An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on combating domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, to be taken at 2.45 p.m. in the Seanad Chamber and to adjourn at 4.15 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespeople not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes, time can be shared; No. 2, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2020 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. in the Seanad Chamber and to conclude at 5.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespeople not to exceed seven minutes, the time can be shared, the Minister to be given not less than four minutes to reply to the debate, and any divisions demanded thereon to be postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Wednesday, 25 November 2020; No. 3, Credit Union Restructuring Board (Dissolution) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5.45 p.m. in the Seanad Chamber, with the contribution of group spokespeople not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, time can be shared, the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate, and any divisions demanded thereon to be postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Wednesday, 25 November 2020; and No. 4, Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, with the contribution of group spokespeople not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, the time can be shared, the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate, and any divisions demanded thereon to be postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Wednesday, 25 November 2020.

For the information of the House, the statements on combating domestic, sexual and gender-based violence are to be adjourned as the time that would be required for all those Members who would like to speak on the debate to contribute to the discussion exceeds the time available today, because of the Minister's schedule. The statements will be resumed the week after next.

I congratulate the GAA and Croke Park on the wonderfully emotive and moving ceremony held over the weekend to commemorate those who died on Bloody Sunday. It was also very moving to see Tipperary winning its provincial title match, for the first time since 1935, and Cavan winning its match as well.

All in all it was a great weekend for sport. It raises the hairs on the back of one's neck to think that the four counties that were in the 1920 semi-finals are in this year's semi-finals. I wish the very best of luck to Tipperary, Cavan, Dublin and Mayo. I must also congratulate Kildare for winning the Christy Ring Cup at the weekend.

On a more serious note, I wish to raise the shocking revelation in recent days that thousands of intimate images of young women flooded the Internet. Revenge porn involves people sharing intimate photographs of former partners which has an awful psychological impact on the victims. The Law Reform Commission, LRC, has conducted research linking revenge porn to serious psychological harm to those involved. It points to the devastating impact on people's lives and livelihoods as well as on trust between two people. In recent days images were posted on a platform and that platform chose to share some of the photographs. It must be a criminal offence to share an intimate photograph of another person and to upload same. I acknowledge that the Labour Party has done a lot of work on this issue. Along with criminalising both actions, it is also very important to educate young people about dignity and respect to ensure that this does not happen.

The second issue I wish to raise relates to the Irish horticultural industry, which employs 6,000 people directly and 11,000 indirectly. Current legislation has prohibited all peatland harvesting since 16 June 2020. If this is not addressed, supplies of peat will run out in July 2021. I call for a debate on this matte with the Ministers concerned.

I thank the Leader for setting out the proposals for today's Order of Business. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, that he has effectively banned the construction of new co-living developments. Co-living was a disaster that should never have happened. To be fair to the Minister, he stood on his record. He argued long and hard against co-living and I am glad to see that he walked his talk and has delivered. That is welcome. If we have learned anything from Covid-19 it is that people need their own private and personal living space. That is a right that everyone should have. We need to redouble our efforts now to focus on good quality public and affordable housing for everyone who needs it. A healthy personal space with good ventilation and access to open space is critical. In fairness to the previous Minister, we were not dealing with Covid-19 during his tenure. We have learned something from the pandemic and that must be acknowledged. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on housing. It is such a vast topic that I would suggest we would need a few hours to debate it properly. Housing is clearly exercising a lot of people here. It is raised every week in the House.

The other issue I want to raise is the report on the front page of The Irish Times today, the headline for which reads: "Mentally ill prisoner found naked on floor of solitary confinement cell". The report makes for gruesome reading:

A European committee investigating conditions in Irish prisons found a severely mentally ill inmate lying naked on the floor of his cell, with faeces and urine on the floor and walls ... There were no blankets in the cell and the man's poncho was lying beside him covered in urine.

That is on the front of one of our national newspapers today. I had intended to come in here with a motion or proposal relating to the Order of Business but that is not necessarily the way to deal with this.

It is not about grabbing headlines all of the time or about beating one another up. This is too serious a matter. I appeal to the Leader to make contact this week with the line Minister and arrange for her to come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity. We need statements on this matter. A European committee has found very serious shortcomings in our prison system in regard to people who are mentally unwell. It is a harrowing story. I acknowledge Conor Lally, The Irish Times correspondent, who broke and ran the story today. I appeal to the Leader to do something on that.

On the Order of Business today, only 60 minutes is provided for the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2020, which is a bit tight. There are seven groups in Seanad Éireann and the suggested speaking time is seven minutes per Senator or Senators sharing, which leaves only 11 minutes for a Minister to respond. Sixty minutes for a debate on legislation is pretty tight. Perhaps the Leader would consider that going forward.

I support Senator Boyhan's call for a debate on prison conditions in light of the horrific revelations from the report of the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on the dreadful plight of a prisoner in Cloverhill Prison. It is a relatively new prison, so it is quite a shocking report. I urge that we would have a debate on prison conditions as a matter of urgency.

I thank the Leader for ensuring we have a debate today on domestic and gender-based violence, given this week we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2020 and gender-based violence. I note, as Senator O'Loughlin has acknowledged, that there is a Labour Party Bill before the Dáil which would prohibit and make it a criminal offence to publish and disseminate the sort of horrific sexual images that have been in the newspapers and the media recently. That Bill is before the Dáil next week. My colleague, Deputy Howlin, who pioneered the Bill, told me it is hoped it will be with the Seanad before Christmas. I ask the Leader to ensure that it is prioritised. It is essential that we pass that legislation on so-called revenge porn or image-based sexual abuse.

I also seek the support of the Leader for the Born Here Belong Here campaign, about which I have spoken before. Today at noon the Labour Party is launching a petition in support of the Labour Youth campaign, Born Here Belong Here, which was initiated in memory of our very sadly deceased colleague, Cormac Ó Braonáin, who tragically died in Dublin about this time last year. He had been spearheading the campaign to ensure we would give a pathway to regularisation and citizenship for children born in Ireland, which, as the Leader will know, is what the Labour Party immigration Bill seeks to do. The Bill passed Second Stage in the Seanad in November 2018 with the support of two of the three parties now in government, namely, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. We are seeking Government support this time around to ensure the Bill will pass Committee Stage. It is a modest proposal but it would give a pathway to citizenship for the children born in Ireland, whose number is small but significant, who face awful uncertainty and fear of an order of deportation hanging over their heads and the heads of their families even though they were born in Ireland and, for most of them, Ireland is the only home they know. At a time when the Government has been rightly been seeking regularisation of status for undocumented Irish people, particularly in the US, we need to be generous in our approach to citizenship here. There is huge public support for this. It is over 16 years since the passage in 2004 of the referendum on citizenship that abolished birth right citizenship. Public opinion has changed and moved on. There is a recognition now that in a spirit of generosity and solidarity, we need to ensure accessible pathways to citizenship for children born here. I urge the Leader and all Government Senators to support the Bill when it comes before the House on Committee Stage next week.

There is a crisis in contraceptive use in Ireland, as reported today by the Dublin Well Woman Centre. It is no coincidence that there is also a crisis when it comes to sex education in Ireland. Earlier this year, an NUIG report showed that 15% of women in third level education said they were dissatisfied with their sex education in secondary school. Faith religion has no place when it comes to sex education. It is about time for us, as a country, to recognise we have to move beyond that. The NUIG report also reported that a young boy in secondary school was taught that looking at the cycle was better than using contraceptives.

Those people are then moving to third level with that level of understanding. The report published today has shown that 50% of women aged between 17 and 45 years have had sex without using contraceptives.

A report from Growing up in Ireland, perhaps last year, showed those who are most disadvantaged are those least likely to use contraception, and that moves to the matter of cost. Along with my party colleague Deputy Ossian Smyth, I pushed for free contraception to be put into the programme for Government and was really disappointed to see the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, tell the Chamber last month that there had been a hold-up because of Covid. This is a crisis. It is about health but also about the well-being of our citizens. We need to see action on this immediately because it was part of the report of the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. We cannot just move forward with one part of the State's obligation in terms of access to abortion. We must also move forward with care for children and access to contraceptives if we are truly going to say that we are an enlightened country that is moving into a new era.

On Friday Sinn Féin published a discussion paper entitled Economic Benefits of a United Ireland. The debate on unity has been turbocharged by Britain’s decision in 2016 to leave the European Union, a decision that has exposed the democratic deficit at the heart of the union. Despite the majority of the electorate in the North, including me, choosing to remain in the EU, we have been dragged out against our will. That is a decision that will have long-term consequences for the northern economy, for workers, for businesses and for living standards. Despite what Boris Johnson and his acolytes in the Conservative Party claim, none of these consequences will be positive.

This, however, is only the latest example of a state of affairs that simply is not working. We should never shy away from the very live discussion happening all around us. To do that would be to do all of our people a huge disservice. The Good Friday Agreement did not settle the constitutional question, rather it asks us the constitutional question. There is an alternative to the union, an alternative to Brexit. Irish unification is a guaranteed path back to the European Union. It gives the North a chance to steer its own course and to enjoy the dynamism of an all-island economy.

Of course, whenever discussion of Irish unity begins, the question of the subvention for the North is often raised, this is the difference between the revenue raised and expenditure attributed to the North. So difficult has it become to make the case for the union that this has become the strongest argument in favour of it. It goes something like this. The subvention is so large that the South could never afford the North, and the North could never survive without Britain. Those who make that argument essentially argue that the Northern economy has become so weak and so badly served by the union, that it can no longer survive without fiscal transfers. This is not exactly the strongest argument. Instead, it exposes how weak the northern economy has been served by Britain. Surely we all should aspire to more than that. Irish unity would secure our place as an open, outward-looking, progressive island at the heart of Europe.

Of course, Irish reunification is not without precedent. This year Germany celebrated 30 years of reunification, and though not a model, German reunification is an example that national unity would not be an Irish project alone but also a European-wide project. The role of the EU would be even more central in the event of Irish unity. That is the vista before us, one of opportunity.

It could not come soon enough. With the twin threats of Brexit and Covid-19, there has never been a better time to take stock, talk to one another, and consider our future together and that of our future generations. I have no doubt this discussion document can contribute to that debate and I hope colleagues across the House, even those who disagree with Sinn Féin or even still think it is not the time for Irish unity, would take the time to read it, because what cannot be denied is that now is the time to start the discussion, the engagement and the planning. I ask that this Seanad play a positive role and emulate the vast levels of political, academic, civic and community discussion that is taking place on this issue within our society by having statements on planning for new constitutional arrangements as soon as possible.

While I agree with much of what Senator Ó Donnghaile said, it should be recalled that for a long period his party shared the views of many of the Brexiteers about trying to pull away from the European Union.

I am sure the Leader will join with me in congratulating those Irish scientists who are involved in helping to find a Covid vaccine. It was quite pleasant to hear on the radio yesterday Dr. Teresa Lambe, who is a UCD graduate, and Professor Adrian V.S. Hill, who is a Trinity College Dublin graduate, both of whom are now working at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, talking about the research they have done. It highlights the real importance of investment in science and in research, and also the record of Irish universities and higher education institutions in this area. It is important that we have a discussion on how we are living with Covid and look into research on how we have coped with this period. The Leader has also spoken about the impact it has on society. We have to look at investing in research in our own higher education institutions and to learn from our experience.

I would also hope we could have a debate on the scourge of illegal dumping. This impacts all of our communities. It seems to have been on the rise over the Covid period. In the case of Wexford County Council, for example, to date this year the council has spent €1.86 million dealing with illegal dumping. In comparison, it spent €2.6 million for the whole of 2019. I am sure this is replicated in local authority areas right around the country. It is highlighted by local media and it really annoys tidy towns committees and local community groups that try to keep their areas clean. We must tackle the scourge of illegal dumping and those who are responsible will have to be caught, perhaps by making provision for cameras while working within data protection provisions. It is no longer acceptable in our communities. I ask for a debate on that matter.

It is shocking to hear the news of the 10,000 images, on which the Leader has also spoken. That the images were gathered in the first place is really sinister and suggests an orchestrated facility to exchange images of women and underage girls. While some of the photographs and images were taken unbeknown to the victims, many of the images were conveyed in a trusting relationship where the original recipient was someone who was known and trusted.

Consent is everything and the context of sharing is everything to the permitted use of the images of another person. Photographs shared in an intimate relationship have a very confined context and to share them without the consent of another is a very serious violation on a whole heap of levels, but also of privacy. I will address the privacy element today.

It should be instinctive that photographs exchanged in an intimate context should be deleted at the termination of the relationship, or at the very least that they most certainly should not be shared. That is a serious lack of awareness and consideration, or a misunderstanding at its very least, of fundamental privacy rights. It is a serious flaw in our thinking and our use of technology that we do not have that instinctive sense of privacy and boundaries.

It is of deeper concern that underage girls have been victims of this. CyberSafeIreland has said that 93% of pre-teens own smart devices. This is 93% who have the potential to share inappropriate images, and people who share those images on are committing a criminal offence.

We need a debate in the House and we need the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to look at the feasibility of running privacy education in our schools. This must be fundamental to our curriculum in this rapidly changing world.

Article 40.6.1° of the Constitution refers to the media as the "organs of public opinion". RTÉ, as the national broadcaster, enjoys a privileged position among these organs of public opinion, and not least because it receives almost €200 million annually from the licence fee payer who is compelled by law to pay. The licence fee payers and members of the public listen to the news and headlines as framed by those working in the top echelons of RTÉ.

All year long, the public has watched and listened as RTÉ put Covid centre stage. All year long, the nation has been suffering and making sacrifices to comply with harsh Covid-related restrictions. Often, the news coverage was far from dispassionate in tone, which is how it ought to be. Oftentimes the coverage bordered on moralistic or sensational, lecturing and scorning those who strayed from strict compliance to social distancing rules.

It is impossible to avoid comparison between the RTÉ retirement party we have seen photographs of and the so-called golfgate. That event generated a media frenzy culminating in high-profile political resignations. Top-paid journalists in RTÉ demanded accountability for those in positions of power or those in the public sphere. They subject such people to persistent scrutiny. They point the camera lens and microphone at them, as they should. At the same time, however, those who demand accountability from others should equally be held to account. We cannot have one rule for the majority and another for those with such a platform. Is a simple apology acceptable? It is for others to decide what is and is not acceptable. There are important questions to be answered by those involved in this retirement party about who organised it and how it came about. I welcome the Garda inquiry into the matter to try to ascertain if Covid-19 regulations have been breached. I also support the matter being raised with RTÉ management by the joint committee on communications at the earliest possible opportunity.

I take this opportunity to mention this because there are so many people around the world, in Cavan and Tipperary as well as the diaspora abroad, whose hearts were lifted this weekend with both wins. I look forward to Cavan beating Dublin in the semi-final.

As do we all.

As the Taoiseach and the Government take on the unenviable task this week of further relaxing restrictions around Covid-19, it is imperative that consideration is given to the capacity of people to live with Covid for the coming weeks, while at the same time having some semblance of a Christmas experience. Retail, barbershops and hairdressers must open without delay. We also have to ensure restaurants and pubs get an opportunity to provide their services in a safe and efficient way over the coming weeks. It is clear that the economy has been dealt a huge blow by Covid-19 but we have to start reopening it to allow people to have some sense of a Christmas experience. I hope the Government will take that into consideration.

There has also been an effort over recent weeks and months to divide society when it comes to people's capacity to respond and adhere to the rules and guidance during this pandemic. We should be closing gates rather than opening them and the sooner we get the RTÉ gate closed, the better for everyone. These are professional, hard-working people who are doing their jobs. They made mistakes. There is a context to this and in my humble opinion, a relatively minor mistake was made. They have apologised and they are being held to account. While I do not want to comment on any Garda investigation, and the Garda has to respond to reports and complaints when they are made, anyone who thinks it is good use of Garda time to be hanging around Montrose wondering who sent out an email and whether it complied with the strict letter of the guidelines has a fundamental misunderstanding of how this State is policed.

There is only a 20% uptake of the flu vaccine for children at national level and GPs are saying the exact same thing. It is crucial that we encourage parents to bring children for an appointment with their GP or a pharmacist. The nasal spray makes the vaccine easy for children to take. Best of all, it is free for children between the ages of two and 12. Families will be coming together at Christmas and it is crucial that parents know there is no possibility of their children passing the winter flu to older loved ones.

It is extremely infectious, it passes easily from person to person, and we deal with it every winter period. Children who are sick miss out on going to crèche, playing sport and playing with their friends, and they can also get serious complications from the flu. Children can be admitted to hospital with follow-on bronchitis or pneumonia. The HSE has noted that in the past ten years 5,000 children were admitted to hospital due to complications from the winter flu, and some with serious consequences. Getting this winter flu nasal spray will help in keeping people out of hospital, and freeing up beds for those in need during this Covid-19 pandemic. GPs have recently expressed concern about the short shelf life of the winter flu nasal spray, which is only 18 weeks. They have the capacity to deliver, however we need a co-ordinated national campaign to encourage take-up of this nasal spray for the winter flu. I am calling on the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and the Department of Health officials to develop an immediate, targeted television, print and social media campaign to increase take-up in the next few weeks so that more parents bring their children to get the nasal spray vaccine. I urge parents to bring their children to get the free nasal spray. It is a very simple procedure and by taking their children to get the spray, they will make a difference by keeping people out of hospital.

As I explained previously, for the benefit of Members, I have asked party Whips to ask colleagues about the rota and to decide which parties will speak, because I do not want, for example, 19 Fianna Fáil Senators showing up at the start of the Order of Business and the same with Fine Gael Senators. We cannot have a full Chamber. There is a rota and the Whips submit the names to the Chair, and they are put in order. I would ask that when Members are listed in order that they would be in for-----

On a point of order, some of us are not part of a political grouping at the moment, and there does seem to be apartheid from the Chair regarding some of us.

No. Sorry, Senator-----

Gabh mo leithscéal, I am entitled to make a point of order-----

Can I clarify a point-----

This is not the first time-----

The Senator's name was on the list.

Some of us have been here since the beginning of the Order of Business to facilitate a quorum, and have been here since half past the hour, and we were not able to get in. I do not know how the system is operated. I am not having a row with the Cathaoirleach, but there is apartheid against some of us in respect of the operation of procedure, which is grossly unfair.

For the benefit of Senator Buttimer, his name has been submitted by the Fine Gael Whip and he is fifth on the list. I have put him in the order that I received the request. Other Senators were put in ahead of Senator Buttimer and have arrived in late. I ask Senators to arrive at the start of the Order of Business if they are in line to speak, but I will circulate the email that I received from the Fine Gael Whip-----

(Interruptions).

Somebody submitted it. Senator Buttimer might wish to take the issue up with the Fine Gael Party. There is no apartheid going on in this House-----

I have been here since 10.30 a.m. and-----

I ask Senator Buttimer-----

-----and I raised my hand at 10.30 a.m. to speak. I am not having a row with the Cathaoirleach, but there needs to be an element of fairness in the allocation of speaking time. I will raise the issue again when I get to speak. I would like to make the point that it is not personal.

The Senator has accused the Chair of apartheid in this House.

Well I have been here since 10.30 a.m.-----

I ask the Senator to withdraw-----

(Interruptions).

I withdraw the remark.

I will circulate the email that I received from the Fine Gael Whip, and Senator Buttimer is fifth on the list. That is the system that we have operated because of Covid-19, and I know that the old system was different, whereby Members would come in, raise their hands and be taken in that order. That is not the system we are currently operating because of Covid-19. I have made that clear, week in, week out. I have asked Whips to send in the list. I know that Members arrive in and then they seem to be taken ahead of others, but that is because we are operating a new system.

On a point of order, that does not apply. That does not apply to all the ways we operate in this House. On the issue of list to which the Cathaoirleach is referring regarding the Order of Business and other debates, whether they concern legislation, or statements, there is no uniformity of application from the Cathaoirleach regarding the names that are submitted. That is the point that I am making. I am not having a row with the Cathaoirleach, and I apologise if he has taken it personally, because it was not meant that way. However, there is an inconsistency in the use of a system of names for the allocation of speaking slots. That is the point I am making. I was not referring to the Cathaoirleach, and I apologise if he thinks I was, because I was not. However, one could be here for a debate on a given day, waiting to get in and not able to get in, even though one's name has been submitted. There are a number of lists being operated by those in the chair that the Cathaoirleach occupies, and the system is not fair to Members who come here in good faith. That is the point I am making; I am not just referring to what happened this morning, but I do take the Cathaoirleach's point. The reason that I am aggrieved relates to the point Senator Boyhan has made, which is that many of us have submitted our names, and have not been able to get in because there is a different list system in operation. That is the point I am making.

That is the point I am making. Can you see it from my perspective, a Chathaoirligh?

I hear what Senator Buttimer is saying.

As far as I am concerned, on any Order of Business we have ever had, nobody has been excluded.

I am not referring just to the Order of Business, a Chathaoirligh. It is frustrating and annoying to many of us who are trying our best to make contributions to business and statements of the House, that we cannot get in.

If I could just make this point to Senator Buttimer, his name is on the list.

I appreciate that.

The fact that he was unaware that his name was on the list is not my fault.

I was not referring-----

We are operating a system-----

A Chathaoirligh-----

Senator Buttimer should let me finish.

Sure, absolutely.

We have operated a system due to Covid-19 where people are asked to submit names. This is for the safety of everyone in the House. Senator Buttimer's name is on the list today. His name will be called, as will everybody else. I know people watch other Members come in and wonder why they are called to speak ahead of them. That is because we are operating this particular system. Under the old system, people would just come in and be taken in the order in which they arrived, as best we could.

That is not my point, a Chathaoirligh. I have no issue with that. I accept that-----

That was the point Senator Buttimer started with.

Yes, but I am making-----

In regard to other issues-----

But, a Chathaoirligh, you are the custodian of the position of Cathaoirleach, and there is an element of unfairness, however it happens, where Members cannot make a contribution to debates on legislation but predominantly on statements. If we go back to last week, some of us had to either share a minute and a half or two minutes each, or we could not get in at all.

I thank Senator Buttimer.

I appreciate the element of Covid-19, but Senator Boyhan's fundamental point is right. We are the Upper House of a Parliament and we need to look at how we can ensure that the way we do business is changed to adopt to the new way of doing things in a Covid-19 world, but it is unfair. I am sorry that I am aggrieved about it. Many of us are trying to make an effort to contribute and we cannot get in. That is the point I am making.

I thank Senator Buttimer.

I apologise if you think I am having a go at you, a Chathaoirligh. I am not having a go at you at all. It is the system I am having a go at.

Senator Buttimer started off by saying there was a system of apartheid.

You are missing the point.

I am sorry. Could I just make the point?

Senator Buttimer started off saying there was a system of apartheid. He said he had indicated. His name is on the list. His name is in the Chair's rota, as agreed at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP. The point he is raising regarding other Bills is before the CPP. That is a matter that will be decided at the CPP. It is an ongoing debate. As far as the Chair is concerned, in regard to the Order of Business, no Member, unless there was extreme urgency, has ever been refused. That is as far as I can remember. We are operating a fair system that has been agreed by all leaders. If Senator Buttimer has a particular grievance, he might get on to his Whip or the Leader-----

I do not have a Whip.

The Senator's party Whip sent in this list and his name is on the list. The fact that Senator Buttimer is unaware of it is not the Chair's issue. If he would like me to rectify it, then he needs to do that.

No, I will do it.

Regarding statements and Private Members' Bills, there is a difficulty because they are two-hour slots. Any proposals Senator Buttimer has, I suggest that he makes them to the House and through the Cathaoirleach's office if he wants to write. They are the issues.

Regarding the issue Senator Buttimer brought up on the Order of Business and that his name was indicated, he is aware of the system. His name is on the list. That is the system I am operating and I am doing it in a fair manner.

Do you want me to reply, a Chathaoirligh?

No. I am just making the point.

I apologise for not being in the Chamber but I was in a committee and I have to go to a committee afterwards. I request a debate on an issue I wish to bring to the attention of the House, that is, the very welcome decision yesterday by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to ban co-living developments. That is really welcome. The report says that applications that have been made for co-living developments are undermining the concept because they are not within the high density areas or the high employment areas that are required. I would like some clarification on what is happening to the planning applications that are currently going through the system.

From the appendix in the report, there are a number of planning applications that are currently going through to which I do not see a reference. There is one in Donaghmede and one on Cork Street, within my area of Dublin 8. Dublin City Council planners put in a submission on the Cork Street development and they were scathing of the shared space that was made available, of the fact that 19 units were above basement and that the accommodation was below the standard that was needed.

I urge that we would have a debate in this House on the ban on co-living and to look at the developments for which this may be too late. We are potentially going to develop substandard accommodation for people until the ministerial guidelines are issued. I ask that the Minister go further than he has done in the ban on co-living. He should ban purpose-built student accommodation being converted into short-term accommodation, which is co-living by the back door. In Dublin city, there have been five applications, which equate to about 1,600 units, for a temporary change of use from purpose-built student accommodation to shared accommodation. My fear is that this would not be temporary and that it would essentially be co-living by the back door. It is worthwhile to have a debate about accommodation standards in this House.

I support Senator Boyhan's request for a debate on how mentally ill patients are being held in prisons such as Cloverhill Prison and others. It is not the first time this has happened and it would seem that the individual to whom Senator Boyhan referred was there for two weeks. It is very difficult not to become upset when one reads the article by Conor Gallagher in today's edition of The Irish Times and it is something with which all of us, as parliamentarians, must try to deal.

I want to return to an issue that has been brought up in this House previously and this comes on the head of representations I have received, particularly from adult children of elderly parents, who have pleaded with me when they met me at the weekend, to request that we would ask for churches to be reopened for services. I am a practising Catholic who likes to go to church and I would like to see the church opened up for masses. I would also like that to apply to other churches as well. I must praise our Leader because she has been strong on this issue in this House and in the media and I admire her for doing that. I would like Members to take that up again with the Taoiseach and the Government. Those people were asking me why we would not open the churches from Monday to Friday for morning mass and services. There is never a huge crowd at the morning services but it would accommodate those older people, who do not only see it as something spiritual but they are also meeting their friends and they might walk a few hundred metres into the church if the morning is fine. It is important for the well-being of those people. I know the Leader will take this issue up again and it would be nice to give something like that back to people by opening up the churches from Monday to Friday straight away. I acknowledge that churches are open but we could open them for mass or services. We allow 25 people in for a funeral and a church wedding so why would we not allow 25 in for morning mass during the week?

I thank the Cathaoirleach for clarifying the matter I raised earlier and I appreciate that. I assure the Cathaoirleach he will hear no further remarks from me on it. I appreciate the job he has and it is not an easy one. I do not mean anything personal by it at all.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised an important issue this morning on the report of the Dublin Well Woman Centre research that was published today. It is a startling reminder of the misunderstandings and misconceptions around contraception among women and it is something we need to urgently have a debate on in the House, particularly given the debate we are having today and the importance of the work that is being done by so many in this House. I agree with Senator Pauline O'Reilly that the issue of sex education is one we need to prioritise.

I also ask that we would have a debate on health. We are told there is no shortage of the flu vaccine and we are told there is a shortage. Senator Dolan raised an important point about young children not being brought to take the vaccine and then we got an email yesterday from the Houses of the Oireachtas telling us we cannot get the flu vaccine but that we will get a contribution towards it if we need to because there is no availability. Yet Colm Henry, a lead person in the HSE, was on the radio at the weekend telling us there was no problem at all.

Let us have a real debate on health in the country and let us have it here in this House.

I welcome the Leader's commitment to the debate on the reopening of the country on 1 December. The Government cannot govern by Twitter or social media. Social media was not built for government. Government is about leadership from Ministers charged with the responsibility of governing. We are having a belated debate next Thursday and the reopening of the country is being announced on Thursday night because we cannot compete with "The Late Late Toy Show". In all fairness, if that is what we are reduced to, then God help us.

I raise the issue of nursing homes and call for a debate on the topic of how we organise our elder care. Members will have seen the very disturbing story last week about a nursing home in Kerry where the HSE had to intervene. Twenty three out of 24 patients in the nursing home had Covid and, regrettably, there were six deaths. This latest tragedy, which was described as a situation of chaos, comes on the back of an appalling rate of deaths earlier this year in our nursing homes. In fact, we had the worst figures anywhere in Europe. It prompts a national conversation. I do not recall anyone ever saying to the Irish public that we will deal with elder care via a private for-profit model. If anyone in this House proposed dealing with healthcare on a private for-profit basis, they would rightly be condemned from all sides and yet the model of elder care we have is a private for-profit model. It is a model based on low wages, on exploitation. One contract I have seen specifies the company requires the worker to work a variety of shifts, including days, nights, evenings and weekends and for this, an employee would get a premium of 3.5% on an average rate of pay of €11, which is just 39 cent an hour on top of his or her pay rate to come in at any hour of the day or night. It is absolute disgrace. I also point out the fact that trade unions are not welcome in a nursing home sector. That is why one will never hear from a trade union spokesperson for nursing homes; one will hear from owners and managers. It is very regrettable that for the past two decades, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael spent millions subsidising private so-called entrepreneurs to set up nursing homes on a model of care which is completely inadequate. Surely to God we should all recognise that elder care should not be an issue of profit. It should be an issue, first and foremost, of care. I call for a debate on that issue.

I welcome the Government's decision announced by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage yesterday to ban co-living. It signals a really decisive and important shift in the policy of the Government and the State towards the provision of housing. When the concept of co-living was introduced in 2018, it was probably well intentioned but it certainly was never going to deliver quality homes for life, homes for families or homes for people living in our cities.

I note the recent decision by Dublin city councillors to reject the proposal for the development of a very valuable State-owned site on the north side at Oscar Traynor Road. That site for those Members who do not know it, is a site of State-owned land encompassing roughly 17 ha and it has the potential to deliver more than 800 desperately needed homes. I seek an update from the Leader on when the Minister will come to the House to debate housing issues generally. I would specifically like these two items on the agenda for that debate. The Oscar Traynor road site presents an amazing opportunity for the Government and the State to demonstrate their clear commitment to the provision of public housing on public land. The land is owned by the State and is serviced land. The Government can access borrowings at almost negative interest rates in some instances. The local authority needs to be supported to deliver social and affordable homes both to rent and to purchase on that site. I would appreciate if the Leader could give us an update on when the Minister will come to the House to debate those issues with us.

I seek a discussion on the concept of the vaccine strategy and the roll-out behind it.

There has been wonderful news every Monday for the last three weeks about the strength of the vaccines. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said that he wants to present the roll-out strategy to the Government on 11 December. Perhaps we should consider inviting the Minister to the House before Christmas for statements on the roll-out strategy. That is my request today. I believe it would be a good idea. There are a couple of things about the roll-out strategy that should be considered and clearly outlined. What is the tiered system? Will it be healthcare workers first and elderly people second or how will we do it? The other issue is what we are going to do to encourage mass co-operation with the roll-out. What are the targets and the timescales? Do we want to have X amount of the population vaccinated by Y date, for example? It should be clearly outlined.

I will explain the benefit of that. As we are now coming out of our second lockdown, we are facing an uncertain Christmas and January. Senator Keogan was correct. My view of RTÉ is that the "Six One News" for the last couple of months has been like the fifth horseman of the apocalypse, for want of a better phrase. I strongly believe that. If the Government can produce a clear and detailed vaccine strategy before Christmas, it will provide a major level of reassurance to the Irish public. It would say to the public that we have done fantastically well over 2020, there is light at the end of the tunnel and this is the plan for us to get through it. If that could be published in as much detail as possible before Christmas, it would provide great reassurance to the public.

I have been fulsome in my praise for the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, and the work he is doing with the Defence Forces, and I maintain that position. However, I was deeply disappointed last weekend to learn that national pay talks have started - at least, that is what we believe - and, contrary to the position of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that the Defence Forces would be at the table from the beginning, they were not at the table and were not even aware of the fact that pay talks had started. Indeed, I understand that departmental officials were not aware that pay talks had started. The same applies to the Garda Síochána. This places general secretaries of the representative bodies in a most difficult situation with their members. I ask the Leader to advise the House tomorrow, if possible, what the position is with pay talks. Have they started and, if they have, who is involved? Why are those who are not affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, not involved on a peer equal level, which is what I was given to understand would be the case? We are preventing these organisations from affiliating with ICTU, so it is extremely important that they are treated as peer equals.

There is another matter the Leader might organise in the not too distant future. The search and rescue contract for the country is due to be renewed for 2023. The current contract will cost approximately €630 million. At the end of the ten years, we will have had ten years of excellent service in respect of search and rescue, but nothing else to show for it. A group of concerned people, chaired by me, is interested in bringing the Air Corps back into search and rescue, mandating the top cover service by the Air Corps on a roster basis and ensuring it has the resources. If the Leader would invite the Minister for Transport to the House to discuss this, I would appreciate it.

I wish to have a debate on health, specifically general health with regard to vaccines, and the flu vaccine in particular. It is regrettable to have a situation where there is mixed messaging emerging about the flu vaccine. We are told by the HSE and the Department of Health that there is an adequate amount of the vaccine, but the circumstantial evidence throughout the country is that there are difficulties. There are different stories emerging from different areas. There is different narratives depending to what general practitioner, GP, surgery one is dealing with or discussing. With regard to the nasal vaccine for children, in particular, mixed messaging and poor communication has resulted in a 20% to 30% uptake of this very effective vaccine.

That is regrettable because the number of young people who get the flu each year, suffer as a result of it, spread it and so forth is too high, and it should not be that high. Given the low take-up of this very effective nasal vaccine, I suggest that the Department of Health and HSE consider increasing the age from 12 to 17 years. In other words, anybody under 17 could avail of the nasal flu vaccine free of charge. The last thing we want is for the stock to go out of date. It would be a shocking waste of money if we are in a situation when this winter season is over where hundreds of thousands of effective nasal flu vaccines are out of date. We need an urgent debate and urgent action. I call on the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, to increase the age of those eligible to receive the nasal vaccine from 12 to 17.

A number of colleagues have raised the horrendous situation of the tens of thousands of images that were discovered last week. The fear and anger of our young women and, indeed, lots of our young men, and their mammies, daddies, friends and everybody in the country last week was absolutely palpable. I do not say that anecdotally from meeting somebody in the street. I have four children who do not give two hoots about what I do all day, every day. They do not get exercised about politics. I have never seen my 18-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son ever get as exercised about something as they did last Thursday. The anger that my daughter expressed put the fear of God into me because the only outcome that I could come to in my head was that she had been a victim. Having sat down with her on Thursday, hopefully and gratefully, to discover that she had not, it made me wonder that her anger was so well placed because she was so angry on behalf of her friends who she felt potentially had been victims. Even as late as yesterday and today she told me that the Twitter and Instagram debates were ongoing, and I think they will be ongoing for a while from today. She told me that she got 300 likes for a comment that she made and it made her feel incredibly proud that she was sticking up for people.

It is a tremendous pity that the Labour Party Bill has not been passed before now. I commend the party's members on the hard work that they have done on this particular campaign. I really do hope that the Government works in conjunction with Deputy Howlin in the next couple of weeks to get the legislation passed both in the Dáil and Seanad. More is the pity that the culprits of last week's leak, and I use that word lightly, will not be covered by the new Bill that we will pass, please God.

I do not say the following disrespectfully but we have all got into the habit of calling this "revenge porn" as if it were a response to something that some of our young women, or indeed some of our young men, have done. It is not revenge porn. It absolutely is vicious, violent and targeted sexual abuse of the young people of this country and probably, indeed, of the world.

It needs to be called out for exactly what it is. We need to move heaven and earth in this House and in the Dáil, along with our Government and Cabinet colleagues, to make sure that we do something about it in this year of everything else that has gone horribly wrong, so that we can have done something decent before the year ends. I thank my colleagues for bringing it up. The Minister for Justice will be in the House this afternoon and I am sure colleagues will raise the matter with her when she is here.

Senator Boyhan and others welcomed the ban on co-living. I do too, even though I come from the party that was instrumental in introducing the initiative in the first instance. It is timely, given that there are now a lorryload of people who seem to have jumped on the bandwagon of deciding that they can do something about an initiative that was only ever intended to be probably a 1% part solution of an overall housing plan. I welcome the decision by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to ban any future ones. Senator Moynihan asked what will happen to the projects that are currently in planning. I do not know the answer, so I will find out and come back here tomorrow.

To respond to Senator Boyhan, who raised the issue of 60 minutes that have been allocated for a debate on a Bill this afternoon, and to explain to colleagues, it is not a random number that I would have picked. It was based on the Bill when it was passed last year. It passed all Stages in this House in 45 minutes, so I assumed that 60 minutes would be plenty, but we seem to be having this debate back and forward.

I think this has come up in the context of statements as well. If a member of a Government party is in the House and we are having a debate or statements in which there is genuinely huge interest and we run out of time, all we have to do is extend the time for that business with the co-operation of the rest of the Members of the House. I have absolutely no problem doing that. All I am trying to do is schedule debates for times and lengths of time based on past interest. Perhaps interest has changed. I will be cognisant of that and make sure we try to be adaptable.

One of the first things I do in the morning, probably even before I get out of bed, is to open The Irish Times. The story on its front page today, in conjunction with the story in recent weeks of the young man in direct provision who had sores all over his body, paints a disgusting picture of how we treat vulnerable people in this country, and it needs to stop. One of the first things I will do for colleagues today is to request a debate on prisoner conditions and how we should deal with people who are very vulnerable. I think we all have a graphic image in our heads this morning of that young man. It is not acceptable, and there is no excuse or explanation that could square it away, so I will ask for that debate as a matter of urgency.

A number of colleagues have asked for a debate on the Dublin Well Woman Centre report published this morning. It is absolutely shocking to think that in 2020, young ones are having sex without contraceptives just because they cannot afford them when we committed a number of years ago through the Department of Health to provide free contraception. I know Covid has delayed a lot of things but it certainly should not delay the distribution of contraceptives through any medium or in any form. A lot of the venues we would have thought of using are probably closed at present but that does not mean we cannot find a way to ensure that our young people, and indeed perhaps our middle-aged and older people who are having sexual relations, are doing it safely. I will ask for an update and a debate on that.

Senator Ó Donnghaile requested earlier a debate on the economic feasibility of a united Ireland. I certainly will request such a debate. When he said what he said and outlined the reasons he thinks we should have a united Ireland, I was mindful that it is timely that he talked about the false positive messages that were given in respect of Brexit. I believe that anyone who voted against Brexit knows there is not a single positive outcome that will happen from 1 January or thereafter. I believe that all those people who voted in favour of Brexit are now starting to realise - if they do not by now, they definitely will by next year - that the positives they were promised were nothing but a fake political last grasp of trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. I really feel sorry for them, and I do not say that disrespectfully. The outcome and its negativity has not even begun to dawn on some people yet, not least on our own people, but it absolutely will. The economic impacts will be severe. The deal that, please God, will be done in the coming weeks will try to cushion those impacts, but there is no good in Brexit for anybody. I will ask for a debate on that also.

A number of colleagues mentioned living with Covid. I have a debate on that scheduled for this Thursday. I take on board what Senator Buttimer said about it probably being a little late, given that NPHET will meet tomorrow and the Cabinet will meet on Friday to sign off on any further measures and tell us what will happen over the coming weeks. I have been vocal on a number of issues in recent weeks because I feel very strongly that we have divided society and tried to justify why one activity is okay whereas an activity that would provide equally as much well-being and positivity for another section of our community is not okay because of our concern for their well-being. Irish people are incredibly intelligent and they have taken on board and have done everything we have asked of them when it has made sense. When it does not make sense, the relationship and the trust breaks down.

I may be a contrarian, and this might not be popular, but I do not believe that a strategy of rolling lockdowns for the next six or 12 months is one we should pursue. I was dismayed when Anthony Staines yesterday told me that this is what living with Covid looks like because many people in our communities and our society are not living at the moment. I keep thinking about the lady Senator Dooley mentioned a number of weeks ago. I do not know why I cannot get her out of my head but I cannot and I keep telling people about her. We need to provide her with hope. We need to give her the opportunity to see her children this Christmas in order that she can get through the next couple of months because while some people in this country think six or seven months to wait for a vaccine is no time at all, six or seven weeks is a lifetime for some of our older generation and our younger generation who do not feel any of the hope or the positivity that many of us feel for the vaccines that are coming.

I really welcome those vaccines and I hope they work. Six weeks or six months is an awfully long time for people to be told to put up and shut up. We need a genuine debate about how we curtail our activities while opening society to allow people to have some freedoms and have a semblance of a life while we wait for the vaccine.

One of the downsides of the division of society is what happened in RTÉ last week. I agree with Senator Dooley that it was a human transgression more than a heinous sin. We have become a society that has set bars and RTÉ set its own bar very high. It is a pity. We are supposed to be all in this together. This means we can have differences of opinion but we must all look out for each other and recognise we are human, with frailties. Human beings are sociable creatures and we all have lapses. To bring down the hammer on a group of people because they happen to be public figures is a pity. We will have the debate on Thursday and I hope some of the gems of our wisdom will be heard by the Government before it makes the decision. The discussion will definitely feed into what will happen in the next couple of months.

We will have the planning Bill this week but there is still a standing request for the Minister with responsibility for housing to have a proper debate on housing here, not just on co-living but all developments. I will follow up with the office today to see what the date will be. To be fair to the Minister, he has been particularly busy and he is preparing a new report.

On the request for a debate on nursing home care, it is shocking that more than half of our deaths from Covid-19 have come from nursing homes. I do not quite agree with Senator Gavan, who raised the question, which is unsurprising, but I agree we must be mindful of the people in those nursing homes and our loved ones in all our communities. We must ensure to protect them as best we can and better than we did in March, April and May this year.

There have been mixed messages from different parts of the health service on the flu vaccine and they are a bit difficult to understand I suppose. Sometimes vaccines seem to be missing and then they are not missing. We encourage parents to bring their children for vaccination and yet when they go to the doctor, they are told there are no vaccines available. We need a clear and definitive statement from the Department of Health on where the 1.2 million vaccines for adults have gone and why there is such a shortage. Perhaps it is only anecdotal evidence. We must also consider what we will do with the vaccine for younger people between now and December because it would be criminal for us to find ourselves with vaccines going out of date in January this year and not being used.

I will come back to Senator Craughwell on his matter as I am not aware of what he raised this morning about pay talks. I will find it out today and raise it with him on the Order of Business tomorrow if not privately beforehand. I do not know anything other than that the tender for the search and rescue service will be open to all. I am not sure if it is open to the Defence Forces as it is a body of the State.

My remarks on the matter raised by Senator Bacik might leave me a hostage to fortune. I may have to find myself not agreeing with the Bill in the next couple of weeks but it is a testament to the hard work of Labour Youth. I say this with all our youth organisations in mind because sometimes they are overlooked. The campaign outlined by Senator Bacik is long overdue and is extremely welcome. Any child born and living here who has integrated with and enriched our communities with their diverse culture, knowledge and traditions should absolutely be recognised as part of their community and society. A pathway to citizenship should be a simple right available to them. I wholeheartedly welcome the campaign by the Labour Party and Labour Youth and I thank the Senator for bringing this back. The world seems like an awfully different place from when the country made that decision 16 years ago. We have become more compassionate, understanding and inclusive. I really hope we have. I commend and support the Senator personally, and I really hope I will be able to support her politically. I will do everything I can in my party to ensure this becomes a reality.

I thank the Leader.

We have had a major lift and a real tonic because of our beloved GAA over the weekend. The ceremony at Croke Park was poignant and was carried out beautifully. We should give a bualadh bos to the GAA and the organisation behind it for commemorating the occasion in such a lovely way.

The lift we got from Cavan and Tipperary could not be bottled it and it is lovely. As a Dub, I say up the Dubs, because nobody else here seems to be saying it. We are definitely going for the drive for six.

Do not forget to mention Meath.

While this is not normal procedure, as we have a Senator from Tipperary, I will allow him to speak. The honourable Senator from Tipperary will now address the House on Tipperary's magnificent win over the weekend. Congratulations to Tipperary.

The Cathaoirleach predicting what I am going to say before I say it, but he is right. I am pretty sure that he, as someone from the county that was beaten by Cork, will support us going forward.

A hundred per cent. I could not be happier.

Does it not just show what sport and the GAA can do? Difficult decisions were made a couple of months ago over whether this year's championship should go ahead and whether Government could support it. A weekend like we have just had shows the impact it has for people and for communities. For my county it is huge. It took 85 years to win a Munster final and having two players from my parish on the team gives great personal pride for our area. Many people have talked about it being similar to 1920 with the same four provincial winners in the all-Ireland semi-finals. Apart from the Leader and other Dublin people, most people will hope it finishes the same way as it did in 1920 with Tipperary winning an all-Ireland title.

We all support Tipperary in the final, except the people from Dublin. Is the support for Tipperary agreed anyway?

I note the Deputy Leader is not in the House.

(Interruptions).
Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 11.47 a.m. and resumed at 1.30 p.m.