The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the eleventh report of the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 – Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m., and notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders, to adjourn at 3.30 p.m. or immediately before the Minister is called upon to close the debate, whichever is earlier, with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed 12 minutes, the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes; No. 3, statements on the aviation sector, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude at 5.45 p.m., with the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to adjourn at 9.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, and the proceedings shall be interrupted after two hours for 15 minutes to allow for sanitisation of the Chamber, and the order of debate shall resume thereafter.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I call the leader of the Fianna Fáil grouping in Seanad Éireann, Senator Chambers.
I wish to raise a number of issues. Once again, I will raise that relating to restrictions at our maternity hospitals. I am sure many people will have listened to the harrowing recounting of events by a man named John on Newstalk, who tweeted the previous day that his wife had suffered a miscarriage. My condolences go out to them and their family. John was stopped at the door of the hospital and was not allowed to go in with his wife. I am not sure how he managed to speak on the radio the next day. It is a credit to him because that story is so important in the context of getting these restrictions lifted. He was almost in tears on the radio. He spoke about how his wife was distraught and devastated, on her own in her hospital bed, while he was trying to console her via WhatsApp. What happened was unacceptable and disgraceful. We will be dealing with the impact of the trauma we are causing on people unnecessarily. We are still awaiting a proper and full response from the HSE as to who is making the decisions. We know that national guidelines are in place. The hospitals are clearly just ignoring those guidelines and doing what they please. It does not happen in any other area of healthcare, yet it is somehow okay when it comes to women's healthcare. We have been here many times before in many aspects of women's healthcare and well-being in this country. I know the Leader has done her very best in respect of this issue. I ask her once again to use her good offices to get some sort of an update from the HSE and the Department of Health. It is long overdue.
I welcome the response from Minister for Health and his Department to the ongoing saga with the ownership of the national maternity hospital site. I understand that the Government is renewing efforts to try to purchase the site. If I can say this, the Religious Sisters of Charity is playing it a bit too cute in suggesting that it has not been asked to sell the site. It has been asked via St. Vincent's Holdings CLG and the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. I ask all those entities, which are clearly connected in one shape or other, to do the right thing on behalf of the State and of women and girls in this country, ell the land at a reasonable price and remove themselves from all influence, either directly or indirectly.
The final issue I wish to raise is that of the new report by Professor John Bradley with regard to the western rail corridor. This is an issue that is very close to my heart. I have been working on this with the West On Track campaign since I became a councillor in 2014. Last year, the Government commissioned a long-sought review by EY-DKM, which did a consultant's report on the feasibility of opening the track from Athenry to Tuam and on to Claremorris. The consultant's report came back with what I consider to be a precooked outcome. Many colleagues across the Seanad and the Dáil engaged in that. The report said there was a certain cost and a certain journey time. That has now been completely debunked by a new report by Professor Bradley, which shows that the cost of reinstating the tracks is actually €128 million, not €263 million. The amount involved is, therefore, half of what EY-DKM suggested it would be. The journey time is also much faster. Those are the two aspects we are taking into consideration around the cost-benefit analysis of actually putting this project in place. I ask that the Minister for Transport come before the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss the huge variation between both reports and the merits of this new report by Professor Bradley, which I believe warrants a significant hearing by the Department and the Government.
The Cathaoirleach celebrated Luxembourg. I wish to celebrate LGBT Pride Month, which takes place every year in the month of June. Traditionally, people across the world celebrate with joyful and colourful abandon.
However, because of a combination of Covid-19 and some draconian laws that have been passed, to which I will come in a minute, there is some fear and retraction of celebration. I ask that we have a debate in the House on the matter. I congratulate An Post, which has set a precedent with its beautiful commemorative Pride and Bród stamps and commemorative kit to remember and celebrate Pride.
In this Gay Pride month, we cannot take things for granted. In Waterford, the Pride flag was twice taken down. I commend the mayor of Waterford, Councillor Damien Geoghegan, for his alacrity and enthusiasm in putting it back up. In Dublin, graffiti was written on the wall of the iconic Pantibar. I commend Councillor Ray McAdam for his wonderful work in dealing with that. Dublin City Council adopted the policy put forward by the former president of Young Fine Gael, Dale McDermott, and installed a rainbow walk across from Pantibar. Unfortunately, there is a retraction in some parts of the world, but especially in Europe, where Hungary passed legislation making it illegal to show any material relating to gay people to people under 18 and linking it to paedophilia. Why are we allowing parliaments and parliamentarians around the world to continue passing these laws and expressing these views, which condemn people and create fear? There has also been a retraction of rights in Poland. I could list other countries across the world where the same thing is going on. Ministers have down huge work in our country, of which we could all speak. I would like a debate in the House on the full implementation of human rights in our country but also on the rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community.
I thank the Senator for raising the incident in Waterford and the actions of the mayor. We all agree that he has been very forthright in expressing his views about what has been happening with the flag. We all also celebrate what An Post and Angus Laverty have done in making sure people celebrate diversity, which is what that flag is about.
I call the leader of the Opposition, Senator Boyhan.
I commend Senator Buttimer and support everything he has called for. I also acknowledge An Post. I do not know if anyone saw them as they were coming in this morning, but some of its letterboxes have been decorated in the rainbow. It is imaginative and it is great when big organisations embrace Gay Pride, diversity and respect for everyone. That has to come from the centre of corporations and the political houses because that is where leadership is important.
I raise the issue of An Bord Pleanála. There was much coverage of housing in the national press over the weekend and, indeed, at the Leader's own Ard-Fheis. There was also very important coverage in the national press yesterday about strategic housing developments and how over 60,000 houses are now caught up in some sort of legal jam or controversy. Much of this stems from strategic housing developments. I personally have no difficulty with people objecting and I have always stated that I am against strategic development housing because it bypasses citizens, local politicians and councils by allowing big developments in excess of 101 units to go to An Bord Pleanála. That is not good and is in breach of the Aarhus Convention. I note that, based on the social media of people of all political persuasions in this House and in local councils, they are frustrated by it. This issue was part of the Government formation negotiations. The Green Party has worked very hard in this area and I acknowledge that. The time has come to have absolute clarity. When is this practice going to stop? It has to stop at some point. We should of course allow planning applications to go to the planning authorities in the first instance. We are talking about empowering local government and local communities and it is important that decisions be made at that point. They could be appealed to the board after that but currently, nobody can object to those applications. There is no third-party appeal for strategic housing developments. It is crazy.
Previously, a person could make a submission to a local authority. If the person was not satisfied after that, he or she could appeal it to An Bord Pleanála.
This is clearly a difficult issue. An Bord Pleanála is overwhelmed by the situation. It is disheartening that, since 2017, the board has lost 80% of the judicial reviews lodged against it. It has been subject to 33 completed judicial reviews since the strategic housing development, SHD, track was launched, of which 14 were conceded without a hearing and 15 were conceded following court hearings and judgments.
I am asking for a debate on the matter at some stage, for the Government to set a date by which we will end the SHD process and for more resources for planners in An Bord Pleanála and our local authorities.
I call for an urgent debate on the future of the new national maternity hospital. I was one of the Oireachtas Members who attended the cross-party briefing with the Minister for Health last week at which it became apparent that proposals for the State to buy the site had been rejected. The situation has moved on over the weekend, however, and there have been further reports, including some contradictory ones. At this point, we need clarification on what exactly has been happening as regards the site's ownership.
I commend Dr. Peter Boylan, who for some years has been raising concerns about ethical governance and whether a full range of treatments and procedures for women will be carried out in the new maternity hospital if it is sited at the St. Vincent's hospital location. However, there are also concerns about the ownership of the site. It has become apparent that what is on offer is a 99-year lease for the State, or possibly a lease as long as 149 years. All of us might be conscious of the fact that it is still not State ownership. It now appears that the State will invest approximately €500 million - I have seen figures of up to €800 million - of public money in the building of the new hospital. Clearly, a new hospital is needed and it would be unfortunate to see delays, but that amount of public money should not be put into a site that will not be in public ownership.
This matter is not just about the ethical governance issues, serious though they are, but also the issue of public ownership of the land on which the hospital is to be built. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to attend the House for an urgent debate on it? We received some indications and the briefing was helpful, but we need to hear on the public record what exactly is happening. This is a serious issue.
We know the difficulties that many women are facing because of the current restrictions on partners accessing maternity services, as Senator Chambers eloquently described. We have all heard about dreadful experiences of women and their partners. There are major issues around maternity care and reproductive healthcare for women in this country. We need to have that broader debate, too.
Might I seek clarification on the issue of outdoor hospitality and the licensing rules? We are all glad to see outdoor hospitality reopened, but it is not satisfactory for those running premises or those seeking to enjoy hospitality on such premises to have a discretionary approach and to be unclear about what the licensing laws and Garda powers are.
I join others in wishing everyone a happy Pride. I commend Senator Buttimer on his remarks. I welcome the rainbow crossings that Dublin City Council has instituted. It is great to see the one outside PantiBar in particular. I condemn the dreadful homophobic graffiti that we saw against PantiBar and the homophobic actions in Waterford.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask that No. 20 be taken before No. 1. My colleague, Senator Martin, will second the amendment. No. 20 is a Private Members' Bill relating to solar panels on public buildings and schools, which would remove some of the restrictions applying to domestic properties. Since we will be discussing the climate action Bill this and next week, it is appropriate that we consider what we do in a practical sense to ensure that everyone takes part in the climate transition. I hope that the Bill will get support in the House next week.
I was going to raise the issue of Professor Bradley's report, which Senator Chambers mentioned.
We were quite disappointed when we saw the EY report. It was quite clear that incorrect assumptions were made in the report about Galway and Mayo. For instance, the number of people living in Athenry was completely wrong. It is a 200-page report and I commend Dr. Bradley on the amount of work that went into it. The Green Party always feels that if there is rail or other public transport infrastructure, the first thing to do is try to bring it back. Anybody involved in a greenway group would also say that greenways can be used where rail is not viable but we need to have a proper understanding of whether rail is viable. There is now a section in the country that is missing rail. We can go around three quarters of the island and then there is a missing piece of track. This is not something that is desirable. I would welcome a response from the Minister. I know the Minister has met the group on many occasions and is committed to looking at whether rail is feasible and I support this.
I am glad many Senators have raised the issue of the national maternity hospital. We need a proper understanding of the situation. I call on the religious orders themselves to be responsible because they are not doing themselves any favours in the eyes of the public when they try to change the facts and pretend they are handing over something to the State when it is actually going to another body. Let us have a proper conversation about this.
Last week, I called for a debate on maternity care and breastfeeding. Perhaps all of these issues could be looked at together and we could have an honest and open conversation with the Minister for Health. As Senator Chambers quite rightly said, we have been very clear that the maternity restrictions need to be lifted. However, we still have no response from the hospitals, although I would say that this week University Hospital Galway has lifted some of the restrictions, which is very welcome. They all need to be lifted at this stage.
Ar dtús báire fáilte, cuirim fáilte roimh an chéim shuntasach agus tábhachtach a glacadh an tseachtain seo caite i dtaca le reachtaíocht Ghaeilge ó Thuaidh. Seo reachtaíocht ar a bhfuilimid ag fanacht le tamall maith, le blianta fada anuas, agus is dea-scéal é go raibh muid in ann é seo a bhaint amach. I will begin my remarks by welcoming last week's news about Irish language legislation in the North. As the Leader and colleagues know, this is a long-standing commitment to Gaeilgeoirí, going back to the Good Friday Agreement and, in particular, going back 15 years to the St. Andrews Agreement and 18 months to New Decade, New Approach, the premise on which the power-sharing institutions of the Good Friday Agreement were returned.
With regard to last week and the week we are heading into, it is important to remember, and to remind colleagues and the broader public, that when it comes to New Decade, New Approach and the issues regarding the protocol and any attempt to contrive a crisis around these issues, a majority of people in the North voted against Brexit. The majority of the political parties in the Executive and assembly support the protocol. The majority of parties in the Executive and assembly support the implementation of Acht na Gaeilge. It is important to take the opportunities calmly to reiterate these key component political points because they are worth remembering and they are worth restating.
The institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are important and key. As we emerge from Covid and deal with the ramifications of Brexit, they will continue to be crucial for all of the public. It is also important to remember that, again at the weekend, we saw one in a series of opinion pieces, reports and research on the protocol, on the reorientation of trade across this island and on the tangible benefits for businesses and the economy that have flown from the protocol.
It would be timely if we were to take the opportunity to ensure those benefits and opportunities are being maximised and that that is being communicated out there, not just to the businesses concerned but to workers, to the public and indeed to those politicians who need to hear that message as well. It would be in order, as it has been quite a while, for us to have statements on the North and as part of that, or perhaps separate to it, statements on the implementation of the protocol. We would do so, I hope, to sincerely and respectfully cut through a lot of the noise that is out there around all of it.
I would like to address the unfortunate confusion which seems to have arisen around outdoor dining. With the good weather, it is very heartening to see so many people out and about and our towns and villages alive with people sitting and enjoying a bite to eat and maybe a glass or two of wine or beer in the great outdoors. It is a lovely, heartening, uplifting sight to see.
Unfortunately, confusion has now arisen about the legality of the public space some pubs and restaurants are using to serve alcohol in some instances. There is a question mark over whether that is legal or not. The Garda, or maybe more accurately, the law of the land, would seem to state that unless a licence has been obtained from the courts to serve alcohol for consumption in a given public space area, the Garda and the law of the land are saying it is illegal. The Department of Justice on the other hand is saying we should not worry too much about it and that it is down to the discretion of an individual member of An Garda Síochána. Quite frankly, that is simply not good enough. Businesses have been through hell over the last 18 months and are trying to get back on their feet again. When they open their doors of an evening, is the future of their business that evening going to depend on the discretion of a member of An Garda Síochána? That is not good enough. It is not fair on the business and not fair on the individual member of An Garda Síochána. What the word "discretion" boils down to is "turn a blind eye". Thus if a member of the public makes a complaint to a member of An Garda Síochána about a premises serving alcohol with no licence and the garda ignores it, that member of the public may very well report that member to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and the member will be under investigation. The simple solution to the problem is to issue a special exemption for a limited period of time to all the businesses concerned to take away the confusion and let everyone know exactly where they stand.
Over €15 million has been allocated to 170 schools around the country under the Safe Routes to School programme. This funding was a commitment under the programme for Government. This is going to have an impact on the lives of thousands of students across the country. We know how dangerous it can be in rural areas where we do not really have that many footpaths so it is really difficult for children to walk or cycle to school. We have many issues with safe parking around schools and much congestion. It is really important parents can pick up and drop off kids in a safe way and that it is not dangerous when one is leaving one's kids off at school. As such, it is really great to see this funding coming through.
I thank the teaching staff, principals, secretaries, boards of management and parents' associations for getting these applications in even though it has been such a crazy year for them. It is in conjunction with An Taisce, Green Schools and the Department of Transport. It was announced today by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, who has delegated responsibility for this programme under the Department of Transport. With over 930 applications from schools across the county, it just shows there is urgent need for funding. It was so competitive only 170 have been funded in this round. For schools which were not funded this time, there will be future rounds of funding under this programme for those which have applied.
In County Roscommon, we had five schools which were successful in this competitive round one. I was delighted to see the impressive new Coláiste Chiaráin in Summerhill, Athlone funded. This brand new school which opened in 2017 is an amalgamation of St. Joseph’s College, a girls' school, and St. Aloysius College, a boys' school. I have a bit of a grá for the area as I worked for a really short while as a substitute teacher in St. Aloysius College. I am absolutely delighted to see funding for this area coming through. It is going to be for over 700 students because the primary school was funded as well. It is just up the road from the secondary school. Is that not really co-ordinated, integrated planning? I congratulate Scoil Náisiúnta Pol Naofa in Castlerea, Carrick National School in Ballinlough and Croghan National School, all of which were successful in this round.
More than 1,350 students and children in County Roscommon will benefit from safer travel to schools. It is a safe way to pick up children from school. It is a fun, active and healthy way to get to school. It is a great day of learning.
I want to wish Members a happy Pride. The flags are flying high on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment across the road. That is really good for this week.
I want to raise an issue, which Women's Aid highlighted recently, namely, the Garda failed to respond to thousands of domestic violence calls. An internal investigation has found many victims received no help after calling 999 in domestic violence incidents. Some of the incidents involved people repeatedly calling the emergency line and not getting the assistance needed. I call on the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys, to liaise with the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, immediately to address this serious issue. I understand he will appear before the Policing Authority this week. It is important all members of the Garda know their responsibilities under the Garda domestic abuse policy and do everything in their power to protect these women and, indeed, some men living in fear.
It is also quite worrying the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, does not have enough staff to do its job. GSOC, the oversight body that investigates complaints about alleged wrongdoings and incidents involving members of An Garda Síochána, saw an 11% increase in the number of complaints it handled in 2020, up to a figure of 1,955. The Minister for Justice needs to address both those serious issues with regard to manpower for An Garda Síochána. With all the recent anti-social behaviour in our towns and cities in recent weeks, we can see the members of the Garda are stretched. We need to recruit more gardaí and to do so in a proper way.
I welcome the decision of the Press Ombudsman and Press Council of Ireland concerning false statements made about Presentation College, Carlow and its teaching staff last November. It is time some of those who led the attacks on the teaching staff, including the Labour Party, would publicly apologise to those teachers who suffered a very unfair social media pile-on.
I also echo the comments of Senator Buttimer in wishing everybody a happy Pride. It is unfortunate to see what has been happening in Hungary and Poland. A small number of homophobic incidents that took place around the country remind us of the importance of this month. However, what we saw in my neighbouring county of Waterford with respect to the mayor, Damien Geoghegan, the councillors, the Minister of State, Mary Butler, my colleague, Senator Clifford-Lee, Waterford Local Radio and the people of the city and county showed exactly how tolerant a county it is and how diversity could be celebrated. I am also very proud of Wexford County Council. If people get a chance they should check out the way County Hall has been lit up in the rainbow colours. That shows Wexford is not only a tolerant county but a very creative place.
As I am speaking of Wexford, Members will be aware this is the strawberry season. I was delighted my colleague, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, was recently at Green's berry farm in County Wexford where she sampled some of the finest strawberries in the country. It is important we support our fruit growers over the course of the summer, particularly Wexford strawberries. I know the Cathaoirleach likes to come down to Wexford. I hope he will have plenty of strawberries during his time there. In addition, there is a young man from Wexford called Mark Kavanagh who has set up a business selling a new vodka liquor called Wexbury. I hope the Cathaoirleach will be able to drown the strawberries at the same time.
The Senator's time is up but I must say his advertising is fairly commendable.
I am delighted and I hope the Cathaoirleach and all the Members will come to Wexford on their staycation in the months ahead.
I thank the Senator for the invite to stay in his place. We also look forward to him bringing in loads of punnets of strawberries.
I have the some strawberries outside-----
I hope the Senator has enough and that it is only the strawberries not the vodka.
We have apples in Tipperary. The apple farm run by Con Traas does fantastic work. It is a fantastic local business. It is only a mile away from my home. I would encourage anyone to go there to buy apples. He sells strawberries as well but he is famous for apples and cider. It is lovely cider.
I thank the Senators for listing the offerings of their counties, including apples, strawberries, vodka and cider.
I have lost some time now Cathaoirleach.
I invite Senator Ahearn from Tipperary to contribute on the Order of Business.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. Mr. Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE, was on Today FM's "The Last Word" last week talking about maternity hospital restrictions. Mr. Reid said that 16 of the 19 hospitals with maternity wards are complying with restrictions. I understand that St. Luke's General Hospital in Kilkenny, Wexford General Hospital and Tipperary University Hospital are the three hospitals that are not complying. Despite what the management at Tipperary University Hospital has been telling me, the Minister and everybody within the local community to the effect that the facility has been complying, it is clear now that it has not. St. Luke's in Kilkenny is easing restrictions from today. It will be allowing partners in when they arrive at the door. It will also be easing the restrictions relating to visiting times after birth. I call on Tipperary University Hospital to follow suit. Many of the staff and people who work at the hospital have been calling - within the hospital - for the easing of restrictions for months. I hope the position will change. In fairness to "The Last Word", it has done a lot to promote this issue in recent days. The programme highlighted the case of a person who was sitting outside in his car when he found out that his partner had had a miscarriage. I know of a case where the labour was so traumatic that the mother is receiving professional counselling in the hospital, while at the same time her partner is not allowed to visit her. What is happening is absolutely disgraceful and change in needed.
The highlighting of issues relating to maternity hospital restrictions coincides with a WHO report released last week which indicates that appropriate attention should be given to the prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of child-bearing age between the ages of 18 and 50. This is just women: there is nothing about preventing men from taking alcohol if they are considering having children. Is it any wonder that women in the State feel unfairly discriminated against? At present, some women cannot have their partners in with them during labour. They are totally on their own and isolated. If a woman is suffering with hyperemesis, there is no drug licensed in the State to help her. Hyperemesis is one of the most debilitating conditions one can have during pregnancy. If a woman has an intention of ever having a child, or even if she cannot have a child, she is now supposedly not allowed to drink alcohol until she is 51. This only applies to females. It is utterly unacceptable.
Like Senator Gallagher, and I am sure like public representatives elsewhere in the State, I am seeking clarity on licensing. Over the past days I received a number of representations about the possibility of fines being handed out by An Garda Síochána to those who are enjoying or about to enjoy our outdoor summer. The Garda have said that pubs and restaurants are not legally permitted to serve alcohol in temporary, outdoor seating areas. Licensed premises across the State have been given permission to set up outdoor seating by the local councils. Section 254 licences have been applied for and issued throughout the country, with many licensed premises setting up on footpaths or in areas in front of their business premises as a solution until indoor dining is allowed. The Garda has said, however, that these areas are not covered by alcohol licences originally issued by the District Courts. Until indoor dining and drinking return on 5 July under the Government's reopening plan, we need clarity. When I was travelling to the House this morning, my local radio station, KFM, covered this item and mentioned a tweet by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys, in which she mentioned speaking with the Garda Commissioner and used the word "discretion". A Garda representative stated, rightly, on the programme to which I was listening that gardaí deal with the law of the land and that they need clarity on what discretion means in this context. We are told that there will be a memo going out today from the Garda Commissioner. We all know the terrible times that our licensed premises' owners and families have been through. The owners of those premises that have the necessary space have listened to the concept of an outdoor summer being promoted by all Departments and they need to know that when it comes to renewals through the courts system, their licences will not be affected by this new development. They need to know that their customers will not receive fines for attending their premises. Discretion creates doubt - I might even say fear - among potential customers. After the year the owners of licensed premises have had, they simply cannot continue to trade in this way. We are told that an outdoor summer is on the cards for us all. In that context, clarity is required as a matter of urgency.
I wish everyone a happy Pride Month. We need clarity on our licensing laws. It is basic legislation. Perhaps it can be done by some sort of order from the Department. If legislation is required in this case, then bring it on.
It is unfair to those attending premises, as well as to restaurants and bars throughout the country, and it needs to be rectified.
I also want to speak about the epidemic of knife crime that has hit our city. An Garda Síochána is investigating three separate incidents of knife crime last weekend, but it is an ongoing issue. Following every weekend, we read of various knife crime incidents around Dublin city. The number of incidents is increasing and they are becoming more vicious. What can we do about it? We could introduce minimum mandatory sentencing. That should, possibly, be done because there is no deterrent to people carrying knives or using them, but in my view, we need to take a more holistic approach. There are 50,000 children living in the south-west inner city, but there are no sporting facilities. Work on a full-size GAA pitch at the St. Teresa's Gardens site is under way, but one pitch for 50,000 children and ten primary schools is not sufficient. We need to nurture children when they are young and easily influenced and attempt to steer them away from a life of crime.
There are other related issues. Prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the issue of decentralising juvenile liaison officers was under consideration by the policing forum. I hope this does not proceed. It is important that juvenile liaison officers are attached to localities and not decentralised. Decentralisation would take away from the great work that is being done throughout the city by these garda. I commend the St. John Bosco Youth Centre and Bru Youth Service in Crumlin for continuing their youth diversion programmes during Covid. They went to huge lengths to keep those programmes going and they must be commended on that.
There are four policing forums in Dublin South-Central but there is still no policing forum co-ordinator. It is a huge issue. A co-ordinator is required to focus the community and statutory bodies on early intervention and prevention of crime. It is remiss that a co-ordinator has been not yet appointed. We need to take a holistic approach to knife crime and we need to tackle it at the core, which means minding children and looking after them when they are young and easily influenced.
In response to the matter raised by Senator Wall, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has given a commitment in regard to the licensing laws and to the introduction of whatever legislation is needed to ensure there is no issue with regard to outdoor hospitality for the summer ahead.
I would like to raise with the Leader the issue of Bóthar in respect of which there have been numerous reports in the media over recent weeks. Are there questions that need to be asked of the Charities Regulator given that every couple of months there is an issue with regard to a particular charity and its finances? This is becoming so commonplace, people no longer have confidence in supporting various charities. The Charities Regulator needs to put in place additional controls in regard to these issues.
I would also like to raise an issue of behalf of members of Bar Council from my local area and the fees that have been paid to them. Some junior barristers are earning only €25 per day. This is the only group that has not had any restoration of cuts imposed in response to the downturn in our economy. I call on the Government to restore the link with public sector pay agreements and engage in a process to unwind the cuts applied to professional fees. A local barrister I know is asking that his profession be treated fairly and reasonably, consistent with the approach taken with other groups of workers for whom the State is the paymaster. I am not sure the public is aware that there are people working in our courts earning only €25 per day. That is not acceptable.
I would like to begin by referencing football. I am sure that, like me, other Members of the House are enjoying the European Championships. I would like to put in a word for our local League of Ireland football, which is well under way at this stage and going well, particularly so for Limerick. The success story of Treaty United FC is a great story of a rebirth of football. It is a new club in its first season and now in the dizzy heights of second in the first division. The point I am making is that, when permitted, we should get out and support our local clubs.
It is great to support European football. It is fantastic and I want to wish all of our neighbours well in the competition this week but we need to remember that football starts at home. The story in Limerick at the moment is a really positive one.
I also wish to raise the ESRI report on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. This really good report, which was published this morning, puts to bed the idea that somehow the PUP is damaging to businesses in terms of seeking workers. It shows conclusively that 95% of recipients are better off in work. It is good to be able to put that particular myth to bed which was highlighted again last week at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I was struck by a tweet from Mr. Pat Phelan, who runs SISU aesthetic clinic:
Sick to my back teeth of hearing it's hard to get staff
It's absolutely not
It's hard to get cheap staff
Hired 10 people in the last 10 weeks not a problem.
Free private Healthcare, free contributory pension
Pay your teams
This is a really clear and positive message from someone who is clearly a very good employer.
The second issue raised in the ESRI report is the worrying drop in income as the PUP is phased out, particularly for younger people. The unemployment rate for young people in Ireland at the moment is 61%. To be clear, that excludes people at college but it is still a shocking rate. If the PUP is dropped, young people will be back down to €112 per week which is not acceptable. While we obviously need to get them work, we must also address the issue of enabling them to at least get by until such time as they get into work or an apprenticeship.
I wish to join colleagues in congratulating the 170 schools that were successful in their applications to the Safe Routes to School programme. It is a really welcome programme, to which there were over 900 applications. Indeed, one in four schools made an application, which shows that there is huge public interest and appetite for the programme. I want to congratulate all of the schools in Dublin Central that applied. Six were successful including St. Catherine's on Ratoath Road, Broombridge Educate Together, the Central Model Senior School, Drumcondra National School. I congratulate all of the school communities that were involved in making those applications. The programme teaches children about mental and physical health, as well as independence and resilience, which are real-life skills in the context of walking, cycling and scootering to school. All of the schools are to be congratulated and I urge the Minister to increase the funding for that programme.
I would also like to raise the DART south west project, which is being progressed by the National Transport Authority, NTA. This is a really important service, potentially connecting Hazelhatch with the city centre, but it is really disappointing that the NTA proposal does not include a stop on that route in Cabra. There is the potential for a stop there which would give more than 20,000 people living in the area direct access to what will be hugely important public transport infrastructure. I am sad to say that this follows the NTA's failure to include a stop in Ballybough or in or around Croke Park as part of the Maynooth DART upgrade. I would urge everybody who is interested to make a submission to the public consultation on DART south west, which is being conducted at the moment.
Finally, I wish to raise the issue of taxi drivers again. I acknowledge that the Minister for Transport has put some supports in place for them. He has waived the vehicle licence fees and provided for NCT fee refunds but I ask the Leader to urge the Minister to address two issues. The grant for electric vehicles should be extended to hybrid vehicles and the life cycle extension for vehicles should be pushed out to 2025 at a minimum.
I will begin by formally seconding the proposal on the Order of Business by my party colleague, Senator Pauline O'Reilly, to take No. 20 on today's Order Paper before No. 1.
I wish to mention two very sad matters today. First, 15-year-old Tiggy Hancock is being laid to rest this afternoon. She was an exceptional horse rider and had a bright future ahead of her in eventing but last week that all ended in a most tragic fatal accident at a training session. One journalist wrote, "the world has lost an angel". Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
I will also mention the fact that it is approaching ten years since university postgraduate student, Shane O'Farrell, lost his life in a tragic hit-and-run incident near his home in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. The full circumstances leading to this fatal accident remain unresolved. We know that the person who did this had a record of criminality and was a repeat offender. The scoping inquiry has been extended on several occasions.
I wish to caution the Senator against naming anybody.
Very good, a Chathaoirligh.
I know you are not doing it, but I just want to raise the issue.
Yes. In the case of Sergeant McCabe, the scoping inquiry took only a few weeks but, in this case, the scoping inquiry has gone on for almost 18 months. It has been extended repeatedly. This is not a criticism of Judge Haughton, but the family continue to hurt. They want to get to the bottom of this and to get the truth. It is compounding their upset. In addition, until it is resolved and clarified, with recommendations and, hopefully, a public sworn inquiry, as both Houses of the Oireachtas voted for about three years ago, such incidents could recur. With that in mind, we must instil urgency in this matter. I invite the Leader to try to ascertain the latest situation for the O'Farrell family who are still deeply hurt and upset as a result of this.
If I may return to the county offerings mentioned earlier, County Cavan has free fishing on 365 lakes.
Then one can view the beautiful drumlins after the day's fishing.
However, I will turn to the serious issue I wish to raise with the Leader, the mental health outcomes from Covid-19 and the problems in that regard. I am broadly basing what I say on an article in the Irish Medical Journal, entitled Impact of Covid-19 on Mental Health in Ireland: Evidence to Date by B. D. Kelly. This involves research carried out by Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth university. I will refer to the highlights.
One person in every five of the general population in Ireland, and elsewhere, have significantly increased psychological distress, for example, anxiety and depression, arising from Covid-19. The big risk factors are being female, so it is very much a woman's issue, and living alone. Rates of significant psychological distress, obviously a higher level, among healthcare workers are approximately double those in the general population. There is an issue here for healthcare workers which should involve careful rostering, ability to take leave and a different type of organisation. Healthcare workers require a sensitive and holistic approach. Maynooth university and Trinity College Dublin studied 1,000 people in March and April 2020 during the initial restrictions and found 41% of respondents reported feeling lonely, 23% reported depression, 20% reported clinically meaningful anxiety and 18% were in a very bad state of post-traumatic stress and so forth. This increases again. In May and June, a survey of 195 psychiatrists in the College of Psychiatry of Ireland found that the majority, 79%, reported increased referrals for generalised anxiety.
I am aware that an extra €80 million has been allocated this year for mental health. However, as the founding chairperson of Bailieborough Mental Health Association and recognising the importance of this, I wish to offer a stark statistic to the Leader. Some 2,000 people were waiting for child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, at the beginning of this year. That is criminal. Regardless of what we have invested, I want to establish that this is resolved. I ask the Leader to investigate that. I also ask that she arrange for a special debate on mental health issues and Covid-19 as a single item, because the service has traditionally not been funded adequately.
Last Saturday was World Sickle Cell Day and I commend the Sickle Cell Society Ireland on its fantastic event on the day. Its informative conference featured international experts and created awareness of this inherited blood disease.
Sickle cell disease is a red blood cell disorder. People with the condition do not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. The symptoms include anaemia, episodes of pain, swelling of hands and feet, infections, delayed growth or delayed puberty and vision problems. The disorder has many complications such as stroke, acute chest syndrome, pulmonary hypertension and blindness. Unfortunately, the list goes on. In Ireland, the prevalence of the condition is on the rise, with nearly 500 people suffering from it. A national screening for sickle cell disease needs to be introduced. I will advocate for that with the Department of Health and the National Screening Advisory Committee.
I urge all Senators to learn about the disease, help create necessary awareness of the disease, help establish family supports throughout the country and support the global issues concerning this disorder. In some countries, nearly 90% of babies born with the disease die before they reach the age of five. It is important to raise awareness of sickle cell disease.
I find it hard to believe that any unionist would be shocked that the leader of Fine Gael aspires to a united Ireland. It is certainly not the first time the Tánaiste or others in the party have said so. He did so only months ago on a well publicised edition of the "Claire Byrne Live" programme.
A united Ireland is a legitimate political aspiration, which is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement for which 94% of us in the South voted. What is shocking is the idea that a political party can only talk about or aspire to a united Ireland if it supports it at any cost. Whether it was intended or not, the message of some of the commentators last week was that only one party in the South can talk about this. One can aspire to the peaceful unification of our Ireland by consent in the future if one is willing to support the devastation caused by force in the past and continues to glorify the division and the hurt that that continues to cause. That is wrong and we need to watch it because, in my view, supporting or pursuing a united Ireland at any cost was never true republicanism. It is a particularly bizarre position to take when there is a small group of loyalists in the North who are talking, in a similar way today, about removing the protocol at any cost. There are lots of identities, views and experiences on this island and all must be respected in this debate. Why have some commentators in the South put us in silos when a growing majority in the North is moving out of those silos? The way to build an inclusive shared island is not to exclude anybody from the process.
I could not add anything to the very eloquent contribution made by Senator Currie and the demand that she correctly made. The island belongs to all of us and all of our identities should be respected.
I thank Senator McGreehan for the information she provided on the Sickle Cell Society Ireland and the sickle cell disease. I have learned something this morning. While I do not wish to speaking on others' behalf, people must deal with many things that most of us are not even aware of. I thank the Senator for raising the issue.
There is a need for a debate on the unseen ill effects of Covid and I will try my level best to make time for one before the end of July. It is one of the issues that we will talk about for many years to come.
Well-being is incredibly important to all of our people. We talk about mental health and its ill effects but we should talk more about people's well-being. Every Department, not just the Department of Health, should be responsible for ensuring the well-being of citizens is at the core of what it does. I will try to organise a debate in the weeks ahead.
I am very happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business. I wish Senators Pauline O'Reilly and Martin good luck with their Bill.
Senator Martin raised two absolute tragedies, one of which occurred recently, that of a gorgeous young girl, who was a very talented sports person. On behalf of this House, I send our condolences to her family. I will do my level best to come back to the Senator with an update on Shane O'Farrell in the next day or so, if I can. I will come back personally to Senator Martin's office.
Senator Fitzpatrick spoke about the Department's Safe Routes to School programme, as did Senator Aisling Dolan. It is a wonderful initiative. The response of 900 schools to the initiative shows how seriously schools and teaching staff take the safety of our children coming to and from school, and that they want them to walk, cycle or scoot to school. The increase in funding is something which we should all support. Senator Fitzpatrick also spoke about taxi drivers. The most appropriate place for her to raise those issues is during the climate Bill debate this week. She is absolutely right to demand special exceptions for the people who provide those services for us.
I found myself nodding in agreement with Senator Gavan. I thought "Hurrah" for that ESRI report. It galls me - it is probably because I spent three years in the Department - that some people speak about our unemployed people as if they are some foreign species. It further galled me last year when that narrative was extended to people on the PUP as if these people chose to be at home when in fact the only reason the PUP was created, and maintained for so long, was because we stopped those people from going to work. I get narked about this, and I do not mean to. Everyone who is on the PUP had a job before we closed this country down on 12 March last year and people should remember that. These are the people who we want to go back to work. If there are issues and people's anxieties are stopping them from going back, let us address those issues as opposed to castigating them and creating another new set of people to have a black mark against. I commend the Senator on bringing that up this morning.
Senator Carrigy spoke about licensing laws, as did other colleagues, such as Senator Gallagher. The real concern we have is that while the Minister said this morning that gardaí will used their discretion, we have put our gardaí in an invidious position throughout the last 12 to 18 months. It is not fair to continue to ask them to use their discretion, because a garda in Kildare might be very different from a garda in Lusk and I do not think that is fair. A far more serious issue is that we are asking licensed premises to break the law knowingly on the basis that a wink and a nod from An Garda Síochána will see them right. I do not think their insurance will allow them to break the law knowingly and continue to enjoy the insurance cover that they need to maintain the responsibilities they have towards their patrons. This conversation needs to get much more real than it has been in recent days and we need a proper response.
Senator Ardagh spoke about the growing use of knives in criminality in this country. We are aware of the tragedy which occurred last night in Dublin, and, indeed, it happens too often. The State must be far more strict in its response and I know Senator Ardagh said that we need a holistic approach. We must get to the root cause of why these crimes are happening, in particular, involving younger men. However, if we do not have significant deterrents as well as the holistic approach, which is on the way in, it will defeat the purpose. Senator Wall also brought up insurance cover.
Senator Byrne spoke about the Presentation College Carlow. It was welcome to see a near-real-time reaction, within a relatively short period of time, since the horrendous treatment of both teachers and pupils in that college in Carlow a number of months ago on social media. Today, people believe what they read on social media, and it is important people in leadership roles are careful about what they say and the medium in which they say it. I am glad those teachers have had their reputation restored by the Ombudsman at the weekend.
Senator Ahearn spoke about Paul Reid and the maternity restrictions, as did Senators Bacik and Chambers. Three of our 19 hospitals are still refusing to let partners, who are not complementary to the procedures going on in our maternity hospitals but who are absolutely essential, from attending. It is not good enough that week in, week out we are having to raise this issue on the Order of Business. As colleagues know, I communicate with the chief executive officer of the HSE, Paul Reid, and he gets back to me with the directions that have been given. However, the discretion still exists and this just is not good enough. We must start calling out the hospitals to ensure they answer for themselves, so that Paul Reid does not have to come back to us every week to say he and the Minister for Health have given the directions but they are not being complied with.
The individual hospitals that appear on our news feeds every single weekend, because they keep the gentlemen outside the front doors in times of great need, need to made responsible and to answer for their own actions so that is probably the next step for us to take.
I welcome the welcome wishes of Senators Malcolm Byrne and Buttimer and all other colleagues for Pride month and week. Again, it is probably something we take for granted - that it is something we have done and that we have given equality and recognised that love is love and everybody should just get on with it - but some of the actions of people who do not quite feel the love we feel have been evident over the past week. We saw the flag burning twice in Dungarvan. I commend Damien Geoghegan on the speed of his response. The graffiti and the jibes this community has to put up with on a daily basis are not things the rest of us even understand or appreciate so it is incumbent on all of us to remember that we need to fly the flag with pride and say we are a community and country that recognises that love is love and we will not tolerate any bigotry in any element so I thank colleagues for raising that issue today. I do not know how they came up with the name of Wexbury Spirits but it is wonderful and I look forward to going to Wexford on my holidays this year.
Senator Keogan spoke about Women's Aid. I am surprised this has not got more attention in our media along with the 999 responses and how An Garda Síochána has not lived up to its part of the contract with regard to looking after and policing us by consent in the past 12 months. Perhaps if it was not doing all of the other things it was doing, some of these things would not have been let slide. Domestic violence, however, is something we have really shone a light on in the past 14 months - far more so than any of us would have done in debates here previously. I think it probably would have been seen as a niche problem that did not reach into many family homes. Now we know just how prevalent domestic violence is because the restrictions on movement in the past 14 months have allowed people to see just how much of an issue it is. An Garda Síochána needs to explain why it failed so dismally in this response and in the response to our children ringing 999 lines because it is not something that can be tolerated and we need to make sure we redouble our efforts in the domestic violence programme and in respect of domestic violence services on behalf of the State to make sure we look after the women and men who suffer from domestic violence.
Senator Dolan brought up the Safe Routes to School programme, while Senator Gallagher raised the issue of outdoor dining, which we need come back to. Senator Ó Donnghaile spoke about a welcome move this week. We now know that the cultural identity legislation and the forums associated with it will be dealt with in the North at some stage this year, although I am sure we all would have picked any other way to have that resolved than the one that happened this week. I recognise that it is a difficult time in Northern Ireland and we need to support all our colleagues as much as possible.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly spoke about the report by Professor John Bradley, as did Senator Chambers. I am not sure whether a full debate would be warranted in this House but I would encourage both Senators to put down a Commencement Matter on this matter and to try to get responses about the variance regarding what was originally said about the expense that would have been set out on behalf of the State and the reality. We have seen how on numerous occasions, State agencies have told us that something will cost hundreds of millions of euro and we know that it is not quite truthful so I would encourage both Senators to try to get to the bottom of this and I wish them well.
Senator Bacik and other colleagues spoke about the new national maternity hospital. I have just secured a debate, which I think will be on Friday week, on the ownership of the hospital and will come back to the Senators. It will be a short debate so it will probably only be group spokespersons or involve the sharing of time because our programme over the next couple of weeks is so full. I think I have secured 60 minutes on Friday week but I will let the Senators know the actual date. I thank them for raising this issue.
I know that not everybody agreed when the changes were made regarding strategic housing developments, SHDs, over the past number of years but I think the anticipation and justification at the time were that we needed things built and we needed them built fast. It aimed to cut some of the red tape, which is not my term because I think our councils, planning departments and councillors do a wonderful job in looking after what is built. Most of them are doing their county development plans. However, the justification for SHDs was that they would speed things up and that the houses the country badly needs would be built much faster but it has been a unmitigated disaster. It has not worked out at all and I think Senator Boyhan laid out this morning how many judicial reviews have taken place, how much it has cost and how many judicial reviews An Bord Pleanála has lost, which means the system was flawed. It will probably come to its natural end. I do not have an answer for the Senator but I will make inquiries today and come back to him. The Senator is right. We need a debate on local government.
Colleagues have asked for it before it but it has not been possible in the schedule. If I do not get to it between now and July, however, we should certainly look at it in the very beginning of September. I thank the Senator for bringing up that issue.
Senator Buttimer spoke about LGBT Pride Month. I alluded to how we should all own that very special space we have in Ireland on a daily and weekly basis. Senator Chambers began today by raising the issues of the national maternity services still excluding partners and the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital. As I said, I will come back as soon as I can with that data. I am happy to accept that amendment to the Order of Business, however.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that item No. 20 be taken before item No. 1. That has been seconded by Senator Martin. The Leader has indicated that she is willing to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.