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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Oct 2021

Vol. 279 No. 2

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Twelfth Report of the Seanad Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the continuation of provisions of the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2021, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to conclude at 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the Minister's opening speech not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, with the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply; No. 3, Private Members' Bill, Registration of Wills Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 4, statements to mark dyslexia awareness week, to be taken at 6 p.m. and conclude at 8 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the Minister's opening speech not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, with the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply.

I support the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader. I compliment the Leader on her leadership and work around the March for Maternity, which is to take place at 1 p.m. today. It is a really important matter that affects so many young mums and dads. We absolutely want to see a position where maternity treatment and care is the same as it was before Covid-19. We have spoken about it many times in the House but I wanted to say "well done" to the Leader on her work.

It is very welcome to see this morning that the Minister for Defence has outlined what he is doing for the victims whose story was told in "Women of Honour". Members know that Senator Chambers and I raised this matter last week on the Commencement and we are really pleased that much of what we said has been taken on board. It is important there is an independent commission but there must be a trusted confidential service available for the victims of sexual abuse and harassment, whether they are men or women. It is important that sanctions should be put in place for perpetrators. While we help victims, the perpetrator must absolutely suffer sanction.

A really important part of Monday's national development plan launch was the extra investment in public transport. It is important for so many different reasons. Extra funding or support should go to the Rural Link service, which does absolutely tremendous work linking smaller communities and villages with larger towns. I know from experience in Kildare, where Mr. Alan Kerry is chief executive, there is an excellent service but it could be so much more if it was funded for development. In a household a second car may be required to go perhaps ten miles to a local railway station in order to commute to Dublin. If there was extra funding, it might be possible to enable a minor bus link to join a larger commuting hub, which would be well worth doing. We must also look again at rail fares, which must be affordable, accessible and flexible. We must have a medium hop zone between Sallins and Portarlington, as commuters and students in particular may not be able to afford accommodation in Dublin at this point.

It was very refreshing to hear dads on the radio yesterday speaking about international surrogacy. We know the upcoming assisted human reproduction Bill will deal with domestic surrogacy but, unfortunately, there is a lacuna relating to international surrogacy. A mum is a mum is a mum, and that absolutely needs to be addressed. It is something we should highlight in the Seanad.

I also welcome the national development plan. Amidst all the debate about roads and rail projects, I understand the Leader has invited the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to attend the House to discuss the national development plan as it relates to transport. I certainly welcome that.

One of the projects mentioned in the plan is the bypass for Moycullen. I am pleased to report a contract of a value in the mid €30 millions has been awarded to Wills Brothers for the development of the Moycullen bypass in my community. This is great news for a community that has been hearing about and listening to talk about a bypass going back to the 1970s. It is really a red letter day to see a project going ahead to construction in the coming weeks. It has been a long-running saga. The first phase commenced in 2014 and the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, sanctioned the upgrade of the road into Moycullen. Like any project, and particularly where there is traffic passing by as construction goes ahead, it was not without difficulty or complaint but I am thankful it turned out as a wonderful project.

The original bypass and upgrade was sanctioned in 2012 with respect to planning permission and it has been a long-running saga in getting to this stage, involving pre-qualification tenders, tender assessment and tender award. The letter of acceptance is to be issued to Wills Brothers for this 4.3 km bypass, with two entrance points at either side of Moycullen at Clydagh and Drimcong, both via roundabouts, with improved lighting in the area and realignment of the Tullykyne road between the church in Moycullen and down towards the business park and the Cloghaun junction. It is all very positive for my community so I put it on record in the midst of all the questions about future projects and all that. It is important to acknowledge the successful endeavours as well.

Also on the NDP, one of the issues I have been pushing is in relation to amenities and facilities, in particular, community centres. I welcome the fact there is a commitment for a community centre fund, albeit it for upgrade of community centres. That is positive but it is for existing community centres. There is still no fund for new communities - a fund of scale. Small communities probably find it easier, which is ironic, because there is a lower population. Very often a field might be donated to them or they can get money through the LEADER programme or whatever else whereas for large, growing communities where land is zoned and expensive, there is no fund to which they can apply for a few million euro, plus they must try to negotiate or work with the local authority on rates or the development contributions to get things going. I have pleaded for something. There has to be an opportunity there because we encourage people to support housing projects and to welcome new houses, which we need, and yet the infrastructure piece in terms of amenities and community centres is not always there. I would welcome a debate on the NDP in regard to that.

Would it be timely for us to have a debate on the ongoing progress of our vaccination programme against Covid-19, in particular, and of course with other vaccination programmes in mind as we enter the flu season? There are many important issues to discuss, such as the issue of the booster vaccine, the ethical question around the developing world and its need to access even first vaccines for its people and where we fit in and what kind of decisions we should be making as a first world country in regard to that. It would also be timely because of the controversy we hear these days about soccer players not taking the vaccination. I am thinking of Callum Robinson and the ongoing news story there. Speaking as somebody who chose to be vaccinated, there is a delicate balance to be reached. It is undeniable that we want people to take up the vaccine and it is more than legitimate for people in authority to propose this to people, such as soccer coaches and managers. There is, however, also a need to respect human freedom. Where we need to get in this area is to a culture of ethical and informed decision making by people. A person might refuse a vaccine because he or she subscribes to some conspiracy theory. Equally, he or she might refuse to take a vaccine because he or she has arrived at a personal decision about the ethics of the vaccine or issues of safety as he or she has made his or her judgment listening to whatever news is available to him or her, and that has to be respected. The tension is caught in the use of that phrase "herd immunity". On one level we want to get herd immunity but on another level, we have to realise that we can never be a herd. We are human beings, and that has to be respected throughout all of this.

I draw colleagues' attention to an information event. It is a webinar which I am hosting and which has been organised by the all-party Oireachtas life and dignity group on countering human trafficking in Ireland. All colleagues have received an invitation to it, and many will be joining, but there is still time to indicate interest. Sunniva McDonagh, a senior counsel and lawyer specialising in fundamental rights and a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and Dr. Ewelina Ochab, a lawyer and international human rights advocate, will address us at 11 a.m. tomorrow. I mention it because we recently had the very welcome Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Bill 2021 in this House. That is a necessary part of combatting the wider problem of human trafficking but I mentioned last week the sad fact of Ireland's very low ranking in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons report. It is appropriate that we should acknowledge the steps that have been taken by the Government in this area, the revision of the national referral mechanism to make it easier for victims of trafficking to come forward and so on. Progress is being made but we must keep our foot on the pedal. We are coming from behind on this issue, so I would encourage and welcome colleagues who might be interested in that webinar on countering human trafficking in Ireland to participate tomorrow.

About 30 years ago Professor Edward Walsh promoted the idea of the Atlantic corridor, linking Cork, Limerick and Galway. It was a fantastic idea to act as a counterweight, or a counterbalance, to the eastern side of the country and to ensure we had balanced regional growth and development. It took quite a while to get the motorway to Galway linked up with Limerick but it has certainly made a significant difference. Thankfully, we now have a rail route to Galway, albeit one that is too slow at the moment.

A really disappointing aspect of the national development plan, NDP, in regard to Limerick is the lack of a commitment to a M20 motorway. It is such a disappointment that 30 years on from the idea of an Atlantic corridor, we see a plan that talks about bypassing towns as opposed to building a motorway, if anything is to happen. It is a cause of consternation not only in Limerick but in Cork as well. It is further compounded by the fact that the northern distributor road, an absolutely key part of infrastructure in Limerick, is not even mentioned in regard to the NDP. This road would complete the opening up of Moyross, and I would ask the question as to whether the Green Party really want to go back there again. It would also ensure that we could have transiting buses crossing the city. It is, therefore, crucial for public transport as well as road transport. It is mentioned as being essential in the Limerick-Shannon transport plan 2040, but it is not mentioned in the national development plan. People, in particular on my side of the city, Castleconnell and Castletroy, are astounded by this. At present when you approach the Matthew roundabout, you see cars queueing outside the motorway turn off. That is the extent of the chaos and traffic congestion right now. Yet there appears to be no plan from this Government to address that matter, or to complete the Atlantic corridor. I call for an urgent debate in regard to this issue. The people of Limerick must not be left to be second class citizens again in regard to this plan.

I again raise the issue of Julian Assange. He is facing his appeal trial at the end of the month. We are very good in the Seanad at raising human rights issues. It is something we should all be proud of, and we did it again last night in regard to Belarus. I commend all the speakers in that regard. Julian Assange's only crime was to outline what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, to expose US war crimes. If he is extradited he faces 175 years in jail. The Irish Times gave us an editorial calling for this process to be stopped. It is hardly a bastion of radical left wing thought. Amnesty International has called for it, as has The Washington Post. Why will no one on the Government benches simply say what all of us know to be true, that the extradition of Julian Assange should be stopped and the man should be released and recognised for the huge service he has done for humanity?

Over the past eight weeks, I have had reason to meet a considerable number of apartment dwellers in the area of Dublin Central where I am based. They live in apartment blocks which were built in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and over the past three to four years, they have had to come to terms with the horrendous reality that they are living in units that are effectively fire hazards, and units that are riddled with construction defects. Despite the impressive exterior of many of these apartments, behind that there are instances of negligent design and contemptible behaviour with regard to construction standards. There are cavity barriers that are not mechanically fixed, there is no fire stopping around many openings, there is soil in service pipes, insulation cladding has been found to contain combustible material, and the list goes on. This is a nightmare that thousands of people living in apartments in this city and throughout the country have to deal with day in, day out.

The consequences for many apartment owners and dwellers is that they face bills of up to €50,000. For some, that bill will be spread over a number of years. I know of one apartment block where €15,000 is demanded of each owner between now and the end of the year. For some, that is simply impossible. Failure to provide it will mean that they will not get insurance and, of course, will have to live with the risk that they are living in a unit that could go on fire at any time. Yet, the people who fraudulently signed off on the self-certified fire safety certificates, the well known names around this city who built those apartment blocks, continue to design and get planning permission for further developments in this city and throughout the country, and there are no consequences for them for the havoc they have left behind them.

There is no doubt a number of legislative changes are needed, and that the State needs to step in with regard to a fund. There is, however, an immediate action that the Government can take next week, which I hope will be relayed back. Last week the Minister for Finance clarified to my colleague, Deputy Ged Nash, that tax relief on levies and service charges incurred by apartment owners is allowable for landlords, but is not available for those who own apartments.

Last week, the Minister for Finance clarified to my colleague, Deputy Nash, that tax relief on levies and service charges incurred by apartment owners is allowable for landlords but is not available or allowable for those who own apartments. That has to change. It will not make an enormous difference to those apartment owners in respect of the bills they are facing but it would be something. We all have to remember that Priory Hall was only acted upon when somebody took their life. We could face a similar situation in the context of the bills people are facing at this point in time. We need the Government to respond now.

I will raise again the need for a debate on how technology is changing the world of work and, indeed, all aspects of our lives. I do so in a couple of contexts. The Leader will be aware of the testimony of Frances Haugen before the US Congress. She is the Facebook whistleblower who revealed a number of things many of us have heard about Facebook and some of the other social media companies. It is very clearly the case that Facebook has put company above country and, in many ways, above ethics. I raised this issue previously. It will come before these Houses in the context of the discussion on the online safety and media regulation Bill, the debate on the need for greater transparency, the need to ensure these social media companies are properly regulated and, when it comes to algorithmic decision-making, the need for us to have clear policies in place. I want to make it clear that I expect the legislation that will be brought forward by the Government will be sufficiently strong and we will have an online safety commissioner with real teeth. If we do not, I will have a problem supporting the legislation. We need to address some of the underlying issues, which pose some of the greatest threats to society and to our democracy.

It is also important we have a broader debate on the changes to the world of work, post pandemic. I have also raised this issue previously, but in the context of the skills shortages we are now experiencing, while there are many excellent initiatives through Springboard and others, we are seeing such rapid changes that we need to look at how we upskill and reskill all our citizens to be able to avail of those. I ask that the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris, comes before the House to discuss how we are going to prepare for the future of the world of work.

I too acknowledge last night's debate on Belarus. It was a very strong, positive message from the Seanad. The House has a great record when it comes to sending out clear messages about wrongdoing in the world. We need to continue with those debates.

During a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health this morning I raised the issue of University Hospital Limerick with the Minister. In the past few days, 82 people were on trolleys despite the fact that a 60-bed modular unit was commissioned and built in the hospital within the past 18 months or so. We are still in a situation where 82 people are on trolleys. God only knows what it will be like in January. I put that to the Minister and I did not get a satisfactory reply. We need a debate in this House on how emergency departments throughout the country are being managed. We also need a debate on the winter plan once it is published. It is totally unacceptable that we keep pouring resources into University Hospital Limerick and yet we are not dealing with the issue.

Like everybody else, I welcome the announcement of the NDP and the €165 billion in aspirational funding that is in it. Some of the projects are up and running while others are on their way to being completed, which is very welcome. I welcome the elements of the plan that support rural Ireland through broadband services and so on, but we need to get real about wastewater and sewerage systems in towns and villages throughout the country. In County Clare, there is a need for wastewater facilities to be built in places such as Doolin, Carrigaholt, Cooraclare and Broadford, to name only four. I will specifically talk about Doolin because it is operating at almost 100% capacity for approximately ten months of the year, but it could do so much more. Many people in Doolin are prepared to invest in developing products, accommodation, tourism facilities and so on. They cannot do it, however, because if they apply for planning permission they will not get it on the basis that the wastewater and sewerage system is at capacity. Let us get the basics right and development will happen. I would like a debate on the issue of wastewater and sewerage development in rural Ireland, especially in areas where investment can happen if the structure and infrastructure is in place.

There has been a lot of conversation on the energy crisis this past week in the media and both Houses. I could not help but think of a discussion we had on 25 June during the Second Stage debate on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill. There was a lot of talk about energy during that debate. Senator Joe O'Reilly rightly stated that we have to avoid energy poverty and we must ensure that low-income households do not suffer on account of the transition to renewable energy sources. Yet, it seems that will be the case. Perhaps the lights will not go out this winter, but I assure Members some will be turned out by families who cannot afford to risk a grossly inflated bill at the end of each month.

I understand the setbacks to the interconnector plan with France, Wales and Northern Ireland were unexpected, but even once our offshore wind turbines are contributing significantly, beginning circa 2028, fossil fuels will still be relied on due to fluctuations in wind-generated electricity. Entirely aside from emissions, fundamentally, a constant energy source cannot be replaced with a fluctuating one. The industrial batteries that store the power generated by fluctuating energy sources come at an incredibly high price, one that will be set to climb with global demand.

Can we please have a debate in this House with the Minister for the Environment and Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on the role nuclear power can play in our electricity sector? It is far and away the cleanest and most cost-effective way of producing the vast amounts of power we will need. It is time to sustainably end our reliance on foreign supplies of natural gas and put the spectre of Carnsore Point behind us.

I will raise the issue of early-school education and after-school education. I raised the issue last week in the context of the national childcare scheme and how it is disadvantaging children from lower socio-economic areas of the city and country. I support those providers, and parents, who were outside Leinster House yesterday in their campaign to get clarity. They hope the employment wage subsidy scheme continue because at the moment it is masking major deficits in the national childcare scheme. Ultimately, the Seanad should be ambitious. I would love to see a motion tabled in this House on a national childcare scheme. Childcare should be brought within the ambit of the Department of Education and all children from the age of two should have free early preschool childcare within a more streamlined and regulated environment, such as the Department of Education. We should lead on it in the Seanad and campaign for it together because when we work together our voices are much stronger than individual ones.

I also raise the issue of the assisted capacity legislation, which was enacted in 2015. At present, the Office of Wards of Court is working from legislation dating from the 1900s, the Lunacy (Ireland) Act 1901. Families are struggling. Anyone with diminished capacity is affected by this legislation not being implemented. There are families looking to place parents in nursing homes and children with severe disabilities who cannot manage their financial affairs. There is a major struggle going on within families throughout the country. I am sure many of us have been contacted by families asking for help with the fair deal scheme, or whether they are entitled to this or they need to do that. This legislation would make it so much easier for them.

We need to make sure that this legislation is enacted sooner rather than later and is not put on the long finger again because we have been promised it for a long time.

I want to echo the requests from Senator Ardagh and the Dublin 8 After School Alliance. The alliance came before the Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth yesterday to make a strong case as to why we need changes.

I want to bring to the attention of the House the fact that over the past few days Fine Gael has launched the care of the child policy lab report and seek a debate on childhood and the care of children in childhood. The policy lab came about after extensive engagement with more than 2,500 participants via a survey, followed by intensive policy kitchens to allow group discussions, feedback and the shaping of ideas from parents, childcare providers and early years professionals, which was particularly instructive. The resounding message is the underdevelopment of early childhood policies in Ireland, and that this is hampering progress and well-being in our society and stifling opportunity in childhood. I would like that to be the subject of a debate.

All children in Ireland should have the opportunity to participate in universal early childhood education and care systems developed around their needs, regardless of where they live. The recommendations are based around three cornerstones, namely, parents, providers and staff, with the well-being of the children being the overall priority. The recommendations include filling the yawning gaps in services that make life so difficult for parents, requiring flexibility and local access, making service more accessible and affordable and offering parents a chance to participate in policy.

We need a broadening of the national childcare scheme to include that universal component. I hope, on the basis of all of our advocacy on behalf of groups such as the Dublin 8 group, that we see a significant change in childcare provision in next week's budget and that the gap is funded. I will end there.

No, you are fine. Keep going. It is important.

Well-being in early childhood needs to be systemically prioritised so that it links into workplaces and community spaces and infrastructure owned by the State, such as schools, is used. We need to deploy what is already in place so that the well-being of children, parents and all of those in the sector are brought together and united in the support of childhood.

I would like to raise the issue of Dublin Fire Brigade, whose firefighters and ambulance crew are currently at risk of exhaustion due to staff shortages. In fact, twice in the past ten days Dublin Fire Brigade was called to my road. In one instance it was for a fire and the second was an accident. In the second case a young man waited an hour lying on the ground in the rain for an ambulance and the fire brigade to arrive. This is happening because Dublin Fire Brigade is operating with an over-reliance on overtime, and on certain watches there are insufficient staff available to allow for the full complement of fire tenders to be deployed.

Dubliners are immensely proud of our fire brigade service. One only has to ask the families of the Stardust victims about this. Fire brigade staff were the first responders to that tragedy and have continued to support the families for more than 40 years in their fight for justice. It is incredible that firefighters protested outside Dublin City Council last night because of the conditions they are working under and staff shortages.

I would like the Leader of the House to write to the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, to ask how he will ensure we have a full complement of Dublin Fire Brigade fleets and how he will ensure they will remain fully operational while we are waiting on additional firefighters to be recruited. As I said, it should not be the case that firefighters are protesting. They should instead be looking after the safety of people in Dublin. It is especially essential that we know that our fire brigade is fully equipped and supported, in particular coming up to Halloween.

At the beginning of this term I set myself an objective to continue harassing the Leader until the gambling regulation Bill came to the floor of the House and we appointed a gambling regulator. The Leader has been extremely responsive and organised a debate for me, to which a Minister responded. On many occasions I have outlined what a tragedy gambling is for people. There are approximately 30,000 people in Ireland with a gambling addiction. Charities have reported a 46% increase in people with gambling difficulties during Covid, in particular online. There is a move towards using smart phones and PCs. Very ominously, smart phones are now very much part of the gambling mix. When sports were off, poker games online became a big issue. When will the Bill come before the House? When will we have a regulator? I have no reason to doubt the sound promise made by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, but when will that be implemented? Will the Leader ensure that happens?

The next thing I will harass the Leader about over the coming weeks is CAMHS and waiting lists for childhood and adolescent mental health services. I gather in the region of 2,500 people were waiting at the worst point. I understand some efforts were made this year. My question relates to what Senator Seery Kearney said about childhood. What steps will be taken to address waiting lists? Could the Leader get a response for me on that? Could she commit to a debate on this in the House? I will raise this, along with gambling, until both matters are resolved.

I want to raise the issue of school transportation and ask that an urgent debate is scheduled with the Minister in order to address what I see as a fundamental lack of common sense and satisfactory responses from Bus Éireann which operates the school transport scheme on behalf of the Department of Education. I am raising this issue on the Order of Business today because a Commencement matter debate may be ruled out of order. I will submit parliamentary questions on this matter.

To illustrate this point, I know of an exceptionally frustrated constituent in County Waterford. I am sure other Members of the House have their own examples and frustrations. On 2 September, I was made aware of the case of a family who have children attending a local school. They qualify for a concessionary ticket, but have to travel 2.4 km in the opposite direction to the school in order to be picked up by the bus. In order to arrive at the pick-up point, the bus has to drive from a local road 2.4 km away, pick up children along the way and loop back on itself on the same road. It then travels 3 km onwards to the school.

My office has put forward a reasonable and sensible solution which, I understand, the operator is happy to facilitate if approved by Bus Éireann. Instead of the bus looping back on itself it could continue on the same road which would bring the bus past the gate of the family I represent, and then travel onwards to the school. I have done the measurements and it would reduce the existing route by 100 m. The answer I have received so far is another bone of contention. The responses I have received have not been satisfactory. I ask that common sense prevails. It is administration gone mad. It is not as though I am asking for a significant distance to be is added to a route. This is a matter of common sense and we need an urgent debate with the Minister because I am sure other Members of the House have similar examples.

When one talks about common sense, I ask Members to wait until they hear this one.

Funeral directors in Cashel, County Tipperary, received a letter from Tipperary County Council last week, stating that the payment for funerals must be made before the burial takes place. I do not know if everyone in this House has experienced going to a funeral director and the interaction involved. There are decisions that must be made, including picking a coffin and everything that goes with that. The last thing one wants is to have a discussion about payment. Even in the letter the council sent out, a copy of which I have here, it states that if the funeral is on at the weekend, of course the offices are closed so one cannot make a payment. One can, however, do a bank transaction and the details are included in the letter. Is there any sort of cop-on there at all?

I understand that councils must get paid for a service, whether that is digging a grave or paying for a plot, but there are ways of going about it. There are different types of funerals. Some celebrate life and others are tragic. Telling a family that they must fork out €450 to dig a grave, or €1,800 to buy a plot, which is really two plots, before they even have the burial is a mad idea, beyond a bad idea. It is absolute madness that this would happen.

Will the Leader ask the Minister with responsibility for local government to write to Tipperary County Council? This is happening in Tipperary town and Cashel at the moment. I spoke to Mr. James Devitt, a brilliant funeral director in Cashel. He is a good, decent and hard-working man. It is not his responsibility to collect money for Tipperary County Council. That is the responsibility of the council. There are occasions where a funeral happens and people cannot afford it, for whatever reason, and the State comes in to support it. That comes after the funeral. One cannot expect people to pay for something when the State is covering them for it after the fact. The situation around the school bus is mad but this is absolutely bonkers and totally unacceptable. I would appreciate it if the Minister would write to the county council as quickly as possible to ensure this does not happen in other areas. It is outrageous.

As the Senator said, there are bad ideas and mad ideas. In the history of bad ideas, that one is not the worst I have ever heard, but it is pretty close.

I wish to raise a couple of issues. Many of my colleagues have spoken about the national development plan and the welcome investment that will happen in the coming years. I want to highlight a couple of issues in the plan, in particular the upgrades to the Dublin to Sligo railway line. The upgrades are happening on the Dublin to Mullingar leg of the journey. Longford is the first point from where the early-bird trains travel to Dublin, bringing workers who are commuting. I ask for that to be looked at and for those upgrades to be extended as far as Longford.

I am thinking ahead. We had discussions about N roads and M roads. We will be quite happy if the N4 is upgraded. That is not just for the area I come from and the section running from Mullingar to Longford. The only route in the country that is not serviced properly is the route to Sligo. That services the whole north west of Ireland and encompasses counties Longford, Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo and Donegal. That needs to be prioritised. I know other colleagues are looking for other connectivity but the whole north west of Ireland does not have full connectivity to Dublin. That must be prioritised in the national development plan.

Various organisations have, naturally enough, made contact with all of us ahead of the budget. Like other Members, I have met local representatives of the Irish Farmers Association. I know there are a large number of asks within its proposals but we need to come some way towards looking after a number of those asks for our farming community, which is extremely important throughout the country.

Despite all the money we are paying out, the school library fund is low or has not been restored. It is a small figure of €5 million, a modest investment that can open up a lifetime of possibility and excitement for children. That says it all. That investment is a must.

When I raised an issue about the M20 yesterday, I called for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the important road projects in the national development plan. I will add today that a number of businesses on the south side of Limerick, including in the regeneration area around Southill, and the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership, are hoping that as part of the M20, the artery by Carew Park that was closed up many years ago will be opened up for the survival of businesses. It is a pertinent time for that debate. I call on the Leader to contact the Minister with a view to coming here for a debate.

The main reason I rise is because I want to acknowledge Olympian Róisín Upton; Emma Langford, who has national fame for her ability to sing; and our mayor, Daniel Butler, who is going to lay 30 white roses on the River Shannon on Friday as part of the launch of Limerick mental health week. It is a lovely gesture, not only for the 287 people who died in Limerick as a result of Covid-19, but also for their families. On Friday evening, all the main public buildings will turn green as a mark of respect. Limerick city has the highest suicide rate in the country. That is a continuing trend, which is quite frightening. There is a lot of work happening around Limerick mental health week. After more than a year of lockdowns, mental health issues affect many people of all ages, the young and the not-so-young. It is an opportune time to call on the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people, Deputy Butler, to come to the House. I know she has a firm commitment to mental health. Perhaps we could have a debate on mental health in the next week or two.

The Leader will remember that last week in this Chamber a number of colleagues raised the issue of antisocial behaviour on our streets. A particular video was going around on social media showing a Deliveroo driver being attacked. In the aftermath of that, I was contacted by a number of people and I subsequently put out a call on social media for people to share their experiences with me. I have been not only disappointed and disgusted, but shocked and astounded by the volume of responses I received from people all over this country in cities and towns around the country. The responses have come from Irish people but mostly from non-Irish people. It fills me with shame that there are Irish people out there who think it is acceptable to behave in any way approaching what we have seen. The video we talked about last week is only one example. There have been hospitalisations as well as more minor attacks, but there have also been deaths arising from attacks. People have shared hundreds of examples with me, and I do not say that by way of exaggeration. One person said that a group of kids threw eggs at her and told her to get out of this country. Another person said that as a Chinese girl living in Dublin, she has to be prepared to be verbally harassed every time she goes out. She said people come up to her and try to make her uncomfortable. She said they make racist remarks. She said she does not feel safe going out by herself. She has been shouted at, followed and attacked twice in two years while living here. She was attacked by a group of teenagers when she was getting off the Luas. We cannot tolerate this kind of behaviour. We are asking foreign nationals to come to this country and share their skills, labour and time with our economy, if nothing else. Beyond that, they are our neighbours in humanity, if that is not putting the matter too tritely. It is unacceptable that this kind of behaviour would continue and it is time we put a stop to it. I do not know what the answer is but I ask that we have a debate on the issue and explore whether we need more resources, more legislative solutions or something else. We cannot allow this awful, disgusting and intolerable situation to continue. Something must be done to put a stop to it.

I wish to talk about an issue that affects my local area and other areas across the country, that is, the severe lack of carers in the country to be able to provide home care packages. It is an issue I have been dealing with over recent months, particularly with one family. I spoke to Sinéad, the daughter of the lady for whom I have been working, and she gave me permission to mention the following story, which highlights the issue we have in providing carers. Ann Hearty was 61 years of age when, unfortunately, she had a debilitating stroke. She was to be discharged from the hospital, pending a home care package, on 20 September 2021. However, 17 days later, here we are on 6 October, and she has not been discharged due to a lack of carers.

The family were unable to apply for a housing adaptation grant because the sheer amount of money required was too much for what a housing adaptation grant could provide.

They put a serious amount of their life savings into adapting their home so Anne could come home, yet she is sitting in a hospital bed in Dundalk. She has been unable to come home for 17 days because, while 50% of the carers needed can be provided, the other 50% cannot. How can we turn around with a straight face to a family and say we want their loved one to continue occupying a hospital bed and that she cannot be taken home because of a lack of home care packages and carers?

The reason I ask about this is simple. I do not just want to have debate because we all have different stories and anecdotes about this; I want an answer. First, I want to know why there is such a lack of carers. Is this something that has emerged because of Covid? Was it clouded in the mists of Covid such that it is only on emerging from Covid that we realise there is a situation? Why do we have a lack of carers? What does the Government want to do to resolve it? In this day and age, it is just not acceptable to have discharge dates overdue for 17, 18, 19 or 20 days. People want to be cared for in the home. We need to have them looked after in the home and to get them home. We can do that only with proper carers. I would love to know why we do not have them at this point.

I thank my colleagues. Senator McGahon asked the $64 million question. I would love to know the answer. An obvious answer is that caring is a bloody hard job. Some of the conditions that the State has imposed on private care providers make it even harder for them to do their hard job. They make it harder to recruit people to do the hard job. One concerns the rate of pay, which is €11 per hour, although I am aware the HSE pays a little more. A carer might have to look after one person in Dundalk and another in Blackrock, County Louth, but the time taken to travel between both houses is not included in his or her working day. This is ludicrous. A genuine review of the national strategy on carers is certainly long overdue. It should be prioritised by the Department of Health. We met representatives of Family Carers Ireland and other such organisations in the past couple of weeks when they were on their pre-budget tour. There are certainly several small things we could do as a State and Government to go a long way towards providing the support structures needed for family carers, and improving working conditions and, hopefully as a consequence, the recruitment prospects of the private companies that provide the care, which is so valuable in our communities, on behalf of the State. I will write a letter to the Minister for Health and ask him about the status of the review of the carers strategy.

Senator Ward raised an issue we touched upon last week. I am referring to the video of the attack on the young Deliveroo rider, whom we all know is new to Ireland and who is probably working in the gig economy, being paid buttons and being mistreated. Senator Seery Kearney has met the Deliveroo people. I will not say that we need to accept that we will always have troublemakers in Ireland looking for trouble. When I looked at the video, the thing that made me feel the most shame was the crowd of Irish people standing around cheering on the tramps attacking the young man. What the Senator has described means we have a problem with the culture, including the changing culture, in this country. That is not something that is going to go away on its own.

I was dismayed to hear the assistant Garda Commissioner telling us on television on Monday that we do not have a problem, that we have vibrant cities and that everything is wonderful. This morning, I was pleased to hear our Minister for Justice not contradict but perhaps disagree slightly with the assistant commissioner and say there will be a new active policing plan introduced, not just for Dublin but for all the other urban areas where there is a growing antisocial behaviour problem. I am not sure whether that will address incidents such as the throwing of eggs at the Chinese woman getting off the Luas, as described earlier, and the name-calling or other forms of insidious racist behaviour that are a growing problem in this country. Maybe we need a more universal or national debate on how we can address this. I am not quite sure whether something like a citizens' assembly would highlight the matter but some forum needs to be found in which people can share, in full view of other Irish people, their experiences so people can realise just how important this issue is and how prevalent the problem is in society. I thank the Senators for raising it. I will revert to them on whether I can arrange a debate in the House.

Senator Byrne talked about the M20. We referred yesterday to what she raised, namely, the need for a debate on public transport. Several colleagues raised this yesterday. I have asked the Minister for Transport to come to the House to talk about public transport, particularly in light of the NDP developments and announcement on Monday. As soon as I have a date, I will revert to Senators.

Senator Carrigy mentioned the need for the Mullingar–Longford part of the Dublin–Sligo route to be included in the project in question. I hope to be able to give him a date for that as soon as I can.

Only in Ireland would something as bizarre as what Senator Ahearn described happen. Ireland is renowned for how empathetic its people are when somebody dies and for how communities, families and extended families come together to cherish memories and support families, so to be talking about money is just bizarre. I am not sure whether I can ask the Minister to write a letter; I can certainly try but we can write the letter to Tipperary County Council. I can certainly do that on the Senator's behalf.

Senator Cummins raised an equally bizarre matter that would happen only in Ireland. I am now in the Oireachtas for nearly 11 years. We have had the debate on school transport. I am referring to the bizarre way in which Bus Éireann tries to solve a problem in a way that only an Irish person would try to solve it. Every year, however, the same issues arise. The only thing I can say to the Senator is that tenacity will inspire him to seek a resolution, but it seems bizarre that we have to do as we do every year to solve the same problems for different people. I wish the Senator well and hope he gets for the family the resolution he is looking for.

I am pleased to have Senator Joe O'Reilly harass me weekly on the gambling regulations Bill. I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, where the legislation is on the list of priorities and revert to the Senator.

On the CAMHS waiting list, I am aware of the matter. I will ask the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, to schedule some time in the coming weeks to come to the Seanad to talk about her plans. She is well aware of the waiting lists for CAMHS. She is pursuing options to alleviate the pressure on the waiting lists beyond just recruiting more CAMHS personnel. She has been looking at some of the wonderful organisations that are assisting people under 18, such as Jigsaw and Pieta House. However, I will get her to come to the House to tell Senators about the work she is doing.

Senator Boylan referred to the overworked workforce that is Dublin Fire Brigade. It is particularly overworked at this time of the year. It should not be overworked at any time of the year. We definitely need recruitment. One of the Senator's colleagues mentioned the matter last week or the week before. I had reason to write to Dublin City Council a couple of weeks ago to ask it about its position on recruitment. I am still waiting on a letter to come back to me. I will certainly ask the Minister today on behalf of the House to revert to us on this.

Senator Seery Kearney mentioned the launch over the weekend of the Fine Gael policy on the care of the child. It represents a wonderful body of work. I realise people might believe I am saying that because I am a member of Fine Gael but I genuinely welcome the approach taken by the policy lab in Fine Gael because it is a new initiative for us. It is important that people feel policies are made from the ground up because, for far too long in this country, we have had policies that have been made from the top down. It is afterwards that one reflects on some of the obvious steps that should or could have been taken through policy. I welcome the body of work.

It is time for us to have a national conversation. Every year around budget time, we talk about needing more money for childcare. Every year, budgets are announced and we just tinker around the edges. We all know how important the years from zero to six, six to 12 and 12 to 18 are in children's lives. We certainly have not got it right yet and, therefore, I welcome the policy. However, I will ask about it. The Labour Party launched a policy last weekend on its childcare initiatives but it is time for us all to have a proper debate about what we would like to see as a State and put our heads together to determine how we can resolve the problem.

Senator Ardagh mentioned her support for the ECCE scheme, but again recognising that the providers who were in the building yesterday said it is not meet all the needs of our children or realising our ambitions for them. More attention needs to be paid to the scheme and the support network. The Senator suggested that childcare should be under the Department of Education. When Deputy Richard Bruton was the Minister in that Department, an idea was circulated that childcare providers could use the school system before and after school on the grounds that we own the buildings and that they are empty before and after school, when children have gone home or have not yet arrived. Actually, we do not own the buildings; the patrons own the buildings, which is a huge stumbling block. It is not unique to one particular patron. All the patrons own the buildings so it may be time to think about how we provide public services and pay for them to make sure we can get full value out of them.

Senator Keogan called for a debate on energy prices. The issue is topical. I have requested that the Minister come to the House to talk about it. In the budget this year, a top priority should be meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in light of us having introduced carbon taxes to curb and change people's behaviour. The arrangement for the most vulnerable will not be enough this year owing to the increase in prices because of supply shortages. The increases imposed by providers in the past couple of months, including Electric Ireland only this week, are not because of carbon taxes; there are other reasons.

We need to be mindful of that because some of things that have been suggested this morning, while they might not be widespread, will certainly be true for some families. The Senator is right to raise the matter.

Senator Conway talked about University Hospital Limerick and the requirement for a debate on rural Ireland due to wastewater shortages. I will try to arrange a debate as soon as I can.

Senator Malcolm Byrne talked about Ms Frances Haugen. On a number of occasions the Senator has raised the issue of social media, its pervasiveness and how activities have not been curbed. What Ms Haugen has said sends chills up one's spine. Sometimes whistleblowers are treated with contempt and told they must be making half of it up. Even if Ms Haugen made up 10% of what she said yesterday then we should be incredibly afraid for the outcomes social media will have on adults, democracy and how we are duped but, genuinely, on how our children's lives are being shaped. I am not surprised that the requirement for the child and adolescent mental health services, the resilience in our children, and the vulnerabilities that we all see, even in our own families, have multiplied in the last ten years. It is also not really a surprise that this has occurred at the same time as an increased use of social media. I have four children at home and their phones are never out of their hands. I think that I am a strict parent but clearly I am not strict enough. We need to have a serious debate and not just in the Seanad or the Dáil but at a policy level so that regulations can swiftly be brought into place so that social media usage can be curbed and the algorithms benefit us as a people.

Senator Gavan talked about the Atlantic corridor and the N20 motorway. I appreciate his bona fides on this matter. I have asked the Minister for Transport to come in as soon as possible and I will probably attend the debate. The project is very much needed.

I cannot answer the Senator's question on Julian Assange but only because I am not as knowledgeable as I should be and do not want to say something that would be ignorant. It strikes me as odd that Mr. Assange, who is the gentleman who just highlighted major ills as he saw them, has suffered. I will research the matter and get back to the Senator.

Senator Mullen asked for an ongoing debate on the progress of vaccinations. Part of me thinks, holy God, is the pandemic not behind us yet but the Senator is right because booster jabs will be needed. Although I never think of it this way there is a need for an ethical debate because, as the Senator mentioned, not everybody believes the conspiracy theories or that people have other reasons. We should respect those reasons and not necessarily try to change people's minds. I will ask the Minister for Health to schedule a visit here for a debate in the next couple of weeks.

Senator Kyne talked about the welcome news about the Moycullen bypass and the awarding of a €30 million contract. The project has been very important to him and his locality for the last number of years.

Senator O'Loughlin mentioned the "Women of Honour" group and the response by the Minister for Defence and his Department to their experiences that have been shared in the last number of weeks. I would say that it is probably only the tip of the iceberg and it is not just in the Defence Forces that there is a repugnant culture, which we do not and would not like to admit exists. Perhaps it is time to have a commission on these matters covering all male-dominated environments and I do not mean to be disrespectful when I make that suggestion. For far too long vulnerable people, and in a lot of cases they have been women, never had an opportunity to speak out and express either their concerns or share their experiences. It is time that we shine a light on all things that are repulsive in Irish society and the State because it is only when one does so that one can do something about it.

Today, outside Leinster House, we will shine at a light at 1 p.m. when we, the ladies of the Oireachtas, and gentlemen are very welcome to join us, will march for maternity services. Albeit that the pandemic is nearly over and 92% of the adult population are, thankfully, vaccinated, the partners of the women who are going through the nine months maternity journey and giving birth and the care that is provided to both the baby and the mam afterwards, the partners are still being excluded. We do not have uniformity across the 19 maternity hospitals. We certainly do not have the same access that would have been provided pre-pandemic, which is all that we ask for. We ask for one nominated partner for any lady who is having and experiencing the maternity journey, and giving birth to much wanted children, and in some cases losing much wanted children. The one nominated partner should be given equal access to all visits, scans and pre-natal and post-natal appointments. The entire maternity journey should be shared because it was shared at the beginning and should be shared all the way through the journey. I invite Members to join us and march in solidarity with the women of Ireland who will be outside these premises at 1 p.m. Some of whom will bring their babies who were born during the pandemic, and demand better maternity care in this country.

I thank the Leader for informing the House of that important initiative.

Order of Business agreed to.