An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business for today is No. 1, motion re arrangement for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 29 January 2019 to facilitate the address to the House by uachtarán an Chumainn Lúthchleas Gael, Mr. John Horan, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion re appointment of Mr. Paul Meegan to the membership of the Policing Authority, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, motion re appointment of Dr. Vicky Conway to the membership of the Policing Authority, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 without debate; No. 4, statements on the Government's Brexit preparedness, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 6.15 p.m., with the contribution of each spokesperson not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and adjourn not later than 9.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.

As this is the first sitting of the new year, on behalf of the Government and on my own behalf I extend my sympathy to the family of our late colleague, Mr. Mark Killilea Jr., who passed away during the Christmas period. He was first elected as a Senator in 1969 and was again elected in 1982, serving until 1987. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Anne, his wider family and his friends.

I wish to be associated with those remarks. Former Senator, Deputy and MEP, Mark Killilea, was a jovial and affable man who served in this Chamber for approximately 13 years in total. He had a tradition of public service, including in his European role as an MEP. It was a sad passing. I knew him well and I presume that, at some stage, there will be an appropriate tribute to him.

I propose a minute's silence at the end of the Order of Business and we will have that tribute in due course again.

I wish also to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the family of Mark Killilea. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I condemn in the strongest terms on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group the car bombing at Bishop Street in Derry at the weekend. It shows how delicate and fragile the situation in the North is at the moment and that we cannot take for granted the Good Friday Agreement and peace on this island. What we have in the Good Friday Agreement must be nourished continuously and we cannot take our eyes off it at any stage. It was confirmed today by the Commission that a no-deal Brexit will result in a hard border, which is something we all knew. Unfortunately, the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the imminent threat of a hard border has added fuel to the fire of some dissident groups and provided them with a raison d'être. As a result, we are seeing some sort of resurgence. I acknowledge the work of the Government and civil servants and note that we very much stand by that work in navigating Brexit. However, we must be cognisant of the fragility of peace on our island and ensure the Good Friday Agreement is sustainable. As such, I ask the Leader what will happen and what plans the Government has to maintain and sustain the Good Friday Agreement in the wake of a crash-out Brexit?

I raise also the issue of the lack of green spaces and amenities in our inner cities. I do not apologise for supporting a campaign on Cork Street, namely the Weaver Square community garden allotments campaign. This is a small site in the inner city consisting of 27 allotments. On this small plot, a community garden has been created which has been boxing far above its weight and providing a huge community gain. Obviously, there is a major housing crisis, which I have raised weekly in the House since elected, but there are many alternative sites in Dublin 8, including the St. Michael's Estate site, St. Theresa's Gardens and the Player Wills factory. These are huge tracts of land which could, with a bit of imagination and proper planning, provide a great deal of housing and the proper amenities. The local authority has served an eviction notice on the allotment owners which was to have been executed on Monday in order to facilitate the construction of rapid-build homes. It is a real shame the community is losing the community garden. It is a small patch of land but it provided a great deal in community gain. There are many other large tracts of land which could have been used instead.

I refer finally to the 500 psychiatric nurses who have gone on strike today on foot of a refusal by the HSE to recognise NASRA, the ambulance branch of the Psychiatric Nurses Association. Ultimately, it means 500 healthcare workers are not working today. We cannot afford to lose 500 workers from a system which is already under strain. The Government must act quickly and cannot allow further strikes to take place in the health sector. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Association has, as we know, scheduled six 24 hour strikes by its 37,000 members to take place on 30 January and 5, 7, 12, 13 and 14 February, respectively, if its members' pay and conditions are not addressed. While the nurses will provide for emergency responses, the full service these nurses, most of whom are women, carry out will not be provided. To lose 37,000 members of our health service on any of these days would be shameful and the Government must act to ensure the strikes do not go ahead.

I am a new speaking member of the Independent Seanad group, since I realised what it was to be sitting at the back of the Seanad with no voice. I could not let that go on for much longer and I am delighted to be a part of the group.

I want to make three quick points. The first is to alert Senators to "Showcase Ireland" which is something I think they probably know about. "Showcase Ireland" is a platform for all that is great in the creative arts in Ireland, in manufacturing, glass, ceramics, wool, fabric, design, silver and gold. All the products are created and designed in Ireland. Everybody should, in whatever way they can, platform them in their counties, towns and villages. To see the artists' stuff in the RDS over the past few days - and the exhibition continues until Wednesday - has been in absolute privilege. To mention one in particular, Eamonn Terry was a glass-blower in Waterford Glass, and we know what happened there, but he went out on his own. He now has Criostal na Rinne and makes beautiful stuff. I would also like to mention Jerpoint Glass, an Irish handmade glass company. These are people who are still blowing their own glass in Ireland; it is not being imported from any other country. It is apt that we look at the arts and crafts in Ireland now, especially with what is happening in Brexit, because we need to take our artists, creatives, manufacturers and designers very seriously and make sure they are well resourced.

The second thing I want to say is that Garry Hynes, Philip King, Mark Patrick Hederman and Theo Dorgan will be coming to speak to the Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht tomorrow, representing music, literature, theatre and poetry.

Could the Leader let me know when the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill will come into the Seanad? It was delayed before Christmas. Could he also let me know when the Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill will be before the Seanad, something I asked about two months ago? Many people are in limbo awaiting this Bill. I also ask when the full commencement of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill will happen. I was very involved in that in the last Seanad. Could the Leader give an update on those?

I am standing up for the arts and creativity because now, more than ever, they matter. It is not just economic graft that means something. Our island is a great creator of arts, crafts and literature and we should look to it as a half saviour.

I thank the Senator and hope she finds solace in her new relationship with the group.

I want to also extend my sympathies to the wife and family of former Senator, Mr. Mark Killilea.

I certainly want to condemn the car bomb in Derry and the other actions and I welcome the fact that it has been condemned by all leadership in the North and every right-minded citizen. There is no support or tolerance for that behaviour. We have a pathway to peace. We have peace and a pathway to Irish unity - in fact, we have never been closer to Irish unity. The conversations and discussions now being had in civic society about the possibility of Irish unity mean we can further garner support for Irish unity across the board. There is no support, tolerance or justification for these actions and I would ask those responsible to just stop that behaviour.

My colleague, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, received information from Údarás na Gaeltachta that shows that 89 units it owns are currently vacant. Eight of these units are located in Údarás na Gaeltachta sites across County Mayo. One such unit is in Béal an Mhuirthead and has been lying empty for 20 years. It is hard to believe that no use has been found for this site since 1999. Instead of lying empty, these and similar units should be used to help start-up businesses, community groups or charities. Even letting these premises for free is better than seeing such a valuable public asset lying idle for such a long period of time.

I call on the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to come to this House and tell us how she will facilitate greater co-operation between IDA Ireland, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Enterprise Ireland to ensure that these vacant sites are taken into account and fully utilised for the benefit of communities. To achieve this, many more site visits to Mayo and the west by IDA Ireland, especially in Gaeltacht areas, are needed. Last year, up to November 2018, there were only seven such IDA visits to Mayo. If the Government is serious about creating jobs in County Mayo and other places in the west, all available infrastructure needs to be utilised. This will not happen if they do not bother coming to see and assess it for themselves. These units and land in public ownership need to be used as a factor of production and to address many of the problems we have across the State relating to housing and unemployment. We cannot say that we support indigenous business and enterprise, and that we have situations where there is full employment. There are pockets of very high unemployment in rural Ireland, many of which are in the Gaeltacht. We cannot have assets there which are not fully utilised.

I offer heartfelt thanks to all involved in the commemorations of the First Dáil yesterday. It was a magnificent and fitting event. I was privileged to be part of it as a Member of the Seanad. I never thought that would happen. The Seanad was recently saved by a referendum but if it was not for the determination and steel of those people 100 years ago, there might have been neither a Dáil nor a Seanad and that is worth remembering. It was also a moving and personal occasion for me because I grew up hearing about one Member of the First Dáil, a man named Phil Shanahan, from a small place, Foilmacduff in Hollyford, County Tipperary. My late mother, Judy, was my teacher and instructor with regard to Phil. Her family, the Daverns were fast friends of the Shanahans in Hollyford. I was delighted to meet Phil's great grandniece, Emer Fhatherta, yesterday, who was there to remember Phil. My mother told me of his lifelong commitment and the sacrifices he made, about his family members, specifically his sister, Sarah, his hunger strike and his generosity. He went from being a comfortable publican in Dublin to his death in November 1931 in poor circumstances. He was in Jacob's Factory with MacDonagh. His pub in the heart of Monto was a home from home and a meeting place for other Republicans. I spent last Saturday night with his grandnephew, Ramie Shanahan, in the same place where Phil returned to spend his last years before his death. I saw the treasure trove of documents, papers, memorabilia and talked into the night.

It struck me that in the Seanad, we should consider some way that we might be a focal point to remember, honour and promote a better understanding of the lives of these people, their motivations, family circumstances, interests, places of origin, families and comrades. The downgrading of history was mentioned yesterday in the Mansion House. Such a focus as this, possibly carried out throughout the year, could reignite the curiosity and interest of the young and not so young in the lives of these ordinary people who did extraordinary things and gave us a legacy that we have a responsibility to live up to. I would be happy to support any such initiative and ask the Leader if he will consider something along these lines.

Phil was a Teachta Dála for Dublin Harbour. He beat the unbeatable Alfie Byrne to take that seat but there were four other Tipperary men. Pierce McCan died from the flu in March that year. Séamus Burke went on to be a Minister in Cosgrave's Government.

There was also Joseph McDonagh, brother of Thomas, and P.J. Moloney who, like me, was from Tipperary Town. He had his home burnt out. They are minor anecdotes of the lives of what I call ordinary people who did extraordinary things. We might consider some ways throughout the year to give some impetus to it.

Like previous speakers, I commend all of those involved in the organisation of yesterday's very successful and impressive Dáil 100 centenary event in the Mansion House. I was privileged and honoured to have been present to listen to the very dignified, respectful and appropriate way in which we commemorated the important first sitting of the Dáil 100 years ago. As a member of the Labour Party, I was pleased and heartened by the emphasis on Tom Johnson's democratic programme and the important values and ideals espoused in it. It was beautifully portrayed. The event was organised in a really tasteful and appropriate way. I commend the communications unit, the Oireachtas staff, the Ceann Comhairle's office and all involved in organising it. The Labour Party had its own event on Saturday to launch its rewritten democratic programme for the 21st Century. We will be highlighting it during the year. Senator Dolan spoke about how to reignite interest. It is really important that all of us look in all sorts of different ways at commemorating and highlighting the centenary of the First Dáil and ensure that different aspects of it are honoured and commemorated.

I thank the Leader for organising the statements on Brexit. They are timely. It was in marked contrast to the shambles in Westminster to see the Dáil and Seanad holding the joint sitting in the Mansion House yesterday. We will have an opportunity to talk about Brexit later.

I echo the words of others in condemning the car bombing in Derry and those involved in carrying it out. It reminds us of the really serious and very real fears that a hard border will follow if Britain crashes out of the EU on 29 March. The EU Commission confirmed today that a no-deal Brexit will mean the return of a hard border. That is a really serious worry for everyone.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the follow-up to the legislation we passed just before Christmas, which I am glad to see is now in effect. I refer to the legislation allowing for terminations of pregnancy. Many of us were concerned last week by reports of one particular case in the Coombe Hospital which was reported as being dealt with in a way that was somewhat troubling. I hope we will see less of that. The publicity in respect of the case in question was of concern generally. Other events in recent weeks have shown us the really urgent need for the legislation to protect women accessing services at GP clinics and hospitals. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, promised that the relevant legislation would emerge in early course this year. I will be pressing for a debate on it and for bringing the legislation forward. As far as I know, the Bill in question has not yet been drafted. We need to know when it will be drafted. I ask the Leader to make inquiries in the Department of Health about when we will see that legislation because it is essential that those seeking to access services are protected from harassment and intimidation when they do so.

I express my satisfaction on seeing the first conviction reported today under the Swedish or Nordic model. My dear friend and colleague, Senator Norris, will not agree with me.

We are seeing the new law on prostitution being enforced and coming into effect.

It is a disgrace.

I commend gardaí for their work on it.

It is utter hypocrisy.

I, too, condemn the bombings in Derry at the weekend. It was horrific and frightening to see the videos on the news.

I compliment all who were involved in organising yesterday's event. It was very appropriate and went off really well. I attended another event this morning and I took taxis to and from my destination. Both drivers had watched yesterday's proceedings on television and were very emotional in expressing their thoughts on them. Many families and descendants of the Members of the First Dáil were present yesterday. One of my neighbours is a descendant of Michael Colivet. It was lovely to meet the Collins family there. Another event is being held in the Mansion House today, with students from 15 schools engaging in a debate on Dáil 100.

This is to be commended. I was over there this morning because two of my neighbouring schools were successful in having two pupils selected, namely, Megan from Gaelcholáiste Luimní and Katie from Laurel Hill Coláiste. It is good that they were both from all-Irish-speaking schools. It is to be commended that they were selected among the 15 to speak. I heard some of what they had to say and their speeches were fantastic. One spoke about the harmful effects of alcohol and the other one questioned where our Irish has gone to. They were two topical debates. I congratulate all those involved. It is good that the youth are continuing the debate today.

As Members know, we cannot underestimate the important role the ambulance service plays, particularly in counties Monaghan, Cavan and many other rural counties. Unfortunately, we have already had serious issues with ambulance response times in County Monaghan. In some instances it has taken 70 minutes for the ambulance to reach the patient concerned. The current dispute in the ambulance service is of particular concern to the people of Monaghan, Cavan and other rural areas. As the Leader will agree, ambulance workers play a vital role in the provision of health services and those of us in rural areas depend very heavily on those services. It could be said that people's lives are being put at risk because of this dispute. I urge the Minister and the HSE to engage as a matter of urgency with the ambulance workers concerned to try to find a resolution to this dispute so that the lives of people in counties Cavan and Monaghan and elsewhere are not put at risk by this dispute.

I wish to speak about Bethany Home. We heard on "Morning Ireland" this morning that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs was due to bring a memorandum to Cabinet this morning seeking a 12-month extension for Judge Yvonne Murphy to carry out her very important work, on which I commend her. We do not need a lesson here today to explain why things have gone way beyond the original timeframe set. We know from reports from the commission that the Tuam babies issue came up in 2015 and this was an added piece of work for Judge Murphy to deal with.

My concern is with Bethany Home, a Protestant organisation. For some reason the Government and previous Administrations have failed to take on the importance of this establishment. It is now known as fact that this was an incarceration house for many women and children. There is no dispute about it. These children were in State care or the State should have had a responsibility.

The Taoiseach made an excellent presentation at yesterday's commemoration of the centenary of the First Dáil. He talked about our shameful past. He talked about institutions, including mother and baby homes. He said that we would need to do things in different ways and face new challenges. He is dead right and has my full support.

The Minister, Deputy Zappone, discussed this very important issue with us previously. If possible we should ask her to come back to the House to debate the matter with particular emphasis on Bethany Home. Abuse knows no religious bounds. This wholly Protestant institution has been excluded for reasons I do not know. In any place where children were in care there was a duty of care on our society, Government, public administration and every arm of the State. It is important that we give reason. More important, Bethany Home should be included in a redress scheme.

I do not think the suggestion reported in the media today that the commission has to work through the initial 17 institutions is correct. While I accept its remit was to deal with these 17 institutions and that some people will be disappointed that this will continue for another year, it is important that we send a clear message to people, including Senators and Deputies, who have long campaigned for this particular organisation to be investigated. It is fair, right and proper. I ask that the Minister come to the House to share her views, particularly on Bethany Home.

I call on everyone in this House to use their influence on Government to try to push this forward and get this group of people included in the redress scheme.

I wish to raise the issue of the N5 project between Ballaghaderreen and Scramoge. It is positive that An Bord Pleanála has given approval for this project, which has long been needed. It will involve alignment of approximately 15 km of existing roads and a new carriageway of approximately 35 km. It is important because this is a dangerous stretch of road. Motorists travel at high speeds through the villages of Frenchpark, Bellanagare and Tulsk, in particular, to and from the west. Now that An Bord Pleanála has issued approval, it is critical that this project be progressed to construction as quickly as possible. It is important that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, gives us an update on the project. It is included under Project Ireland 2040 but it is critical that construction progresses without delay because there is a high risk involved and there have been far too many accidents on this dangerous stretch of road. It is nonetheless positive that An Bord Pleanála has given approval. Significant work has been completed by the national roads design office in Roscommon, which should be strongly complimented on all its work thus far. It is to be hoped we will see progression in terms of the project being led to construction very quickly.

I also wish to give a big thanks to all staff and the organisers of yesterday's An Chéad Dáil. It was an enjoyable event and a reminder to us all of the need for us as legislators to progress the democratic programme as set out 100 years go. I do not wish to put a dampener on it, but members of the deaf community have asked in future for consideration of the interpretation of such events that are broadcast nationwide because they feel they missed out on it.

I also wish to bring up the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, strike that commenced at 7 o'clock this morning. I tabled a Commencement matter on this on 7 November. In 2010, we march down the street from Parnell Square as part of what was called the 24-7 Alliance. The years of austerity had seen attacks on our pay. We marched so pay would not be attacked. The State was going to retain core pay but let additional payments for night duty, weekends and Christmas go to the wall. Thus the 24-7 Alliance was born. Then 500 ambulance personnel made a request to join the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA. It was a little odd at the time but it has worked out well in the nine years since. I have questioned him the Minister previously and I put him on notice on 7 November that we do not need to escalate this. As has been said, the health service in its entirety is escalating the staff's dispute, and it is not just about pay and conditions. The strike concerns treatment of State and the duty of care that they feel they cannot carry out. Basically, this dispute is about the right to be heard. It is about having a fundamental right to join a union and for that union of one's choice to represent one. Sinn Féin has no position on the merits or otherwise of pay and conditions claims, only that we believe such disputes are best resolved through dialogue and negotiation. The Trade Union Representation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018 has been introduced by Sinn Féin, and we wish to see it enacted as soon as possible.

By way of clarification, at the request of the deaf community, the Oireachtas provided a service for them, and it was done by prior agreement, so if anyone complained, they should not have because they got a fair crack of the whip.

I understand the Senator's concern but I think they were looked after fairly.

I support Senator Boyhan's comments on the Bethany Home. This is not a new issue and the group has been advocating back since the days I was working with the National Women's Council of Ireland before I was elected to the Oireachtas. It is shocking that the former residents are still waiting for recognition and support. The number of survivors of those homes is reducing and it is important that those who were there should get satisfaction.

I join in the commendations of yesterday's event. Let me articulate my sincere expressions of appreciation for the people of 100 years ago and all those who have followed since in the work of maintaining our democracy. I was particularly happy with the content, the Declaration of Independence, the Message to the Free Nations of the World and the programme of the first Dáil, which is an extraordinarily important democratic programme, as drafted by Thomas Johnson and reflecting so much of the social movement which had fed into the national movement of that time and of the thinking of Connolly and the ideas of the Proclamation. Will the Leader create an opportunity to discuss at an appropriate time some of those visionary documents and perhaps see how we could place ourselves in terms of the current vision for the next centenary? I believe that Senators are inheritors of the democratic challenge in the same way as those in the Dáil and it is very important that we would assign time for reflection and set ourselves the challenge to move forward. If we look at the extension of the franchise that took place in the 1918 elections, it would be extraordinarily positive if this was the year in which we delivered Seanad reform and extended the franchise and the delivery of greater democracy.

Let me draw the attention of Members and those in the wider world to an extraordinary exhibition - Women in Politics and Public Life, from 1918 to 2018 - which is taking place in Dublin Castle and which closes at the end of January. I urge everybody to visit it. It very much tracks the full century of women's political action, the political actions from every decade and the contribution that women have made across all parties.

I pay a brief tribute to some politicians, as a key reminder for all of us of the importance of democracy. We spoke about the tragic murder of the British politician, Jo Cox, a parliamentarian and a person who had championed an inclusive form of politics. In the past few weeks, another champion of inclusive politics who contributed to an extension of civic participation in the most inclusive sense in this city, the mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, was tragically murdered in the past few weeks. There was also an incident where a bomb was placed in The Diamond in Derry, the heart of the city. These are all challenges to democracy and it is important that we never retreat from them but instead redouble our commitment to democratic debate and to representation of the people as sovereign.

I also commend all those involved in the ceremonial commemoration of the Centenary of the First Meeting of Dáil Éireann and the Cathaoirleach's contribution to the proceedings yesterday.

My only comment about the issues raised in respect of the bomb in Derry and the violence and murder in Gdansk is that our democracy is a fragile thing and needs to be constantly nurtured and minded. Sometimes we take it for granted.

I wish to raise an issue in regard to St. Finian's community college in Swords. In March 2010, the board of management expressed concern regarding the school's general condition. There were leaks in the ceilings, a lack of heating and health risks to both students and staff. A design team started work in February 2013 and produced a report in June 2013. The final design was produced in August, with planning permission granted in December 2015. There was not a single objection from any of the local residents. In April 2017, all issues were resolved and the project was expected to go to tender immediately afterwards, with work was expected to begin in the summer of 2017.

In September 2018, staff were told the school was at pre-qualification stage for the appointment of contractors. This had been completed by the ETB and sent to the Department but was returned to the ETB without an explanation by the Department. However, the ETB was told to resubmit. Here we are in January 2019. Last week, I visited the school and saw for myself rooms that had no natural light and a home economics room that contained cookers but had only one entrance or exit. That is a fire risk, as far as I am concerned. I also saw a disgraceful dilapidation of the building in terms of ceilings coming down. One can see from the picture I am holding in my hand, although it may be difficult to see it, a roof collapsing with vegetation growing in the room. Yet students in 2019 are supposed to learn and study in these conditions, and staff are supposed to teach in them. It is just not good enough.

Having made a video with Luke Corkery, who is on the student council in the school, I am delighted that 7,000 people saw the video and that some action has resulted. The ETB has been in touch and, in turn, the Department of Education and Skills has emailed the board advising it to have the design team commence plans for the inclusion of a new zero energy building. My only concern is that if that means a whole new design and new planning application, then we will be back to square one, which is simply not good enough. The population of Swords is over 40,000 and 10,452 people under the age of 18 await education or attend educational facilities. These young people need a proper place for their education. They have suffered.

Please do not ask the staff of this DEIS school, the students and their parents who support them to continue to have to exist in these conditions. I call on the Minister to ensure the Department takes action immediately. People have waited since 2010. The school has passed all the tests and has done all that was required but now it seems to be rejoining the queue, which not fair. It is certainly not fair to a DEIS school that has done so well over the years.

I support Senator Boyhan in his remarks about the Bethany Home. Many years ago the Anglican Archbishop spoke out clearly on the matter and asked for it to be taken into account. It is nothing other than religious discrimination that this has not happened. The issue would have been forgotten only for the great work done by Derek Leinster.

I completely disagree with my colleague, Senator Bacik. I do not how anybody can be pleased about the prospect of a lonely 65 year old man, coming from a deprived area of Dublin, being named and fined in court. It seems to me that this is rank and smug hypocrisy. I remember during the debate here, it flew in the face of all the academic research produced by Queen's University, Belfast, which I put on the record. I urge anybody who wants to see that research and to know the truth about this matter to read the debate where I put these facts on the record.

Highly contested.

What was highly contested was the rubbish the Senator produced from Sweden.

(Interruptions).

I want to raise another issue. An Egyptian television interviewer has been arrested, jailed for one year and fined 200 Egyptian pounds for interviewing a gay man on Egyptian television. The interviewer himself is a well known homophobe who comes out repeatedly with homophobic remarks. He interviewed a man about his life as a gay man in Egypt where homosexuality is not illegal. However, gay men who are consenting male adults in private are consistently nowadays arrested for blasphemy, immorality and debauchery. I would like to ask that this House requests the Leader to get the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to send a strong protest, on behalf of the House, to the Egyptian ambassador.

I would like to address an issue with the Irish passport. Ireland has been ranked among the top ten countries that hold the strongest passports according to the Henley Passport Index. The index measures the strength of a passport based on a citizen's ability to travel visa-free or using an easy access visa. Irish passport holders have the freedom to travel to 184 countries, which makes the Irish passport an attractive product.

In that context, I wish to raise an issue that came to my attention over the Christmas when I was speaking to somebody who was home for the festivities. He is a British national who is married to an Irish woman. Their children have Irish passports. He inquired about the possibility of getting an Irish passport but was told that, while it would be possible, he would have to live in Ireland for one year to qualify for naturalisation and thus citizenship. I agree that there should be rules and stipulations but in cases where a spouse is not of Irish descent but the rest of the family is, are we unfairly discriminating against the foreign spouse where there is a long-standing relationship and proof of many years of travel to Ireland? We allow generous access to Irish citizenship to people around the world - in many cases to individuals who might never travel to this land in their lifetimes. However, can we restrict access for a family unit where connections are real and visible for all to see?

The Constitution insists on a special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share our culture, identity and heritage. Is marriage not the most special affinity? Can we ask a family to split to reconcile residency issues or ask them to move lock, stock and barrel to Ireland for a year? That is not practical. This man has an important job in England, as does his wife. His children are in school. The Minister should clarify what we are preparing to do for such hard-working families who travel to Ireland regularly to see elderly relatives and family here. What are our contingency plans? What could Brexit mean for the right of UK citizens, derived from Irish law under the EU freedom of movement legislation, to come and live in Ireland without residency permits? These are serious questions. Irish passports will have a massive role to play in the context of Brexit. I accept that the Minister is coming to the House later but we must address these issues. The uncertainty is unreal so we must obtain clarification on this matter.

I agree with Senator Ardagh. We support the nurses and the ambulance personnel. They are doing a great job. We must give them our support because they work extremely hard.

I join other Senators in absolutely condemning the wanton act of terrorism in Derry on Saturday night last. Thankfully, nobody was killed or injured but what happened shows that this is a dangerous time when it comes to dissident republicans. Everything must be done to ensure that they do not have a voice or threaten the Good Friday Agreement.

Yesterday's centenary of the first meeting of the Dáil was a great success. I congratulate everybody involved. Yesterday's event reminded me that today is the centenary of the appointment of the first Minister for Foreign Affairs, George Noble Plunkett or Count Plunkett, who, in what was known as "the election of the snows" - effectively a by-election for the British Parliament - was elected to represent the old constituency of North Roscommon. That election rocked the British establishment to its core. Count Plunkett was also a Member of the first Dáil. I was in Westminster on Wednesday night last. The place was in a complete frenzy. I do not believe that many of the people who were voting understand the backstop or the Border. A Brexit without a withdrawal agreement will mean border infrastructure. Nobody wants a border. In the absence of leadership in many of the parties at Westminster, I thank MPs such as Ms Yvette Cooper, Mr. Hilary Benn, Sir Keir Starmer and Mr. Dominic Grieve, who are from different parties. They have shown great leadership in trying to get a solution from the referendum. The Government should thank those people as well as many more who are outside the parties and are standing up to be counted. Democracy needs these elected MPs to stand up and be counted. We need a withdrawal agreement or some other mechanism to ensure there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá mar gheall ar chomóradh an chéid a bhí againn i dTeach an Ardmhéara inné. Ar nós chuile dhuine eile, ba phribhléid agus onóir mhór í dom bheith i láthair. Is mian liom cúpla smaoineamh mar gheall ar an ócáid a chur in iúl. Bhí sé iontach go raibh chuile dhuine le chéile. Ní raibh muid ag caint ar páirtithe éagsúla. Is Éireannaigh muid uilig. Bhí muid ag caint ar chúrsaí daonlathais. Bhí chuile dhuine ag tarraingt le chéile. Teastaíonn i bhfad níos mó den chineál sin comhoibriú, seachas lá amháin chuile 100 bliain.

Ba mhaith liom rud eile a lua a chuir mé suim an-mhór ann. Glacadh buíochas le go leor daoine. Ceapaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go n-aithnímid cé chomh bródúil atáimid as an obair a rinne an Captaen agus a fhoireann i dTithe an Oireachtais le hócáid chomh stairiúil agus chomh iontach sin a chur le chéile

Tá rud amháin eile le rá agam. Bhí béim an-mhór ar chúrsaí Gaeilge inné. Labhródh faoin teanga go rímhinic. Faraor, ní dóigh liom go bhfuilimid ag leanacht tríd leis sin. Tá mise agus lucht na Gaeilge an-bhuíoch agus an-sásta go ndearna an Taoiseach agus an Rialtas bliain faoi leith - Bliain na Gaeilge - anuraidh. Tá súil agam nach ndéanfaimid dearmad ar an nGaeilge i mbliana, agus go leanfaimid ar aghaidh leis an bhfeachtas sin. Tá go leor le déanamh ó thaobh na Gaeilge de go fóill. Ar an bpointe sin, tugaim cuireadh don Chathaoirleach agus do chuile dhuine sa Seanad agus sa Dáil teacht ar an gCeathrú Rua i mí an Mhárta seo chugainn ar feadh deireadh seachtaine le Gaeilge a fhoghlaim. Tá súil agam go dtiocfaidh siad uilig agus go mbeidh deireadh seachtaine an-mhaith againn. Is cuma má táthar láidir sa Ghaeilge nó ar bheagán Gaeilge. It does not matter if one has very little Irish or a lot of Irish because we will all be there together. I invite all Senators to come. This is being organised through an Acadamh, which is part of NUIG. It provides very professional courses. We should join hands together for the first time. Ba cheart dúinn roinnt Gaeilge a fhoghlaim le chéile.

RTÉ has a responsibility to create a space for conversation, debate and dialogue. As the national broadcaster, it has a responsibility to recognise and respect the vulnerabilities and mental health of the people and communities who are the subjects of its debates. Tonight, "Prime Time" will feature a conversation about transgender young people. I want to make it clear that young people accessing legal gender recognition certificates does not mean they undergo surgery. In an advertisement for tonight's show that has been aired on RTÉ, the presenter, Miriam O'Callaghan, asks why there has been so little discussion of these issues in Ireland. There are individuals who are desperately trying to transfer to Ireland the division that has been fostered around these issues in Britain. We are not Britain. Our extremely progressive Gender Recognition Act was passed into law in 2015 after a very long conversation about marriage equality and the lives of LGBT people. Since that time, this House has unanimously supported the principle of the Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2017, which focuses on trans young people. There have been conversations. I hope this House can send a message today that we value the contribution of trans people to the diversity of this island and we reject transphobia in all its forms. The US Supreme Court has today allowed Donald Trump's ban on transgender troops to come into effect. I remind the House that people like Trump and others closer to home have a shopping list and it does not stop with the Traveller community or the trans community.

I would like to be associated with the vote of congratulations to the Houses of the Oireachtas for the way it put on stage yesterday the celebration of 100 years of the Irish Parliament. I thought it was a fantastic occasion. Everything about the whole occasion, including the colour and the decor, was magnificent. I think the Houses of the Oireachtas deserve great credit for putting it on.

I would like to ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister responsible for jobs and small business to come before the House. Small businesses like high street shops, bars and restaurants are finding it very difficult to deal with difficulties like insurance, rates, employment, PAYE and PRSI. They have to deal with 13 or 14 different agencies.

They have difficult decisions to make and they are operating in difficult times. It would be appropriate that at some stage in the near future we would have a discussion here on small businesses and on how we could help them in some way as a Parliament and listen to them as well to hear about what difficulties they have on the ground.

I concur wholeheartedly with the words of my colleague, Senator Paddy Burke, and I am sure other colleagues who I did not hear who also spoke about how yesterday was a truly wonderful day. I thank the Clerk and the Clerk-Assistant and every person who was involved in any way in organising the day because great organisation obviously went into it and they did the Oireachtas proud. I wish everybody well and it was delightful to be part of it.

One cannot emphasise enough the gratitude and thanks that I and most Members have for the staff of Leinster House, from the Captain of the Guard to the Seanad staff, the Dáil staff, the ushers and the communications staff for the choreography that went into that event. I happened to be in Dublin on Sunday. I was asked to attend and I saw at first hand the great task that was at hand. I was in early again yesterday. It was a major commemorative event and an enormously successful event. Sometimes we take the staff of Leinster House for granted but the Captain of the Guard, the superintendent and all of their staff did an extraordinary job yesterday. It was not something that was planned overnight and the work that went into it probably went on for a couple of months. I express my gratitude to them personally and on behalf of the House. It was a great occasion and they did a wonderful job.

I thank all Members of the House for their contributions. I join with Senators Dolan, Bacik, Byrne, Devine, Higgins, Feighan, Paddy Burke and Coghlan in speaking about the commemorations yesterday. Ar an gcéad dul síos, gabhaim mo fíor buíochas agus mo chomghairdeas le gach duine a bhí páirteach sa chomóradh. Bhí sé an-spioradúil agus inspirational. Yesterday was a wonderful day, lá iontach, stairiúil de cheiliúradh agus lá iontach agus speisialta do gach Ball den Oireachtas. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh, tá suim mór ag a lán daoine, ach go mórmhór ag gach Ball den Teach seo agus den Dáil i gcúrsaí Gaeilge agus beimid ag plé cúrsaí Gaeilge an seachtain seo chugainn. Yesterday was a wonderful occasion to commemorate the first sitting of the First Dáil.

On my behalf and on behalf of the Government, I commend all members of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and all who were páirteach san ócáid speisialta seo. It was a wonderful day. It shows the importance of Oireachtas TV and the need for us to promote and use same as a means of broadcasting the work that is being done in both Houses of the Oireachtas and in committees. In addition, as Senators Warfield and Marie-Louise O'Donnell indirectly referred to in their contributions, it shows the importance of creativity and of what happens within this compound of the Houses of the Oireachtas in terms of visits and being able to re-enact significant moments in our history. Yesterday was one such occasion and I offer my sincere congratulations and thanks to all involved. I will not name people but I welcome and congratulate all for the wonderful event yesterday.

Perhaps the pin that we all received as Members could be replicated and given to all of the Houses of the Oireachtas staff as a token of our appreciation for their contribution. I happened to be in discussion with a member of staff yesterday who I will not name, and that person has been here since 1982.

The latter illustrates that the job is not just a job, it is a commitment. This is a place of work but it is also much more than that. Yesterday's event was fantastic. We were all privileged to be elected. Some of the contributions perhaps offered a dystopian view of the world but I reflect on the fact that we have passed transgender and marriage equality legislation and achieved some infrastructural development. The country is near full employment, notwithstanding the challenges we face. The men and women of the First Dáil would be proud of what this and previous Governments have achieved. I want to put that into perspective.

I join all Senators who condemned the car bombing in Derry last weekend. Violence has no place on our island, north, south, east or west. We had all hoped we had left the dark days of violence behind us. As Senator Ardagh stated, we must nurture and inculcate in all a desire to maintain the peace process through upholding the Good Friday Agreement and bringing all communities together. It behoves us to work to ensure that we do not take the peace we now enjoy for granted.

Senator Higgins rightly mentioned the brutal killing of the mayor of Gdansk, Pawe Adamowicz, who was stabbed while speaking. We are democrats and democracy is something we cherish. We must work not only to ensure that it is nurtured, as Senator Ardagh stated, but to protect those who are elected as public representatives. We must also protect the right to speak and to hold a different viewpoint. On behalf of the House, I offer Mr. Adamowicz's wife, Magdalena, and their two young children our deepest sympathies.

Senator Ardagh referred to the lack of green space in Dublin's inner city. I hope we can engage in a debate on that matter in due course. It is important that a city has green spaces and trees, places of refuge away from the concrete jungle, the traffic and the noise. I will be happy to arrange a debate on that matter.

Senators Devine, Murnane O'Connor, Ardagh and Gallagher referred to today's dispute involving ambulance staff. We all recognise the importance of ambulance personnel but the HSE is questioning the right to have a representation heard. The PNA represents 500 ambulance service staff. The HSE recognises SIPTU, which also represents ambulance personnel. I hope we can resolve this issue. It is important that patients are not used as pawns in a dispute. It is also important that all voices are heard. I appeal to those on all sides to come to the table.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the very important issue of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, elements of which are being refined. Work is ongoing and when it is complete, the Bill will come back to the House. I certainly hope that will happen in the short term, namely, in the spring.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has published the Civil Registration Bill 2019 which will allow for same-sex parents to have the word "parent" recorded on birth certificates. That Bill will come forward in the spring of this year. I do not have the exact timetable. We have asked the Department for more information but we have not got that yet.

I did not understand the Senator's question on the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015.

The legislation has not been fully commenced.

I will obtain information for the Senator on that. I agree completely that the arts and creativity are integral to who we are. Earlier, the Oscar nominations were announced and we can all see the success of the Irish in the arts. The Senator is right to ask that we consider this matter. The Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is debating it this week but I would be happy to have a significant debate on the arts, the arts community and our culture and on how they can be part of a new, modern Ireland emerging from the shadow of recession.

I would be happy to have that debate and I commend the Senator for that.

I do not have the answer for Senator Conway-Walsh regarding Údarás Na Gaeltachta and the vacant units in Mayo. Perhaps she might raise that through a Commencement debate. In his contribution, Senator Dolan raised the issue of history. As Members will know, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, has set up a review on the teaching of history as an optional subject. That is to be completed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, in the coming weeks and we will have a debate in the House when it is complete.

I do not have information to hand on the health issues that Senator Bacik raised, but I would be happy to liaise with her about that. I join Senator Byrne in congratulating all the schools involved in the debate today and I thank them for their work.

Senator Boyhan raised the issue of Bethany Home, as did Senator Norris. The Government has today given a 12-month extension to the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. The fourth interim report has been published today. In regard to Bethany Home the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has said that she will wait until she has received the final reports before making any decision. I note the comments of Senators Boyhan and Norris and the commission. We will have a debate in the House on the matter that Senator Boyhan has raised on 6 February.

Senator Hopkins raised the issue of the N5 project, a very important one for providing a gateway to the west. Perhaps a Commencement matter might be a more expeditious way of getting an answer. I do not have the answer to hand regarding the project. I answered Senator Devine on the nurses' strike.

In response to Senator Higgins, perhaps we need to have a reflective look at what happened yesterday and some of the contribution she made this afternoon and have a series of rolling debates, as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said. That would be of assistance to us all and I would be happy to talk to Senator Higgins about that.

Senator Reilly raised the issue of St. Finian's community college in Swords. Perhaps raising the issue as a Commencement matter would be a better way of getting a reply. Senator Norris raised a number of issues, in particular regarding Egyptian television. We should all stand with and send a message of support to that person. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade needs to communicate quite clearly to the Egyptian Government our displeasure at the jailing of any person for interviewing people in a manner that allows differing viewpoints to be brought to television and media. We should all condemn the incarceration of someone for interviewing a gay person. I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will send a message to the Egyptian authorities on that issue.

On the issue of passports, having the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House for a Commencement matter is perhaps a better way for Senator Murnane O'Connor to get a reply. I do not have the information she mentioned.

Senators Feighan and Ó Céidigh raised the issue of the centenary and the appointment of the first Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy George Noble Plunkett, 100 years ago today. Senator Warfield raised a very pertinent point in advance of the RTÉ "Prime Time" programme tonight. We need to send a very strong message of support and solidarity to our trans community, which is very marginalised and needs support. We need people to understand and to be educated properly, not in a sensational way. I hope that tonight's programme is educational, informative and factual. As the Senator quite rightly said, we should all reject transphobia. We should all work to ensure that we bring people on a journey and inform them. There are members of our community who are feeling vulnerable, isolated, rejected and completely unheard. I hope that tonight and from now on we can stand together and have that debate and a movement of equality and inclusivity. I would be happy to have a debate in the House following tonight's programme. I thank the Senator for making that remark. As the national broadcaster it is important that RTÉ informs in a way that is not sensational or derogatory and ensures equality and respect for all people and all citizens.

Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of retail, and having the Minister come before the House. I would be happy to do that.

The issue of Brexit was mentioned by a number of Members, in particular by Senator Ardagh. We will have a debate on Brexit this evening and rather than give a substantial reply to Members now, we can have that debate when the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is in the House later.

I proposed that at the end of the Order of Business we would stand for a minute's silence in memory of our late colleague and former Seanadóir, Mark Killalea.

I accept the proposal by the Leader, Senator Buttimer. We will now stand for a minute's silence.

Members rose.
Order of Business agreed to.