An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order for Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 25 June 2021, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the Technological Universities Act 2018 (Section 36) (Appointed Day) Order 2021, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; and Nos. 3 and 4, motions regarding the continuance of certain sections of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, to be taken together at 11.45 a.m. and to conclude at 12.50 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed eight minutes and those of group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and the Minister to be given not less than eight minutes to reply.

I support the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader. Last week, we had world blood donation day. This is a very important day when we get to highlight the importance of blood donation and thank all of those who give blood. The theme was to give blood and keep the world beating.

I want to highlight inequality and inequity in the system. At present in Ireland, gay men must abstain from sexual contact for a minimum of 12 months before they meet the criteria for donating blood. The same criteria do not apply to heterosexual blood donors. This is completely wrong. The best available scientific evidence and advances in testing technology mean the 12-month deferral period imposed exceeds what is required to maintain the safety of the blood supply. This is according to HIV Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the 12-month period was reduced to three months on 1 June 2020, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK. At least 17 countries have no restrictions whatever, including Italy, Spain and Hungary in the EU. This requirement is completely wrong and needs to be addressed. I would appreciate if the Leader would raise it.

The Bog of Allen in Kildare is unique in its scale and holds the potential for wonderful experiences. Last week, seven local and national environmental organisations presented their proposal for a major new 7,000 ha national peatlands park in Kildare and Offaly. The proposal is to rewild and restore cutaway peatlands, creating a national park similar to the Lake District in the UK, which raises billions of pounds for the UK economy and create tens of thousands of jobs in the community. The designation of this national park would be absolutely wonderful. The plan has already been presented to Departments and Kildare County Council and I would like the support of the Seanad for it.

The annual Women's Aid report was launched yesterday and, unsurprisingly, it showed an increase of 43% in contacts from those suffering domestic violence. Family law is particularly burdened and underresourced at present and I know we will face a tsunami. It is important that we get ahead of it as Covid eases, and it is particularly important that we get a second judge in Kildare to hear family law cases.

I have always tried to be non-partisan when it comes to politics so I take the opportunity to congratulate the Leader of the Seanad on her sterling performance, particularly last weekend on Newstalk. Her calm confident way of dealing with the emergence from Covid-19, and particularly antigen testing, is a credit to her and all of us in the Seanad, and I thank her for presenting such a positive note.

Speaking of Covid-19 and hospitals, I will speak about something that may annoy some people, namely, the wearing of hospital uniforms in supermarkets and while walking around the streets. It has long been a bone of contention of mine that people who work in what should be fairly sterile areas appear in supermarkets wearing scrubs on their way home from work. I have read a number of studies on this. What has caused me to look at it is that last weekend, when I was in Dunnes Stores, a woman appeared in hospital scrubs and an elderly lady turned to me and said that we were in the middle of a pandemic, for God's sake, and asked what was going on. This is a discussion we need to have and it needs to be about not just the ordinary workers in hospitals but hospital consultants. The ties worn by hospital consultants apparently carry more bacteria than is good for any of us. Can we not get back to the days when people wore clean uniforms, which should probably be supplied by the hospital in the morning when staff arrive in work, and when doctors wore some form of white coat if they were not wearing scrubs? Patient protection has to be the key for all of us. I know it is a sensitive subject to bring up at this time but it is probably the right time to have this discussion now that we are emerging from a pandemic.

I want to discuss the exit survey carried out by the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. It is heartbreaking to read about senior and military officers who have retired early and who all loved the job they were doing but simply could not continue for family or income reasons. They are being driven out the door. This issue has to be addressed. We cannot wait for the commission on the future of defence to report. We will have nobody left if we do not deal with the issue at this stage. I know the Leader has tried a number of times to have a debate on defence and I ask her to expedite this so we can have the debate before the summer break, if the Minister will come to the House to discuss these issues. I thank the Leader for her time.

I join Senator Craughwell in giving some credit to our Leader. In her previous role as Minister with responsibility for social protection, she did great work on school meals. This has been built on by the current Minister, Deputy Humphreys, with the announcement yesterday of an extension of free school meals. That has to be very much welcomed. We need to go a lot further in the provision of free school meals. Every DEIS school in the country should receive free school meals. We need to aspire and work towards this as quickly as possible.

I was very troubled to read the contents of the Women's Aid report yesterday with regard to the increase of 40% in calls to its service during the pandemic as a result of domestic violence. This is a further very tragic consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Work needs to be done after Covid on how to reduce these figures. I have said previously that we need to reconstitute the very good committee we had that looked at public interest issues. The Cathaoirleach did great work on the committee with regard to sign language. We need to reconstitute the Seanad Public Consultation Committee and I propose that the first work the committee would do is a report on domestic violence.

Long Covid is becoming a big problem and we need a strategy for dealing with it.

We need a strategy on long Covid. Many people who get Covid are asymptomatic. Some end up being sick, but most get over it. There are a growing number of people who are sadly not getting over Covid. I have spoken to a number of people recently who are in great distress and suffering a huge amount as a result of long Covid. We need a debate in the House on the issue of long Covid. It would be nice if we could organise it before the summer recess. If not, it needs to be organised in early September because we need a strategy which needs funding. We need clear targets in terms of that. There are people whose sense of smell has not returned and are suffering chronic fatigue and have little, if any, energy. The support structures and services are not there to assist them. We have a body of work to do on that. We need that debate in this House.

I watched a great camogie match last Sunday, the national league final between Kilkenny and Galway. The hurling was absolutely brilliant to watch. It was also great to see the uachtarán of the Camogie Association, Hilda Breslin, a proud Athy woman, present the cup to the victorious Kilkenny captain, Meighan Farrell. Coupled with the great performance of Leona Maguire on the US LPGA tour, it reinforced for me the very positive and welcome participation of women and girls in sport over the past few years.

The recent 20x20 campaign entitled If she can't see it, she can't be it, helped a great deal. It was a campaign about creating a cultural shift in our perception of girls and women in sport. This campaign ran from 2018 to 2020 and had three aims: 20% more media coverage of women in sport; 20% more female participation at player, coach, referee and administrative level; and 20% more attendance at women's games and events. The 20x20 concept originated from and was developed by Sarah Colgan and Heather Thornton and driven by their agency, Along Came A Spider. Together with the Federation of Irish Sport, all of Ireland's leading sporting organisations came together to pledge their active participation and support.

There can be little doubt about the findings after the campaign, with very encouraging results: 80% of the population is more aware of women's sports than before the launch in 2018; 61% are more likely to support women's sport more than they did in 2018; 75% of men said the 20x20 campaign change their mindset positively towards women in sport; and 42% of women said they are participating in more sport and physical activity due to the awareness of the 20x20 campaign. We now face challenges to this forward momentum. A recent UN paper highlighted that the progress and attention gained in women's sport may be undone due to Covid-19. It stated.

The pandemic of COVID-19 now threatens to erase this momentum as the sport world has been forced to cancel or postpone events, schools have closed, and people are staying home. Existing gaps between women and men, girls and boys in both elite and grassroots sport may widen if governments, sport organizations, sponsors, civil society, athletes, media and UN agencies do not put women and girls at the centre and address their specific needs in response and recovery plans.

It is critical we do not allow the progress that has been made in female participation in sport to be lost. We need a new plan that engages with females of all ages and builds on the success of the previous campaigns. I hope we can discuss this with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and would appreciate if the Leader could arrange such a debate in the House.

In the few minutes remaining to me, I want to support Senator Craughwell on the urgent need for debate on our Defence Forces. The Leader had arranged that debate but it had to be cancelled. Given the recent report from RACO it is now time that we discussed in the House the urgent need for assistance for our Defence Forces.

Perhaps we need to have a proper debate in the House about people-centred design in our villages and towns. As I cycled to the convention centre from the Liberties, something I have done since last July, I noticed how much the city has changed from full lockdown to opening up again. I had to cycle around a couple of trucks and vans. Things have changed a lot. I noticed that the quality of the air has vastly decreased. I was struck by the difference this morning.

It led me to consider how instead of people we seem to have prioritised vehicles, and the bigger the vehicle the more people can break all of the rules and park wherever they want, even if it is only for a couple of seconds. I am on a bike and can get off and walk around on footpaths, but I am thinking about older people, people with disabilities and people with buggies. It is a nightmare.

It should no longer be socially acceptable for big delivery trucks and vans to stop wherever they want as close as possible to where they need to deliver something. God forbid they should park in a loading bay around a corner, take stuff of a truck and wheel it around a corner. It is no longer acceptable for them to pull up right outside the shops where they need to deliver to. That social norm which we have been putting up with for years needs to stop. Not all of them do it, but it is happening all over the city every day. I see it in my home town in Clare. It is a social norm that we have accepted that larger vehicles are prioritised over people.

We need to design for our people and for not trucks and cars. There is a town where pedestrian crossings are 1 km apart. That does not serve people who need to cross roads safely. We have seen a significant increase in car use. We all got to experience roads as quieter places during the pandemic. We do not expect to go back to that, but it made us realise how much space we give over to vehicles. There may be three lanes for cars and a narrow lane for bikes. People think it is okay to park in a cycle lane despite the space allocated to vehicles, but they would never stop in the middle of a road for cars and block them.

A cyclist means there is one less car on the roads. That person could have driven instead. We need to change the narrative. It is not a case of bikes versus cars; there are just people. Today I had to cross a lane and a lad in a Merc let me out. We smiled and went on our way. It was grand. We were two people sharing a space and being polite with each other. We need to examine how we design spaces.

There are some really good road engineers all across Ireland, but the name gives it away. They have been designing roads for years. We do not have good urban designers and architects who put people first. Why does there need to be a big campaign to get a playground anywhere? Why it is so hard to get a pedestrian crossing or water refill station? I have been working for two and a half years to get one in place in Clare. Why are these things which are basic and should be prioritised for humans so difficult to get? We need to examine that because we have best practice in certain places. That should be the case across the board in every county in Ireland.

I wish to remind people that this is Pride month and we should never forget that the first Pride was not a parade but a protest. While Pride is for many rightly a month to celebrate, and businesses have increasingly joined in the celebration of LGBTQI rights, the fight for full equality and justice continues. In some federal states in the US and in EU countries we have seen a rise in anti-LGBTQI legislation. Closer to home, we have witnessed online attacks on gay politicians, the repeated burning of the Pride flag in Waterford and homophobic graffiti appearing on Capel Street. Last weekend when a church in Ballyfermot flew the Pride flag to show it was a welcome house for the queer community, it was subjected to a backlash.

Last week, a report from BeLonG To outlined the impact lockdown has had on young LGBTQI people. Young people have been trapped in homes with families who do not fully accept them, which increased their feelings of depression and loneliness. Today I would like to remind all of us who are allies that we must remain vigilant to any rise in homophobia or transphobia in Ireland. We have to call it out when we see it.

I would also like to raise a second report, which was also mentioned by others. The Women's Aid report shows the level of fear, desperation and isolation experienced by thousands of women across the country last year. A lot more could be done to help those women. Two years ago, the then Government ratified the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women. Of course that move was welcomed by everyone.

However, two years have passed and there are still nine counties in this country that do not have a single refuge space. More must be done to reform the family courts so that women can access justice and get support. The successful passage of my HAP Bill shows that action can be taken quickly when the Minister is pushed. We do not know to date how many women and children have been made homeless after fleeing their homes to escape abuse. In the first six months of the last year, 506 women and 706 children were discharged from refuges.

Sinn Féin has called for these figures to be published monthly, in conjunction with the figures on homelessness, so we can know the scale of the problem we face and what needs to be done to fix it.

Leading off for the Civil Engagement Group this morning is Senator Ruane.

I thank an Cathaoirleach. When I drove in this morning, I listened to a podcast by two inner city lads. I listened not because I was unfamiliar with the story - I am very familiar with it - but because I was interested to hear an update on it. The podcast was about Terence Wheelock and the Wheelock family. The family has called again for an independent review into Terence's death. I first became aware of the Wheelock family when they lived in my estate before they moved into the inner city many years ago when we were children. Later on I became good friends with Terence's brother, Larry, who died some years ago. Larry died without seeing what he felt was real justice for his younger brother, who was arrested for something he did not do, who was not seen awake again and who died a few months after falling into a coma. As I listened to the podcast, I remembered the discrepancies relating to the case and why an independent review is needed. It also got me thinking about the wider issue of policing, even after all these years, and especially for me as I was growing up.

I have avoided this issue time and again. For the past two hours, I have really tried to think about why I am avoiding the subject and why I avoid talking about police violence. It is not just about the use of force and restraint in a necessary way, it is the use of real violence against people in communities that are over-policed. To be honest, in the short time I spent thinking about why I do not speak about the matter this morning, I recalled the many occasions when I have tried to speak about it and when I was met with a love fest of all the things the gardaí are great and good at and people recounting the great experiences they had with this or that garda. The latter completely dismisses the experiences of communities which are over-policed and which do not have the same luxury of that experience. Then we go silent.

One of my most extreme memories dates from when I was young and involves a garda chasing one of the young men from my estate. I can only describe the scene as like the scene in the film "American History X". If people have seen that film, they will know the violent scene to which I refer. I remember as a young girl watching the scene and what the garda did to that young lad. I was only a child, maybe about ten. When I wrote my book, I went back to the man involved I asked him if he could tell me if I remembered it correctly. Sometimes these memories are so extreme I think that it could not have happened like that, but it did. I would have experienced violence at the hands of gardaí. Nobody's positive experience with authority should ever negate the negative experience of other people. They can both exist within the same institution and in the same space. We need to be able to talk about this matter. I ask the Leader for a debate on policing, but not in its broadest sense because this is when the negative experiences are flushed down. Can we have a real conversation about the unnecessary use of violence within the police force? I would very much appreciate that.

I want to bring to the attention of the Leader an issue that is the direct opposite, although not intentionally, of what Senator Ruane has been saying. I have been speaking with the chair of the Licensed Vintners Association and I have been in contact with the chief executive of the Restaurant's Association of Ireland. Along with many other people who operate businesses in Dublin city, they are very concerned that certain parts of Dublin city are getting out of control at particular times of the day and on certain days of the week. They are very concerned about the lack of resources and gardaí available to deal with organised groups who come into town to cause trouble and to annoy people who are dining, shopping or drinking outdoors. People are just getting back to enjoying their city after so many months of 5 km and 2 km restrictions.

People who work in the sector Dublin do not want to say that it is a bad situation, but they must. They want people to come into the city, but it has reached the stage where they are really crying out for extra resources. Maybe a short, sharp intervention is needed to tackle this matter, but definitely it would seem to be very organised groups doing this. They may not be large in number but the impact of their behaviour is felt large in certain parts of the city, especially in Temple Bar, O'Connell Street, and South William Street, areas in which much of this activity appears to be concentrated. It is spreading out, however. Hopefully, the more that businesses reopen, the more people will come back into town and the more diluted this activity will become.

Anyone who looks at Twitter will see videos of the type of activity to which I refer. It s not just happening by accident because somebody has had too much to drink: this is organised and it is dangerous. While we may not need a debate on the activity in question, I call on the Leader to arrange a call to the Garda. Whatever about the regulations relating to drinking, and we all understand that the Garda Síochána is only acknowledging the laws and rules that are there, this issue must be tackled for the future of Dublin, as a city. We need our tourists back and we need our people to be safe on our streets and in our towns. This matter needs to be dealt with swiftly.

I rise to welcome two things relating to Limerick. Fáilte Ireland and the council had a joint collaboration yesterday, which was two years in the making, whereby Limerick city is now identified as a gateway city of the Wild Atlantic Way. While the Wild Atlantic Way has been a great success, urban tourism destinations like Limerick city were losing out. That it has now been included shows that Limerick has much on offer for tourism and culture. What has happened will encourage people to come and use Limerick city, use hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, use the different venues and visit restaurants and so on. Visitors to Ireland will use Limerick city as a hub when visiting many of the tourism destinations within easy reach of it.

Also in Limerick yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, came to visit the women's caucus of the council. Limerick City and County Council set up the first female caucus within a local authority. More than €60,000 has been announced for female caucuses in local authorities. I welcome this because female caucuses play a key role in development and in putting forward policies. I welcome that they will now be able to access funding from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. That they will be supported is the right thing to do. I wish all the female caucuses in the local authorities the very best going forward.

There is considerable irony in the fact that in recent days there were fears about the future of the national maternity hospital expressed by people whose main concern seems to be that it might not actually provide abortion. I find it perfectly understandable, however, given the dominant cultural attitude in the State, that people would want a national maternity hospital that provides services completely free from any Christian or other religious influence. That is where many people are at and it is the main attitude of the State. The way to achieve what the State wants is through compulsory purchase of the site from the Religious Sisters of Charity or from whomever they have left in charge or to establish the national maternity hospital elsewhere. The notion that the religious or the people they have put in charge of the campus might seek to exercise a restraining influence on the worst excesses of the new secular ethos is really illusory. People like Dr. Peter Boylan and various Members of the Houses have stoked these fears. They have referred to things such as abortions and gender reassignment surgeries that might not take place. As I see it, the real tragedy is that the sisters, or those to whom they have entrusted their business, have put us in a situation where something as grotesque as late-term abortion could in the future be carried out under the nominal patronage of St. Vincent. We would be bad enough to gift the site to the people of Ireland for such purposes, but it would be just as bad - perhaps worse - that those procedures would go on under the nominal patronage of St. Vincent.

The repeated insulting of religious-inspired healthcare has not been challenged but it needs to be. It was the Religious Sisters of Charity who established the first women's hospital. It is the religious ethos that many people look to, people of faith and people of no faith, to have both excellence in medicine and also an ethical approach. Dr. Boylan mentioned abortion and gender reassignment surgery in recent days. When we consider what has gone on in other jurisdictions under these headings, and how people's lives have been ruined in some cases, we are reminded that some doctors are just glorified mechanics, highly skilled technical people who can cure one or kill one, depending on what the law provides and where the money trail leads. This is where some medical professionals are at.

Many people see a value in having diversity in healthcare and that there would be at least one maternity hospital in this country where, for example, people with a conscientious objection could train. They could pursue excellence without necessarily providing procedures that many consider ethical or controversial. In a pluralist society, the third of the people who voted against abortion and the many others who might have concerns about ethos-free medicine should be entitled to that option on the menu of health provision in this State.

I want to raise the issue of the western rail corridor, in particular extending it from Athenry in County Galway to Claremorris in County Mayo. There is a myth that would be expensive and the rail journey would be slower than the journey by bus or car. A report carried out by consultants and published by the Department of Transport last December concluded the case for the reopening of the disused line was weak and would be extremely expensive. However, West-on-Track, a community group that has been engaging and campaigning for many years for a rail corridor down the Atlantic seaboard connecting Waterford and Rosslare to Cork, Limerick, Galway, Mayo and Sligo, commissioned an independent report. It was carried out by the former Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, research professor, Dr. John Bradley. It counters the key findings of the Department’s previous report, as Dr. Bradley argues it would cost half of what the original report claimed and journey times from Claremorris and Tuam to Galway would be considerably quicker, certainly quicker than the journey by bus and quicker than the journey by car during peak hours. Dr. Bradley found the journey times from Claremorris and Tuam to Galway would be 58 minutes and 38 minutes, respectively.

The Limerick to Galway line via Athenry was reopened a decade ago, as the Cathaoirleach will be aware. Despite negative sceptics at the time, it has proven a major success in the years since then. The line carried more than half a million passengers in 2019. Investment in improving our transport, whether it be road or rail, is a long-term one and almost inevitably one that will prove worthwhile. We must expand and enhance our rail network. Doing so has a wide range of benefits, including assisting with housing as more people are willing to live rurally if they have access to reliable transport lines. Certainly that has been enhanced with the pandemic. I would be grateful if the Leader would invite the Minister, Deputy Ryan, into the Seanad for a discussion on this topic.

On the day the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, said we will not meet our 2013 to 2020 emissions reduction targets, I would like to support my colleagues, Senators Chambers, Blaney and Dooley, in calling for people whose homes are affected by pyrite or mica to be able claim Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland grants. It is ridiculous to think they should take out the windows and doors of their houses that may be ten, 15 or 20 year old and hold on to them. There appears to be some shift in Government policy on this issue, which I welcome. I support my colleagues on this issue.

The Government launched a programme to research the potential and impact of a four-day working week. I welcome the fact we could move at some sage to a four-day working week. I ask that the Government include in that report the way provisions such as the two weeks’ sick pay, the two weeks’ redundancy payment made by employers and the living wage in context of a four-day working week would affect the country in terms of the economy, inflation and the cost of living. The Government should investigate those issues in the programme launched today. I would like the Leader to bring that request to the Government's attention.

I want to follow up on an earlier point. When we are talking about the national maternity hospital and religious ethos, it is worth pointing out that only nine of the current 19 maternity hospitals provide abortion services that two thirds of the people voted for. We still have a very long way to go to get the abortion services two thirds of the people voted in favour of.

I want to highlight briefly again the fact the Student Universal Support Ireland pandemic unemployment payment issue has not been resolved. I have raised the issue on a few occasions in the House. At this point I think it will probably not be resolved. That is very frustrating for the students and families affected by this. I wanted to raise the issue again today.

I highlight, as was mentioned, a four-day working week pilot programme launched today. The campaign for a four-day working week was organised by Fórsa, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the National Women’s Council, Friends of the Earth Ireland and a number of other groups. The evidence shows a four-day week can provide positive results for businesses and for employees with respect to a work-life balance. I very much welcome the fact the Government has agreed to fund a call for research to assess the economic, social and environmental impacts of a four-day working week in the Irish context. The past year has provided workers and employers with an opportunity to consider the way we work, leading many to reflect on the way we do things. I hope the Government will come to the table in a positive way on this issue, as it is something many people would want to see happen.

On a final note, it is Pride week. For those of us who are members of the LGBT community, people ask us why we still celebrate Pride, and it has been highlighted here. There was the burning of flags in Waterford last week. Anti-trans, homophobic, abhorrent, exclusionary, cruel stickers popped up all over the country. Irish LGBT youth faced increased mental health struggles during the lockdown, as indicated in a BeLonG To survey that was carried out. Thousands turned out for the Warsaw Pride march against the rising tide of homophobia in Poland in the form of LGBT-free zones. There is an enormous way to go. While it is Pride week and we will be out celebrating safely in our way, we should remember there is an enormous degree of struggle we still have to go through.

The community monuments fund was announced last week, with funding of €4 million for 139 projects throughout the country. I was delighted a number of the projects are in my county, in particular in my town of Navan where the town walls project received funding and a project to carry out work on Babe’s Bridge, which is the oldest arched bridge in Ireland dating back to 1216.

However, a project of major national significance in the town that needs immediate assistance is the former St. Patrick’s classical school, which the Leader would know well as it is located beside the old County Hall in Navan. That building, which is of national architectural significance with its unique duck egg shape and roof, saw its magnificent roof collapse in on itself last week. It needs immediate assistance. I saw some comments on social media from former students from the 1950s and 1960s. They were delighted the roof fell in and were only sorry the walls did not fall down as well because of their negative experience in the school during that period. I can understand those remarks but this is a building of national importance. It has been designated as such.

I pay particular tribute to Meath County Council and its director of services, Dara McGowan, who has led the conservation effort and appointed consultants only last week to lead that effort, to bring it through the planning stage to development stage and to create a county museum and archive in that building. It has been in receipt of urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, funding to allow this process to take place. It will be seeking further URDF funding to allow the development to take place. A great deal of work has been done. I pay tribute to the council. I have spearheaded this project for a number of years.

I ask the Leader to join me in my request and to write to the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, requesting emergency funding to help that particular aspect of the conservation process of the roof. Each tile that has come in has to be individually numbered and the beams have to be individually taken down. It is a costly process. I ask for the Leader's assistance to work with the Minister of Sate, Deputy Noonan to assist Meath County Council in this worthwhile project.

In my first week of university nearly ten or 11 years ago, one of the first books I read was John Stewart Mill's On Liberty. He was a Liberal MP and Victorian political thinker. The main premise of his argument was he who knows only of his own side knows little of that. His main point was that for your argument to have any validity, it had to be tested in the court of public opinion against someone else’s argument. That is the only way you could be certain your argument was either correct or right, when you heard the other side. When we bring that argument forward to the modern day era, we have the problem of the spread of disinformation, online conspiracy theories and people retreating into echo chambers where they only hear people who agree with them.

I pay tribute to Finland and the work the Finnish department of education is trying to do in this area.

What it has done is interesting. In 2014, the Russian Government attacked Finland with advertising through Facebook and other sites to try to destabilise it. As a result, the Finnish Government introduced classes for primary schoolchildren on critical thinking and how to identify misinformation and disinformation online. It was visionary and became a part of the Finnish curriculum in 2016. It is a wonderful concept for Ireland to consider. I would appreciate a debate on what the Department of Education intends to do in terms of educating primary and secondary level children on how to identify and deal with misinformation online and be more critical thinkers.

Like Senators Boylan and Hoey, I wish everyone a happy Pride. Homophobia and transphobia seem to be on the rise. This year, I am thinking about the folk in Waterford and across the island who are standing up and resisting homophobia and transphobia. It is an important and inspirational show of strength from our community and our allies. Pride is a moment to stand together, share experiences and break silences.

HIV stigma affects people with and without HIV. Does the House know that people who are on effective treatment cannot pass HIV on to their sexual partners? People should stand up to stigma and know their status.

We must listen to young people who are telling us that they are not getting sufficient relationships and sexuality education, RSE. RSE should be age appropriate but it should also be holistic and inclusive, empowering and protective of all young people. Change is urgently required in this regard. I hope that we will not be here next year still waiting on that change.

I wish everyone a safe, happy and healthy Pride and I look forward to getting back on the streets with our community and our allies and sharing our love with the city because an army of lovers cannot lose.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, issued a report on its projections for Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. The report is stark and says that, if we follow the Climate Action Plan 2019, we will only achieve a 2% reduction per annum, far short of the programme for Government's commitment of 7%. This shows the importance of passing the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, which is before the Seanad this week. Only by putting in place new plans and carbon budgets will we achieve what we need to, not just in terms of the planet, but also for our children, who have been calling for climate action for years. It is our duty to ensure that the months spent scrutinising the climate action Bill are taken into account and that we put in place the necessary plan by the end of this year. It is essential at this stage.

I wish everyone a happy Luxembourg day for tomorrow. I was an au pair in Luxembourg. I have been there many times. It is a beautiful country.

It appeared on my feed today that I was in Oslo for Pride two years ago. The wonderful celebrations that we had then and every year in Ireland are being felt differently this year. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, went to Waterford yesterday. He had a good reception because the majority of people in Waterford and elsewhere in the country respect diversity. It is time for us all to stand in solidarity with members of the LGBTQ+ community. I am certainly doing so today.

In yesterday's Irish Independent, Ms Yvonne Murray updated us on a case that I raised with the Leader more than ten weeks ago, that is, that of Australian Mr. Robert Pether, who has been in detention in Iraq for 76 days. His wife and three children, all of whom are Irish citizens, live in Elphin, County Roscommon. I commend the Leader because when, with the House's support, she gave the Seanad a commitment to bring the matter to the Department of Foreign Affairs, she did so. I appreciate that. However, it is with a heavy heart that I express my disappointment with the Department, which has virtually left this woman and her three children on a desert island. They have no more flares left to send up to notify people of where they are. The oldest son could not complete his leaving certificate in recent days. He has pulled his applications to two universities in this country. The children's loving father has been taken away and it has devastated the family.

I supported many politicians on this island when they spoke in favour of the Belarusian journalist, Mr. Roman Protasevich, who was horribly and wrongly thrown in jail with his fiancée. I am asking Irish politicians of all persuasions to have a heart. I am asking everyone who is a parent to have a heart. This woman has a United Arab Emirates driving licence that she cannot use to drive in Ireland, yet she cannot get a theory test. This is all a total failure of the State. I understand diplomacy. I am not asking the Department to poke its finger into the Iraqi Government's affairs, but will everyone in this Chamber, journalists, officials and politicians please take note of what I am saying and try to lend a hand to a distraught family?

I thank Senator Murphy for raising that issue.

I condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent instances of homophobia seen in Dublin and Waterford. Pride flags have been removed, straight pride posters have been erected and disgusting graffiti has been scrawled near a gay bar. The people behind these acts do not represent us. Their acts are shameful and wrong and we must stand firm against them and their prejudice. We have made progress in recent years, but we still have a long way to go. That is why it is important that we stand in solidarity with our friends, colleagues and family in the LGBT+ community.

I will turn to another issue, that of social housing and the criteria used by local authorities to determine the house type for which a family qualifies. From examining the issue, there seem to be large discrepancies between local authorities. Some use section 63 of the Housing Act 1966, which defines "overcrowding", to decide for what house type a family unit qualifies. The issue with this is that couples or lone parents with two children of the same sex or below the age of ten years are only being considered for two-bedroom properties whereas couples or lone parents with children of the opposite sex or over ten years of age are being considered for three-bedroom properties. This seems inexplicable. I have raised the matter with the Department, which says that the flexibility to address the matter lies with local authorities. However, local authorities say that the issue lies with the Department. Either way, the problem needs to be resolved and there needs to be consistency across the country. As a result of this restrictive practice, lists in local authorities for three-bedroom accommodation are much shorter than lists for two-bedroom properties. This will continue as time passes, given that more three-bedroom than two-bedroom properties are being built.

It is great to be able to raise this issue because of our social housing output, which increased dramatically from 2013 to 2019. It is often not recognised, but we increased social housing output from 1,800 units in 2013 to more than 10,000 units in 2019. The Government will continue building on that success.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and colleagues. Senator Cummins raised an issue that beggars belief. First of all, I do not actually believe we are building very many two-bedroom houses in our social housing stock. It makes no sense to put two small children, whether they are the same sex or not, in one bedroom when one knows full well that in a number of years that bedroom will not be sufficient for them. We will end up having to move families from a house or home, or an area in which they have settled, into another area, which beggars belief. I will raise the issue with the Department and revert to the Senator. I believe this needs much more of a debate than this medium this morning.

I cannot even begin to tell Senator Murphy how disappointed I was to hear him raise the issue this morning of Mr. Robert Pether. To read the article yesterday, however, in which Mr. Pether's wife stated that her husband is getting more support from the Egyptian Embassy than he is from ours, is really and truly heartbreaking. I understand and appreciate that the gentleman himself is not an Irish citizen but his wife and children are. They are the ones who are severely impacted by the fact he is being detained illegally in a foreign country. I will contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, again today to see what help we can give and revert to Senator Murphy.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the report of the Environmental Protection Agency which highlights just how long a road we have to travel. We are all very cognisant of the fact that we do not have very long to travel that road. A 2% emissions reduction year-on-year will do absolutely nothing for nobody. Obviously, there are people in the country who will tell us that 7% is not enough and we probably need to be at 10%. We all know the challenges around that, however. We certainly cannot suffice with 2%. We have an awful lot of work to do. I thank the Senator for raising that issue.

A number of colleagues today and yesterday raised the issue of the homophobic behaviour we have witnessed in this country over the last number of weeks, not only in Dublin but also in Waterford, which is genuinely surprising. I said this yesterday but I will repeat it again today. First, it is a time for us to be happy and celebrate that Ireland is such a warm, open and loving country. We recognise that love is love and it does not matter what shape or size a person is; that is his or her right in this country. A small number of people, however, will try to build back up again those walls that have been torn down. We certainly will not allow it. It is, therefore, important for us to continuously state that we are very happy and proud of the nation's response in treating all our citizens with equality and respect in the last number of years. We need to keep saying that loud and often.

Senator McGahon spoke about John Stewart Mill. I tend to find that I get my opinions tested every single time I tweet something on Twitter or speak on a radio station. It is, therefore, certainly not an echo chamber in which any of us are living. I totally appreciate the point, however. It is a very innovative move for the Finnish Government to start its teachings in its primary school sector. I will ask for a debate but it will most likely be in the autumn, just to let the Senator know.

Senator Cassells brought up some emergency funding that is needed for St. Patrick's classical school, which is a beautiful building and historically very important to the town. I obviously know it very well. I will write to the Minister today and request the funding. Perhaps we might even try to arrange a meeting for the local representatives to see if we can impart how important it is and how urgently funding is needed. I will do that today.

Senators Hoey and Paddy Burke raised the issue of research that is being funded by the Government regarding a four-day week. It is not necessarily just a novel idea. It is something that will probably happen and be accepted, or become acceptable far quicker, because of what the country and our work force has gone though in the last 16 months. It would, however, be very worthwhile and would massively change people's quality of life, as we believe home working and remote working will do. I very much welcome the funding that has been put towards that report and look forward to reading it.

Senator Paddy Burke made a very valid point, however. We are striving to make sure that we give as many employment rights as we can to people who do not have them through sick pay, automatic enrolment in order that they will have pensions when they eventually get to retirement age, supplementary payments that will come from both the State and the employers, and indeed, the living wage. Businesses have been through the mire for the last 16 months, however. A tremendous amount of them are only surviving and reopening because of the financial supports that are being given to them by the State. We cannot, therefore, put so much on businesses' shoulders all at once so that they will not be able to stand up. We need to make sure that we support them but also ensure that we extend those rights to employees over the coming years.

Senator Crowe raised the issue of the western rail corridor, as did his colleague, Senator Chambers, yesterday. I find sometimes that when reports are commissioned by certain groups or individuals, the outcome of those reports tends to suit their narratives, as happened with the State a number of months ago. Professor John Bradley's report has shown just how inaccurate an outcome can be, or how many sides of the story there actually are, when we are speaking about making investments in and improving people's quality of life. It is a no-brainer that the western rail corridor should be reopened. I wish the Senator success and support him in that ask, as all his local colleagues are doing.

Senator Mullen raised the issue of national maternity hospital ownership. As I suggested to colleagues yesterday, I am attempting to table a debate on that issue in the Chamber in the next number of days. Once I have secured the debate and the Minister has time in his diary, I will let the Cathaoirleach know and we can all arrange for speaking time.

Senator Maria Byrne spoke yesterday about a really welcome announcement for Limerick city, which will now be the gateway city to the Wild Atlantic Way. We all know how successful a tourism project the Wild Atlantic Way has been in recent years. It is very welcome to see Limerick included. I genuinely congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, on the work he did with the Limerick Women’s Caucus and the funding that was announced yesterday. We should have a caucus in every single county. Women need to support each other. That is not a twee thing to say. Women have a different experience in political life than men. We certainly need at least the support of each other, as well as our male colleagues, to make sure we have a proper balance of men and women in our public discourse.

Senator Horkan this morning spoke about a need for extra resources. In one respect, social media is a huge blessing because it gives us access to information we might not otherwise know about or see. To see the fight - or scrap - that happened on Dublin's O'Connell Street at the weekend, however, was the most unedifying thing I have ever seen. It defies logic in my head, although perhaps that is just the way my parents raised me, as to why gangs would organise to come into town to look for trouble as if there is absolutely nothing else to do. We have a serious issue because it seems to be an activity that is not just taking place in our city centres. We saw it recently in Howth and Malahide, and we had trouble in Skerries over the weekend. We definitely need a debate on resources. I said to the Cathaoirleach yesterday that perhaps if our gardaí were not doing some of the things they were asked to do over the last year, they might have more time and resources. It definitely needs to be looked at, however.

In contrast, Senator Ruane this morning raised the need for a debate on the other aspect of the issues we have in our Garda and policing force. She is absolutely dead right to say that just because 99% of what the Garda does is to be applauded and supported, and gardaí are courageous in the aspects of the work they take on and are absolutely supported by us all, there are not bad apples in every single profession in every walk of life. I believe, therefore, she is right to ask for this debate. Again, I will try to arrange that in the autumn.

Senator Boylan spoke about Pride and the rise in LGBT legislation across Europe, which is something we should all be very mindful of and work towards unravelling. The European Union should be front and centre on this. Again, she raised the Women's Aid report, which is shocking. We spoke about that in this Chamber yesterday.

Senator Garvey spoke about people-centred towns and was a rock of sense this morning. If we are designing roads, we are not really designing them to be shared; we are designing them for cars, trucks and buses. Perhaps, therefore, we should take a different approach and look at things. One thing of which I am absolutely aware, both from personal experience and from my family, is the respect, or lack thereof, that we have for cyclists on our roads, particularly certain types of cyclists who go out on a Saturday or Sunday morning. We all need to remember that everybody is somebody's son, brother, mother, sister or friend. We all pay road tax because most people who are cyclists on the road have cars or access to public transport anyway. We need to be respectful of each other in a far more meaningful way.

Senator Wall spoke about and highlighted the much-supported, albeit by a smaller group than would support male sports, return to women's sports, particularly camogie and women's football. I will take this opportunity to acknowledge the equal funding to women and girls in GAA announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, only a couple of weeks ago, which will hopefully make a massive difference.

Senator Conway raised the extension of the hot meals programme for schools by the Minister for Social Protection yesterday. It is very welcome and will maintain some of those families over the summer period until they can come back to school. I would like to see the expansion of the hot meals programme not just to every DEIS school in the country; it has an equal impact on every child. If a child is given a hot school meal during the daytime, he or she will have a better educational experience. That is true of all children, no matter where they live. The Senator is correct when he says we need a strategy for long Covid, however. I will try to arrange that debate as soon as I can.

Senators Craughwell and Wall both raised the RACO report. We were due to have a debate on that issue.

We had to postpone it because of the Palestinian-Israeli torment that arose. I will try an arrange to have a debate as quickly as I can. The RACO report is very worrying and should leave a lot of people worried as to future of recruitment to our Defence Forces and what they are they going to do.

Senator O'Loughlin opened proceedings by talking about World Blood Donor Day. The inequitable treatment of people from the LGBTQ community in Ireland versus how they are treated a couple of miles up the road and in most other European countries not sustainable. I will write to the Minister for Health to ask him to review the guidelines and come back to us.

I welcome and give my full support to the call for the new national park that is being sought to be created in the Senator's lovely county of Kildare around the Bog of Allen. It would be wonderful to have a new national park located so close to Dublin city where people could go. That would be a wonderful attraction for the area.

Order of Business agreed to.