The Order of Business is No. a1, motion regarding arrangements for a sitting of the House on Friday, 18 December 2020, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. b1 Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Bill 2020, changed from Planning and Development Bill 2020 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. a1, whichever is later, and to conclude after three hours by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall include only those amendments set down or accepted by the Government; and No. c1, earlier signature motion on the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Bill 2020, to be taken on conclusion of No. b1, without debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I wish to voice my agreement with the Order of Business and raise a couple of items. As Members will be aware, the national development plan, NDP, is currently being reviewed and is open for public consultation. People can submit their ideas and suggestions before the end of January. I know the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will be coming to the Chamber early in the next term, but I think it would be a good idea to request a debate on the national planning framework. As we know, the national development plan identifies where investment should go in order to implement the national planning framework. It seems inconsistent to review the NDP but not the planning framework. The two go hand in hand. The process of getting agreement on the planning framework during the last Oireachtas was fraught with challenges. There were last-minute adjustments, including the addition of Sligo as a regional growth centre. The west and north west would benefit from a review of the national planning framework in conjunction with the current review of the national development plan.
The second issue I wish to raise, which I think has gone below the radar during the Covid-19 pandemic, is supports for mothers, particularly first-time mothers. I know from speaking to public health nurses in Mayo that many women are struggling to cope because of the lack of community supports. There are no visits from lactation consultants, mother and baby groups, breastfeeding groups or toddler swim classes. All of these opportunities to get out of the house, meet other mothers and get some support are gone. Many mothers are feeling very isolated and alone because of the lack of wraparound community supports for them when they get home. There is a serious body of work to be done there. The Minister for Health must come before the House to outline the supports that will be put in place to assist mothers in the community. This would also assist public health nurses who tell me they are really at their limit. They are going above and beyond to help mothers as best they can. They are trying to see as many mothers as they can with very limited resources, while operating under increased restrictions. A debate in the House on those two issues in the next term would be very welcome.
I am sure many Members saw items on the news about Hungary in the last 48 hours. I am sure many Senators will join me in expressing my dismay. For those who do not know, Hungary has amended its constitution to change the definition of family, preventing LGBT couples from adopting. Many people here will agree that this is an egregious backward step for LGBT people in Hungary and in Europe. I hope Senators will join me in expressing solidarity with LGBT people in Hungary, for whom this is a very difficult time. I also call on our colleagues in this House who are party colleagues with the party of Viktor Orbán. It is very concerning that they share a space with someone who is so determined to roll back LGBT rights when we have been quite a beacon for those rights.
I also wish to briefly mention the people who have been on the front line in the last year. I am particularly thinking of staff and students, who I would say have been on the invisible front line of the Covid-19 crisis. I hope they get the recognition they deserve in the coming months. Staff have worked extremely hard to support students during this time. Students have really been doing their best under very difficult circumstances. Some are really struggling and are wondering if they will be able to continue their studies. Yesterday I spoke to some staff who are doing everything in their power to get those students through the next couple of months and keep them in education so they do not lose out on a lifetime of opportunity because of the effects of the Covid-19 crisis this year.
I also hope this is the last Christmas for which student nurses and midwives are not paid as they should be, and for which we have a two-tier system that does not pay teachers fairly. I implore Members to think about front-line workers this Christmas; nurses, doctors, paramedics and all the people who will be working on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. We should think about how we will conduct ourselves over the Christmas period. I have family members who will be working over the Christmas period and I want them to be safe and well. I encourage people planning Christmas celebrations to keep them small and safe. We all know someone who is working on the front line and will be giving up their time this Christmas so we can all be safe.
I want to mention one issue which occurred to me last night when I passed the Central Bank and saw the enormous number of families queueing up for soup kitchens. We are so lucky to have the volunteers that do this work in Dublin, Cork and other cities. It was so sad to see. I counted more than 70 people. The thing that was really hard to comprehend was the presence in the queue of nine young children. I spoke to a man who said he felt ashamed to be there because he had had a job.
He told me he rents a flat in Glasnevin and that he keeps his hood up because he does not want people to see him. At least we have such a service, however, and people who give out things like soup and bread on a Monday night. I also refer to projects such as that undertaken by the barbers who go onto the streets to cut people's hair and by people like Alice Leahy who give out clothes. It is all about dignity. It was not too long ago that many of us, if we were being honest, did not have the arse pocket in our trousers either. That is the reality.
Moving on to my second point, I have a sister who works with the Irish in London. Anyone familiar with Trafalgar Square will know the lovely church that is St. Martin-in-the-Fields, right there in the square. An amazing organisation for the Irish is run from that church, and there are facilities for baths and for washing. Those facilities are for all sorts of people but a high percentage of them are Irish. I have had great opportunities over many years to link in with those services. Any time I am in London, I go to St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It is quite a spiritual home for me and it is an amazing church, an amazing congregation and an amazing community of diverse people. Many of them have a simple Christian approach and have no religion at all, which is great. It is, therefore, an amazing building with an amazing community.
Again, however, people there this week are wrapping up parcels. They are struggling and they are our Irish people. In fairness to the past actions of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, it is important that people in Ireland, and particularly the Government, send finance and support to those people in London. Those people providing the services to which I have referred are holding raffles with bottles of wine and drawing tickets for 50p to raise money for our Irish people.
While we talk about our diaspora, many people went, or ran away, to London because they had issues with which they could not cope themselves. They were not accepted, fell on hard times or felt that they had to run away from something. They stayed in London and feel that they cannot come back. In many ways, Ireland is a different place now. We should all use our contacts and tap into our political groupings, parties, Ministers and anyone we know to see if we can support those who are supporting the Irish on the streets of London.
Deep division remains and festers on this island in respect of legacy issues. We may have peace in Northern Ireland but we certainly do not have normal relations. The past is not exclusively to be shared by one tradition only. No atrocity, no matter how wicked, can justify and encapsulate the pain and loss suffered by so many.
A few weeks ago, this House unanimously called for a public, sworn inquiry and we implored the British Government to do the right thing regarding the murder of Pat Finucane. Subsequently, the British Government, to the great upset of the Finucane family, decided not to have a public, sworn inquiry. That was despite, as we reminded the British Government, a finding by Judge Cory of collusion. We may have peace but we will not have normality until the day mainstream politicians from every party will stand up for the rights of and justice and the truth for the other community. It is easy to stand up in respect of the injustices regarding one's own community but not so easy regarding those of the so-called other side.
Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan of the then Royal Ulster Constabulary, RUC, were murdered on 20 March 1989, as they returned home from Dundalk. Their families have sought for years to get to the truth about their deaths. Recently, the democratically-elected leader of Irish unionism requested the Taoiseach to meet to discuss allegations of collusion south of the Border. I commend the Taoiseach, and I would be grateful if the Leader would convey my message to him, on acceding to that request.
In the Smithwick tribunal of inquiry, while finding there was no direct evidence of collusion in the killing of those two RUC officers, Judge Smithwick concluded, on the balance of probabilities, that collusion did occur involving an unidentified member or members of An Garda Síochána. The then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade said that he was "appalled and saddened at the finding" and that it was "a matter of great public concern". If we are going to tell the British what to do, surely at the very least, we should look closer to home and not go down the blind alleyways of the British Government. The best vaccination against the deep divisions of legacy issues and the deep distrust is to build bridges of trust, truth and reconciliation.
I will raise two issues. The first I have raised before, along with Senators from all sides of the Chamber, and that is the plight of the student nurses. I quote some voices from the front line, which were contained in a powerful article in The Irish Times yesterday:
So far I have washed and fed patients, emotionally supported them and have been on the ward as two patients have died ... I’ve worked 12-hour shifts back to back and been so tired I’ve been physically sick.
A second student nurse said,
Since I commenced my nursing studies in 2017 “sure we have the students” is a sentence I have commonly heard. Staff members who are sick or off on leave are very seldom replaced when a student nurse is on placement.
A third student nurse was then quoted as saying,
I have to ask do they really think it is acceptable to have young students working 35 hours completely unpaid during the worst pandemic of our time risking their lives and that of their families and being completely burnt out and disillusioned before they even begin their careers? Student nurses will never forget the actions of this Government and the exploitation that has occurred.
I am raising this issue because I thought we had an agreement from the last debate that student nurses should be paid. However, I am hearing now from the Fianna Fáil Minister for Health that they should not be paid but the allowances will be looked at. Perhaps I could be called old-fashioned, but I think that if somebody does a day's work, then that person should be paid for it. I think that is something all of us should be able to agree on in this Chamber. The fact that these nurses continue to face into the Covid-19 pandemic in these circumstances without pay is nothing less than a national disgrace. I call again for an urgent debate and urgent action from the Government on this issue.
The second issue I wish to raise concerns the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, trade deal. In the words of the leader of the Green Party in 2017, the now Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, "We should look for a different form of trade deal, one which absolutely copperfastens the sovereignty of the nation against the corporation and one that absolutely guarantees the environmental standards that everyone says they want to protect." He also said then that he feared "that in the dispute resolution mechanism CETA enshrines ... we are ceding power and sovereignty to corporations". I really agree with what he said then and in the five years I have been here, this is the biggest U-turn I have ever seen from any political party.
I ask the Leader for two things. First, I request that we have a debate on this issue in the new year. Surely, we all want to have a say on this matter and we should have that say before the vote takes place in the Dáil. My second request concerns the sensible suggestion made by my colleague, Senator Lynn Boylan, that we deal with this matter and examine the proposal in depth in the Joint Committee on Climate Action before the vote. If people are confident that there is nothing wrong with CETA, then they should be confident in their arguments and allow that approach to happen. I am genuinely shocked at the stance of the Green Party on CETA. I sat alongside colleagues from that party when campaigning against CETA and I am genuinely flabbergasted at this U-turn. I ask that we have an urgent debate on this matter and that we all agree that the correct way forward is via the Joint Committee on Climate Action.
I again acknowledge how this difficult this time during the Covid-19 pandemic is on those people impacted in respect of their health or financially, as well as for those at the forefront in the workplace in dealing with the health problems which arise. We cannot lose sight of the small things which would make a difference in respect of what our country is going through now. We spoke previously about the importance of supporting mental health, particularly among young people, and the importance of sport in that context. I refer to how it helps young people through the discipline of training for and playing matches.
I was struck by an email I received during the week from the secretary of Athy Rugby Club in County Kildare. It is a very well run and well organised club. He made the point that young people, particularly those of schoolgoing age, had not played a match since 19 March. This is a difficult time for members who are concerned. We all know that leaders in sports clubs and organisations play a very strong, mentoring role in the lives of young people. They feel they are losing this vital connection with young people and families. As far as sports are concerned, level 3 and level 5 restrictions are the same. I appeal for rugby and soccer clubs to be given the opportunity, in a regulated way, to resume playing matches so that members do not lose out on the valuable lessons and physical, emotional and mental health benefits that being part of team provides.
I had the privilege to serve in the Department of Rural and Community Development with the then Minister, Michael Ring, when the rural regeneration and development fund was put in place. At the same time, the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, put in place the urban regeneration and development fund to fund strategic projects. I am sure we all agree that this funding has been effective and been welcomed universally because it filled a gap and allowed many worthwhile projects to progress to development, many of which are multimillion euro projects.
Galway County Council and Irish Rail have applied to increase capacity at Oranmore station, east of Galway city. Like many towns, Oranmore has rapidly expanded and once had a railway station that was closed many decades ago. Thankfully, under phase 1 of the western rail corridor project, Oranmore got a new station. A testament to the increase in usage over the past decade is the urban regeneration and development fund application by Galway County Council in association with Irish Rail. It involves the creation of a passing loop at Oranmore, 1 km of track, a second platform and a pedestrian crossover between platforms. The project has been costed at approximately €12 million and has the support of the Department of Transport, which has indicated a willingness to part-fund the project. The lands required are in the control of Irish Rail. I hope the project will act as a forerunner for the double-tracking of the line between Athenry and Galway. This is a priority for the local authorities and would give a significant boost to the provision of an alternative transport mode to private cars. Double-tracking would also allow for a train station in the Renmore and Merlin Park area, which would create access to the east side of the city, including the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and the tens of thousands of residents who live in the area.
The station at Oranmore was officially opened by the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and local councillor, Mr. Liam Carroll, the Mayor of County Galway at the time and a long-term supporter of the project then and now. I welcome the vision of Galway County Council and the fact that these funds are in place and allow an application, which will be adjudicated in due course. I hope the project, if successfully granted, will be the first phase of a larger double-tracking project, which will allow for commuter services to the city and possibly a train station in the Renmore area.
I want to raise the value and importance of human connection. Kindness and love are the real currency of life. The importance of one human being in another person's life is more important when that person is a child. These human connections are formed in the earliest years of our lives. This human connection becomes more important when the child feels safe and confides in someone that things are not right at home or he or she may be living in danger. To be that one good adult that a child can turn to in the darkest of moments is truly the greatest gift.
This morning, I want to thank Erin's Isle Gaelic Football Club in Finglas, County Dublin. In all my years of fostering and of all the children who have come through my door, I have never witnessed the exemplary acts of human kindness that the club's coaches and child protection officers had for one child who ended up in difficulty. It was these fine young men who knew exactly what to do when that child came to them. It was the same young people who rang the child every single day, collected him for training, visited him and tried to keep his spirits up while Tusla tried to find a placement for him. Imagine at a young age having one's life and familiar surroundings turned upside down, ending up in a Garda station seeking protection and, subsequently, being brought into a stranger's house at 1.30 in the morning. I have never seen such camaraderie for a child. Members of the Erin's Isle club literally threw their arms around this child and made him feel important and loved. I cannot go into more detail but the club went above and beyond its duty. I thank the young coaches and child protection officers from Erin's Isle in Finglas for everything they are doing for the children and teenagers in their club.
Every day, children in this country find themselves seeking refuge. There are not enough foster parents to deal with the number of children seeking refuge, even less so with the pandemic. Once again, I call on people from any family type who could be a good role model, even if they are single or, like me, busy, and who have a spare room, patience and an open heart to open their home to a young person.
I thank Senator Keoghan for outlining the work done on behalf of a vulnerable child in our country today. I thank her for all of her truly extraordinary work in fostering children over the years.
I join the Cathaoirleach in thanking Senator Keoghan for her testimony and talking about the importance of love and kindness, particularly in these difficult times.
I agree with the comments of Senator Hoey on an issue a number of Senators have raised previously, namely, the importance of having a debate on the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, particularly regarding decisions on European funding for those countries. If they do not respect the rule of law and minority rights, they should be called to account.
I know that other Senators, including Senators Keogan, McGreehan and Davitt, have raised the issue of rural housing. We need a debate on rural housing and supports for rural communities. The office of the planning regulator is currently sending letters to every local authority that is going through a county development plan. The plan for Wexford arrived in the last few days but it is unworkable. It states that those living in a rural area must have a farm of at least 15 acres so the only people who will be able to build in rural areas now are those who inherit the family farm. The advice is that people who want to live in the country should buy an existing house in the countryside and do it up. The difficulty for locals is that they must often compete with purchasers from outside their area. On the other side is an expectation that people should move into villages. Many villages do not have water and wastewater infrastructure. Much higher housing densities are now expected in some towns. I am not in favour of allowing anybody to build anywhere. However, planning must be sustainable while having regard to existing traditional rural infrastructure. We must also support our villages. It is essential that we have a proper debate on how we can support rural communities.
I raise the issue of suicide. The period leading into Christmas can exacerbate loneliness, hardship and stresses and strains. This year has been particularly challenging, for obvious reasons. Few families have not been touched by the suicide of someone they know or someone within their family. We can never stop emphasising that we need to move away from the words "commit suicide". Someone I know, love and respect posted a comment on social media about a family member. It is years since his father died and he pleaded for people to stop using the terminology "commit suicide". It is offensive to his and his family's experience of mourning their father and how they remember all that is good. I emphasise that point.
People who consider suicide deserve and need our compassion, care and respect, and their dignity. We need to ensure we empower that in any remembrance and in any support for their families. I congratulate Pieta House on its extraordinary work.
It has responded specifically to Covid-19 on its website with videos for children, teenagers and adults in all sorts of situations that address, empower and support. I will end by using the empowering words of Pieta House: You are not alone
As we hear concerning news about rising Covid-19 transmission rates in the North and here and as we digest the news that Mr. Emmanuel Macron has tested positive, I thought it would be nice to share the positive news that the Taoiseach has confirmed to my colleague, Deputy Alan Kelly, in the Dáil that vaccinations will start over the period 27 to 29 December. Colleagues will have heard the President of the European Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen making an EU-wide commitment on that, which is very positive. It is important that all of us as public representatives take the lead in encouraging uptake of the vaccine when it becomes available and in countering any misinformation about vaccinations. That is some positivity in the midst of what is rather grim news in this country and elsewhere on Covid transmission rates.
I welcome the publication today of a report on hate crime legislation by the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and I ask the Leader to schedule a debate on same in the new year. I know that we debated a related Private Member's Bill in the House recently but the Minister's report would be extremely informative in setting a context for us to
debate the sort of legislation that we would like to see introduced. We need to ensure that there is an adequate balance and respect for free speech, of course, and that the legislation would be effective in a way that the Prohibition of Incitement To Hatred Act 1989 has not been. Indeed, any new legislation must go beyond that Act in providing that hate motivation in assaults be considered an aggravating factor. I look forward to that debate and ask the Leader to provide time for it early in the new year.
Yesterday representatives of the newspaper industry, both local and national, attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht. They set out the challenges facing the print media industry today, particularly in the context of Covid-19. They outlined the work they have done during the pandemic and the financial hit they have taken.
First and foremost, we must remember that media outlets are businesses and the aim of their owners is to make money because if they do not do so, they go bust. Some made bad financial investments during the boom and have found themselves in a difficult position as a result. That said, local newspapers in this country provide a very important service. They cover stories that would go under the radar and not be covered at all if they failed to continue in operation. In that respect, I support the call made Mr. Frank Mulrennan at committee yesterday that the same funding, totalling €2.6 million, which was provided in July for commercial radio, including local radio be provided to local newspapers that have suffered a steep decline in income from both advertising and sales. I support Mr. Mulrennan's call on behalf of all local newspapers because if the State does not intervene, we will lose something that is more than just a product. Local newspapers cover local council meetings, local court sittings as well as local sporting and cultural events. They are the very essence and fabric of local communities. There is a broader debate to be had on why young people in particular are not buying newspapers at all, never mind local newspapers, but in the here and now I support the call made by local newspapers for financial support. That call was passed on, by resolution of the committee yesterday, to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin.
I have repeatedly called for consideration to be given to introducing a scheme similar to the local democracy reporter, LDR, scheme in the UK, which was introduced by the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr. John Whittingdale. Under that scheme, a percentage of the licence fee is used to create a pool of reporters who cover important statutory meetings such as council meetings, court sittings and so on.
I compliment Senator Keogan on her contribution on foster parents.
On 10 November, the Cabinet signed off on a massive €110 million investment project on the north quays in Waterford city. This was the culmination of years of very hard work by many in Waterford as well as the previous Fine Gael-led Government's policy on strategic development zones, SDZs. There is no question that this project will transform the city in the years ahead but there are a number of other projects in the pipeline for Waterford that will help Ireland to meet its targets and projections under Project Ireland 2040. One such project is the ambitious plan submitted by Waterford City and County Council under the second call for the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF. The council has sought funding of €27.6 million as part of a €48.5 million plan to regenerate derelict and underutilised buildings in the wider Viking triangle and cultural quarter areas as well as improving the public realm from O'Connell Street to the new whiskey distillery on Mary Street, the creation of a new linear park on Spring Garden Alley and a new square, called Friary Square, with new housing and commercial units at ground floor level. In total, 22 projects are earmarked for investment as part of the plan. This is an excellent project that deserves the backing of Government.
Colleagues may accuse me of being parochial or greedy, given the significant investment that the Government has made in the north quays through the URDF but I make no apologies for that. As I have said previously, Waterford city and its development as the key economic driver of the south-east will be the litmus test for the successful completion of Project Ireland 2040. I ask the Leader to ascertain if a decision been made on whether the regional development projects to be funded under the URDF will be announced before Christmas or in the new year.
Touching somewhat on what was said about the rule of law a few moments ago, the Minister for Justice is proposing that there would be a judicial appointments commission comprising nine members, one of whom would come from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. He or she would be one of the lay members. That might seem like a good idea but I am afraid it only seems so. Judges have a duty to be impartial. The time honoured principle is not just that they are impartial but that they must be seen to be so. We have seen ferment in Ireland in the context of Mr. Justice Woulfe's appointment but even more obviously in America, where politicians probe and predict which way judges might go on important issues if they are appointed.
The IHREC, in respect of an issue that people have different views on, namely the marriage equality referendum, claimed that it was a human right. This was despite a European Court of Human Rights decision in Hämäläinen v. Finland which said that member states were not under an obligation to legislate. That is just one example of a political agenda creeping into a judgment about the state of law. The commission has also done it on gender equality. When it was before the Citizen's Assembly, it talked about the need to generate political momentum. I have no issue with the right or the role of the IHREC in doing that kind of thing but when it comes to appointing judges, there must be clear blue water. We do not want a situation in the future where a plaintiff or a defendant is saying that judge X or Y was appointed by a commission, which included people who might be judging people on their political agenda as opposed to their fitness for the job. It is all about perception. Politics has to be kept as far away as possible from the appointment of members of the Judiciary. The proposed legislation will be presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny, which I welcome, and this particular mistake will need to be ironed out.
Just in case I do not get the opportunity to speak tomorrow, I want to wish the Cathaoirleach a very happy Christmas. This is his first Christmas as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and he has done a great job so far. He has been very co-operative and supportive of Members and a great ambassador for Seanad Éireann. I thank him for that. I also want to acknowledge the work done by the Clerk, Mr. Martin Groves, the Clerk Assistant, Ms Brigid Doody and the team behind them. They are great people and they do a great job. I wish them a very happy Christmas. We have had a challenging year. It has been difficult for everybody and in that context, I wish everybody a peaceful and safe Christmas.
With regard to the vaccines, 2021 will be dominated by the discourse on vaccines, certainly in the first and second quarters. Members of the task force on the Covid-19 vaccine appeared before the health committee yesterday and it was a super engagement. Great professionals are taking charge of ensuring that the vaccine is delivered to as many people as possible as quickly as possible when the doses of vaccine arrive into the country. The work that has been done already is commendable. However, I am concerned about people who have intellectual disabilities and who are not in care settings but live in the community. Clarity is required about how these people will be communicated with and accommodated with regard to the vaccine. There is a job of work to be done in terms of, first, how to identify these people, who I consider vulnerable, and, second, how the message will be communicated. Obviously, vulnerable people in care settings will be looked after first, but after that we must identify the vulnerable people in the community and have a plan for them. That plan must be transparent.
I would appreciate if we could have a debate in the new year on the Covid-19 vaccine because I believe that will dominate political discussion for at least the first four or five months of 2021.
This week marks the 37th anniversary of the murders of trainee garda Gary Sheehan and Private Patrick Kelly. They were both killed by the Provisional IRA in Derrada Woods in County Leitrim in 1983 while trying to rescue the businessman Mr. Don Tidey. There was no justification for the murder of these two young innocent men or, indeed, for the kidnapping of Mr. Don Tidey. Their families have never received justice. The truth of what happened that dreadful day has never been told. Gary Sheehan was training to be a garda in Templemore at the time. He was 23 years old and from Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. He was an ordinary young man who played football with his local GAA club, Carrickmacross Emmets. He left a heartbroken mother, father, two sisters and a brother. Last week, this House correctly supported calls for a public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane. Personally, I was delighted to support that. However, all families, including those of Gary Sheehan and Patrick Kelly, are entitled to the truth. As these families face into another Christmas without their innocent loved ones, I appeal to all those who are in a position to help these broken families find the truth to do so. The families have waited long enough.
The only thing I can say to Senator Gallagher is that I concur with his request. It is a terrible shame that there are so many families in the same situation as the Sheehan and Kelly families. I will convey the Senator's request to the Taoiseach.
I am in the happy position of being able to tell Senator Conway that on our first week back in the new year a debate is scheduled with the Minister for Health on the roll-out of the vaccine. Despite the fact that we have great confidence in the task force, and Professor Brian MacCraith instils such confidence with his knowledge and expertise, there will be questions that are not in the 57 pages that were issued this week. Different issues will arise thereafter, so we will have a debate in the first week we return.
I fear that if Senator Mullen is trying to keep politics out of judicial appointments, that horse has well and truly bolted. Since the foundation of the State, we have had politicians appointing judges, and the development of a new judicial board is an attempt to take politics out of it. I very much concur. Pre-legislative scrutiny will facilitate all the debate the Senator requires, but if it does not, I will be happy to organise a debate in the House. That is no problem.
Senator Cummins is not being blatantly political by fighting for his city in the Seanad. The news about the North Quays is wonderful. It would be equally wonderful and, indeed, a full circle to provide what could be a state-of-the-art project for the development of the south east, if the Viking Triangle was successful. I do not believe the regional development funding will be announced before Christmas. It will be early in the new year. As the Senator so eloquently described it, I can visualise how it will look if he is successful. I wish him every success in the new year.
Senator Cassells had my good friends from local media before the committee yesterday. I fully support them. It is interesting, and a pity, that we supported local radio stations but did not support our local print journalists when they were in such difficulty. Indeed, there were debates in this House, in the Dáil and in committees before the Covid-19 pandemic to express the difficulties being experienced by local media. They are vital. National media, the news and the way we deliver and consume news are changing and we must change with it. However, local newspapers and local radio stations are unique and need an extra level of Government support. I am happy to relay that to the Taoiseach as well.
In response to Senator Bacik, the 3,600 submissions to the report that the Minister issued this morning show how much interest there is in this matter. The usual suspects are announcing that all we are trying to do is shut down free speech. That is the last thing any Member of this House or the Dáil wishes to do. We want to be able to have respectful debates on any and every platform, without some of the trite denigration that was issued this morning and, indeed, to a Member of this House in the last number of days on Twitter, which is a disgrace. We need robust legislation that does what we want it to do, and the legislation on the Statute Book thus far certainly does not do that. I will schedule that debate early in the new year.
I am aware of what the European Commission said this morning. The Taoiseach is isolating and I send him our good wishes that, hopefully, he is not in the same boat as Mr. Emmanuel Macron. Obviously we send Mr. Macron our good wishes too. The start date of 27 December is genuinely a lifeline. It is not a light at the end of the tunnel, but a light that is shining brightly. There will be questions next year and we will have rolling debates on the roll-out of the vaccine. It is incumbent on all of us to say, loudly and consistently, that we are committed to getting vaccinated. I am committed to getting vaccinated. I do not know yet where I am in the queue, but my father, about whom I have been intensely worried for the past couple of months, will be, hopefully, at the top of the queue at 85 years of age. We need to be leaders in this House, the Dáil, our homes, our communities, our churches and outside post offices to address some of the concerns and fears people have and to reassure them that vaccines have had the most fundamental and transformative impact on modern life, apart from clean water. We must reassure people that this will be equally transformative, to try to get us back to the normality we expect of life.
In response to Senator Seery Kearney, my association with Pieta House is probably well known. I cannot commend it enough. It is a tremendous and wonderful organisation. The campaign we are running this year is one we have never run previously. Its objective is to bring awareness of the signs of suicide, and it has a profound impact on getting conversations going. It is not the only organisation. We have the Samaritans, Jigsaw and probably hundreds of local organisations that have been established by loved ones who have been bereaved as a result of somebody who has died by suicide. All those organisations deserve our respect and support, particularly at this time of the year when people are a little more emotional than they are during the rest of the year. All the charities have had a difficult year. We are not giving in the same way we normally would because we are not living the same lives. Perhaps we should be mindful of that if we are feeling generous over the next couple of weeks.
Senator Byrne raised a matter, but Senator Hoey started the round. I am not embarrassed to say that we will schedule a debate on the rule of law. We might focus on Hungary and Poland, but there are many other countries that have things to answer for at various levels. However, the changes announced by Hungary to its constitution earlier in the week are repugnant to me. I do not stand in solidarity with European People's Party colleagues from Viktor Orbán's party.
I am embarrassed by what they have done this week. Our own party and members of the European People's Party should have taken measures and this should have been addressed before now. The issues around meetings are nonsense and the question of forums for meetings has stalled the process. We will absolutely have a debate after Christmas on the rule of law not just in the context of Hungary but also regarding all those countries with varying records in this regard that must be challenged.
Senator Keogan never ceases to amaze me. I have known her for many years and there is a persona that she is as tough as boots and would do absolutely anything for the community she represents. I know that only too well. She is one of the softest, kindest and most emotional women I know. Do not ever change. It is a huge tribute to the type of person she is that she stood up and commended the wonderful men and women in the Erin's Isle club this morning. Their actions over the past number of weeks have probably been reminiscent of those of many other organisations up and down the country that do not receive enough credit. I pay credit to the Senator today, though, and say again, "Do not ever change". She should be the wonderful, sensitive and caring person she has always been and she should keep showing it. I thank her.
Senator Kyne mentioned another wonderful opportunity for funding and a development of something that we probably thought in rural Ireland was in decline, namely, the rural train station. Perhaps it is because we are more conscious of climate change and the policies being pursued that are undoing what has been done. This dual carriage station in Oranmore would be of tremendous benefit to the community and I hope there is a successful funding application.
Senator O'Loughlin raised the very obvious elephant in the room. We thrive on human contact and different people brought it up, not only today but also in discussing various matters. There has been a huge lack of it over the past ten months. Even those of us lucky enough to still be able to come to work, see colleagues or meet people know that it is still not the same and that there is still no human contact because we are away from each other. This is something of which we must be mindful.
Colleagues referred to the rise in positive case numbers and the very obvious perils that some of our neighbours on the Continent are witnessing. We know what human contact can do during a pandemic so we must all be incredibly careful. Senator Hoey put it perfectly by stating we should keep gatherings small and safe. That is what we all must do over the next couple of weeks until the vaccine programme starts.
I totally agree with Senator Gavan. There have been a number of debates about student nurses in the media, including social media, in the Dáil and with a number of Commencement matters, one of which was tabled by me. I am biased and although I have a student nurse at home, that is not the reason for my bias. There is work being done and nobody can ignore that. There is also learning being done and nobody can ignore that either. Where work is being done, payment must be made. I have no problem saying that and it might not go down well in certain corners of rooms. Where work is being done, payment must be made. It is that simple. The Senator and others have read out testimonies and we all know these students are working and learning at the same time. There is a hell of a lot more work going on than learning and this must be acknowledged. I suppose I respect the fact that the Minister has said a review is taking place and I will wait to see the outcome of the review. I hope my faith will be restored but I agree with the Senator.
I also agree with the Senator that the place to have climate change debates is in the Oireachtas committee. I will send a letter to the Chairman of the committee today relaying the Senator's request.
Senator Martin touched on a very similar topic to that raised by Senator Gallagher. I concur with the comments and will send a letter to the Taoiseach on his behalf commending him on the reaction to Ms Arlene Foster's request.
Senator Boyhan eloquently described the organisations that look after the people who are down on their luck in different periods of their life. I concur with his comments that such organisations must absolutely be commended, supported, praised and acknowledged. It is an absolute must. I read a report yesterday from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul indicating that many people who were former contributors to the society's coffers are the people it is helping this year. We are in the most absolutely unusual of times.
The State has been incredibly generous as it was a time to be generous in trying to look after workers and everybody we need to support but there are still people who have absolutely nothing to look forward to this Christmas. There are still people who are vulnerable, and as the Senator describes, embarrassed by having the kind of life they have. It is incumbent on all of us to remember that when the recovery comes and we get back to speaking about real and normal matters. For example, the homelessness report this week nearly went unnoticed but I recall that this time last year it absolutely did not go unnoticed. Perhaps politics have changed but the circumstances of those people's lives have certainly not changed.
When we start to get back to some sort of new normal after Christmas, we must start talking about the vulnerable in our society and the 15% of people who are unemployed because of the pandemic and the shocking point that most of these people are under 35. We must start talking about the other issues that have presented along with the older matters that concerned us last year or five years ago. The Senator is correct to commend the people both in our country and in London looking after expatriates, and it is an appropriate time for him to do that.
Senator Chambers started the Order of Business by seeking a debate on the national development plan and the national planning framework. I will certainly facilitate that after Christmas. She spoke eloquently as a first-time mother who had a little baby this year. Our new mams have been entirely isolated from their families this year and the normal supports they might have are not readily available. We must instill those again next year. We have raised many times in the House the question of maternity services and how disjointed they are because we are trying to keep people safe. Many of the infringements on normal life have come about so we can remain safe. I know there is acceptance and acknowledgement of that but it still does not make things easier. There are people who are more vulnerable in society than some of the rest of us, which must be acknowledged.
I will be here tomorrow wearing my Christmas jumper so I will keep my good wishes until then.