The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the appointment of the chief commissioner and commission members for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 1a, Financial Provisions (Covid-19) 2020 Bill - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.15 p.m., with the time allocated to the group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; and No. 2, motion regarding the earlier signature of the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) 2020 Bill, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1a, without debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
We welcome the debate on the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) Bill 2020 later today. It is the next piece of legislation this House will seek to pass to assist businesses to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic and to try to get back up and running as best as possible. As has been said numerous times, we are in this together but we are in this for the long haul. This is not something we will see an end to any time soon. I acknowledge the considerable frustration and upset for many publicans across the country, who will be disappointed that the roadmap to reopening the country has been slowed down somewhat.
Many publicans will appreciate and understand that the rationale behind the decision is that public health is of the utmost importance. It is the top priority. The Government is working towards prioritising the reopening of schools. Protecting public health is a top priority.
I have spoken to several publicans in recent days. The key message from them is that they wish to know when they will be able to reopen in order that they can order stock and make provisions. Many publicans told me that although they are eager to reopen, they are quite happy to wait another couple of weeks to so do if that is in the interests of the country. I fully understand the frustration and upset caused to many, particularly in rural parts of the country. In my constituency of Mayo, many rural pubs have very small numbers of customers. That said, they appreciate they are part of the wider network of publicans. The publicans told me they are somewhat aggrieved that the actions of a small number in some parts of the country have impacted on the many. Those actions are regrettable. Unfortunately, we must act as one in this regard. We are one nation and one country. It is disappointing that the reopening is being postponed, but it is necessary nonetheless.
I welcome the public health advice that people should wear masks or other face coverings in shops and retail outlets. I do not know about the experience of other Members, but I have seen that not everybody in the supermarket, local shop and various other outlets in my town of Castlebar and other places is wearing a face covering. Some people are wearing them, but others are not. We wear face coverings not just to protect ourselves and our families but to protect everyone else as well. A person with Covid-19 may be unaffected by it, be in very good health and asymptomatic, and may come through it very easily, but he or she may infect another person who will not be so lucky. That person may infect another person with an underlying health condition or who is elderly, a person in the community who is vulnerable and would not withstand the disease. It is important that we wear face coverings to protect others and not just to protect ourselves. The evidence is mounting all the time that if we all wear face coverings, we will slow down and stop the spread of the virus and ensure the most vulnerable in our society are protected.
I call Senator Vincent P. Martin, who will give his maiden address to the Seanad and the Dáil.
Is mór an onóir é labhairt leis an Seanad don chéad uair inniu. I dtús báire, gabhaim buíochas le mo bhean chéile, Hilda, m’iníon, Jules, agus mo mhac, Jack Vincent Pepper, as ucht an tacaíocht a thug siad dom. Gabhaim míle buíochas freisin le muintir Chill Dara Thuaidh agus go háirithe le muintir an Chomhaontais Glas, na Kildare Greens. Gan iad, ní bheinn anseo inniu.
As Members of the Upper House, we bring our ideals, experience, vigilance and intelligence to the legislative process. That is especially important at this time when expertise is undervalued and those who seek to destabilise our communities through the use of social media are busy at their work. Populism has resurged in many parts of the world, including in Britain and America. Brexit and Trumpism share common attributes. They both concoct enemies, exaggerate social problems for their own benefit and propose slogans as solutions. Their effect is to divide their communities. To paraphrase one of the great world leaders, a country divided against itself cannot stand. In Ireland, we must be on our guard against populism. It seeks out legitimate social problems, not to cure them, but to use them to undermine the very fabric of society. In that way, populism is wholly destructive. It sets a "them and us" narrative. It imagines a conspiracy where there is none. It alleges fraud and wickedness where they do not exist. One need only look at some of the slogans that are used, such as "Take back control" and "Drain the swamp". They point to some ill-defined other which is the supposed cause of society's ills.
These slogans are full of raw and negative emotion and are anti-intellectual. This country must deal with the pandemic, Brexit and the existential challenge of climate change. These challenges, if nakedly exploited, are opportunistic breeding grounds for populism so they must be countered with positive energy aimed at solutions. The pandemic is causing us to profoundly reimagine the way we live our lives and may have the effect of greening our world in an immediate way. We need to take advantage of this new world. The green philosophy is a universal one based on climate and social justice being inseparable. It is inclusive and speaks to both the intellect and the heart. This House should green-proof legislation that comes before it, with a view to protecting the welfare of our planet, our people’s quality of life and to the future generations that will come after us. Green politics sees us all as human beings, not as capitalist or socialist, unionist or nationalist, or them and us.
I commit to work with other Members across the wide field of legislation that will come before us in order that I can play my part in reimagining a green way of life that is consistent with the well-being of our planet and its peoples. Gabhaim buíochas.
I congratulate the former Attorney General, Séamus Woulfe, who was appointed to the Supreme Court yesterday. He has served the country and this House well.
I raise the issue of closing pubs and responding on a national basis to what is in some cases a regional problem. We are taking a big stick to the entire country. While there are, without doubt, certain areas which are, for want of a better word, misbehaving by not following the guidelines, it will be detrimental to the tourism season if we take a blanket approach. I ask the Government and experts to work with local authorities, rather than taking a national view on everything, to see if we can open up some areas more than others and provide places for people to go that are safe.
The Leader, in her former role in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, discussed in this House class K PRSI. Class H PRSI, as it applies to public servants, also applies to most of the Members of this House. We had a successful outcome on the issue of class K PRSI for members of local authorities, although this has been limited in its success. Class K PRSI is now coming back to bite former Members of this House who lost their seats in the recent election. Members of the Oireachtas are human beings like anybody else. They are entitled to be treated in the same way as any other worker in this country. If we want to penalise public service, we should put a tax on it. To use the social protection system to collect 4% of the salary of every Member of this House and give them absolutely nothing in return is a crime. It has been accepted by a joint Oireachtas committee that it is wrong and in a court case I brought to the High Court, the case was settled outside of court and county councillors were moved to class S PRSI. Not every person who enters this House will be here for a full 20 years or will stay beyond a particular period. Young Members of the House who served one term were on class K PRSI. Their social protection record is broken and they are not entitled to anything. That is simply poor performance by their employer, in this instance the State. We need a debate as soon as possible on the terms and conditions of employment for Members. Former Members of this House are now in dire straits because they have no income and that is simply wrong.
There are other Members who have reached retirement age and they find their contributory old age pension has been decimated as result of being a Member of this House for a short period of time. That is wrong. The same applies to county councillors. We should have that debate and I ask the Leader to facilitate it.
I want to express my solidarity and support, given the very bad news announced this morning in regard to Eason’s in the North. Eason’s is reviewing its stores throughout the Six Counties, where it employs 144 staff members. Within the context of Covid as outlined by Senator Chambers for other sectors, it is a very stark reminder of the real threat posed to our economy by the Covid crisis. Eason’s is a very familiar Irish brand, well known to all of us, and I hope it can engage with the 144 workers and their representatives to ensure it offsets the worst aspects of that very unfortunate loss, not just for our economy, the workers and their families, but also a loss of something that is really special in Irish life. We all have memories of going into Eason’s to get our books, to get ready to go back to school and all of those things.
Ní mór a rá nach údar muiníne an dóigh inar ceapadh Aire Stáit nua, an Teachta Jack Chambers, inné. Go dtí gur ceistíodh an Taoiseach, níor léir gur ceapadh Aire Stáit ar bith don Ghaeilge. Mar sin, ba mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an Aire Stáit nua go dtí an Teach seo go labhróidh sé linn faoina fhís don Ghaeilge agus don Ghaeltacht. I call on the new Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, to come to the Chamber to outline his vision for the Irish language and Gaeltacht communities, given the crisis they are facing. I am very disappointed that the Taoiseach had to be asked yesterday by two separate Deputies, including my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, if the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, was in fact taking over the Gaeltacht portfolio, rather than this being included in the main announcement to the Dáil. It does not seem the Government is taking the issue of an Gaeilge or the existential crisis facing Gaeltacht communities seriously and that it is a mere afterthought. The various Gaeltacht communities will take very little comfort or confidence from the manner of yesterday's announcement. Mar sin, ba mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Jack Chambers, go dtí an Teach gan mhoill.
It is Traveller Pride week this week and while we can all be very proud of the inclusion of a member of the Traveller community in this Seanad, it is fair to say that is not enough. It is a step forward, it is positive and it is good, but it is not enough. I know colleagues will join with me in recognising the sterling work of Traveller community organisations and all of those from within that community who are doing great work across the entirety of Ireland. I wish them all well. I know they cannot celebrate it in the traditional fashion and it is a different Traveller Pride week this time. Certainly, I am very proud of our Traveller community and very proud to articulate that in this Chamber. I know other colleagues will join with me in that.
I want to raise an important and urgent matter with regard to planning regulations and to ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to the House to set out his plans with regard to co-living. Across Dublin city at the moment, a number of planning applications for co-living units are under consideration by Dublin City Council. In my constituency alone, four planning applications have gone through in the last nine months, the latest being a protected structure, Hendrons, in Dublin Central in the north inner city.
The Minister, while in opposition, set out very clearly his discomfort and lack of support for co-living. Now, as Minister, he has said that we have to let the market decide. Frankly, that is not good enough, particularly in a constituency like mine where we are trying to build communities. In particular where there are fragile communities, we need to try to build sustainable communities with a sustainable, long-term roof over people's heads.
It is a matter of urgency. As already said in the House by my colleague, Senator Moynihan, we need the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to suspend the regulations on co-living and for him to come to this House to set out his plans for co-living into the future.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that is, to take No. 3 before No. 1. I am seeking leave to introduce the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill to give effect to the seventh amendment to the Constitution, which, Members will be aware, was passed in July 1979 but never enacted. It is to extend voting rights in Seanad elections to the university panel to graduates of institutions other than those provided for, including Dublin City University, University of Limerick, Dublin Technological University, which is new, Munster Technological University and the institutes of technology. The legislation provides for the Minister to determine which institutions. I totally accept that there is a need for broader Seanad reform but, in this case, the intention is to give effect to a measure voted for by the people in 1979, to introduce a six-seat panel and to open it up to many more graduates. This is part of an overall reform programme. I seek leave to introduce the Bill.
I wish to raise the decision made yesterday. I can understand, for public health reasons, why it was made. As a consequence of it, we are going to see over the coming weeks very clear differences in what is permissible. Large gastropubs will be open and supermarkets will be able to sell slabs of beer for house parties, yet the small, rural, family-run pub will not be open. This has an impact on hotels and other venues that host wedding receptions. A constituent of mine is to have a wedding reception for 90 people next week and legitimately expects it to go ahead. With regard to wedding venues and so on, regard should be had to the actual space rather than the numbers. We are allowed to have only a certain number of Members in this Chamber because of social distancing guidelines. Consideration has to be given to those who are planning weddings in the coming weeks, in particular.
As we know, many families are under pressure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, most particularly those with children, young adults or adults who are vulnerable. From engagement with parents and service providers in Galway, I am aware that social distancing requirements and other health requirements are affecting service provision for persons with disabilities. Many parents, if not all, are tired and they are frustrated and upset over delays in the resumption of full services. I am not in any way blaming service providers because they have to deal with the impact of Covid on bus transport and residential settings. Respite, as we all know, is particularly important for parents of vulnerable children or adults with a disability. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State with responsibility for disability services, Deputy Rabbitte, to come to the Chamber at the earliest opportunity to discuss the provision of funding to allow for the full resumption of respite services for parents who are very tired at the best of times but who are particularly tired now because they have been looking after their loved ones, sometimes in a full-time capacity, for the past number of weeks. I wish the Minister of State, a Galway colleague, the very best of luck in what is a very important and challenging role. I hope she will be able to attend at the earliest opportunity to discuss the issues of respite and disability services.
I wish the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Dara Calleary, well on his appointment, albeit in very strange circumstances. He is an exceptional politician and will bring a lot to the brief and to his important Department. I wish him every success.
I wish to talk briefly about the great legend and footballer Jack Charlton.
I am surprised no one has raised this matter already. For those of us who were here during Italia 90 and witnessed the Irish team's return to Ireland, we saw what Jack did for us in terms of sport and soccer, which gave us great pride. I am a personal friend of Paul McGrath. I grew up with him so I had the privilege of being on that famous bus which travelled from Dublin Airport right up to O'Connell Street. I have a lovely photograph of the occasion on my desk. Our spirits were all lifted high and people who had never played football suddenly believed we had won the World Cup. I mention the great sense of pride an Englishman instilled in us that we could do it, we could believe in ourselves, we could play on the international stage, hold our heads up high and be proud. We had this belief when it came to various other sports but suddenly football became a really big issue.
I have heard so much in recent days about statues and monuments to Jack Charlton. I do not particularly favour monuments. We need a living legacy and it is for the Government to invest in sport and recreation and to encourage our young people to participate and be competitive in sport in a healthy way. I would like to know if we could have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come before the House at some stage. I know everyone is settling into their briefs and I am not expecting it to be in the next few weeks. At some stage, however, I would like the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in the House in order that we can discuss how we can get more people involved in sport, which gives rise to great healthy benefits. Business needs stimulus and everyone needs stimulus but sport must not be forgotten in the terms of both stimulus and how it can lift the spirits of our people and the country. I would welcome it if the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport could come in at some stage, when suitable.
I join the call to have the new Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Jack Chambers. I congratulate him on his appointment as Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach. Sport rarely gets a hearing in these Houses but we had two notable appointments yesterday. One was the appointment of the Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and the other, which I want to welcome, was the appointment of the new SSE Airtricity League director, Mark Scanlon. For those who love sport and for those who love soccer in particular, the appointment of a new director for our domestic league is a significant step, given both the turmoil that the FAI has been engulfed in over the past 18 months and the uncertainty about the resumption of the domestic league at the end of this month. As Senator Boyhan stated, when we reflect on the outpouring of grief following the passing of Jack Charlton last weekend, it brings to mind that in the aftermath of Italia 90, there was a huge surge in support for the domestic game and attendances at domestic league games increased. It dissipated quickly afterwards, however.
Sport is only really discussed in these Houses when an athlete achieves notable success on the field of play or, unfortunately, when there is controversy, as we saw in the committee rooms last year in the case of the FAI. We had two young men appointed to significant roles yesterday. Mark Scanlon is a Meath man like myself and I have worked with him over the past 15 years when he was a development officer in Meath. He has done great work there. We can all celebrate the big days but we need to develop a better relationship between the State and, in this instance, the governing body of the domestic game. If we do not have a strong domestic league, all the hoopla and the superfluous matter of the international team negate and do not address the substantial issue. The SSE Airtricity League has been dying and it needs real support. I call on the Leader to support those calls for the relevant Minister to come here so we can discuss that.
I wish to raise an important issue that has been brought to my attention in my new role as Fine Gael spokesperson on housing, heritage and local government. It relates to the exemption from planning permission that was introduced in February 2018 by the then Minister of State at the Department Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, where there is a proposed change of views for certain classes of commercial buildings to residential status. The aim of the exemption was to bring much needed housing units in towns, cities and villages back into use where they were previously vacant and underutilised spaces.
In Waterford city, 16 such units have already been delivered via this planning exemption. However, public houses are omitted from the class of commercial buildings that are exempted, and that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. While I understand that some local authorities are applying a liberal approach to planning in this regard, an issue will arise down the line if and when the owner of such a property wishes to sell it.
All of us have examples of vacant properties, and vacant pubs in particular, across towns, villages and even cities that will never again be used for their original purpose. In Waterford, 30 such units - restaurants and pubs - have already been used under the repair and lease scheme for that purpose, but we have to address the issue of the vacant pubs because they will not be used for that purpose again.
I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to the House to have a discussion on this issue. It is illogical that a shop on one corner of a street in a town or a village can be brought back into habitable use for residential purpose without the need for planning permission whereas the pub on the other corner cannot.
As has been done by other Members, I, too, send my condolences to Jack's family, but I want to speak about a living soccer legend. James McClean is an outstanding young man. He is a father, a son, a brother and a husband. James McClean is proud to be Irish. He is proud of his roots in Derry and he is loved by the people of Derry where he grew up. He is also an outstanding soccer player for his team, Stoke City Football Club, and for Ireland. He is an inspiring role model for many young footballers and has dedicated his life to the sport.
James McClean wears the green jersey for Ireland and its people on and off the pitch. As many Members will know, he has captained our country. He is a republican and a united Irelander, and why would he not be that? However, for almost ten years he has been on the receiving end of a vicious, vile campaign of sectarian abuse, online and off-line, similar to that we are seeing in respect of the racist abuse of black players. However, the big difference between James and those experiencing racist abuse is the support they are getting from their clubs, the soccer authorities and society in general. As he said this week, James has had little to no support from the soccer authorities, other players and society generally. I want to make it perfectly clear. James has my support, Sinn Féin's support, support from the people of Derry, and from his fans in Ireland.
Yesterday, in an interview on Radio Ulster, Niall McGinn supported James and his call and spoke out about the sectarian abuse he has experienced while playing football. I am sure James appreciates Niall's support. Niall has also called for support from the soccer authorities and for James and other players like them. It is outrageous in this day and age that victims of such vile abuse have had to go to the public to ask for such support. James is entitled to support from the FAI, he is entitled to support from all of us, he is entitled to support from his team mates, and he is entitled to support from wider authority.
I call on the Members of this Seanad to show their solidarity and send their support to James, Niall and to anyone else who is a victim of such abuse. I call on the Minister with responsibility for sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to lead on this issue and to work with the FAI, the Irish Football Association, IFA, and anyone else necessary to give James, his family and anyone else experiencing such vile discrimination the support they deserve.
Through the enormous efforts and sacrifices of the people, as a society we have succeeded in controlling the spread of Covid-19. In the words of the experts, the curve has been flattened. We have seen an increase in the R number - the rate of infection - in the past couple of days. We have seen a greater number of people testing positive, but we have got to be careful in terms of our response.
The blanket approach of closing everything, as done at the start, will not work again. This is all about keeping the Irish people on board. If we are to continue with that success, we will have to take far more specific measures that the Irish people will deem to be proportionate. Like others, I am concerned about the blanket proposal to keep all public houses closed. Public houses in many rural areas are large, but such has been the change in Irish society that they are not used to large numbers any more. That has been happening for the past seven or eight years.
I cannot understand why it is not possible to put in place proposals and measures that would allow the pubs to open in line with expectations by limiting numbers according to square footage, ensuring a degree of social distancing and requiring patrons to leave the premises after a set period of time. These are the same conditions that were placed on gastropubs and restaurants. Let us be honest. The opening of the pubs will not trigger an influx of people from all over the parish, with people who never drank before rocking into pubs overnight. I do not expect that to happen. We have to look at this carefully and proceed in a way that keeps the Irish people in tune with what is going on so they stay with the programme and feel they are making some progress. I ask for a rethink on the part of the authorities on how best to achieve that approach and continue, with the support of the Irish people, through this very difficult period.
I raise the issue of taxsaver tickets for public transport. Every single day, thousands of people from Dundalk and Drogheda in County Louth travel down the M1 on Matthews Coaches and Bus Éireann services, or take the train to Connolly Station or Pearse Station. They use taxsaver tickets to lessen the financial burden of commuting. They do this by getting tax relief on the ticket. An annual ticket on the Matthews Coaches service from Dundalk to Dublin costs €2,744. An annual Iarnród Éireann ticket from Dundalk to Connolly or Pearse station costs €3,620. I used one of these tickets for the last seven years when working here as a member of staff before we were given parking, so I know all about it. I spoke about this with a former colleague on Louth County Council, Councillor Martin Murnaghan, who also commuted to this House as a member of staff. We have come up with a pretty simple solution. The ticket can be used for five days a week. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, I ask that we consider reducing the ticket's operability from five days a week to three. In the Covid-19 era, working from home will almost become a way of life. We have to reflect those changes. I suggest that we ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House at some point in the near future to outline his plans for commuting and also for reducing the days on which the taxsaver ticket is valid from five to three days a week. This would help commuters financially.
I want to discuss something that is going to happen on Monday which will affect thousands of renters throughout this country. An eviction ban was put in place at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Focus Ireland and other homelessness charities have said that this has contributed significantly to the decrease in the number of people in homelessness. Most of the people affected by job losses have been in industries like the food and accommodation sector. Some 42% of people aged between 25 and 35 are living in rented accommodation. Despite this, the eviction ban is due to be lifted on Monday. Yesterday, people were told they would not necessarily be able to go back to work and that we needed to postpone phase 4 of the Covid-19 restrictions. The leader of Fianna Fáil in this House has said that we are in this together and we are in it for the long haul. This is scant comfort to renters who will be subject to normal eviction procedures from Monday. The ban on rental evictions is the one thing that has provided certainty to people who live in the most insecure accommodation. It has contributed to homelessness figures falling below 10,000 for the first time in more than a year.
I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to provide certainty to renters, either today or tomorrow, that from Monday they will not be subject to evictions. Many of them are working in the food and accommodation sector and in pubs. They were told yesterday that they will not be able to go back to work, which is reasonable and acceptable given that we are seeing the virus spreading indoors and in pubs. However, while they are told they cannot go back to work, it is unacceptable that they are told they may be subject to eviction. I call for an extension of the ban on evictions until October and probably until the end of the year and beyond until we are sure restrictions are eased and people can go back to work.
I echo the sentiments of Senator Boyhan. I have seen the great picture he had in his office with the Irish soccer team on the day they came back. Knowing Senator Boyhan for the past four years, given that he talked his way on to the bus, my only surprise is that he did not talk his way on to the team. On a serious note, I convey my sincere sympathies to the Charlton family.
I also congratulate Deputy Calleary on his elevation, Deputy Chambers on his promotion to a more senior post as Whip and Deputy Fleming from the midlands, of course, who has got a position as Minister of State. I could not let today go without mentioning the former Minister, Deputy Cowen. I have no doubt he will be back at the top table again. I wish him and his family well. They have endured a very tough time recently.
Many Senators have touched on the issue of pubs reopening, but we need to put some flesh on it. As Senator Dooley mentioned, the big problem for country pubs is that many of the specific grants will not apply. As the Leader will know from her previous portfolio, the local employment office, LEO, grants stopped in May. None of the pubs was open at that stage to avail of the voucher at that time. The restart grant for businesses is only equivalent to their rates, but many pubs in country areas are not paying high rates. There should be a set figure. These businesses are being sidelined, and their owners and families are being particularly put out. There needs to be a hard grant available, particularly to country pubs to help them reopen.
I echo the concerns many Senators have expressed about the pub industry following yesterday's announcement. Gastropubs, restaurants and supermarkets are all selling drink and adhering to social distancing rules. I do not see why that could not have been put in place. A number of local publicans near me have spent substantial money in the last week stocking up in preparation for next Monday. That this announcement was only made yesterday was wrong. The suppliers will need to give extra credit to these publicans who have stock sitting in their stores which cannot be sold.
Significant measures are needed, perhaps increasing the VAT registration threshold or reducing the VAT rate to the end of the year, in the July stimulus to ensure these pubs open in August and not left closed and then, as Senator Cummins said, used for turning back into accommodation. We want those businesses thriving and people kept employed in them. I ask for those concerns to be passed on.
My brief covers tourism and the hospitality sector. Many people in that sector are concerned that people coming from abroad may not have self-isolated for 14 days. I know the Minister, Deputy Coveney, spoke about this yesterday when he intimated there would be new controls.
If somebody arrives into the country and comes down to a restaurant in Longford or Galway, for example, the business owner will wonder what country the person has come from, if it is a country from which people are allowed to come into Ireland and if the person has self-isolated. No procedures have been put in place around what business owners can do in these cases and whether or not they are allowed to ask these questions or if they can ask the person to leave the premises. The business owners have to look after their staff and the other customers. I ask that an amendment be made to the Fáilte Ireland guidelines to allow businesses to ask a patron where he or she has travelled from and if the person has self-isolated.
Some days ago I heard that Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin has communicated to the family of a young woman with Down's syndrome aged 15 that her appointment for an MRI would not take place until 2029. I did not think it was a joke because one would not joke about something so serious. I thought it must be evidence of a computer glitch or a clerical error. Like many people, I was astonished to discover that this is what happened in deadly earnest. I am sure that many people are aware of this case as raised by Carmel Sheehan in County Kildare about her daughter, Kerri, who is 15 years of age and suffers from juvenile arthritis, which afflicts many people who have Down's syndrome. Kerri is taking the drug Humira to manage the pain of her condition, a drug which has a range of unpleasant and dangerous side effects. This makes a regular MRI necessary in order to monitor the effects of the drug.
I believe that six to nine months would be the intended gap between MRI scans. In January it was communicated to the family that the next MRI would be later this year. We know what has happened with Covid-19 since, and we know the pressure on the system but it is astonishing that this would be allowed to go through the system and that such a message would be communicated to a family. Kerri's mother confirmed that she had originally asked for the date and was told it would be about nine months. She could not believe that and rang the MRI section and they repeated it.
Figures last year show there were 165,000 people on waiting lists for MRI, ultrasound and CT scans. I am aware there are huge problems in the system but this cannot be allowed to stand. I ask the Leader how on earth can we tolerate situations like this and how could people be told, with a straight face, that they must wait nine years for an MRI scan, let alone a child with Down's syndrome? We have a serious problem here and the Minister, who spoke many times about waiting lists when in opposition, needs to address it urgently.
"What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality." Never a truer set of words were said. Being in politics, and I am sure it is the same for many of us, we all at times struggle with self-doubt and struggle in dealing with the impact of social media and other aspects on ourselves. There is a complete onus on us to protect our own mental health and that of the nation. The impact of Covid-19 has been huge on so many levels but the impact on mental health has been absolutely incredible. I listened yesterday to some of the mental health professionals when they spoke to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response about what they are seeing now and the increase of more than 200% in calls they get to their services, which is very alarming. Many of these calls for help come from people who are under the age of 20. On my way to the House this morning I listened to my local radio station, KFM, and heard representatives from Samaritans Ireland talking about the impact of Covid-19 on mental health and that they are getting calls every 39 seconds.
Three quarters of those calls are from men, many of whom are middle aged. We have a public health crisis. We do not want to have a mental health crisis as well. Far more needs to be done in terms of protecting where people are and ensuring that we do not have a tsunami down the line. Psychologists talk about the slow-burn effect after a traumatic experience, which is what we have all been through. Sometimes people can initially cope but down the line there is a significant impact on them. We have to identify the measures that need to be put in place.
For young people under 20, we must imagine what their world is like. Every single thing has been impacted upon - getting summer jobs, being able to travel - maybe going abroad on a J1 visa or having their leaving certificate holiday - and not knowing how they are going to cope in terms of college and apprenticeships. We need to invest more in Jigsaw and organisations like it. I had been working on having one delivered in Newbridge during the lifetime of the previous Dáil. I hope we can have an engagement with the Minister on that.
It has been a turbulent week in Irish politics. I welcome the appointment of the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is a very important brief and he is going to face many challenges. I acknowledge the role he is going to play in what is a vital sector for Ireland.
I spent most of yesterday in Castletownbere meeting fishermen. I met the Castletownbere Fishermen's Co-operative Society and the south west producers. There is great uncertainty within that sector. It is important that the new Minister goes to Castletownbere to meet these fishermen who have major concerns when it comes to Brexit in particular. If there is a displacement of major fleets into Irish waters, they want to know how they will survive. They are also concerned about the Covid issue and the price of fish, which has fallen by nearly 65% in the past four months, with a complete knock-on effect for the entire industry. Castletownbere also has probably the biggest port development in southern Ireland. It is a €30 million project and the contractors went off site last week. There are major issues regarding the fishing industry, particularly in the south of the country. The Minister's brief is such a large one. It takes in food, agriculture and the marine. It is so important that we get it right. The knock-on effects of getting it wrong will be very bleak for rural Ireland and for coastal communities. I invite the Minister to come to Castletownbere, meet the fishermen and the Castletownbere Fishermen's Co-operative Society and have an engagement on how we can move forward to develop the fishing industry in Ireland.
Before I call on Senator Keogan, I remind the House that we have to be out of here at a quarter to the hour. That includes the Leader's reply. Everyone seems to be going into injury time, obviously impacted by the----
Beyond injury time.
In honour of Jack Charlton.
In honour of Jack Charlton and the Irish team of many decades ago. I ask Members to be brief, by which I do not mean going to two minutes because they have it. If Senators could limit themselves to one minute, I would appreciate it. This will allow us to get everybody in.
I, too, want to be part of the congratulations to Deputies Calleary and Jack Chambers yesterday. I also want to say how sorry I am on a human level with regard to what has happened Deputy Cowen. I understand the public health measures that were taken yesterday by the Government.
I want to draw attention to an area that may have been overlooked. Every single racecourse in the country is closed to the public. However, last Sunday in our area and in the Leader's home town, Fairyhouse racecourse had up to 5,000 people descend upon it for its Sunday market, which operates separately from matters overseen by the racecourse committee. This made many locals fearful and regular racegoers angry. I ask the Leader what regulations are currently in place in respect of Sunday markets. How are these policed and what action is taken by the HSE and the Garda when operators are found to be breaching the guidelines relating to large gatherings?
I am sure this issue arises with other markets throughout the country.
I am seeking the Leader's assistance on a particular issue. In previous years, in the month of July young people between the ages of 12 and 18 could avail of free travel using the Leap card system. I have unsuccessfully tried to find out from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, whether the scheme will go ahead this year, possibly next month. It is a welcome measure each year for young people. I ask the Leader to find out about the scheme offering free Leap card travel for those under the age of 18.
I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, come to the House. As all Members are aware, there is a serious crisis in the childcare industry. Many mothers of young babies or older children are trying to go back to work, but are prevented from doing so by a lack of childcare facilities. This goes back to the issue of the under-resourcing and underfunding of the childcare industry for many years. It goes back to the Constitution, which states that a woman's place is in the home. We need that provision to be amended. A woman's place is wherever she wishes to be. Inadequate childcare services facilitate the viewpoint exemplified by that provision of the Constitution. If we are serious about gender equality, we must be serious about childcare and making available proper State-funded childcare.
I echo the words of Senator Kyne, who raised the issue of daycare services for those with physical and intellectual disabilities. We need to get the services back up and running in a safe and secure way for their users.
I echo the comments of Senator McCallion regarding James McClean. He is a good Irish republican and deserves respect. All racism should be prohibited completely.
Like everybody else in the country, I am disappointed that phase 4 must be delayed until 10 August, but it is obvious that it is being done in the interest of public health. We have no choice but to embrace it and deliver on it. It is certainly the case that the 3,500 pubs that do not serve food must remain closed because we know that mingling and interaction are part of the pub culture and among the reasons people go to a pub. All Members have heard many anecdotal stories about pubs that serve food and are currently open. I commend the thousands of pub owners who are serving food, running their business correctly and properly and abiding by the comprehensive Fáilte Ireland regulations.
The sad reality is that a small minority of publicans are not running their businesses correctly. All Senators could identify pubs in their local area to which people are going with the excuse of eating dinner, but then staying and drinking for hours. That is not right. I commend An Garda Síochána, which is doing its best to deal with this situation. I understand that many pubs of that nature have been closed. They are closed down, but they reopen the following day.
I am calling for a debate on the implementation of phase 4 and the application of the current guidelines in the hospitality industry. It is a vital sector. In normal times, pubs and other hospitality businesses in the Cathaoirleach's county and in mine would be very busy. This would be peak season for them. I have great sympathy for the owners of pubs that are closed and those that are serving food and doing their business right. For many of them, all they have to do is to look down the road or to the next village to see businesses that are not doing it right.
There is a need for a wake-up call in terms of dealing with these-----
The Senator is in injury time.
-----dangerous rogue operators. Gabhaim buíochas.
I promise to keep to time. In Limerick on Monday last, my colleagues in Sinn Fein, Councillors John Costello and Sharon Benson, called an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis in Shannon Heritage and, specifically, the decision to close iconic sites such as King John’s Castle in Limerick and Bunratty Castle at the end of August. This was a disastrous decision. The councillors received great cross-party support, not only for insisting on keeping those sites open but also, more significantly, on calling for the transfer of those sites from Shannon Group management to the Office of Public Works. I call for an urgent debate on this issue and for the Leader to ensure that a such debate takes place before the recess because these sites will have been closed by the time we return in September. They are absolutely crucial to the tourism offering across the mid-west. From speaking to the employees at King John’s Castle, they feel they have been let down. I would use the word "betrayal" to describe how they feel with regard to what has happened to them. These are people on the front line of our tourism offering. They have given years of service and are now being told that they are effectively being discarded. They do not even know for how long this will be. Their union, SIPTU, tells me that there is a complete lack of engagement on the part of the management of Shannon Group.
It strikes me and the many other people that these iconic sites would do much better under the Office of Public Works. I am calling directly for Government intervention by the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy O’Donovan, on this issue in order to ensure that funding is supplied so that these sites can remain open after August and that an orderly transfer to the Office of Public Works takes place.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I second the motion of Senator Byrne in respect of the universities panel. The way in which people have obtained degrees in this country over the years has evolved and it is time that we also evolve the legislation so that everybody who has a degree has a say in the make-up of this House. There is discrimination happening on this issue where those who have degrees do not have an opportunity to have a vote and this needs to be regularised.
I, too, come from a county in the north of the country and I am getting calls from publicans who are feeling a little bit discriminated against in that phase 4 of the reopening has been pushed out to 10 August. While I recognise that there are some difficulties with arrangements in some public houses which are not adhering to the rules and regulations as to the serving of food, the vast majority of them are and should be dealt with in due course. I ask that in the coming weeks the Government work to ensure that a roadmap is set up for publicans. I also ask that it work the Vintners Federation of Ireland and other stakeholders to regularise the situation in order to ensure that matters do not go beyond the 10 August.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come before the House to discuss his plans in respect of housing? The Minister has made us aware that he has major plans for all local authorities and for making better use of the services that are there to try to deliver the 50,000 units referred to in the programme for Government. I ask that we get the opportunity to see what those plans are in order that we might discuss them.
We heard news reports this morning about the major security breach relating to Twitter last night. This morning, the European Court of Justice has struck down the agreement between the EU and the US facilitating the transfer of data between those two parties, which generally occurs where there is a parent company within the US. That is at a macro level. My concern is at the micro level where I am thinking about the small businesses in the villages of Inchicore, Kimmage, Crumlin and Walkinstown that still have to adhere to standards of privacy by design. This is an important concern and a serious cost to businesses. Can the Leader facilitate a debate on privacy by design and, perhaps, the establishment of a task force to support small businesses and provide them with the guidelines necessary to enable them to adhere to privacy requirements?
Data is the new gold. We rely on Gmail and on the facilitation of communications that is free, but businesses have to consider what is the trade-off and whether the business is at risk. I believe small businesses do not have the competencies to provide that for themselves. Therefore, at a national level, we need to provide guidelines and we need to red-circle funding to ensure there are grants. There is a great Bill coming through the House this afternoon and in that I ask that we would red-circle moneys for the provision of support to small businesses, in particular with regard to adherence to their privacy standards, so that, at a personal level, each of our residents can adhere to their entitlement to their own privacy as a human right.
I ask the remaining Senators to be brief to leave time for the Leader to respond.
I will adhere to that request. I wish the Minister, Deputy Calleary, and the Ministers of State, Deputies Fleming and Jack Chambers, the best of luck. I am sure none of my party colleagues would have liked to get the appointments in the way they did.
To the Cowen family, I say that we all feel a certain sympathy for them. There is not a person in this House who does not feel sympathy for them, given the way this occurred. To Barry's wife and children, who have suffered enormous hurt, and I ask people to reflect on that, I want to assure them he is a good husband, a good dad and a good parliamentarian, and he will have a huge contribution to make to the Dáil and to Ireland in the years to come.
On the pubs issue, I suggest to the Leader that she would bring back to the Minister the point that if we have no more deaths from Covid in the next two weeks and the numbers of infections are kept low, at that stage, we might have a look at the situation of rural pubs. We are talking about fewer than 2,000 small ventures, many of them in rural Ireland. A number of those pubs, unfortunately, are not going to open because it will not be worth their while and they were having difficulty before this. There are also a number of publicans, some of whom I have spoken to in my region, whose capacity would be 70, 80 or 90 people but, because of the restrictions, that will be down to 15 or 20. They are not prepared to stand in a door and let 15 of their customers in and turn away ten and, therefore, they will not open until this is completely over. However, there are others who really want to open. While we have to stick to the guidelines and be very careful about this pandemic, and we cannot take any chances, if we were to look at this in two weeks and if the figures were favourable, we might end up in a situation where some of those smaller rural pubs could open before mid-August.
I thank Senator Buttimer, who has withdrawn from speaking to allow the Leader more time to respond.
The leaving certificate results are due out in the next few weeks and, as we all know, it is a very stressful time for students and their families, even more so this year with Covid-19 and all that students and their families had to put up with and the stress surrounding this time. I understand school principals have expressed concern as to how the results will be communicated this year in light of Covid-19. Normally, at 9 a.m. on the day of the exam results, students and family members would call to the school to get the results handed to them or, alternatively, they are emailed at midday. This year, there are the rules about social distancing to which we all have to adhere. However, there is also the calculation of grades this year, and teachers are very closely associated with the grades that students are going to get. If a student is handed a result in a particular subject and is disappointed with that result, it puts the student, the parents and the teacher in a very difficult situation.
I ask that the Minister for Education and Skills take this on board and consider how the results will be communicated and delivered to the students on the day they come out. Students have been through a very difficult and stressful time. We do not want to add to the stress and difficulty. Results day is not just about getting results. School staff are always available to give a helping hand to students who may be disappointed on the day. It is important that the Minister responsible for education consult all the stakeholders, both students and parents, to ensure the day will be as smooth as it possibly can be.
I ask the Leader to respond to the Order of Business. We have run over time and there is less time in which to respond than there should be, but we must take the sos at 11.45 a.m.
With respect, probably far more queries have been raised than I can respond to in the five minutes I have been allowed. With regard to each request for a debate, I will certainly write to the relevant Minister. Two of the debates requested in the past week have been acceded to. We will be having a debate on the July stimulus package next week, once it is announced. I will probably invite two Ministers to the House to discuss various facets, including finance, the economy and enterprise. I have asked the Minister responsible for tourism to come to the House to talk to us because tourism has been raised at every session we have had in recent weeks, not least because of all the issues raised today with regard to rural hospitality and, indeed, urban hospitality.
Senator Gavan raised the situation in Limerick. I will write today specifically to pass on the Senator's request with regard to the OPW. I will pass on the requests for all the debates and revert to the Senators as I get responses.
It has been a very interesting week. That is probably the kindest way to put it. I wish our new Ministers and the new Government well. I hope everything will settle down now and that we will get to the substantive business of the programme for Government.
With regard to the lovely wishes on the passing of Jack Charlton, I will do as I did last week regarding Dr. Tony Holohan. With the permission of the House, I will send a letter to Jack Charlton's family, including his wife, children and grandchildren, to express the love we all as a nation have for him, as has been expressed in the past week, because of the joy he brought all of us. I was only a young one at the time of Italia '90. I did not really know much about football but I certainly knew how to ride the wave of enthusiasm and joy Jack Charlton brought us. He is a national treasure. I agree, however, with Senator Boyhan that it is incumbent on us, notwithstanding the difficulties soccer has faced in this country in the past year, to build a living legacy to the tradition and the joy, and to the reinfection of interest in Irish soccer brought about by Jack Charlton. It would be worthwhile to have a Minister responsible for sport come to the House to talk about the plans not only for investment in soccer but also for investment in other sports.
Various Senators touched upon the advent of hate speech and its dissemination through various media in recent years. We need to have a proper debate on hate speech and on the Government's and society's response to it. It has reached a stage in this country when the smallest infringement is regarded as the most heinous crime. It does not just affect me because everybody in this House has probably been subjected to some form of abuse, be it online or verbally in person. The level of vitriol is just off the clock. I sometimes find it difficult to believe it is being offered by human beings who could put even two minutes' thought into what they write before writing it. It is just unimaginable that people could be so fuelled by the bitterness that they display, yet they are. What we need to do as Members of one of the two Houses is find a mechanism whereby we bring the vast majority of normal, sane, compassionate human beings in this country to a place where we can fight back, but in a very respectful way. We need new laws and a task force to decide what those laws are. We need to have a national conversation although I acknowledge that sounds trite. It should not just be imposed from the top down; we need to have a conversation. I will do my best to bring that about.
Reference was made to well-being in all its shapes and forms. With regard to the restrictions over recent months, I am aware everybody was disappointed yesterday by the decisions made. It is interesting — again, I do not mean to be disrespectful — that we are talking a lot, for all the right reasons, about reopening businesses in the hospitality sector, including pubs and entertainment venues, but not acknowledging that our R number is now at 1.2, or potentially 1.8 on the east coast.
I had the reports four or five months ago when our numbers were that high. It is scary to think of what will happen if we do not curb the spread of the virus. I know we all have public and personal responsibility but we have to try to act in the best interests of the economy and, more importantly, public health. I will express the concerns of Senators and I will ask that Ministers consider regional as opposed to blanket reopening. However, I know that was not done in the past for good reasons. For example, there would be nothing to stop leaving County Meath and heading to County Westmeath if the pubs were open there. I do not mean that tritely. I take on board the concerns of Senators and I will convey them to the Ministers and ask them to revert to us.
The continuing job losses need to be addressed in the July stimulus package. We will have the package in the House for a debate next week. I look forward to having the Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Finance before the House to discuss the July stimulus package in the coming weeks.
Senator Byrne asked for leave to introduce his Bill, No. 3, before Nos. 1, 1a and 2. I am pleased to say that is not a problem. I will submit all the other requests for debates in writing and as soon as they are agreed, they will be placed on the Order Paper.
Jack Charlton was a legend on this island. He brought so much joy to so many for so long. We will send a letter to the Charlton family expressing the sympathy of Seanad Éireann and the people of Ireland.
Senator Byrne has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 3 be taken before No.1." The Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.