The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Monday, 30 November, Tuesday, 1 December, Wednesday, 2 December and Thursday, 3 December 2020, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 3, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2020 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m.; No. 2, statements on reopening Ireland, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3 and to conclude after two hours, with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, statements on the reopening of Ireland, Department of Health, to be taken 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude after two hours, with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I acknowledge the difficult decisions the Government will face with regard to reopening Ireland. It involves balancing the protection of jobs, the protection of businesses and the all important protection of our health.
Tomorrow is Black Friday, which is not particularly a term that I like but it is a term that seems to have crept in over recent years from the other side of the Atlantic. It is a reminder of the changing consumer behaviours and habits which will be even more apparent this year. Irish consumers spend more than €5 billion online each year. Of that sum, €2 out of every €3 goes abroad, which is a colossal loss of potential as well as money. The impact of this on the local multiplier effect is devastating. The local multiplier effect is a hugely positive economic fact, whereby every €1 spent locally generates up to €5 in the local economy. Every newspaper purchased, every cup of tea or coffee consumed, every appointment made or haircut received from the hairdressers or barbers, every prescription filled and every grocery item purchased in local shops, from sole traders to supermarkets, makes a difference of enormous proportions.
It is an understatement to say that the retail and hospitality sectors are in crisis. It is an unprecedented crisis and it is one which has direct implications and consequences for our communities and for city, town and village centres. I have seen the impact in Galway and in Dublin. I have seen it in Galway because it is my home county and I have seen it in Dublin because it is where this Oireachtas is located. Local businesses, from retailers to restaurants, that were institutions in their own right and that were central to communities, are gone. Retail unit after retail unit has been emptied and cleared out and it is a saddening sight.
It is important to acknowledge the actions that have been taken. The enhancement and expansion of the trading online voucher scheme is welcome. That scheme has been instrumental in supporting Irish local businesses to trade online. The introduction, too, of the online retail scheme and the restart grants have been welcome. However, I have grave concerns for local communities and for our town and village centres. Some of the local businesses that were previously successful and so central to daily life will not be reopening. These losses are not just financial or commercial but they are losses suffered by communities. There will be knock-on consequences, from job losses and lost revenue to lost opportunities.
We need to step up our efforts. We need a whole-of-government approach because it involves not only the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment but also the Department of Social Protection, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Department of Rural and Community Development. We have made progress in the recent past in terms of regenerating and revitalising communities. The Department of Rural and Community Development and its schemes and programmes, some of which I was delighted to be able to contribute to, show the progress and the difference we can make.
I also acknowledge the importance of the cash injection of the Christmas bonus to those in receipt of social welfare payments, including those in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment for 17 weeks up to 3 December. The payment to those qualifying under the pandemic unemployment payment will be made on 8 December. This is a very important cash injection for all in receipt of the Christmas bonus. I encourage everybody to buy Irish, buy local and protect jobs, businesses and our future.
I would like to complement Senator Kyne on what he has just said. He is a typical rural politician, he understands what is going on in his local area and as a fellow Galwegian, I congratulate him for bringing that forward. We need to support local industry.
Speaking of supports, there is an issue I often discuss in this House, which some Members think is purely political but it is not. It comes from my trade union background. That issue is the way we treat our local representatives and our county councillors, in particular.
Since the pandemic has struck, many local representatives have found their small businesses closed and unable to trade. When it comes to welfare payments and the like, their representational allowance is taken into account. The time has come for us to face up to the issue of this representational allowance. Although we talk about county councillors' pay, they are not paid in the true sense of the word. There is no master-servant relationship. They cannot be fired; they are elected. The miserable moneys they get are to carry out the duties we ask them to do.
In 2015 when I spoke to a councillors’ convention in Inchydoney Island, I was told that all of that is dealt with in the corridors and is not talked about publicly and that in any event, it was all going to be fixed straight away. The document was on the Minister’s desk in 2015, it has not been signed yet and will not be signed.
More importantly, and this does not just refer to councillors because we hear of young barristers in the Law Library also being refused payments. It is just wrong in every sense of the word. The money that is given to these county councillors is to assist them to do the job they are elected to do. It is not a salary and if it is we should be ashamed of it. The bottom line is that we need to look at the welfare of these councillors.
I could bring Members to councillors, the Deputy Leader could do so herself, who drive hundreds of miles every month assisting families, filling out forms and working through various parts of the bureaucracy of this country and all they have to fund that is their representational allowance. We have allowances here which are not regarded as part of our salary but are there to support us in the work that we do. I am not one bit ashamed of supporting the needs for county councillors to have money to do the job they are elected to do. If we want to pay them a salary, let us pay them a proper salary and stop all of the nonsense. I was deeply distressed last night at the number of county councillors who contacted me about the dire straits in which they are living. If other people are entitled to welfare because their businesses are closed, so too are local representatives.
First, I congratulate the Scottish Parliament for what it did the other day. It is the first country to legalise free period products in the world and Labour MSP, Monica Lennon, guided this measure through the Scottish Parliament. It is being rolled out in a number of places, including through local authorities and by looking to provide them in public buildings. In the last term of the Dáil, the Women’s Caucus had a motion on the issue of period poverty or period justice and I seek a discussion on this issue in this House. If possible, Members would try to reach a cross-party consensus on how to deal with this issue and to avoid being subject to a money message if I consider drafting a Private Members’ Bill along similar lines to what has happened in Scotland.
It is a very important issue particularly for younger women who have difficulty in affording the type of sanitary products and protections they need, together with the impact that has on their education and, in particular, people who have issues like endometriosis and who may have heavier bleeds. Access to what is a basic hygiene product is a discussion we need to have. It should be considered a basic hygiene product. I compliment the Government on reducing reusable products to a VAT rate of 0% in the budget but we need to have a wider discussion on this issue. It is to be hoped that we would follow Scotland’s lead in being a world leader in this regard. When I was on Dublin City Council, I brought forward a motion that all public buildings within the council’s control would provide free sanitary products. The sum of €100,000 was secured in last year’s budget and has been incorporated into this year’s budget for this, and a pilot project was rolled out. I have been disappointed with the rate of progress and it has certainly taken time but in the buildings within which it has been rolled out, it is not abused or seen as being a big deal. It has, however, provided significant comfort to people who need access to sanitary products, for example, in the leisure centres. Any council employees to whom I have spoken in buildings in which it has been operational have said it has worked very well.
Finally, it is worth having a discussion in this House on the cost of citizenship. I compliment my colleague Senator Ivana Bacik on the Bill on citizenship she is bringing forward in terms of the principle, “born here, belong here”. There is a growing issue for EU citizens as to the high cost of citizenship. If one is an EU citizen or non-EU citizen and wants to apply for citizenship, one has to pay an application fee of €175. It then costs €950 if one is granted citizenship. This compares to somewhere like France, which has an application fee of €55 and Spain which is an application fee of €102. The cost of citizenship is a prohibitor for the many people who have been living here for a long time and who would be able to get citizenship but who will not apply for it because of the simply prohibitive costs we have imposed for no good reason.
I wish to begin, a Chathaoirligh, by paying tribute to Diego Maradona, who passed away yesterday. For my generation, he was without doubt the greatest footballer we have ever seen. There was so much to the man. He was not just a wonderful footballer who scored the best goal ever seen in football against England in 1986. This was not because it was against England but because of the breathtaking skill that was involved. Who can forget Jimmy Magee’s amazing commentary, "Different class."? The so-called hand of God was the first goal but the second goal was absolutely incredible. He led Argentina to the World Cup that year but what he did with Napoli was completely incredible. This club won two league championships, which for one of the poorest clubs in Italy was against all the odds. He is also a legend there. I was very struck by what Messi said, which is that while he is gone, he will never be gone because he is eternal in terms of his contribution to world football.
He had his challenges in life, particularly in terms of addiction and it was significant that he went to Cuba. Cuba came to his rescue and he lived there for four years to help him with a serious heart condition. He said at the time that Fidel opened Cuba’s doors to him when clinics in Argentina were slamming them shut because they did not want the death of Maradona on their hands. He wore his politics proudly and had a tattoo of Che Guevara on his right hand and a tattoo of Fidel on his left leg. We have lost a huge legend.
Coincidentally, he died yesterday on 25 November and four years ago on the same date, the great man Fidel Castro passed away.
And George Best.
And George Best, absolutely.
The second issue I raise is altogether different. A very serious report by the Tax Justice Network, which has not received much attention since it was published last week, has shown that Ireland is one of the biggest tax havens in the world, costing other countries, including some of the poorest countries in the world, almost $16 billion, that is, €13.5 billion in lost revenues each year. The only countries ranked worse than Ireland in the overall rankings were the Cayman Islands, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the United States, Hong Kong, China and the British Virgin Islands. In corporate tax evasion alone Ireland was ranked as the 11th worst in the world and the fifth worst in Europe. It scored a haven score of 76 out of 100, with 100 being the worst. This was the first study to thoroughly measure how much every country loses to both corporate tax abuse and private tax evasion.
Interestingly, the report also showed that this country suffers a loss of €14.5 billion each year due to global tax abuse. Just €199 million of that is attributed to corporations, the rest is to private individuals. That would account for a loss of over $3,000 for every member of the population. We need an honest conversation about tax and tax justice and we need to be internationalists when it comes to tax justice and I ask for a debate on that topic.
I wish to highlight today the Government’s White Paper on ending direct provision, which is scheduled to be published before the end of 2020. It is essential that we put pressure on the legislators to use the key recommendations of the groundbreaking report by Catherine Day. We must see an end to direct provision, an end to institutionalised living and an end to congregated settlements. While the Government is committed to ending direct provision, the new recommendations are not legally binding and thus the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which now leads the direct provision portfolio, is not required to include all of the suggested measures in its White Paper. Having had discussions with Nasc last week, it expressed anxiety at the thought of the White Paper excluding the key recommendations proposed by the Catherine Day report.
Ms Fiona Finn, the CEO of Nasc, says the significance of this report cannot be understated. The main area of concern, from Nasc's point of view, is housing, dealt with in chapter 4 of the Day report. We must ensure the Day report is the main point of reference in drafting this White Paper. Ireland will continue to receive asylum seekers so it is essential we fashion a housing policy that is fit for purpose.
The Day report proposes that first-instance decisions on asylum applications be made within six months, as required under the European Commission's recast reception conditions directive, to which we have been subscribed since July 2018. The report also specifies that asylum seekers will spend up to three months in a State-owned reception centre where they will undergo a vulnerability assessment, receive legal advice and begin their application for international protection. Importantly, the report stipulates that people should not be housed in remote areas but in towns and cities where they have access to employment and educational opportunities. It also provides that the number of people housed in each area should be proportionate to the size of the town or city. The report is nothing short of groundbreaking. While some advocacy groups have commented that it is non-exhaustive, it is the most widely praised report by NGOs and advocacy groups in this area and must be the main point of reference for the White Paper.
Finally, I take this opportunity to remember Jeffrey, a resident in the asylum centre in Killarney, County Kerry, who had a history of poor mental health but no access to the help he desperately needed. I want to take a moment to send my respects to his family and friends. Jeffrey was one of a number of asylum seekers who had been protesting poor living conditions. We cannot allow this type of atrocity to occur again. As people in positions of privilege, we cannot simply stand by while human beings suffer in squalor under the State's watchful eye. It is absolutely urgent that we do something about this.
Earlier this week, the Government announced over €100 million in funding for bog rehabilitation in the midlands under the just transition programme. The programme is aimed at addressing the very significant economic impact of the decision of the State to move away from the burning of peat as our contribution towards the reduction in carbon emissions. The decision to invest €100 million in the midlands is a good one. It is the right decision for the environment and for economic activity in the region. It is about ensuring the citizens of that area are not negatively impacted by the rest of us wanting to do right by the environment.
However, just transition is not just about the midlands. The west of County Clare, in fact a vast part of it, is badly affected by the reduction in emissions from the burning of coal at Moneypoint. Unfortunately, neither this Government nor the previous one has seen fit to include that area in the just transition funding. Employment has tumbled at Moneypoint in the last two years. There has been a gradual reduction in the number of contractors and ESB staff there. The plant is due to close in 2025 and successive Governments have said they will deal with it then, but the crisis in that area is happening now. Staff have lost their jobs. Some people have moved to work elsewhere and others have not succeeded in gaining employment. All the while, this is undermining small businesses, small shops, schools, post offices and general business in the area. The area is being hollowed out just as the bogs were cut away. What we need is an equality of approach to addressing climate change and to the spending of the just transition funding. The funding needs to be invested in County Clare, in my humble opinion.
I join Senator Gavan in paying tribute to the late Diego Maradona. I am of the generation that admired his skills and we extend our deepest sympathies.
I concur wholeheartedly with Senator Craughwell's point that there is a cohort of local authority members who are being, to borrow Senator Dooley's phrase, hollowed out by Covid-19. There is an obligation on us, a Chathaoirligh. Perhaps this is something you could lead us on as Cathaoirleach of the House. Given that we are predominantly elected by the councils, maybe you could make representations to the Government on behalf of those men and women who are being really hollowed out by Covid-19 in their personal workspace.
I ask the Deputy Leader to hold a debate in the House on the role of An Garda Síochána, Revenue and the DPP in the light of the "RTÉ Investigates" programme last night. At a time when RTÉ is getting criticised, we should pay tribute to it if the facts are as presented last night in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on Patrick Russell. If the programme material is correct, there are serious questions that must be asked around the role of the Garda, Revenue and the DPP. I know they are not here to defend themselves. I am talking about if the information is correct because we have only got one side. It is not good enough that people have been defrauded and have been robbed. This person is in jail, a Chathaoirligh, so he has been proven to be guilty.
I understand that.
I am being very careful. I am mindful that I am not going to have a row with you now. I am being very careful.
You know the procedure.
I understand. I am being very careful in what I am saying. However, millions of euro were stolen by a person who is in jail today. The point I wish to make about the DPP, the Garda and Revenue is that if the information is correct, and we have only one side-----
For the benefit of the House, there is a Standing Order in relation to the issue of things being before the courts. I know what you are talking about in relation to cases that have been prosecuted but I do not want this House to be impacting on any future cases.
I hope you understand, a Chathaoirligh, by my term and my demeanour that I am not trying to bring the House into disrepute in any shape or form.
I know that.
I will conclude by saying there is a real need for the DPP, Revenue and the Garda to explain and not to hide behind saying they do not comment on individual cases. How can a person, for 20 years plus, go unchecked by the organs of the State? I am only an ordinary person, but I can imagine how those people feel and the impact it has had on their lives.
I want to raise an issue that was highlighted on "Prime Time" this week. Indeed, it was highlighted in the Dáil by my colleague, Deputy Cahill, and others. I refer to the lack of service being given by Eir to many people in both urban and rural areas. While it is bad enough not to get one's Internet connection or whatever, there is a far more serious side to this. Many of our elderly population rely on their landline for the security link they have to their house. Many people in my part of the country, counties Roscommon and Galway, and in other parts of the country are waiting months for a simple fault to be repaired. I have seen this happen with my own mother. She had patience about it, and we made representations time and again, but it did not happen for months. This also happened to a lot of other people. The chief executive of Eir, Ms Carolan Lennon, was before an Oireachtas committee yesterday. I know this matter has been discussed in the Dáil. I am wonder if we can send a strong letter representing every Senator in this Chamber. I am afraid that after all the coverage this week, the matter will go away and many vulnerable urban and rural dwellers in our society will still not get their faults dealt with speedily. This is very urgent because the security link that old people have is vital. Maybe we could get agreement all round on that. I do not think we can invite this lady in here but if we cannot we should send a very strong letter on behalf of all Senators asking Eir to deal with these matters as quickly as possible.
I would like to raise a matter that Senator Kyne has already touched on. Tomorrow is the day traditionally known as "black Friday", which has grown in popularity in Ireland over the last decade or so. It is the day we look for our bargains and deals, especially in the run-up to Christmas. I am asking all Senators to help to turn black Friday into green Friday. There is an existing campaign, Champion Green, which has assets on its website that we, as public representatives, can use to send to community groups, put online, and get the message out that we want to turn black Friday into green Friday.
We all know the pressures that our local businesses are facing because we are dealing with them every day. They have had to move online to survive. I am not just talking about bigger retailers, but also designers, artists, boutiques and gyms. People in our localities are depending on us. It is time that we click, shop and support local, champion our local businesses, economies, jobs and communities. Some 70% of what is being spent online is actually being spent abroad. If we all spent €50 in our local economies, money that we were going to spend anyway, it would add €180 million to our national economy. That is an important message that we need to get out tomorrow.
I praise the resourcefulness and resilience of our local businesses. I know that supports are there to help businesses move online, modernise and become more productive. My message today is that we should get behind our local businesses tomorrow. We must get that message out because those businesses are depending on us.
I concur with Senator Craughwell's comments about our councillors across this country, no matter from which party they come. I am a former councillor and am all too aware of the work they do. A councillor is as important as a Senator, no matter what jurisdiction he or she is in. A lot of the money available as a result of policies adopted in these Houses goes to local authorities, and councillors are responsible for the oversight of that money. They are a critical part of local government but are not getting the recognition or remuneration for the work they do. We are losing high calibre councillors across the country, male and female, because they cannot afford to stay in their roles. That is wrong and needs to be put right.
I also concur with Senator Currie. Green Friday is a great idea.
I got to my feet to ask the Leader to find out if a gambling regulator has been appointed yet. Gambling has been an awful scourge on Irish society, and all societies. A gambling regulator is important when it comes to dealing with sporting organisations. I also ask the Leader to find out whether Sport Ireland has moved on a policy on this issue. That is something I would love the House to debate.
Diego Maradona died yesterday but two men in our capital city also died. One of them was homeless and living on the streets of Dublin and the other had been homeless and was in sheltered accommodation. I have raised the issue of homelessness many times in this House and at the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I fully recognise the commitment from the Government in terms of funding for homeless prevention and support for those people who are unfortunate enough to be homeless. More than €230 million will be spent on homeless prevention and services this year alone but we, as a House, have to examine the situation with the provision of homeless services, particularly here in the capital. We must ask why, when we are spending so much money on homeless accommodation, people are opting to sleep on our streets. I would like the Leader to write to the chief executive of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive expressing our appreciation for its work and the work of everybody who responds to and supports homeless individuals, but also to ask for a report on the provision of homeless services and the quality of those services.
Senator Ruane spoke earlier in the week about the fact that homeless people are ending up in prison. There was talk today about direct provision, the ending of which I absolutely support and to which the Government is committed. We must recognise that it is not enough to say that we are going to provide a bed. People who end up homeless often have many other challenges in their lives. We must recognise that and support them. I would like the Leader to raise that issue with the chief executive of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive because I have a real concern that homeless accommodation is increasingly being provided by private operators in Dublin city. They do not have the skill set to respond to the complex needs of homeless people that go way beyond just a bed.
Like others, I would like to pay tribute to "RTÉ Investigates" for the programme that was aired last night on Patrick Russell. I particularly commend Mr. Paul Murphy for his determination to expose not just what went on with this particular conman, but the failure of the institutions of our State to deal with him. The Revenue Commissioners have questions to answer about how it was allowed to escalate to the degree it did. An Garda Síochána also has questions to answer as to why this particular gentleman had not been convicted prior to recently, given the fact that many complaints were made and plenty of evidence was available. I do not know how we go about dealing with that but I suggest that the Joint Committee on Justice should do a body of work on it. The justice committee should bring the Garda Commissioner before it and engage as to what role the fraud squad has played in this case. More importantly, at this stage, the committee could find out if there are more examples of this type of corruption that the Garda is aware of but has not done anything about. What was exposed in that programme is totally disgraceful.
I commend the people who participated in the programme. They showed bravery in sharing their experiences and stories in order to ensure this type of thing does not happen in our society. It has been a bad week for RTÉ but that programme was a very good example of public service broadcasting.
I completely endorse the idea of green Friday. The amount of money that is leaving this country day after day is frightening, particularly as we are heading into black Friday and cyber Monday, when we will see courier vans going around every town, village and estate. We have to send a strong message to everybody to support our local businesses and shops that support our local communities. They are the businesses to which we turn, time after time, to support community events. Now is the time that they need our support.
A young woman was left stranded at the side of the road at an isolated bus stop a few nights ago. What sin did she commit to fail to get entry onto a Dublin coach? She offered to pay cash because she did not have a card. She was refused entry to the bus and left stranded. There are two noteworthy things about that. It is appalling that any bus driver would go off and leave any young woman on her own at night at an isolated bus stop. Any such woman is vulnerable. I totally support the Covid-19 regulations and the suggestion to try to use contactless payments when possible. However, to move away from a situation where cash is valued and important is completely wrong. The only institutions to which that would serve as an asset are the banks, which will continue to make money. We all learned about how to use money and its value by using coins and notes. We cannot get away from that. Many people find it far easier to budget using cash rather than credit or debit cards.
We need to send a strong message to all businesses and institutions that while we support the use of contactless payments at the moment, it is important to continue to use cash when we can.
I would also like to endorse the campaign for people to shop green this weekend, and I am going to be parochial and ask those in my own county of Longford and those in Westmeath to shop in businesses in their counties to help with employment.
I wish to raise the issue of services for those seeking early intervention. I know that it is an issue that has been raised on numerous occasions, but figures recently released by the HSE reveal long waiting lists for assessments for speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, where early intervention is key to a child's prognosis. The endless HSE waiting lists are forcing some families to seek private medical care. According to figures from September 2020, there are currently 21,286 children under the age of 17 waiting for their first occupational therapy assessment, which is shocking. While we understand that many services have been put on hold due to Covid-19, we have been told by the Minister of the great work that has been done in recruitment but we have not seen this on the ground. Occupational therapists and speech and language therapists who are supposed to be treating those children have spent the past seven months doing contact tracing for the HSE. I call on the Minister to tell us when those staff will be back on the front line, treating children and not making phone calls. As far as I can see, until this is done, the situation, which is already serious, is at risk of getting out of control. What families need are expedited appointment dates and not excuses about Covid staff levels, etc.
I recently met with HSE officials and I was told that in the CHO 8 area, 12 people were recruited to relieve staff and to enable them to go back to providing front line services, however the staff have not gone back to their front line roles because the 12 people recruited were employed to cover the extra staff needed in testing.
I recently met with families in my home county of Longford who have spoken of their difficulty in accessing basic services for their children. These are real families and real people. We are in danger of becoming desensitised to the numbers on the waiting list, which are now in the thousands. Each number on the waiting list represents a child and a family who are desperately seeking intervention.
There has been a 45% drop in the recruitment of graduate occupational therapists, OTs, since 2016. That figure is part of statistics published by the HSE's health business services division, which shows that just 73 OTs were recruited by the HSE in 2019, down from 135 in 2016. This problem is only going to get worse.
I support my colleague, Senator Moynihan, who spoke on the Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Naturalisation of Minors Born in Ireland) Bill 2018, Committee Stage of which will be taken next Wednesday. I know that the Deputy Leader responded previously when I spoke it, but we are very anxious that the Government supports its further passage. Amendments will be tabled, including one on the issue of the citizenship fee that Senator Moynihan mentioned. The crucial thing about this Bill is that if passed, it would restore a measure of generosity to our citizenship law in respect of children born in Ireland, and it is part of our Born Here, Belong Here campaign that is being run by the Labour Party along with Labour Youth and whole range of NGOs which have supported us, such as the Migrant Rights Centre. We hope that colleagues on all sides of the House, but particularly Government Senators, would support it. Indeed, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party supported the Second Stage of the Bill in this House in November 2018. We look forward to that debate and I look forward to engaging with the Deputy Leader of the House on the matter. I have also engaged with the Minister of Justice on the Bill and she has made some positive noises about it and on the hope that it will go through.
I thank the Leader of the House for ensuring that we will have statements on reopening Ireland this afternoon, because it is very important. The Government has a very difficult decision to make in terms of balancing public health with the need to restore a modicum of hope, and indeed to give some prospect of survival to many businesses around Ireland. The zero Covid strategy that has been strongly proposed by many medics and scientists, including many of my colleagues in medicine at TCD, relies on us either closing our borders as an Island, with an all-Island strategy, or having a hard border on the island, which makes it very hard to see prospects for that. However, I know that we will have a further debate on it this afternoon and I am glad we will have the opportunity to do so.
I agree with Senator Bacik on the issue of citizenship, with Senator Carrigy on occupational therapy assessments, and with Senators Craughwell and Blaney on the importance of recognising the role of our councillors. However, I disagree with Senator Gavan in his songs of praise for Cuba. In terms of foreign policy, I do not know what Sinn Féin's obsession is with adopting a Cuban policy in Ireland, but Cuba continues to repress and limit freedom of expression and association and freedom of the press and engages in arbitrary detention. Senator Gavan is a strong campaigner for trade union rights, but in Cuba the right to strike is banned, so I do not know why Sinn Féin has an obsession with Cuba. We should not be emulating it.
I return to the comments made by Senators Kyne and Currie and others. It is really important that we shop local and support our local businesses as far as possible in the run up to Christmas. A number of my parliamentary colleagues have availed of the boutiques and menswear shops on Main Street and Esmonde Street in Gorey, and I would encourage others to do so. One of the debates that we need to have, which relates to the local government funding issue, is around the commercial rates model of funding local government. This model dates from the 1820s and it is ridiculous to think that today, local government is partially funded on the basis of the floor size of a shop or business premises, particularly where those premises are competing with online providers which are often outside of the State, and do not contribute to our local economy. We need a full debate on local government funding, because the commercial rates system is way out of date and needs to be abolished. I ask the Deputy Leader to organise that debate.
Senator Kyne discussed Black Friday and the need to shop locally, and he was supported in is remarks by a number of Senators, including Senators Byrne and Currie and others. It is a really important message that we need to get out there, that every one of us should try to spend as many euro as possible locally. Last week I made the remark that we should not let Jeff Bezos win and we should keep away from Amazon as much as possible. We should be shopping on Irish websites and in Irish businesses, and whether it is by using click and collect services, we should be doing all we can to get that campaign moving, because it will make all the difference. As it stands, there is a sticking plaster in place for many businesses, and my concern is that come summer 2021, the cracks will appear when the Government supports understandably have to be wound. Many businesses that are just managing to keep their heads above water will be struggling in the middle of next year. Therefore, everything that we do now will make a real and significant difference to their survival.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of how councillors are treated and their well-being, and agree with his remarks. Senators Blaney, Byrne and Carrigy and others backed him up and I agree with them. We should show a degree of respect for the profession of councillor, because it is a real job, they perform real and meaningful duties and they are not paid properly. Their take-home pay is not even really proper pay, and it is less than what someone on social welfare receives. It is not a salary and it in no way reflects their workload. I agree that depending on where councillors are located, many are driving hundreds of kilometres on a monthly, which is a direct cost to running their operations. Some councillors who have a second job effectively take home very little, and although they do not do the job just for the money, they should be paid properly, and I do not see why there is a fear in saying that. I hope that we see movement on that issue without any further delay.
Senator Moynihan raised the issue of period poverty and rightly credited the women's caucus with having highlighted the issue in the last term, and there was a cross-party motion supported by the entire House to provide free sanitary products. I join with the Senator in commending the Scottish Parliament on being the first to move on this issue and to provide the products. I remember watching a Ken Loach film a number of years ago - I cannot recall the name - in which that very issue was highlighted. A female character was depicted going to a foodbank and having to make the choice between getting food or sanitary products. It might seem like a small issue that does not affect people, but it does, and one should not have to choose between getting food for one's family or getting very basic sanitary products. It is an issue affecting women and it would take a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things to resolve it.
I look forward to Private Members’ business on that, and the Senator will have my support.
I note also the amendment the Senator is proposing on the cost of citizenship. I was not aware of the level of cost associated with it, which seems extremely high, and that should be addressed. It is quite expensive.
I join with Senator Gavan’s tribute to Diego Maradona. I would not agree with the rest of his contribution in that regard but that has been dealt with by my colleague, Senator Byrne.
With regard to Senator Gavan’s reference to the Tax Justice Network report on Ireland being a tax haven, I think he used the words “tax evasion” whereas the report refers to “tax avoidance”, which is an important distinction. In terms of reform of the tax system, it is well documented and well known that Ireland and the Irish Government are working with the OECD to bring in meaningful reforms on a global scale. At the same time, I do not think we should make any apology for cultivating a very positive business environment to ensure that thousands of our citizens are employed in this country in many of the corporations under the FDI band. We would hope to see continued FDI coming into the country in the years and decades ahead.
Senator Black made reference to the White Paper on direct provision. There have been reports in the media around the difficulty in delivering what is proposed. I am sure we all acknowledge there will be pushback if there is a suggestion that somebody in the direct provision system, coming in as an asylum seeker, would get preference for housing over somebody who is here already. This is because of the shortage of housing and the solution is to address the housing problem. We need more supply. I do not want to see us pitting one person against another when there is a genuine need on all sides for the basic necessity of housing. We have a lot of work to do in terms of increasing supply and that might, in turn, help us to deal with the direct provision issue. I believe we are all committed to moving away from that system and its many injustices. There have been some improvements but there is a long way to go yet, and I agree with the Senator on that.
Senator Dooley raised the issue of the €100 million being put into bog rehabilitation in the midlands, which is very welcome for those communities and I am sure it will alleviate many of the pressures there. I agree with the Senator that Moneypoint is a very important issue for people living and working in that area. The fact they are excluded from the just transition fund needs to be addressed. I agree with the Senator that we should not wait until the end of 2024 to address it because it is coming down the tracks. We have advance notice now of people who are in real difficulty and this is about real jobs, real people and real families. Let us use the time wisely to make preparations to look after those people in a proper and meaningful way.
Senator Buttimer raised the issue of the “RTÉ Investigates” debate, as did Senator Conway. I am conscious of our need to be mindful of any potential legal proceedings or any potential to impugn the reputation of any organisation or Member of this House. I am very conscious of that. I join both Senators in commending “RTÉ Investigates” for bringing forward that issue. I watched it last night and I was particularly moved by the story of the Wilson family and Esther, who had money awarded to her because of a terrible accident she had in her late 20s. That money was to provide for her for the rest of her life and Patrick Russell, being a neighbour and friend of the family, would have been aware of those circumstances. It really speaks to the character of a person that could go about and do something of that nature. There appear to be significant questions to answer. We will raise that with the Department around how we might have some sort of a debate in this House within our guidelines that would not bring the House into disrepute in any way. I take the points of both Senators on board.
Senator Murphy raised the issue around elderly people and Eir. I was taken aback to see Eir coming out to suggest the problems with its customer service are because of the call centre in Sligo. I take great offence at that. I was onsite in Sligo at the Eir premises a number of years ago and I was a customer of Eir at the time. I went to purchase a mobile phone and it was sent to the wrong location through no fault of my own. They then accused me of having stolen the phone in a kind of roundabout way. It was ridiculous stuff. In any event, to cut a long story short, I am no longer a customer of Eir, nor will I be a customer of Eir while it has the current lack of customer service. I listened to some people who gave comments to the media about being on hold for 30 to 45 minutes. I was one of those people and it drove me to the brink in trying to deal with the lack of customer service. That problem persisted and it was there long before the centre in Sligo was established. My understanding is that the centre in Sligo was set up to deal with the customer service problem. Let us not blame the people of Sligo or suggest there is somehow a shortage of skills in the community to meet the demands of that call centre. It is an outrageous suggestion. I understand from Senator Dooley that the regulator is coming before the Oireachtas committee to follow up on the complaints against Eir. Eir is operating in this country and it owes people and customers a reasonable level of customer service, which has been severely lacking for quite some time.
Senator Currie raised the issue of black Friday, as did Senator Kyne. Senator Currie also mentioned the campaign around green Friday and the Champion Green campaign. I thank her for bringing that to the attention of the House and the broader public. Let us hope we can turn black Friday green tomorrow and do all we can to protect Irish business.
Senator Blaney raised an issue around Sport Ireland. I do not have an answer at the minute but I will seek to get a reply to him on that question. I note his remarks in regard to councillors across the country, who will be very appreciative of his support.
There was also the issue of the gambling regulator.
I will come back to the Senator on that.
Senator Fitzpatrick raised the issue of the two men who died on the streets of our capital city in recent days. On behalf of this side of the House and, I am sure, on behalf of the whole House, I extend our deepest sympathies to the families of both men. It is a shocking indictment on any country that people should be dying in the streets, and we need to address that urgently. I note it is almost six years to the day that Jonathan Corrie passed away very close to Government Buildings on a doorstep. Things have not really progressed in the manner they should have in terms of homelessness services. An important point raised by Senator Fitzpatrick is that the accommodation is only one part of it. We have listened to comments and feedback from people availing of those services, who often speak about being in a room with other people, some of whom may be using drugs onsite, and they actually feel safer on the streets. That is a serious problem. Individuals have many complex needs and are in need of supports. It is not just about a bed but about the wraparound services that are just not there to the level they need to be. We have a big job of work in this country to address that because this problem seems to be growing, not reducing. I know the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is genuinely personally committed to addressing this issue and I have no doubt he will do his utmost to make changes in that regard.
As I said, Senator Conway endorsed the comments in regard to RTÉ and we will come back to that issue.
Senator Fiona O'Loughlin supported the green Friday initiative and also gave a personal account of a young woman who was left stranded at a bus stop because cash was not accepted. I do not know the full details of that story but, certainly, cash is legal tender and it cannot be refused. It might be an issue on which the Senator can directly correspond with Bus Éireann to get further clarification.
Senator Bacik knows of my support for the citizenship Bill that Labour is proposing. I am doing my utmost to try to get Government approval for that Bill. I am only one person but I will make my voice as loud as I can. I understand that the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, is also in support of the Bill and I understand there is engagement with the Department on that, with a view to trying to progress it. The Senator has my full support personally but I know she is looking for Government support and I will do my best on that front. I would love to see that Bill over the line. It is a small gesture for a small number of children, but it would make a world of difference to those individuals.
I get Senator Bacik’s point on the zero-Covid strategy, and I know she is raising it on behalf of colleagues. I note she welcomed the debate on the reopening of the country. There are difficult decisions for the Government to make today in regard to next week. I know people's livelihoods, mental health and so much else is at stake in regard to that reopening. I hope we can have a break from lockdown and get about to see our family and friends, and have some time to socialise. However, we have to be honest with ourselves. If we reopen the country for a week or two weeks, and I am sure NPHET will give its advice, it is quite likely we will see an increase in numbers because that seems to be the trajectory of this virus. There is a fear we may be going back into tighter restrictions come January, but we need to be honest with the public that that may be the trade-off to get that break. Who knows? I am not a public health expert and we will await the advice and the decision of the Government. From a Government perspective, I know it is acutely aware of how distressing being in level 5 is for many people and businesses, and, as we approach December, the Government really wants to give that break to people and to let us have some sort of normal Christmas.
Senator Byrne dealt succinctly with the issue around Cuba and I do not need to go over that, although I agree with his comments. He also raised the “shop local” campaign. On the issue of commercial rates funding, it is ludicrous that a model from the 1820s is being used to fund local government today in times when many businesses do not have a physical space and operate online. Clearly, it is a model that is not fit for purpose and it needs to be amended and changed. It puts our small retailers on the main streets of every town and village at a severe disadvantage when competing with businesses that trade solely online. We need to address that. I will certainly seek a debate with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the issue of local government funding that the Senator raises.
Will the Leader send a Standing Order letter to the chief executive of Eir. Is that in order?
We cannot write on behalf of every Member of the House but I will certainly---
I think it is agreed.
-----ask someone from the Leader's office to deal with it. The fact, however, that the regulator is coming before the committee to deal with that will give an opportunity to raise further questions and follow up on the explanations, if one wants to call them that, from the chief executive of Eir.
Will the Deputy Leader take a point of information?
Of course, yes.
No, not at this stage.
She said she would.
I will be guided by the Chair as to what is appropriate.
Is it a point of order?
No, I asked if she will take a point of information.
There is no such thing as a point of information in the Standing Order but, perhaps, the Deputy Leader is willing. It is up to her; she is in possession.
I anticipate that it is with regard to my comments around Cuba.
No, it is with regard to Eir.
As opposed to an ideological conversation?
I wish to point out that this is not normal procedure.
Given that it is so close to Christmas.
I thank the Deputy Leader.
Members have an opportunity to raise issues during their contributions. This will not be a general practice.
The Cathaoirleach is being very generous. I will point out to the Deputy Leader that this is what happens when one privatises a good State company.
We are dealing with recent comments by the chief executive of Eir, blaming the call centre in Sligo for what was, in my view, a problem that existed before that.
That is the Senator's view.