they may be visited with violence. That threat of violence and control, and the fact that someone might seek to destroy one's relationships with others in a wider circle, is the climate in which an incident of assault takes place and it is very hard to prove. It is known by many domestic violence organisations that many of the forms of assault that take place such as choking, for example, can be extremely difficult to demonstrate and prove. However, a litany of control is something that can be captured and shown. I ask the Minister to consider that this crime is being monitored in the UK and to send a signal to society in respect of it.

  Recently, in Russia, we have seen a roll-back whereby effectively, they have decided that violence within the home is acceptable except in the cases of hospitalisation and broken limbs. There is a dynamic happening globally to the effect that abuse within the home can continue and is in a separate space. Unless we are part of the positive dynamic such as we have seen in the UK that says that all forms of abuse within the home will be tackled, taken seriously and treated as a crime, we are lending succour to the negative trend taking place globally and contributing to a dynamic which is seeking to roll back and legitimise violence against women. I urge the Minister to continue with her original intent and renew a commitment to a reference to a crime of domestic violence or specifically controlling and coercive behaviour in this Bill. That would send a valuable signal to women, men and children across Ireland. I look forward to the Minister's response. I hope she will be able to work with us and that we can move forward on this issue.

Senator Catherine Ardagh: Information on Catherine Ardagh Zoom on Catherine Ardagh I thank the Minister for attending the House and for her dedication to the Bill over the course of this Seanad term. I thank also the Women's Council, Women's Aid, Barnardos and Safe Ireland in particular for aiding the Fianna Fáil group in tabling some of its amendments. As many of my colleagues have pointed out, those groups have done a good deal of the hard work on the Bill for which I thank them.

  Fianna Fáil supports this Bill to help address the appalling problem of domestic violence and violence against women in all its manifestations. Domestic violence is a deeply traumatising act that demands Government action.

  Members who were watching TV on Friday night may have seen the interview with Norah Casey, who bravely outlined her tale of domestic violence. It was thought-provoking and took everyone by surprise. She presents herself as a strong, independent woman. One would never think something like that could happen to her but she was able to outline her story, which was horrific. It is a story to which many of us can relate. We all have a friend who is in a similar situation with a very controlling partner, be it a man or a woman. Getting out of that situation and recognising that the problem exists is very brave. It was very brave of Ms Casey to share her story with us last Friday night. I want to acknowledge that because it hit home.

  The Bill aims to improve the protections available for victims of domestic violence. The court process is cumbersome and is the last place a victim of domestic violence wants to go to seek help. Anyone who has been to Dolphin House will know it is very intimidating. The person is kept in a holding cell downstairs where there are crowds of people.  The building leaves a lot to be desired and is not the safe place victims need. The operation of the courts, including the system for listing cases, is in terrible shape. While the Bill does not address these issues, it makes it a little easier for victims by providing a right to be accompanied to court. This will shelter victims a little from the deprivation visible in Dolphin House where people living in Dublin must seek safety and barring orders. The provision allowing victims to give evidence by television link is also very welcome.

  Victims of domestic violence who are cohabiting with, or are parents of, the perpetrator will be able to apply for an emergency barring order lasting for eight working days. A person who applies for an emergency barring order will not be required to have a greater or equal interest in the relevant property. Many of these provisions will be discussed in detail and the Fianna Fáil group has tabled a large number of amendments with the support of SAFE Ireland. I support the Bill and look forward to the Minister's response to many of the amendments, which have been considered by various groups and are worthy of acceptance.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor As previous speakers stated, this is a crucial Bill which should be implemented as quickly as possible to assist the most vulnerable. We see victims of domestic violence in our clinics day in and day out.

  The statutory guidelines which judges will take into account when deciding to make an order are crucial, especially with the definition of violence placed in context. The guidelines will help applicants and their representatives to present their case. This means the most vulnerable applicants and their dependent children will be better served by the justice system when they face the risk of serious harm by the perpetrator. It is important that people are able to have someone accompany them to court, particularly where they have young children.

  I have been contacted in my clinic by people who have paid €130 for free legal aid. Once they hand over what we describe as a "slip" to a solicitor, they must pay another €130 if they seek a maintenance order within six months. This should not happen in cases where people must go to court again because a partner does not make maintenance payments. I ask the Minister to address this issue.

  Almost one in three Irish women - 31% - experience some form of physical violence, while 70% do not contact services, including the police, following violence. We are at the top of the European table in this regard. An awareness campaign is needed in this area. The most vulnerable in society must be made aware of their entitlements and provided with help. There is no women's refuge in Carlow, my local area. This means people seeking refuge in the area are sent to Kilkenny or Waterford, which is unacceptable. Every town should have a refuge for women with young children who are the most vulnerable in society. The barriers facing women in fear of losing their children who do not have money or a place to go and do not want to break up their family cause low self-esteem, depression and feelings of anxiety and guilt. Moreover, women in this position lose confidence.

  I recently encountered a woman who broke up with her partner as a result of violence. They had been renting a home for years but because her name was not on the lease she could not obtain a barring order. This issue needs to be addressed in legislation. A woman with small children whose name does not feature on the tenancy agreement cannot secure a barring order against her partner.

  Everybody has spoken about how important and serious domestic violence is and it is vital, therefore, that the House pass the Bill as quickly as possible. I thank the Minister for coming to the House.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome the Tánaiste to the House. This is exceptionally important legislation, on which people have worked hard. I echo the point that it always seems to be the same people who do the heavy lifting. I commend the non-governmental organisations which have supported Senators in drawing up amendments. As everyone, including the Tánaiste, will agree, all of the amendments have been tabled with the best of intentions with a view to improving the legislation. Once implemented, the Bill must work in the courts and must, therefore, be legally proofed. This is where the good offices of the Tánaiste and the Attorney General come into their own as it is their duty and responsibility to ensure the legislation stands up to scrutiny.

  I was struck by the example of domestic violence cited by Senator Murnane O'Connor involving a couple with small children who were renting a house and one partner's name was not on the lease. This is a practical example of the difficulties people experience. We have a responsibility to close loopholes such as this in a way that protects vulnerable women. In the majority of cases where couples rent a house, the names of both partners will be on the lease. When the name of a woman with small children who is cohabiting but in a violent relationship and clearly lives in a property is not on the lease, it is reasonable to expect the State to provide protection. I have not encountered similar cases. Other speakers made similarly strong points. I encourage the Tánaiste to consider the contributions to this debate and identify how the legislation can be enhanced on foot of all of the concerns expressed by Senators. She must ensure the Bill stands up when, as is unfortunately always the case, it ends up in the courts.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I thank Senators for the hard work they have put into the Bill and the various amendments that have been tabled. I very much respect the spirit in which the amendments have been tabled and look forward to discussing them. My approach is very much one of wanting to work constructively on the Bill. We have a shared goal of strengthening its provisions and ensuring we deal effectively with the crime of domestic violence.

  It is not acceptable that anyone should be subject to the type of abuse, fear and intimidation we have heard about. I emphasise that domestic violence is a pernicious evil and much too prevalent. It has devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for individuals, families and children.

  The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate and reform the law on domestic violence to provide better protection for victims. We also wish to enable the country to ratify the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention. I assure Senators that the Bill, as presented, facilitates this. It also includes important new provisions on emergency barring orders, forced marriage, better protection for victims going to courts, including allowing more support and the use of video. These will make the experience less traumatic, where possible.   Before going into the detail of the amendment, a number of matters have been mentioned by Senators. One of these relates to the fee that obtains. I have already indicated in the Dáil that I have a submission from the Legal Aid Board and that we should remove the fee. I will look at the point Senator Murnane O'Connor made in respect of someone coming back in. The Senator's point is relevant and I will give consideration to it.

  Senator Ardagh referred to the conditions in the courts. The position regarding Dolphin House clearly needs to be dealt with. We have a new property at Hammond Lane. The then Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW and current Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and I did a great deal of work on the matter. The building in Hammond Lane will be the new family law complex. A planning group has commenced work on the project. It will be a terrific facility, with rooms for witnesses and children and much better facilities. This development is absolutely overdue.

  I appreciate what Senators are trying to do with their amendments, which seek to provide a definition of "domestic violence" and create a specific offence of coercive control. I want to make an important point on the framing of these amendments. The amendment to section 2, as submitted, is confined to defining domestic violence. That is very important because there is no linking of the definition with any subsequent provision in the Bill. That needs to be looked at. There is no point in having a definition if it is not linked and if there is no implementation that follows from it. I am sure Senators will accept that. If I was to accept the amendment, the effect it would have is not clear because it is not linked with other provisions in the Bill. That is a technical point but one with many implications

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris Is the Minister prepared to accept the principle of the amendment?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I will get on to that now.

  There is also an attempt to capture coercive and controlling behaviours, including those with a psychological element. I have no ideological difficulty with defining domestic violence or creating an offence of coercive control. I have no ideological resistance to that whatever. The key question is will it be effective and is it going to be supportive of victims in the real world, namely, in the courts? That is the question we have to ask and we need to be sure that the answer is "Yes".

  I will go through some of the detail with Senators because it is important that I am very comprehensive about this. If the latter proves to be the case, we will achieve the best result. Consideration was given to establishing an offence of domestic violence during the drafting process. We also looked at coercive control. Senators will appreciate from the amendment that what constitutes domestic violence encompasses a very wide currency and spectrum of behaviours. We all recognise that. The question is how does one match that with what happens in the courts in terms of prosecuting these cases. As Senator Norris said, it is extremely difficult to come up with an exhaustive list and, for obvious reasons, we all recognise that. It is a complex issue and the amendment, as proposed, demonstrates how problematic it is to define it in statute. Behaviours in a domestic setting which involve emotional abuse, humiliation and fear, are clearly detrimental and an abuse of the trust associated with an intimate relationship but the key is that effective legislation needs to be enforceable. That is the criterion against which we must measure this. Is it enforceable in the courts? Is it going to make it easier or be helpful in taking these cases?

  Many instances of domestic violence take place in private. The difficulties in obtaining evidence of non-physical behaviours and the harm they cause in order to satisfy a criminal standard of proof that is beyond reasonable doubt and secure conviction are obvious. All the agencies represented here today - Safe Ireland, Women's Aid, the National Women's Council and Barnardos - will be very familiar with the problems relating to this issue. The difficulties in securing convictions in respect of relatively simple offences - and I use that term in context - such as assault, could potentially be compounded in the case of an offence of domestic violence. That is something for which we must watch out. When we considered this issue, we had very wide consultations across the criminal justice agencies, by which I mean people with a keen interest in this matter who would be prosecuting in the courts. I will now outline the advice I received.

  There is not a gap in the range of offences that can be prosecuted in domestic violence cases, primarily under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. Acts of physical violence, such as assault, assault causing harm and sexual violence, are already offences, as is the threat of violence. Non-violent abuse is also captured by the harassment and coercion provisions contained in the 1997 Act. Likewise, causing damage to property, animals and so on is an existing offence. Prosecuting an offence of domestic violence in addition to other existing criminal offences could make prosecutions more complicated and could create a further burden on victims. That is the advice I have from the people taking these cases in the courts and who observe how they are prosecuted now and how they go through the courts. That is their view.

  As matters stand, the courts can take into account the fact that such acts took place in a domestic setting when sentencing an offender. Senators will recognise that there are lots of overlaps with existing criminal offences and duplicating offences in the amendment that is being put forward. That is a fact. To summarise, the reason it is not there is because the issue regarding the exhaustive list and the crime of violence and other crimes I mentioned are already captured in legislation and as a result of the concern that proving a crime as complex as that encompassed by the proposed definition would be very onerous. The downside of putting a very complex offence on the Statute Book is that it will not be prosecuted, while assault and the other crimes I mentioned may be prosecuted in a domestic violence context. If the former proved to be the case, a message would be sent out to the effect that the offence of domestic violence would not be prosecuted. That is not what any of us wants because it would be misleading and would not reflect the seriousness of the situation.

  I wish to make a few more points on both the overall situation and the international position. Amendment No. 53 would have the effect of moving operational independence in respect of investigations away from An Garda Síochána and into the political arena. It is a long-standing principle that the Minister for Justice and Equality has no role in respect of the conduct of Garda investigations. I ask Senators to consider that because I do not think it would be good to move away from that principle now. We make a point of the Minister for Justice and Equality being separate from operational decision-making regarding investigations and I would be concerned about changing the position in that regard.

  In March 2017 the Scottish Government published the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which defines abusive behaviour as including psychological abuse. The legislation is still before the Scottish Parliament. There has been an offence of coercive control in the UK since December 2015, as Senator Bacik mentioned. UK media reports from August 2016 indicate that since the offence of coercive control was introduced, there have been more than 22,000 prosecutions for general domestic violence. Recent research has found that since its introduction, 202 people have been charged with the offence of coercive control. Senator Bacik did mention some information in respect of this matter. However, there is little enough available regarding successful prosecutions. The first person convicted of coercive control was jailed in September 2016 and that conviction was in addition to convictions for serious physical assault which led to the victim suffering permanent disability.  That can demonstrate some of the potential difficulties associated with successfully prosecuting such an offence on its own.

  What I hope I have done is outline the reasons a particular approach was taken regarding the Bill - the complexities of the definition. I have been struck by what the NGOs and Senators have said. What I would like to suggest is that I take account of the points that have been made here today, that I consult again with the Attorney General and the Parliamentary Counsel, and I examine, if possible, taking account of the points that I have made, if there would be benefit in trying to move forward on the points that have been made by Senators today. I certainly want to make absolutely sure that anything we do, and I think Senators will agree, is in the interests of victims and ensures that we can strengthen the legislation and make it easier, if at all possible, to take prosecutions but, equally, not do anything to damage prosecutions that might be taken under other legislation. I would propose asking Senators that I would have time to examine this matter and come back on Report Stage. That would be my suggestion regarding this matter. I have had a preliminary discussion with the Attorney General on it.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I may have been inadvertently discourteous because I am the only one not to welcome the Minister to the House but it is such a formula. We always welcome all Ministers to the House. I also would like to pay tribute to the various organisations that have so effectively briefed us, which my colleagues also did but I neglected to do so.

  I thank the Minister for her temperate and considered approach to the matter. I thank her for showing a desire to co-operate with this House to improve the legislation. She asked whether the amendments will be effective. She raised reasonable doubt about some aspects, for example, the question of proving a situation in court. If it is just hearsay or if it is just the supposed victim of violence saying, "He said this to me" or "He threatened violence" then it is a judgment call. There is no absolute mechanism of proof in that situation. I am not sure if we want to leave that in but, again, it is a matter for the Minister to consider.

  She also asked whether the amendments are acceptable to victims. I think they pretty certainly are because these amendments were essentially suggested by the organisations that represent victims. It is fairly unarguable that the victims would support these amendments.

  In terms of the definition, I have made the point that it is difficult to be exhaustive. On the other hand, the interpretation section lists definitions for the court, a dependent person, an emergency barring order, the full age, an interim barring order, the Minister, the prohibited degree of relationship, a protection order, a respondent, a safety order, a spouse and welfare. It seems a little bit odd when one defines all of these things that appear fairly obvious to the ordinary person on the street that we baulk at defining what are the central elements of the legislation.

  The Istanbul Convention has been mentioned. I would like to put on record Article 33 of the Istanbul Convention which reads, "Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the intentional conduct of seriously impairing a person's psychological integrity through coercion or threats is criminalised." The gloss that I got on this matter is that the proposed events of controlling or coercive behaviour drafted in similar terms in the corresponding UK legislation, in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, would capture the coercive and controlling aspect of the behaviour described in the Article. According to my advice, the existing defence of harassment under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, as amended, does not capture the controlling or coercion aspect. The Bill presents an opportunity to advance the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by inserting an offence that captures exactly the sort of behaviour identified in the Article.

  I would like to refer to a case, and I already did so without naming Natalie Hammond and her partner, Mr. Hemming. I would like to expand on the kind of things that he did. I have already instanced in another case that the heating was switched on and taps were left running. Mr. Hemming refused to put her name on the deeds of their house, which goes directly to the situation referred to by Senator Murnane O'Connor. I am very glad that the Minister has agreed to consider this matter. It does seem wrong that children in this situation simply by a technicality, and one in which there is clear evidence that the partner or whatever one wants to call him, and it is usually a him, refused to put a name on the deeds. That fact let him out of the situation. He also monitored her mail, scrutinised her bank statements and tampered with her phone. That is pretty ghastly behaviour. Unsurprisingly, the judge at the trial described Mr. Hemming as overbearing, controlling and jealous.

  Senator Bacik referred to a study of 358 domestic homicide reviews conducted by Dr. Jane Monckton-Smith that showed control was seen in 92% of domestic killings. That proves how important the question of control and coercion is. It is not just the battering. The control is part of the environment that facilitates the battering and it is almost always present. Control is something that must be addressed. The study showed there was obsession in 94% of cases and isolation from family and friends in 78% of cases. The following statement made by Dr. Monckton-Smith must be taken into consideration by this House. She said that the British Government brought in legislation, "because coercive control is really dangerous to women and children, not just because it’s unpleasant." It is not just something that is nasty and we say, "Oh God, that is dreadful." It is actually dangerous to women. I am very glad that the Minister has agreed to consider these situations and to come back to us on Report Stage and shows the potential for a good day's work in the Seanad.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I recognise that the Minister is willing to work on amendment No. 1 that seeks to insert a definition for domestic violence in the Bill and that it is applied to the whole Bill. We are happy to work with the Minister on this matter for Report Stage.

  I am concerned somewhat by the message given by the Minister about viewing coercive crime as a crime. We have talked about the type of messages that we send out from here. I am very concerned that a message has been sent that this matter is too complicated. Many of us know people who are or have been in abusive relationships. Therefore, we know how difficult it is to leave such relationships due to the network of control, psychological oppression and the doubt that is planted in the victim's brain. One of the messages that one gets from victims is that when they try to extract themselves from an abusive, coercive or controlling relationship, it is complicated. We reinforce the message that this matter is too complicated, that it is a matter just for the two people involved and that society has no interest because it is so complicated if we simply say it is too complicated for the courts. How the hell is anybody meant to get out of a relationship when he or she knows that society considers what a victim is experiencing to be too complicated for our laws and procedures to take on? I believe it is straightforward. Good work has been done elsewhere. There are practices and behaviours that are wrong and abusive. Such practices and behaviours need to be identified and named. The fact that the list may expand does not stop us from identifying the behaviours that exist now. We must identify them as wrong and ensure that they can be reflected in our courts.  As Senator Norris has very adequately said, if we are ratifying the Istanbul Convention we need to engage and deal with coercive behaviour. It shows how silent and invisible this issue has been that we are told that there is not a gap and I strongly disagree with this. To say that there is not a gap, to say that physical and sexual violence and the threat of violence and harassment adequately cover the behaviours we have heard about today, all of those subtle behaviours: the question of isolation; the destruction of relationships; the monitoring - these do not fit the normal threat of violence and harassment-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Senator Higgins, I am sorry for interrupting you but as per the order of the House it is now 2 p.m. Could I ask you to move the adjournment of the debate please.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins Do we have to adjourn it?

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Yes.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins Apologies. We will come back to this, I am sure. Yes, I can move the adjournment of the debate and look forward to its resumption and to constructive engagement in between.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Thank you Senator Higgins, thank you colleagues.

  Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Report on Use of Section 12 of Child Care Act by An Garda Síochána: Statements

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important matter with Members of the Seanad and to set out the actions that are being taken. Following a recommendation by the Ombudsman for Children concerning the removal of two Roma children from their families, a report of the audit of the emergency removal of children from their families was commissioned by An Garda Síochána to review its handling of section 12 cases. While the report’s focus and recommendations are based on an examination of Garda records and are primarily directed at An Garda Síochána, Dr. Shannon also considers and makes recommendations regarding Tusla and the broader child protection system.

  Before I address the report itself, it is important to have a clear understanding of when section 12 is invoked. An Garda Síochána has the power, under section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991, to remove a child urgently from a situation for his or her safety and welfare. This includes a power to enter any premises without a warrant under certain conditions and the child, once removed, is to be delivered to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Tusla social workers have no powers to enter a home or to remove a child from a dangerous situation in an emergency. The main issues for Tusla raised in Dr. Shannon’s report can be summarised under the following headings: interagency co-operation and communication; the repeated application of section 12; section 12 and out-of-hours services; and the lack of suitable emergency accommodation leading to young people being admitted to hospital or kept safe at Garda stations. Work has been ongoing and is already under way on these issues.

  With regard interagency cooperation and communication, Dr. Shannon’s review looked at PULSE data from 2008 to 2015, all Garda cases where section 12 was applied by An Garda Síochána in 2014 and a sample of Garda cases where it was applied in 2015. Since this time, Tusla has been fully established and has set up processes to enhance interagency working. Both An Garda Síochána and Tusla confirm that there is excellent communication and co-operation at senior management level, both formally through regular meetings of the strategic liaison committee and informally through regular communication. It is recognised that there is always a need to ensure that this is realised on a consistent basis at a local level. In order to address this, both organisations have recently developed a joint protocol on the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 which, I am assured, will be signed off by the two organisations very shortly.

  This joint protocol was developed in line with the new Children First guidance and the Children First Act 2015. It covers: the application of section 12; the process to be adopted during office hours and out-of-office hours as emergencies arise; Garda notifications to Tusla; the medical history of the child; and the follow-up action required. The Garda national child protection unit, in co-operation with Tusla, will carry out a review at local level of the child protection operations between Tusla and An Garda Síochána.

  Further noteworthy actions to enhance interagency communication and co-operation have been in planning and will be completed shortly. First, a dedicated Tusla official will be assigned to and co-located at the Garda national child protection unit in the coming days. Divisional protective services units are being established in all 28 Garda divisions and effective liaison with Tusla will be a feature of these units. Where local operational difficulties cannot be resolved through these units, the strategic liaison committee will act as a forum where any significant operational issues can be addressed. Ongoing development of Tusla’s national child care information system is progressing well which, when finalised, will greatly improve the information available both to Tusla and to its partners in child welfare and protection. These actions should facilitate continuously enhancing and improving interagency working between the two agencies with statutory responsibility for child protection.

  In addition to the high-level Garda and Tusla strategic liaison committee, Tusla has put in place dedicated intake teams which monitor and manage section 12 cases, including consideration of repeated use of section 12. In response to Dr. Shannon’s report, Tusla has set up a team to review the contextual and situational factors and their actions around the 91 cases cited in Dr. Shannon’s report to clarify the number and reasons for repeat applications of section 12 in the cases examined in the report and to consider the common themes emerging. In order to allow Tusla to identify the specific cases referenced in the report, An Garda Síochána has agreed to provide details of these cases by Friday of this week and I am assured that this work will be completed by the end of June.

  Regarding the out-of-hours social work service, a significant enhancement of the service took place in November 2015, the period after which is not covered by the report. Tusla now provides a national service which facilitates 24-hour Garda contact with a social worker in cases where removal of a child under section 12 is being contemplated.  The services provided by the emergency out-of-hours service include: a national call centre where social workers consult with and provide advice to An Garda Síochána; the arrangement of emergency foster and residential care placements for children under section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 and access by An Garda Síochána to the national child protection notification system. Through this service, social workers are available on the ground at night, over weekends and bank holidays to assist An Garda Síochána in the busiest areas of Dublin, Cork city, Kildare and Wicklow. The call centre is contactable for advice and placement support from all locations in Ireland. In light of Dr. Shannon’s report, I have asked Tusla to look at the current demand for a similar on-the-ground service for the rest of the country and Tusla will report back to me on this matter.

  In line with best child care practice, most emergency accommodation is provided with family foster carers. This meets the needs of the majority of children admitted in an emergency situation. There are some situations where family care is not suitable, including where the young person is under the influence of alcohol and or drugs, or is exhibiting suicidal ideation, and may require medical assessment or treatment in hospital. In 2016, there were 41 incidents where a request was made for a social-medical admission to hospital. These occurred, following a discussion between the Tusla out-of-hours service and the Garda, where it was deemed that the child was unsuitable for a foster care placement. There were no social admission cases in the Dublin-Kildare-Wicklow area, as a residential service is available. In the midlands area, Tusla now has access to residential emergency placements and is about to commission additional emergency residential places in the south of the country.

  In 2016, there were 12 incidents of children staying in a Garda station instead of an alternative placement. I have been told that this was due to circumstances other than a lack of foster care placement. It may be, for example, that the young person arrives there at 5 a.m. and it is thought better to keep him or her there rather than travel some distance to an alternative placement. It may be that the young person is very aggressive or has been arrested. I have been assured that social admission to hospital only takes place in exceptional cases, and only where such a placement is for the safety of the young person.

  The national out-of-hours service is continuing to review demands for different placement types and is considering the need for the development of additional residential placements. Senators will be aware that HIQA inspects and publishes reports on Tusla’s child protection services. This work includes how Tusla handles referrals from the Garda under section 12. We are looking closely at HIQA’s observations and findings in respect of Tusla’s handling of emergency placements.

  I look forward to meeting with Dr. Shannon in the coming days to discuss his report and the recommendations regarding Tusla. I also intend to talk to the Tánaiste about a joint monitoring of implementation by An Garda Síochána and Tusla of the actions recommended for both organisations in Dr. Shannon’s report. While I note that Dr. Shannon has expressed full confidence in Tusla’s child protection framework, I am absolutely committed to ensuring that all reasonable action is taken quickly to provide for the safety and welfare of children in Ireland. As a result of the various meetings I will be indicating clearly what those actions will be, in addition to the ones I have already indicated.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I thank the Minister for addressing us today. This recently-published audit reveals a shocking lack of consistency and resourcing in how we treat our most vulnerable children. It demonstrates very poor level of co-operation between the agencies of the State. It reveals several cases where children were placed back into extremely abusive and dangerous situations because of poor co-operation between State agencies. The audit covers the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act, which refers to An Garda Síochána. It provides for a Garda member to remove a child from the care of his or her family or persons acting, in a case where the Garda member believes there is an immediate or serious risk to the child. I feel that this is very serious. I acknowledge the Minister has spoken of addressing different issues, but after the "Claire Byrne Live" programme, everybody was heartbroken. It is very emotional to even talk about it today in the Seanad. The audit found that gardaí are often forced to repeatedly use the provision in section 12 with very little or no existing support from Tusla or other State agencies.

  In 2012 Ireland voted to place the rights of the child on a constitutional footing but this audit demonstrates how little the Government is doing to actually deliver these rights. Clearly, all State agencies should work together to ensure that vulnerable children are protected. The Minister announced recently that a Tusla official should be co-located in the national Garda unit within the next week or so. I seek clarification on that. A measure such as this is akin to putting a sticking plaster on the situation and surely there are other measures we can take. Our children are our future and it is not enough to just open the lines of communication between the Garda and Tusla, we must learn from the harrowing lessons of the past.

  In the report on "Claire Byrne Live", we saw that children were removed from their families by gardaí on numerous occasions. They were returned back to the families within 48 hours, yet no risk assessments were done. This is unacceptable. How can a child go back in to the same family within 48 hours with no risk assessment? Tusla was established in 2014. It was obvious that a huge amount of work needed to be done to improve our child protection systems. According to the report on "Claire Byrne Live", gardaí have removed two children per day in such situations, which is 680 children per year, under the section 12 provision. It is unacceptable.

  After the report on the "Claire Byrne Live" programme, I wish to highlight the need for more investigations into the current child protection systems in Ireland to look at where the failings are today and what are the barriers to effective protection for these children. I know the Minister's announcement is only the start but Senators need to be part of the solution. We need to find it, we need to be brave and we need to ask the hard questions. The most vulnerable people are our children and we must make sure that we give them the proper upbringing and service and help with their need for a family for which they cry out but are not getting at present. The Minister will address all these issues for me and I thank her again for coming in to the House today.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I warmly welcome the Minister to the House. I acknowledge her three-page report but I have heard all of this. I do not mean to be rude when I say that as politicians of both Houses, we are tired of having history lessons about An Garda Síochána and history lessons about child protection. The previous Minister who came into the Seanad was speaking about the protection of women and domestic violence in families, issues which dovetail in many ways with the issues we are discussing now. There are many similarities between the two. What is striking about all the issues is that the NGOs and the other organisations outside feed in so much to us through those who share their personal experiences. This is no easy thing to do especially if it is around domestic violence, family breakdown, abuse within the family by members of the family or the possible question of children being taken in to care.

  Over the last few weeks I have been touched by these people as they bring their situations home to us. They have experienced these issues on a day-to-day basis. When one is involved in legislation, the problem can be that one can become quite cold. I have seen some letters - the detail of which I shall not go into here - relating to cases that have been made of complaints, be it by Departments or State agencies. The letters are cold or they have no regard to the particular circumstances of the people and in many cases they are not even child-centred. It is an appalling way to treat people who have particular difficulties.

  I want to stay focused on the audit by Dr. Shannon. It really highlights grave failings in Ireland's child protection system. We can talk all day and reports can keep gathering dust on shelves but nothing seems to happen. Let us be clear, however, on what Dr. Shannon's report tells us. The report tells us there is a lack of adequate out-of-hours social work services. Let us deal in the facts. There is a "lack of access to case files" to enable effective assessment and decision making in respect of child safety. That is what the report says and I am quoting directly from it. There is a lack of "reliable data" on the Garda Síochána's PULSE system. We know all about the lack of data in other areas but this is the lack of accurate data on the PULSE system in respect of section 12 removals. The audit also states there is a lack of training, resources and support for gardaí when they exercise their powers to remove a child at risk, pursuant to section 12. The audit found a lack of clarity around the responsibilities of Tusla. I have had Tusla up to here at this point. Everybody says that Tusla is fit for purpose but I say it is not fit for purpose. Why do I say this? It is because I am meeting people every week who have horrendous experiences of this organisation.  The Minister herself has commissioned a number of inquiries into Tusla, on which she has elaborated here. There were serious concerns about this organisation and I do not believe it has the capacity needed. I accept that Dr. Shannon, in fairness, seems to have a different view and I acknowledge that he is the expert. Maybe all the experts, doctors, professors and professionals are slightly removed from it all. People on the ground tell a different story. There is some disconnect there and it is important to ask why this is the case.

The use of Garda stations as safe places for children to be held is of real concern. I do not care if it is for an hour or ten minutes; it is against best international practice, as the Minister knows. The Shannon report clearly says so. The report also expresses concerns about the use of some private fostering services. While I do not want to go into that in any detail, the Minister will be aware of the media coverage of inappropriate behaviour over the past two weeks. Children have been left exposed in foster care situations. That is the reality. There are not too many cases, but they are there and they are alarming. Some of them are mentioned by Carol Coulter in today's edition of The Irish Times. These are serious matters.

At the end of the day, what can we do to find solutions? There are 17 recommendations in the Shannon report, which I believe should be implemented. I call on the Minister, the Government, An Garda Síochána and Tusla to commit to implementing in full all of the recommendations without any excuse. I am calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs - their roles dovetail in respect of this issue - to present an action plan to Seanad Éireann within three weeks. That is not unreasonable. I ask respectfully for this to be done. If it does not happen, it is my intention to table a motion in the Seanad. I will lobby hard to bring one or both of those Ministers back to the House to set out an action plan and a timeframe for implementing the 17 recommendations. I would like the Minister's response on that. I am looking for a full plan and a detailed implementation strategy addressing all of the recommendations in the report to be brought before the Seanad within three months. Otherwise we are wasting our time. Hopefully we will all still be here or somewhere nearby.

Ultimately, recommendations are meaningless unless we are going to action them. Every time we have a report it is because we have been dragged into a situation. The Minister has to come in and we have to have a report because that eases everything and calms us down. That criticism is not directed at the Minister, Deputy Zappone. I have an awful lot of time for her and acknowledge the enormous amount of work she has done. However, honeymoons are now over and the Government is well established, having been in power for over a year. It does not have a lot of time and time is precious. Most important, the children and families have no more time to wait for action. I want to hear the Minister tell us how she intends to deal with the 17 recommendations. Does she think it is reasonable to have a plan for us in three weeks? If not I intend to come back to the matter in three weeks. Certainly I would like to think we could have a very detailed map of the way forward within three months, in terms of addressing the issues that Dr. Shannon has identified in his report.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I thank the Minister for coming to the House so quickly when Senators asked to discuss this issue. There is no disputing that Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's recent report has given rise to grave and understandable concerns. I join with other speakers in their comments. There are a number of criticisms of Tusla in the audit. We have all heard about it in the media in the last few days. In particular, some of these criticisms concern the out-of-hours social work service and effective communication between Tusla and An Garda Síochána.

  As the overall issues raised in the report were summarised by the Minister, I do not propose to repeat them. In respect of the out-of-hours social work service, a significant enhancement of the service took place, I understand, in November 2015. A national service now exists which facilitates 24-hour Garda contact with a social worker in cases where removal of a child under section 12 is being contemplated, and which provides emergency foster and residential care for a child who is removed from his or her family under this provision. As part of this service, social workers are available on the ground at night, over weekends and bank holidays to assist An Garda Síochána in the busiest areas of Dublin, Cork city, Kildare and Wicklow. I would like to hear more from the Minister on her view of what is actually happening as regards the out-of-hours service. This begs the question about service provision in the remaining 22 counties as well. Statistics show that the period in which most of these calls are made is between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. I have been assured that the volume of calls in these counties indicates that contact with Tusla social workers by telephone is sufficient. Nevertheless I am encouraged that the Minister has confirmed that this matter is specifically under review.

  There is also a need to ensure that this is realised at local level. In order to address the matter, I understand that both organisations have recently developed a joint protocol on the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991, on which they are due to sign off shortly. The joint protocol covers the application of section 12 and the process to be adopted during and outside office hours as emergencies arise, in addition to notifications to Tusla. It must be noted also that at the launch of the report on Monday, 29 May, Dr. Shannon expressed his full confidence in Tusla's child protection framework which, I suppose, is some comfort in the context of what is quite a stark and grave report overall.

  Some additional concerns have been expressed about the placement of children in Garda stations and hospitals. It is my understanding that social admissions to hospitals take place only in exceptional circumstances and only where such a placement is for the child's own safety. Tusla apparently does not request for the Garda to keep a child over part of the night. That is a Garda decision. While the report is very complimentary about the Garda and how empathetic and understanding and kind gardaí have been to children, I do not think it should fall to them to be involved in the first place.

  I would like to summarise the actions taken to address the findings of the report so far. Although I obviously have serious concerns, from what I gather, as outlined earlier, work is already well under way in respect of many issues identified in Dr. Shannon's audit. Tusla will continue to work on rolling out its national child care information system which will significantly improve the information available in respect of vulnerable children. The Garda national child protection unit will carry out an audit at local level of the child protection operations between Tusla and An Garda Síochána. Divisional protective services units are being established in all 28 Garda divisions. A joint protocol is being finalised between Tusla and the Garda on the operation of section 12. What remains outstanding, however, is a full audit of child protection services throughout the State. I commend Senator Boyhan's suggestion of an action plan. I am sure it is something that is in the Minister's mind in any case. There is good reason to have an organised review with a time frame set out, given that there is a report with identifiable issues. I support the Senator's positive and constructive suggestion in that respect. While I am encouraged that the Minister has committed to taking a review in a year's time, we need to keep an eye on this. I do not mean to be patronising in any way. It is something that she will be actively watching over the coming weeks and months. Looking at child protection in its entirety, however, and taking into account recent cases such as the Grace and Mary cases, I believe a thorough overhaul of the current system needs to take place. As such I am very much encouraged that the Minister will be meeting Dr. Shannon within the coming weeks to discuss further the matters raised. He will be an excellent person to have on board to review services throughout the country.

  I wish to raise an issue that I have been working on in recent times. It is in respect of a statutory provision to seize mobile phones suspected of containing child sexual exploitation images. Currently, gardaí who have reasonable suspicion about an individual do not have the power to seize his or her mobile phone. The law as it stands does not reflect the gravity of the fact that mobile phones are just as powerful as desktop computers.  I hardly ever go near a desktop computer now. I use one of the slightly bigger iPhones. Maybe I am damaging my eyesight over time. We are not up to speed with the fact that most modern mobile phones have the memory capability to store thousands of images. I have thousands of images on my phone. Much of the child pornography is being kept on phones now. This is in addition to the capacity to store texts and visual evidence of grooming, solicitation and sexual exploitation. According to the special rapporteur on children, the author of the most recent audit, mobile phones with sexual exploitation images or evidence of grooming should be treated as a crime scene and I do not believe our law is up to speed with that. In fairness, what one can do online is evolving so quickly that it is difficult for legislators to keep up with it. However, we will need to step up the pace in this area.

  I also echo Dr. Shannon's call for new powers to request information from technology companies, such as Facebook and Google, with offices in Ireland. An Garda Síochána should be afforded powers to obtain a production order in respect of data that are either held or accessible by content providers based in Ireland. New legislation dealing with the capabilities of the latest technology must be introduced as a matter of urgency. The protection of vulnerable children should always be our top priority and we should drop other things to ensure those matters are addressed. As it may be a matter that applies to the Minister's Department and to the Department of Justice and Equality, I may also need to speak to the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, about it.

  I again thank the Minister for coming to the House so expeditiously to discuss this matter.

Senator Máire Devine: Information on Máire Devine Zoom on Máire Devine I again welcome the Minister. It is a case of déjà vu. Here we go again. So many things seem to be rotten in our State and we uncover layer after layer. What do we do with it? Section 12 was exercised about 680 times a year. The report was commissioned by the Garda following the removal of two children - quite a racist incident at the time. Internationally the media was over it because of the Maria case in Greece, and the Garda seemed to jump on that far too quickly.

  We are dealing with the section 12 report by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon. He found chronic systematic failures in child protection structures along with superficial and inadequate co-operation between the Garda and Tusla. That speaks for itself and is very disheartening. It is depressing for Senator Boyhan and me to talk almost every week about failures such as the horrors Dr. Shannon has uncovered and the horrors that have been uncovered previously, including the cases of Grace and Mary.

  Do we ever get it right? I think we do, but this sort of stuff would make one wonder how right we get it and what is swept under the carpet and ignored as well as how wrong we get it. Among the most shocking findings is the repeated removal of children under the provisions of section 12 and the repeated placing of them back where they came to harm physically, sexually and emotionally.

  Overall Dr. Shannon was very positive about the attitude and commitment of gardaí and the detailing of the cases where they walked into unbelievable circumstances where small children and young people were subjected to so much daily horror, never allowed to be nurtured, never loved and never hugged. It is extremely upsetting for the entire community. We have that social sense of belonging and a sense that our children are precious and should enjoy their childhood. Some of them from the moment they are born or even prior to being born have never experienced happiness or laughter. That is an awful indictment of what the State allows to go on.

  I find this very emotional. Looking after our children was the most glorious, happiest, greatest work I have done as a mother in my life. I hope I did it reasonably well. I feel great sadness about how we get it wrong repeatedly for this cohort of damaged children. They continue to be damaged.

  There are 19 records under PULSE where section 12 was exercised where no details could be found for the child. What happened to the child? The child disappeared. Child protection training is totally inadequate for gardaí. There is little evidence of training for gardaí and they seem to do on-the-job training rather than formal training, which must change.

  Dr. Shannon pointed to the lack of co-operation and communication between agencies and the lack of out-of-hours social work services. I know we have talked about the hubs of Dublin and other urban areas where there is a nod to out-of-hours services. This morning, representatives of the Irish Foster Care Association and EPIC, which represents the voice for children from residential or foster home placements, appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. They have repeatedly said that, even where an out-of-hours service is supposed to exist, it is inadequate. Outside of the hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., foster carers have no access to social workers, which is an indictment because problems occur. Just as with our mental health services, problems happen after 5 o'clock and at the weekend. They are crying out because they do not know where to go. In the end, friends help them and, at times, gardaí.

  The use of private fostering services as a de facto official out-of-hours child protection service is a concern. The reliance on private agencies is considerable. Tusla commenced an out-of-hours emergency social work services which co-operated with An Garda Síochána in 2015, but there is no comprehensive social work service that is directly accessible to children or families at risk outside of hours. Several difficulties arise as a result. In several cases a child has been refused placement or one could not be arranged. In those cases the child ended up siting in the most unsuitable place imaginable, incarcerated as they would see it in a Garda station. On the issue of child care settings, one child had to be placed 112 km away, giving the gardaí round trips of almost 250 km.

  What can we do? We must digest the failures again and again and then come up with resolutions. That is our job. However, we have failed. Tusla is the head of a broken and dysfunctional child protection system. Children are being put at risk and left in situations of risk every day. Yet again the most vulnerable are being failed. Tusla's honeymoon is over. We need Tusla to react and be proactive in protecting our children and doing the job it should be doing. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs has invited representatives of Tusla to appear before it. I believe the Minister will also be invited at that stage.

  We need to establish a commission, independently chaired by an appropriate expert. If we can do it with the commission investigating the future of the Garda and with commissions on taxation, why can we not do it for our children? We need a wide-ranging brief that covers every aspect of child protection structures, including those relating to accountability, leadership, management capacity, policies and, most important, the culture of Tusla's child protection structures. It should make recommendations within 12 months of its establishment.  I will work alongside Senator Boyhan and others within the three-month timeframe to bring this back to the Seanad.

  I want to conclude by extending my grateful thanks to Dr. Geoffrey Shannon. Our children need and depend on people like him. Children deserve that his 17 recommendations are implemented as soon as possible without further deliberate procrastination.

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black I warmly welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I am aware that this is as devastating for her as it is for the rest of us. I know she is a very compassionate person who cares a lot about children. I have no doubt she is doing her best to change the situation, particularly in regard to this report.

  It is devastating. Like my colleague, I am deeply saddened by what I have heard. In fact, it is hard to read in the report what has gone on. I noted on the Order of Business yesterday that, when reading the report, I was struck by the clear focus on alcohol abuse and how big an impact this is having on child welfare. The report states that in a significant number of the 90 cases reviewed as part of the audit, it was evident that drug and-or alcohol abuse by parents was compromising their ability to care for their child. In one instance, a one year old child was found wandering alone in a housing estate because the mother was under the influence of alcohol. This is an awful situation and it will not stop unless we really start to address the root causes.

  Again, I want to quote Dr. Shannon on the role alcohol plays. He said the biggest challenge facing society is the adverse consequences for the welfare of many children posed by alcohol. Drug and alcohol abuse are a key feature of the report and have a very damaging effect on children. The failure by society to address alcohol is a fundamental problem and places insurmountable problems on the child protection system. It is not just about Tusla or the Garda; it is about society and our ambivalence to alcohol and substance misuse.

  I totally agree with Dr. Shannon. Sadly, it is no real surprise to me, given my own background in working with people suffering from alcohol abuse, that several such cases have been cited. I believe we are a nation in denial around this issue. I am very concerned. As the Minister knows, I set up an organisation for families because I know the devastation involved and see it every single day.

  Some years ago, a young woman came to me and told me the story of what had happened to her eight year old niece, who came to her and said, "Please take me out of the home I am in because I cannot live any more." She started to tell her aunt about the alcohol misuse and fighting that was going on. This young woman went everywhere. She went to local organisations, to the local community, to local gardaí and even to a lawyer. She wanted to take this child under her own wing and take her out of the home where there was severe alcohol misuse. Even though it was her own family member who was misusing the alcohol, she wanted to protect the child. At one point she just took the child and kept her, but the Garda came and took the child back to the home. It was devastating. Whether it was because of the legislation, I do not know, but the reality is the child was brought back. That was a good few years ago. I am concerned about where that child is now, given she is probably 13 or 14. Is that child going to end up in alcohol misuse?

  I am just giving the Minister examples of an issue I deal with every day. I worked with another family where there was a three year old daughter. When the mother put her head in her hands, the child knew automatically to go to the press to get wine for mammy because the child thought that was what fixed mammy's headaches. When the child went into a local shop, she would go straight over to the alcohol part of the shop and get a bottle of wine for mammy.

  That is the reality. That is what we are dealing with. I know I keep harping on about the alcohol issue but I am dealing with it every day. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill needs to be addressed. There is no doubt this is about changing our culture, so it is a long-term strategy. The Minister knows I work with the RISE Foundation. I believe we can educate families about the impact of alcohol misuse. Alcohol is in our souls; that is the reality. It is devastating families. If there is one family member who is misusing alcohol and there is a young family, the partner is so preoccupied trying to look after that person or trying to stop the arguments, he or she cannot be present for their children. If we can get to one family member, it will break the cycle. It does not have to be the one who has the alcohol misuse problem. If we can educate the other parent or partner, I believe we can stop the legacy of alcohol misuse. We need to educate the family members, and that is what RISE does.

  I am only talking about this because I am very passionate about it. I see it daily. I see families and children's lives being devastated. Here we have a report that is at last highlighting it. I feel that at last someone is speaking on behalf of these families. I want also to be a voice for those families. We need to change our culture. We need to highlight and address this issue. I sincerely thank Dr. Shannon for what he has done. I am deeply grateful, as are all the families I represent here who have someone they love with an alcohol, drug or gambling problem. Go raibh míle maith agat. I wish the Minister well.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and thank her for coming to the House. I welcome the opportunity to debate this important report and I thank the Leader for giving us the opportunity to do so at such short notice. Like others, I acknowledge the tremendous work of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon in carrying out this audit. I acknowledge also that what prompted it was, of course, the report of the then Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, in 2014. She had been asked to inquire into the exercise by the Garda of the section 12 power in respect of a number of children in Roma families, a case which, as we are all aware, gave rise to a huge outcry.

  The ombudsman's report in 2014 called for an independent audit of the exercise by the Garda of the section 12 power. One of the points Dr. Shannon makes in his report is that no study into the use of section 12, the frequency with which it is employed and the nature of the cases in which it arises had ever been carried out in this jurisdiction, and section 12 had been in place for a long time, given it is a section of the Child Care Act 1991. The audit itself is hugely important in adding to our level of information and knowledge about how section 12 is exercised. The ombudsman also recommended further research, which Dr. Shannon said is beyond the scope of his report. Will the Minister explain whether it is envisaged that the further research sought by Emily Logan will be carried out, in particular where she asked for a comparison of the number of successful applications for emergency care orders flowing from section 12 removals and a comprehensive examination of the length of time children were deprived of their family environment where section 12 had been exercised? That further research would also be extremely useful in giving us a more comprehensive picture of the exercise of powers by An Garda Síochána.

  We are all well aware of the section 12 power. A high threshold is required by gardaí before they may exercise their power of removing a child to safety, and that is where they consider there to be an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child in a situation where it would not be sufficient to await the application for the making of an emergency care order. It is a high threshold. Dr. Shannon acknowledges the work of gardaí and notes they are first responders. As others have commented, he is in general very positive about the exercise by front-line gardaí of their section 12 powers.  He says that removal in all of the instances he reviewed was well within the subjective risk threshold under section 12 and that there was no evidence of an over-zealous use of section 12 powers by An Garda Síochána. That must be acknowledged. I should declare my own interest in this, having worked for some years in child protection cases in Dolphin House, a setting which was rightly criticised by Senator Ardagh in our earlier debate on domestic violence. The Minister for Justice and Equality in response pointed out that there is a move planned to a building in Hammond Lane. I understand a building has been purchased and work is beginning on a new child protection court complex. Dolphin House is entirely inadequate. Anyone who has ever had the occasion to go in there, including lawyers, social workers, gardaí and the individuals before the courts, will be aware it is a difficult working environment for people dealing with such highly traumatic cases in terms of taking instructions in crowded corridors and inadequate consultation rooms. That also must be acknowledged. There are resources that need to be spent on that very physical infrastructure too. All of those acknowledgements must be made.

Another key issue, based on my own experience and on what social workers have told me in the years I was involved in this area, is the lack of intervention in situations where social workers and gardaí were aware of abuse. Senator Black illustrated this very eloquently. There have been situations where the Garda felt the threshold was not sufficient for a section 12 or section 13 order, or there were not enough resources to enable social workers to investigate fully. These issues and concerns around the legal entitlement to intervene, given the very strong protections for the family under Article 41, have provided a context where we have seen children being abused in private and family settings and the State failing in its duty to protect children by failing to intervene. That is an important point. Of course, it is vital that we look at how section 12 powers are exercised and that we ensure there is no abuse by gardaí in their powers to intervene but we must also be conscious that the State has been criticised in the past, and rightly so, for failures to intervene and failures to remove children to safety. It is important to say that.

I will speak briefly to four points that jumped out to me from Dr. Shannon's report. The first point is the difficulties with data and flaws in the PULSE system, which was also mentioned by other speakers. Dr. Shannon noted he could not be sure that he had access to full data from PULSE. He also conducted qualitative interviews and focus groups in an effort to address those problems. Dr. Shannon has made recommendations on the need for greater consistency in reporting of allegations of sex abuse and, in particular, consistency in reporting section 12 removals, in respect of which he points out the numbers annually are not great and that it should be possible to enable clear and coherent reporting through the PULSE system of the exercise of section 12 powers. That is very important. Dr. Shannon also calls in his final recommendation No. 17 for a report by the Garda in a year's time on the recommendations of the audit and whether they have been implemented. As part of that, in recommendation No. 17, he also says that the Garda should publish statistics on an annual basis on the invocation of section 12 in the preceding year and report on any challenges or difficulties experienced in the exercise of this power. This, again, would greatly add to our knowledge. It is an important recommendation to address.

The second point, also picked up on by many other speakers, is the issue of training, which the Minister also spoke about in her opening statement. Dr. Shannon has very concerning findings about the lack of formal training of new Garda recruits in child protection, the emphasis being on-the-job training. This is an issue that was also highlighted in other reports. The Garda Inspectorate made similar criticisms of the PULSE system and of lack of formal training within the Garda Síochána. We know then that not only in regard to child protection and section 12 but more generally we need to ensure greater emphasis on training, in particular training on ethno-diversity and how to deal with children from different and diverse backgrounds. Concern was expressed by Dr. Shannon that there is no training or strategic policy direction from the Garda Síochána in this regard. I note the Minister addressed that issue in her opening statement but perhaps she would comment specifically on training on ethno-diversity. There is a very worrying report in today's The Irish Timeswhich focuses on poor garda training. It concerns a failure in the State system of child protection in the case of a child who was interviewed extensively by the Garda about allegations she had made of child sex abuse within her home, those interviews having been carried out in a way that the District Court has described as abusive and relentless. The garda involved in the interviewing process is severely criticised, as is the lack of interagency co-ordination and the very troubling outcome, whereby seven men who had been identified by the child will not be prosecuted because of the flaws in the interviewing process of the child. This is very clear evidence of the difficulties around training.

The third point is on interagency co-operation, which the Minister also addressed. She made the point that this has improved since 2015. Dr. Shannon's audit is in respect of the period up to 2015. I am glad to hear that interagency co-operation has improved but there is still much comment in regard to difficulties with Tusla, in particular, and around the lack of co-ordination between agencies. This is a key issue that needs to be addressed. There are some very damning findings by Dr. Shannon in this regard, including that there continually are poor and limited levels of interagency co-operation between the Garda Síochána, Tusla and the broader child protection framework. That is a very stark finding.

The fourth point is out-of-hours services and the lack of availability of a 24-hour social work service for children at risk. The report references the farming out of children to private agencies, one of which is named. Dr. Shannon states that he is very concerned about the lack of co-ordination, supervision and monitoring of the contracting out of powers and responsibilities to external and private bodies. The Minister has referenced the need to address these issues. Senator Boyhan made the sensible suggestion that we might assist and support her in assessing how these recommendations are being implemented. Dr. Shannon has called for a report from An Garda Síochána in one year but as suggested by Senator Boyhan, it would be helpful if were to revisit this issue in this House with the Minister, with her permission, in a shorter timeframe.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank Senators for their reflections, all of which I will not have time to respond to today. Many Senators have referred to this as an emotional issue. It is emotional. The emotions are anger, disappointment and distress. If this about feelings and emotions, what do we do and how do we move forward? Senator Devine is correct that failings on the part of the State to protect our most vulnerable children is an issue that has been raised before and there are examples of that.

  I welcome the audit. It provides us with comprehensive information that is critical to enable us to move forward and to get more things right. Like Senators, I only recently received the audit. In terms of a response, I have similar deep feelings. I acknowledge it is up to me as Minister to lead the action in this area. I agree with Senator Boyhan that it is a good idea to put together an action plan. I appreciate the Senator's offer of support to me in doing that. I do intend to do that. I ask Senators for a little time in that regard.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan Three months, not six months.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson The Minister without interruption, please.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone As I said, I welcome the audit. I reappointed Dr. Shannon as special rapporteur. He has extraordinary expertise in this area, which he brought to the audit. Dr. Shannon has made recommendations and damning findings in regard to the Garda Síochána, Tusla and society as a whole. I take on board Senator Black's comments in terms of the great work being done by the RISE organisation on the alcohol issue, which is critical in all of this.

  Senator Devine said that we have failed. I agree, we have failed. Parents, the HSE, An Garda Síochána, Tusla and the Department have failed in respect of our most vulnerable children. As for what we need to do, we need to support preventative work in my Department such as that undertaken by the Department itself and by the RISE Foundation.

  Many Senators raised the issue of out-of-hours services. I have indicated and Senators have acknowledged that there has been some change since 2015 and this audit. In regard to whether there should be more change, full services are available in the four towns mentioned and 22 counties are covered by emergency out-of-hours services.  In a small number of cases, the service was required outside of these busy areas. In 2016, there were ten cases of social workers being called to rural areas. I am sure that Dr. Shannon is aware of this as well. He is calling for more. I have asked Tusla to review the situation again. I will put that analysis together with Dr. Shannon's perspective on the matter. We will consider international best practice so that vulnerable children do not fall through the cracks.

  I have called for more reflection. If additional change is required, I intend to ensure that that happens. It is important to point out that, with all of the expertise that Dr. Shannon brings to the audit, he has indicated his confidence in Tusla in terms of the national child protection framework. Tusla launched its national child protection and welfare strategy last week. The action plan is in development, so there is a great deal of room to incorporate some of our learnings from the issues being raised by the Senators. That is critical.

  Regarding repeat removals and placing young people back with their families, it appears from some of the stories that we have been reading about and watching on RTE that there are instances in which doing that is not good for the children. At other times, it might be good. I have asked Tusla to examine the 91 cases covered by Dr. Shannon's audit, drill down and see whether what happened was right and appropriate in those circumstances. In light of my various requests to Tusla and the meetings that I will have with the Tánaiste, Dr. Shannon and others, as well as the meetings that I have already had with Tusla, we will put together an action plan relatively quickly on how to proceed. I am determined and committed to doing that.

Tourism: Statements

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I welcome the Minister of State and call the House to order.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Patrick O'Donovan): Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Chathaoirleach Gníomhach agus leis na Seanadóirí as ucht an tseans chun cúpla focal a rá maidir le cúrsaí turasóireachta in Éirinn faoi láthair.

  I thank the Seanad for this opportunity. These statements on tourism are coming about as a direct result of a number of Commencement debates. I told Senators from both sides of the House that, if they wanted a genuine and robust discussion on the development of tourism, I would be delighted to return. As such, I welcome the opportunity.

  We must consider the current context. The performance of the tourism industry has been exceptionally strong in recent years. Last year, a record number of overseas visitors - more than over 9.5 million - came to Ireland. That was almost 11% more than in 2015, which was itself a record year. It is worth mentioning that the 2016 numbers were an amazing 59% higher than the corresponding figure for 2010. Good growth was recorded from all our source markets, with Ireland's market share growing ahead of that of its competitors. Overseas visitors contributed more than €4.5 billion to the Exchequer and the economy, representing a 9% increase on the previous year. This helped to sustain more than 220,000 jobs in communities across the country. It is fair to say that that figure is closer to 230,000 jobs now.

  In 2017 to date, the performance has remained robust. It is a concern, but not a surprise, that the number of visitors from Great Britain has fallen in the early part of the year. I will speak about Brexit shortly. By the same token, it is encouraging that numbers are up from virtually every other market, with North America increasing by a considerable 25% for the most recent quarterly period. It is worth pointing out that, while the greatest number of overseas visitors to Ireland come from Great Britain, individual spend from the North American market delivers a higher return in respect of revenue.

  Clearly, 2017 has started well. The challenge for us now is to maintain that growth. There is no room for complacency, particularly given the highly competitive nature of the global travel industry and the uncertainty that exists in some markets. Our capacity to sustain growth will depend on, among other factors, Ireland maintaining its competitiveness, effective marketing and the continued development of iconic holiday experiences.

  The Government's ongoing commitment to tourism was reflected in budget 2017. Despite demands on the public purse, the 9% VAT rate on tourism services was retained and funding of €122 million was secured. This will enable Tourism Ireland to continue its effective marketing overseas and Fáilte Ireland to continue its work in developing our industry on the ground. Although most Senators will know, it is worth pointing out for the record the differences between the two. Tourism Ireland is an all-island body established under the Good Friday Agreement whereas Fáilte Ireland is the national tourism development authority for this jurisdiction.

  Following what was a record year for overseas visitors to Ireland in 2016, recent figures published by the Central Statistics Office show that overseas visitor numbers from February to April 2017 were slightly up on 2016. While there was strong growth from the North American market, which increased by 25.7%, the number of visitors from Great Britain decreased by 10.7% year on year. This is obviously a cause for concern. It is too early to state definitively what the reasons are for this decline and whether it will carry through to the remainder of the year.  It is clear, however, that the sterling depreciation following the Brexit referendum result has made Ireland and every other eurozone country more expensive for British travellers than had been the case previously. Furthermore, research has indicated that British consumers are likely to scale back on overseas holiday activity this year.

  The tourism action plan is committed to seeking to restore the tourism marketing fund to pre-recession levels on a phased basis. Budget 2017 included increased funding of more than 2% for the tourism marketing fund this year and the Minister and I will seek further additional funding for next year to mitigate any negative effects of Brexit on tourism. Tourism Ireland will continue to focus on protecting our market share in Britain, while seeking to increase diversification into other markets, particularly those that deliver higher tourism revenue.

  Maintaining overall competitiveness in the tourism industry is also vital at this time. While the industry acknowledges its primary responsibility in this regard, I will endeavour to assist by seeking to maintain the lower VAT rate for the tourism industry and to keep the air travel tax at zero. The aviation sector is critical to Ireland and tourism. As an island with an open economy, the sector is essential for our trading relationships, all of our industries, especially tourism, manufacturing and retail, and our participation in the global economy. Brexit, unless accompanied by some form of agreement replacing the impacted traffic rights and associated regulations, will affect the existing rights of Irish licensed airlines to fly between the United Kingdom and the European Union, within the United Kingdom, and between the UK and a range of other third countries, including the United States and Morocco.

  Our preparations for the impact of Brexit are continuing at both political and official level in order that we are ready for the challenges it may bring for Irish tourism. Tourism Ireland's market diversification and rebalancing strategy is already paying dividends as we can see, with mainland Europe now clearly the star performer in terms of delivering tourism revenue and North America overtaking Great Britain in terms of its contribution to overseas visitor revenue in the Republic. Many tourism businesses have already successfully rebalanced their marketing emphasis to reflect the new reality and I expect that others will follow in the coming months. That said, Britain is our nearest market and will continue to be the most important market for tourism to Ireland for a long time to come.

  Fáilte Ireland continues to deliver on its commitment to the industry, providing a suite of targeted training and business supports to enhance the competitiveness, enterprise capability and sustainability of the tourism sector. It is also placing a strong emphasis on assisting the tourism sector to increase the geographical spread of activity and lengthen the tourism season beyond the peak summer months. It is working on a number of fronts to assist the diversification and development of our tourism industry and the attractiveness of our tourism offering. Fáilte Ireland is also rolling out a new Brexit response programme that will focus on delivering a capability building programme for tourism businesses.

  The Government’s tourism policy statement, People, Place and Policy - Growing Tourism to 2025, brought a particular focus to what is perhaps our greatest potential tourism offering, namely, where the aspects of people and place converge at the level of the local community. Senators will be aware of the success in 2013 of The Gathering. Local authorities were the essential link that enabled community effort to be supported by State resources. The success of The Gathering has provided a foundation on which to develop a more structured role for local authorities in support of community initiatives in tourism. In this regard, it has been a priority of mine to ensure local authorities are encouraged to support communities in tourism development and will co-operate with neighbouring authorities, as appropriate, to maximise tourism opportunities for their region as a whole. Accordingly, I was delighted at the end of March to attend a local government tourism conference in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, under the heading, Collaborate Locally to Compete GlobaIly, and, crucially, for the first time to officially launch tourism statements of strategy and work plans for each of the 31 local authorities.

  A key element of the reform of local government was the strengthening of the role the sector plays in economic development. Tourism is recognised as an important driver of the local, regional and national economies and is, therefore, a central component of the economic ambitions of all local authorities. A local economic and community plan has been prepared for each county and city area throughout Ireland and these set out clear objectives, specific goals and actions to support the tourism sector in each county.

  It is more important than ever that we create what we describe as "stand-out" for Ireland in our markets by rolling out inspirational Ireland destination messaging. This essential destination sell will be supported by the promotion of our iconic holiday experiences, namely, Ireland’s Ancient East, the Wild Atlantic Way and the Dublin brand. I will discuss these later if Senators have questions on them. All three experiences are major themes for Tourism Ireland this year, as is the promotion of touring holidays, city breaks, festivals, events and activities. Work is continuing with airports and airlines to encourage the creation of new routes and expansion of existing services to the regions.

  As Senators will be aware, Ireland is bidding to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. After much preparation, I understand the IRFU will lodge its bid with World Rugby tomorrow. The hosting of a Rugby World Cup on the island of Ireland has the potential to be very beneficial, both in terms of visitor numbers and the political dimension of an all-island tournament. It would have considerable tourism potential as it would take place during Ireland's shoulder season for overseas tourism, namely, between the middle of September and end of October. In terms of tourism earnings and jobs, it would provide increased business for hotels, restaurants and tourism businesses during the shoulder season. A successful bid for the Rugby World Cup would have the dual advantage of promoting sport and tourism. I wish the IRFU and the committee charged with lodging its bid every success in the coming months in their dealings with World Rugby and the individual rugby unions, many of which I have met.

  I hope I have given the House an overview of the tourism industry, which has a proven track record in creating employment throughout the country and driving growth in the economy. As I stated, last year was a record breaking year for tourism. While this performance is encouraging, we are determined that growth will continue in line with the ambitious targets set out in the tourism policy, People, Place and Policy - Growing Tourism to 2025, which was adopted by the previous Minister and Minister of State in the Department, Deputies Paschal Donohoe and Michael Ring.

  Brexit is a significant challenge but the tourism sector has overcome great adversity in the past and I am sure it will do so again. I look forward to working with the tourism industry and all the State agencies, including local authorities, to ensure we build on the achievements of recent years. As the Senators present will be aware, we take seriously all suggestions made in the Seanad and we are open to Senators' proposals on how we can grow the tourism industry. I look forward to their contributions.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus tá súil agam go mbeidh diospóireacht úsáideach againn. I have heard the Minister of State speak many times. We do not live far from each other and we have encountered one another at several functions to promote tourism. He is doing a very good job and I compliment him on his performance yesterday in Achill in the Acting Leader's county. I hope we will see him performing as well in Ballybunion and other places in the near future.

   I will be positive in this debate because tourism is a positive story. It is important that we try to sing from the same hymn sheet. While some cracks and flaws are starting to appear here and there, I am pleased to note that the Minister of State is well aware of them. While I was unable to attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport this morning, I followed proceedings closely on the monitor and listened to the Minister of State's comments to my fellow committee members. He is clearly aware of what may lie around the corner.

  The Minister of State provided a series of figures outlining the good news in tourism. While I do not propose to repeat them, the 13% increase in visitor numbers in 2015 was a magnificent achievement. Many other countries that may have as much to offer as Ireland would be very proud of such growth. The negative side, to which the Minister of State alluded, is the 11% decline in visitor numbers from the United Kingdom recorded in the short period between February and April of this year. This downturn contrasts with the substantial increase of approximately 25% in visitors from North America. However, the good news underlines how worrying the bad trend in UK visitor numbers is.  The indications from people in the industry are pretty clear that there is already a softening in UK bookings for the rest of this year. I come from a county that is heavily dependent on tourism and the anecdotal evidence, as well as the little signs one picks up on the ground, are bad. When swallows gather in the fall of the year, one knows that winter is coming. Little things are happening, and other little things are not happening, which indicate that we may have serious problems with UK visitor numbers this year. We will have to be alert and the people for whom tourism is a livelihood are making plans. They know how to adapt and, with the Minister's support and the full backing of the Department, we can forestall the worst scenarios.

  I accept that the Minister is working with the tourism leadership group and I understand he will have a further meeting with them before long. Can he outline who is in the group and what does he think of the way they work? Is there any room for improvement? I presume the Minister agrees that the three priorities for the Government must be to preserve the common travel area, to avoid a hard Border and to maintain an open aviation regime, the last of which will always be important for us as an island nation. The devaluation of sterling is an imponderable and who knows what will be the result of the UK election? All of a sudden, it seems to be quite interesting but it could have a further depressing outcome for us. The more sterling drops, the more expensive it will be for somebody to spend sterling over here.

  I spent a few days touring the east midlands of England, around Nottingham and Lincoln, and I encountered many people. I was surprised at how many were totally opposed to Brexit, although obviously they had not been in the majority. I was also surprised by how many loved Ireland and loved coming to Ireland, although they probably will not do so this year for financial reasons. We therefore have to look at alternatives and at diversification, something I raised at our last debate at which the Minister was present. I know the Department is working very hard on diversification and there is a huge world out there. In particular, there is a huge eastern market. While our share of it is small at the moment, it is growing and people who come from as far away as China stay a lot longer, spend a lot more and tend to travel around the country, rather than just pick one spot such as Dublin, Galway or Killarney. We need to do more work on the niche markets and one for which we can do even more is the market for the elderly, the people who are in their golden years. Ireland is an ideal place for them because everything is relatively safe, although no place is safe from global terrorism at the moment. There is more potential to attract these people than we are exploiting at present. Speciality holidays and activity holidays are hugely important but we must not forget the golden pound.

  The Minister referred to local authorities and I commend the local authorities around the country on taking a hands-on approach to promoting and developing tourism in their respective counties. We were recently at the launch of the Kerry effort some months ago. Doing this is not a huge financial burden for councils and small moneys can go a long way in good communities. I am very proud to be from Listowel and tonight is one of the biggest nights of our year, being the opening night of writers week. It is not a huge enterprise with a huge budget although we enjoy certain levels of support from the Arts Council and private sponsorship, but the amount of money it will generate in the restaurants, bars and shops over the next few days will be phenomenal.

  I am conscious of the issue of regionalisation as, I am sure, is the Minister. I will not bore people with statistics but approximately 40% of all our visitors will perch in Dublin for some part of their stay. We in the south west are next at approximately 18% and the west gets 13% but the poor north west gets 5% or 6%. I do not understand this disparity because there is no more beautiful countryside in the world than Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo.

  We have spoken of the price of hotels in Dublin and I did a little survey this week. I challenge anyone to find a hotel within a half mile from Leinster House where a room costs less than €200. It is absolute madness and I am grateful that Airbnb is coming up. I propose that the Minister work with Airbnb to develop it. It has got some bad press but it is the only thing that is keeping visitors in Dublin at the moment.

Senator Billy Lawless: Information on Billy Lawless Zoom on Billy Lawless I welcome the opportunity to speak about tourism in Ireland. Working in the hospitality industry myself it is an area with which I am very familiar. I understand how Government and the industry can work hand in glove to deliver for what is a very important industry to this country. Tourism is one of Ireland's most important economic sectors, with total tourism revenue for the economy in 2015 of over €7 billion, while employment in tourism in Ireland is estimated at 203,000 jobs.

  As the Minister knows all too well, Great Britain is Ireland's biggest source market for overseas tourists, representing 41.6% of all such visits and 26% of total tourism revenue. The end of the common travel area between the UK and Ireland would thus be very costly and disruptive to the tourism industry in Ireland. Moreover, the continued and expected long-term depreciation of sterling against the euro will have inevitable consequences for the number of visitors who come from Great Britain to Ireland. This is already having an effect and, according to some recently published figures, the number of British tourists was down by 10.7% over the course of the summer.

  The Seanad Brexit committee heard that Tourism Ireland has cut its forecast for the coming year by 6% because of Brexit. In 2016, tourism in the North of Ireland increased by 26% and tourism in the Border counties increased by 14%. It is the second biggest industry on the island of Ireland. The Seanad committee learned that the problem coming down the road relates to who will fund Tourism Ireland in the future. There has been a reduction in the number of EU visitor numbers in the first three months of this year, which are down 5.5% on last year.

  The tourism industry is vital to the country but we are in uncertain times with Brexit. I was very surprised to hear from Tourism Ireland at the Seanad committee that people want to know whether tourists will be safe if there is a Border in two years time, and that this question specifically came up in trade missions to Italy and Germany. It is vitally important that Tourism Ireland knows where it will get funding as it goes forward, and what level of funding it will get. Are the Twenty-six Counties to be marketed separately from the Six Counties? Will Tourism Ireland be selling an island that is partly in the EU and partly out of the EU? These are the questions which Tourism Ireland asked at the Seanad Brexit committee.

  While many people may view the tourism industry as urban based, tourism is the second largest industry in rural Ireland. The smaller businesses, whose owners perhaps own farms but rent holiday homes, boats or bicycles to tourists, are suffering from the uncertainty that Brexit has brought. This uncertainty is affecting not only the industry but the funding of the very State agency that is responsible for bringing people to the island of Ireland.  The Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union was told that Northern Ireland has received over £7 billion in EU funding through various programmes, including the Erasmus programme which gives students an opportunity to spend 29 days in various parts of Europe. Their accommodation, food and travel costs are paid for. Those who participate in the Erasmus programme become tourist ambassadors abroad. According to Tourism Ireland, this is the best and cheapest way of marketing Ireland as a tourism product. We need bold thinking of how to protect the tourism industry from the crosswinds of Brexit. At the peak of our economic crisis, the Government launched The Gathering to attract US tourism and it was a massive success. Since The Gathering, tourism from the US has increased by 15% year on year.

  A Bill which I have put forward on lifting the ban on selling alcohol on Good Friday will shortly come before the Cabinet. I expect to receive the Minister of State's full support for the Bill. We should also consider having a gathering for Europe. There are many Irish emigrants living across Europe. This calls for a marketing tool similar to The Gathering.

  The Minister knows the challenges we face but we must react now rather than in two years' time. I urge the Minister to be bold and to ensure that one of Ireland’s greatest export products, our country itself, can continue to thrive and generate the employment and income that this State so badly requires.

Senator John O'Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony Like other Senators, I do not want to go over the figures but we all know that since 2010 or 2011, tourism has been a reason for the stabilisation of our economy. In 2016, 20,000 extra jobs were created in the tourism industry. Along with agriculture and foreign direct investment, it has been the saviour of our economy.

  The 6% drop in the number of British tourists coming to Ireland in the first quarter of 2017 was correctly predicted. It shows that we cannot become complacent and that tourist numbers will not keep going up if we do not work at maximising the number of visitors from Great Britain, Europe and the rest of the world. Much work is being carried out. State agencies such as Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland deserve much credit for the way they have targeted their money, marketing and branding in order to get people into the country. However, although the reduction is only 6% approximately, the worrying aspect is that British tourists make up over 40% of the total. We cannot say that we will get the tourists from the rest of the world and not worry about Britain. There is also the issue of Brexit.

  As Senator O'Sullivan mentioned, there are issues apart from Brexit and weak sterling. One issue is the spiralling cost of hotel rooms in our capital city in particular. It needs to be addressed. It is difficult to do so because when the 9% rate was brought in approximately six years ago it was a saviour because the tourism and hotel industry was going through horrific times. However, there has to be a quid pro quo. The issue may be a lack of rooms, which has been spoken of here today. One solution could be getting more tourists to travel to regions outside Dublin. If one goes to a country, the capital is where one would usually go. One reason for that is that the capital is the brand name for the country. I have travelled abroad several times on holidays. It is only when one researches areas outside capital cities that value for money can be obtained and a good experience similar to that in a capital city can be had. That is possible in Ireland. The Wild Atlantic Way and so on has been brilliant in regionalising tourism. Tourism is the hidden gem in every part of the country. We need to get people directly into the regions rather than visit them as an add-on to a trip to Dublin.

  Airports and transport accessibility is a huge vehicle in this regard. There have been massive developments in that regard in terms of travel tax and so on. Figures released yesterday or the day before showed an increase of 4.1% in passenger numbers at Dublin Airport but the biggest increase in the country was in Ireland West Airport Knock. It is a percentage increase on a much smaller figure but it is significant. I welcome that the Government has put €11 million into that airport since 2011 for marketing and so on. It is money well spent and great value has been obtained for it. The airport currently caters for the whole north-west region that was mentioned earlier. It has more passengers than all the other regional airports combined. Yesterday it was announced that it is to be designated a strategic development zone which will enable it attract new investment such as a hotel near the airport. That would be a great vehicle for extending the visitor experience in the region because I have heard visitors to Dublin over the past couple of years complaining about the spiralling cost of hotel rooms. Prices in other areas of the country are a fraction of those in Dublin. There needs to be a way of getting that message to our tourists as well.

  I fully agree with many of the measures that the Government is implementing and policies such as extending the season and the shoulder season. The Women's Rugby World Cup will take place later this year in Ireland. It would be phenomenal if Ireland were to win the bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The massive benefits from that event would be spread across the country. Sports tourism can be wider than that. I have long made suggestions for the expansion of sports tourism. There were just over 30,000 spectators at a major hurling match in Munster last weekend between Cork and Tipperary . There were approximately 12,000 empty seats in the stadium in Thurles. There is no reason the tourism agencies and the GAA could not link up in some way. I am sure there were thousands of tourists in the region who would have loved the experience of going to that match. Even if tickets were offered at reduced rates, it would mean more bums on seats and a full stadium.

  Hopefully, Ireland will win the bid for the Rugby World Cup. However, we have an offering every year from February until the end of September which would show our culture and games to visitors. That should be explored. Activity holidays, greenways, golf and so on are fantastic but there are enormous possibilities that would not cost much and would improve the visitor experience not just in Dublin but in the whole of Ireland, from Casement Park to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and from Croke Park to McHale Park.  I will finish on those thoughts. It is important that we continue to do what is necessary to keep tourists coming from right around the world.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a bheith linn. Tacaím agus aontaím leis an gcuid is mó den stuff atá ráite ag na cainteoirí eile go dtí seo. Ba mhaith liom cur leis na ráitis sin agus cúpla ceist a chur ar an Aire faoi chúrsaí turaiseoireachta chomh maith. I thank the Minister of State for being with us today. I agree with most of what my fellow Senators have said so far. The Minister of State has painted a very positive picture of the importance of the tourism sector to the economy but and he gave us very positive statistics. At a time of great uncertainty and many unknowns as a result of Brexit, it is encouraging to hear those positive statistics. What we need to do, as the Minister has acknowledged in terms of his own contribution, is ensure we continue with those positives and with that benefit to our economy.

  The 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector which includes all hotels, restaurants and pubs was reduced from 13%. It was supposed to be a temporary measure, but as the Minister of State acknowledged, it is still in place. In our last alternative budget, Sinn Féin proposed removing the reduction for hotels and hotels alone, something we estimated would return in the region of €175 million to the Exchequer. As other speakers have observed, hotels are fuller than ever and unfortunately they have not passed on any price reductions to customers. Like Senator Ned O'Sullivan, I have also seen the rates in Dublin and there is no sign of any reduction there. Given all the statistics and the scale of them, this particular tax break is no longer justifiable. The Government's own tax strategy papers have almost said as much. The ESRI has questioned it for the whole sector, not only hotels. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has refused to comment on it but maybe the Minister of State will tell us something about that today.

  The Minister of State and other Senators have raised the issue of Brexit, the uncertainty of it, its impact on tourism generally and in particular its impact on Tourism Ireland. Tourism Ireland is an all-Ireland body established under the Good Friday Agreement to promote the island in its entirety overseas. In a previous life, at Belfast City Council, I worked very closely with Tourism Ireland as a member of Visit Belfast and Belfast City Council's development committee. They have done a fantastic job in recent years to promote the island across the world. However, there are huge uncertainties. There are significant negatives as a result of Brexit and we are kidding ourselves if we do not accept that Brexit is going to impact on the remit and the ability and capability of Tourism Ireland to promote the island overseas. When one looks through the Brexit prism, it really impacts on tourism. It highlights the fallacy of Brexit but also the impractical and detrimental nature of partition itself, because we have two competing systems and two different currencies on a small island. Here is the unwanted, negative dynamic of Brexit being thrown into the mix.

  The Minister of State has alluded to some preparations which are ongoing in Tourism Ireland to offset that. Could he outline some of the practical preparations that are planned? For instance, Senator Lawless noted, that Tourism Ireland and other tourism bodies across the island, not least along the Border corridors who will probably feel this most acutely, can prepare for their tourism offers three years in advance. They do their practical preparation, they then go out to the markets, whether that is in the Far East, Britain or North America, and then in the third year, that hopefully sees a return. There is at least a three-year projected plan for tourism bodies whether it is Tourism Ireland or the more local bodies across Ireland.

  I do not say this to be facetious, but rather sincerely, but I would love to know what those preparations are. I would love to hear some of what they are hoping to do because the greatest certainty in Brexit has been its uncertainty. We do not know what manifestation Brexit is going to take. We do not know how the Border is going to be impacted. We do not know a whole series of things. There is a great deal of uncertainty and sympathy on my part, and on the part of my party, for our tourism sector.

  Due to the nature of Brexit, I hope the Minister of State remains very firm that there is no compromise around the responsibility to promote the island as an entire entity. Senator Lawless's idea of a European gathering to encourage an influx of Europeans to Ireland is a positive one. It is almost the reverse of the flight of the earls. I understand it could be easier or a bit more safe to simply promote the Wild Atlantic Way because of the uncertainty of Brexit. Why would one want to go and encourage people into a whole lot of uncertainty in the North? Would we really encourage them to go to the Giant's Causeway or Titanic Belfast or the walls in Derry, when we do not know what that is going to be like? That is a practical point that I wanted to make to the Minister of State, for him to keep a close eye on it and I am sure he will.

  As Senator Ned O'Sullivan noted, we all agree on the need for some form of special status and want to mitigate against the negative impacts of Brexit. While appreciating the impact that overseas tourism has on the State's economy, we should encourage tourism across the island, back and forward whether it is weekend breaks or staycations. The biggest community arts festival in western Europe will take place in Belfast in August. I do not know how many people in Kerry or Galway know about that. Government Senators often say here that we need to put on the green jersey, so let us do that. I will encourage people to go down to the Ring of Kerry and similarly, I would encourage people to come up and spend a weekend in the North. If we are serious about mitigating against Brexit and trying to offset some of the negatives, let us do that. Here is a modest way. Let us look at the strategic political moves but let us also encourage people to move back and forward and oppose any notion of a barrier or a block on our people and enjoy the best that our country has to offer overall.

  The Acting Chairman has been very indulgent and I will finish on this. I am sure it grates on the Minister of State as much as it does on me, that Ireland's Ancient East stops in County Louth and does not extend to the birthplace and homelands and playground of Cú Chulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill in north Antrim. I wonder has he had any dialogue with colleagues in the North about extending Ireland's Ancient East for the benefit of communities on both sides on the Border. Everyone acknowledges that we do not want to see boom and bust on either side of the Border, where it is Newry at one time or parts of Louth the next.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Thank you, Senator.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile What we want to see is a lifting of all ships and prosperity for everyone.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan: Information on Grace O'Sullivan Zoom on Grace O'Sullivan I welcome the Minister of State. It is great to hear some very positive suggestions here today about the all-island approach to tourism. Coming from Waterford, I was delighted to be at the opening of the 3D king of the Vikings virtual reality experience in Waterford which is part of Ireland's Ancient East. I commend the local authorities for that initiative and especially Eamonn McEneaney who has been so involved in the development of the Viking triangle in Waterford. It is a huge tourism offering in the south east.   As a brand, Ireland's Ancient East is working in some areas but not in others. From our perspective in Waterford, it extends as far as the beautiful new Waterford Greenway, which traverses the county, but we are losing the blueways or the sea ways. We have the beautiful coastal environment in and around Waterford, but also through the south east and the 7,500 km of coastline on the island of Ireland. What is the Minister doing with regard to blue tourism? We are an island nation. I am so proud to live on this island, having lived abroad for 20 years. It is a gem. I heard the word "treasure" used to describe it today. We recognise that we have something special and unique. We are out there in the Atlantic. As they say, between Ireland and America are the Azores. We are a great island frontier. The Wild Atlantic Way is a super brand. It does what it says on the tin, so to speak. Ireland's Ancient East is not as explicit. It is developing, and I hope the Minister will fund it fully to put it on a par, if possible, with the Wild Atlantic Way.

  As the spokesperson for tourism and the marine for the Green Party, I want to focus on the waterways and look at the potential in terms of our lakes and rivers. The rivers of Ireland are like the arteries of the country; they are like the blood flow. We need to make sure that we maintain them, and our coastal environment, in pristine condition so that we can take full advantage of the full potential of the blueways around the island of Ireland.

  Tourism and sport is part of the Minister's portfolio. That area covers kayaking, surfing, running along the coast and so on. I ask that we would invest more in tourism, sport and well-being. We need to join the dots because we have a great offering in that regard. The Minister might speak about his vision in that area since it traverses his portfolio.

  We need to protect our environment. In addition to the arteries of the country, the rivers, we also have a system of hedgerows, which are linear corridors of woodlands. This morning in the Dáil, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, had a short five minutes to talk about the Heritage Bill. I lived out of Ireland for almost two decades and have been living here for three decades - I am giving away my age - but I know that the hedgerow systems are old and unique to the island of Ireland. Many of them were set in the late 1700s. They add something special to the uniqueness of Ireland. They are part of the tourism offering. In addition to the ecological services, it is also a beautiful system in terms of tourism and that uniqueness that I believe foreigners enjoy. The Netherlands has that mono-culture. One does not see the hedgerows. One does not see them in other countries in mainland Europe such as France, but the hedgerow system in Ireland is beautiful and we need to maintain and preserve them in terms of tourism.

  An area that drew huge attention last week was Bantry Bay where a licence has been granted to harvest approximately 1,800 acres of marine kelp, which is big seaweed. Seaweed supports huge biodiversity. That is the reason there was a large turnout in Bantry this week at a community meeting organised by Coastwatch Ireland. There were Bantry Bay locals, tourism operators, surfers, divers and many more in attendance who were very concerned about the issuing of this licence because the harvesting of the kelp will impact on the tourism offering in that area. There will be an impact in terms of the divers and fishing, in addition to the impact on the biodiversity. People come to Ireland because they love our biodiversity. They might like us as quirky people also, but our diversity is what we have on offer and what we use to encourage people to come here. Issuing a licence to cut the kelp is interfering with the community and tourism. It is a mistake, and I hope something can be done about it.

  As I have indicated, we have a great offering. We have eco-tourism and something special. I ask the Minister about his sense of vision in terms of all of these natural tourism offerings and the assets we have available. How does he see that working out with regard to the marine, rivers and lakes and protecting our environment to make sure that the offering is sustainable and that we are not cutting off our nose to spite our face? I would like a sense of the Minister's vision over the coming years in that regard.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I welcome the Minister. I am aware of his passion in terms of tourism and compliment him on his interview yesterday. I holiday in Achill every year so I was very moved to hear his interview. He described it very well in terms of looking out at the beautiful scenery, and I compliment him on that.

  Tourism is something that is vibrant and exciting, certainly in terms of Ireland and especially the hospitality sector. It is the biggest employer in Ireland and more jobs have been created in recent years. There is 11% total employment in the tourism industry.

  I am the education spokesperson for Fine Gael and an area I have been keeping an eye on is the different courses being offered in tourism in training centres. I compliment the education and training boards, which are tailoring courses to suit the needs of the employer. That is most important. The Minister for Education and Skills is increasing funding towards apprenticeships and skills, but for us to grow the sector it is important that that would happen alongside the promotion of the tourism industry.

  Not only have we 11% employment in tourism, it is also one of the biggest industries in the world. Since 2011, 13,000 jobs have been created in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Two initiatives have contributed to that, namely, the travel tax and the 9% VAT rate, which the Minister alluded to in his contribution. It is important that they are retained in terms of growing our sector.

  Many of my colleagues spoke about regional balance. It is an issue about which I have spoken to the Minister previously and of which he is very aware. For a long time Tourism Ireland promoted the Dublin region, but there is a greater balance now. The Minister referred to the fact that Germans make up the largest number of visitors from Europe. Fáilte Ireland launched a six-week campaign to promote Ireland in Germany. I compliment it on that, which is very welcome, but could we look at attracting visitors from other countries across Europe in terms of areas they may be interested in?  The figures show that most German tourists will go on three or four holidays a year with at least one or two of those holidays being outside their own country. It is important that we target the German tourist. It is estimated that German visitors spent up to €600 million in Ireland last year. Fáilte Ireland also gives business support, marketing and publicity, along with destination and sector development to businesses. This is most important.

  The Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East have been spoken of here, and I have asked the Minister of State to include Limerick city in the Wild Atlantic Way, which he since has. It is most important that he has taken this on board. Using Limerick, my home town, as an example, we are older than the city of London, the amount of sports tourism in Limerick is up and it is very hard to get a hotel bed in Limerick now in many places. This must be transferred down to the smaller towns and villages for regional dispersion. It means the airports must promote themselves to show they are tourism destinations because everything does not always start and finish in Dublin.

  Ireland is 26th overall in the world rankings out of 133 countries in holding conventions and conferences. This is important because we have so much to offer in Ireland. Not only do we have the whole business side of it, we also have our history, our unique tourism attractions and so on.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell The Senator is out of time.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I thank the Acting Chairman. I shall speak briefly on Brexit. I know that our visitor numbers from Britain are down. If we are to have a hard Border, will there be restrictions on free movement of people between Ireland and the UK? There has been much investment in respect of Brexit and the agrifood sector-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I must ask the Senator to stop now because if I do not then other speakers who are waiting will not get in.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne Can I say one last thing?

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell One last thing, very quickly.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne With regard to the Rugby World Cup I wish Ireland the very best of luck in its bid. I know the Minister of State has put a lot of work into the bid, as have some of his ministerial predecessors and through his initiative around the local authorities. We are developing a tourism strategy in Limerick and I compliment the Minister of State on that.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Ba bhreá liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire, dar ndóigh. It is clear that massive work is being done on tourism. As a country we should be very grateful to all of those who put their shoulder to the wheel and who have their hands on the plough - and any other cliché one cares to use - in the hard and important work of promoting Ireland. Senator O'Mahony has said how important a feature tourism is in our economic health, taking into account agriculture and inward investment also.

  When one looks at the figures we can see €4.7 billion being spent by international tourists, another €1.5 billion is being spent in terms of air and sea carriers, and 220,000 people are working in the sector, which is one in nine people. It is an ambition to have 250,000 people working in the sector by 2025 with a €5 billion spend by international tourists in Ireland. It is important that the good work is being done but also that there is the ambition to do more and achieve more.

  It is impossible to talk about the success of our tourism effort in recent times without thinking of the "waw" factor, which is the Wild Atlantic Way. It appears to be a prominent and dominant feature, which we would all welcome. While saying that, and in congratulating all of those involved in promoting the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and Dublin - A Breath of Fresh Air, I want to focus on the need to promote the midlands in Ireland. I feel that region has been left behind in these heavily backed State tourism exercises. The chief selling points associated with Ireland's Ancient East are heritage and history, and this is good and well. To date, I believe the midlands counties have not been promoted in a way that could showcase their extensive natural beauty to international visitors. These districts have waterways, lakes, forests, mountains, bogland, rolling hills and flat landscape suited to outdoor holidays involving walking, cycling, angling, horse riding and golf.

  The central spine of the country, if the Minister of State thinks about it, from the Silvermines to the drumlins of Cavan, could be developed as a thematic package in the new multifaceted tourism initiative. Counties such as Tipperary, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Cavan and some of my own county of Galway, have been somewhat forgotten by the Government in its recent tourism push. Towns such as Roscrea, Athlone, Tullamore, Longford and Carrick-on-Shanon have major growth potential and have a range of existing services and offerings to build upon. We are all aware of the decline of our towns in rural Ireland. There has been much talk about it and programmes devoted to the issue in recent years. We should always see tourism as a part of that process of giving life back to our rural towns.

  The locations I have mentioned have been undervalued and much more could be done in a co-ordinated and coherent way to improve and transform the midlands as an attractive region in which to stay. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister of State on the efforts being made by his Department and the satellite agencies under his aegis to create a majestic midlands experience that would appeal to visitors of all ages, especially those who enjoy the outdoors.

  Obviously this requires investment but it would be money well spent. A feasibility study was done around Ireland's proposed lakelands brand, which would focus on the midlands and the Shannon. I hope the draft report will offer some hope to those in the tourism industry in that wider area. The midlands is more than just a collection of inland lakes, of course. The region's relatively flat and open environment makes it particularly suitable for new eco-tourism initiatives.

  If the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Fáilte Ireland can execute marketing campaigns for the regions - be it for the east or west of the country - then surely a cohesive marketing initiative can be created for the midlands in the heart of the nation. I note that when the Minister, Deputy Ross was in the Chamber last March he committed his Department and associated agencies to strong, regional dispersal in tourism.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator's time is up.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen There are other points I can make in the brief time available to me. The Minister of State knows well that the issue of skills in tourism is vital. We need some 5,000 chefs each year between now and 2020. I believe there are some 8,000 pubs and restaurant venues in the State, tourists always have to eat, but there is a big concern among restaurateurs and others about the costs of insurance. It is a key issue. Obviously there are issues around claims and dodgy claims, but there is also the factor where success itself seems to be penalised when there is increased custom in venues and the insurance premiums go up. This must be watched. Those who operate food delivery services have seen their motor insurance increase by 100% in some cases in recent years.

  I shall make my final point if I may-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senator's time is up.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Senator O'Mahony made reference to sport. Recently I was impressed to meet with groups from the Archdioceses of New York and Boston, which are sending people to Knock and taking advantage of the airport there. I would love to think the Government is on the ball there. There is not a diocese in the United States of America that does not have a strong Irish footprint and there is huge potential for what might be called pilgrimage tourism. I would love to hear what is being done in that regard. I suspect there is real, untapped potential there.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Tá céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Gan dabht ar bith, tá go leor le maoibh faoi in earnáil na turasóireachta sa taobh seo den tír, ach tá go leor le déanamh go fóill. There are many laudable aspects to Ireland's tourism industry and it has been quite successful in a lot of different areas around the State. I note a lack of discussion in today's debate about the people who may be the greatest asset in our tourism industry; the staff and workers in the tourism industry. I shall focus my comments on some of the conditions in which these people work. We certainly have a lot of very laudable employers and some really good places to work, but there are issues in the industry and we cannot deny those.

  I am very disappointed that when I raised these issues with the Minister, Deputy Ross, during a debate on tourism some months ago, he showed a certain amount of concern and asked me to pass on my report, which I have done. I reminded him since then that I had passed it on and I was hoping he or his officials would engage with me on the report we did into the abuse of workers in the hospitality sector in Galway. The Minister has not, to date, done this. I know he has been quite busy but I hope he will get back to me on that report.  I would like to outline some of the issues for the Minister of State as well. We have raised issues around some of the conditions under which people find themselves working. It is obviously a very transient working community. The working situation is quite precarious for many people. There are many young people and non-nationals working in the hospitality sector. The practices of many employers leave a lot to be desired.

  We carried out a survey of people working in hospitality in the Galway area, to which we got 415 responses. The results were really quite shocking. Some 45% of respondents were not given a written statement of the terms of their employment within the first two months and 18% did not receive a regular payslip. Regarding rest breaks, almost 60% claimed not to receive the statutory 15 minute break after four and a half hours worked and 50% did not get a break of 30 minutes after six hours worked. Almost 50% did not receive their entitlement of nine public holidays per year. Almost 50% did not receive 11 consecutive hours of rest between shifts and over 14% did not receive four weeks paid annual leave. These are the basic legal entitlements that every employer is supposed to give its workers.

  Some 44% of respondents reported that their employer used the rota as a negative control mechanism regularly, very often or constantly. Basically, people were told that if they caused trouble they would lose hours or they might not be needed the next week. Some 34% of respondents reported the withholding of tips regularly, very often or constantly, and 28% of respondents reported being underpaid regularly, very often or constantly. Perhaps the most worrying data is that on physical or sexual abuse, harassment or negligence. Some 78% of respondents to our survey reported experiencing verbal abuse in the workplace sometimes, regularly, very often or constantly. That is 78%. Three out of every four experienced some form of abuse. Some 36% reported experiencing sexual harassment or abuse sometimes, regularly or very often. Some 65% reported experiencing negligence on a regular basis. These are really stark findings which need to be addressed.

  I also note figures I received yesterday from the Workplace Relations Commission, the WRC, in respect of issues and cases taken. When I have raised these issues with the industry I have been told that there is no problem. I have been told that nobody is taking cases to the WRC or the Labour Court, therefore there is no issue. There were, however, a total of 4,830 cases taken to the WRC in 2016. In the food and drink sector, an incidence of breach was found in 48% of those cases. In the hotel sector the figure was 35%. Obviously there is an issue.

  On the issue of unpaid wages, the WRC figures which I have been given show that it has gotten reimbursement for workers who were not paid properly to the value of €1.5 million. There is a huge issue around the way employers are treating employees. I want to work with the industry to try to get that sorted and we are working on a campaign to do that.

  The other very important point to which I must refer is infrastructure in rural areas, which has been mentioned previously. For example, many people like to go out to Connemara and visit some of our beautiful areas, but our road infrastructure is absolutely dire. We have a huge issue around the N59 and the R336. Those issues must be addressed. I would be grateful if the Minister of State or the Minister, Deputy Ross, would come back to me on the issues in the workplace for those workers. Go raibh míle maith agat.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Go raibh maith agat féin. There are two speakers left, Senators Buttimer and Dolan. The clock is against us but I will try to get both of them in.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Cé mhéad ama atá agam?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan The Senators have five minutes each.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Go raibh maith agat. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and commend him for his stewardship and his contribution during his time in office. If I was to listen to Senator Ó Clochartaigh, notwithstanding the fact that he has articulated genuine concerns, I would swear the Government was doing nothing in the tourism sector at all. In front of us today we have a Minister of State. I ask Members to listen to Ryan Tubridy's programme yesterday on RTE Radio 1, where there was a Minister of State with passion, commitment, determination and a vision and plan to drive the tourism sector. It is important, when we talk about a whole of government approach, that we have a Minister of State on top of the brief being the driver of that engine. We are lucky to have the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, in that command.

  The figures the Minister of State spoke about today are very strong. In his remarks he made reference to the issue of Brexit and British tourists. I want to turn my attention to the issue of North America. I commend Cork Airport Authority for its ability to reach out. Last week WOW air flew from Cork to the United States via Iceland and in the first week of July Norwegian will fly from Cork to Boston. That is important for the Cork region, from whence I come, because the airport is not just a source of pride, but it is crucial to the economy of the entire southern region. Cork is the hub of that region. The region is not just about a place, it is about people. We can help to grow and create jobs, have people come and live in the region and also have people visit.

  I am a little concerned in respect of the approach of Tourism Ireland to Cork. In The Irish Examiner this week we saw Tourism Ireland taking out a half-page advertisement for the Wild Atlantic Way, which did not mention west Cork at all. This poses the question of why it would not do so. I know that we have a tourism strategy for Cork called Growing Tourism in Cork: A Collective Strategy, underpinned by Visit Cork, but I have to say that I am critical of the tourism bodies in how they sell Cork - in terms of the city and its importance as a place of culture, culinary experiences and retail and then, linked to that, west Cork as a place of absolute beauty. As the Minister of State knows quite well, Cork is the only city and county on both the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Limerick is as well.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer Okay, with Limerick. The Minister of State's heart is, of course, in Limerick. We will come back to that. I know the Minister of State spoke about the local authorities in his speech in terms of their campaign and the conference Collaborate Locally to Compete Globally, but we must get the city and county councils to become part of that strategy, to promote, market and invest, in this case, in Cork. In the case of Cork, we need a comprehensive marketing and tourism strategy, which we have, but we also need investment by the local authorities to help sell Cork in terms of promoting the Cork transatlantic route.

  My final comment is that the Minister of State has been successful with Government in retaining the 9% VAT rate. We speak about bed shortages and different issues in hotels. Senator Ó Clochartaigh makes reference to pay and conditions. The cost of accommodation has gone berserk in places. There needs to be a reining-in of some hotels that are over-pricing and, in time, will price themselves out of the market.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan Hear, hear.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We have a tremendous tourism product. We have a wonderful country. We have a very welcoming, hospitable people. We have tremendous people working in the service industry. We have a Minister of State who is on top of his brief and who has a command of it and passion for it, but we need all the pieces of the jigsaw to come together. Mar fhocal scoir, it is important in the area of Cork, from whence I come, that we go across the world to sell and promote Cork, through the Minister of State's office and the tourism offices.

Senator John Dolan: Information on John Dolan Zoom on John Dolan I welcome the Minister of State. In his remarks, he talked about our capacity to sustain growth and that it will depend, among other things, on Ireland maintaining its competitiveness, on effective marketing, and on the continued development of iconic holiday experiences. On marketing, I would like to focus on, and ask the Minister of State, whether we are fully marketing an accessible product. I refer to people with disabilities, reduced mobility or different capacities - these people can be named in different ways. On both shoulders of this island, in North America and in western Europe, we have developed economies where there are many people with good incomes - retired people - looking for a good experience. They are more and more likely to be people with restricted mobility or conditions of one kind or another. Our country gives huge diversity and huge opportunities, but we must be a product that is fully accessible.  We still have a way to go there although it has improved. There is what I describe as a hard and a soft element to having an accessible product. The hard element relates to our transport infrastructure being accessible - and we have a way to go there - along with our buildings and our street scapes and also the whole area of communication for people who are blind or deaf or whatever. The soft infrastructure I am happier about. To me that relates to the people who work in the tourism industry in Ireland and the people of Ireland. I see good standards and people wanting to be helpful everyday. That is a great asset and it is important not to take it for granted.

  We also have our own folk in Ireland. People are living longer now. People with disabilities and families with a family member with a disability want to be able to go and experience Ireland in an easy way. In the past there were obvious anchor places in Ireland, like anchor tenants, counties obviously branded with tourism. It is lovely to see many more places developing in Ireland now, getting their own mojo in terms of tourism and developing greater pride in the product, in the raw material that they have and are developing. The midlands were already mentioned in this respect. This is the opportunity and the challenge that I want to put to the Minister of State. The populations to the east and west of us amount to half a billion people from developed economies, many of whom will want to come to a place like Ireland. We need to attract them.

  We have heard of the beautiful glens of Antrim and Kerry and the east and the west. Farewell to Tipperary said the Galtee mountain boy a long time ago. I want to welcome everyone to Tipperary and particularly to my beautiful Glen of Aherlow.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Patrick O'Donovan): Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I will address the last speaker first. The Senator will be glad to know that I launched the Tipperary tourism strategy with the county manager and I have to pay particular tribute to the people in Tipperary. That is where the good news ends from a Limerick man. The Glen of Aherlow is shared in close proximity and the peak of Galteemore is actually in County Limerick.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Just check the map. I agree with the Senator with regard to accessibility and this is not only an issue for people with disabilities but also for young parents. We had an experience recently where we went to London and it was horrendous pushing a buggy around. Try it sometime. As I said to my wife, God only knows how a person with a disability would manoeuvre around. It is right to acknowledge that a lot of progress has been made in Ireland but for people with disabilities and for young parents especially, accessibility is a problem. We came to Dublin in the not so distant past and there was a sign in a pub on the southside of this city, I will not name the suburb because people will find it, saying 'no buggies'. That is not welcoming in this day and age.

  I want to address the comments of the Senators who had the courtesy to stay. Some did not even come to my opening comment, came in then and criticised us for not doing enough and then did not stay for the closing remarks, so I will not refer to Senator Mullen's comments.

  Regarding VAT, it would be completely remiss of me if I did not take issue with the suggestion that sustaining the 9% VAT rate was not a good idea when we needed it in the last budget. My view is that it should be sustained into the future. Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to the roads into Connemara. I can tell the Senator that there will be very few people travelling those roads if his colleague gets his way because at the end of the day we are not yet in a situation, from a regional tourism point of view, where we can throw the baby out with the bath water. Talk to any hotelier in provincial Ireland, in my part of the country or in Senator Ned O'Sullivan's part of the country or anywhere else, and the stark reality is that the 9% VAT rate is still needed in provincial Ireland. We cannot regionalise VAT, much as I would like to, so it is completely irresponsible for a party to suggest that we should just abolish it. Approximately 35,000 people are at work in Irish tourism and hospitality today, more than when we went into government in 2011, and two measures contributed massively to that. The first was the abolition of the travel tax. There was a time when we charged people to get into and get out Ireland - how cracked was that? The second was the 9% VAT rate. I do not make any apologies for that to anybody. It was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do in the last budget and I hope it is sustained. I am not the Minister for Finance but I hope the new Minister for Finance will take this on board.

  Senator Byrne raised the issue of training. She is right, the speed at which we are getting training out there is not acceptable. We will hopefully have news on this shortly through Fáilte Ireland and through the officials in my own Department. At the rate at which apprenticeships are being rolled out at the moment, it would take an average of 30 years to get through a hotel. That is completely unacceptable. I am not in favour of a new agency but Senator Byrne is right. There is a blueprint already through the education and training boards and I know that Senator Humphreys also raised this issue with me before on a commencement matter here. It is a matter that I am taking seriously.

  Several Senators mentioned the midlands. They will be delighted to know that in the not too distant future Fáilte Ireland will be bringing its initial proposals together on this. It is not just about lakes and so on. I have said in both this and the other House that we have an area from east Donegal down to the outskirts of Cork city that needs attention. Fáilte Ireland is already doing that in their capital investment programme and in its marketing programme. That is being primarily driven by the local authority tourism strategies, of which County Tipperary is a fantastic example.

  Regarding Ireland's Ancient East, Fáilte Ireland was the developer of this. Its remit under legislation is very clear; it is the national tourism development authority of this jurisdiction. We cannot take brands like Ireland's Ancient East or the Wild Atlantic Way across the Border into another jurisdiction. We can work with them, however, and we are doing that. When I was up in Donegal recently my colleague, Deputy Joe McHugh, pointed out that when one leaves Belfast Airport among the places that one is guided to are the Causeway Coast and the Wild Atlantic Way. That collaboration in local authorities is already happening and airports are addressing it-----

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile The brand could be got out.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan No one interrupted the Senator. If he wants an answer I will give him an answer.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile The Minister is contradicting himself.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Regarding the conditions referred to by Senator Ó Clochartaigh, I will also bring them to the attention of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. The North-South co-operation element is happening through Tourism Ireland, which is an all-island, Good Friday Agreement body. We cannot, however, avoid the stark reality that there is no functioning government in Northern Ireland. Some people in this Chamber have a greater influence than the rest of us when it comes to encouraging the establishment of a Northern Ireland executive. The sooner that is established the better because Tourism Ireland works in collaboration on a two thirds-one third divide. The Irish Government cannot act unilaterally on Tourism Ireland or on any other Good Friday Agreement body. The House knows that and the Members know that and I think certain Members are being a bit disingenuous when it comes to the level of North-South co-operation. We are very anxious to see a new executive established in Northern Ireland. Like the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, and like the Taoiseach, I appeal to those who have an influence in here to do everything in their power to get that executive established and to make sure that the executive functions and we can get on with developing the country.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile The DUP is not in here.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Heckling will not get you anywhere lads. Senator Ned O'Sullivan asked about the Tourism Leadership Group. It comprises represenatives of the Department, myself, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, and the whole industry and it has been there for a while. People are talking about diversification of markets. I was up at Fanad lighthouse recently overseeing the work that is being done there by Fáilte Ireland, the Commissioners of Irish Lights and the Office of Public Works. The first visitors I met there were from Singapore. They did not come via somewhere else, they had specifically come to Ireland. Market diversification is working and Tourism Ireland is working.

  On the issue of Brexit, we do not know what is going to happen there, it is a bit early yet. We are doing the best that we can, however, which is why we had the sectoral civic dialogue in Dundalk, a border area, and why in the last few weeks I have launched initiatives by Fáilte Ireland, through the Office of Public Works and the Commissioners of Irish Lights, in Fanad and in Carlingford. This is because we recognise that the Border area is vulnerable and that is why we want to build the product.

  Senator Ned O'Sullivan is quite right about the north west, 5% is not acceptable. I holidayed in Donegal last year and the year before and the package there, and in Sligo and Leitrim, is phenomenal. The work already happening between the development of the Causeway Coast and the Wild Atlantic Way is tangible and being led by local authorities like Donegal County Council, who need to be commended on it.

  I entirely agree with Senator O'Sullivan's point about sustainable tourism. I disagree with him about the bushes along the side of the road however.  The Senator mentioned the important word "maintain". At the end of the day we have an obligation to ensure our roads are safe and traversable.

  I agree with the points made in regard to the greenway strategies and blueway strategies. When I became Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the development of greenways was spread across many agencies, including the Office of Public Works, OPW, the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Coillte, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the local authorities and so on. That is no longer the case and the matter is now the subject of public consultation. I would welcome Senators' feedback in this regard. This is not only about greenways; it is also about blueways.

  This has been an important debate. I thank the Senators who have engaged, particularly those Senators who have engaged from the start and have listened to what I have had to say on behalf of the Government. The industry is watching too. It wants to know that from a political point of view there is consensus that the development of Irish tourism is in a strong place and that the leadership can be supported by people, including Senators, but in realistic terms rather than with will-o'-the-wisp-type suggestions to scrap schemes for the sake of it.

  I am open to suggestions. The industry is open to suggestions. This area is not without its challenges. This is a vulnerable industry. We know from what happened in 2008 that the slightest shock, be it an earthquake or a volcano eruption in Iceland, has the potential to do irreparable damage. The last thing we need is political damage to be caused from within this House or the other House.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Damage is being caused.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I commend the Senators who have spoken constructively today. Their suggestions will be taken on board. I have taken a lot of notes. I hope that as we flesh out the development of tourism policy for the future, I can take on board as many of the positive and concrete suggestions made today that will add value, create more jobs and enhance the visitor experience for people coming to Ireland.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh The Minister of State needs to take note of the negative comments too.

Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to amend the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2016 to provide for the decriminalisation for possession of controlled drugs for personal use and to provide for regulations regarding personal use; to establish a Drug Dissuasion Service to case-manage persons found in possession of controlled drugs and to divert people away from the courts by providing a system of harm reduction measures including drug awareness, drug rehabilitation and community engagement programmes; and to provide for related matters.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move: "That Second Stage be taken today."

  Question put and agreed to.

Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017: Second Stage

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, for coming to the House to debate this Bill and for her time in the lead-up to its preparation. I also thank the officials in the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health for their advice and input. I welcome that the Committee on Justice and Equality is willing to scrutinise the Bill in the autumn.

  I am proud to introduce this legislation at a time when there are many people in the Visitors Gallery from the area to which I have dedicated my life. I thank all the people in the Gallery for their hard work in the drug use and addiction area. I especially thank Senator Ó Ríordáin, who co-sponsored this Bill and has worked closely with me on it. I thank the Civil Engagement group for its support and also the Independents who have co-signed this Bill, which is indicative of the support that exists for it. I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery today of Mr. Liam O'Brien. I have often spoken about how I entered the drugs field at the very early age of 17 years, not long after my own drug use and criminality. Liam O'Brien took a chance on me, invested in me and empowered me to work in this area, something which not everyone who is criminalised for drug use gets the opportunity to do. I thank Liam O'Brien for all his hard work in Killinarden over many years.

  Before I address the specific provisions of the legislation, it is important to outline why I have dedicated most of my life to the study and treatment of addiction and, as a result, why I have brought this legislation before the House today. This is about more than my standing in this Chamber and doing my duty as a legislator. It is about me, my family, my friends, my community and the communities throughout this country that engage in drug use and drug abuse. It is about the hundreds of people I have supported, advocated on behalf of and also laid to rest prematurely from drug related deaths. I have been a drug user. I have been developing drug addiction programmes since I was 17 and I continue to support my friends and community daily with the often lifelong lasting impact of drug use and addiction. There is no doubt in my mind that punishing, shaming, stigmatising and criminalising drug use has failed in deterring people from using drugs.

  Drug use spans across all of society, but problem drug use is primarily concentrated in areas of deprivation. Where poverty is already difficult to escape, being able to navigate one's way through socioeconomic disadvantage is almost impossible with a conviction for possession. We must, and should, recognise the economic influences that create and reinforce patterns of addiction and criminality and begin to change policy to unravel some of those patterns in order that we no longer punish and prosecute marginalised populations in the name of morality. I view the criminalisation of drugs as a form of criminalisation of poverty given the high numbers of the working class that find themselves in the prison system for drug possession. Currently in Ireland, we spend millions every year on legal aid, probation and prison. This is a cost that does nothing to create change in a person’s life in terms of their drug use. Life after addiction is difficult. Most people have to find new ways to pass the day, new friends and new environments. In that search for a new sense of themselves, finding employment, having the option to travel and not being labelled as criminal is key to their development. Not having access to services, support and employment often results in a person falling back into addiction, as he or she finds it too hard to integrate into normal working society because of a conviction. I have seen this many times in areas such as social work and youth community, whereby a person is denied access to the course because of a conviction he or she had in previous years for possession. Recovery can be a very lonely place. To support a person to remain in recovery education and employment are crucial. We have a history in Ireland of imprisoning people unjustly. People experiencing addiction have a complex set of needs that can never be met and supported in the legal system. For example, in 2013, 679 deaths in Ireland were linked to drug use. The number of non-poisoning deaths recorded among drug users was 292 in 2013. Deaths owing to hanging continue to be the main cause of non-overdose drug related deaths, accounting for 25% of all non-poisoning deaths in 2013. We will never know how many of those deaths could have been avoided if drug use and addiction, rather than being criminalised, was treated as a public health issue.

  The crux of the argument is that it is incumbent on us as a society to reduce the harm of people who experience addiction, experiment with drugs or use drugs recreationally. It is up to us a society and as representatives of that society to leave this country better than we found it. Members should ask themselves, if one of their sons or daughters was caught in possession of ecstasy tablets at a musical festival, where they would want him or her to go. When someone experiencing addiction to heroin is caught in possession, where will we send him or her? Should he or she be sent to a criminal system that reinforces trauma, a system that all the evidence shows has done nothing either to deter people from using drugs or to improve their situations. It is the system that removes the opportunity for full recovery and intervention.  Some 76% of all drugs convictions are for simple possession. Prison time and convictions do not address the issues of drugs. Imprisonment creates a barrier to education and employment and stigmatises and shames a person who is already suffering and struggling. Prison acts as a gateway to criminality; it does not stop it. All of these factors compound the cycle of addiction, criminality, poverty and disconnection.

  We can and should refer people to a purpose-built and humane system that recognises the complexities and many forms that drug use takes. We need a system managed by experts in the fields of health, law and addiction who are able to treat people found in possession of drugs with fairness and compassion. Instead of sending our young people and those experiencing addiction to the courts, they should meet experienced case officers who are able to recommend the best course of action for the person and with the person. Surely a system where we are able to inform people about drugs or support them in accessing rehabilitative treatment or to reconnect with their communities through community engagement initiatives is better than them ending up in Mountjoy Prison. That is what we are debating today.

  Drug use will happen and will continue to impact on lives. Nothing that the Oireachtas does will ever result in the elimination of drug consumption. All we, as legislators, can do is control how the State reacts to drug use and how it treats people who use drugs. The question is: when someone we know and love is found in possession of drugs, who do we want to work with them? Is it a garda and a judge or even a prison guard, or is it a health professional and an addiction worker? That is what the Bill boils down to and the question that we should ask is whether we support them or whether we ignore the evidence and continue to punish and propagate criminality.

  I will now give a brief overview of the main provisions of the Bill. Section 3 inserts into the original Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 a new section which decriminalises the possession of controlled drugs for personal use provided it does not exceed the quantity allowed for personal use. Section 3(2) allows for the Minister to set by regulation the amount allowed for personal use. Section 3 also maintains the criminalisation of possession of drugs in excess of personal use and specifically states that nothing in the section will impact on cases where a person possesses drugs with intent to sell. It is important to note that the legislation maintains the strict criminalisation placed on drug dealing and selling and simply provides for the decriminalisation of the individual using drugs.

  Section 5 allows for An Garda Síochána to refer persons found in possession of drugs to a new drug dissuasion service for assessment. Every person found in possession of drugs, whether it be within the allowed amount or in excess, will be referred to the service. The Bill allows for a referral to a tailor-made and targeted service, rather than to a punitive criminal justice environment.

  Sections 10 to 16, inclusive, outline the structure, functions, leadership and accountability of the new drug dissuasion service. The service will be led by a director general who will be directly accountable to the Oireachtas. When drafting this Bill, we looked to other examples of quasi-judicial bodies that already existed within Irish legislation. As a result, many of the sections relating to the service draw on the structures that were established for the Workplace Relations Commission by the 2015 Act. The drug dissuasion service will be administered by representatives from the Departments of Justice and Equality, and Health, along with experts in the field of drug counselling and addition. This is to ensure that the work of the service is cross-departmental in nature and informed by expertise. The service would be able to appoint case officers to handle the individual assessments, conduct harm-reduction research and inform the public regarding controlled substances.

  Sections 17 to 20, inclusive, refer to the functions of the service's case officers, and the case assessment and recommendations process. In that process, the engagement between a referred person and his or her case officer is intended to be informal and at a time and place set by the officer. Case officers will be informed of the details of the possession, hear from the person and consider a number of factors including age, addiction, personal circumstances, criminal record and previous engagement with the drug dissuasion service. Following the consideration of all of this, the case officer will be able to recommend attendance at a drug awareness programme, a drug rehabilitation programme or a community engagement process.

  Those are the provisions of the Bill. It is the product of months of input from international and domestic experts across a range of fields, from people who work in drug services and from those who use drugs. Niall Neligan, who was the primary drafter of the Bill, is present today. I am confident that it is the right first step towards a more progressive, humane and realistic approach to drug policy, one that focuses on the individual at the heart of drug use. I have worked in this field for almost all of my adult life and I would not be putting it before the House today if I did not believe it would have an immeasurable positive impact on the lives of thousands of people, which I promise it will.

  Just before walking in here I received a phone call from my daughter who is only 16 and whose life has also been impacted indirectly by addiction. She said to me, "You know this is so important, Mam, don't you?" That came from a child. Children can see the logical sense in not putting people experiencing drug addiction into prison; there is something wrong with us if we cannot see that too.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I thank Senator Ruane for her excellent opening speech and the Civil Engagement group for facilitating the debate on the Bill, which the Labour Party and other parties across the House support.

  In a situation like this, it is very tempting to play the political ball, but we should not do that today. There is a reason this Bill may not necessarily pass Second Stage. I would rather not focus on that. We need to focus less on the politics and more on the humanity of what we are trying to achieve. This is the most important Bill that will come before this Oireachtas and this is probably the most important speech I will make during my time in the Seanad. If what I and others say manages to change the mind of one person who has the potential to allow this Bill to pass further, then I do not think I will ever say anything more important.

  Drugs are everywhere in Irish society. There are gardaí, members of the Judiciary and politicians, including Cabinet members, who have in the past taken illegal drugs. The same is true of teachers, nurses and journalists. However, none of us would suggest that they are criminals for taking illegal drugs at one point. The reality is that this war on drugs is actually a war on poor people. They are the ones who are criminalised. As Senator Ruane quite rightly said, we are criminalising marginalisation.

  When I spent a short time as Minister of State with responsibility for equality and drugs, I met groups representing the LGBT community and people with disabilities and those advocating for Traveller rights who told me that those who are disconnected are more likely to fall into addiction. Of course, we know that deprivation causes people to fall into addiction. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection. We will not connect people with mainstream society if we give them criminal sanctions. It is just not working. I plead with anybody who thinks it is working or is pushing people away from addiction or drug use to take a trip to any court, particularly the drug court. What he or she will find is a courtroom full of sick of people. Worse than that, they will find a courtroom full of sick poor people.

  There is a level of power involved in this and it is not just politics that is to blame for not taking action sooner. We have come a long way in a short time.  It is only a few short weeks ago when the Minister of State sat in that chair and together we passed, without amendment, the injecting centre legislation - ground-breaking stuff that will save lives. There is a common perception, a common mistrust and a dehumanisation of the addict. We all know the names of those groups I named earlier used to be called. I refer to the LGBT community, the Traveller community, people with disabilities, asylum seekers and poor people. They were disparaging names, dehumanising names and undermining names that are not used in common parlance any more but one can still call somebody a junkie any hour of the day on any media outlet and get away with it. One could probably use it in this Chamber and in the other Chamber and not be censured for it.

  A young man died of an overdose in St. Audeon's Park in November 2015. The person who found him dead rang the emergency services and said "It is just another junkie". What we are really dealing with here is power and the power that we think people in addiction and their families have. What we have managed to do by criminalising them is to make them full of shame. They will not come forward and talk about the services they need. They will not come forward and talk about the lives they are living because criminalisation is shaming them. We are shaming people into graves. We have the third highest overdose rate in Europe. If the system was working our statistics would show something completely different.

  Senator Ruane, the Civil Engagement group, other parties and me are not trying to engage in some liberal loonyfest. Many of us believe in having a drug-free society but we are realists and we know that drugs are everywhere and that people are going to continue to take them but it is how we deal with the person who is sucked into addiction that is the key. Do we have that person interface with a garda, a judge in a court room or the prison system or do we say the person is better off dealing with a doctor, counsellor or suasion service? Do we think a young person from a broken home in a disadvantaged area who begins to dabble in drug use and who gets a criminal sanction will change his or her ways? If I got a criminal conviction as a teenager or in my early 20s I would probably say "That is me done. Society has just made a decision on me", but I would also know that I have only got a criminal sanction because I am poor. What we are trying to deal with here is one of the biggest killers in Irish society. It is also one of the biggest lies. The war on drugs is a lie. It cannot be won. It is a war on people - a certain type of people. When we talk about decriminalisation, which is a word that gets us in trouble all the time because people think we are talking about legalisation, which we are not.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris We should be.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin We are talking about decriminalisation of the person, not of the drug. We must take the person out of the criminal justice system and deal with addiction in the way it should be dealt with. It is not about the substances it is about the issues and connection. I hope my words have gone some way towards convincing people of what they should do in this regard and in terms of this debate. I thank those who have educated me along this road including people from CityWide and Ana Liffey. The USI also supports this initiative, as does Fr. Peter McVerry, who told me at a public meeting I had in my constituency recently that he was in court with a young man last year who was charged with possession of cannabis worth €2. What a complete and utter waste of time. Our criminal justice system should be targeted at the pushers not the takers of drugs.

Debate adjourned.

Business of Seanad

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 6a on the Supplementary Order Paper, statements on the proposed sale of AIB shares, be taken at 6 p.m.; to conclude not later than 7.15 p.m.; with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes; time can be shared and the Minister will be called upon to reply to the debate not later than 7.10 p.m."

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I propose a further amendment to the Order of Business: "That the statements on the acknowledgement of the Irish soldiers at the siege of Jadotville, as agreed to in the amendment to the Order of Business this morning, will not be taken today", as an accommodation has been reached between the proposing Senator and the relevant Minister on the issue.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is that agreed? Agreed.

Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House and thank her for dealing with this matter. I also thank her for the work she has already done in this area since she became Minister of State and even when she was a Deputy. I pay tribute to both Senators Ruane and Senator Ó Ríordáin for the very passionate speeches they gave. They believe passionately in this issue because they have worked in this area, especially Senator Ruane, who has a huge amount of experience in it. It is important that we take on board what she and Senator Ó Ríordáin have said.

  The Bill proposes to amend the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 2016. It is a fundamental change in that the intention is to decriminalise possession of controlled drugs where they are for personal use. The Bill makes provision for circumstances in which a person exceeds the maximum amount for personal use, providing An Garda Síochána with a range of measures where the person is a repeat offender. Possession of controlled drugs for the purpose of resale and supply will continue to be an offence under section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 2016. The Bill does not amend the position where someone has possession of drugs for the purpose of resale. The Bill provides for the establishment of a drug discussion service to case manage persons found in possession of controlled drugs and to divert people away from the courts by providing a system of harm reduction measures including drug awareness, drug rehabilitation and community engagement programmes. That is extremely important.

  Senator Ruane is correct in what she said about the difficulty encountered when someone with a drugs conviction goes for a job. That was explained very well in the presentation I attended yesterday and it is something I have come across myself in dealing with young people in Cork city. Those with any kind of conviction encounter major difficulties in trying to secure employment and then they stay out of the system. It is important that we look at this very carefully. It is not something that we can change overnight because we need to examine the best way forward. We need to look at other jurisdictions. In fairness to the Oireachtas committee on justice, it did some work on this in 2015. The committee indicated that we needed to change the law in this area. A strategy committee was set up in December 2015 to report and provide an overall national drugs strategy. Hopefully, that will incorporate the proposals contained in the Bill. It is important that we come back with a careful analysis of the best way forward. We need to look at all of the options that are available. We also need to protect the wider public.  While we must consider those who are addicted and who need help and support without bringing them into the criminal justice system, we also must have a balance. We must examine it carefully. The Minister will deal comprehensively with all the issues that have been raised here but it is something with which we must move forward, not something to be parked.

  As for getting change in this country, a development within the last two weeks frightened me in this regard. My colleague, Senator Reilly, introduced a Private Members' Bill in 2009 on health care and I introduced a similar Private Members' Bill in 2012. The Government introduced a Bill in 2014, which was only passed last week. It took us seven or eight years to get through what should have been straightforward legislation. I hope something as straightforward as this Bill does not take seven or eight years. It needs to be carefully examined and scrutinised to see the best way forward but we should not have to wait seven years to deal with this issue.

  As recently as Monday of this week, I spoke to a coroner who raised concerns after having to deal with an inquest involving a young person and an overdose. We have a lot of work to do. As the death rate from the misuse of drugs is increasing every year, it is not something we can park and leave in the hope that the existing structure will deal with it. The existing structures are not dealing with the issue and nor at present is the criminal justice system. We need to look at it and ensure we set clear deadlines because we need to bring about the change. I accept that the Minister of State cannot give an undertaking to have it resolved here this evening but we need to bring forward change and part of that change must take on board the proposals of someone like Senator Ruane who has worked in this area and they must be given careful consideration.

  I thank both the proposer and seconder for bringing forward this legislation, as well as all the people who have worked with the Senator on the matter. It is something that has my support in trying to bring about change but that change must be brought about in a reasonable time.

Senator Mark Daly: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I thank Senators Ruane and Ó Ríordáin for bringing this Bill forward. It is correct to say that the war on drugs has not worked. It has turned into a war on poor people. It is a war on the sick. When one sees that we have the third highest overdose rate in Europe, it shows that our systems are failing in all respects. When one sees 679 people dying from overdoses, which is three times higher than those dying from road traffic accidents, one considers the amount of effort, energy and resources put into trying to reduce the amount of people who are speeding on our roads and how entire days are devoted to speed reduction -this took place only last Friday. One compares that with efforts to try to help those who are sick and are in addiction primarily because of the circumstances of their birth. It is disheartening to hear we are talking about a drug strategy from 2015 and here we are two years later, still awaiting progress.

  As for progress for this issue, in getting the detail right on Committee Stage and ensuring that it is brought across the line, Members who have tried to introduce Private Members' Bills and who are involved in legislation will be aware it requires relentless effort, despite the idea that we are all in favour of the substance of the debate. As the former Minister of State in charge of this strategy who is seconding this proposal will know, it is extremely difficult to go from the policy to getting the legislation across the line. Then, more importantly, there is the question of securing the resources that will make the difference, because legislation without resources is of no use.

  When I say it is a war on poor people, we all know that in the case of a family with a son or daughter who is in addiction and is going through the courts, that son or daughter will end up in jail if the family is poor but will not if the family is rich. The statistics show it. The appeal is made to the judge that they are from a good family. What does that mean? Does it mean that a judge should treat people equally? Obviously not. They treat the rich better than the poor because they are from a "good family". The justice system is supposed to be blind and give justice equally and therefore, it should treat the poor the same as it does the rich. The son or daughter of the rich person gets off because the family is respectable, whatever that is meant to mean.

  I reflect upon the issue of addiction because I remember meeting Tony Paget who was Ireland's person of the year in 2002. Tony jumped into the River Liffey to save a bus driver who had driven off the road. As person of the year, he was homeless. He ended up getting the award, with the tuxedo, and had one night in the hotel before he was kicked out onto the street. He was Ireland's person of the year in 2002. It is an amazing way to treat such a citizen. Tony ended up back on the street for months but that was addiction. He was a sick person, not a criminal. He had plenty of time in court but if Tony had been from a respectable family, he would never have seen the inside of a prison.

  The Bill, as we know, has all the research done. No one is a better expert than the Senator herself, and the person who is seconding it who knows the Department inside out. The problem is in our new politics, the system, the officials and the Department are not able to contend with the idea that someone is a better expert than are they themselves. The Committee Stage to come is where we as legislators must get used to the idea that we can no longer come in, get our Second Stage passed and then say "wasn't that a great day in court". People outside will think we have the Bill passe, but we know how far it still has to go. It will require this Dáil to remain and for the Senator to remain in her seat, whether there is an election or not - because legislation can jump into the next sitting - but I know the Senator to be relentless in her life and she has proven that in politics too. Persistence is required because the change it will make in decriminalising those who are found in possession now and in generations to come is very important. While we are obviously disappointed with the delay, it is not defeat. It will require the relentless persistence of the Senator and we hope to support all those proposals in the nuts and bolts that are required on Committee Stage to make sure that when those proposals come back and are seen to be ineffective, as the Senators will be aware, and do not do the job in hand and do not ultimately help sick people, then explaining that to us and to all those involved will be important. It will be done because it is the right thing to do but it will require persistence and relentless pursuit of what is a just cause.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I welcome the Minister of State to the House today and thank her for her long-standing commitment to this area. I particularly want to thank Senators Ruane and Ó Ríordáin. It is not easy to come into this House and share personal experiences and Senator Ruane has done that on many occasions. She clearly has considerable knowledge of this area, has researched this Bill well, has worked with other people and shared their experiences to hone in on particular issues she thinks are appropriate to this Bill and that is great. I do not accept this defeatist attitude.  We are in the Oireachtas and this is the Seanad. We should not accept that nothing will happen. It will happen because we have to make it happen.

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

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan There is a mob that comes in and belly-aches about this and that and how we can do nothing because this is the new politics. We are in politics for this time and this moment. If we do not deliver, we do not deserve to be here. It is as simple as that. That is the bottom line. I would not want to be in the Seanad if I was not making some contribution. This is the time and Deputy Catherine Byrne is the Minister of State today. This is not a criticism of her and I acknowledge her support, but we have been elected to legislate. It is as simple as that. We need to set out a course. If Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or any other party has a problem, it should come to the Chamber, exercise its proper democratic mandate, engage in legislative procedures, table amendments and make this a better Bill.

  I acknowledge all of the Senators who took their political courage in their hands and signed to endorse this Bill - Senators Ruane, Ó Ríordáin, Kelleher, Higgins, Grace O'Sullivan, Dolan, Black, Norris, who is to my right, McDowell, Craughwell, myself, Lawless, Freeman, Ó Domhnaill, Bacik, Nash and Humphreys. They are the people who considered this to be good legislation. They gave it thought and signed it. I would not have signed if I believed that it would be a charter for drug pushers. That is not what it is about. Drug dealers need to be taken on because they are criminals who are destroying people's lives, communities and families. Let us not criminalise everyone, though. The Bill is progressive, humane and compassionate. That is why I support it. How could anyone not? It is responsive to the needs of people who have suffered for far too long, individuals who want to get on with their lives, access services, have meaningful relationships and families, work and play a role.

  The drug issue does not just affect poor people. Drugs are found in every walk of life, for example, cocaine. There are people overdosing on medications and other pharmaceuticals. Let us not forget that, but what is the difference? Some people are marginalised and do not have houses or a listening or compassionate ear to help them on their way. They do not care whether they survive or succeed. This Bill addresses some of these fundamental issues. If political parties can make this a better Bill, we want to hear from them.

  The Bill's purpose is to provide a 21st century approach to solving what we all acknowledge is Ireland's ongoing drug problem. It provides for an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 2016 by inserting a new section 3 in the principal Act. This will decriminalise the possession of controlled drugs, provided that the amount possessed is for personal use only and, importantly, does not exceed the authorised amount as regulated by the Minister.

  I will provide some context. In 2015, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality undertook an examination of ways to reduce harm caused by substance abuse. The committee travelled to Lisbon, Portugal, to review its strategy and regime. Members of the public and civil society were invited to make submissions at public hearings. The committee's November 2015 report made a number of recommendations. I will not go through all of them, but I will single out a few. The report states:

The Committee strongly recommends the introduction of a harm reducing and rehabilitative approach, whereby the possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use, could be dealt with by way of a civil/administrative response and rather than via the criminal justice route...

The Committee recommends that discretion for the application of this approach would remain with An Garda Síochána/Health Providers in respect of the way in which an individual in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use might be treated...

The Committee recommends that any harm reducing and rehabilitation approach be applied on a case-by-case basis, with appropriately resourced services available to those affected, including resources for assessment (e.g. similar to the Dissuasion Committees used in Portugal) and the effective treatment of the individuals concerned...

The programme for Government states: "Completing work and commencing implementation of a new National Drugs Strategy within 12 months." That time has well and truly lapsed. We can no longer keep making excuses. The Government signed up to delivering this, but it has not done so. We cannot keep pushing out the goal posts because it suits people to dodge making real decisions. Why is the national drug strategy not complete and when will it be completed? The Minister of State might share the details with us.

  Importantly, the programme for Government also states: "We will support a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drugs use." I welcome this positive commitment, which presents an opportunity. It is about being brave, moving forward, making difficult decisions and legislating.

  This Bill is the beginning of a process. I commend Senators Ruane and Ó Ríordáin on leading on this matter, but if anyone can make it better, he or she should come to the Chamber and engage in the various Stages of the legislative process to do so. I support the Bill and commend all involved in preparing it. I also commend all of those who shared their personal experiences to bring the Bill to this point.

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I understand that Senator Reilly wishes to share his time with Senator Byrne at four minutes each.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly It will be six and two, if that is all right. Actually, it will be five and three.

Acting Chairman (Senator John O'Mahony): Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I welcome the Minister of State to the House again and thank Senator Ruane for raising this important issue through the Bill. She has told us of her personal life experience of this issue and is passionate about it. Having worked with the Minister of State for many years, I know her also to be someone with tremendous passion about it as well as considerable compassion. I cannot think of anyone better to be responsible for this area in government.

  The national drug strategy group is due to report within weeks. Senator Boyhan is right, in that we are legislators with a duty to legislate, but we also have a duty to ensure that our laws are sound and do not bring about unforeseen consequences. Already, there is a strong view that the Bill could, as currently construed, not just decriminalise this issue, but legalise drugs, which is not something that we would want to see.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I would.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly Some might, but I would not.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I have wanted to for 30 years.

Senator James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly As a doctor who has worked for the past 34 years as a general practitioner as well as several years in Oberstown dealing with young people who had fallen foul of the courts and had drug addiction problems, I believe strongly - most Senators do - that this is a health issue and should be treated as such. I have received many emails from people who work in this field all over the country whom I admire and whose work I admire. I believe in the principle of what the Bill tries to achieve and support that. We need a system outside of the courts that can deal with this as a health issue.

  As an aside, I heard today of a doctor who had been addicted for several years but has since recovered and is now a well-respected specialist in that doctor's field.  The only reason I make the point is that it reminds me of how many people can recover to lead very productive lives, be very much part of society, have families and children, and contribute. I genuinely do not believe that putting people in jail or giving them a criminal record is the way to deal with this issue. I particularly think of younger people who, whether we like it or not, are going to experiment with life. To be caught and have a criminal record which stays with them and prevents them from travelling internationally to certain areas and which makes employment a much more difficult challenge for them is clearly wrong.

  I want very much to support the principles behind this Bill. I know there are problems with it and that we have agreed we will adjourn its progress. Like Senator Colm Burke, I would be very much committed to making sure this Bill does progress and that we do not have a situation like I had myself. As was mentioned, back in 2009, I had a very simple Bill in regard to medical insurance for doctors before they could register as doctors, and it only passed last week, despite the fact I had been Minister for Health myself. We have to overcome the difficulties that can arise. I agree with Senator Boyhan that we are here to do a job and we should do a job. We should do it in order that we can benefit the people we are here to represent. Given we have cross-party support for this issue, I believe we can decriminalise this area and give people who become addicted to both legal and illegal drugs, but especially illegal drugs, a real future, a real chance and real support, and that we show real compassion. We will all be the better for it and the richer for it too.

Senator Maria Byrne: Information on Maria Byrne Zoom on Maria Byrne I thank Senator Reilly for agreeing to share his time. This is a very important opportunity to discuss our approach to people who come into contact with the criminal justice system as a result of drug use. I compliment Senator Ruane and think it a very well-intentioned Bill. It seeks to address drug use as a social and health issue rather than as a criminal justice matter, which I believe is the correct approach. However, it is important to have a compassionate and humane approach without losing sight of the victims of crime. I believe there is a general acceptance of the need to divert drug users into treatment services that promote recovery, and Senator Ruane spoke very passionately about that in her speech. We must ensure there is a proper approach to the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use. The Portuguese system is the one Ireland is predominately looking at, and perhaps we should also look at other international practice in this regard. However, I would not agree with the legalisation of drug use, and I would be very firm on that.

  We need a framework in Ireland to protect public health from the risks attached to using dangerous or harmful substances. I spent many years on my local drugs task force where many such issues were raised. I know a report is being prepared for the Minister. Given the experience of the drugs task forces and what they have dealt with over the years, their reports and recommendations should be firmly taken on board. As I said, there should be a compassionate and humane approach to drug users who come into contact with the criminal justice system, but a change to our legislation on such an important matter requires careful consideration and public buy-in.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I welcome the Minister of State. She is committed in this area, she has a track record and she is someone who actually will do something about it. It is an extraordinary situation. In the Victorian period, people took drugs all over the place and laudanum was rampant. It was at the instigation of the pharmaceutical industry that all this criminalisation came in. I want to fly a flag. I am in favour of the decriminalisation of drugs. I have campaigned on this issue for 30 years. The Portuguese example has been quoted. It is stunning what has happened there. Some 90% of the involvement of the authorities is now treatment and only 10% policing. That is a wonderful record. There were 80 deaths in 2001 but, since the decision was taken, there were just 16 in 2012. The number of heroin addicts in Portugal has halved. That is something we need to look at.

  We cannot simply deal with the addicts, however. We have to deal with the supply side as well. So long as the supply side keeps going, we are going to have the involvement of criminal gangs. I am not in favour of decriminalisation so that everyone in the country should get high. I am in favour of it because drugs are the motivating factor for the overwhelming majority of criminal activity in this country. That is why this should stopped.

  There was a commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government for "a health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drug use". This is the right way to look at it. The Global Commission on Drug Policy has stated that the criminalisation of drug use and possession has little or no impact on levels of drug use. That is a fact. The amount of drug use in this country is quite astonishing. Some 26.4% of Irish adults aged 15 years or older report using an illegal drug in their lifetime, 7.5% within the past 12 months and 4% in the past month. Lifetime usage of cannabis at 24% is considerably higher than any other form of drugs. Therefore, there is a very considerable amount of drug taking in this country.

  I congratulate Senator Ruane on the production of the Bill, as well as Senator Ó Ríordáin. I remember Senator Ó Ríordáin, when he was Minister of State, speaking in this House on this issue. I am very glad it is called the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill. That is what we should be interested in, not criminalisation or penalising people for what is essentially an illness. What we should be doing is ensuring people have access to rehabilitation. This is one of the most important features of the Bill and it is quite visionary.

  The Bill has been gone through to some extent. We note that it decriminalises the possession of small amounts for personal use but continues the capacity to prosecute drug users. In this regard, we should look also at the mandatory sentence of ten years. Some of the big drugs suppliers use eejits as drug mules. If they are caught with an amount of drugs, they are imprisoned automatically for ten years. It should be the real criminals who are targeted. It is splendid that there is a drug dissuasion service intended to manage people out of the situation. It is a very caring Bill. While I will not go through all its provisions, I want to highlight section 20 which refers to a drug awareness programme, a drug rehabilitation programme and a community engagement programme. At subsection (2), it states that the case officer can exercise his or her discretion and not refer someone to a programme if there is a feeling it is not appropriate.

  There is quite a lot of unanimity in this area, particularly on the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality which looked at this situation and issued a report. No. 1 in the report states, "The Committee strongly recommends the introduction of a harm reducing and rehabilitative approach". Let us note the word "strongly". It is not just recommending, it is strongly recommending, and it points to the Portuguese example. As I said, the Minister of State at the time, now Senator Ó Ríordáin, made a speech in February 2016 in the London School of Economics where he spoke in terms of decriminalisation.  I have received a large number of emails from people who strongly support this Bill. Some of them are repetitive and it is obvious that there is some kind of a programme but I welcome that because lobbying is part of the political function.

The Bill proposes to decriminalise the possession of controlled drugs for personal use and to establish a drug dissuasion service. It provides for harm reduction measures for those found in possession of drugs, including drug awareness. One of the striking aspects of the correspondence I received on this matter is the large number of doctors who contacted me. I have here a copy of an email from a doctor whose name, in deference to the House, I will not use. He writes, "Treating patients of addiction as criminals will someday be viewed as a violation of human rights." He is absolutely right. He also states that criminalising patients, "has never been shown to help". This is a doctor who knows what the circumstances are. Another doctor, whose name I will also replace with a blank, writes, "I have worked in addiction services for over 25 years and I believe this Bill, if passed, will be the greatest step forward for Ireland and for its substance users/misusers in the history of drugs legislation." That is an extraordinary statement to make. It is remarkable that somebody who entered the Seanad at the previous election has produced such historic legislation.

Another doctor, whose name I will also leave blank and who works in Beaumont Hospital's psychiatric service, wrote to me expressing total support for the Bill. Another correspondent, this time one who is not a doctor, writes:

I am a father, husband, brother, uncle and an addict in recovery a very long time. I am a Master’s student of the Dublin Institute of Technology and a professionally qualified social worker.

This again is testament from the coalface.

  I understand the reasons the Bill will not be pressed and we will adjourn the debate to allow for consideration of further reports and discussion with the Minister and her advisers to enable a more excellent Bill to be produced. That is what the Oireachtas is about, namely, putting down forward-looking legislation, while accepting that there must be co-operation and dialogue between the proposer of the Bill and the Minister responsible and her advisers and civil servants. This is a good day for Seanad Éireann and I am honoured to have been allowed to speak in the debate on this welcome Bill.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The previous occupant of the Chair asked me to apologise for failing to call Senator Colette Kelleher. The Senator will be the next speaker.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile We have not had a speaker yet.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I apologise. Senator Kelleher has the floor.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile The Senator can go ahead. We will speak after her.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I am just doing what the previous occupant informed me.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile It is fine, honestly.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan Is Sinn Féin all right with that?

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

Senator Colette Kelleher: Information on Colette Kelleher Zoom on Colette Kelleher I thank Sinn Féin. I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of this enlightened, humane, informed, realistic and practical Bill introduced by Senators Ruane and Ó Ríordáin. The purpose of the Bill is to achieve decriminalisation. Claims that it is about legalising drugs are misleading and a red herring and I am disappointed that Senators Reilly, McFadden and Byrne spoke in those terms. While the legalisation of drugs could be a topic for discussion on another day, this Bill is not about legalisation. I am pleased the debate will adjourn and the Bill will be re-introduced soon after the publication of the national drugs strategy.

  The Bill faces up to the fact that people, including perhaps current and former Members of the House, use drugs. Members may even use them tonight and we need to face reality. It faces up to the fact that people have deep addictions and that prohibition and abstention as an approach to drug use and addiction - the "Just Say No" approach - simply does not work. We only have to walk around Dublin, Cork or any country town, village or community to realise that the war on drugs, as Senator Ó Ríordáin stated, was well and truly lost everywhere a long time ago. If we are honest, we will know this is true from families and friends, and that it is especially true of all those who have died as a result of addictions and lived or are living miserable, partial lives. Efforts and money have been wasted on futile endeavours.

  The Bill faces up to the fact that criminalising people who use drugs or have addictions is unkind and does not work. It faces up to the fact that criminalising people for possession of small amounts of controlled drugs for personal reasons does not deter them from potentially harmful drug taking, help them with their addictions or reduce harm, but damages their lives and life chances, drawing them into rather than away from the criminal justice system.

  There is a vast body of evidence and plenty of facts to support the provisions of the Bill and Senators will have heard this evidence during the debate. I speak in favour of the Bill informed and influenced by the facts on decriminalisation and harm reduction. I will use my time to speak through the lens of people I know or, sadly, once knew. I have in mind, for example, a man I knew well through Cork Simon Community, a marathon runner, poet and painter who was also a survivor of dreadful abuse in an industrial school and had drug and alcohol addictions. I remember, when I met this man, that he took me aside and said, "Colette, girl, sleeping rough was heaven after sleeping in fear of them coming after you at night." Drugs and alcohol masked his pain of abuse and trauma. I would go so far as to say that deep addictions are often driven by deep trauma.

  In advocating for this Bill, I also remember a young woman who died on Christmas Day from a drug overdose. I am thinking of the woman I knew who died on the streets of Cork one dreadful Christmas week and whose daughter, whom I meet on the streets of Cork, also has deep addictions. I once read that trauma not transformed is trauma transferred and it struck a chord. I also have in mind a young woman, a school friend of my daughter, who was abused and neglected until the age of four years when she was eventually adopted. She is now parted from her own little girl and uses drugs to ease her pain. I think of the young man I know who lost his job because he was found in possession of a very small amount of controlled drugs. Since his conviction, he has drifted, lost confidence and lost his way. I think of a school friend of mine, a fellow Capricorn whose birthday was in December. My birthday is in January and we used to go to each other's birthday parties. I think of a woman whose son is the very same age as my son and who died as a result of an accidental overdose.

  Criminalisation of the possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use caused nothing but harm to the people I mentioned and does nothing for the many people with addictions who will use drugs today or tomorrow. I know from my life and work that people in deep addiction are not put off drug taking, often harmful and fatal, because drug possession is illegal. Criminalisation does not bring health care, housing, clean needles, counselling, hope of job prospects or something to live for. It brings nothing. It wastes the time of the Garda and criminal justice system and breaks the hearts of families who are desperate for help for the people they love. It breaks the spirit of those who are working against the tide, including community workers, the general practitioners to whom Senator Norris referred and others who are frustrated by the futility of criminalisation. The effects of criminalisation are a chronic lack of the range and depth of supports needed by people who use drugs and have addictions. They do not have accessible supports, provided with kindness and judgment when and where they are needed. If an addict decides to get clean tomorrow, it may well be too late three weeks later because he or she needs to be able to access the help he or she needs immediately.

  The Bill, if passed, would signal a transformation in how we face up to the realities of drug use and addiction. The measures proposed would save and transform lives.  The establishment of an activist, kind, skilled non-judgmental and holistic drug dissuasion service, as this Bill proposes, would save and would transform lives. I urge the Minister of State to face up to the realities of Ireland and the realities of drug use and addictions, to be politically brave and to do what she knows to be right. Instead of condemning and criminalising people who are in trauma and in trouble we need to put our efforts to good and useful effect to help them. We need to support and not stigmatise people who are often in deep trauma and to back up this grown-up Bill for a grown-up Ireland. I thank Senators Ruane and Ó Ríordáin and all the civil society organisations involved, including the people who influenced the Senators and whose lives inspired and encouraged them to bring this enlightened, humane, informed, realistic and practical Bill to the Seanad.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I apologise to Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile. He was on the top of the list but the previous occupant of the Chair may have inadvertently misinformed me.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Please do not worry at all about it. We shall not fall out over it. It is always a great pleasure to follow Senator Kelleher, especially on an issue such as this where she is engaged in a very sincere and passionate way.

  The Minister of State is very welcome. Much of what I had intended to say has been said already, so I will avoid overt or unnecessary repetition on some of the sentiments that have been expressed by colleagues in their contributions.

  I thank Senator Ruane for bringing this motion before us today, and I also thank Senator Ó Ríordáin for seconding it. Regardless of where one falls in this piece of legislation, or indeed in the broader argument, I do not believe that any of us could deny that it is a significant, substantial and passionate piece of work. The passion, dedication and commitment is written all over it. One can see it in the i's dotted and t's crossed. Fair play to Lynn and her colleagues who have contributed to that hard work.

  I want to refer back to come of Senator Boyhan's comments on what we are trying to do here, what we are about and what we should be about as legislators in the Seanad. Sinn Féin did not sign the Bill because there are elements of the Bill we are opposed to and elements of the Bill we would have sought to change. Sinn Féin would have supported and voted for the passage of the Bill on Committee Stage in order to do exactly what Senator Boyhan is advocating us to do. This is to bring forward equally passionate, equally sincere and equally hopeful amendments to make the legislation better for the benefit of the people who need it. We do agree fundamentally and I am sure the Minister of State, in her heart of hearts, also agrees with the primary objective of the Bill, which is to reduce harm by making greater use of health interventions or community based sanctions rather than custodial sentences where a person's crime is solely possession for personal use and where such interventions would be more appropriate. This is why we should hone in on that aspect of the matter and I urge colleagues to not engage in any scaremongering around decriminalisation or legalisation as a blanket term for this legislation because it is not necessarily the case. I know this view might resonate with some tabloids or media outlets but it should not be the aspect we focus on today. The standard of work that has been put into the Bill warrants an equal standard of response from Senators in how we examine it and the contributions we give in the Chamber.

  In moving this legislation forward I shall take the wisdom of Senator Ó Ríordáin and will not make an issue of why we will not have a vote to move it on today. We could do that but I do not believe it is in keeping with the spirit of the debate thus far. It would not be in concert with what we ultimately want to try to achieve. This is not about new politics or anything like that, it is actually about doing politics well and right. Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same mistakes over and over. All the statistics on the issues are there and a blind man or woman on a galloping horse can see that all the best intentioned policies and strategies thus far have not made the difference we wanted in the so-called war on drugs. This is why we will seek to amend this legislation.

  The core principle and spirit of the Bill's proposed legislation represents everything that new politics should be. It is about trying to look at a societal problem that is staring us right in the face in the most tragic and awful ways with people suffering greatly as a result of dependency on drugs. Anyone who comes in to the House in a spirit of trying to assist and change that is to be commended, supported and co-operated with in trying to achieve that goal, one which we can all live with as politicians and elected representatives but, most important and critically, a goal that can start to make a tangible change in our society.

  Without over egging and hamming it up - and I do not say this to be contentious or controversial - I grew up at a time and in an environment in Belfast when people who were using or selling drugs were shot, knee-capped and killed. That never stopped people from taking or dealing drugs. If we look at the same issues and our current strategic policy direction then why would people stop taking drugs? If a person is going to take somebody into an entrance and shoot them and it does not stop them engaging in drug use, then why do we think that what we have been doing over and over again is going to stop them? I do not say this to be controversial. I say it because I believe this discussion warrants frank contributions. We would do people a disservice if we do not speak frankly about the realities of the matter.

  I know the Minister of State is hearing us and she is committed to the issue. I have heard the Minister of State speak before on these issues. I know she shares a desire to see a change in policy and, hopefully, to see a change in society that ultimately starts to treat the issues highlighted in this Bill with the kind of legislation it deserves. I hate to engage in clichés or rhetoric but I cannot think of any other term other than to say it must be about putting people first. It has to think of the individuals who are suffering as a result and it has to be reacted to in a way that looks after their health and well-being. By directing the affected people onto a path that is about their recovery I believe it will ultimately benefit the Minister of State's Department and the resources of Government by taking these people away from the criminal justice system and away from some of the issues they face as a result of their drug dependency.

  I am in no way advocating a soft approach to the people who peddle drugs to the most vulnerable sections of our society. I believe they should feel the full rigours of the law. People who poison communities on a broad, wholesale level are doing more of a disservice than anybody to the people we are trying to help through this debate today. While I advocate and support fully the primary objective of the Bill, which is to deal with the situation as a health care issue, I appreciate there is a balance to be struck. I fully acknowledge that regardless of our best intentions there are people out there who are intent on harming communities and they must be faced down also.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Catherine Byrne): Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne When I was appointed as a Minister of State last year the first thing I did was to contact Senator Ruane and a number of Deputies and Senators to discuss the national drug strategy with them. I felt it was an important start for me to get the views of everyone and not just of political parties. At the time I made it my business to listen and to note, but above all to listen to things we do not normally do in here and to think outside the box. I believe this is thinking outside the box.  It is a conversation that is long overdue. I am delighted that Senator Ruane has brought the matter to the Seanad this evening. We have had long conversations about it over the past few days and have had hiccups here and there. I want to make it very clear that no matter who is in this job next week or next year, legislation passed by the Dáil and the Seanad must be in line with the law. We cannot just pass legislation for the sake of it. We have to dot all the "i"s and cross all the "t"s. That is what today is about. I thank Senator Ruane for her co-operation in allowing the debate to adjourn this evening for reasons I will outline shortly.

I thank Senator Ruane for tabling the Bill. I thank all who are in the Chamber this evening and those who have been present for debates on the national drugs strategy in these Houses in the past. The Bill provides an important opportunity to discuss our approach to people who come into contact with the criminal justice system as a result of their drug use. I am aware that Senator Ruane has genuine concerns about those who find themselves in this situation. I would like to say from the outset that I share those concerns, as do most normal-thinking people. We would all agree that people need a second chance and that we need to look after the most vulnerable among us.

I believe the Bill is well intentioned. It seeks to address drug use as a social and health issue rather than as a criminal justice matter. This reflects a growing level of interest in the issue of decriminalisation in Ireland and internationally and is consistent with the programme for Government commitment to support a health-led rather than a criminal justice-led approach to drug use. I believe that what we need is a public health approach to substance misuse. I know there is cross-party support for a compassionate and humane approach to drug users who come into contact with the criminal justice system, without losing sight of the victims of crime.

There is a general acceptance of the need to divert drug users with possession offences away from the courts system, where appropriate, and into treatment services that promote recovery. Criminal convictions, resulting in a lifelong criminal record, can represent a serious impediment for people seeking to move on from drug misuse. Such convictions can limit opportunities for the person concerned, particularly in the areas of access to employment, housing and travel. Senator Ruane and I, in the context of my responsibility for the national drugs strategy, have met many young people around the country who have come out of addiction and still find it very difficult to get a job or a home, or to travel outside the country. I feel very compassionate towards them and am passionate that we need to do something about it. There can be very severe repercussions for young people and their future prospects, which can impact on a drug user’s potential for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

However, finding an alternative approach to criminal sanctions in cases involving possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use is a complex matter and we need to ensure that any changes would be appropriate in an Irish context. In Ireland, there has been a great interest in the Portuguese model, under which it is still an offence to possess illegal drugs, but it is now treated as a civil administrative matter in certain cases. In 2015, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality visited Portugal, held public hearings and produced a report which concluded that a health-led approach, rather than a criminal sanction, may be more effective and more appropriate for those found in possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use. I believe that we need to further explore the Portuguese model and other international models.

Finding an alternative approach to criminal sanctions in cases involving possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use is an issue which now needs to be dealt with in the context of the new national drugs strategy. The national drugs strategy steering committee has been mandated to develop an integrated public health approach to substance misuse. This is consistent with the programme for Government commitment to support a health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drug use. The need for a health-led approach to those with drug-related problems was also raised repeatedly during public consultation on the new strategy. This reflects a welcome change in public attitudes to people with drug problems. The steering committee on the new strategy is expected to report within the next two weeks. This report will advise on the future direction of Government policy to tackle the drug problem, and will address a number of the issues raised in the Bill.

The steering committee has considered the case for a health-led and harm reducing approach to the needs of those found in possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use. I understand the committee felt a number of issues needed to be looked at before it could recommend any change in policy in this area. In Ireland, substances that may cause harm and which are prone to misuse are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Under the legislation, unless expressly allowed to do so, it is illegal to possess, supply, manufacture, import or export a controlled substance. The objective of the legislative framework is to protect the public from dangerous or potentially dangerous and harmful substances. We will continue to need a framework in Ireland to protect public health from the risks attached to using dangerous or harmful substances. We need to understand the potential impact and outcomes for the individual, the family and society. We need to ensure that we incorporate well thought out and workable processes in any proposal. It would also be important to understand the consequences of any alternative model for the health system and the criminal justice system. It is intended that the report of the national drugs strategy steering committee, which is due shortly, will outline a recommendation to establish a working group to examine this issue in more detail, which would report to the Minister responsible within 12 months.

While I believe the Bill is well intentioned, I do have significant and serious issues with parts of it. The Misuse of Drugs Acts are designed to prevent the abuse of certain drugs and to regulate the various professional activities associated with such substances. It imposes prohibitions on various activities associated with controlled drugs but contains provisions and positive obligations to ensure that certain controlled drugs are available and that persons or classes of persons are enabled to do certain things with those drugs for medical, industrial and scientific purposes. Possession is the most basic offence under the Acts and is a constituent element of many other offences contained within the Acts. The Bill removes the prohibition on and the offence of possession and replaces it with nothing. This would adversely affect the ability to control these potent and dangerous drugs. The Bill would effectively legalise possession of all drugs for personal use and would mean that a person in possession of controlled drugs could not be prosecuted under the misuse of drugs legislation, where the quantity is determined to be for personal use. It would become effectively legal to possess drugs like heroin, cocaine, cannabis and so-called legal highs such as 25I NBOMe or n-bombs. This is not decriminalisation; this is de factolegalisation.

The Bill removes the offence of possession and replaces it with nothing. This is a problem as I believe that legislation has to be carefully crafted to ensure that no unintended or undesirable consequences occur. Another area of concern for me is the fact that under this Bill, the Minister would set the quantities of each drug deemed to be for personal use. This would prove very difficult, considering the huge number of different drugs available and the different effects they have on the body. In Cork last year, when some young lads dabbled in taking tablets unfortunately one of them passed away. Every individual is different and people may have different physical reactions to taking a certain drug. I would therefore find it difficult, as a Minister, to quantify how much of which drugs people could take on a legal basis.

The misuse of drugs legislation is complex. Any amendments to it must be carefully considered and constructed so as not to undermine other provisions within the legislation. The possession of controlled drugs is the fundamental offence created under the Misuse of Drugs Acts and possession is a constituent element of many other offences under the Acts. In replacing section 3, the Bill as proposed undermines a tenet crucial to the construction of the entire misuse of drugs legislation in Ireland. It removes the prohibition on and the offence of possession of controlled drugs. Without the fundamental prohibition and offence of possession there can be no practical or legitimate mechanisms for controlling the import, manufacture, production, preparation or transportation of controlled drugs for their many legitimate and important medical, industrial and scientific uses.  This includes the use by health care professionals or patients with a prescription. We need a compassionate and humane approach to drug users who come into contact with the criminal justice system, but a change to our legislation on such an important matter requires careful consideration and public buy-in. As a result, this is a matter that needs to be dealt with under the national drugs strategy, and dealt with as a matter of urgency. I look forward to bringing my proposals for a new national drugs strategy to Government at the earliest opportunity, so that we can start the process of implementing an integrated public health approach to the drugs problem in our society.

  I commend Senator Ruane on the work she has done on this Bill. It has not gone away. This is only the beginning of this Bill and I will do anything I can, with the working group on the national drugs strategy, to help put in place a Bill that covers all angles and does not leave us open to any legal challenge, which is the most important point. We have to accept that when a Bill comes into either House, it has to be scrutinised not only by the Minister and Department, but by the Legislature. We found complications in the Bill which we need to examine in more detail and rectify. Above all, we must not stop the conversation on this issue. I commend the Senator because what she has done this evening has opened an avenue to many people who would never have been able to stand up and speak openly about their addiction and how it has affected their families, their communities and the Irish people. I thank her and I thank the Seanad for giving me time to speak here this evening. Whether I remain in this job or not, I will continue to help the national drugs strategy because we all have a voice in bringing legislation forward. That is very important.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan As the time for the debate has concluded, I call on the Leader to move the adjournment of the debate.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I am happy for the adjournment to be moved but I would like to clarify one issue before that because it is an important point of order to finish on.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan We are not finishing the debate today. There are two further speakers, Senators Warfield and Black. We are adjourning the debate.

  Does Senator Ruane have a point of order?

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane Yes, but I have to give permission for the debate to be adjourned because it is my Private Members' time.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The House will decide. I call on the Leader.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I want to make a point of order about parts of the Bill that are not factual.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan With respect to the Senator, they are not points of order. The Senator will-----

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane If wrong facts were given out-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator will have the opportunity to conclude the debate when it is resumed.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane The Tánaiste's officials, an ex-Attorney General and the justice spokespersons for other parties have not once raised a concern about legalisation. I need to make that point before we adjourn. This Bill does not in any way promote legalisation.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator is out of order. I call the Leader to move the adjournment.

Debate adjourned.

EU Regulations: Motions

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I move:

That Seanad Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to accept the following measure:
Regulation (EU) 2017/353 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2017 replacing Annexes A and B to Regulation (EU) 2015/848 on insolvency proceedings,
a copy of which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 13 April 2017.”

  Question put and agreed to.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I move:

That Seanad Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:
Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council adapting a number of legal acts in the area of Justice providing for the use of the regulatory procedure with scrutiny to Article 290 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,
a copy of which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 12 January 2017.”

  Question put and agreed to.

Proposed Sale of AIB Shares: Statements

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I thank all the Senators for this opportunity to address the House and to give a brief update on the progress made in returning Allied Irish Banks, AIB, to private ownership and the continued normalisation of the State's involvement in the Irish banking system. Yesterday evening, I published an intention to float, ITF, announcement, indicating that the Department of Finance is preparing for the sale of around 25% of the State's shareholding in AIB. This announcement marks the start of an initial public offering, IPO, process which is expected to culminate in the disposal of these shares towards the end of June. I believe that the issuing of an ITF marks a significant milestone in returning our banking sector to a sustainable and normalised environment. Much work has been conducted at EU level to break the link between the State and the banking system and ensure that instances of taxpayer funded bailouts do not reoccur in the future. Exiting our equity investments in the banks is a natural part of this process and will reduce contingency liabilities for the State.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Will we get copies of the Minister's speech?

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Copies are coming across from the Department. As soon as they come, they will be distributed. The Senators will have to listen carefully until then.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan That is the old teacher in the Minister.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan These disposals will also help reduce our elevated national debt and can foster further competition in the Irish banking market, by removing any perception of State interference that might dissuade new entrants. I have previously made the case, and it is this Government's firm view, that the State should not own and support banks when the capital markets are willing and able to provide this function. Equity investments in any sector are risky propositions and the State's resources are better allocated to more appropriate areas. Moreover, the issuing of an ITF reaffirms the Government's commitment to recovering its investment in AIB for the benefit of the Irish people.

  During the financial crisis the country was forced to make significant investments in AIB to protect the wider economy, reaching a total of €20.8 billion. We have already recouped €6.6 billion of this, through disposals, interest charges, coupons and fees. The Department of Finance, supported by advice received through 2015 and 2016 from our financial advisers, Rothschild and, previously, Goldman Sachs, did considerable work to identify the optimal route to maximise the value of our investment over time. It is clear from our analysis, given the size of the State's investment, that an IPO followed by the gradual sell down of our remaining shareholding over time, represents our best opportunity to achieve this. The advantage of a sell down through the stock market is that it allows us de-risk our exposure over time as circumstances permit. While we benefit from the proceeds of disposals along the way, at the same time the State can recoup the value of an improvement in the bank's prospects over the medium term through the remaining investment.  I have given careful consideration to the timing of an ITF announcement and made my announcement this week based on advice from my officials, our banking syndicate and our independent financial advisor, Rothschild. I am confident that conditions are currently conducive to achieving a successful transaction. Current stock market conditions are encouraging, with US and UK markets close to all-time highs and bank stocks trading positively. My officials inform me that the Irish macro-economic story is resonating well with international investors. The strong financial performance of AIB in recent reporting periods is also a factor in the timing of this announcement. The bank has now delivered three and a half years of profits, is well capitalised and, with the full approval of its regulator, was in a position to pay a dividend on the basis of its 2016 annual results, which is the first time it has paid a dividend since 2008. Investors can now see the significant progress made by the bank and its achievements so far in reducing its non-performing loans and will therefore be prepared to put a fair and reasonable value on the bank's equity.

  Some Opposition Members have mistakenly sought to draw a connection between the implementation of our banking sector policy and the constraints on the State’s ability to increase our national spending imposed by the European Union Stability and Growth Pact. This is a mistake for two simple reasons. First, it unnecessarily conflates two separate and discrete policy areas. We are in a good position to make significant progress in the normalisation of our banking sector, reducing our contingent liabilities and fostering greater competition as I have described already. This progress is in no way related to, or contingent on, the application of the fiscal rules. It would be entirely counterproductive to conflate the two. Second, to identify potential income from an IPO as cash available to the State is to misunderstand the constraints on capital spending. The sale of financial assets such as bank shares are transactions which do not result in a beneficial impact on the general Government balance under EUROSTAT rules. Such disposals are classified as financial transactions that essentially involve the exchange of one form of asset, such as shares, for another, such as cash. Consequently, the sale of any shareholding in AIB would not count as general Government revenue. Moreover, in terms of investing in infrastructure, it is a not a shortage of cash that is inhibiting additional investment in infrastructure but the fact that we have reached the ceiling under the fiscal rules. The issue is our capacity legally to spend additional moneys or capital, not its availability.

  The fiscal rules are enshrined in Irish law in the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2012 which followed from the referendum where this question was put to the Irish people, who decided by a majority of 60:40 that that Act was an appropriate way in which to control future expenditure. My strong view is that public indebtedness rose partly due to the recapitalisation of the banks. The appropriate way of treating one-off revenue from divesting the State of its banking assets is to use these proceeds towards debt reduction and to reduce the cost of debt servicing in future years. The strategy of reducing the national debt is consistent with Government policy of repaying borrowing previously undertaken to finance the bailout of the banking sector during the financial crisis. This policy has been clearly articulated by the Government since 2011 and has been consistently endorsed by several market analysts and international financial institutions. It has been argued in some quarters that the revenue should not be used to repay debt simply because it would have little or no impact on the overall debt-to-GDP ratio. I reiterate that it is precisely because the nominal amount of debt is so high that the impact might be considered small but this makes the need to reduce the debt level all the more pressing. The decision to proceed with an initial public offering, IPO, of AIB is an opportunity to reflect on the progress made in returning the bank, and the banking sector generally, to more stable, normal business activity which can provide services to the public in a prudent and competitive manner as well as facilitating investment and enterprise in our wider economy.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive statement. As it is likely though not certain that this may be the last time he addresses Members of this House as Minister for Finance, I wish him the very best in his future endeavours and a long and happy time when his period as Minister for Finance ends. I thank him for all his efforts on behalf of the State.

  This debate concerns statements on the proposed sale of AIB shares, not the motion that was originally alluded to by the Labour Party and, therefore, we are discussing the former, not the latter. There are issues in the motion which I would address were it up for discussion. However, I will confine my remarks to the topic of statements on the proposed sale of AIB shares. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic.

  Fianna Fáil supports the gradual and responsible return of AIB to the private sector and agrees with the proposed sale of 25% of the State's shareholding of AIB. The party's position is that, provided market conditions are sufficient to secure the best return for the taxpayer, the sale would be a positive development. The Government has access to much expert advice in that regard to which we do not. As mentioned by the Minister, the Government has decided that now is an optimal time for the sale following professional advice from Rothschild and others. AIB returned to profitability in 2014 and has returned €6.6 billion of the €20.8 billion that the State put into it during the crisis. At the time that AIB was taken into State ownership, there was no European banking union or Single Resolution Mechanism in place to restructure European banks. It must also be recognised both here and in Europe that the bank bailout in Ireland saved other countries from bailing out their banks.

  To give some background detail, AIB was nationalised on 23 December 2010 in order to safeguard the financial system in Ireland and Europe. The State, as I said, has put €20.8 billion into AIB and €64 billion into the banks in general to date in order to stabilise the financial system. As a further measure, AIB and the Educational Building Society, EBS, were merged on 26 May 2011. As part of the merger, EBS was de-mutualised and turned into a regular limited company. EBS continues to operate under that name and the ownership of AIB. AIB officials have acknowledged that the EBS brand is now probably an even more valuable brand in its own right. AIB returned to profitability in 2014. In 2015, it redeemed preference shares in the amount of €1.7 billion and in 2016, AIB redeemed loan notes issued to it in 2011 by the State. This involved paying €1.6 billion together with €160 million in interest, totalling €1.76 billion. AIB's financial position has been steadily improving as it is aiming to simplify its business model and this year it announced a dividend for the first time since 2008, which totalled €250 million.

  The Minister for Finance is proceeding with the sale of 25% of AIB based, as he said, on the advice he has been given. It is difficult to ascertain at this point how the 25% share will be valued by the market. It is likely to be worth in the region of €2 billion to €3 billion. That is a guesstimate. A difference of €1 billion is a great deal of money and we will not know the market value until the IPO has commenced and ultimately completed. Fianna Fáil believes that conditions seem correct for proceeding with the IPO. The instability that engulfed European banks last year does not seem to be as evident or pronounced this year. In addition, in the context of Brexit and other uncertainties surrounding the euro, now may be a better time to sell than some time in the future. Again, one never knows what may happen. Many companies undergo IPOs. Some wish they had not at the time they did while some wish they had. It is an uncertain process.

  The AIB shares are currently held by the NTMA and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. Under European fiscal rules, this will be deemed a financial transaction and the assets converted to cash. As it is deemed to be a financial transaction, the revenue received from the sale is not recognised in the general Government balance. Therefore, if we were to use the proceeds to invest in capital expenditure, we would most likely be breaking the rules. Our expenditure would go up but revenue would not. The Minister has indicated his intention to use the proceeds to pay down the national debt. There will always be competing objectives in terms of debt if we are selling as part of a gradual and timely unwind of AIB shares to return the company from 99.8% State control back to the private sector.  We are never actively sure when is the best time to do so but over time I think it is the best course of action.

  The EU Stability and Growth Pact and the fiscal rules are vital for ensuring fiscal stability and responsibility across the eurozone. While we would like to see the rules changed, we do not believe the sale should be delayed due to those rules.

  In an uncertain world, we do not know what the financial markets will be like in the future. Ireland faces a major capital investment deficit in part due to the money that went into all of the various banks, including AIB. Our capital expenditure has been inadequate, as we alluded to yesterday when we discussed the mid-term capital review. Many of us understand that the inadequacy is due to a lack of resources. We have major challenges, including a rapidly growing population, with very significant projections up to 2040, as well as Brexit.

  The Fianna Fáil position is clear: provided that the professional assessment is that the conditions are right for the IPO to proceed then it should proceed. We will support the initiative for all of the reasons I have outlined. We believe the Government has lacked the level of ambition we would like to see when it comes to capital funding. We have called on the Government to seek support from the European Commission to see if it can use some or all of the proceeds from the sale of AIB for capital expenditure.

  To conclude, we will only know with the benefit of hindsight how good or otherwise this decision has been. The Minister has taken very significant professional advice and we have to rely on that kind of advice. We just hope, for all of our sakes, for the state of the country and for the future of this island that we get the best return for this money. We would prefer if the money was used for capital funding but I appreciate the rules do not allow us to do so at the moment.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I welcome the Minister for Finance to the House. I acknowledge the enormous amount of work that he has done in managing the economic crisis of this country for many years. I am also conscious that this may be one of the last times he appears here as Minister for Finance but maybe I am being presumptuous. I am always conscious about political legacy and the sale of a quarter of the AIB shares may be his final political legacy.

  In principle, I welcome the gradual and managed disposal of these shares. I also welcome private involvement in any bank going forward. We must learn from many of the mistakes. The AIB has been effectively nationalised. This is the people's bank. This is the people's money. This debt is on Ireland Inc. and on nobody else. Therefore, we must always be conscious of the damage that was done by AIB and many other banks in terms of small business and family finance. The situation led to all sorts of macro and microfinancial disasters and implications for this country.

  What has the Minister proposed? He has proposed that the State sell a quarter of AIB's shares. Analyst predictions published in the Financial Times yesterday, and in other financial reports today and sources within the Department of Finance, and I am open to correction, have predicted that we could net €3 billion from the sale of a quarter of AIB. If that is the case, does that value the bank at €12 billion? Maybe I have been presumptuous to reach that conclusion. I ask the Minister to express his view on the matter.   It is important to remember that this Government or the previous Governments and Administrations pumped €21 billion into AIB from 2009 to 2011 and so effectively completely nationalised AIB by December 2010. That is the scale of the financial commitment made by the State - €21 billion was pumped into AIB - yet we are now selling a quarter of it for €3 billion, and we might not even get that sum.

  Why has the Minister for Finance made this proposal? The British election is about to take place and there is political uncertainty in this country. Is this the right time for the sale? I presume he got professional advice on the sale and it was his only consideration when he made the decision to bring his proposal to Cabinet for approval.

   We represent the public but sometimes we get caught up in this little bubble called Leinster House. What does the public want? If we get all of this money then we must be responsible and the Government must pay down some of its debt. We have a serious and critical infrastructure deficit in this country. We also have a major housing crisis. We also have a major crisis in the health sector. We also have a major crisis in education and, for that matter, in other supports allied to all of those areas. The public has an expectation. We would fail the public if we did not communicate that expectation to the Minister which is, at best, all that we can do. The money should be split or divvied up. We must adopt a commonsense approach and pay down some of our national debt. Some of the money should be siphoned off and invested in capital expenditure, infrastructure, health and education.

  I thank the Minister for taking time to come in here, for giving us the information and for listening to us. The public want to know the following. Where is all of this money? They have made sacrifices and suffered greatly. The Government committed €21 billion. One can be excited to get €3 billion but the figure does not represent anything like the money that was pumped into AIB. I acknowledge in principle the importance of getting the bank back into the private sector and trading as a stand-alone entity away from the State.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell I welcome my constituency colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to the Chamber and commend him on this partial flotation of AIB. Like everyone else, I acknowledge the fantastic work he has done as both Minister for Finance and long-term Minister at the Departments of Health, Energy, Industry, Commerce and Trade, and Justice. I thank him for his dedicated service to Limerick and nationally, and more recently in terms of his period as Minister for Finance. He has guided us through these difficult times and it has been a pleasure to have been a colleague of his for so long.

  I shall now deal with today's issue. As much as €21 billion of taxpayers' money went into AIB, which is a phenomenal amount of money particularly when one considers that the annual budget for the Department of Health is €13 billion and that for the Department of Education and Skills is €8 billion. When I talk about taxpayers, I am talking about everyone. I mean people who pay VAT on items that they purchase, unemployed people and every person living here. When Ireland was bankrupt, a decision was taken to keep a banking system alive by pumping in that level of funding. We cannot get away from the basic financial principle that one must repay borrowed money. The national debt is currently €200 billion, which is a frightening sum.

  Two elements are missing from this discussion. First, I fundamentally believe that we need a properly functioning banking system. At present the State controls nearly 100% of AIB. We need to nurse AIB back to health. For the first time ever, AIB has paid a dividend. It is also making a profit. It is extremely important that legislation is brought in. Do the banks realise that they have a level of responsibility? I am of the opinion that when reckless trading took place, the banks were of the view that the State would bail them out. They can never have that view again. A European resolution mechanism has been set up to ensure that it is a European-wide responsibility and not just the responsibility of the State. There is obviously an element of judgment as to the timing of the flotation. It is about getting the maximum amount of money. Obviously there is the advice that the Minister has received, which is coupled with the fact that there has been a general strong response since the French elections. We also have uncertainty due to the UK election that will take place and Brexit going ahead.   I wish the Minister well and I hope that good price is obtained for the shares when they are floated on the market in the middle of June. If the proceeds were used for capital investment, they would, under European rules, add to our national debt, whereas not doing so will pare down the debt. It is extremely important that people are aware of that. The sale of 25% of the shares is part of the programme for Government. Opposition parties continually say that Governments do not deliver on what is in their programmes for Government but the Minister, Deputy Noonan, has done so. They cannot have it both ways. It was agreed that we would dispose of 25% and we have disposed of 25%, meaning we will be left with 75% of the company.

  In the graveyard years for the Irish economy between 2010 and more recent times, infrastructural investment dipped to a level that was far too low. As a result, we now have to improve our infrastructure and I would expect a couple of things in this regard. The Minister has met Andrew McDowell, the vice president of the European Investment Bank who came before the finance committee recently and discussed with it the possibility of the bank providing funding to allow the State to invest in capital projects. This avenue has to be pursued, but the European Investment Bank will not give money for free or in respect of projects that do not stand up to scrutiny. It will, however, give it at low interest provided the projects are there. As a result, it is extremely important that, during the mid-term capital review, heavy due diligence is done on projects. The Minister and I are based in Limerick and the M20, which links Limerick to Cork, is a huge project for all of us in the mid-west. I hope it finds its way back into the capital plan.

  People say that our national debt is at such a level that €3 billion will only make a small dent in it but every euro makes a difference. We have to start somewhere in order to reduce our national debt. There may be scope for flexibility as the economy proceeds to recover and the Minister mentioned a ratio of 45%. At any rate, we must bring the debt down to 55% at least. Once the review of the capital plan is completed, the Government should engage heavily with the European Investment Bank. It is extremely important that we engage with Europe to look at the fiscal rules and the stability and growth pact and how they measure capital investment and stability and growth targets. As we continue to release the State's AIB holding to the market, we need to look at how we can use the proceeds and whether there is scope to use them when our debt falls more manageable levels. This is the correct time to proceed and I support the measure. The key thing now is to get the highest possible price. After that, we should engage with Europe to find some flexibility regarding capital projects so that we can raise our level of investment above 2% of gross domestic product. It used to be 4.5% so it is too low.

  I compliment Deputy Noonan on his work as Minister for Finance and across a range of Departments. As a colleague of his in Limerick and the mid-west, I wish him well.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I will share time with my colleague. I will take seven minutes and Senator Warfield will have one minute.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss this very important issue. I also wish him well and I hope he has a happy and healthy retirement. I wish to propose an amendment to the motion.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone These are statements; there is no opportunity to table amendments.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh We were not told that. I am extremely dissatisfied. A motion was presented by the Labour Party and we presented an amendment to it. This is such a serious issue that the motion should have been taken.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone All I know is what is on the Order Paper. We can only make statements and there cannot be a vote on statements. Perhaps it is a matter to raise with the Leader.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh This indicates why we are here.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan If the Senator states her policy position, I will reply.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I will do so. I also have a series of questions which I would like the Minister to address. Sinn Féin believes AIB should be retained as a State bank. It is profitable and there have been dividends for the past three years. It is a profitable asset for the State and those who profited from the bankruptcy of the State and the austerity forced upon Irish citizens are now queuing up to make even more profits. The fundamental belief of Sinn Féin is that the profits and dividends need to go to Irish citizens.

  I have to smile when I hear that we are doing it on the back of advice from Rothschild, and Goldman Sachs before that. Forgive me if I do not have confidence in either of those two organisations. It is well known that they created some of the economic crisis just to profit from it. They are always there to lend a helping hand to weak governments. Senator O'Donnell said we should be aware that if we borrow money it has to be repaid but a lot of money was borrowed by this country and the citizens who never borrowed had to pay for it.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell We borrowed on behalf of the taxpayer; we have to repay the debt on behalf of the taxpayer.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh We have to repay it because we nationalised the debt of the private banks and those who advised and audited the banks at the time.

  Retaining AIB as a State bank would allow us to retain some form of democratic accountability in respect of organisation. I am not talking about political interference in that regard. This democratic accountability has already had a tangible impact on the lives of AIB customers. The pressure applied by the Oireachtas - especially its committees, of one of which, the finance committee, I am a member - has led to significant movements by AIB on key areas of concern for customers such as standard variable rates and the purchase of distressed mortgages by vulture funds.

  These are examples of the leverage that can be used to protect citizens but with any sell-off there will be a transfer of accountability from the Oireachtas to faceless and nameless strangers, the investors to which I refer. As is the case with other banks ruled by private investors, they are either unaware of the hardship faced by certain customers or simply do not care. I doubt if any of them are familiar with the details of the cases with which many of us in this House have had to deal. People cannot sleep at night for fear of the banks chasing them for mortgage arrears. Others were denied tracker rates when they were entitled to them and lost thousands of euro and, in many cases, their homes as a result.  The question of bank closures is also linked to this sell-off. When it is no longer profitable to have a branch remain open, a bank that is driven by private investors in search of huge profits will not think twice about shutting down branches and it will not think twice about rural customers and what they might do for a bank. State banks can work and many state banks are successful. Some of the most stable and successful banks in Europe are state banks. The Minister has not addressed this point at all. Of course, Fine Gael is wedded to the privatisation of public assets. It is no wonder the Minister chooses to ignore this option. This is why any decision to sell part of AIB should be subject to a vote of the Oireachtas. I also want the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach to play a greater role in exploring the possibilities for state-owned banks.

  I know that the Labour Party motion calls for the sale to go ahead, conditional upon the altering of the fiscal rules to allow for the spending on capital investment. This is an admission by the Labour Party that the fiscal rules are bad for Ireland. The very rules that it campaigned in favour of during the referendum are now bad. I ask the Labour Party to join with us in Sinn Féin and with other progressive forces to have these rules changed. I also take issue with the overly simplistic attempt to portray this as an honourable return of money the Irish people had to pay to bail out the banks. This is wrong on two counts. First, in terms of money it represents a loss. Even the chief executive of AIB this morning-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Just to let the Senator know----

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh The Acting Chairman used up my time when I was being heckled by Senator O'Donnell.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I will give the Senator a minute and a half.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell That is the first time I have been known to heckle.

(Interruptions).

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Was it Senator McDowell? Well the Senators' policies are very similar.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I will give the Senator a little bit of extra time.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell It was a Freudian slip.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh We certainly need to hear the answers to these specific questions. Which advisers have been appointed, on what date, and what fee do they stand to receive after the sale? Will the Minister send that detailed information on to us or will he tell us here today? What safeguards are in place to ensure that there is no conflict of interest between the advisers and the potential buyers? Will the Minister confirm that a change to the fiscal rules would require unanimous approval from all member states of the eurozone? Does he feel that they have an appetite to do that? Why does the Minister support the fiscal rules when it was obvious that they are inimical to any investment agenda? Can the Minister confirm that recurring dividends from AIB could be spent on day-to-day expenditure, at least once an annual pattern has been established? As privatisation unfolds, what guarantees will the Minister seek regarding workers, workers' rights and conditions, bank branches remaining open and services being kept available in rural areas? These are all questions that need to be answered at this time. The fundamental point is that this is a State bank. We should be keeping it in State ownership. We should be giving the profit from it to the Irish citizens who bailed out the banks previously.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield To reiterate, I believe, and Sinn Féin believes, that the proposed sale of AIB should be abandoned. Selling AIB is the wrong decision. The Oireachtas is nothing without the people. The Oireachtas should vote on this sale because the people will not benefit from it. The people spent €20 billion bailing out this bank. We should think about the limited powers that we have as politicians and the huge powers that our banking sector has. This is a chance for the Irish people to have a say in how our banking sector is run. Again, I reiterate that this sale should be considered by this House and should be voted on by these Houses.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I thank the Senator. I acknowledge and welcome Lance Northcutt and his associates and students from the Chicago-Kent College of Law's international trial advocacy programme. They are very welcome to Ireland and to Leinster House. I hope they enjoy their stay.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I welcome the Minister to the House. It is probably his last visit to the Seanad as Minster for Finance, because he has indicated that he is not seeking reappointment. I note that he has said he is not standing for re-election, so I wish him the very best in his retirement and I acknowledge the lengthy public service he has given.

  As a Government bankbencher in the previous Dáil, I have crossed swords with the Minister before. I have always been quite upfront and honest when I think something is wrong and I have said it at every turn. I acknowledge that this is part of the programme for Government. In fact, what we are saying is that this is not the time to sell. The Minister does not have to sell in June, it can be reassessed in the autumn. There are very good reasons it is not the time. The conversation in changing across Europe in respect of what is happening with the fiscal rules and putting additional money into spending on infrastructure. That conversation has been continued by my own party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who has been travelling to Europe almost fortnightly to talk to our sister parties with a view to bringing forward progressive proposals on important investment in infrastructure - the infrastructure that has been referred to in this House including our hospitals, our schools and the M20. We need a balance to the Dublin region and connecting Limerick and Cork makes perfect sense. That is why we have asked to put a pause on this. That is why the Dáil voted democratically in favour of the Labour Party motion which said we should not sell AIB now.

  I actually wonder at the contribution from Fianna Fáil Members today. They have so many positions on so many issues, it almost changes by the hour. One would sometimes wonder how many splinters can work their way into a political party's bottom from sitting on a fence. At this stage I do not think Fianna Fáil knows which side of the fence it is on. It constantly worries about where Sinn Féin stands so it can move in a different way. It then worries about where Fine Gael stands so it can move in yet another direction. I was quite surprised at the contribution by Fianna Fáil this evening because it clearly voted in the Dáil to say that this was not the time. Their representatives' public contributions since then have contradicted that position constantly. Therefore, I am not too sure.

  In fairness to Senator O'Donnell, if I closed my eyes and put a wig and lipstick on him I would have seen Maggie Thatcher making his contributions today. It is the same thing - we must pay everybody back and so on.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan I thought the Senator was having a go at me. It seems Senator O'Donnell is the real target.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone Senator Horkan is clearly enjoying all the jokes, but Senator Humphreys has the floor.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys Unfortunately, the joke is on the citizens of Ireland. A sum of €20.9 billion was put into AIB to recapitalise it. That is clearly where the joke is at the moment. I certainly do not support the sale of 25% of the shares. Questions need to be asked and identified. I would like to see the fees being paid to Rothschild and the other advisers in respect of the sale of this 25% being clearly explained. I would like to know whether senior management in AIB will benefit from the sales. The citizen is entitled to that information and to know what reasoning is behind it.

  If I remember correctly, Senator O'Donnell is an accountant. I have worked with him on the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. He was always fairly logical and so was the Minister. I wonder why we are rushing to sell now. The Minister was quite right to point out that AIB paid a dividend of €250 million for the first time. That is what makes it attractive and that is why the Minister has said we should sell now. What exactly is the dividend of €250 million worth to the Irish citizen? When it comes back into the Exchequer, 25% of the dividends of those shares is worth €62.5 million to the citizens, which can actually be invested in their future and the future of the children of this State. What is the interest on €1 billion? It is approximately €30 million. We are now saying that the State will lose out financially on the sale of the shares because the cost of servicing €3 billion of the Irish debt is approximately 1% or €30 million, while the return on 25% of the shares this year is roughly €62.5 million. Therefore, we are now losing money with the sale. We will not be allowed to invest that €3 billion into infrastructure that would have given a further return. I am sorry, it just does not stand up at this stage.  eWe all know the position on debt. We know the target figures. To lower the target from 60% to 55% as Senator Kieran O'Donnell suggested, does not make sense at this stage. We have a major infrastructural deficit because of the period of austerity when we were fixing the economy from the time Fianna Fáil held office.

We have to rebuild our social stock, whether that is housing, hospitals, schools or roads. I am disappointed that the Order of Business was changed. I thought we were going to come in at 5 p.m. this evening and debate the Labour Party motion. Obviously, so did Sinn Féin, as they wished to amend it. I do not know where the Fianna Fáil Party stands because this is the third speech I have heard from Fianna Fáil, and all three have been different.

Senator Gerry Horkan: Information on Gerry Horkan Zoom on Gerry Horkan It was my first.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell: Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell Do the Fianna Fáil members talk to each other at all?

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys The Fianna Fáil members should compare their speeches to that of the party spokesperson on finance, Deputy Michael McGrath.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I ask the Senator to conclude.

Senator Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I wish the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan the very best in retirement. The Labour Party and I believe that this is the wrong time to sell AIB shares. I ask the Minister to review that decision and that there be a democratic vote in the Dáil saying that the Minister should not sell the shares and I believe we would have had a similar vote in this House if we had been allowed to put the question to the House. Obviously we are not going to be. I do not think the Irish citizens will benefit from the decision on this matter that was taken this week.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I thank Senator Humphreys. I wish to acknowledge Councillor Teresa McGuire from Westport who is in the Gallery. I welcome her to the House.

  I invite the Minister to respond.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I thank the Senators for their contributions. I like coming to the Seanad because the debates are always interesting. I thank the Senators who paid compliments to me on my impending retirement. I might come back and haunt the Seanad in the future.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I hope the Minister does.

A Senator: He could be back as Minister for Health

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Senator would not wish that on him, surely.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I might be in the Taoiseach's 11. I would like to deal with a number of the points raised. First, on the question of timing, it has always been the policy of the Government since we first put capital into the banks that in due course the banks would be restored to private ownership. That was the common policy position, shared with the Labour Party in the previous Government.

  Second, it is included in the programme for Government and the programme for Government was debated in the Dáil and I assume it was debated in the Seanad as well. It is there in black and white that we were committed to selling about 25% of AIB shares when the timing was right. The advice I am getting is that the timing is now right. There has been a big boost in shares across the world in the past four months or so. Small banks in particular have gone to much higher values than they were. Today the Nasdaq reached its all time historic high. The stock exchange in London is also very near the top. The advise is that this is a good time and we hope that the month of June remains reasonably stable so that the benign atmosphere is not affected in any way. I will follow the advice. Of course, it is not beyond the point of no return. It will not get priced until the second half of June. The pricing process will be a range of prices. If the range of prices is falling well below expectations, whoever is Minister at that time, still has the capacity and the legal authority to pull it back from the market. It is not a case of selling under all conditions. It will be measured as it goes along, but in all likelihood there will be a successful sale of 25% of AIB and that is my expectation and that is my advice.

  I will now deal with the issue of ownership. With respect of Sinn Féin, whose members in the Seanad were arguing totally in contradiction to the policy position the Sinn Féin Party has taken up on the banks in the past eight years. There was a common analysis that the reasons the banks went down was that the banks and the sovereign were inextricably linked. When the banks went bust, it pulled the sovereigns, the national Exchequers down as well. It is a common analysis. The reason it is a common analysis is because it is absolutely true.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh There is a difference between that and cronyism.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Minister without interruption.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Let me finish the point.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Do not misrepresent Sinn Féin.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am not misrepresenting the Senator's party. I will give the Senator the codes from Deputy Pearse Doherty and several of the party spokesperson. I agree with what Senator Conway-Walsh was saying, it is just that she is saying something different now. The policy right across this House and the other House was that we must break the link between the sovereigns and the bank, because if we do not break the link between the sovereign and the bank, every time a bank gets into trouble, it is the taxpayer who is the last line of defence. If one wants to break the link between the sovereign and the banks, one must put the banks back in private ownership. This is the policy in banking union across Europe now. If one looks at what has happened, the banking union and the bank resolution Bill that came through the Oireachtas, the bank resolution Bill that was generated in Europe, it is stand alone now and the banks' investors are liable in future if banks go under - starting with the shareholders, then the senior bondholders, then the junior bondholders and down along the line to corporate depositors. There is a cascade of responsibility and the assets are bailed in to rescue the bank, the taxpayer is not going in because the break is talking place now. In line with that policy which is all across the banking union in Europe, we need to break the link between the sovereign and the banks as well. Fundamental to breaking the link is progressively to restore the banks to private ownership so that the private investors carry the risk, not the Irish taxpayer. All the political parties from every platform have said that we must never let it happen again. We must never have the taxpayer going in bailing out the banks again. Well, one will not, if one changes the ownership, but one will, if one does not change the ownership because if there was to be a crisis in one of our banks that is publicly owned at present, the taxpayer would be the last line of defence. If one wants to separate and to take out the contingent liability, that is the fundamental reason that the ownership issue is a very important issue. We also want to get the taxpayer's money back

  The Senator raised a very good question about value. Some €6.8 billion has been recovered from AIB already in terms of contingent convertibles, CoCos, preference shares and fees and all sorts of things, which is a good lump of money. A value of €12 billion was given, but I am not endorsing that, however,t I know that many analysts have put that kind of value on it. If one adds €6.8 billion to €12 billion, one reach €18.8 billion, which is very nearly €19 billion. The figure of €19 billion is not so far off of the €20.6 billion that was put into the bank. We are coming close a situation where one can see the full investment of the Irish taxpayer being returned. I do not think the next Minister will be coming back in 12 months time to sell another 25% of the bank, but I think over a period of eight years, it is possible and by strategically putting shares on the market, it is possible not only to recover what the taxpayer has put in but to show a significant profit. If the economy keeps going, the bank gets more valuable and so on. That is the issue of value.

  In respect of the capital, it is a financial transaction. It is an exchange of shares paper with cash. It does not, under the fiscal rules, give the Exchequer any capacity to spend more. If we were to spend the €3 billion which notionally is coming from AIB, it would be added on to the debt, because it is treated under the fiscal rules as a financial transaction. Now, that is not to say that we should not invest in infrastructure. Of course, we should and we should invest more in both economic and social infrastructure in this country. Coming out of a recession that would be good macro-economic management. We are doing it at this stage and we are doing it quite significantly but we do not need the money from AIB to do so. We have a strategic fund and there are several billion in it. There must be €5 billion to €6 billion still in it looking for opportunities to invest. Yesterday, the interest rate on Irish ten year bonds was 0.79%, that is four fifths of 1%. We can get money on the market of four fifths of 1%. There is no shortage of cash. There is plenty of cash.  What we have is a legal arrangement under the fiscal rules which does not allow spending above certain levels. This was brought in for all sorts of good reasons as well. It was often left out of the debate in Ireland that overspending was as much a cause of the crash as were the banks. The accumulated deficits over the years have taken the debt up to €200 billion, which is a serious amount of debt. When we measure the debt, as it is done internationally in terms of debt-to-GDP ratios, it appears as though we have it under control. It is currently approximately 74%, which is well below the European average. In 2015, some of the multinational companies onshored their intellectual properties such that in one year GDP increased by 26%. This is in accordance with the EUROSTAT rules and it was reckoned in Irish GDP but it did not reflect real economic activity in this country. Leaving that year out of it, our debt is nearer to 100% than to 74%, which is well outside the European average.

Moving away from the criteria of debt to GDP to per capitadebt, per capitadebt in Ireland is second only to that of Japan, at €42,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. It is a serious risk. In what might be my last day in the Seanad, I want to underline the fact there are a number of external risks, including Brexit and President Trump's policies in the US, but our most significant internal risk is the debt. It is high by any standards. Taking a different criteria and measuring this by historic standards, before the crisis, in 2007, the debt was approximately €25 billion of GDP. It has increased now to €200 billion, which is eight times what it was in 2007. Regardless of the criteria used, it is very high and it is a risk to us. If there were another recession across Europe and other bad problems across the world such that we hit bad times again, because our debt is very high, we would have very little scope.

On capital spend, the Government is as committed as anyone else but we have to spend in accordance with the fiscal rules. The capital plan, building on recovery, provides a €42 billion framework to address our capital priorities up to 2021. The sum of €42 billion is a huge amount of money. As well as this, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has said that Exchequer capital expenditure is projected to increase by almost 75% between 2016 and 2021. That is a significant increase in capital spending. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will set out the details in that regard in the autumn in the context of the budget. There is also off-balance sheet funding. Public private partnerships on schools, health centres, main roads and so on are off-balance sheet and are not caught by the fiscal rules. There is more scope in that area. Senators may have heard or read in the media about our engagement the week before last with the European Investment Bank, which was focused on exploring how we could expand further on the off-balance sheet funding.

I agree with Senators that there is a necessity for more capital expenditure but I disagree that there is any connection between that and the sale of the State's 25% shareholding in Allied Irish Banks. There is money available. The issue is the legality of spending in accordance with the fiscal rules. We have raised many times in Europe the point that because we are coming out of recession, we need more scope, and there have been a significant number of rule changes already. For example, there is now a smoothing arrangement for capital expenditure such that 25% rather than 100% of a country's capital commitment is now taken out of the fiscal space in year one, which means, for example, that a four-year capital investment is smoothed over a line. This provides a great deal of scope. When the fiscal rules were first introduced, a member state had to evaluate the fiscal space over three years. This is done annually now, which gives us more space as well. There are a number of exceptions relating to spending beyond the fiscal rules, such as in a crisis, be that an earthquake, volcanic eruption or flood. Italy has done this very significantly.

There were a number of questions posed, which, if I do not respond to today, will be responded to directly for Senators in due course. On fees, the bank rather than the Exchequer will pay the fees. There is an arrangement in place in this regard. We are not paying the advisers out of Exchequer taxpayers' money. AIB will meet that cost. There is no commitment to any shares for senior bank management or to any enhancement on bonuses, salaries and so on. There is no provision being made in that regard. The bank has a good management that is working very hard, but we all know what the context is so there is nothing like that in this particular IPO. The Senator asked who are the advisers. Rothschild & Co. are the advisers to me as Minister for Finance and to my successor. There are other advisers to help with the IPO. J&E Davy, Deutsche Bank and Bank of America are the principal advisers. There are many other institutions and banks, known as "book runners", who engage in FaceTime with investors in order that they will buy the shares. If the Senator, or Deputy Pearse Doherty on his behalf, would like to table a parliamentary question on the matter, all the information will be provided. There is nothing secret about this process and I have no problem providing any information in this regard. I hope the process will be successful. By way of clarification, the timing has nothing to do with my impending retirement. There is a theory that I am announcing this before I retire. There is a commitment in this regard in A Programme for a Partnership Government. Throughout the year, I have been telling my colleagues in the Dáil in answer to parliamentary questions that the first investment window is from mid-May to the end of June or the first week in July. If we miss that, because of the way the market goes in the summer time, the next window is mid-October into November, after the budget. It looks as if now is the right time. Values have increased and the advice is to avail of this window to sell.

I thank Senators for their questions and contributions.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I thank the Minister.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Does the change to the fiscal rules require the unanimous approval of member states?

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan What normally happens is there are informal discussions with the Commission, and the Commission, when it believes there is agreement, brings forward the proposal.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh So it does require unanimous approval.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Yes, but there would be no difficulty getting that, if it is beneficial.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Cronyism and corruption is very different from sovereignty and the separation of the banks-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone The Senator has made her point.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I do not think, Senator Conway-Walsh, that that is a valid point.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I do.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Where is the cronyism and corruption in the sale of AIB?

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh What happened in the banking collapse in the first instance.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The Senator is throwing out words.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I am not.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Where is the cronyism and corruption?

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I refer the Minister to what happened last week.

Acting Chairman (Senator Catherine Noone): Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I can allow the Minister to speak for as long as he wishes but I cannot allow conversation in the Seanad. Perhaps the conversation could be taken outside. I join in the tributes paid to the Minister, Deputy Noonan, and I acknowledge his tireless work on behalf of Ireland at home and abroad in terms of regaining our financial sovereignty and reputation abroad. I hope there will not be an election too soon such that he will not be retiring too soon, but I also hope that when he does retire it will be a very happy and pleasant retirement. The Minister has been a good friend of mine and has given me great advice down through the years. I will miss him when he retires.

Deputy Michael Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I do not know when an election will be called, but any prudent Senator or Deputy would need to have their wick trimmed and oil in their lamps.

  Sitting suspended at 7.10 p.m. and resumed at 7.20 p.m.

Business of Seanad

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer As the Minister is in the Dáil I propose that we suspend until 7.45 p.m. I apologise to Members.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Sitting suspended at 7.21 p.m. and resumed at 7.45 p.m.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer In view of there being a vote in the Dáil and there is another piece of legislation to be dealt with in the Lower House, I propose that we suspend until 8.15 p.m. I apologise to the Members who have been patiently waiting. To be fair to the Minister she thought she would be finished by now.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell At 8.15 p.m.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer The Minister, to be fair, did think she would be finished

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Some of us have other commitments.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am in the Members' hands. Not all parties are here. It is an important debate to have and Members have requested it. The Minister is in the Lower House, there is a vote and, as the Senator knows, there is not a pair. The Minister also has to take another Bill. That is why we had factored in that time this evening, having spoken to the different-----

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell We were not supposed to be here until 8.15 p.m. either.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I accept that, but I am conscious that not all Members of the House are here in terms of all parties being represented, and we have not had a discussion-----

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Anyone who intended speaking is here.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer That is true.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt In fairness, we resumed at 7.45 p.m., which was the agreement. It is 7.46 p.m. now. I agree with Senator McDowell. The problem we have is that the Minister might not be ready until 8.30 p.m. or 8.45 p.m., and where are we going at that stage?

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell In fairness, if the Minister is conducting legislation in the other House, she cannot be under massive pressure to run out of the place as soon as she can. Statements can be made at a later stage.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am willing to co-operate with the Members. I am here and am prepared to stay here, but I appreciate that Members have other commitments too. I apologise to the Members of the House for the change in time. It was after liaising with the Department and the Minister's office that we had reached the original time, but I am happy to adjourn or to suspend until 8.15 p.m., and if the Minister is not here then, we can finish for the day. I am in the Members' hands. I do not want to be seen-----

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt I agree with Senator McDowell.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell We cannot make the Minister come here when she is tied up elsewhere, so I am looking for an alternative proposal.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I suggest that the Leader moves the adjournment of the House until next Tuesday.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer It is not next Tuesday, it is 13 June. I am happy to do so if all Members are. For the benefit of Senator Conway-Walsh who was not here earlier, the Minister is tied up in the Lower House with a vote on legislation and then has another Bill to take. The time in the Lower House has slipped from what we envisaged when scheduling this debate tonight. We were aware of there being two Bills in the Lower House but things have slipped in terms of time. I am happy to adjourn the House but-----

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Is the Leader proposing that we not take No. 7 on the Order of Business for today?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am conscious that Senator Conway-Walsh has come in late. I know that people wanted to have this debate because it was requested.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh I am agreeable to that provided there is time allowed for it on the first Tuesday we come back, 14 June, and that there be sufficient time for us to debate it because it is a serious topic.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am happy to do that but, similar to the Order of Business this morning, I cannot commit to the Minister's diary. I would be happy to put the issue on the schedule for that day. As the Senator will know, we had agreed to do that today. I am happy and willing to work with the Members to have the statements rescheduled to 14 June, subject to the Minister's diary commitments.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Is that acceptable to the Members?

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh Provided that we are guaranteed that-----

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer There is no guarantee. I cannot give a guarantee now.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh: Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh -----that it would be discussed at the earliest possible opportunity.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I am happy to do that.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt The Leader can give a guarantee of that.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Will the Leader move that we will not take this item of business?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I move:

That, notwithstanding the order of the Seanad today, No. 7 not be taken today.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Gerard P. Craughwell): Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 June next.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7.50 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 June 2017.


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