I thank all of the Members who contributed to the Order of Business. Senator O'Donovan kicked off with a very personal story of his diagnosis of epilepsy and his journey to reach the point he is at today. I congratulate him for speaking so eloquently about a really important issue. I have no doubt that his words will help many others. He raised additional awareness of the condition today at the beginning of National Epilepsy Week.
I note that Senator McGreehan raised a similar issue. Certainly consideration should be given to the issues raised by that particular organisation, that is, free travel. Given what Senator O'Donovan said this morning, the impact of losing one's licence, particularly somebody living in a remote rural area, is very significant.
Senator Kyne raised the issue of planning delays. Deputy Cowen has brought a piece of legislation before the Dáil on that issue. It is a problem affecting many communities. Senator Kyne outlined many of the planning issues across the country. He touched on Athenry as well. We all agree that people have a right to engage in the planning process and raise concerns and objections. However, where this stymies development and impacts a huge community because one person has an issue with it, it is a problem that needs to be rectified. A debate on this issue would be worthwhile.
Senator Craughwell congratulated Major General Maureen O'Brien on her appointment as military adviser to the Secretary General of the UN. On behalf of the House, I extend my congratulations to her for reaching such a high-level position and representing her country and the Defence Forces with distinction. I wish her well in that role. Seeing her reach those heights is fantastic in terms of being a role model for women across the country. It is no mean feat to get to that position.
Senator Craughwell also raised the issue of the ongoing difficulties in the Defence Forces, as did Senator Wall. It has been accepted that our Naval Service has gone beyond being fully operational. The smoke and daggers exercise that has been going on for the past number of years to try to pretend that it is fully operational has passed. It is fully on show for all to see. Our maritime interests are significant. We are an island nation. The need to protect our seas is really important in respect of so many aspects of the country but we do not put the resources into our Defence Forces that we need to.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of retention of personnel. We are at a stage where the brain drain is so significant. We have lost immensely qualified and experienced personnel and it will take years to build up that level of expertise in the Defence Forces. We cannot simply hire people with these skills from the private sector. We must grow that experience and expertise within the organisation organically, which are then passed down through the ranks and generations as they come through. We have lost some of our best people and it will take us years to come back from that.
The work of rebuilding our organisation needs to start now. With the recent cyberattacks, we have seen that the Defence Forces is the first place we go to so we expect it to perform to the best of its abilities as if it is being fully resourced and supported when it is not. Far from having a lean organisation, which is what was attempted, we have starved the Defence Forces of resources and it is now a skeleton organisation. We cannot expect it to do what the country needs it to do without it being properly resourced. I hope the Department will take note of the challenges that have arisen, particularly from the cyberattack on the HSE, and how much our country relies on our Defence Forces at a time of need.
Senator Wall raised the issue of the GDPR and the impact on elected members at local authority level. I had a quick look at section 40 of the Data Protection Act. It does not specifically require written consent from the constituent. It does require consent so I suggest that it might be a good Commencement matter in respect of which the line Minister could provide clarity because as elected Members of the Oireachtas, we do not require written consent from constituents to act on their behalf. I see no reason counsellors should be treated any differently. Uniformity of approach across all local authorities is something we should be demanding rather than merely asking for.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the issue of Belarus, as did Senators Black and Malcolm Byrne. I join with all of my colleagues in utterly condemning that act of aggression towards the European Union. It is remarkable and almost unbelievable that an EU airline - an Irish airline - would have a demand that its aeroplane land while going between two European countries, with over 170 passengers from 12 different member states on board. A journalist was kidnapped from that plane and is now in detention. We do not know his current status or his state of well-being. I hope that he is okay, and his girlfriend Sofia as well.
I echo the calls from everybody in this House that the EU Council needs to act decisively this evening and needs to show its teeth, because it will be a toothless organisation if it allows this type of behaviour. It must not go unpunished. The comments of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs have been extremely strong in this regard and in demanding EU solidarity. I know a number of our MEPs, although not all, as Senator Malcolm Byrne pointed out, have been very strong in calling for decisive action from the European Union and calling for solidarity from all member states to support significant sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. It is long overdue.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly also raised the issue of maternity services. As she knows, it is an issue close to my heart and I am in ongoing consultation with women across the country. Even as recently as yesterday, a woman contacted me who is attending at Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar and she has been told she will not have her partner with her until the very late stages of labour. There is the ongoing issue around what constitutes labour and at what point the partner is permitted. It is something we are going to have to continuously raise in this House until the matter is resolved. We have to let the women of Ireland know they are being listened to, that their representatives are working on their behalf to get this issue resolved and that we care about the distress and trauma that it is bringing on them, their families and their babies as well.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly also raised the issue of the school bus scheme. I am not fully au fait with that issue but I gather from what she says that if, for example, people choose to go to an Educate Together school and it is further than the closest primary school, they are not being facilitated. That is wrong. It is a matter that must be raised with the Minister for Education. I will bring that to her attention and to the attention of the Minister for Transport.
Senator Boylan raised the issue of the Stardust inquest and of the Minister for Justice signing the regulations. The Senator has been strong on this issue and she has raised it many times. It is only right and proper that the regulations have been signed. I take on board the comments she made in regard to civil legal aid. The income threshold is very low and in this circumstance, which is quite exceptional, something should be done for the families of victims so they can access justice and participate in the process. Otherwise, what is the point?
Senator Black brought to the floor of the House the murder of Gavin McShane and Shane McArdle, and I thank her for that. To be told that the evidence gathering at the time was not sufficient to allow a proper investigation is very difficult for the families. There are questions to be answered. My condolences to the families on what has been a very long and difficult journey for them.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of adult medical cards in regard to dental treatment. If dentists are leaving the scheme because it is not financially viable, that needs to be addressed. We have come a long way in this country in regard to oral health. We now realise it is part of physical health whereas, heretofore, we perhaps had not placed as much value on that. Everyone should have access to basic dental care and that is something we would all agree with.
Senator Cummins raised the issue of the performing arts sector. He made the very important point that while we have placed a far greater emphasis on getting children back to sport, not every child plays sport, but they may do arts, drama or music and that is equally as valuable to a young person as sport. Perhaps our priorities have not been quite balanced in that regard. I will bring those remarks back to the Minister. Senator Carrigy raised a similar issue. It was also pointed out that those sectors have been in an extremely challenging position. I commend Senator Malcolm Byrne for consistently, almost on a weekly basis, raising the issue of the arts sector, which has often been left at the back of the queue when it comes to getting clarity as to when the sector will reopen. I know the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is working hard on that issue. We will seek a debate with her, given several Members have requested that she come before the House to discuss the reopening of the arts sector.
Senator Keogan raised the issue of mental health and brought to the floor of the House the really tragic case of the McGinley family, in particular Conor, Darragh and Carla.
Their father has rightly raised the issue around mental health services. There seems to have been a gap in care for his wife and the tragic consequences of that are evident to all of us. Senator Keogan is right to bring that issue to the floor of the House.
The Senator also raised the issue of aviation and 4,000 jobs. The Senator used the expression that the Government was butchering 4,000 jobs. I remind the Senator that in March of this year, only two months ago, she stood on the floor of the House in a health debate and questioned why the United Kingdom was not on the mandatory hotel quarantine list. The Senator went on to say that all non-essential travel should be subject to mandatory hotel quarantine. The Senator seems to have changed position somewhat on that particular issue in a short space of time, and not for the first time either.
Senator Murphy raised the issue of the Office of Public Works works taking place in Roscommon. I commend the Senator on his work on this issue. I know flooding is a significant issue in his community and the Senator has legislation coming forward on the issue. I know personally how hard the Senator has being working on the issue not only during this term but during the previous term as well. It is great to see some movement on that. I note the issue raised by Senator Murphy around water levels and the loss of bird life and farming land. That is a significant issue and it should be raised directly with the ESB. The water levels must be addressed in that regard.
Senator Currie raised the issue of the wedding industry. It has come up on many fronts as it is an industry that employs many people across multiple sectors. The Senator was right to point out that it does not really come under any particular heading, whether tourism, hospitality or business. It touches somewhat on all those sectors.
There is also a real human impact on the many couples who are waiting to tie the knot and who have planned a certain day but may not get the day they have planned. That is not to be under-estimated. There is a call to give greater clarity and support to people working in the industry and those couples who want to make those important plans within their families.
Senator Moynihan raised the issue of an outdoor summer in Dublin and how we should have been told to be outdoors at Christmas. I am unsure whether that might have been as feasible as suggested in Ireland. Certainly, the Government is working hard to provide assistance to businesses that are reopening. There are multiple grants in place, including grants for outdoor seating. When we come through Dublin city centre we can see the significant works ongoing to put in place additional space for outdoor seating for the hospitality sector. This has been welcomed by many restaurants in the city. Work is under way. We look forward to having a busy summer socialising together outdoors, if it has to be that way. That is fine and we will do our best on that front.
Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the lifting of the restrictions on Northern Ireland. I wish everyone who is reopening in the North the best. It is a great day for them and we are not too far behind them.