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Seanad Éireann debate -
Monday, 12 Jul 2021

Vol. 278 No. 1

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

An Cathaoirleach has a fine French accent.

On behalf of all Members, I would like to wish our colleague, Senator Bacik, enormous congratulations. We all know, from working alongside her in here, that she is one of the most authentic women and politicians in Irish life. We would like to send her a message of congratulations and sincerest warm wishes from all of us.

I would also like to congratulate our other colleagues in the House and, indeed, the candidates from all of our parties, who contested the election. Some might see defeat as being something that is hard to sit on one's shoulders, but if we do not encounter defeats, we do not know how to learn by them. If we do not learn, we do not grow. That is our wonderful democracy.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Technological Universities Act 2018 (Section 36) (Appointed Day) Order 2021, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding Regulation (EU) 2021/693 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 April 2021 establishing the justice programme and repealing Regulation (EU) No 1382/2013 - referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion regarding the orders of reference of the Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community: extension of reporting deadline, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, motion regarding the appointment of one new member to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate; No. 5, motion regarding the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Section 254 – Overground Telecommunication Cables) Regulations 2021 - referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, without debate; No. 6, Companies (Rescue Process for Small and Micro Companies) Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 5, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 105 minutes, with the opening contributions of the Minister not to exceed eight minutes, all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than seven minutes to reply to the debate; No. 7, Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 6, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 75 minutes, with the opening contributions of the Minister not to exceed eight minutes, all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than seven minutes to reply to the debate; No. 8, Workplace Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 7, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 105 minutes, with the opening contributions of the Minister not to exceed eight minutes, all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than seven minutes to reply to the debate; No. 9, Affordable Housing Bill 2021 - Report (amendments from Dáil Éireann) and Final Stages, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 8, whichever is the later, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 10, Land Development Agency Bill 2021 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 7.45 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 9, whichever is the later, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 135 minutes, by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government.

The leaving certificate for this year is now complete. Many of our young students and, indeed, their families and the colleges they hope to attend, will be hoping that the traditional third level college experience of so many students down through the years will return. Hopefully, our young leaving certificate students who wish to go to college this year will experience that.

With that in mind, I welcome the news that the Government is introducing a pilot rapid testing project across four colleges, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, University College Cork and NUI Galway.

The project is called UniCoV and it will conduct a large-scale analysis of testing technologies for use in surveillance of Covid-19 and prevention in higher educational settings. These will include rapid antigen testing, saliva-based polymerase chain reaction, PCR, testing and waste water surveillance. The findings from this will, hopefully, inform the authorities as how best to ensure that colleges remain open and what to do in the event of an outbreak. It is hoped that more than 8,000 students and indeed staff members will participate in this experiment and I encourage many staff and students to participate so that campus life remain open in a safe way. We all know that it is the best way to learn and it is better for the mental health of students that they are able to participate in on-campus learning as opposed to what they have been doing for the past year to 18 months.

Second, I join the Leader in congratulating our former colleague, Deputy Ivana Bacik on her great success in the Dublin Bay South by-election. It has been very hard-earned. Deputy Bacik has worked hard over the years and I understand that this is her fourth attempt to get elected to the Lower House. This shows that her hard work has eventually paid off and I am delighted for her. Apart from the fact that she is an astute and able politician, she is also quite simply a very decent human being. I, for one, am delighted for her and I join with the Leader also in congratulating all those who put their names forward. It is a very brave thing to do. The lack of electoral success is never a reflection on a person’s ability as an individual and that is an important point to make.

When talking about hard work and sticking to the pace for many years, I wish Councillor Ian McGarvey from Ramelton and in County Donegal a very happy birthday this week. He reaches the young age of 91 and continues to serve as an active member of Donegal County Council. He was first elected to the council at the age of 73 and became mayor and cathaoirleach of Donegal at the age of 82 and he has run in four general elections. I am delighted that he is going as hearty and strong as ever. I congratulate him for all his hard work and dedication to the good people of his electoral area of Letterkenny and Milford and I wish him and his good wife, Marjorie, continued good health. I would be grateful if the Leader, when writing a wee note to Deputy Bacik, might also write a note to Ian and his wife wishing them all continued good health and success.

I also congratulate our former colleague, Deputy Bacik. Persistence does, I hope, pay off and it is a message for all of us.

Today is 12 July and I wish the people on our island to have a happy and safe celebration of this day. It is an important day for the community. Last year celebrations were cancelled because the Covid-19 and this was respected and I hope that they proceed safely.

This weekend showed us that while progress is being made in some respects with a DUP city mayor attending our National Day of Commemoration, the First Minister and deputy First Minister attended a commemoration of the Battle of the Somme and many bonfires went off at the weekend without controversy, we still have a long way to go. We also saw the burning of Irish flags and other Irish or Catholic symbols and images of people who support the protocol over the weekend. That is not a celebration of culture. It is very disappointing for those people who respect different cultures. Many people on this island work hard to do that in an inclusive way and that behaviour should be condemned without any excuses.

The other issue I raise that relates to northerners is parity of vaccines. I am glad that fully vaccinated northerners may not be left in the cold when it comes to indoor dining. There is still confusion over the digital Covid-19 certificate. The North has its own vaccine passport and there is a question regarding how this will be aligned. From 19 July, Ireland will broadly align itself with the EU approach to non-essential travel into the EU from third countries and unless there is an emergency brake applied, no testing and quarantine will be necessary. However, there is still confusion for people, in particular, who live and work in the South and who got their vaccines in the North. They may have lived in the South for decades and they live cross-Border lives, as we want them to. Some are employed in this building. They may or may not carry Irish passports and that should not matter. They need clarity and reassurance at the moment and specific communications because they still want to see their loved ones and families in the EU. In many cases, their housemates, co-workers, the people they dine with, their travel buddies and even their families may have the digital Covid-19 certificate. It is good to see the recognition of vaccines for indoor dining but we should aim for parity of vaccines on our wee island. I thank the Cathaoirleach.

I thank the Senator. "Parity of vaccines" is certainly a new term on me. I also join the Senator in wishing those celebrating 12 July in Northern Ireland a very safe day and, hopefully, it will pass off peacefully. I also join with her on the issue of the bonfires. I have attended bonfires in Northern Ireland with members of the Ulster Unionist Party and I join with her and with members of the Ulster Unionist Party who pointed out that the burning flags and of election posters of candidates is not a part of their culture and of what they wish to celebrate or mark.

I call now on Senator Boyhan to speak.

I join my colleagues in congratulating Deputy Bacik. What a wonderful achievement for a wonderful person and politician. I said to her here last week, when she was sitting next to me and pushing her 12 or 13 amendments to the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill, most of which were not accepted by the Government, that this will no doubt be her last piece of important legislation in this House. Everyone wished her well and believed that this was her time and that she deserved to be recognised by the electorate. She achieved a resounding success and was the victor on the occasion of that by-election. I also join colleagues in congratulating all the other candidates to put themselves forward. I know some of them well and it takes courage to put one’s name on the ballot. It also takes courage to counteract scrutiny of a by-election. It is a very tough election for anyone who has ever stood in a by-election. Politicians had to put up with a lot of personal attacks and abuse in the campaign. It should be condemned and is unacceptable, but to be fair to the candidates, they handled it remarkably well. They will have another day and I have no doubt that we will see many of them in Leinster House in the future. That is the great thing about politics.

I also join in congratulating Independent Councillor Ian McGarvey a very happy 91st birthday. What a wonderful man. If we learn anything about politics, and we all talk about bringing new people into politics, but let us also help to support the retention of those already there. Ageism is well alive in politics. A teacher said to me the other day that she had just retired at 66 years of age and she is an active member of the INTO. She asked if I thought she had a place or role in local government. I said that of course she had. She has vast experience and I told her to put her name forward. We should always remember that older people also have a place in politics.

I wish to dwell on two issues and one is more power to local government. There is a particularly good article for those who may not have seen it in the Irish Independent by our Minister of State with responsibility for local government, Deputy Peter Burke. I recommend that all Members read it and they will see for themselves why I think it is so good. I thank and acknowledge the Government’s now final commitment that we are going to have an end to the strategic housing development policy, which did not work. Everybody said that it would not work. It was a disaster, however it was approached. The price is that the citizens had to pay and to go to the courts to vindicate their rights of engagement and, in most cases, they were successful. That was the wake-up call for the Government but I want to acknowledge that it happened.

Finally, we will take the Land Development Agency Bill later. I acknowledge the difficulties that the Leader has with her agenda but 135 minutes is tight for this important legislation. I accept and acknowledge that she has a tight schedule between now and the end of this week, which I will go along with. I ask Members who have city and county councillors in their parties to please support and in some way contribute to the debate on section 183 disposals. It is of great significance for their members and for everyone else in this House as to their political affiliations. I hope that we can stand in solidarity with one another today and send a clear message that we are not going to take the power of section 183 disposals in respect of land for the Land Development Agency away from our city and county councillors.

We have the power. Let us exercise it.

I also extend my warmest congratulations to Deputy Bacik on her election. What a wonderful addition to the Dáil she will be.

Irish agriculture must change. The change required to put it on course is transformational and the 2020s must be the decade that starts that substantial directional change. The last major food systems shift was in the post-war decades. The misnamed green revolution, fuelled by fossil fuels, led us along the path of abundance and growth, but at an enormous cost to our environment. The next major food systems shift is now and it must be one during which the environment stops paying a heavy price.

Agricultural policy, like food production, must be rooted in the soil. I have visited many farmers over the course of the past year or so. Some see the value in the soil and farm it to protect its biology and function. Others see it merely as a medium to feed in order to grow a crop. Soil is more than just a growing medium. It is something living and breathing. It can store carbon and it hosts a quarter of our biodiversity, or it should do if it is treated right. We have, sadly, become addicted to feeding our soil with artificial fertilisers. Those fertilisers are finite if they are mined or produced with fossil fuels. If we are to fix things, we must do more than just cut back. We must wean ourselves off these synthetic inputs and embrace the new agricultural revolution that is now upon us. We in Ireland have a choice. We can either lead and capitalise economically and environmentally on that leadership or we can sit and wait, pay huge fines and spend the next decade catching up, licking our wounds and regretting that we did not act sooner because that is what will happen.

Our farming system is hooked on synthetic nitrogen and it is time we started the detox. This will open the door to a whole new world of sustainable farming practices which we, as policymakers, must nurture and support, and legislate for if needs be. I am not talking about everyone going organic. While I believe organic farming is a vital component in our fight against climate change and for biodiversity, that is not what I am talking about now. I am talking about the mainstream, the farmers our citizens will almost wholly rely on to meet our climate and biodiversity targets. Luckily for us, the vast majority of those farmers are already extensive. They do not place an undue burden on their lands or on our shared environment. However, those who do that will have to change and play a significant role in shaping our future.

We are all in this together and no one is entitled to a free pass. It is time to design and deliver for a future that in which our land is released from the tyrannic grip of fossil fuels and finite minerals, where our food systems truly work in harmony with nature and we mimic ecology in everything we do. The time has come for us to build a truly sustainable food system, one which is diverse and has plants and animals working together to sustain life. Irish agriculture needs systemic change to set it on a secure path to resilience and as we seek to get farming back working with nature, we all need to remember that ecology does not do fossil fuels.

It was a wonderful weekend. Let me join with others in congratulating our now former colleague, Deputy Ivana Bacik, on a tremendous result in the election on Friday. As others have said, she has been a wonderful colleague over the years. All of us wish her well and know that she will do well in the Lower House. I wish her well.

Congratulations to Italy on a wonderful climax to the football tournament yesterday. Commiserations to our neighbours in England and solidarity to those poor players who have suffered racist abuse as a result of their penalty misses. It is appalling.

I offer solidarity to those players. It was a wonderful tournament and we all wish everyone well at the end of it.

I will raise an issue that I bring up from time to time, a matter on which I always ask for a debate but that has not happened yet. That matter is the continuing use by US troops of Shannon Airport. I was at a well-attended protest yesterday. We need to reflect on where we are in terms of Shannon Airport and its use by the US military. Since the attacks of 11 September 2001, it is estimated that 5 million deaths have occurred, including the death of 1 million children. We are, unfortunately, culpable because we continue to facilitate the movement of US military through Shannon. Some 17,000 troops have already moved through Shannon this year. We continue to allow planes sending troops to war zones to land. Mid-air refuelling aircraft help the planes that are bombing to refuel so that they can continue to bomb, as they did last month in Syria and Iraq.

I would like a debate on the issue and again ask the Leader to organise one. It is frustrating to hear people rightly speaking about human rights but determined to ignore what has been happening in Shannon for far too long. I am proud to believe we should be a neutral country but we are not neutral in practice.

In a similar vein, I again bring up the issue of the TRIPS waiver because for the life of me I cannot understand the Government's stance on this issue. People are dying. As I said last week, and as emerged at the recent G7 conference, the people in Cornwall who are vaccinated outnumber the people vaccinated in the 24 poorest countries in Africa. For reasons I do not understand, our Government is refusing to support the call for a TRIPS waiver. There will be a crucial meeting of the World Trade Organization on 27 July. It is crucial that Ireland stands up for the people of the world. It is, frankly, immoral and indefensible to continue to hide behind big pharma and not be strong on this issue. I call on the Leader not on a party political basis but on the basis of what we should all be able to agree on in this Chamber. I call on the Government to stand firm with the people of the world by calling for the waiver of intellectual property rights because as all of us will agree, no one is safe until everyone is safe.

On behalf of the Labour Party group, I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leader and everybody else for their congratulatory words to Deputy Bacik. I know she would be very touched by all the kind words and messages from Senators from across the Chamber on Friday, over the weekend and today. It is, of course, an enormous privilege for her to have been elected as a Deputy for Dublin Bay South. It is also a privilege for the Labour Party.

Deputy Bacik leaves behind the Seanad which she dearly loved and of which she was extremely proud to be a Member for 14 years as a representative of the Trinity constituency. There are a number of other examples, but Deputy Bacik is a fantastic example of what is possible in the Seanad in terms of the legislation she has brought forward over the years. There is a degree of sadness on her part that she is leaving the Seanad behind. The four Labour Party Senators remaining are a little sad that we are losing her because she was a fantastic leader for us. She has also been an inspiration for us in the Labour Party over many years. As my colleague, Senator Moynihan, said, Deputy Bacik represents the best of us. The best is yet to come.

I wish to raise the issue of the 24 drugs and alcohol task forces in the country. The heart of their work is about bringing together statutory agencies, local drugs projects and community representatives. We know that if we are to tackle drugs, it must not be treated only as a medical or health issue. It also touches on housing, economics, mental health and communities. It alarms me that the Department of Health, on 24 June, took the unprecedented step of suspending the north inner city drugs and alcohol task force. There are serious questions about that move. It is unprecedented in the 25 years of task forces. We are not clear as to the legal basis of the Department's move to suspend the task force. We do not know why the Department did it. If it was so concerned about governance issues, as the Department set out in its letter of 24 July to members of the task force, why did it and the HSE sign off on a service level agreement in the spring of this year knowing what they knew about the process of appointing a chair of the task force?

Many people might say there is no smoke without fire. At the heart of this issue is the independence of the chair, which is not about whether a person is a member of an organisation or is funded by the task force or will be impartial in the role. It is about how active they will be and what kind of advocacy they will bring about in that role. That is at the heart of this matter. I know I am out of time but I am going to write to the Minister about this. This is not just about the north inner city task force. This is about all the drugs task forces across the country. for which there are implications.

I join with the Cathaoirleach in wishing all French citizens in Ireland, and indeed, the ambassador and staff at the Embassy, a happy Bastille Day. Of course, French was the second language used in the First Dáil after Irish when the Declaration of Independence was read out in French by George Gavan Duffy. Bonne fête nationale ce mercredi à tous.

I also echo colleagues in their congratulations to Deputy Bacik, who is a committed parliamentarian and legislator. Everyone was very happy to see her election and wish her well. I have known her for a long time as somebody who is passionate about education and access. She is also somebody who will respect a person's point of view even if she disagrees with him or her. She always deals with the issue. She will be a loss to this House but a gain to the other House. I wish all the candidates the best. It takes courage to stand in a by-election. I have a little bit of knowledge of that. Well done to anyone who puts his or her name on a ballot paper.

I also commend the Garda and request that a letter of thanks goes to Sergeant Hugh Shovlin and his colleagues at Donnybrook Garda station for the abuse they had to suffer at the count. Unfortunately, we have seen members of the Garda subjected to all sorts of abuse simply for trying to protect our democracy. The gardaí behaved appropriately on Friday but we should acknowledge the role they had.

I wish to refer, though, to the next upcoming election, which is the question of the directly elected mayor for Limerick city. I have long taken the view that the Custom House in Ireland is the greatest barrier to local government and real local governance in this country. On the basis of the recommendations we are seeing appear with regard to the powers that are going to the directly elected mayor, I am really disappointed. I believe we will continue to see local administration. I favour directly elected mayors. We need to be ambitious. I would like to see it expanded around the country but the legislation that appears to be coming forward is extremely disappointing. It will not give real powers to the directly elected mayor. I would appreciate it were the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to assure us this will not be the case.

Like everybody in the House, I, too, wish to pass on my sincere congratulations to our former colleague, Deputy Bacik, with whom I have worked for more than ten years as a Member of this House, a member of the justice committee and as spokesperson on justice up until last year. She will be a huge asset to the Lower House but absolutely will be a loss to this House. Her contribution to politics will continue, however.

This is the final Order of Business on which we will speak before the summer recess. I will take this opportunity to thank the staff of the House, Mr. Martin Groves, Ms Bridget Doody and all the team for their courtesy. I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Leader and wish them a very enjoyable summer. It is a well-earned break. As a result of Covid-19, we have obviously been working unusual patterns, to say the least.

Speaking of the summer, one issue I raised previously in this House and wish to raise again is that of water safety at secondary level. We have seen an increased numbers of people swimming in the sea. As we all know, swimming in the sea is completely different to swimming in a pool because of the cold temperatures, different wave currents and challenges the sea brings. Water safety training should be compulsory at secondary level. A verifiable water safety module is needed in which every young person should engage and get a certificate and acknowledgement. Sea currents and the dangers of swimming in the sea are very much apparent and well-documented. I offer my sympathies to the young man in County Clare who lost his life last week. He was a qualified lifeguard, which just shows us the challenges the sea presents. I, therefore, ask for a debate in the autumn on water safety at secondary level and built into that needs to be a respect for lifeguards and the instructions they dispatch. Too often, we see those instructions are ignored. It is, therefore, something we can and should work on. I look forward to that debate in the autumn.

I also wish to be associated with the congratulations to Deputy Bacik. I had marked her to be the winner from very early on. It was definitely a woman's seat to win this time around.

This will be a standout week in national politics and we in this House have a very important role. Last night, I received an email from independent Councillor Gillian Toole in Ratoath, who also a pharmacist. Permit me to read from that email:

I find today [to be a] a bittersweet day - the Centenary of the signing of the Truce which ended the War of Independence - and the eve of the day on which you will vote upon emergency legislation, to facilitate the introduction of Vaccine-testing Passports for non-essential services such as indoor dining & attending public houses and thereafter music, arts & entertainment.

You CANNOT create a two-tier society based on a person's private medical information.

I am extremely concerned at the lack of consideration by the Government of several issues including the scientific case ... ethical & discrimination issues, data privacy & security.

The introduction of such a system conflicts with several key fundamental rights enshrined in Bunreacht na hÉireann ...

The introduction of a vaccine-testing status certification will not serve any of our Citizens well. Based on my personal experience as a Community Pharmacist, I have urged you to ensure that front-line Health Services were improved & ICU bed numbers increased on a permanent basis, coupled with certified Antigen testing.

None of this is happening - WHY?

What have you DONE to request this action, much of which is the foundation of the Sláintecare model of Irish healthcare?

It is too easy to proceed with the divisive action planned for this coming week when you could & should "build back a better" health service.

Suffice to say, given the incessant focus on vaccination & disregard for Antigen-testing & the General Register Office 5 year death-rate figures ... one would think that the share price of vaccine-manufacturers is the only goal!

We have to live with this virus & any others on the horizon; we have to provide a health service for ALL our citizens ... & we must do this in an INCLUSIVE environment, not a discriminatory one.

I trust you to make the right & truthful choice in the coming days.

I thank Councillor Toole for that contribution this morning. We really have important choices to make in the interest of all our citizens.

I want to pick up on this issue of the online racial abuse suffered by English football players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka because they missed penalties and which is being targeted at them because of the colour of their skin. This is an issue and a problem for society. There are no borders when it comes to social media, and in particular platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as we saw in February of this year when a teenager in County Kerry racially abused former England star Ian Wright. He was very lucky to escape conviction on that occasion. That was followed by a great tournament, which was sullied last night by that incident with the English players, the storming of Wembley Stadium by ticketless fans, the trashing of the area outside, the booing of the Italian national anthem and a worrying undercurrent. Some expressed wonder that it was great to have fans back in the stadium. Perhaps it was not.

That issue of the racial abuse of sports players also happens in this country, however. We have seen instances where young black men playing GAA and soccer have also been the subject of online abuse, and indeed, abuse in the stands. The point is that in the context of the online safety and media regulation Bill, which is currently at pre-legislative scrutiny stage at committee in these Houses, it is essential that we tackle it.

When the representatives from Twitter and Facebook were before the committee, they gave plaudits to us and used fanciful language, but tackling this issue must be done and it must be done collaboratively across many governments. It will not just happen through our own, but we can take a very powerful step in the autumn in these Houses by sending out a statement that it is not acceptable in Ireland and that we will deal with it through the online media Bill and stop the hate that happens to so many of our sporting stars. We stand in solidarity with those three young Englishmen today, because it affects all our sports stars.

With regard to references to criminal convictions, I ask Members to be mindful of the separation between ourselves and the Judiciary and of individuals' rights to their good name.

I wish to be associated with the congratulations to Senator Bacik. She will be an asset to Dáil Éireann and a loss to the Seanad. I also wish to compliment our candidate, Councillor James Geoghegan, a fantastic candidate who ran a great campaign. To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger, he will be back.

I would like to get an update on the provision of a new school for Meán Scoil Mhuire in Longford. It has been an ongoing issue for a substantial length of time. The school has 600 pupils, an ageing building and no play area for the students.

I disagree with Senator Keogan. I firmly believe we must get our hospitality industry fully reopened. I support the proposals that will be brought to the House. We have to get our hospitality, restaurants and pubs open. They have been closed for too long so I will fully support anything that can help that.

Drivers licences is another issue that has been pertinent over the last 12 months. There are three separate companies dealing with driver licences - the driver test, the theory test and applications for renewal of licences. It is turning into a mess, to be honest, for many young people. It has to be examined. When the tender was issued for the driver licence applications centres, it was sent out in such a way that even the local post office could not apply for it. We set up 60 new offices, many of them located in the upstairs or corners of buildings that are inaccessible to elderly people. I ask that this be looked at again.

Finally, I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your courtesy over the last 12 months. I also thank Mr. Martin Groves, Ms Bridget Doody and the staff of the Seanad. It is truly an honour to be here and it is made much easier by the way the Seanad has been run by you and them. I also thank the Leader for her work over the last 12 months.

I congratulate our former colleague, Senator, now Deputy, Ivana Bacik. I got to know her in 2016 when I became a Member of this House and she has been a pleasure to work with. She is always very kind to new Members and is a terrific role model for women of all parties and none who wish to enter politics, so I wish to put my congratulations on the record.

Today, I will raise the issue of cancer care. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has impacted severely on cancer diagnosis and treatment, with many people getting delayed diagnosis of new and returning cancers due to delayed or cancelled scans during the pandemic. It is absolutely horrendous for the patients and their families when this happens. We know that cancer care has been one of the major casualties of the pandemic. There was a massive diversion of resources from cancer care and other healthcare to Covid-19. This was the right thing to do and thanks to the stellar work of many medical professionals a massive number of lives were saved, although many lives have been lost.

I wish to raise two issues confronting people, and their families, who are facing cancer treatments. The first is inpatient charges. People are charged €80 per hospital visit for chemotherapy and the like. This is capped at ten visits, so the maximum somebody will pay is €800 per year. However, €800 per year for somebody who may not be working or who has no massive means is a huge financial burden. It is quite shocking. The inpatient cost must be capped. It affects not just people going in for cancer treatment but also people getting any treatment in hospital. Nobody would deny reaching out to cancer patients and, perhaps, reviewing the payment they have to make.

The second issue is the hospital car parking charges. I know the Government is looking at capping them and giving some concessions in public hospitals for people with cancer, but this should be considered immediately and introduced as soon as possible. Perhaps the Leader will raise that issue.

I congratulate Deputy Bacik.

I wish to raise awareness of homeowners who are awaiting the outcome of the working group to assist some 90,000 apartment owners who are living in Celtic tiger legacy apartments with substandard fire safety provisions. In some instances, there are no fire retardant measures at all. I am in constant contact with homeowners who have been obliged to pay exorbitant fees to rectify the substandard fire safety provisions in their complexes and who are also paying mortgages for homes they believed to be safe. A defects working group was established under the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, but for some weeks now there have been rising tensions between departmental officials and the members of the working group regarding setting the terms of reference. I have listened to parents talk about their fears at night when they are putting their children to bed. They are afraid about whether they will get out if there is a fire and whether they are safe.

Homeowners are completely innocent in this situation. I believe there has been almost criminal behaviour on the part of builders who have knowingly cut corners. There also was a failure in enforcement of building regulations and standards. The Minister must intervene with the working group to ensure that the terms of reference that are established address the needs of homeowners. The redress must have a retrospective element. If one is a professional landlord, one can write off the cost of remediation against tax, whereas homeowners who are paying mortgages are unable to do that. We have to address that in this year's budget. We also must create a register of builders who have allowed this situation to occur and block them from bidding and tendering for work in the State, paid for the State, until such time as they have addressed the outstanding defects. They cannot walk away and pretend they have clean hands. So far, nobody has died, but it will be too late after a fire and deaths occur to address this situation. We need action on it now.

Obviously, I wish my great colleague and friend, Deputy Bacik, the very best. She has been an enormous inspiration to me and throughout the student movement. It is wonderful to have had somebody with such tenacity and commitment in this House and now to see her represent us in the Dáil.

I wish to discuss the fact that July is Disability Pride Month. The month originated in the USA and has spread globally. The annual event seeks to shine a light on physical, learning and hidden disabilities and mental health conditions. It is used to talk about disability as an identity, a community and a culture, and a positive pride for disabled people. It is a reminder that there is no single way for being disabled to look. There are many ways that disabled people live, whether it is physical, mental or intellectual disability. Disability is a diverse identity that intersects with race, sexuality, gender, sex, religion and much more. The month is important for many reasons. We can all agree that our world is not designed and built for disabled people. We do not have universal design embedded into our structures. We do not have universally designed learning and mainstreaming in our further and higher education system. Considering that 15% of the worldwide population is disabled, it is astonishing that there is still such an egregious divide in our society. For example, in DART stations disabled people have to ask permission to use the lifts. Disabled people have to book accessible buses or ramps up to 48 hours before travelling. There are disabled people who are not legally allowed to make their own decisions, and there are disabled people who are locked out of education in Ireland due to either physical constraints or an affordability issue such as putting their social welfare supports at risk. We should be angry at how disabled people are treated under our watch.

I ask all Members of the House to engage with the spirit of Disability Pride Month. As legislators, we must challenge systemic ableism and the discrimination disabled people face. We can do this by ensuring we have laws and policies that tackle systemic ableism, but we also have to do it ourselves in our own lives with closed captioning, alt tech and subtitling. I remind Members that disabled people are not a problem to be overcome.

The problem is the system and oppression that we, as legislators, stand over and which we have to correct. I wish a happy Disability Pride Month to the activists and disabled people who are holding the fire to our feet and challenging us and the systems we currently stand over.

I thank the Senator for raising the important issue of Disability Pride Month.

I pay tribute to Deputy Bacik. There has been a fantastic show of solidarity in this House in paying tribute to such a wonderful colleague. I was lucky to have served with Deputy Bacik here since 2016. As Senator Ardagh said, Deputy Bacik was a role model for me prior to entering politics. She bravely stood up for women when it was not popular and suffered electoral defeat after electoral defeat but was true to herself and her core belief system. That paid dividends in the end. I could not be happier for my Labour colleagues across the House and for the Deputy. These days have to be savoured because they are a long time coming. I was lucky to work with her on the cross-party group and in the justice role I served in prior to this term.

I also pay tribute to Senator Boylan, who also contested this election, and to all who put their names forward, including Councillor Deirdre Conroy for the Fianna Fáil Party. To put your name forward is always a brave thing to do and to do it in a by-election is extra brave so I commend them. There was always going to be only one winner of the by-election but democracy dictates we have several people contesting it. They have all played an active role in the democratic process and are to be commended.

One of the most striking things about this by-election was the number of women contesting it. I was around the constituency for the past month and to see so many female faces looking out from posters was inspirational to me and, I am sure, to all the young women and girls in the constituency and beyond who saw it. Hopefully, it will encourage more women and young girls to start thinking about a career in politics. From whatever background and whatever your political persuasion, there is a place for you and your voice.

We will have the by-election to fill the place on the Trinity College Dublin panel shortly. I encourage women to start thinking about putting their names forward and I appeal to the Trinity electors to vote for women and give us another woman in this House. We do not want to be down numbers. The Dáil is gaining a female; we do not want to lose one. Vote for women. We need more women.

I join all my colleagues in congratulating Deputy Bacik. I was lucky to be here with her last week for the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill. She participated in that and had done so much to get it over the line. It was fitting that her last contribution was during that debate. I am sad not to see her here today but we will see her in the corridors soon and she will be in this Chamber before too long. I too pay tribute to everyone who put their names forward. A by-election is first past the post and it is difficult for people to put themselves forward but if you do not put yourself forward for the first time, there will never be a second. Deputy Bacik shows that continuing to put yourself forward pays off in the end.

Today, an event from two years ago came up on my Facebook feed. It was an event on zero waste where people came in to us and helped support each other in finding other uses and a practical way of contributing to a circular economy. One thing that has gone under the radar a little is that last weekend the single-use plastics directive was signed into law here. The regulations were signed by the Minister at the weekend. People may not that realise 70% of plastic waste in the marine environment comes from ten products. Most of those are now banned in Ireland, which is momentous for our ocean life and goes to show the importance of being part of the European Union and engaging in that debate.

Bonne fête nationale à La France. Il y a un bon relation entre nos pays que ne peut que sais après le Brexit alors que La France deviant notre plus proche voison de l’Union Européenne.

Well done, Senator.

After a wonderful weekend of sport, I want to look ahead and think of Friday week, when the Olympic Games begin. We have an incredible Team Ireland going to Tokyo to wear our green and represent this island proudly and well. I hope the Leader and the Cathaoirleach will write a letter to Team Ireland to wish them the best of luck from us in this House. Representing one's country at any level, especially in the Olympic Games, is an incredible honour. My interest is in athletics and we have a strong athletics team. I pay tribute to every person who has given blood, sweat and tears to get on to the Irish Olympic team. I look forward to cheering them on and seeing them do the work and compete to the best of their ability.

As a member of the decade of centenaries, I was proud yesterday to be part of an event at Castlerea. It was the unveiling of the Proclamation stone and was a wonderful outdoor event at the courthouse in Castlerea. I spoke to the fact that yesterday was 100 years since we signed a truce to end the War of Independence and Ireland started to forge its own path. It was a special occasion and involved everybody and everything. There was a vintage care rally with cars from that period, including Kitty Kiernan's car. She was Michael Collins's partner. Ford Model Ts and other 1920s cars were there and it brought one back in time. The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, presided at the event and had a tour around Roscommon in some of those vintage vehicles.

Given the day that is in it, I am thinking of the businesses that have invested in outdoors dining. I acknowledge the many businesses that have made a huge outlay and investment. There are funds there to support them through Fáilte Ireland and that is open until September. It is important that we support as much as we can shopping local in our towns and villages. Recently, won an award for being one of the most innovative groups. They opened a platform and over 50 businesses in Ballinasloe signed up for the online platform during lockdown. Businesses are slowly opening up properly but I encourage people to support shopping local.

I welcome what Senator McGreehan said on the Olympic Games and I congratulate two women from Roscommon, Aoife O'Rourke and Richael Timothy, who are going forward for the Olympics and Paralympics. I wish them the best. There are flags flying all around Roscommon and Galway for them.

Félicititions pour la fête nationale. C’est super d’entendre un peu de Français dans le Seanad.

For our lovely Italians, it was a wonderful celebration yesterday. I am sure they are celebrating a lot.

I join my colleague, Senator Gallagher, and those who wished a happy birthday to Councillor Ian McGarvey as our oldest public representative in Ireland at 91 years of age. He has been married to Marjorie for 67 years. She has been a stalwart of his election campaigns. When someone gets elected at 73, it puts it in perspective for us who would be thinking we should be retiring at 73. When someone becomes chair of the council at 82, they are putting in a long haul. I wish him a happy birthday as probably the oldest representative at local level since the foundation of the State. He is still hale and hearty and doing all the work. He will, no doubt, be at meetings all day today.

I was looking at the Cathaoirleach with disbelief. It is incredible to think Councillor McGarvey has had such a successful career in what we would consider the autumn of his life. He is obviously still raring to go and I will send a letter to him on all our behalf today wishing him a happy birthday and continued success.

Senator Dolan talked about the hospitality industry. Senator Keogan raised some of the concerns that have been shared with her. The difficulty is that nobody would willingly try to do something that would discriminate against some of the people who are not yet vaccinated but in the absence of any other choices, I am not sure what else we can do other than keep the entire hospitality and tourism sector closed, which is not palatable to any of us. While people will find bits of the legislation that will be published this afternoon difficult, and I am sure we will all express our concerns about it, I have not heard any other suggestions from any party or Independents about what we would do differently other than just open everything up and have a free-for-all. That is not something that society is ready for and it would not be wise. I am mindful that I have not seen the legislation yet. A large element of the legislation will refer to the future use of antigen testing in Ireland. Senator Gallagher opened the Order of Business by talking about the pilot project that has successfully been under way for a number of weeks in our university sector. Some 8,000 staff and students have undergone multiple tests weekly. The outcome of that will be available to us soon. Some of us have been talking about it for months. I am sick listening to myself talking about antigen testing. It will be more widely used in society as we move into the phase of living with Covid as opposed to trying to deal with some of the horrendous issues that we have been dealing with in the past year. I thank Senator Dolan for raising the matter.

Senator McGreehan has asked me to write a letter to Team Ireland, which I will. We have been spoiled for choice with sports in the past couple of weeks, between tennis, Formula 1, the Tour de France and the football. It is good to have something to look forward to. I will do that soon on behalf of all of us.

Senator O'Reilly talked about the single-use plastics ban, which probably has gone unnoticed in the past week. We were all busy doing other stuff. It is welcome and will certainly have an impact on our lives.

Senator Clifford-Lee, along with all our other colleagues, commended Deputy Ivana Bacik on her superb win at the weekend. The fact that we need more women is as obvious as the nose on all of our faces. It is something that we all have to be part of.

Senator Hoey talked about Disability Pride Month. It is unfortunate that we have to have special days and events to talk about the impact of the decisions that we make on people with disabilities but it is welcome that we will shine a light on it this July. I concur with the Senator and ask everybody else to do the same. We can talk about the difficulties that people face and the invisible challenges that they have every day. It is important to keep it on the agenda.

Senator Seery Kearney talked about the terms of reference with regard to the fire safety standard and defects group that has been working on in recent months. I read with interest this morning that we are at an impasse because the obvious solution for the people on the working group is for the State to provide a fund to make sure that we can compensate those homeowners who, as the Senator rightly says, through no fault of their own find themselves in terrifying situations. This is not the first time and it will not be the last. The State needs to be the first port of call for fixing the issue but those people who were responsible for building defective homes that did not meet the standards and regulations that existed at the time need to be made culpable. While they may have closed their companies so that they cannot be pursued financially, it needs to be ensured that they never build anything else in this country or any other European country again.

I look forward to the resolution. I acknowledge that the State is unfortunately the last port of call in these cases. These houses need to be fixed and that is the end of it.

Senator Ardagh talked about cancer care. I was mindful, when Paul Reid was doing an interview on Saturday, that we need to get our hospitals back to a scenario where they are dealing with the normal health challenges that people have. That is why we can never have a lockdown again. It is empowering to hear that he is of that mindset. He talked about the further, wider use of antigen testing in our screening process in future.

Senator Carrigy talked about hospitality and the serious issue of the 18-month backlog with regard to driver's licences. The Minister said that he has taken on 40 new driving instructors but an 18-month waiting list is unacceptable. We will have to think outside the box and come up with something different.

Senator Cassells talked about the online safety and media regulation Bill and the three young men who are only at the start of their professional career and are already legends for what they have done not just on the pitch but, more significantly for most of them, off the pitch. I thought it was abhorrent for a Conservative MP to state in her WhatsApp group with other Conservative MPs that maybe one of them would be more mindful if he spent more time concentrating on football than on feeding hungry children. My retort to her is that maybe if she was doing her job, he would not have to spend so much time feeding the hungry children of England. It is despicable. Bravo, Rashford. What he has done in the past year will leave a legacy for generations to come. A goal that he missed last night will be forgotten in a couple of weeks because I am sure that he will go on to have a successful football career, as will the other two young men. The online safety and media regulation Bill is something that we need to grab by the scruff of its neck to make sure that our media companies take responsibility.

This is not to make this about me but I reported a gentleman who called me the C-word, the c-u-n-t word on Saturday, just for pig iron because it happens quite often. If I was to do it all the time, I would be blue in the face. I got a lovely response back from Twitter that he has not broken any of its rules. If he has not broken the rules, then the rules need to be changed. It is not acceptable that we have such a level of discourse on what we now all take for granted as a daily part of Irish and international life. We need to take the online safety and media regulation Bill, grab it by the scruff of the neck, and make sure that these people are culpable. Society is changing. We sometimes make excuses for the kind of behaviour that happens on social media and state that it is not the kind of behaviour that happens in real life. These are real people, not pretend people. I know there are accounts with numbers in the names and such but they are still people. It is not acceptable and we have to take responsibility for making these changes and to make them quickly.

Senator Conway asked for a debate on water safety. I will try to do it as soon as we come back in September. The suggestion that he made that we should have it as part of a curriculum in second level schools is one that we should champion.

Senator Malcolm Byrne talked about protecting democracy. I have not seen what he has seen with regard to the powers for our directly elected mayor in Limerick, which will be the first, but I would be concerned if what he suggests will happen is true. I will talk to the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and come back to the Senator.

Senator Marie Sherlock talked about the drug and alcohol task forces and the independence of the chair. If she sends the letter, I would be happy to support her. The point of having these is to represent the challenges faced in communities. They are not to be talking shops that are to be managed and controlled by vested interests that want an outcome. They have to have at their heart the people living with these challenges to know what kind of a society they live in and life they have. I would be happy to do anything that I can to help the Senator. She can let me know.

Senator Paul Gavan asked for a debate on US troops using Shannon Airport again. In case he thinks I do not ask, I ask for them and I facilitate any debates that I can. The ones that do not make the cut are not necessarily down to me but I will certainly make that request again.

The Senator also raised the TRIPS waiver. I do not understand the logic behind it other than that we seem to be protecting the profits of big pharmaceutical companies. There was a report from the World Health Organization on Saturday that only 25% of the world's population is vaccinated. Here we are thinking that we are deadly in Ireland, with nearly 70% of people having had their first dose and 50% having had their second dose. If the whole world is not vaccinated, then we will be in a repeating cycle. It does not make sense to me. I do not know how I can help the Senator other than to try to have a debate on that when we come back in September, which I can try to organise.

Senator Boyhan talked about the Land Development Agency. He is right. He has been saying for months that there have been significant challenges and that all of the legal challenges that people have taken have ultimately been successful, which tells us that there is something wrong with the process. We look forward to the new solutions from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Senator Higgins talked about wishing people well on 12 July, which of course we all do. It is a celebration for that community and the people who live on that part of our island. I do not understand people burning flags to assert their own culture and causing offence to people of a different culture who live on the same island. Having a shared island means that we should have respect for each other, even if we do not necessarily agree. I concur with everything the Senator said.

Senator Gallagher started the day talking about UniCoV. We all look forward to the results of that pilot because it will be instrumental in helping Professor Mary Horgan, who was recently appointed to the new antigen task force, to ensure that we all live more safely by using all the screening tools that are available to us as part of social life.

Order of Business agreed to.