I am glad to be able to speak on this Bill and make my few comments. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na daoine go léir a bhí ag obair chomh dian. I thank all the people, the emergency services, An Garda Síochána, all the different agencies, the Civil Defence, especially the Red Cross, the Order of Malta and the Fire Service, all those people who went above and beyond the call of duty in the recent number of storm and severe weather events and the late spring snowfall, and also the private people who helped in every area. While there were awful events, they were the best thing that happened for community service, as the spirit of the meitheal came to the fore and people looked out for each other.
We have a very advanced system of weather warnings now. I would say it is on too often, ró-mhinic. Many community events were planned in places, then there was an orange alert and they were cancelled, and sometimes the weather that had been alerted did not develop into that. I acknowledge it is very hard to strike the right balance. I respect Met Éireann and what it has to do but we never had these weather alerts and we managed without them. Certainly they are an effective tool but we must also be careful as a great number of events had to be cancelled at different times and they did not happen at all despite huge community efforts having gone into planning them.
This is a Private Members' Bill and I have a lot of issues with it. Let us face it, there is a massive difference between public sector and private sector workers.
Ask any small firm or growing business. It is easy for Deputy Adams and others to tell people to pick up the tab because there are not many of these events, but there are many bank holidays and other times when the private sector has to pick up all of the tab. Take water bills, for example, which were fundamentally opposed by Sinn Féin and parties of the left. Who is paying the tab now? The private employers are, since the money must come from somewhere. Water charges have been doubled, sometimes trebled. Let us face it.
This is not as simplistic as legislating to have equality between the private and public sectors. While something needs to be done to clarify the matter, we cannot rush to a decision, as we are not good at doing that. The new coroners Bill has been delayed again. There is significant trauma involved in those situations. That Bill has been expected in the House for the past two years. We were promised that we would have it this May, but it will now not even be before us this term, and perhaps not even next term.
We cannot have knee-jerk reactions. We must be cool, calm and collected. Above all, we must have the impact analysis of legislation, including its impact on businesses and, first of all, on people. Regarding life-saving courses, health and safety is the most important issue of all. It has gone over the top in many places, but we must have respect for all employees, be they public or private.
This was strange because we were sent home from here. I supported the decision that we as the Business Committee made to close during the last snow storm, but we then had a ludicrous situation. All of the emergency workers were out, but some county councils had a different engagement than other councils. Some acted soon and some did not. I salute all the council workers. I salute those in Tipp FM and Tipperary Mid West Radio in my county who worked tirelessly and risked life and limb in spite of the red alert to be at work and keep the channels of communication going. I salute them 100% - Ms Trudy Waters and Mr. Pat Murphy at Tipp FM and Mr. Joe Pryce in Tipperary Mid West Radio. How they kept the message going out was unbelievable. The Garda Síochána had to work no matter what alert was there.
Along with others, I pulled ambulances along the road at midnight and other times. It was no problem. I was delighted to be able to help. The council workers had all stood down. That was a farce. They were told that they could not work after dark. How was an ambulance going to get out to an accident? How was the fire brigade going to get out to a fire? Those emergency workers had to work anyway. Let us be fair to all individuals and respect everyone's rights. Gardaí could not travel. Some were able to secure Jeeps and the like, but they mainly had ordinary cars. That was nonsensical. The workers who normally maintained the roads and whose duty it was to keep them open were sent home. That was the case in Tipperary at any rate and I will not speak for anywhere else.
There was a major difference in Waterford, on the border of which I live. Its county council took an aggressive approach and cleared the roads for everyone who had to get out. I brought a number of people in the health services to work in homes for children with special needs. Some of the workers were there for two days and beyond because they could not leave. There was no one to replace them. The pathway to South Tipperary General Hospital was blocked as well. There were other issues like that. Emergency services had to keep going. We had to keep our hospitals going. We had to bring in generators as well as fuel for those and ambulances.
It is too simplistic to believe that we can just pass a Bill under which the public and private sectors will be treated in the same way. Consider farmers. The current farming crisis is a part of the weather events. In fairness, 99% of the people whom I saw taking to Facebook did so to thank farmers. Some areas would not be out of trouble yet if not for farmers going out with their equipment. Farmers never looked for a penny for clearing the roads and doing everything else. They never would. That is the meitheal society, with people helping one another.
Home helps were not able to travel to work. Deputy Adams and others spoke about them. People who needed their help desperately to perform basic functions that they could not perform themselves were abandoned. It is fine to announce a red alert and then everyone goes into a bunker and forgets about the people, but we are lucky that the last storm did not last too long because it was later in the year. Had it occurred in January, it would have been a different story. There would still be snow in places.
We must be calm and reflective and we must be conscious of the impact the legislation we churn out is having on our economy and people, especially those in rural Ireland as well as those in this city, though if something happened here, there would be enough people to make noise about it, march and so on. A lot of legislation is lined up, including the transport Bill from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, that will have devastating impacts on rural Ireland. This Bill would have that impact too. It is fine to talk about employers picking up the tab, but they have to do that all of the time. There are pension schemes and more things being granted every day of the week. Some of them are good and I am not anti-union or anything else, but I am an employer - I should declare an interest in that regard - and it is becoming so onerous with all of the red tape, form filling, regulation, impositions and inspections. We have become a nation of enforcers, with people from the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, and God knows how many more agencies going around flashing cards at employers instead of trying to support them.
I am opposing the Bill. I will oppose any legislation that is not fair. What impact would this legislation have on rural Ireland, up the mountains, up the Sally Gap and God knows where else? I agree with one part of it, though, that relating to people joyriding, fun seeking, swimming and so on in certain places. It happens regularly in parts of my area, for example, Galtymore in the Galty Mountains. Hardly a weekend goes by that volunteers, who have to run bucket collections just to fund themselves, do not have to risk life and limb to rescue people. People think they can do what they like and go up the mountain only to get lost in snow, blizzards and fog. Anyone who lives near mountains like I do knows - a hill sheep farmer would know it - that, on a summer's day like today, and it is good to see a lovely spring day, a fog can come down in 20 minutes leaving someone without a sense of direction. People are unprepared. No matter what warnings are broadcast on radio or what red alerts are announced, they seem to want to be able to do what they like, travel over whatever land they like and then cry "Help" when they get lost. They are risking the lives of others. I cannot support the Civil Defence, mountain rescuers, air rescue and so on enough. Remember Rescue 116. Consider how rescuers must respond.
The Bill is too simplistic and comes from a party that is too simplistic about most things: "Let someone else pay"; "We are all right, Jack"; "Someone get this, get that, get the other." Many trade unions are of the same ilk and keep putting everything on the employer and small and medium-sized business people. This is not about picking up the tab, though. It is about equality and respect for these people, who are the drivers of our economy and who support it. We want to have fledgling businesses that employ our young people, who we want to be able to support and educate. These business people have buckets shoved in front of them by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other organisations in order to support their activities.
Remember the farce of what happened with Uisce Éireann. People want everything to be free, to pay for nothing and to introduce another law that will close the whole country down, to hell with the people who are isolated and sick and who need services. Local authority workers were sent home when ambulances were trying to get around the roads and farmers were pulling them out with tractors, towing gardaí and using their machinery. We only need to press a "Tá" or "Níl" button here. A red alert will close down the whole show and people will be forgotten about. That is endemic in this Government. Many people are being forgotten in society - young people, sick children in hospitals and elderly people who cannot get cataract operations and are left to go blind. This is not a Government Bill, but people need to show more thought and sensitivity instead of banging in Bills like this one just because the optics of it makes them look good in the media: "I am all right, Jack, and to hell with the little people."