The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the report of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action under Seanad Standing Order 116 on legislative proposals of the EU Fit for 55 package - COM (2021) 551, 554, 555, 557, 558 and 568, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, the Child and Family Agency (Amendment) Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 6 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 2a on the Supplementary Order Paper, motion regarding the report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken at 6.15 p.m., without debate; No. 3, statements on Belarus, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2a and to conclude after 90 minutes, if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the Minister's opening speech not to exceed ten minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, the Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 8 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the later, and to adjourn at 9 p.m. if not previously concluded.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I compliment the Cathaoirleach on his pink tie. Many of us are wearing pink today because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is important that we commemorate those who sadly died with cancer, celebrate with those who survived and thrived, support those undergoing treatment and, most important, encourage women and men to get checked, including through BreastCheck when they are called for it, and to look after themselves.
No matter where we were at the weekend, our minds were consumed with thoughts of two fine women, namely, Sarah Everard and Nadine Lott, their beautiful smiles and the grief and horror they went through in their last few hours of life. Of course, we were also mindful of the grief and sorrow of their families and throughout their communities. These were two women living in different communities in different countries who died in similar circumstances, one at the hands of a stranger who should have been a pillar of the community and protected and supported her, and one at the hands of a former boyfriend. Such crimes horrify and shock us all. We have to do what we can to empower women to be able to walk safely through the streets and to look for help when they need it. It is important to acknowledge the really good organisations such as Women's Aid, Rape Crisis Network Ireland and Safe Ireland and ensure that every county has a refuge such as Teach Tearmainn in County Kildare, which does such wonderful work. We also need to send a strong message to men that they should call out other men if they see certain tendencies within them. We need to do more to ensure that men do not carry out these acts of violence.
I wish to add my voice to the call for St. Brigid's Day to be a new national bank holiday. St. Brigid's Day falls on 1 February, which is also the day on which the pagan festival of Imbolc is celebrated. A conversation I had last night caused me to reflect that it should be referred to as Brigid's Day, rather than St. Brigid's Day, because the name Brigid is also associated with paganism. St. Brigid was the Greta Thunberg for our generation. She was a keen environmentalist who nurtured the land and physicians. She was an incredible role model. She was really the first feminist we had. The messages of peace and justice that she brought forward 1,500 years ago are every bit as relevant today. As a proud Lilywhite, I know that Kildare people will join me in making that rallying cry for 1 February to be the new bank holiday.
I thank the Senator for her suggestion. Leading off for the Fine Gael grouping is Senator Ahearn.
I welcome the announcement this morning by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, that the community employment scheme and Tús participants who were due to leave their schemes in November will now have their contracts funded until 4 February 2022. There are approximately 13,500 people working on those schemes across the country, including many good people working in Tipperary who support Tidy Towns groups and day care centres. I know that the Leader played a significant role in increasing the number of people who could go through that scheme while she was Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It is very welcome and there are many people who use it and it is vital for those communities, so I welcome the announcement.
There is a serious issue relating to work permits for many sectors that need them. The application process has changed in recent years and become more difficult. It has been quite successful, with approximately 14,000 of 17,000 applicants this year being successful and there has been an increase of approximately 41,000. However, some sectors, particularly hospitality and agriculture, are just not getting workers as quickly as needed. Some of the reasons for refusal are very frustrating. A constituent of mine applied for a work permit for an employee. He ran an advertisement for 28 days but when he submitted it he had to amend it slightly as there was a misspelling of the person's name. He edited it and showed proof that he had done so but his application was refused because the name was misspelled at the start. If there is an error in an application, there should be a process for informing the person of that error before a decision is made. These people are waiting three, four or possibly six months but the application is then refused and they have to start the process all over again. The most frustrating thing for these businesses is that the cost of applying for a work permit is on them.
That is a cost of approximately €1,000 on the business, and four or five months later it could find the application has been refused and the process must be started again. There is also the question of the individual who expects to come to Ireland to work and create a life over here. The hospitality, agriculture and transport sectors have faced real challenges over the years, and if we could speed up that process as much as possible, it would be very much welcomed.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and everybody else when I see the number of people wearing pink both inside this Chamber and outside, where staff are also wearing pink. A picture was taken outside on the plinth earlier and it is really welcome to see people of all parties supporting breast cancer awareness month. I have some understanding of the devastation of losing a mother at a very young age. Senator McGreehan has spoken about encouraging a change so women of a younger age or who are healthy get checked. My mother died at 49, which is very young, and we would not wish that on anyone. It is very important we as a group highlight this effort. It is very welcome to see so many people wearing the colour pink. If we can do anything to promote it and encourage people to get checked, especially when healthy, it would be very much appreciated. I thank the Cathaoirleach for facilitating this.
I thank the Senator and all those involved with this very important initiative.
I raise an issue with child safeguarding in schools of which I have recently been made aware. As the House will be aware, parents in Ireland have a right to be informed of issues relating to their children and to be consulted on educational matters. Both the Constitution and the Education Act 1998 are clear on the requirement for parents to be kept advised of all relevant issues. However, I have been reliably informed this is not happening in a serious way, as there are cases of schools making logistical decisions relating to children under their care without the knowledge or consent of the child’s parents.
This occurs when a child or children in a school tell their teacher they no longer self-identify with their biological sex and wish to be referred to by a new name and pronouns and to be treated, for all intents and purposes, as if they were a student who is a member of the opposite sex. As far as I am aware, there is no set national procedure for handling these instances. There are many resources and guidelines, none of which is independently drafted but instead are gifted by advocacy groups such as BeLonGTo and TENI, and individual schools seem to be left to their own devices when handling this matter.
Some schools will involve the parents and have a meeting so that everyone can make themselves heard and the parents' wishes can be respected. Other schools do not feel the need for this and take it upon themselves to socially transition the student from one gender to the other, sometimes without even informing the child's parents, possibly for fear they may disagree with and object to this approach. The most serious issue, however, relates to the logistical consequences of actively pursuing this social transition, including access to toilets and changing rooms of the opposite sex, participation in sex-specific social, personal and health education classes, and in the case of school trips, accommodation in the sleeping area of the opposite sex, and all the while not telling the parents of other children affected that this will be happening.
A recent webinar held by The Countess, a new group advocating for women and children, brought this information to parents and members of the school community, and they were inundated with questions as parents voiced their serious concerns with this state of affairs. We must ensure the highest standard of care possible for all children, including the children themselves who may be experiencing confusion around their identity. After all, anywhere from 63% to 94% of children who experience gender dysphoria will no longer experience such feelings by their late teens. Those children are not well served by social transition, which is a powerful psychological intervention, placing them on a pathway to puberty blockers and hormone therapy. I recently discovered that if a girl is given testosterone for a mere three months, she will experience irreversible facial and chest hair growth for life, which is a tall price to pay for a decision made in one's teens.
It is time to have the Minister for Education before us in the House to explain her plan for tackling this most serious matter, which will become more commonplace in our schools and all our sports clubs in the country if left unaddressed.
Tá sé go deas an Cathaoirleach a fheiceáil i mbándearg inniu.
I want to highlight the issue raised in local media in Clare, in The Clare Echo. Rent price increases in Clare are currently among the highest in the country. Clare has seen the second highest increase in rent prices in the entire Republic. According to the Residential Tenancies Board, there has been a 16.1% increase since this time last year. Each quarter, there has been an increase of 5.1%. This is a major issue. I am aware that a great housing initiative was launched recently but it takes a long time to build houses. In the interim, there are many things we can do. In Dublin, as early as December 2016, we heard talk about rent pressure zones and restrictions on Airbnb. Under the rules introduced in July 2019, a 90-day cap was imposed on the renting of full houses through Airbnb in rent pressure zones. We have not seen that ruled out anywhere else. It is time that we considered this measure implemented in areas such as Clare and Leitrim, which has seen the highest increase in rents in the country. Who does not want to live in Clare and Leitrim, two great counties? The prices are becoming ridiculous and really unaffordable. Where I live in north Clare, around Ennistymon and Lahinch, you can find perhaps one place online to rent, whereas 80 whole houses may be rentable through Airbnb. It is a serious issue. If rectified, it could help us to deal with the housing crisis in the short term while we work towards building all the new houses we hope to build. The local authorities will need to be resourced if we are to do this. Issues arise in this regard even in Dublin, where rent pressure zones and regulations concerning Airbnb have been introduced. The regulations are not fully implemented because of a lack of resources in the councils. Therefore, we need rent pressure zones rolled out nationwide and we need the local authorities to be properly resourced to deal with them. People are living in vans and are unable to work. We cannot get staff in places in north Clare because there is nowhere to live, yet there are many houses available through Airbnb that could be homes.
Ó thaobh an mhí atá ann do mhná na hÉireann agus ó thaobh muid féin a chosaint, caithfimid seiceáil. We have to be breast-aware. We have to check our breasts and do so regularly. It is not just an issue for middle-aged women; as Senator Ahearn said, it is also an issue for younger women. We need to talk about this and raise awareness. That is the whole idea of this month. I am not wearing a lot of pink today but I am pink on the inside and have become very breast aware. I was not until recently. Given my age, I probably should have been checking about ten years ago. I have been lucky so far but breast cancer has touched everybody. Everybody has lost somebody to breast cancer in this country. Many women have been resilient and have managed to fight back, but awareness is always the first step, and prevention is always better than cure. I welcome the support from the men on the committee, who have worn pink. I thank Senator McGreehan, who raised the issue. Half the population of the nation is female. We all need to support women in being breast aware this month.
Cuirim fáilte roimh fhoilsiú na tuairisce faoi institiúidí ó Thuaidh. I want to begin today by welcoming the publication today of the report Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses in Northern Ireland. The work was carried out by Ms Deirdre Mahon, Dr. Maeve O'Rourke and Professor Phil Scraton for the North's Executive. We are aware that the impact of the institutions is still felt in many instances across all of our country. We know that, very often, women and girls from the North were sent to institutions in the South, and vice versa. As I am sure colleagues do, I look forward to reading and absorbing the findings of that report and understanding how we might assist colleagues and, most important, survivors and their families in the North in ensuring they have access to the full truth, justice and support moving forward.
The Leader will recall that I called last week for a series of statements on the roll-out of the protocol. Today it is important that I reiterate that call to the Leader and colleagues, not least after remarks made at a Brexit panel discussion run by the Policy Exchange think tank at the Tory Party conference yesterday.
What we heard during that panel meeting was a disgraceful display of backward-looking Brexit ideology taking precedence over the economic success and prosperity of the North and our people there. David Frost, who negotiated the protocol on behalf of the Tory Government, described growing all-Ireland trade as a problem to be solved. As we know, understand and appreciate fully, the protocol was put in place to mitigate Brexit and its negative and unwanted impacts on Ireland, north and south. At a time of empty shelves and unmitigated chaos in Britain, we are seeing the protocol insulating Ireland from those problems. I wanted to take the opportunity to make those points again today.
Without getting into an unnecessary ding-dong or going down in the dirt, I remember being at an event in Waterfront Hall in Belfast and listening to a talk by the late Tony Benn. He said that you should never wrestle the chimney sweep because you will both end up dirty. I am not advocating for that. I am advocating for an opportunity for us to cut through some of the noise to ensure that the Irish Government is articulating on any platform it can the real, factual benefits of the protocol and what it is doing for people on the ground.
I thank Senator McGreehan for bringing us all together to wear pink today and to make people aware of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We remember my own mother, who died seven years ago having unfortunately succumbed to cancer, initially breast cancer. It is great to remember but, as other Members have said today, it is important that as many women and, indeed, men as possible come forward to get tested. I again thank Senator McGreehan.
I agree with my Kildare colleague that St. Brigid's Day is a great day for a national public holiday. We are all very proud of St. Brigid and what she encompasses for everybody in County Kildare. She encompassed a lot for this entire country. I totally agree that the next national holiday should be on 1 February to celebrate a great Kildare woman and Irishwoman.
I wish to raise a housing issue with the Leader. As is the case for many of my colleagues in their areas, housing continues to be an issue for me where I live in south Kildare. I am getting many calls from desperate families who simply cannot get any accommodation in the overcrowded or non-existent rental market. Those people are, in desperation, turning to local authorities for any form of assistance for themselves and their families. One of the biggest frustrations they have, however, relates to vacant properties in the estates in which they are currently living and where their leases are finishing up. They are also being told by families and friends of other vacant properties in other estates throughout the area. At this stage, I am aware of a growing list of over 20 vacant properties in the area where I live. It would seem to me that each town and village in south Kildare has a large number of vacant homes, some of which have been lying empty for up to five years. I have contacted my local authority about this growing list and I continue to get a growing number of different answers, including that the authority does not have the personnel to carry out those surveys, funding issues and that some of these properties are not in its ownership. The real answer, of course, is that we are in the biggest housing crisis we have ever faced and none of the previous answers, or any other answer, can be accepted as to why these houses are not occupied in the quickest possible time by desperate families who are running out of time.
The Government must ensure that our local authorities can hire the personnel required to carry out inspections and agree a programme of works as needed and, as importantly, hold onto these people. Short-term contracts for these personnel are simply not good enough. Funding is needed to turn these vacant homes back into family homes as quickly as possible. It is not good enough that regular maintenance budgets have now stopped in some local authorities because the funding must be sought from these maintenance budgets to carry out the voids project. It is simply not good enough. We must find out who owns these other properties that lie vacant for so long. My own local authority indicates that the compulsory purchase order process is too restrictive, takes far too long and is simply ineffective. I know there was a debate on Housing for All last week but this is an important issue and it needs to be debated.
I formally give notice to this House that Senator Flynn and I have entered a pairing arrangement for the next six months. The Senator and her husband, Liam, welcomed a baby girl a couple of weeks ago.
I would like to extend my congratulations to Eileen, Liam, big sister Billy and the wider Flynn and White families on the safe and happy arrival of baby Lacey.
It is an important point that we look at our maternity arrangements for our female politicians and demonstrate in a visible way that women here in the Seanad and in the Dáil can actually take maternity leave and the culture in the Houses of the Oireachtas is changing. I commend the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on the leadership she showed a couple of months ago when said she was going to take six months' maternity leave. That was a powerful message and that type of leadership changes culture. Four and a half years ago when I was a Member of this House and I gave birth to my son, such arrangements were not in place, it was not spoken about and you were almost afraid to ask about it. It is important we talk about it, that women are seen to be supporting other women in the Seanad and in the Dáil, and that they take that time with their newborn babies and with their families.
I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the lack of maternity leave for our local authority members. Local authority members have absolutely no arrangements, formal or otherwise, and that is a very big barrier. It has been recognised by many studies and members themselves as a barrier to entry and retention of the female members. We all know the important role councillors play and the difference they make in their local communities. We also know the vast majority of women who make it into the Dáil and the Seanad came through their local authority. If women are not being elected to and staying on local authorities and getting their experience, we will not see female Ministers, we will not see a woman in the Taoiseach's office. I commend Councillor Mary Hoade, the former president of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG , who before she left office presented a very important document called Pathways to Maternity Leave. I call on the Government to act on that, implement measures, and support adequate maternity arrangements for female local authority members, because without it our democracy is being impacted.
I also commend Senator O'Loughlin on her suggestion for St. Brigid's Day being formally recognised. That is coming from Lorraine Brigid here.
I thank Lorraine Brigid Clifford-Lee. I call Senator Tim Lombard.
I would like to raise the issue of what supports are required in the budget for the film industry. In many ways the film industry could be supported in community and society and I have seen the benefits of that in the past six or eight weeks in west Cork particularly where Irish acting royalty came to the area to do the Graham Norton book Holding. It has been a wonderful series made by ITV in west Cork. You could walk down the street in Skibbereen and see Oscar-winning actresses walking up to you or you would have the pleasure of meeting the "Derry Girls" actress. It was a phenomenal sight to see for west Cork.
That has been the story of our summer in many ways, to be a location for such a prime film that one hopes will be very successful. There is an opportunity for every county to participate in this. We have so much to offer, whether it is the Cathaoirleach's county of Kerry and all the way up the west coast, we have beautiful scenery and locations. The knock-on benefit for our economy is actually millions of euro. Millions of euro have been spent in west Cork in recent weeks by this film company. We have the opportunity to roll that out throughout the entire country, so we need to have a dedicated policy to work to make sure we can get these production companies into Ireland because the knock-on effect for rural settings in particular is huge. It would be very important for the arts as well.
This is one of those issues we might look at in particular when it comes to the budget debate, that we put a special focus, if we could, on the film industry and the supports to be put in place to make sure it will be successful going forward.
On 28 May this year I brought a Private Member's motion to this House on Ireland's search and rescue service. During the debate on this motion, I raised a number of matters of great concern regarding the oversight and corporate governance of the current search and rescue, SAR, operator, CHC Ireland DAC.
The recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General has completely vindicated my concerns. The report points out that in 2013, the Department of Transport paid €4.3 million to CHC Helicopter, the current operator, to ensure that its five helicopters were equipped with night-vision capability. I am still trying to understand why the State funded a private company's conversion of its helicopters, but we will leave that for now. The report goes on to state that another €527,000 was paid in 2015, for 24 sets of night-vision goggles which, I understand, would remain the property of the Irish Coast Guard. Finally, the report advises that an initial payment of €1.7 million was made in 2018 in respect of training the crews of this private contractor in the use of the technology. This training only commenced in November 2019 and is expected to be completed sometime this year. Senators will note that the process started in 2013. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General points out that as of June 2021, only one of the search and rescue, SAR, bases has been approved by the Irish Aviation Authority to use night-vision technology. Service from that base has commenced, but it will be some time before all of the bases are able to operate in the same way. It is indeed poor value for money for this country.
Why does this disaster exercise me? In 2009, the Department of Transport and the Irish Coast Guard established the Future Helicopter Study Group, which reported on what would be required for the next SAR contract. In that report, they recommended night-vision technology, yet the contract went ahead without the inclusion of the requirement of night-vision technology. The real concern here is the total lack of oversight. I believe that it was only after the crash of Rescue 116 that any steps were taken to deal with the corporate governance issues at CHC Helicopter.
In 2017, after the crash of Rescue 116, the Department of Transport and the Irish Coast Guard sought a company to carry out the corporate governance and oversight that they were not capable of doing. The company chosen was a company called Aerossurance. It is a one-man company, which was only formed in 2014. In 2015, it published its first accounts. However, the accounts were not audited because the company was so small that it was not required. In 2017, when the company was awarded the contract to advise Ireland's Department of Transport and the Irish Coast Guard, the net assets of the company were €13,000 and €9,000 in cash in the bank. After the crash of Rescue 116, one would surely expect that a major consultancy firm would have been brought in.
I know the Senator is aware of the new Standing Orders that have been adopted.
I am a bit deaf, so you will have to speak up.
I wish to make the Senator aware of the Standing Orders that we introduced around the issue around defamation.
Everything I am putting out here is in the public domain.
I just want the Senator to be mindful of mentioning people who are not here to defend themselves.
I hate to say it, but I did not hear one word of what you said. I will have to plug myself in again.
Is that a defence in law?
I ask the Senator to be cautious regarding making people identifiable who are not here to defend themselves, as he is aware of the Standing Orders that were adopted by the House.
I am fully aware of that. I am not referring to an individual; I am referring to a company.
I know that, but the Senator has also made the person who is the sole director identifiable.
I did not name him.
I want the Senator to be aware.
Okay, moving on.
The next contract, the one to which I am now referring, was signed off at Cabinet at the last Cabinet meeting. The business case for that was put together by a company called KPMG, which is well known to us all. KPMG brought-----
I know I interrupted the Senator, but he is out of time. I suggest he puts this in as a Commencement matter.
Listen, a Chathaoirligh. I tried to get this through on a Private Members' motion. I came with a well-prepared piece and the reply that was given by the Department of Transport addressed none of my concerns. The tender is about to go out for SAR. The business case was put together with KPMG, advised by Frazer-Nash. The important thing here is that there are only three or four companies that can actually tender for Irish-----
I am not disagreeing with the Senator.
But Frazer-Nash is owned by one of them.
First of all, the Senator has a two-minute slot on the Order of Business.
I appreciate that; I was going as fast as I could.
Can we all get extra time?
Do we all get extra time?
The Senator deserves the extra time. Some things are important. We can sit back and pretend these things do not happen but they are happening.
Nobody will lecture me on what is important in this Chamber.
I will finish with this. We need the Minister in here to discuss search and rescue services and the forthcoming contract. We cannot allow a contract to go out while the report on Rescue 116 has not been published. The pilot of that helicopter had been awake for 18 hours when she was sent over to Blacksod. For God's sake-----
I appreciate this is an important issue and this is a forum for raising important issues but people get two minutes to contribute on the Order of Business. It impinges on others if Senators go over.
I appreciate that but we are here to hold the Government to account.
As I have said, the Senator can table a Commencement matter. There are also committees, such as the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. I know this issue has been brought up at that committee. I give a bit of latitude-----
I have failed to bring this issue up anywhere.
-----when the matter is important. This matter is important, as is everyone else's, but the Senator has to be careful about bringing the reputation of the House into-----
Four people are dead. I have tried to bring this up everywhere but nobody is interested.
I appreciate the Senator bringing it up because it is an important issue but he has to be careful of the rules of the House.
I want to bring up a very important issue that is undermining and corroding my community and communities all over the country. I refer to the issue of antisocial behaviour. I define antisocial behaviour as behaviour that is unfriendly in any way. It can be anything from being rude online to gratuitous random attacks of physical violence. These have been documented in the media but unfortunately far too many people are experiencing them in real life. They are being experienced in our public spaces, on public transportation, in public parks, on our streets and outside of people's homes. It is not rampant. It is typically a small group of people who are engaging in this type of behaviour. It is not representative of my community or of communities around the country. We need a full debate on the issue in the House. I am a founding director of a community policing forum in Cabra. I know that communities are engaged. Community gardaí provide an invaluable service. They know who belongs in their communities. We need a debate on the resourcing of community gardaí in every community around the country. The other group we need to involve in this debate is the social media platforms. Snapchat, Whatsapp and TikTok have to stop acting as if they have no responsibility in this space. They cannot abdicate their responsibility. We cannot allow them to do so. They have a social obligation and responsibility to ensure that materials and content being shared on their platforms are not antisocial in any way. We need to hold them to account. I would like the Leader to organise a debate on that issue.
I second Senator Fitzpatrick's comments. This issue is becoming extremely prevalent on our streets in all the towns and villages. Going home from Dublin on a Friday evening, I used to notice the large numbers of youths out with drink and so on. You need only have watched "Claire Byrne Live" last night to see images that are replicated in every single town around the country. I am a firm advocate of the recently established community safety partnerships. There have been three, including a pilot in my own county of Waterford and another in inner city Dublin. That is the way forward. We must work together. Antisocial behaviour is a serious issue. The vast majority of this is being carried out by young teenagers. When I was a young teenager, my parents - God rest them - did not let me out and about like that. Parents must take more responsibility. Councillor Liam Galvin was on the programme last night and said that parents need to take more responsibility, particularly for kids aged under 16. Something such as fixed fines should be put in place for situations in which children stray like that. Something has to be put in place to ensure more care is taken. I agree with the comments Councillor Galvin made.
The second issue I will speak about relates to the arts community, for which I am a spokesperson. I met with Mona Considine, the artistic director of the Backstage Theatre in Longford, this morning along with a number of companies which are developing plays for when they can be put on stage, which we hope will be in 2022.
It is important that funding in the budget is put in place for the Arts Council for 2022 and this year's funding levels are maintained. In tough times, we have turned to the arts. Companies have worked hard in putting on plays, etc., for people in nursing homes and many other places. We need to ensure we keep that funding in place for 2022.
I will reference two issues that have already been raised. I fully support the call for St. Brigid's Day as opposed to Thanksgiving Day, which would be a poor choice, frankly. We should stick to our own traditions.
I will highlight the fact that Senator Craughwell raised a very important issue. He is correct that no one has addressed it from the Government side and it is shocking. It is about time someone in the Government addressed it.
I raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick because a good friend of mine had the unfortunate experience of being there last Thursday night and into 1 October. He experienced seeing 75 patients on trolleys; bear in mind this was 1 October. Trolleys were backed up one against another and there was no social distancing whatsoever. None was possible because of the number of patients on trolleys. It was so bad that a member of the canteen staff could not enter the ward with her tea trolley. That is how chaotic and disastrous it was last Friday, with 75 patients on trolleys. It led to people getting up to help themselves to tea, which led to further chaos. What really struck my colleague was the despair not just of the patients left languishing on trolleys, but of the staff. The hospital is still understaffed, with rosters featuring people who were on holiday. On the same evening, healthcare assistants were asked to unload trolleys, not for patients but for stores. This is the chaos that has become endemic across University Hospital Limerick. I have raised this issue several times each year in the six years I have been in the House. The point is that it continues to get worse. Indeed, on Sunday night, the figure had risen to 85 people on trolleys. Fine Gael has failed on healthcare in Limerick for a decade at this stage. The problem of a lack of commitment to Sláintecare is massively connected to this. There is an ideological issue at the heart of this. We on the left believe in a national health service. It is quite clear to me from the actions of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, that the conservative parties do not. I ask for an urgent debate on the crisis in University Hospital Limerick.
As others have said, October is a time when breast cancer awareness is at its height. It is an opportune time to support the call from Tallaght-based councillor, Teresa Costello, who wants to see free mammograms provided for all women over the age of 40. Members will know BreastCheck is currently rolling out a programme whereby women between the ages of 50 and 69 will be invited for a free mammogram every two years. That is a very welcome development, which no doubt has saved many lives. However, Councillor Costello, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36, believes a free mammogram for all women over the age of 40 will save more lives. I have no doubt she is correct in that. Each year, 3,700 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Some 34% of them are aged between 50 and 69. Councillor Costello knows what she is talking about. She also runs the biggest cancer support group in the country, Breast Friends. She is in no doubt that the rolling out of free mammograms for all women over the age of 40 will save lives and it is very hard to argue with that. I would like Members, and I am sure I speak for all who are present, to write to the Minister to ask him to implement this very sensible proposal. I have no doubt that if it is implemented, lives will be saved.
I welcome the publication of the revised national development plan yesterday, in particular the record State investment earmarked for the transport sector, both roads and public transportation.
A sum of €5.8 billion has been set aside for the development of new roads, including the N24 route between Waterford and Limerick, and €11.6 billion for new public transport measures.
The N24 is, as I have said previously, a critical infrastructure project linking the mid-west to the south east and is probably even more important in the context of Brexit, with onward connections to Europe from Rosslare and Waterford ports. The N24 will be the most important national roads project to be delivered in the years ahead and will serve to link all our five cities. That is why I am proud that I and Fine Gael colleagues in neighbouring counties, Wexford, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Limerick, advocated strongly for the retention of the N24 in the plan. The NPF states we should have interurban travel of, on average, speeds of 90 km/h. I feel the only way that can be achieved is by having a dual carriageway between Limerick and Waterford.
On public transportation, it is fantastic to see the commitment in the plan to the funding of projects that will emerge from the new Waterford metropolitan transport strategy, which is at a preliminary design stage. I would like this to be expedited. It is positive to see the extension of the award-winning Waterford greenway to New Ross and the inclusion of a new Plunkett station as part of the North Quays transportation hub reinforced in the plan. Perhaps we could schedule a debate with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on the public transport elements of the plan.
On a parochial note, I welcome the reference to an expanded campus footprint in Waterford as part of the new technological university of the south east. I understand work is ongoing with stakeholders in that regard. I welcome significant investment in housing and health and look forward to many more projects in these areas being brought forward as we seek to achieve the 50% population growth target out to 2040 contained in the NPF for Waterford.
Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste to come before us for an update on the situation regarding the task force for the Shannon Estuary? I raised this here previously. In the past six months, former parliamentarians, Michael Noonan and John Brassil, have been appointed chairman and vice-chairman, respectively. From that day to this we have heard nothing and people are concerned. We have the critical situation of the LNG terminal coming to a final decision on planning and, with changed awareness about the importance of gas, the Shannon Estuary will be more important than ever so we cannot be tardy. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Tánaiste to come before us.
Among the many important announcements in the NDP, I highlight the significant funding for collaborative cross-Border investment under the Taoiseach's shared island initiative. The Government's commitment of €500 million to the shared island fund will double over the coming years. Combined with Project Ireland 2040, the annual North-South co-operation and the PEACE PLUS programmes in partnership with the EU, the UK and the Northern Ireland Executive, a fund of €3.5 billion will be available. This has to be highlighted as it is important. The ambition is to create a more connected, sustainable and prosperous island for all and release the full potential of Border regions by enhanced connection between people across the island. All communities and traditions will benefit. Key projects include enhanced all-Ireland rail connectivity, co-ordinated investment in EV networks, funding for all-island climate actions, the creation of all-island research centres, developing third-level education infrastructure in the north-west region, creating an island-wide greenway network and the completion of the Ulster Canal restoration project and the Narrow Water Bridge project.
By working together, we can create a more regionally balanced island for all, achieve the unity that matters to most people, which is a unity of minds and purpose, and, hopefully, put an end forever to sectarian violence.
I commend Senator McGreehan on her initiative. I am happy to change my tie to pink. I missed the memo.
I ask the Cathaoirleach and Leader for a debate on foreign affairs in the coming weeks, in particular in light of our membership of the United Nations Security Council and given that we, as an island nation, share the values of peace and of upholding human rights and international law. It is important that we have a debate on our One-China policy in light of the record number of incursions into Taiwanese airspace by the Chinese in the past five days, which amounted, I believe, to 51 or 52 such incursions. I say that recognising that we have a One-China policy and the importance of China. If we are to value human rights, international law and the economy, as former the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, would say, to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business, then we should be developing relationships and links with Taiwan in both economic and cultural terms.
I am seeking a debate on foreign affairs specifically on the One-China policy. I am not at all anti-China but if we all want to have a free world where free trade and democracy are upheld, then we need to review our One-China policy in the context of Taiwan. I am in favour of having closer ties with Taiwan and I know that this House of the Oireachtas has such a positive relationship with it through the Taipei Representative Office in Ireland. We are a member of the United Nations Security Council and must stand up for small island nations. The incursions by China into Taiwanese airspace is unacceptable and wrong and we should call it out and stand with Australia and the United States of America.
I hope that the Cathaoirleach on Taiwanese Day will send best wishes to the Taiwanese people, as he has done in respect of other countries. It is important that we, as a House, take a stand in respect of Taiwan and its relations with the world. We have also seen with Taiwan’s Covid-19 strategy and its cutting-edge business technology how it can change the world. Gabhaim buíochas.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir. Anois, glaoim ar an Seanadóir Maria Byrne.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I rise today to raise two issues but I will also raise my concerns over what is happening at University Hospital Limerick where we have the highest number of people waiting to be seen in the hospital. This did not just start today but has been going on for quite a while. We put in 60 replacement beds and many things have happened but the numbers are not going down. It is at crisis level at this stage and something needs to happen. It is timely, therefore, to have a debate on the hospital because I have heard stories of people waiting for days on trolleys for serious operations. It is just not good enough.
I welcome the fact that the national development plan, NDP, was announced yesterday and there is great number of very fine projects in it but I have one concern to do with the M20 between Limerick and Cork. This road is very necessary for economic development-----
-----where the second and third largest cities are not connected. These are the only two such cities. I appreciate that we are not connected with Waterford either but that is another day’s wait, which I understand is being raised by Senator Cummins. The M20 is very necessary. It is mentioned in the NDP document, as it has been for the past ten years, and the road has now gone to M-N20, which raises questions. I was listening to a Minister from the Green Party on the radio this morning talking about town bypasses where perhaps a motorway may not be necessary on all routes. This raises a concern for me. We need to bring the Minister for Transport into the House to have a debate on transport. I welcome the fact that with light rail and everything else there is great deal of very necessary changes to the plan and that the Government will be looking at many of these light rail projects and alternative routes but we have to have connectivity between the second and third largest city. I thank the Cathaoirleach.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. Tomorrow is the last day for submissions to the DART+ West project public consultation in regard to permanent closure of the level crossings and how communities are facilitated. That involves my area of Ashtown, Coolmine, Porterstown and Clonsilla. I encourage everyone to get their submissions into DARTWest@irishrail.ie. The deadline as I said is tomorrow, Wednesday, 6 October at 5 p.m.
It is a much-needed project and it is great to see the commitment to it again in the national development plan. It is overdue. We need that investment in public transport. Obviously, however, none of these things are easy. When it comes to something like the permanent closure of level crossings, that brings disruption to communities. Part of the brief to Irish Rail is to automatically close the level crossings as part of the process, as opposed to trying to make them automatic. This is something that will become part of the other parts of DART+ as well, because we are told that it will happen not just in DART+ West but also in the other parts of DART+. It is as if Irish Rail is operating with one hand tied behind its back. Obviously, the best approach is to find an alternative route if it is closing down a road, but sometimes that is not viable as the infrastructure is too invasive. Even then, if it kept the level crossings open at non-peak times, it will still have to find other alternatives. However, it should still be on the table. There are areas where it is just not viable to have an alternative. It is going to have a major impact on the community.
We should invite the Minister for Transport to the House to debate these matters. Well done to all the communities that have mobilised to make their submissions in difficult circumstances.
I thank Senator McGreehan for all the work she has done on the day that is in it in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I see everyone wearing pink, ranging from the Cathaoirleach's pink tie to the pink ribbons to the pink or salmon shirts, I am not sure which. It is great and it is lovely to see it. I thank everyone for their support. Every family in Ireland is affected by loss and by breast cancer, so it is very important.
I welcome the launch of the €165 billion national development plan, the largest budget ever. There is a focus on investment in hospitals, residential units, schools, housing, roads, cycle ways and public transport. The €200 million N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge project is one of the three that have been highlighted in the list, which is very welcome in terms of it progressing very quickly. Yes, we need more acute hospital spaces, as has been mentioned by my colleagues. We will see this happen in my area with a 50-bed unit in Portiuncula University Hospital as well as a stage 1 process for a new rehabilitation unit in Roscommon University Hospital and a 50-bed unit for the Sacred Heart Hospital and Care Home. These projects are listed as ongoing and in progress under the NDP and will be progressed to completion in the next couple of years. There is also over €9 billion for an urban regeneration project in Roscommon. The roads are being dug up at present in Main Street and The Square. There is also the Ballaghaderreen public enhancement project. All these projects require funding and a budget for capital investment. That is what the Government has committed to in the years ahead.
Separately, I wish to mention that day services in Ballinasloe are reopening this week. That is absolutely crucial because many older people depend on this service. It provides a respite for carers and a day of activity and engagement with friends. People have not had that service for over 18 months. This week the service returned and there is great excitement. People can hear the sound of laughter and music and can engage in playing cards, doing exercise programmes and in individual care plans. Life is coming back to normal and that is wonderful. I thank the more than 40 volunteers in Ballinasloe Social Services and the board and committee there that have to do fundraising because the budget never meets all the needs within the service. I thank the manager, Ms Teresa Coughlan, who has done great work in reopening yesterday. There will be great excitement this week. The service covers areas in south Roscommon, Ballinasloe, Clontuskert, Lawrencetown, Taghmaconnell and Moore. It is a great service and we welcome it back.
This week we are focusing on some of the huge infrastructure projects the Government is planning, and I welcome the news about them. However, I also look at how they will be implemented and how much regard will be had to the views of local communities in respect of those projects. There appears to be a crisis in our local government, both in terms of the powers of councillors to do the jobs they must do locally and the resources that are available for the local authorities. Given that so many Members of this House are directly connected to councillors around the country, it is appropriate that we have a debate on those issues.
Looking forward, the strategic housing development, SHD, legislation is going to be wound up and, as far as I am concerned, that cannot come soon enough.
SHDs are an example of how we as a central Government have bypassed our local authorities and local authority members. For example, I was at a meeting in the last week on the development at Baker's Corner pub near where I grew up. That is undoubtedly a good development but there are aspects of it that will bypass the county council and go directly to An Bord Pleanála, costing every resident who wants to make a submission €20. At the same time, the regulator is saying there needs to be more investment and that fees have not gone up. This already costs people huge amounts of money.
When we talk about Europe we talk about subsidiarity and the principle that we should devolve decision-making as much as possible. We have done the opposite with local government in Ireland. We have centralised and stripped powers away from local government, particularly from local authority elected members. They are the hardest working elected representatives in this country and the worst looked after in their pay and resources. In the last 20 years we have seen a successive stripping away of their powers and it is a crisis of local democracy. If we do not trust them to do their job, how can we expect the populace to have faith in them and invest in that local government? We need to have a debate on this and we need to bring steps forward to restore confidence in our elected local representatives.
I thank colleagues for the variety of topics that have been raised. Senator Ward has outlined the mistakes that we have made as a State over many years by centralising too much. One can see how unsuccessful it has been in our health service delivery and in how we are now unravelling and unwinding it and going back to regionalisation. The Government acknowledged last year that the SHD process was an unmitigated disaster and we are going back to the way we know how to do things well. That is empowering our local politicians. We also need public consultation with local citizens on the changes that make an impact on their lives. We need to have that proper communications process and we see it working well with TII, as Senator Carrigy mentioned. I will ask for a debate on that unravelling and the new process that will replace the SHD process.
Senator Ward and other colleagues have highlighted the importance of restating the State's intention to deliver on major infrastructural projects with the second iteration of Project Ireland 2040 being announced by Government yesterday. As the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform detailed, it is €165 billion, which is the largest amount of money that has ever been put behind a national development plan. As one of our colleagues mentioned this morning, €11.4 billion of that is allocated for public transport investment. If MetroLink is going to cost €10 billion it does not leave an awful lot for the rest of the country. We could probably put triple the amount of money into the national development plan and still have people giving out that there is no money associated with particular projects that we all care about. It is a rolling project and something we are proud of. It is the continuing investment by the State into making people's lives better and providing them with services. I acknowledge and thank all the colleagues who have raised that this morning.
Senator Dolan talked about life slowly returning to normal and I am happy that those day services in Ballinasloe are reopening. Senator O'Loughlin is the chair of our cross-party Oireachtas group on Alzheimer's disease and dementia and I thank her for the presentation last week of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland's pre-budget submissions. Life is starting to return to normal for those people who rely on the provision of day services. I mention the huge amount of services that are provided, not necessarily by the State but by private organisations and I know only too well how fantastic the Alzheimer Society of Ireland is. It is good to see that life is coming back to normal.
Senator Currie mentioned that the DART+ West public consultation process is closing tomorrow. Along with her I would encourage all of the citizens concerned to have their say because changes will be made and we want that to be done while empowering the people whose lives will be impacted by those changes.
Senators Maria Byrne and Gavan talked about the need for a debate on University Hospital Limerick and such a debate is required. I would contest one point; there has been significant investment in Limerick over the last ten years although clearly not enough investment has been made. Some 96 new beds and a major extension have gone in but there is a need for a debate on what is needed now and what will be needed in the short term. I will try to arrange that as quickly as possible. It is nice to see colleagues from the same locality agreeing for a change.
From Senator Maria Byrne's perspective, I also want to acknowledge the concern around what seems to be the downgrading of the N20 and M20. That needs explanation.
If the expected plans for the Limerick-Cork project have changed, they need to be brought to the attention of all the people who will be affected by that. I will convey that message to the Minister for the Senator.
Senator Buttimer sought a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the One-China policy. I will ask for that debate. The Minister will be in the House this evening and next Wednesday evening. The debate sought is important, particularly given the events of the past week or ten days. I will again ask for that debate and come back to the Senator on it.
Senator O'Sullivan spoke of €3.5 billion that is the mainstay of the Taoiseach's shared island initiative and the investment across the shared island, which is important. I will ask the Tánaiste for a update for the Senator on the task force for the Shannon Estuary.
Senator Cummins raised the issue of the €11.6 billion for new public transport and €5.8 billion for new roads. Senator Gallagher asked for a letter to be sent to the Minister for Health seeking free mammograms for all women over the age of 40. I will put that letter in the post on behalf of all of us today. I will let the Senator know when I get a response.
Senator Gavan, among others, spoke of St. Brigid’s Day. Senator O’Loughlin spoke about it when opening our proceedings today. When I was a child my primary school was St. Brigid’s National Holy Faith Convent School. I do not remember that she was from Kildare but I remember always thinking that she was ours. I grew up in Finglas and the Senator grew up in Kildare but St. Brigid belongs to all of us from every county in every part of the country. I hope we settle on St. Brigid’s Day for the new bank holiday. Regardless of whether we call it Brigid’s Day or St. Brigid’s Day, we all know the important role she played.
Senators Carrigy and Fitzpatrick raised the issue of the anti-social behaviour and its prevalence not only in Dublin. The prevalence of the issue in Dublin was raised in the House a number of times in recent weeks. We saw from the television coverage last night that it is prevalent in Limerick, Cork, Galway and in many of our urban centres. My son, who is only 22 years of age, emigrated to Berlin in June and is home at the moment. He went out socialising at the weekend and when he came home yesterday evening he told me it is nearly impossible not to get involved in a fight in Dublin city because of the number of people who come into the city specifically and solely looking to either involve themselves in or cause trouble. It is bizarre that our young people have nothing else to do except find their entertainment in that way, shape or form. A number of colleagues sought a debate on this issue last week. I think we need a new task force on policing not only in Dublin but in many of our urban centres to adopt a specific response to this new type of entertainment. We opened our streets in the past year because we did not have anywhere else for people to entertain themselves but it certainly was not with the hope that this would be the result. I will bring that message back to the Minister for Justice.
Senator Craughwell, as he has on a number of occasions, spoke passionately about a topic he really cares about and believes in. I can do no more than bring the concerns he raised again this morning back to the Minister and ask for a response. I will go one step further and phone the Minister today. The matters the Senator highlighted, particularly in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report in recent days, require a response.
If it is not necessarily in a debate form, they definitely require a response. I will do my level best to try to get the Senator a response this week.
I thank the Leader for that.
Senator Lombard spoke of being star struck when he was walking around west Cork by all the famous people who were there. He was right in stating support for the film industry needs to be highlighted in the budget that will be presented next Tuesday. Senator Carrigy also mentioned this issue. Those in the industry have had a devastating number of years. They provide every section of society with entertainment. They definitely need to be supported by way of tax measures next week.
I applaud Senator Clifford-Lee on the pairing arrangement she entered into with our colleague, Senator Flynn. It is something that should not be understated. It is an important arrangement and an enormous gesture but we should not need gestures. We should have proper arrangements in order that women and men can take maternity and paternity leave. It is long past time for moaning and nagging about it. We should have it in every walk of society, every part of political life and every part of our working lives. It should be taken for granted that a woman when she has a baby can spend time at home with the baby and a man when his wife or partner has a baby can stay at home and bond that family relationship. On behalf of all of us, I extend Eileen and Liam heartiest congratulations on baby Lacey’s safe arrival. I know Eileen had a tough couple of months. I have no doubt that Billie will be a great big sister. I wish them well.
Senator Wall spoke about St. Brigid's Day and also called for a debate on housing. The debate we had on housing last Wednesday was adjourned rather than concluded. As soon as the Minister is available to continue that debate, I will arrange for him to come to the House as quickly as possible.
Senator Ó Donnghaile talked about the mother and baby institutions report being issued today in Northern Ireland and the reflecting debate that will arise from the horribleness of what is in the report and the recommendations that will be required to make reparations. He is also looking for a debate on the Northern Ireland protocol. He raised this last week and I was able to text him later to say that the Taoiseach will come to the Seanad on 4 November to have a debate on that and to take statements from us. A very important part of the Taoiseach's proposals and programme is the shared island initiative, and I think the input of the Northern Ireland protocol to the prosperity and the increase in business between North and South will form part of his statement. We could probably have a debate on the Northern Ireland protocol separate from the debate with the Taoiseach. I will follow up on that for the Senator today.
Senator Garvey talked about the rent price increase in Clare being at 16.1%, which is off the wall, and the requirement for rent pressure zones. That will probably form part of the debate with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when he comes back to the House. I will let the Senator know the date of that engagement as soon as I can.
Senator Keogan talked about child safeguarding in schools and the policies arising from instances that have been brought to her attention. I can speak about this only because when I was Minister for Social Protection - and it is that Department, for some reason, the gender recognition legislation sits under, not the Departments of Health or Education - there was a review of the 2015 legislation done, independently commissioned by the Minister at the time, who just happened to be me. There were quite a number of recommendations arising from that review as to how to update the 2015 legislation, but, unfortunately, I do not believe anything has happened on that since then. I might send a letter on our behalf to ask the Minister the current status of the recommendations and when new legislation will come that will provide safeguarding and guidelines to everybody who deals with children, whether schools, sports clubs or hospitals. I will follow up on that for the Senator today.
Senator Ahearn opened this morning with the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, extending Tús and the CE scheme, which is welcome. Things have not been normal for those workers since the onset of the pandemic. Therefore, they have not been able to learn and be mentored in the way they would normally be, so it is a welcome extension. The Senator also talked about the issue of work permits. The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English, was here this morning and last week discussing work permits and the pilot scheme he is trying to get off the ground. The issue is probably not unique to the hospitality sector because our horticulture, agriculture and farming sectors are crying out for workers. There is food being left in the ground because they do not have anybody to pick it, which is crazy. Whatever red tape is there, we need to cut through it to make sure we have food security and staff for the industries that are only trying to get back on their feet.
Senator O'Loughlin started by mentioning, as did other colleagues, the fact that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We wear our pink with pride and in solidarity with the women we have lost and the women who are still fighting, and fight they will continue. Senator Gallagher's suggestion to try to decrease the age by which women in Ireland get mammograms is a welcome initiative, and I will send that letter off. We will wear our pink and wear it proud.