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Seanad Éireann debate -
Friday, 25 Sep 2020

Vol. 271 No. 5

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

I thank the Cathaoirleach and echo his very nice sentiments to our men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann, who have served with the UN, represented our country and made us all proud. The UN and the blue helmet are synonymous with the Irish Defence Forces.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding appointment of ordinary members to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the amendment of Standing Orders 60, 61 and 105, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion regarding establishment of special committee on key issues affecting the Traveller community, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, motion regarding establishment of select committee on disability matters, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 3; No. 5, motion regarding membership of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 4; No. 6, motion regarding instruction to the Joint Committee on Public Petitions, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 5; No. 7, motion regarding restoration of Bills to the Order Paper, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 6; No. 7a on the Supplementary Order Paper, report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 7; and No. 8, Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m. or 15 minutes after conclusion of No. 7a, whichever is the later.

I join you, a Chathaoirligh, in commending the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann who have served with the United Nations. I particularly salute the brave soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on the HSE's winter plan which was announced this week. There is an urgent need for a debate in the House on bed capacity, staffing and the availability of the flu vaccine and its accessibility. I welcome the €600 million allocated to the winter plan initiative. It will be a major challenge and is an operational task that must be successful. I hope the debate will focus on the entire plan, not just the hospital setting. It must be driven by the community, home supports and home care packages. This is not just about beds, as some have claimed and have grabbed headlines for doing so. It is about staffing and creating access pathways to funding. More importantly, it is about keeping people at home and being treated in the community. We all recognise that in the context of Covid-19 there must be a GP-led approach. Do we need to send older people into our hospitals and overcrowded emergency departments, particularly older members of the community who have respiratory ailments? I do not believe we need to send them to the hospitals, nor should we. That is why it is important to have a debate on the winter plan. It has to be successful.

Finally, I reiterate my urgent plea that the House debate the aviation sector. It is in a precarious position, but there appears to be a malaise in certain sections of the Government with regard to that sector. I ask the Deputy Leader to urgently invite the Minister or Ministers to the House for this debate.

I echo Senator Buttimer's comments welcoming the provision of extra funds for a comprehensive winter strategy. However, I have been writing and speaking for some time on one issue, which is that we should have clear indications of what was done between March and now to increase hospital capacity and particularly intensive care unit, ICU, capacity. I agree with Senator Buttimer that this is, effectively, the line of last resort and that keeping people adequately treated and cared for in their homes is the optimal strategy. We must have a clear view of what has been achieved and what is intended to be achieved. I do not wish to be unfair to anybody, but I have heard senior administrators and Ministers being asked about what was done between March and now in respect of ICU capacity and they have all ended up talking about washing one's hands and wearing masks. There is something wrong. People are not being frank with the public about these matters.

I have a second comment on this. With regard to the regulations made under the Health Act 1947, the Government should be in a position to make those regulations on an emergency basis, but the regulations should be required to be given a positive consideration by each House of the Oireachtas for them to last a considerable period. I am not trying to ape Westminster, but I notice that MPs on all sides in Westminster are now coming to the conclusion that they are excluded from considering the merits, proportionality or reasonableness of the regulations and are not in a position to deal with the fairness or unfairness of some of them.

We live in a parliamentary democracy where the Government can, in certain circumstances, make emergency decrees but we are now living in a system of government by decree. The very least we can do, and should do, is to amend the Health Act 1947 to provide that if something drastic has to happen immediately in Dublin, or wherever, to cope with a crisis arising from Covid-19, it can be done, but the regulations, if they are to endure beyond a certain period of time, need a positive consideration by both Houses of the Oireachtas. That seems a reasonable thing to ask so that we do not just carry on with government by decree. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come before the House and consider amending the Health Act 1947 to provide for such parliamentary scrutiny.

I raise again the case of Emma DeSouza, which I raised consistently in the previous Seanad and will be familiar to many Members of the House. Without going into the complexities of the case, and trying to put it as succinctly as I can, Emma DeSouza was brought to court by the British Home Office for asserting her right under the Good Friday Agreement to identify and be accepted as an Irish citizen for the purposes of ensuring that her husband Jake, a US citizen, could reside with her in their home in Belfast.

We, across this House, have expressed political support for Ms DeSouza. The previous Irish Government, and this one, have been engaged on the case and offered support to Ms DeSouza. We have met the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and a range of representatives of other political parties in the past few months. We did not debate it, but there was cross-party support during the previous Seanad for a motion supporting Emma and Jake DeSouza and, crucially, their campaign. As I have often said, the stand they have taken was for us all. It was a stand for our rights and entitlements as citizens but at its core was the protection of the rights and entitlements afforded to us under the Good Friday Agreement.

Emma DeSouza's case is crucial, particularly in the context of the debate we have been having over the past while and the assault on elements of the Good Friday Agreement by the British Government. It was a stark example of the British Government knowingly failing to implement domestic law and codify in domestic law the rights of citizens in the North to identify and be accepted as Irish citizens.

As a result of Ms DeSouza's court case and her campaign, she is now faced with an initial legal bill of £36,000 for the hearing at the Upper Tribunal. The British Government appealed the Upper Tribunal result, rather cynically, and Emma was burdened with an additional legal cost of £45,000. A woman who manages a café and whose husband is a musician and artist is dealing with costs of £80,000, all in defence of our rights under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Irish Government has taken cases on behalf of citizens of the North in the past, most notably to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of the hooded men. The moneys that Emma and Jake DeSouza are currently raising are coming from online crowd funding.

We need to consider this in the context of the shared island unit and what is happening to the Good Friday Agreement. The previous Leader promised that statements about the shared island unit would be taken in this House in autumn. It is a crucial time for that to happen. Most importantly, if we can agree a cross-party motion supporting Emma and Jake DeSouza, I will engage other groups whose support I hope to have and we can then write to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to see how they can practically help Emma and Jake DeSouza lift some of this burden.

I wish to raise an issue that affects thousands of people, namely, those who live in defective Celtic tiger-era apartments. The programme for Government contains a commitment for the examination of defective homes following recommendations made in a 2018 report by the Oireachtas housing committee. The programme sets out that the examination should take place within the first 12 months of the life of the Government. The Minister has met relevant parties but I ask him to come in here and update Members on the review group that is being set up, as well as to guarantee a few key items for us. He should guarantee that the process is conducted in public and that the terms of reference and membership of the group are outlined.

In addition, were the Minister to come in here, he should inform us about section 35 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and widen it to include failure to comply with building standards for builders who have been involved in defective building. Section 35 already stipulates that it can be taken into account people who have refused to comply with previous planning permission. However, in a report into a new development in Ballyboden in Dublin, compiled by an inspector from An Bord Pleanála, it states that a developer, who is notorious for building defective units, alleged track record in complying with building regulations is not something that could be considered as part of this planning application. In order to avoid building defective apartments into the future and to create a disincentive for builders who know they can away with doing so, we should consider widening section 35 of the Act so that a history of building defective buildings can be taken into account when applying for new planning permission. Also, we would prevent cowboy builders from operating.

Finally, in September in a reply to parliamentary questions tabled by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, stated that she intends to conduct a review in the coming months of the Multi-Unit Developments Act, particularly relating to owner-management companies. I ask her to come in here and outline the timeline for the review and, in particular, whether she will prioritise the establishment of an independent regulator to manage owner-management companies as part of the reform of the Multi-Unit Developments Act.

We appreciate the vital role Covid testing centres play in the ongoing efforts to suppress the virus. Perhaps less is known, understood or appreciated of the vital role played by the Covid assessment hubs. They were opened throughout the country at the start of the pandemic to examine and assess patients, with possible Covid illness, in a safe and timely manner. GPs can refer patients with respiratory symptoms to assessment hubs that help GPs to keep their already busy surgeries as Covid-free as possible, as surgeries do not have the required cleaning and other capacities. Moreover, bringing Covid cases into surgeries would clearly endanger others.

Covid assessment hubs keep normal GP business continuing as safely as possible. They ensure that hospital emergency departments are kept for cases that justify and need hospital management, and further investigation, thus allowing most Covid cases to be managed safely in the community. Unfortunately, at present all Covid assessment hubs medically only assess 16-year-olds and over. We need a similar safe facility for children, that is, the cohort of persons who are under 16 years of age. I call on the Minister for Health to consider providing Covid hubs to assess children under 16 years, especially given the circumstances of, thankfully, all schools re-opening. In addition, with the arrival of the winter flu season, hubs would be an invaluable help to ensure that as many children as possible who have respiratory symptoms are managed safely and in a timely manner.

I join in commending Emma DeSouza and her husband, following on from what Senator Ó Donnghaile stated, and urge that we would look at how we can practically support them for the great service they have done in respect of citizens' rights.

I also request that we might have a debate on the budget prior to it rather than simply afterwards, as I am sure many across this House of all parties have a useful input to make before the process as well as wishing to respond to it.

However, the issue I really want to raise today relates to the Order of Business. I propose an amendment to the effect that Report Stage of the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 would be taken next week and only Committee Stage would be taken today. I wish to highlight a very disturbing creep regarding the legislative process. I printed out the useful legislative process that is on the Oireachtas website. There are also useful graphs and diagrams that we distribute to schoolchildren. Of all the ten Stages of the legislative process, let us see what has happened with the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020. First, pre-legislative scrutiny was dispensed with. Then Committee and Report Stages were combined together rather than having them dealt with separately. Yesterday, I was told that no amendments could be submitted on Report Stage, so it is not simply being combined with Committee Stage, Report Stage is being done away with altogether, in that there is no capacity to use it for any legislative purpose at all.

The final insult, and something really extraordinary, which everyone should be concerned about, is that the deadline for Members of the Dáil to submit their amendments to the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 was 11 a.m. this morning - before this Order of Business, before Committee Stage and before Report Stage. The Government has simply jumped straight from Second Stage of the legislative process to Stage seven. It is an extraordinary disrespect to Members of both Houses and to the legislative process. I urge the Leader to investigate this issue and to encourage the Minister to show it is not the intention or message of the Government, as it would seem to be, that it has absolutely no intention of listening to or even considering anything it hears in this House. The way the Government can show that is by accepting some of the very reasonable amendments that are being put forward on Committee and Report Stages today. There are 103 amendments to choose from.

This is not about the Government or Opposition. This is not about whether one likes the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020. There is a mix of views. This is a matter of whether we take our work seriously in this House and whether we take the legislative process seriously. I ask Members to vote with me on the amendment to the Order of Business, and if they cannot do so, I urge each Member to raise this issue at their parliamentary party, because if we allow this pattern to be set now at the beginning of a three, four or five-year Government process - if it is fortunate - we are really setting a dangerous precedent. It is absolutely unacceptable. I also ask that amendments to Standing Orders to reaffirm the normal due process and proper order of legislative practice is affirmed in this House and in the other House.

I also wish to be associated with your comments on the UN, a Chathaoirligh, and those of Senator Chambers, regarding the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. I am delighted that you, a Chathaoirligh, are flying the flag in this House today, so go raibh maith agat.

I thank the Taoiseach for going to the south-west inner city yesterday. As we know, the area faces tremendous challenges and struggles. Without simplifying it, these struggles include a high level of drug use, over-saturation of services for those with addiction and gangland crime. That is despite the amazing efforts of the community and individuals who fight fearlessly on a day-to-day basis for their community. I would like to see a follow-on from the commitments given by An Taoiseach yesterday so that a task force would be set up for the south-west inner city like that introduced by former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, for the north inner city. In 2019, a total of €6.5 million was spent on the north inner city task force. We need a similar investment, but more than that, we need a housing regeneration programme, in particular in the Oliver Bond complex. We also need sports facilities for young people and, ultimately, we need a long-term and short-term economic rejuvenation plan for the area. We need that to start immediately.

I intend to keep the pressure on the Government, through the Leader, to proceed with this and to keep the momentum going in order that it happens.

Finally, I wish to thank the Department of Finance. It is very welcome that those who were in receipt of Covid payments and who have tax liabilities as a result will now be able to pay those liabilities over a four-year period. The Department's flexibility in respect of income tax payments that will now not fall due until December is also welcome. This will be particularly hard for those who are self-employed and those in the hospitality sector. Donegal is entering a level 3 lockdown. Restaurants in Dublin are having real difficulty. They faced difficulty at the weekend, with huge amounts of stock going to waste, which was absolutely scandalous, especially when there is such a shortage of food in the community. We need stimuli for the hospitality sector, and the Revenue needs to be flexible in its collection of income tax.

I ask the Deputy Leader to request the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, as Cabinet Minister responsible for local government, to come before the House to engage with Senators on local government funding. As we know, especially those of us who are former councillors, local authorities are invariably under financial pressure, but this year the pressure has increased exponentially. The councils will be under pressure in a number of areas, not just for the remainder of this year but also for 2021, including housing rental income reviews; planning fee drops; fewer parking fines and charges, resulting in lesser income; fewer recreation and amenity facility charges; reduced use of council facilities, resulting in fewer charges being available; a drop in non-principal private residence, NPPR, income; a predicted drop in fire charges; a likely increase in uncollectable rates; an increase in bad debt provisioning; and an increase in Covid-related expenditure. Without Government intervention, quarter 4 cuts across our local authorities are inevitable. For 2021, the County and City Management Association projects that the average cut in non-payroll expenditure to achieve a balanced budget could be in the order of 30%. This will impact on the core responsibilities and services local authorities provide. Councils will be unable to make provision for capital projects from revenue budgets. The impact could be on shovel-ready projects, and local authorities are seeking urgent help to meet the challenges they face. The CCMA projects that the total negative impact on the current year of Covid will be €168 million, and the total negative impact in 2021 is projected to be €367 million. Some local authorities, particularly those that have a high reliance on tourism, whether in Galway, Clare, Mayo or elsewhere along the west coast, could be under even more financial pressure. I therefore ask the Deputy Leader to request a debate on local government funding as soon as possible.

I second the motion proposed by my colleague, Senator Higgins. Legislation is flying through this place at the moment, with all Stages being taken in one sitting and so on. She is 100% correct in what she has said.

I join the Cathaoirleach in complimenting the Irish Defence Forces but I will qualify what I am saying. Words of respect for the Defence Forces in this House and the other House are shallow when we look at the way our Defence Forces have been treated. I refer in particular - and I know I have the Cathaoirleach's support on this - to the men of Jadotville. Thirty-one of them were nominated for distinguished service medals or military medals for gallantry. Any other country would be lining up to dish out those medals. The men would have a parade on the equivalent of Dublin's O'Connell Street and have the entire country looking at them. What did we do? We hid them away. We called them cowards and would not allow their names to be mentioned. I want to mention John Gorman, the man who drove this for years on his own. Leo Quinlan, the son of Pat Quinlan, also drove it. If we are talking about the most loyal citizens of the State, we have to treat them as loyal citizens. When they are nominated for an award for gallantry, we should think about what it took to be nominated for that award. Very few companies of 155 personnel have come under sustained fire from 3,000 people with all 155 coming home alive. We really have to move on this. I am pleased with the soundings from the Department of Defence, from both the new Secretary General and the Minister.

I will briefly address the matter of ministerial advisers, which is on the agenda now. It is time we had a debate on this issue in this House. Who are these people? We have the most loyal civil servants in this country, who will always give the best advice they can to Ministers. If we are going to have ministerial advisers, they should be brought before a committee of the Oireachtas and be made to explain what additional skills they are bringing to their posts. They are political advisers, and if there is a desire for such advisers, let the political parties pay for them.

I pay tribute to the people of this country for the huge efforts and sacrifices they have made in the last six months in attempting to tackle this coronavirus. I know many people are getting tired and frustrated with the restrictions, but one thing we have learned about Covid-19 is that this is not a sprint, but a marathon.


I ask other Senators to please stop talking. The Chamber was designed for good acoustics, so we can hear their conversations. I call Senator Gallagher, without interruption.

I have seen the major efforts being put in around the country, including my local area of Monaghan, Cavan and north Meath. Sporting and voluntary organisations have been doing all they can to keep this virus suppressed. Unfortunately, however, this is a marathon and not a sprint. The news yesterday that Donegal, as from midnight, will join Dublin in going to level 3 is greatly disappointing and very worrying for the people of both counties.

In County Monaghan, we had 13 new cases in the last 24 hours. If we look at the situation across the country, this virus seems to be spreading despite our best efforts. The time has come for us to redouble our efforts. The one thing we have learned from all the experts is that there is no silver bullet to ensure this virus disappears. The one important thing we have, however, is that the power to control this virus is in our own hands.

I appeal to people to let us all put our heads down again and redouble our efforts, because we can suppress this virus. The simplest and most important message we can give to people is for them to imagine that every person they come into contact with outside their families may be carrying Covid-19. If we adopt that idea and we keep wearing our masks, maintaining social distancing and using our cough and sneeze etiquette, we will control this virus. I ask people to make that effort again on behalf of everyone in the country.

I want to be associated with the remarks concerning members of our Defence Forces and their service to the UN. I agree with Senator Craughwell that the issue of pay is something that must be addressed. Members of the Defence Forces give great service, not only to this country but also the UN.

I ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, come to this Chamber to discuss support measures for farming ahead of the budget. It is important that we get an opportunity to advocate for expenditure measures to support farming enterprises and taxation measures to support growth and restructuring in the sector. I also welcome the news that legislation regarding landowners availing of the fair deal scheme will come before the Oireachtas this term. I have met members of my local Irish Farmers Association, IFA, in Longford. Their priorities include the Common Agricultural Programme, CAP, transition funding, and whether full funding will be maintained for existing farming schemes in the CAP-phase contribution to the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, the areas of natural constraint scheme, the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme and other schemes. There was also a query regarding the maximum level of national co-funding of 57% in the CAP rural development programme after 2020. Will there be an exemption for agridiesel and agrifuels from carbon taxes, as there is no viable alternative to using those fuels in the farming industry? Will there be a reduction in the rate of stamp duty on land to bring it in line with the residential rates of 1% and 2%? Will there be an increase in the age limit to 40 years for the young farmers' stamp duty relief programme? Will there also be full compensation for any further losses during the transition period arising from the impact of Brexit? I ask the Deputy Leader to remind the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, of a motion he proposed in 2018 calling on the Government to work towards introducing a €200 payment for suckler cows.

More than 70,000 farming families depend on this. The future of people staying in farming in my area and throughout the country depends on this motion being enacted and delivered upon. For every €1 invested in the suckler cow beef sector, there is a return of €4 to the local economy, and in the current climate our local economies depend on it. I ask the Leader to accommodate this debate shortly, prior to the budget.

Like Senator Buttimer, I raise the issue of aviation policy and call for the urgent appearance of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport before this House. I am concerned about the airports in the west, particularly Shannon Airport. In fact, I have never been more concerned because, only yesterday, the Minister apparently ruled out any option of bringing Shannon Airport back under Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, management. If that is the case, it will have catastrophic consequences for Shannon Airport. The reason is simple. The stand-alone airport policy was always fundamentally flawed and has been failing for years. It was failing long before the Covid crisis. We could see that in comparison with how Cork Airport was performing under the DAA umbrella. It was failing because it makes no sense to set up Shannon Airport to compete against Cork Airport or Dublin Airport. When an airport is set up in that fashion, it has no leverage in negotiating with airlines. In fact, that model allows airlines to pick off airports.

What we need is joined-up thinking. We need a joined-up network of airports and a progressive Minister who insists on rebalancing flights. I call on the rest of the mid-west representatives, some of whom I see here today and with whom I have worked on this issue, to come out clearly on this matter now because it will be no good in six or 12 months. This is not about local party political advantage because we will all be losers if we do not save Shannon Airport. The model is fundamentally wrong. We need a change in thinking and it can happen. I am genuinely concerned about this. I did not believe we could have a worse Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport than the previous one. I had hoped we would see new thinking under Deputy Eamon Ryan, but coming out yesterday and effectively taking a civil servant's advice to rule out bringing Shannon Airport back under the umbrella of a properly thought-out network of airports was just disgraceful. I call on all of us to act together in unison to save the mid west, Shannon Airport, and the 55,000 jobs and €3.5 billion in income that depend on it. I call on the Leader to get the Minister in here as soon as possible.

I welcome the opportunity to request bringing the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment before the Seanad. In recent weeks we have heard how the successful application of carbon tax is being used, under the just transition fund, to pump money into areas of the midlands that have suffered and will suffer significant economic losses as a result of the ending of the burning of peat in that region and its impact on jobs. For a long time now, I have believed that a similar extension is required to include the Moneypoint region of west Clare. With more and more wind energy being brought onto the electricity grid, the demand for electricity from the Moneypoint facility is reducing and there are already plans in place for it to close by 2025. Well in advance of that closing date, employment is being lost. The ESB is restructuring there and many of the contractors that found gainful employment in that facility are no longer required. There has been a very significant negative economic impact on the west Clare region and I believe it meets all the criteria necessary to be included in that just transition funding model.

I appeal to the Leader to bring the Minister before the House in order that we can put our case yet again. I believe in the principle of carbon taxation and moving away from the burning of peat and coal, but I do not accept that, as we remove and change our structure, we must leave communities bereft of employment and investment. If we are to keep communities, individuals and citizens of this State on board during the difficulties associated with climate change, we must show that the State is prepared to intervene to protect and assist them with changing their livelihoods.

I would like to discuss sport. Does the Deputy Leader agree that sport can play a huge part in helping communities and organisations throughout the country to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic in the coming months and years? Does the Deputy Leader agree that the €70 million that was ring-fenced for support for all sports clubs throughout the country during the summer months was very welcome? I note also that the €20 million that was announced several weeks ago to make sure the inter-county championships go ahead was hugely welcome throughout the country.

It is important that we support every section of our local clubs, including male and female teams. They are a great source of community activity. While I am talking about sports clubs, I wish the Cahir GAA Ladies Football Club well in the county final. The team has had a difficult week. Cahir GAA has qualified for two county finals, namely, junior A camogie and senior football. They are being held within 24 hours of each other. The team has had to take the difficult decision to allow a walkover in the junior A camogie final because it has 15 players who play on both teams. When a team as successful as Cahir GAA qualifies for two finals in the same weekend it seems crazy that something cannot be done to facilitate it. If something can be done at this late stage I call on the powers that be to facilitate it. I wish the team well. I ask the Leader to call the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport before the House to outline his vision for the future of sport in the coming years.

That sounds like a First World problem.

I join the Senator in wishing the team the best of luck. I do not think the matter of GAA fixtures comes under the remit of Seanad Éireann. However, having been the chairman of a GAA team with dual fixture problems, I take the Senator's point.

I wish to put on the record my agreement with Senator Craughwell regarding the men of Jadotville. I watched the Netflix film of the battle the other night. If anybody in this House does not understand what happened at Jadotville, I highly recommend that he or she watch that film. They are absolutely inspiring men and they should be honoured.

While the economic consequences of the Covid-19 crisis have been well documented, its impact on the mental health of our people is an equally important consequence. The United Nations has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic risks sparking a major global mental health crisis. The World Health Organization has stated that the associated isolation, fear, uncertainty and economic turmoil could cause psychological distress. We can expect an upsurge in the severity of mental illness, including among children, young people and health workers. I have been contacted by many mental health support groups who have expressed their concern that as this crisis continues more and more people are suffering from stress and anxiety. Mental health services must be properly resourced to cope with the expected surge in demand for their services. Research shows that job losses are associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress and low self-esteem and may lead to higher rates of substance misuse and suicide. Loneliness is a condition that we normally associate with the elderly, but strong evidence now indicates that in Ireland young adults are experiencing the highest levels of loneliness during the Covid-19 pandemic. Evidence indicates that in April loneliness had decreased among those aged 70 and older while it increased among all other age groups, especially those aged between 18 and 34. Prevalence in this group has more than doubled compared with two years ago.

These issues must be addressed when the Government issues funding for mental health supports in the next budget. I would like to invite the Minister for Health into this House to outline the Government's strategy for tackling these issues.

Earlier this week we all received a briefing note from Ms Anne Timoney of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service on vaping and e-cigarettes and the negative health impacts thereof.

Although smoking is banned in pubs and public spaces, the obnoxious flavoured fumes emitted by these devices waft freely through the air.

Of more concern is the fact that there has been no real debate in the Oireachtas on the health issue relating to vaping. The question posed in the position paper to which I refer was clear: should legislators intervene to protect citizens or are e-cigarettes a tool in the fight against smoking? The statistics are concerning and show that 22% of 12 to 17-year-olds have tried vaping. Other jurisdictions have taken various approaches. In some areas of the US, authorities have intervened and implemented an outright ban on the sale of certain flavours, such as fruit and candy floss, that are believed to attract young people to vaping. These companies will probably try to sell candy floss cigarettes to children at the circus next.

This is a multimillion euro industry. Vaping shops have sprung up in towns across the country. The programme for Government commits to examining these issues, but they need to be taken more seriously. I have written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, to set out my concerns in this sphere and the fact that there are no strong regulations governing this area. If Covid-19 is spread through droplets, then the use of these devices in public areas could be a conduit for its transmission. Action is needed. This issue needs to be looked at, including consideration of banning vaping in indoor spaces.

I wish to bring the attention of the House to the high number of dialysis patients in Ireland who have contracted Covid-19. I was contacted late last night by a person who appeared on the RTÉ "Prime Time" programme last night. Some Senators may have seen it. The individual in question is on dialysis and awaiting his third transplant. Not only have 92 dialysis patients contracted Covid-19, some 29 of them have died, which is one of the highest rates in Europe per capita, but there has been a slowdown, almost a stop, of transplants during the Covid crisis. Being a dialysis patient means one is constantly at risk of contracting any virus, but Covid is clearly one that will cause death in severe cases. Dialysis patients have the added anxiety of their children going to school and bringing back illnesses. I ask the Deputy Leader to follow up on what the gentleman to whom I refer, who is a friend of mine, told me late last night, namely, that dialysis patients who are on a transplant waiting list in Northern Ireland are also on the waiting list in the South, but there is no reciprocal agreement. Could a North-South reciprocal agreement be considered as a temporary measure? We live on the same island and it is only right that we provide that service for patients in the North, but let us also look at how patients in the South could be accommodated in all parts of the island in order to receive the best treatment.

First, I welcome Senator Chambers to the position of Deputy Leader. I do not envy her. I see she is taking copious notes but I do not think she will have sufficient time to reply fully to all the issues raised. I welcome her to her position. It is an onerous and responsible position in the House and I wish her well with it.

I wish to echo the comments of Senator Higgins. What a fine Senator we have. It is great that we have diversity in Seanad Éireann and, in particular, Independent Senators of her calibre. She is passionate about all of her work and processes and procedures. It is worth acknowledging that. She certainly exercises all Senators and that is something we should be big enough to acknowledge among ourselves. I am happy to support her proposal. It is right and proper.

I also wish to acknowledge the enormous work of the Seanad staff because these backlogs and problems are not issues for them. These problems are political in nature; they are not administrative problems. I wish to be clear on that. I thank Mr. Martin Groves, Ms Bridget Doody and all the Seanad team. In particular, I acknowledge the enormous work done by the Bills Office.

I echo what Senator Kyne said about local government and its funding difficulties. I ask the Deputy Leader to consider inviting the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to come to the House and discuss it. We saw in a report in the Irish Independent yesterday that more than half of Dublin local authority tenants are in arrears totalling €33 million. That is not altogether their problem, and we have to address that too. The Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, talks about assisting people in social housing to address their rent problems. We need to help people. It is not all about revenue for local government, but that is a consideration too. We have to support them. I am advised that we need legislation to allow people have rent taken from social welfare with their agreement. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House and have a discussion about local government funding.

I join Senator Boyhan in his praise for the Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad, who were here last night until 11 o'clock going through all the amendments for the Forestry Bill. The House had to be kept open to do that. I thank the Senator for his comments.

I echo Senator Cassells's views on vaping. It is something we need to deal with in this country as a matter of urgency. It is getting completely out of hand.

I want to talk about the business and events industry in this country. I am sure we all remember this time last year and this time in recent years when the events industry in this country helped create the economy, particularly in Dublin. This time last year, a person could not get a hotel room in Dublin. They were all taken up, primarily by business conferences that were taking place here in the city. The role that the business and events industry has played in driving the economy of this country cannot be underestimated. It is believed to be worth €3.5 billion. Some in the events industry are so good at what they do that they operate on the international scene, but the problem now is, because of Covid-19, the industry has been wiped out, virtually.

Events Industry Ireland is holding a virtual budget briefing next week and it would be worthwhile if Members of this House were able to tune into it. It is making some reasonable proposals. It is looking for €15 million, which is not a lot of money, to create a digital transformation fund to help its members upskill and move into the digital world. The organisation also wants the temporary wage subsidy scheme extended until 31 March next for its particular industry because it will not be up and running until the middle of next year. The organisation also wants assistance in negotiating with banks on spreading borrowings, etc.

When we get out of this pandemic and go to the post-Covid phase, we will rely on such industries to help us kick-start the economy. This industry is promoting its cause this week. It has done it well. A debate on this particular industry and the role it has to play would be welcome at some stage.

I echo the Cathaoirleach's views and Senator Craughwell's with regard to Óglaigh na hÉireann and the Cathaoirleach's commendation of them. Similarly, I share the frustration of Senator Higgins, especially in the way in which the Executive has been treating the Legislature. I would ask, on behalf of all sides, that the Leas-Cheannaire would bring that back.

There have been significant changes happening at the embassies of our two nearest neighbours. At the British Embassy, the ambassador, H.E. Mr. Robin Barnett, is being replaced by H.E. Mr. Paul Johnston, and at the French Embassy, the ambassador, H.E. Mr. Stéphane Crouzat, is being replaced by H.E. Mr. Vincent Guérend. I say to those who have served, "Merci, thank you, go raibh maith agat", and to those who are arriving, "Fáilte, bienvenue, welcome." Our relationship with both countries, particularly in a post-Brexit context, will change. As we did in the context of the discussion on the withdrawal agreement, we need to look at how we can develop our relationship with Britain in a post-Brexit environment.

I specifically mentioned the areas of higher education and research and the work done by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce has done. We also need a strategy for our relationship with France, which will be our nearest neighbour in the EU, which deals with direct shipping routes but also cultural and education links. I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will address that.

I thank the Minister and European leaders for the strong stance they have been taking on the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, a murderous regime which is continuing to abuse human rights. It is right that the European Union takes strong action. The implementation of the Magnitsky Act, which provides for the freezing of assets, is really important. This House should start to call out some of those on the hard left, in particular some of our hard left MEPs, for endorsing the Lukashenko regime. The values that he and his goons espouse are not acceptable to this House. I commend the Minister on making those views known.

Except in Catalonia.

If Senator Gavan wants to defend the Lukashenko regime, please do.

I do not think the Lukashenko regime reflects the views of this House or of most people in this country. If Sinn Féin and the hard left-----

The Senator can pick and choose his values.

-----want to continue to support that regime, they can go ahead and do so.

Senators may intervene but they must ask permission. That is just courtesy. Following the intervention, the Senator may have more time if he wishes.

This shows that when we have a debate on foreign policy, the values in this House around human rights, democracy and a free press must be essential. That informs our human rights policy. It is a pity that Sinn Féin and the hard left support the Lukashenko regime. I thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and those European representatives who have stood against it and will continue to stand against those types of abuses.

I raise the issue of co-living because it is entirely unsuitable for the times we live in if we want to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. An application for a co-living development in Dublin 8 is at appeals stage. While it is yet to be approved, the proposal has had a terrible effect on the local community by driving up prices and squeezing good, well-intentioned developers out of the market. In Rathmines, a seven-storey, 98-bed development is planned. Units of only 16 sq. m for tenants mean this development will be nothing more than 98 bedsits. There is no buy-in from the community either. We must be clear that those who are pushing co-living developments are not being entrepreneurial because they have seen a gap in the market but are sweating their assets. They are trying to get rents of up to €1,300 per month for living spaces measuring between 12 sq. m and 16 sq. m. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has promised a review of co-living but I do not believe it has started yet. A freedom of information request from a journalist found that the review group has not been convened. Will the review examine how residents in co-living developments in places such as New York and London have coped during Covid-19 where they must share kitchen and toilet facilities?

Over the next six months, planning applications for co-living developments in Harold's Cross and Donnybrook village are due for examination. Some may even be constructed during the pandemic. The Minister can stop all this. All he has to do is sign a ministerial order, which he could do on his way to the Convention Centre next week, via the Custom House.

Such a decision would be welcomed and understood by many. We encourage people in Harold's Cross, Rathmines and the inner city, including North Great George's Street, to stand against these units because people power will stop them. The Minister can also stop them by issuing a ministerial order on his way to the Convention Centre next week.

I raise the acute need for further Government stimulus for the retail and hospitality sectors.

The way to introduce such a stimulus is through a gift card scheme in budget 2021. I ask that the Minister attend the House to discuss this suggestion.

Covid-19 has impacted on the way businesses work. We have 292,000 people employed in the hospitality sector and 250,000 are involved in the retail sector. Further stimulus measures are crucial if we are to help these vulnerable businesses to get through what is becoming the second wave of Covid and into the new year.

The Central Bank has estimated that €120 billion was sitting unspent in Irish bank accounts in July. By introducing a gift card system like this one, we would encourage people to go out and spend. It has worked well in Malta, where the Maltese Government introduced five gift card schemes - one for retail and four for hospitality. Although each voucher was worth €20, the average spend was €36.40, representing an 82% increase on the voucher's value. It proves that, when people use gift cards, they actually spend more money in shops. The evidence in Ireland is similarly strong. Of Irish consumers, 83% spend above the value of their gift cards.

In the current context, the crucial advantage of introducing this type of scheme in budget 2021 would be to encourage people to spend in shops in our local economies and communities, thereby helping SMEs to survive and get going. If the Government introduced this meaningful scheme, it would give our retail and hospitality sectors the extra level of confidence and spending they need in their hour of need as Covid restrictions increase.

"You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life." These are the important words of Dame Cicely Saunders, who founded the hospice movement, which has given great dignity, respect and comfort to many at the end of their lives as well as to the family members around them.

In 2001, the national advisory committee on palliative care stressed the importance of every region having a hospice. Sadly, there is still one region without a hospice, that being, the midlands, which consists of counties Laois, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath. In 2013, a joint study conducted by the HSE midlands region and the national hospice movement recommended that this badly needed hospice be placed on the campus of the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore. Since then, a great deal of fundraising has been done by local committees. In 2019, the HSE Dublin mid-Leinster region offered a site to the hospital in Tullamore. Sadly, nothing has happened to date. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for older people to attend the House to debate this matter? It is an incredibly important issue for people in those four counties.

I echo everything that my colleague, Senator Higgins, said. I would add that no Senator wants to see Seanad staff having to work to such an hour in the evening. It would not happen as a consequence of Senators doing their job, but of interference in the democratic process of this institution.

Last week, I mentioned Keltoi, which is the only medical detox programme in the country. For many years, it has also been the only programme to use a trauma-centric approach. Ignoring resistance from people like me and other services, Keltoi was immediately closed during the lockdown and used as an isolation bed facility. This meant that everyone who had been waiting to leave a residential addiction service and enter aftercare with Keltoi did not get to do so.

For the past few months, I have heard several reports from various services that some of the people on that waiting list took their own lives. I have not commented on that so far because I wanted to make sure that the information I had received was accurate and true. This morning, I received an email directly from one of the services that had been giving support to those men who took their own lives.

It is literally a matter of life and death when it comes to the addiction services. I am currently being told by the Department that the situation at Keltoi is under review but the fear is it will be outsourced under section 39. I call on people to see the reality of what happens when we remove an already very limited level of addiction services for a very particular group. People die. It might not make it onto the news or onto our desks, but it is happening. It is assumed that due to Keltoi closing, those participants who were waiting to go there can no longer continue their journey in recovery. I want to put that on the record and I call for a conversation with the Minister on the issue.

I want to highlight that today is Make Way Day and that we need to ensure our footpaths are clear for wheelchair users. I call on homeowners and the councils to cut back hedging, and call on people to stop illegally parking on footpaths and to make way and be considerate. I acknowledge that the councils, from what I have observed of Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council, have been installing wands on footpaths to stop illegal parking. While their objective is in regard to social distancing, it does have the side benefit of ensuring we have to make way.

In this context, I ask that we have a conversation at some point on the criteria for eligibility for parking permits for people with disabilities. I would venture to say, on the basis of a representation that I will put before the House, that the criteria as they stand are very narrow and quite archaic, and do not take into account all of the struggles people have. We need to widen the definition. The criteria state, for example, that to be granted the medical card and everything that flows from that, a person has to be severely and permanently disabled, and it shall only be accessed by reference to one or more of the following medical criteria, namely, a loss of both legs or lower limbs, or a loss of both arms or both hands, and the criteria then go on to other things.

I have a constituent who lost one arm in an appalling accident and she has had decades of applying for assistance. She has to pay for the adjustments to her car herself. She has been denied every single time she has applied, even though, every moment of every day, her disability is brought home to her. She has to live with lack of ability for toileting, for carrying shopping and for all of these things due to the fact she has one arm, yet she does not fit the criteria and has all the financial hardship that falls from that.

I ask that we have a debate in this House about the criteria for eligibility.

While we may have a debate, the Senator might also submit that as a Commencement matter.

I echo Senator Seery Kearney’s views on disability permits. The system is antiquated and the exact same issues are raised with me constantly.

I want to raise two issues. First, I would like to hear from the Minister with responsibility for communications on the roll-out of the national broadband plan, which has been unacceptably delayed. I have been contacted by many parents worried about lack of access and about their children not being able to complete their studies, log on to lectures or even download course notes. This is a crucial piece of infrastructure and is as important as rural electrification. This country and, in particular, rural communities deserve access to broadband.

I must stress that the broadband connection points, BCPs, are nothing short of a con job in most places. There is one planned in my locality at the beach in Templetown, which is no harm, but that is no good to a child who wants to get an assignment done. The only good thing is that the one day that I get to go to the beach, my Insta stories will be updated quickly, but that is the only benefit.

Second, I call for a debate on mental health services. We are walking a slippery slope in this country in regard to mental health services. We need to ensure extra resources are poured into front-line mental health services, therapy that is in line with social prescribing and addiction services, such as Turas Counselling Services in Dundalk. Our nation's mental health is in crisis and we need to help our families and friends who are suffering deeply because of Covid and the lack of resources over many decades.

As a previous speaker indicated, today is Make Way Day. I urge all Senators, when walking around the streets today, to look at the obstacles we all put in people's way. It is not people's disabilities that impede them but the things society puts in their way. We do not recognise their different abilities and how differently the world works for them. I urge all Senators to keep an eye out today - Make Way Day - and the next day.

I welcome the Deputy Leader to her new position. The last few speakers referred to our disability services. I want to talk about the lack of adult day services. This morning, two people I will call "Mary" and "Paddy" got in touch with me. Mary is 79 years of age and Paddy is 78. They have a son who is 49 years of age who has not been able to access day services since 11 March. That is wrong and it shows neglect by us, as elected representatives, and by the HSE that elderly people have been left without any resource whatsoever to help them care for those young or middle-aged adults with disabilities.

I, too, would like to see the Minister of State with responsibility for disability come before the House to tell us what the plan is in respect of those disabled adults and to tell us who will care for them in their later years. They have been forgotten during the Covid-19 pandemic and that is wrong. We do not want to let those people down. Nobody gives them a voice here. I am here for Mary, Paddy and their son, Brian. I ask the Deputy Leader to please get the Minister of State in here to tell us what she is going to do to restore day services. Services at An Cosán in Navan have been closed since 11 March. We need to help these elderly parents deal with their disabled children.

I support fully what Senator O'Loughlin said about the need for hospice services in the midlands. I was delighted to hear her quote Dame Cicely Saunders, who made such a massive contribution to the world in developing hospice care and in her vision of hospice and end-of-life care. I ask for a rolling debate in the Seanad on palliative care services and end-of-life care. I do this in the context of the considerable media focus over recent days on Private Members' legislation which aims to create a right to assisted suicide in this country. That is a very delicate and sensitive matter and careful and broad-ranging debate across our society will be needed before any kind of change is contemplated.

I am the first to support the principle of a free vote, particularly in matters of conscience. Our politics have suffered because of a lack of respect for free votes over recent years. That does not mean, however, that legislation should be rushed through on the back of media campaigns focusing on one side of a debate only. Let these impressive people with compelling personal stories be heard but there are other impressive people, who are perhaps less activist publicly, who have real fears about what change in this area would mean and whose life experience has shown that much can be accomplished when palliative care services are developed and strengthened. I prepared a report on this matter for the Council of Europe in 2018. Palliative care is not just about the management of pain. It is about psychological, spiritual, social and emotional support not only for the persons who are unwell or at the end of their lives but for their families. So much can be achieved. I regret the narrative put forward recently which uses terms such as "unbearable pain" because it tends to deny the tremendous things that have been achieved in the area of palliative care.

We need to have a full and broad-ranging discussion of that. When we do, people will be reassured that what is being done for people with terminal illness and in need of end-of-life care in this country is far better and more hopeful than other solutions on offer or that have been canvassed in recent times. I am sorry for going over time. I hope that we in the Seanad can lead by having a broad-ranging debate on this issue. I believe we will contribute in a major way to public discussion if we do.

I call on the Leader to use her office to call on the Minister for Finance, who has publicly said he is engaging with the banks, to engage on behalf of borrowers and mortgage holders, whether holders of home mortgages or business borrowers. When the Covid-19 pandemic broke it was welcome that the banks supported borrowers. However, the deadline for applications to mortgage breaks is 30 September. As the pandemic has progressed and persisted, many of those who have managed financially to keep going have fallen into far deeper financial difficulties. The Minister for Finance has indicated that we are looking at 2021 as a year when we have to plan not only for the pandemic but for Brexit too. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance and his office to update the House on the progress he has made with the pillar banks in Ireland in extending mortgage breaks for personal and business borrowers who have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

I will make a brief comment before I ask the Leader to respond. I know discussion on the Order of Business was extraordinarily long today. I am giving latitude as I know Members want to contribute and we do not have discussion on the Order of Business every day. That is why we are running over time. I call on the Leader to respond.

The Cathaoirleach might grant the same degree of latitude as I try to respond to the questions Senators raised.

Senator Buttimer called for a debate on the HSE's winter plan. That is a good idea. A request to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to come before the House has been made. I have been told that we are tentatively looking at Wednesday, 7 October for the debate and that has been confirmed by the Minister's office.

I was asked to arrange a debate on the aviation sector. It is my understanding that Senator Conway has sought Private Members' time to discuss that topic. Senators, including Senator Gavan, asked for a debate on Shannon Airport. Senator Conway's Private Members' business relates specifically to that airport. That should give all Members scope to discuss the aviation sector, which is in a difficult situation. I echo the sentiments of Senator Gavan on regional airports. My local airport, Ireland West Airport Knock, is in a similar position. If it were to go, it would be devastating for the region.

Senator McDowell raised also raised the winter plan, which I have dealt with. The Senator also made an interesting suggestion to amend the Health Act 1947. The pandemic has thrown up many new issues for the country that we have never dealt with before. We should be concerned with regulations that are imposed on the country without proper debate on their long-term effect. Obviously, we have to be able to respond in an emergency and deal with matters as they arise. The Government has to have such flexibility. The Senator's suggestion is certainly wise and I will pass it on to the Minister for Health.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of Emma DeSouza. As others, including Senator Higgins, have said, Ms DeSouza has performed a significant public service to all of us in highlighting the issue. The previous and current Governments completely agree with her position. She absolutely has the right to identify as an Irish and British citizen. That should be respected under the Good Friday Agreement. I was glad and heartened to see that crowdfunding has assisted in the significant legal bill she and her partner are facing. That shows the goodwill of the people in backing up what is a worthwhile and worthy cause she has taken up.

Senator Moynihan raised the issue of defective apartments. The Minister with responsibility for housing was to conduct a review of these homes. I do not have an updated position on that review. Senator Moynihan told the House that the review group has not met and I will take her at her word on that. Certainly, these concerns will be passed to the Minister to try to address the matter. Senator Moynihan also asked that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss the Planning and Development Act. That is a worthwhile proposal which I will pass on to the Minister.

On the issue of Covid assessment hubs raised by Senator Martin, it is a very sensible solution and recommendation, given that the hubs currently deal with those over the age of 16. With the return of children to school, it is fortunate that they are broadly unaffected by Covid because it would be a very different pandemic if our children were getting very sick, so we thank God for that small mercy from this deadly virus. It is certainly a sensible suggestion that perhaps there should be a separate location for children in such circumstances so that we can keep our GP practices clear and free as best we can.

I note very clearly the points that Senator Higgins made. She has raised them consistently at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges with all the group leaders. I share her concerns on that front, as does the Leader of the House. This is no way for us to be doing our business. We should be seeking to return to taking all Stages of Bills, as is appropriate, with sufficient spacing between each Stage to allow for amendments, proper scrutiny and debate. I want to see that happen and will relay those concerns up the line. The Senator received agreement throughout the House on that point and there has been widespread praise for her ability and passion in regard to the legislative process, which we are all grateful for. It is very important for all our work as Senators.

Senator Ardagh raised the importance of looking after the south inner city of Dublin. An Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, visited the constituency with her to meet local residents and examine the issues in that area. There is no doubt that parts of the city are very disadvantaged and are suffering because of that. There was considerable success with the north inner city task force established by the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and there is no doubt that something similar could be very effective for the south inner city too.

Senator Kyne raised the issue of local government funding. I have had the same representations, from not just elected members of local authorities but also council staff. There will be a considerable shortfall this year and again next year, and potentially beyond that point. The Senator rightly pointed out that all the areas of income for local authorities have been severely hampered by coronavirus, such as people applying for planning permission, using council facilities, rates and so on. The suggestion there could be a 30% cut to non-payroll expenditure is very worrying for every local authority and it is incumbent on us to do something about that.

Senator Craughwell raised the issue of the Defence Forces' conditions and pay and the specific issue of the Jadotville soldiers, something on which he has my support. I raised the issue during the previous Oireachtas and cannot understand why it has not been addressed. The Senator and I have discussed the matter on numerous occasions and he has my full support on it. I acknowledge he supports Senator Higgins's motion. As for the issue of ministerial advisers, my view is that it is good that Ministers or Ministers of State seek the advice of those who have expertise in areas where they do not. I would like to know that if Ministers of State at various Departments do not have a particular expertise, they will seek it out and not just go on the hoof and make it up as they go along. Expertise is good, but I take the Senator's point and his views on the matter.

I would like a debate on it.

Several debates have been requested and those requests will be passed on to the various Ministers with responsibility.

Senator Gallagher made a poignant point about the sacrifice of the people in dealing with Covid. We are at a difficult point in the pandemic six months in. There is Covid fatigue. People are frustrated and have had enough. I think there was an expectation when this began that it would be finished by now, but we are probably not even halfway at this point. We had a little respite for the summer months of July and August, when there was an easing of the restrictions and society opened up a little bit. Psychologically, people and communities needed that but now, as we head towards the winter months and the annual flu season, the impending pressure on our health service and on the front-line workers who are dealing with that is very worrying for all of us. There is now a real need to knuckle down and do the basics right, such as hand-washing, personal responsibility and mask-wearing, all of which are very important. All of us here are community leaders. It is important that we use our media and social media platforms and interactions we have in our communities to drive that message home for the next few months. Winter will be difficult, more so for some than for others. For those living alone or in isolation or those who are less able to get out and about, it will be a difficult couple of months and we all need to play our part to help people through that.

Senator Carrigy raised the prospect of holding a pre-budget debate on agriculture. I will do my best to request a date from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, although I cannot guarantee that will be forthcoming.

The agriculture sector is heading into a very difficult number of months as we approach the next Brexit deadline. We have had a number of those deadlines but the 1 January deadline for the end of the transition period poses a very real and serious threat to the agriculture sector in particular. The people involved are extremely worried about that and Senator Carrigy has raised a number of matters that I am sure representatives of the Irish Farmers Association have raised with many of us and which are worthy of consideration.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of Shannon Airport and I have dealt with this through the Private Members' debate. I hope it will give Members an opportunity to raise the matter. I agree with the Senator's suggestion of a joined-up approach for all our airports and we should not allow a position where airlines dictate how things are run in this country. It is very worthy of a conversation in this House as to how we might approach that matter because of Shannon being brought out of the remit of the Dublin Airport Authority and the complexities that come with that.

Senator Dooley raised the matter of climate action and the need for a Minister to come before the House to speak on it. I completely agree with that. Climate will be the major issue, along with Covid-19 and Brexit, in political discourse for the next four to five years if we get that far, as Senator Higgins has said. I hope we can. It is an important debate to have and we should be to the fore in Seanad Éireann in debating the issue. The just transition fund has been a major success in the midlands and I see no reason it cannot be extended if a particular area meets the criteria. I agree the Moneypoint region of west Clare is one of the areas that could certainly benefit from coming under that fund.

Senator Ahearn raised the matter of sport and the very important role it plays in helping people in communities to deal with the pandemic. Sport is a really important part of our lives, whether we play it or go to watch others play, or even whether we have families involved. Sport is at the heart of most rural communities, in particular. Pressure on local sports clubs will increase and they have not had the same access to fundraising that they would have normally. In normal times, fundraising would kick back into action now after the summer so certain supports will need to be put in place to ensure that at the local and grassroots level, small sporting organisations will not be left behind.

Senator Black raised the question of mental health and the very real impact that Covid-19 is having on it. We know it is a major problem and this will only get worse if we do not take action now. It is very welcome that the United Nations and World Health Organization have indicated that countries should be very aware of this and take positive action to try to address the matter. It can very often be an unspoken result of Covid-19. Physical ailments can be very easy to see or address but mental health can be much more difficult to deal with. There is isolation, loneliness and an impact on younger people. The Senator hit the nail on the head by saying young people have suffered terribly through the pandemic because so much has been taken from them, including access to friends, the potential for new relationships and a college experience. So much has changed in a short period and we are asking much of our young people. Their mental health must be cared for by the Government.

Senator Cassells raised the matter of vaping and e-cigarettes. It is a real issue and the Senator mentioned the obnoxious vapours that are emitted by users of e-cigarettes. I agree with the Senator and there is not really enough expertise around e-cigarettes just yet as they are still quite new. It is worrying to see so many younger people in the schoolyard and outside secondary schools vaping at lunch or before and after school as if it is a game. Maybe it is slightly better than having a cigarette but I do not really know - because we do not really know.

One could have a joint.

It is very relaxing.

Is it? Good for the Senator. To get back to vaping and e-cigarettes, which are legal but which still pose a threat to public health, we should debate the matter.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the matter of issues facing dialysis patients. There are so many vulnerable and at-risk groups in this pandemic and she has highlighted particularly vulnerable patients who are awaiting transplants. Many parts of our health service have suffered because of a slowing down and people not having access to services because all the focus is on the immediate threat of Covid-19. There will be a knock-on effect on other parts of our health service and this must be raised with the Minister for Health.

Senator Boyhan backed up Senator Higgins and I have addressed the question of the legislative process. The Senator is correct that we must have a debate on local government funding. Senators Kyne and Boyhan made those points today.

Senator Conway raised the question of the events industry. Dublin was busy and bustling this time last year, when it was difficult to get a hotel room and restaurants and cafés were full. It is a very different city today than it was before the pandemic.

If our capital city is not doing well, our country is not doing well. It is a real concern for the local economy here in the city, for people who run businesses and for their livelihoods. The suggestion from Senator Conway that we would engage with the events industry, which employs a lot of people and has been particularly hit because its business has come to a complete halt, is certainly a good point to raise.

Senator Byrne raised the issue of having a better strategy with France as it is now our nearest European neighbour. I absolutely agree with that. On the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, I share the Senator's sentiments. What we have witnessed is absolutely appalling and it is good to see world leaders step up to the mark and call it out for what it is. It is disappointing that not all Members would share those views but we are a diverse Seanad, as has been pointed out, which is good for robust debate.

Senator Warfield raised the issue of co-living. In the last Seanad and the last Dáil, Fianna Fáil raised serious concerns over co-living. Those concerns are even more serious now that things have changed because of Covid. It simply is not a suitable way to live, in my view. Certainly, the review needs to happen and I will raise the issue directly with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to get an update. I thank the Senator for raising this important issue.

Senator McGahon raised the issue of the retail and hospitality sectors. Like the business and events industry, retail and hospitality have been massively hit. There are stark figures with 292,000 employed in hospitality and a further 250,000 in retail. It is a huge number of jobs. As Senator Black also identified, there are a lot of younger people working in those sectors and a lot of people on lower pay. They have been disproportionately hit in terms of the loss of jobs and opportunity. The retail and hospitality sectors are in a most difficult period. Somebody said to me that it would actually be easier to go back and deal with the financial crash than what we are dealing with now. At least there was more certainty, remarkably, around the financial crash. We knew what we were dealing with and there was an end and a way to move forward. With Covid, it is changing every week and month. We do not know what we are dealing with. We do not know when it is going to end. That prolonged uncertainty is crippling the retail and hospitality sectors. They are areas that need specific and targeted support.

Senator O'Loughlin raise the issue of the hospice movement. I join her in saying that without the hospice movement and the local hospices, I wonder where many families would be today. Certainly the areas of Laois, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath need to have a hospice service. My own local hospice, Mayo-Roscommon hospice, does fantastic work helping families at the most vulnerable and stressful time. It is a really important service. I am certain that the Minister of State with responsibility for older people would be happy to come before the House. I will request that debate for Members.

I thank Senator Ruane for raising medical detox and the addiction services. It very much hit home for Members here today that if we remove these services, people lose their lives. It is a stark reminder of what some people are going through and the services that are needed. I will raise the matter directly with the Minister for Health. A lot of services have been put on hold, delayed or slowed down right across the health service. It is having a deeply negative impact on people. We have not really felt the full effects of it yet. Senator Ruane has presented the House with clear evidence of the impact of removing that particular service.

Senator Seery Kearney referenced Make Way Day. I thank her for doing so. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has a campaign out today to get people to make way for those with disabilities. It is really important that we do our best to move towards not just a more accessible society but a more inclusive one. They are distinct and different things. We take for granted the ability to walk down the path and step off if we need to get around a parked car or broken pavement. That is not possible for every member of our society. Every local authority should be doing its part to improve local services and access to public spaces.

Senator Keogan raised the issue of adult day services. She probably saw that I was nodding along while she was speaking. This is the harm that has been caused to so many people. We are leaving people in absolute isolation. I refer to services for families where an older son or daughter is still living with at home and the parents are in their 70s or 80s. It is a most difficult position for elderly people who are still caring. Lots of Alzheimer's day services have ended and are not back operating. A lot of families are in highly pressurised environments, six months in with no day services, respite or break from full-time caring. They are doing the work that the State should be doing. We owe it to them to at least provide a break every now and again from that. I will request that the Minister with responsibility for disabilities come before the House to debate that issue.

Senator Mullen might be surprised to hear that I agree completely with everything he said about the debate on the right to assisted suicide.

It is a very important debate for both Houses to have. It should not be rushed and it should be properly considered and thought out. There are many aspects to it. I do not yet know where I stand on the issue, and how we can be compassionate and assist with the difficult cases of which we are all aware, and also protect those who may be vulnerable if it does not work in the way we want it to work. There are many issues to be debated on the subject and I agree with the need for a full and proper debate. We should not rush this particular issue, and every aspect of it should be properly and carefully considered.

I agree that the extra resourcing of palliative care services is needed, regardless of the end-of-life debate. Palliative care is important at all stages of life, whether it concerns a young baby, a child, an adult or an elderly person. Everyone needs that sort of care towards the end of his or her life.

Senator Fitzpatrick raised the issue of mortgage holders during Covid-19. It is an issue that needs to be looked at by the Minister for Finance, because we have come to the realisation that we are in this situation for the long haul, and for the next number of months at least. People will need a break from paying their mortgages, and they should not be penalised for it. Given the recent findings of the Central Bank against KBC Bank and what we have seen some of our pillar banks do to Irish citizens and people living in this country, and the real harm and hurt they have caused, it is time for the pillar banks to step up and show leadership. They must give back to the Irish people in a time of need because the same was done in reverse when the banks needed help. We need to see the reciprocation of that now.

Senator Higgins proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That Report and Final Stages of the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 not be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

I thank the Deputy Leader for her remarks and hope we can work on these issues into the future. The amendment is being pressed.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 30.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • McCallion, Elisha.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Warfield, Fintan.


  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Frances Black; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne..
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.