The Order of Business is No. 1, the Criminal Procedure Bill 2021 - Committee Stage (resumed) and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and concluded at 12.45 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I support the Order of Business for today. Today is a red letter day in that we know the Moorhead Report and recommendations have been brought to Cabinet so it is a significant day in terms of recognising the importance and value of local government and approximately 1,000 councillors around the country. As we know, this sat on the previous Government's desk but my party made a commitment that it would be delivered within 12 months in government and so it has. Over the past year, the role of local government changed somewhat given the pandemic and the number of lockdowns we had. While recognising the value of local government, it is important that we have another conversation about where local government is going. No more than ourselves as public representatives, many councillors face ongoing issues relating to the GDPR regarding representations they make on behalf of their constituents regarding local authority services and Departments. This is blatantly wrong. If a constituent comes to a public representative with a query or something about which a representation needs to be made, it is important that this word is taken from the public representative as opposed to having to get written confirmation again so I would like to see a debate on the role of local government and councillors.
Last Friday was World Awareness Day for Verbal Dyspraxia. Most of us are able to communicate in a normal fashion, as we call it, and we take that very much for granted but imagine being locked in a world where you think the world around you understands what you are saying and what your wishes and desires are - even something as simple as getting something to eat - but it does not. Many children are locked in this world. There are not enough recognitions and supports for children diagnosed with verbal dyspraxia. Even getting that diagnosis is really difficult. I want to give a big shout out today to seven-year-old Charlie Byrne, who said his sister Sophie's name for the first time over the weekend. People have no idea of the level of work that went into getting Charlie to say Sophie's name. His mother, who is a superhero, and his father Will have done significant work. They have set up a social media page called Finding Charlie's Voice. They have done work not just on behalf of Charlie but all children with verbal dyspraxia and have developed a fantastic communications board that many schools and preschools are now receiving.
For the first time, children can communicate using the board in their classroom or in the schoolyard to indicate what they want to do and how they want to play. Again, this is something we need to examine. The issue falls between the Departments of Education and Health and I feel that we need to pay far more attention to it.
This is UN Global Road Safety Week. The theme for this year is Streets for Life and #Love30. The UN calls for a 30 km/h speed limit to be introduced in cities and large towns worldwide in which people and cars mix. As we know, people travelling slower in cars absolutely saves lives. Again, this is a cause that we need to take on board and support.
Last week, I raised the issue of RTÉ's continuing bias on a range of social issues, particularly abortion. RTÉ has failed to represent the views of the one third of voters who opposed the repeal of the eighth amendment, many of whom regard the consequences of repeal as having been catastrophic for human rights, unborn babies and, indeed, good quality healthcare in this country. Last Sunday, RTÉ was at it again with a guttingly one-sided celebration of the matter on the "Sunday with Miriam" show, with no attention paid to the voices of those who believe that human lives are tragically and unjustly being lost here. I listened to a webinar a couple of weeks ago when I heard the voices of women who regret having abortions and who report systemic denialism whereby, at best, they are ignored by the media and, at worst, they experience hostility. I raise this matter on behalf of people who feel indignant about all of this from the public service broadcaster. Those who are going to refuse to pay the television licence fee in the future really cannot be blamed as long as this goes on. We are going to have to keep talking about this until somebody addresses the problem.
I want to raise the issue of what are called patient private property, PPP, accounts. Essentially, these are accounts that are administered by the HSE on behalf of vulnerable people who are in long-term residential care facilities run by or on behalf of the HSE. The people in question are older individuals, those with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities and wards of court. Property is held by these PPP accounts and can be administered and used by representatives of the HSE directly or through a third party or agent for the benefit and care of the person involved. The HSE operates more than 15,000 of these accounts at present. Guidelines are in place to ensure that the accounts are operated ethically and in a transparent fashion, and always in the best interests of the vulnerable.
This system is administered under section 2 of Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006. There is a problem with how these accounts operate or, more to the point, with the fact that they only apply to people who are being cared for within the public system. Section 2 refers to "a person ... being cared for by, or on behalf of, the Executive". People who are being cared for in private nursing homes, no matter how vulnerable they are, do not get the benefit or protection of the scheme. I have received representations on this matter from those who are familiar with the sector and who work in the area of the rights of elderly and vulnerable people. They inform me that they believe that what is being done here puts patients in private homes at a disadvantage. They feel that the accounts and property of those persons should also be capable of being administered and used on their behalf, for their welfare and with appropriate safeguards. This problem could be remedied by a couple of very small changes to the 2006 Act to make it that people in private care could also have their property administered in this way and that there would be safeguards in place to make sure that everything operates ethically.
I ask for a debate on this issue. Perhaps that could take place in the context of a more general debate on nursing homes in the wake of the Covid pandemic. I am very interested to know whether the Government has considered this matter and whether it plans to address the lacuna that exists in law and our policy relating to the protection of persons in nursing home care.
I am delighted to have been selected last night as the Labour Party candidate in the Dublin Bay South by-election. I thank all of those who supported me. I look forward to the campaign, although I am conscious that we will be very mindful of public health guidelines as we come through this awful pandemic, which has caused so much heartbreak for so many. I know that issues relating to healthcare, decent public services and housing will be to the fore in the by-election campaign, and I look forward to that.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on care, particularly that relating to older persons in our communities. I have called for a new fair deal scheme to enable supports to be provided for people who wish to remain in their own homes rather than prioritising State funding for institutional and nursing home care. I want people to be given an option as they age and I would like to have that debate here.
I thank the Leader for organising last night's debate on Gaza with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I was proud to speak on the matter. I reiterate the calls that I and others made for the Minister to ensure that Ireland takes a strong stance at the UN Security Council in the context of seeking an end to the awful slaughter of civilians and children.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the processing of visa applications. I am conscious that the Department of Justice has put a hold on the processing of new visas due to the pandemic. The Immigrant Council and Doras Buí have both eloquently called for a change in policy and pointed out the impact on separated families. There is also a serious impact on businesses. One business in my area in Dublin Bay South, the Chimac restaurant, which is owned by Garret Fitzgerald, is a case in point. The restaurant has a commis chef, Joaquin, who has been stranded indefinitely in Chile. I conform that have permission to name those involved. Indeed, Rob O'Hanrahan of Virgin Media News has highlighted this case. The restaurant is now down 40% in terms of staff and is not alone in that regard. So many businesses, as we reopen, are going to face difficulties and strain without the availability of staff so, therefore, we need to ensure a return to the swift processing of visas. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the strain on families and businesses.
Senator Mullen spoke about bias on the part of our national broadcaster, RTÉ. I remind him that three years ago next Tuesday the people voted by 66% to repeal the eighth amendment. Perhaps it needs to be stressed again that we have repealed the eighth amendment.
What about the other third of voters?
I did not interrupt the Senator.
Senator Bacik, without interruption please.
I made a simple request.
The Oireachtas has voted and passed legislation. Terminations of pregnancy are legally available in Ireland and women need those reproductive health services. I am proud to be one of the people who campaigned for the repeal of the eighth amendment. We all stand in solidarity in the context of the result of the referendum.
One should not be left out of the debate when one is in the minority.
It is bit rich of the Senator to complain, three years on, about the result of the referendum.
This is intolerance by the pro-abortion side.
I am not pro-abortion. I am pro-choice.
The Senator is entitled to an extra minute, if she so wishes, because she was interrupted.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. This is an issue on which language is important.
What about the babies?
We must remember the thousands of women in Ireland who have had abortions, their families, women who face crisis pregnancies and the awful catastrophic diagnosis that so many women and their families have faced in the context of fatal foetal abnormality. We need to be sensitive in our language. Talking about people as being pro-abortion, as Senator Mullen consistently does, is insensitive and does not reflect the reality. Those of us who campaigned for repeal are pro-choice. We want to see women having choice. Women in Ireland now do have that choice thanks to the campaigners and the people who voted in support of repeal three years ago.
Senator Bacik, without interruption. I ask Senators to have respect for the rules of the House. When a Senator is on his or her feet during the Order of Business, it is that Senator's time and everybody gets his or her time.
On point of order, I agree that I interrupted Senator Bacik but the Senator has a different technique. On numerous occasions I have heard her raise points of order that are not points of order at all simply in order to make her political point. Sauce for the goose has to be sauce for the gander, even if the goose and gander are operating in slightly different ways.
I did not interrupt the Senator.
I have never known the Cathaoirleach to give me an extra minute when Senator Bacik jumps up with a bogus point of order to interrupt me.
In the first instance, Senator, your point of order is not a point of order.
I sat and listened to Senator Mullen. I sat and listened to his insensitive language and I responded, as is my right. I used my time on the Order of Business to do so.
Correct. Senator Mullen is aware of the rules of the House. In order for him to intervene in a debate or when another Senator is in possession, he must first ask permission under Standing Order 39. Then, it is up to the Senator who is in possession to either allow the Senator to have 30 seconds or not.
On a point of order.
No, we are moving on.
I have asked to raise a point of order. I am entitled to be heard on a point of order.
Am I not entitled to be heard on a point of order?
The Senator has already tried to do that.
If the Cathaoirleach is going to privilege people with an extra minute because they were interrupted, will he introduce a penalty for them when they introduce a bogus point of order? This is Senator Bacik's repeated technique. I applaud her talent but I have to point out she is in breach of Standing Orders when she does it.
I am not in breach of anything today. I sat and listened.
She is not in breach of Standing Orders. Senator Mullen, please.
Not today, I will agree, Senator Bacik-----
I sat and listened to you.
-----but you are a past master at using bogus points of order.
This morning, I sat through Commencement Matters when the Senator consistently interrupted and barracked a Minister. This is his own pattern of behaviour in the House.
Senator Mullen, please-----
I may occasionally heckle-----
We are moving on.
-----but Senator Bacik introduces bogus points of order.
Senator Mullen is well aware of Standing Order 39, which states if a Senator is interrupted, the Chair has the discretion to add extra time because of the interruption. That is within the Standing Orders.
I will hold the Cathaoirleach to that standard, so the next time I am interrupted, as occasionally happens, I will be watching to see whether he shows appropriate equal parity or parity of esteem-----
There will be no problem in relation to that, Senator. When Senators are interrupting a Senator or asking to intervene in a debate when a Senator is in possession, they must simply ask permission. That is the rule of the House. Senator Mullen did not do that this morning, and if in future he wants to intervene in a debate, it is up to the Senator in possession to allow him to do so. If that Senator does not allow him to do so I ask him to stop interrupting. I will now move on to Senator Róisín Garvey, leading off for the Green Party Group.
I remind Senator Mullen that he is a man and 40%-----
Sorry, can I just remind the House the Order of Business-----
There will be further interruptions if the Senator continues with that line. I have to promise that.
This is not a debate through the floor or across the floor. The Order of Business is on issues before the House. Issues can be raised but please do not refer to other Senators directly or engage with other Senators directly in a debate on the Order of Business.
Women's choice was sorted three years ago. Can we park it please and move on and accept the reality of where we are?
I want to speak on the fact it is national biodiversity week. Perhaps we have too much variety sometimes if we look at people in the House. Every individual in the country has a part to play in the importance of biodiversity. It is a term that has been thrown around quite a lot. Not everybody gets the concept because in some ways it is very simple. It has to do with variety being important and the interdependence of all living things. It can get very complicated if we look at soil science, the vastness of the ocean and everything that goes on. I want everybody to realise they can all play a part in a small way or a big way. Unfortunately, many small ways, such as leaving a little strip of dandelions free, will not cut the mustard any longer. We are going to have to think bigger about biodiversity. It is great that people like to do small things, but I genuinely worry these small token measures will not be sufficient.
One third of our bees are under threat of extinction. Without bees we do not have fruit or vegetables growing in this country. As it is, we should be growing a lot more fruit and vegetables. We are struggling and I do not think people realise the seriousness of this. Most children in most schools all over Ireland understand biodiversity and the importance of bees and variety. I worry we have now put it on the children and the adults are not doing enough. I was in a school last week and every child put up their hand and said they were stressed and worried about climate change. This is wrong. It is not the child's responsibility, it is the adult's responsibility. We have to step up. We have to show future generations we take this seriously and we care. For the week that is in it, I ask everybody to look at biodiversity. Go onto pollinators.ie to find out more. There are brilliant resources for free. It is time for the adults to step up and take a role in the huge crisis we face.
I will speak about health infrastructure in Gaza but I also want to make a point on the seemingly increasing trend of elected representatives making veiled threats to public bodies with regard to their funding. It is not a good look for any democratically elected representative. I want to focus on the health infrastructure in Gaza. Last night, we heard how Gaza's only Covid-19 laboratory was destroyed by an Israeli air strike. There is now no clinic to carry out testing for the virus. Gaza was already facing a surge in the virus and had one of the highest positivity rates at 28%. Hospitals were already overwhelmed. Now, after a week of military strikes, the healthcare infrastructure is being inundated with women and children, innocent victims of Israeli state terror. Even road access to medical centres has been targeted. A day before the Covid laboratory strike, two medical workers, a neurologist and the head of internal medicine at Gaza's largest hospital, were also killed. All of this is happening in the context of a healthcare system that has been operating under a blockade for 15 years.
The destruction of hospitals and the targeting of medical personnel is a heinous war crime by the occupiers. The Israeli state follows no international rulebook. With the US vetoing UN action and the EU unwilling to suspend Israel's membership of the Euro-Mediterranean trade agreement, despite flagrant violations of the human rights protocols that underpin the agreement, it now falls to Ireland to show leadership. Ireland must progress the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill. It has the approval of both Houses. It has the approval of the Palestinian leaders, Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights. The Bill would make the Israeli state feel the economic cost for its actions. It would pave the way for other countries to follow suit. The Government must stop hiding behind the Attorney General's advice. One of Europe's top legal experts on EU law has challenged the Attorney General's position. It is time for Ireland to lead on the issue of Palestine. We can no longer turn a blind eye to women and children being murdered indiscriminately and to health infrastructure being targeted. I was there in 2014, and I saw with my own eyes medical supplies being blocked from entering Gaza. Child trauma kits designed to deal with children suffering from psychological stress were being blocked by the Israel Defense Forces from going into Gaza. It is time for Ireland to lead on this issue and pass the occupied territories Bill.
People might be aware that a few months ago in the Chamber I called on the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to look into a scoping exercise on St. John Ambulance. This has moved along and the Minister has been very proactive. I have a huge amount of confidence in the process, particularly with the appointment of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon. What I no longer have confidence in is the fact St. John Ambulance has stated it will carry out this review but according to my investigation it has not advertised this investigation or review of historical sexual abuse on any of its social media platforms, especially Facebook where it has a huge following. It seems to want this investigation to happen very quietly.
The reason I raise this today is because I have become very concerned over recent months. This investigation was kicked off because of one person but I believe there are other people and names coming forward with regard to historical sexual abuse. I kept looking at the name of the one person this investigation centres around wondering why I knew it. After a year, I decided to ring a community worker in the Dublin 12 and Dublin 8 area. I asked why I knew the name. I am absolutely terrified now because of why I know the name. It is because for decades the person had full access to people in addiction and in the youth sector in Dublin 12 and Dublin 8, recruiting and teaching first aid, which was the exact thing he used to groom people when they were cadets in St. John Ambulance.
I call on the House and the Leader to contact the Department, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan. We need to find a way to contact the youth and community sector and the addiction sector in these areas and figure out how we can support them to make people aware. These are very vulnerable people who will not pick up that an investigation has happened. Many of them do not use Twitter or read The Irish Times. They have no idea this investigation is happening. I have held three meetings with three boards of management in these communities. They are trying to figure out how they can put this on the radar of people. These are vulnerable people and we are afraid to trigger them. What supports will we have if they do come forward? I ask Senators, particularly those based in Dublin 8 and Dublin 12, to find a way. The Departments and St. John Ambulance should be looking at where this person had access and directly engage on it. It should not be up to me to try to help a local project make a poster that somebody will see when they walk into use that service, which has no idea about how to support people if they do come forward.
This is a matter of real urgency. St. John Ambulance needs to step up quickly and make an effort to get what is needed in this investigation. It must work with us instead of trying to create a silent investigation, which it does not promote in any shape or form.
When the Senator raised the issue of St. John Ambulance as a Commencement matter some months ago it received widespread publicity. She may wish to raise it again as a Commencement matter.
I raise a matter on which the Cathaoirleach has worked hard for some years. In the eight years since I became a member of the executive of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, I have met umpteen Ministers and civil servants to discuss councillors' remuneration and conditions. I am delighted that the revised Moorhead report, on which considerable work was done, was approved at Cabinet today. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, has primary responsibility for the matter.
I compliment the members of the AILG and the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, who have worked tirelessly over the years to get this implemented. I also thank the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, the two senior Ministers who rubber-stamped this decision at the Cabinet table today.
I give a special mention to the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, who was very open to meeting the AILG, LAMA and any politician or other interest group that wanted to engage with him. If the Moorhead report had been implemented, as laid out, many councillors would have been in a worse position. The report from the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is fair and balanced and will help to encourage younger people into politics. As we know, councillors are probably the hardest working politicians. Anyone who was a county councillor knows well the full weight of work that is on the shoulders of county councillors. I welcome this development and thank all those who have made it possible.
After I raised the need for gambling control three times in the House, the Leader granted a special debate at which the Minister promised action. That emboldens me to ask the Leader yet again about another important issue, one that is dear to the Cathaoirleach's heart, namely, the thousands of undocumented Irish in America. We are seeking to have E3 visas granted to these people. The visa was awarded to Australians in 2005 as part of a US-Australia trade agreement. It is a two-year renewable visa, which also allows recipients and their spouses to live and work in the United States. Under our proposal, Irish citizens would apply for the unused portion of Australia's allocation of 10,500 visas. That would grant us between 6,000 and 6,500 visas per annum, which would be a marvellous start.
The House of Representatives passed a version of a Bill to this effect last March but it has struggled to gain support in the Senate. Under the legislation, reciprocal rights would be given to Americans to retire and work here. Irish groups have asked Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to expedite the legislation under provisions the pandemic allows. Hopefully, much will come out of that.
My former colleague, John Deasy, is an advocate and full-time professional lobbyist in this area in America. The essential point is that we cannot forget our kith and kin in America who are undocumented. The pandemic brings their situation into even greater focus. I ask that we discuss the undocumented Irish with the relevant Ministers to see where we are now and where we are going, and step up our campaign to get them E3 visas.
I, too, welcome the Moorhead report on councillors' pay going to Cabinet this morning to be signed off. Independent Senators have done considerable work on this issue in recent years. Senators Craughwell and Boyhan have been relentless in representing councillors' needs, as have I since I became a Senator. I am delighted that the Government of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have finally delivered for our hard-working councillors throughout this country.
And the Green Party.
I beg the indulgence of the House to discuss an initiative I started in February 2019. The Feel Good Project is a community-based initiative set up with the aim of providing support services and education to people on a range of issues, from addiction and drug use to mental health and wellness. The hub of the project is in Duleek and it provides free access to mental health and well-being programmes on Tuesday evenings. In March, I tried to broaden the reach of the Feel Good Project nationwide. The simple concept was to erect some bright floral signs in towns across Ireland to show the effects of the lockdown and remind people of the important things in life - love, family, joy, peace, hope, courage and faith. Some 56 independent councillors from 23 counties put up signs in their local communities.
I was curious to find out the effect of the campaign and whether it had succeeded in its objective of generating positive emotions and thoughts. I commissioned a report to investigate this. The consultants performed a survey on social media and analysed the results, which were detailed in the report I received yesterday. I was delighted to learn that the response to the signs had been overwhelmingly positive. Of the 604 people surveyed, almost 95% experienced positive emotional reactions and only three people had a negative response. The executive summary of the report states that the signs provided a subject matter for local conversation. This had a very important impact and helped counteract the effects of isolation caused by the national lockdown and the fixation on Covid-19 in the news and media.
The positive reactions of people were perhaps encapsulated in the following comment by one of the persons surveyed:
I think it was a brilliant idea. It reminded me that the community was there for me on tough days and that I needed to believe brighter days are ahead.
I express my sincere thanks to all the councillors who participated in the project. I have no doubt it brought great cheer to those in their communities.
I, too, raise the fact that this is national biodiversity week. It is a real chance for us all to see nature and appreciate the importance and richness of our biodiversity. The hawthorn tree, for example, which is so common in Ireland, supports more than 200 species and insects. This is absolutely critical and crucial to protecting our environment and biodiversity.
I call for a debate on how we will protect and support our native biodiversity and protect our uplands. We need a proper upland management plan. We have seen the burning of uplands in recent times, which is a symptom of the failure to adequately manage our uplands in the past couple of years. Controlled burning is controversial but it was done for a reason. Bracken and gorse catch fire and will ignite with the smallest spark. We need an upland management scheme to look after and take out invasive species and encourage our native biodiversity to thrive and survive.
It is really important to appreciate what our uplands and native biodiversity give us because they give us much beauty and do much for our mental health when we stop and appreciate nature around us.
Last week, the Leader facilitated a debate on the European digital green certificate in this House, which is to be welcomed. This morning the Cabinet has not received a memorandum to progress the European digital green certificate and its agenda. This is most disappointing and worrying. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the ongoing delay in this regard. It is imperative that we get our country open for travel. I implore the Government to work with the travel sector to ensure our country is open for travel.
I pay tribute to Tim Hayes, a parliamentary usher who has retired from duty in Leinster House. He was a good friend to many of us. I am not sure if we paid tribute to him in the House but we did, I missed it. I pay tribute to him today. He was a wonderful friend, is a great person and did huge service in this House and I wish him well on his retirement.
I seek a debate on anti-social behaviour, particularly in a post-Covid world. I do so in the context of Cork city, which is becoming a no-go area for many people. People are feeling threatened and worried in the city centre by gangs of youths. I appeal to An Garda Síochána and Cork City Council to not allow a city to become the site of a summer of discontent.
Over the past two weeks, we have seen the Government scramble to contain the outrage expressed by many that entire housing estates were being bought up by cuckoo funds or institutional investors. That will culminate in decisions made by the Cabinet today. What has been really striking about all this is that we are somehow outraged that investment funds are elbowing out prospective home buyers in suburban areas but it is somehow okay that large swathes of our communities in Dublin city and other cities are taken over by build-to-rent investments. Does the Government think that communities in cities do not qualify as communities as well? Does it not realise that we have a thriving network of urban villages and communities and are crying out for them to be made less transient in order that people are allowed to make a home themselves in them? From what we have read about what is coming out from Government today regarding the solutions being targeted at suburban and rural areas, it is clear that they really reek of culchie superiority. I can say that as a proud culchie who was born in a very rural area but is bringing up my young family in a thriving community in Dublin. I think of the areas in Dublin 1, Dublin 7 and Dublin 9, where I am based, where only 1,500 conventional apartments are being developed. Contrast this with the 5,000 build-to-rent student accommodation and co-living units that are being developed with no opportunity for people to purchase homes in those developments or to put down roots in those areas. As Senator Moynihan has stated repeatedly, we need to extend those measures limiting the wholesale purchase of developments to apartments as well, because it is not good enough that we protect rural areas and suburbia. We also need to look after cities and ensure that people can make their lives in those communities.
Ovarian cancer is the sixth most commonly diagnosed female cancer in Ireland. More than 440 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Ireland every year and sadly, more than 27 of them die. Ireland ranks among the highest countries for female mortality due to ovarian cancer. It is known as the silent killer because it is hard to diagnose, the symptoms can often be confused with other conditions and late diagnosis makes it very difficult to treat and cure. I met a woman recently whose sister had been treated for repeated urinary tract infections. Her doctors then thought it was a hip condition and the woman attended a physiotherapist. Within ten days of the diagnosis, she passed away. It is very sad for that family. It is very sad for any woman and her family. There is a campaign this month to raise awareness globally during the pandemic. We are all distracted but this is certainly an issue of which every woman and society in general need to be aware. The symptoms can be confused with those of other conditions but we should urge every woman experiencing any of the symptoms to consult her GP. We must all be vigilant in our approach to this disease. No woman should go undiagnosed.
I wish to raise the issue of visas and how we are not granting any visas to people from South America. A couple in north Louth are about to get married. The girl, who is marrying a guy from north Louth, is from New York City and is a US citizen. Her family are US citizens with the exception of her mother, who has a Colombian passport. Her mother has lived in New York City since 1985 and the last time she was in Colombia was seven years ago but she cannot come back to Ireland for a family wedding in two months' time because we are not giving any visas to anyone from South America. If we want to appear to be an open country that is open again for business, now that the vast majority of our vulnerable and elderly people are fully vaccinated - this individual is fully vaccinated - we need to be able to look at the nuances of situations instead of having a blanket ban. The nuances of this situation are that we are not allowing an individual to travel to our country because she is operating on a passport from a country she has not been in for the past seven or eight years. I would really appreciate it if the Minister could come to the House or if we could receive some information about what we are planning to do to lift these visa restrictions on other countries as we begin to open up travel and our economy and get our country open again. I do not think it is acceptable any more to just put a blanket ban on everything like this. We need to look at the nuances and to resolve this as quickly as possible.
I wish to raise the issue of access to vaccines for rare diseases where the vaccines are only available abroad and the cost of accessing these life-saving vaccines is prohibitive. A very high-profile case in my own county was highlighted last weekend involving a five-year-old boy called Nahyan Javed who has neuroblastoma. Since last year when a tumour was discovered behind his heart, he has undergone nine chemotherapy sessions, a stem cell transplant and immunotherapy. While this has stemmed its progression, the condition is so aggressive that there is a 70% chance of it returning. There is a vaccine that prevents relapse but, of course, it is only available in the US and the cost is a whopping €375,000, which is simply beyond the means of his family and indeed any other family. The family is going to fight for their son's life and the chance to access this vaccine. The issue for this family and many other families is access to vaccines to prevent relapses as opposed to the actual treatment itself because they are needed but their cost is prohibitive. It involves bringing such treatments under the scope of the treatment abroad scheme. I pay tribute to the massive fund-raising efforts on behalf of this family to help it achieve that figure of €375,000. A man who is well known across County Meath, Keith Russell, completed a 263-mile run at the weekend in County Down, which was an amazing feat, to raise money for this family, as he did for many years for his own daughter, Alanna, who tragically died some years ago.
I pay tribute to him and all of the families who are trying to help this particular family. I would appreciate it if, as a State, we could look into trying to provide families with access to funding for these rare diseases.
The carnage, wanton waste of life and the slaughter of innocent victims, especially children, in Palestine and Israel has been well documented in recent days. The Minister for Foreign Affairs issued one of the most unequivocal statements made in recent times by an Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, and ought to be commended on doing so. It is important to call out the disproportionate response of the Israeli military, the war crimes it has committed and how it is in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law.
As the Minister, Deputy Coveney, stated, there is a need for a collective, unified response. My questions for the international community are as follows. How many more people must die before the international community comes together and imposes sanctions on Israel? How many more children must die? How many more displays of grotesquely disproportionate military responses must we have to endure before the international community stands up to Israel and says enough is enough, that it is acting like a rogue democracy?
In recent days, An Taisce and its statutory role in the planning process has received criticism, with people not involved in litigation professor-proofing High Court judgments, offering to interpret them and offering unsolicited legal advice. In every case, there is a constitutional right to an appeal. If there is something baseless or groundless about litigation, it can be sorted out within the litigation by claiming it is vexatious or bringing an application to have the case dismissed as bound to fail. However, if that is not being done, people should keep their noses out of litigation, respect the independent judicial process and let litigation take its full course, including the constitutional right to an appeal.
We know the importance of giving blood. It is tremendously important that people give of their time and their blood to feed the reserves of blood that are needed for operations and for emergencies etc. During the Covid pandemic, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service has had great difficulty on the one hand in abiding by the advice of the health authorities and keeping people safe and, on the other hand, continuing to provide a safe and constant supply of blood for our hospitals and emergency services.
The reason I am raising this issue today is that while I understand that the blood transfusion service has had to put in place restrictions to ensure safety is maintained and public health guidelines are followed, it seems now some of those restrictions, particularly as we move through the vaccination programme, are a little bit arbitrary. For example, one of my constituents who is a friend of mine and a regular blood donor contacted my about this issue. He is 71 years of age. Due to the fact he is over 70 years of age and notwithstanding that he has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 for some time now, he is prohibited from giving blood. That makes no sense to me that when we have people who are willing, able and fit enough to give blood. I know in the normal circumstances those over the age of 70 have to provide an annual certification from their doctor. There is no difficulty with that. However, now we have a situation whereby the guidelines issued by the blood transfusion service restrict those people from giving blood.
They are just one category of other people who are arbitrarily denied the right or the opportunity to give blood, and it seems to make no sense. I understand it is under review, but it is an issue on which we should make a statement as a House. We should say that if there are people who are willing and able to give blood and who can do so safely - this is a person who is fully vaccinated - they should not only be allowed to do so but should be encouraged to do so. We should be encouraging everybody who can give blood to give blood wherever possible.
I wish to raise the issue of hyperemsis. It is an issue I have been raising since 2018. I am sure Members will remember me raising it on several occasions. It is a condition suffered by pregnant women. It is sometimes referred to as morning sickness. As someone who suffered it during my second pregnancy, I can say that it is far from morning sickness. It is an extremely debilitating condition. Women suffer from prolonged and severe nausea when they have this condition. They suffer from severe dehydration, low blood pressure and it has a severe impact on the mental health of the expectant mother. This severe impact on mental health prolongs any issues post pregnancy and it has a deep and lasting effect on the mental health of the mother. I have spoken to mothers who have been put off having subsequent pregnancies because of this extremely difficult condition.
There is a drug that is prescribed by the HSE, which I have taken myself. It is called Cariban. However, it is not available to those with medical cards or through the drugs payment scheme. It is a very expensive drug and can cost up to €3,000 during the course of the pregnancy. That is an absolutely prohibitive cost for anybody to bear, but especially for those who are on the medical card scheme. They cannot get it. I have spoken to people who have bought the drug on the Internet just so they can function and can continue to with their pregnancy.
We have a very poor record of supporting pregnant women in this country and providing them with the healthcare they need. The lack of access for women to the drug due to financial constraints is an outrage. I want the message to be sent loud and clear from this House today that, whatever the issue that is preventing the drug from being available under the medical card scheme or the drugs payment scheme, it needs to be resolved. Women and their families are suffering severely. It is not okay to put it on the long finger and allow this to go on.
As I said, I have been raising this issue in this Chamber since 2018 and it is still an issue for women in Ireland. I want the message to go out loud and strong today.
The menopause is the taboo subject. Today, I am speaking on the subject on behalf of someone very close to me. I am giving her a voice and a voice to all the women who are going through it.
Last week, on RTÉ Radio 1, Joe Duffy offered two women from the Irish Menopause group a chance to raise this subject. Talking about it really helps to make the stigma fall away. The average age of the onset of the menopause is in the 50s, but it can start for some women much earlier, for example, when they are in their 30s. This includes women who have gone through chemotherapy. Can Members imagine dealing with chemotherapy, which then triggers early menopause and myriad symptoms from treatment?
There are so many women who are dealing with these symptoms that are not easily recognised or diagnosed. These are women with restless leg syndrome who have not slept properly for years. Hormone replacement therapy, HRT, treatment solves this. There are women with symptoms like poor concentration, anxiety, depression - serious mental health concerns - who are misdiagnosed and given antidepressants. Thanks to this conversation, it has lifted a huge burden off women - women who thought they were going mad.
The menopause is a normal life event for women. It can last for up to 15 years. It is not an illness or a medical condition. Many women suffer in silence and do not realise how effective HRT can be at improving not only their symptoms but also their quality of life and future health. It is available through the medical card scheme. Doctors and healthcare specialists needs to be educated and updated about these types of symptoms in the early stages of menopause so that women can end up being treated with respect and the medication they need.
Last week, the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for public health and well-being, Deputy Feighan, launched the Healthy Ireland strategic action plan. It is part of Sláintecare, which is all about reducing inequalities and making sure we have the right care at the right time and in the right place. We need it now and we need it for women throughout Ireland. I call on the Minister of State to ensure there is care for women's health, information on HRT and specialised training for the more than 7,000 planned-for healthcare professionals to identify early symptoms, especially across our primary care centres and within the proposed 18 new Sláintecare healthy communities across Ireland. We need care now for women in Ireland in all our towns and villages.
From one Seanad to another, I note and welcome the resolution passed in the US Senate last night reaffirming its unwavering support for the Good Friday Agreement and its full implementation.
A similar motion was before the Seanad last week in which we reiterated and reaffirmed our collective support. We called for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Following the passing of an amendment I had tabled, we included the Stormont House legacy mechanisms, while a successful amendment tabled by Senator Black called for the establishment of a citizens' assembly to plan responsibly for constitutional change down the line.
Furthermore, 25 Members of the US Congress have called on their President, Mr. Biden, to appoint a special envoy to the North. That is a welcome call and one we can support. It is necessary in these uncertain times post Brexit, given it is crucial we all not just reaffirm our support for the implementation of the agreement but also work to ensure the implementation will take place for the benefit of all. If it is agreeable to the Leader and the House, I propose she write to colleagues in the US Senate to welcome that unwavering support for the Good Friday Agreement and the call for a special envoy for the North. She could indicate to them our shared support for their call for the agreement's implementation.
I thank the Senator for raising that issue. The support of the US Senate for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process is very important for maintaining peace. I call the Leader to respond to the matters raised on the Order of Business.
It is a really good idea to write a letter on behalf of all Senators on this side of the pond to congratulate and thank our colleagues in the US Senate and to support the call for a special envoy. I will do that today and send all Senators a copy of the letter.
Senator Dolan raised an issue that has been raised on a number of occasions in recent days. It is interesting that what women consider to be normal life events are almost taboo topics that are never raised. We might suffer in silence and never talk about them. The campaign by Joe Duffy over the past week has been very welcome. It has dispelled a number of mistruths in regard to the symptoms and the benefits of HRT. Nevertheless, the Senator is correct that a national campaign on behalf of the Department of Health would be valuable because not everybody listens to "Liveline". We will request one, although a debate in the House on women's health is pending and will include what Senator Clifford-Lee raised. A number of colleagues have raised the issue, including Senator Ahearn on a number of occasions. It is welcome to see our male colleagues in support of what is a debilitating disease and affliction during pregnancy, namely, hyperemesis. I have written to both the Minister for Health and the drugs company that manufactures Cariban. The difficulty seems to be that no application has been made to include Cariban on the drugs refund scheme. I have invited the manufacturer not only to make an application to be included but also, if it needs any assistance from any of us, not to hesitate to seek our support because we will be very willing to help. I will follow up on that and revert to the Senator.
Senator Ward spoke about encouraging people to give blood. Anybody who wants to give blood should be encouraged to do so. We have all been acting under certain public health guidelines, but as they are removed and we are relieved of them, we should encourage anybody who wants to give of their blood to help other people to do so.
Senator Martin again raised issues in Palestine. We had a very worthwhile discussion in the House last night, as is happening in every other parliament in the civilised world. Another day goes by and we do not have condemnation from the US of the activities and atrocities being carried out by the Israeli Government, and that needs to happen now. The issue should be raised until we get some reaction from not only the UN but also the US Government.
Senator Cassells talked about a lovely young boy in County Meath, Nahyan Javid, who is raging against a disease. I understand that given the cost of vaccines, it is very difficult to include all of them, but I wish his family every success in their fundraising events. I hope that, with all the goodwill we have, Nahyan will recover or at least achieve some recession of his disease.
Senator McGahon raised the issue of visas. Many people are making representations about the suspension of visas, the issuing of which, alongside passports, we expect to return to normality in the coming weeks.
Senator Fitzpatrick talked about ovarian cancer, an issue that will form part of the debate on women's health we will have in the coming weeks.
Senator Sherlock spoke to the housing debate that started in the House last night, with a very worthwhile start to Second Stage of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021, a debate that will continue next week.
Senator Buttimer made two significant requests, both of which are reactions to the restrictions we have had in the past 14 months. It is disappointing the memo on travel was pushed off the Cabinet agenda today, notwithstanding the housing and cybersecurity issues we have among others, which constitute a very long agenda today. The message it sends out to the 150,000-odd families is not the message the Government wants to give, so it must be on the agenda next week.
The Senator also sought a debate on antisocial behaviour in Cork city but it is not just about Cork city. We are encouraging everyone to have an outdoor summer for all the right reasons, but along with that come some negative connotations. I refer not just to litter and the lack of outside loos, which people have complained about and which needs to be addressed by local councils. There has been a definite increase in unacceptable and unwarranted antisocial behaviour, without an accompaniment of an increase in Garda patrols to man these outdoor meaningful dining experiences and summer activities we are supposed to have. That needs to be addressed and I will try to arrange a debate for as soon as possible.
Senators McGreehan and Garvey spoke about the fact this is national biodiversity week. I will try to arrange a debate in the next couple of weeks on some of the objectives and challenges we face as a country and how we are going to achieve them.
Senators Keogan, Davitt and O'Loughlin welcomed something long overdue. We all know what politicians do in this country and the hard work councillors do. The Moorhead report used certain language that did not reflect the 24-7 nature, in some cases, of the work councillors do for what was pitifully called a part-time job. It absolutely is not a part-time job and I am glad the memo accepted by Cabinet today reflects the value local communities place on the work councillors do. I acknowledge the Senators who raised that issue.
Senator Joe O'Reilly requested a debate on the undocumented Irish in the US and outlined the really worthwhile proposition in regard to unused visas allocated to Australians. I will arrange a debate on that as soon as I can.
I do not know where to start to respond to Senator Ruane. If not on behalf of St. John Ambulance then on that of the Department that has requested it, there must be a report, scoping exercise and investigation into sexual abuse, historical and otherwise, at St. John Ambulance. There is no point in conducting a review, scoping exercise or investigation without singing from the high heavens that this happened under our watch and this is what we are going to do to fix it. I will write to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, today to highlight the issues the Senator raised, not least of which relates to the limitations of the advertising campaign on behalf of the organisation but also the affected people whom the Senator spoke about, who are probably some of the most marginalised people and would not normally read the types of publications where such issues are publicised. I will reflect on that and revert to the Senator.
Senator Boylan raised issues in Gaza and the overwhelming impacts the Israeli strikes are having on the community. We need to talk about that for as long as we can.
Senator Bacik asked for a debate on the care of older persons and I will arrange that in the coming weeks. I am aware there have been changes to the fair deal scheme and there is a view to putting statutory entitlement to home care on an equal footing with the fair deal scheme in nursing home care.
Senator O'Loughlin talked about general data protection regulation, GDPR, issues and sought a debate on local government. I will arrange that insofar as I can.
The back and forth between Senator Mullen and other Senators at the beginning of the Order of Business probably shows there remain many opinions on the divisive issue of the response of the people to repealing the eighth amendment in recent years. While two thirds of the people voted in favour of its repeal, we should not discount the opinions or views of those who did not. Just because they were not in the majority does not mean their views are any less worthy than those of the people who were. We need to be mindful of respecting one another in the course of debates and I encourage the continuation of that.
Finally, on behalf of all Senators, I want to wish Lesley Roy the best of luck in the Eurovision contest tonight. Hopefully she will go through to the further stages. She is an incredibly talented woman and she will do us incredibly proud. On behalf of us and all the Irish people I wish her every success in the Eurovision contest tonight.
We all join with the Leader in wishing her the best of luck in the Eurovision. I am sure that if we could all vote for her we would do so.
Amen to that. It may have just been an omission but I had raised an issue about patient private property accounts. I suspect that the Leader had intended to respond to that.
I will come back to the Senator.