The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 12 October 2021, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Bill 2021 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
On behalf of our group, I wish to be associated with the comments expressed by the Cathaoirleach and the Leader on the sad passing of Mr. Tom Burke. When I entered the Oireachtas as a Member in 2016 I think he was the first person who snapped a picture of me and my family at the gate. He was a kind and jovial man. Right across the political spectrum, Mr. Burke was much liked and admired.
Time is limited, but I will address an issue that our party members have discussed over many months, as has the Leader and many other Members. I refer to the state of childcare services. The budget is upon us. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, have long lists of what we are all seeking for different parts of the country. It is important that we all make our pitch. Really and truly, though, as has often been said in this House recently, we have let our system of childcare fall apart. That is the only word that I can use to describe the situation. We must quickly ensure that childcare workers are paid a decent and proper wage. It is a priority. It is a responsible job that must be undertaken when we leave our children in the care of others day after day. We rely on those people, many of whom do a very good job, to look after those children. In situations like that, we must ensure that people are properly paid and that the system is properly funded.
We all know that the finances are tight from time to time. It is hard for Governments to have money to allocate to every cause. I feel strongly about this issue, however, and I am sure that the Leader will inform the relevant Ministers of the need in this area. I hope, therefore, that the budget will ensure, once and for all, that all our childcare workers are paid a proper wage and that more people will be attracted to the job. No childcare workers will be left if we continue in the way we are going now. That is a fact. This is the situation in every part of the country. I have often met many people in the Roscommon and Galway region who have told me about the desperate plight of the childcare system. It is important, therefore, that we all focus on childcare. It is important that it is recognised in this budget that childcare workers do a meaningful and important job. It is crucial for us to pay those people properly and to attract people into the system. People will completely fall away from it if we do not look after them.
I concur with the Cathaoirleach's comments on, and tribute to, Mr. Tom Burke. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Yesterday was European Carers Day. It was intended, "to coordinate and foster national efforts to raise awareness of carers’ issues under a pan-European structure". We have had debates on the value and importance of carers and the key role they play. They are the unsung heroes around the country. Every family is different. Some families can rally around if they have the numbers to look after loved ones, while some people may be on their own trying to look after a loved one alongside the pressure of everything else that they must do in their lives as well. The well-being of carers is important. They are looking after a loved one, or whatever, but they also need to be looked after themselves. Carers have their own needs too.
The national carers strategy is long overdue an update and Care Alliance Ireland, CAI, and other groups have been asking for that to be done. It is an area that we must focus on.
Covid-19 has been particularly difficult for all society, but carers who were so concerned of bringing Covid into a home were particularly isolated. Research by Care Alliance Ireland shows that 44% of family carers feel less able to cope as time passes. While they might get more accustomed and more used to the situation and better at the job, the needs and demands of their loved ones also become more onerous as time goes on. It is a role that is very important. I have personal experience of that.
Every family is different in how it is able to cope. It is not always financial, it is also the number of people who are there. I hope that in the budget we will see an increase in the income threshold for qualifying for carer's allowance, and an increase in the rates. It is doubtful I know. The Leader has experience of that role also.
Many carers felt isolated and underserved by traditional support-group models. The flexibility and access to 24-7, peer-to-peer support means so much to family carers, so they can engage on their own terms and at times that fit in with their living and caring duties. It is that collaboration and collegiality that members crave, so they do not feel as isolated and there is that support and advice from people who face similar challenges in similar roles.
On the budget, the key ask of groups has been the national carers strategy. Respite is also a key area for carers. Caring is an onerous and all-consuming task. In many cases it is a full-time job depending on the condition of the carers' loved ones. Respite is so important. We all know, from doing constituency work, the pressures that people can be under. I hope to see some improvements in next week's budget across that very important sector for carers.
I join with others in the tribute to the photographer Mr. Tom Burke. What an extraordinary man. He caught the expressions, the good times, the sad times, the low times and the high times of many politicians. He stood outside Leinster House at the Kildare Street gate and was occasionally at the Merrion Street gate. I came in that side once and said to him, "You are normally at the front." He said, "I go everywhere. I am at every gate taking pictures." A few of us, including my friends and family, were in here on my very first day. He was very kind and said that he would send us on a photograph. He did more than that: he printed off three copies and he sent them on, one of which is sitting in my dining room. I thank his family for that. I am sure that many of us here have pictures that were taken by him and have them up, which captured a particular moment in the particular political life of us as individuals. I want to acknowledge this.
I raised the issue last week, which I wish to raise again, of the enormous waiting lists in excess of 900,000 people who are waiting to see consultants either for treatment or assessment. The list is now heading into 1 million people who are waiting for assessment or treatment. Subsequent to the day on which I spoke, I received a memo detailing and setting out issues around ophthalmology, dermatology, urology, gynaecology, cardiology, respiratory medicine, endocrinology, paediatrics, breast surgery, neurosurgery and oncology. The memo set out the enormous numbers of people who are waiting for scans, consultations and follow-ups. These are all part of this group.
I contacted the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which is an independent State agency that validates all of these figures for the Department, with which it works closely. The figures have gone up in one year by 66,000 people. I am aware that housing is a big issue for Government, for everybody involved in politics, and in life itself, but these waiting list figures are alarming. I am aware that the Minister has committed to establishing another unit. These functions are meant to be part of the National Treatment Purchase Fund's functions. The Minister has spoken about establishing a national task force to tackle the growing hospital waiting lists. Perhaps we will hear something about this in the budget next week and I do not want to pre-empt that. I now intend to commit myself to standing here once a month to read out the figures because they are alarming. I would like a debate on this issue at some stage in the future.
I thank all of those involved in the debate on wills in the House yesterday. It was a great debate. It was meaningful and interesting. I referred to Teagasc in last night's debate. Teagasc was bombarded online last night with its seminar on inheritance and succession. One can look at this on the Teagasc website. I thank the people involved. Hopefully the Government might come back with its own Bill. I do not have a hang-up about anybody's Bill, I just want this national register of wills in the future. Hopefully we will see something quicker than the nine months that the Government's motion put to the House, and which was agreed by the House, last night. I thank those who engaged constructively in that debate.
I welcomed yesterday's debate on succession. It is something very close to my heart and I believe the debate went very well. There was cross-party support for a change in the legislation.
I wish to address the issue of maternity restrictions. I will not say that it is becoming boring at this stage because it is still so traumatic, and we hear new stories every day. We carried 1,000 stories into Leinster House yesterday from mothers and their partners on how difficult this past couple of years have been. As I stood outside Leinster House yesterday one of my own family members was out there while heavily pregnant. It sends shivers down my spine to think that there are continuing restrictions. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, addressed the issue yesterday but, with respect, at the very least we need a timeline. I simply do not understand why we are continuing to see these restrictions when the vast majority of Government and Opposition Members are calling for a lifting of restrictions. It simply has to happen. The Minister put it quite well when he spoke in the Seanad yesterday. He said that if it was men who were giving birth these restrictions probably would not be in place and we would actually have a healthcare system that was set up to put women, or men in that case, at the forefront.
This brings me on to another issue in women's healthcare about which I am passionate, that is, menopause care. I welcome the commitment to set up specialist menopause centres across the country. Having engaged with the Irish College of General Practitioners, I am aware that training for GPs in general does not include menopause healthcare as part of the core training, nor does the training include contraception, as I discovered from the Irish Family Planning Association. Both of these areas need to be brought into core training for GPs so that one does not have to go to specialist services for an initial visit and can get the correct information from any GP in any part of the country, and then by all means be referred to specialist care.
Those are a couple of matters I would like to see in the budget. It is not a huge expense but it means an awful lot to all of us here who have advocated on this issue.
I thank the Senator for raising the issue of access to maternity hospitals. The Senator has been doing this, along with many other Members and the Leader, for months. Regrettably, we do not see a huge improvement.
I wish to raise a matter that has been bubbling away for a number of years in our city, which is now beginning to come to a head. It is the destruction of our historic, cultural and social spaces in our capital city. The Moore Street Quarter is one of the most important intact battlefield sites in Europe and yet it was threatened with complete demolition a number of years ago. It was only after the heroic campaign by the relatives of the 1916 Rising that the demolition was stalled. The situation is still not fully resolved. When I raised this matter with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe at the time, she could not believe that a country would destroy such a site to make way for more retail when other European countries were literally rebuilding, brick by brick, their battlefield sites that were destroyed in World War II.
Moore Street is not the only example of how little respect Ireland has for the fabric of its capital city. The O'Rahilly house is another example that was destroyed by a hotel developer. Now we hear that Merchants Arch and the iconic Cobblestone pub are to be modified to make way for hotels. During Covid-19 young people were blocked from accessing public spaces. They were being moved on and we were told that if public toilets were to be provided it would only encourage people to come into the city. Murals are painted over because they do not have planning permission, instead of platforming our artists like every other European city with their fantastic examples of modern and contemporary artists' work on the walls.
What is happening to our capital city is tragic. We are fast becoming a capital that is purely for tourists and business and not for the communities which actually live here. There are a number of reasons for this problem. One is the city development plan is far too weak. Too often those weaknesses lead to bad planning decisions so the plan must be strengthened. Second, we need to hear from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage about Government planning policies that have made matters worse, especially the guidelines put in place by the previous Minister, Eoghan Murphy. They must be scrapped. We need planning policy that actually protects the historical fabric and also the contemporary cultural spaces we have within our city to make it vibrant and livable. Finally, we need Dublin to have a directly-elected mayor because only then will be able to elect somebody who can set out their vision for the city in holistic approach. This is as opposed to the current system where we have the CEO of the city council and councillors who are working, rightly, for their local areas. We absolutely must have a directly-elected mayor to have a vision for the city.
I encourage everybody to sign the petition to stop the destruction of the Cobblestone and the modification of Merchant's Arch. We must take a stand and preserve what is left of the fabric of our city.
I was going to raise exactly the same issue but in a slightly different way. We see the plan to replace Merchant's Arch with a nine-bedroom hotel. We see the plan to replace the Cobblestone with a nine-bedroom hotel. We are looking at the city develop and essentially hollow-out all its cultural spaces to have a cookie-cutter version of culture one can find anywhere.
In addition to those commercial enterprises and ventures which are essentially being changed into cookie-cutter versions of hotels, we are also seeing a crisis in artistic spaces and studio spaces which has been going on since 2015. In 2015, myself and Councillor Claire Byrne of the Green Party worked on the Dublin City Development Plan to try to include cultural and artistic spaces in it, such that where there would be large-scale developments, there would be an element of studio and cultural space included in it. That came off the back of Broadstone artists' studios, which had been in operation for 20 years and paid to its landlord more than €1 million in rent during that time. Through that, what was happening was the Department with responsibility for arts and the Arts Council were essentially giving the studios programme funding to be able to pay that landlord its rent. Then the landlord decided to sell up and the organisation was kicked out. The studios were never re-established. We see this happening all over the city. We see it happening in my area of Dublin 8 at the moment. Pallas Projects/Studios works within the arts and has provided both exhibition and studio space within Dublin 8 at a number of different sites over the last number of years. Its lease is up in February. When that happened at Broadstone, myself and Councillor Byrne set up a studio arts space but what we wanted was for the Department to provide studio and workspace providers with capital funding so they could buy their own buildings and not be kicked out every couple of years.
As part of the budget next week, I would like to see a commitment to capital funding for arts and culture spaces, in Dublin in particular, but also around the country. It is bad policy and bad planning that when it comes to cultural capital we are essentially providing the housing assistance payment, HAP, rather than social housing. I ask the Government look at providing mortgages and long-term loans to artists' studios to be able to buy the premises they are in and to have a clause that ownership reverts to the local authorities if those organisations end up winding up. It is simply unacceptable that artists' studios and places for people to work are living short term to short term. We must be willing to support investment in our cultural capital and our artists by providing them with places to live and places to work.
I also wish to pay my respects to Tom Burke. I remember starting in politics and him making we walk out and back in repeatedly. Whatever type of embarrassment I first felt in front of a camera, he definitely wore it off me after a few of those struts up and down.
I want to speak about care leavers. Returning to the Chamber this week ahead of the budget, I cannot help but think of many young people across the country who are also returning to further education in the last few weeks, or beginning their journey in it for the first time. It is an exciting time but also one which brings many challenges for young people. First and foremost, care leavers carry the trauma of their pre-care and care histories with them into adult life. This trauma does not simply disappear upon reaching adulthood but continues to impact care-experienced people across the lifespan. We must consider the impact this trauma has on a young person trying to progress through further education and offer trauma-informed support to assist them in thriving in these new learning environments. Second, many care leavers do not have access to the traditional family support networks that many other young people do. While some care-experienced young people will continue to live with or receive support from their foster families, others will be living completely independently shortly after their 18th birthday. In transitioning from being in care to being in after-care, young people lose access to many important figures in their lives, such as foster carers, care staff, social workers and therapeutic support staff. After-care workers continue to offer support to young care leavers but this is contingent on the young person's ability to maintain this voluntary working relationship or his or her ability to maintain an education or training placement. Additionally, the availability of the support is often affected by the after-care workers' caseload, which ultimately means different young people in different parts of the country receive different levels of support. Many of these challenges interfere with a young care leaver successfully navigating this important life stage. We must do better for them. We must ensure adequate support is provided to our care-experienced young people to help them break the cycle, thrive in education and training and live happy and healthy lives.
I hope to see some supports or resources for care leavers in the budget. I ask the Leader that we continue holding a debate on the situation for those living in care or who have experienced care.
I want to raise the issue of driver test delays. I appreciate it has been raised before in the House but it remains a significant issue with more than 100,000 people currently waiting for a test, according to the latest figures from the Road Safety Authority, RSA. I want acknowledge the Government has taken action by hiring additional testers and opening ten temporary testing centres but it is simply not enough. It is a huge issue in Galway and across the county. However, there is also a backlog with the driver theory test, with more than 120,000 people waiting for it. This will obviously have a very significant impact, in terms of increasing the number of people waiting for driver tests, when that backlog of in excess of 120,000 people currently waiting for the theory test is cleared. This needs to be resolved and there is only one way to do so, namely, increasing the number of tests being held on a weekly basis. In addition, serious consideration must be given to introducing weekend testing. This will obviously require the hiring of additional testers, a recruitment process involving advertising positions and holding interviews, and will take time. There is no point waiting for another two months when we know exactly what will happen in terms of the number of people waiting and the length of time they are going to have to wait. It is a significant problem in Galway, where there are more than 10,000 students between NUIG and GMIT and they are travelling longer distances because of the accommodation crisis. As such, there are a number of issues. In the grand scheme of things, the cost of this will be a drop in the ocean but it is something that will make an immediate tangible impact on the lives of thousands of young people, particularly those who are naturally not legally allowed to drive alone and are having to pay significantly higher premiums.
I would be grateful if the Leader could contact the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and request he appear before the House at his earliest opportunity.
Imagine running a marathon when you are in sixth class. I have never run any marathon. My pinnacle was half the Connemarathon. Galway Sports Partnership and Healthy Galway are investing funds from Sport Ireland in Ballinasloe in preparation for a community sports hub application. Marathonkids Ireland is going to be run out in 30 primary schools, so children in sixth class will have the opportunity to embrace running and jogging.
Being healthy and active at all ages is crucial to a general sense of well-being. Even going for a walk will clear one's head. It is crucial to get the routine of being active from a young age because it lasts and sets people up for life.
The Marathonkids Ireland programme has been proven to increase physical activity. Children can start running 600 m and the programme lasts eight weeks. The children get excited when they see their fitness level improve every week. When one learns the importance of being fit at a young age then one will be fit going into secondary school. Being active means young people have a healthy balance and it assists academically by improving focus and concentration. As part of the programme children will be supplied with workbooks and lessons on the benefits of exercise, and the importance of healthy nutrition and hydration. I thank the primary school pupils, and the principals and teachers who will take part in this activity as well.
There are great athletic pursuits in areas. I wish to highlight the fact that 700 children will participate in the finals of the Community Games that will take place at the University of Limerick this weekend. The scheme is so important in rural areas. I am sure that we probably all remember our first race because it was probably organised by the Community Games. From the start, all of these activities have been run by volunteers and it is the parents who have taken up the mantel of supporting the running of the Community Games. I wish all of the participants well this weekend and reiterate that sport is really important.
Like Senator Dolan, I wish all of the participants in the finals of the Community Games well. As somebody who has taken part in activities run by the Community Games, I can attest to the fact that it is a wonderful organisation.
How many medals did the Senator win?
Curiously enough, I won a medal for art.
The Senator is gifted in many ways.
Did the Cathaoirleach win any medals?
I wish to refer to a crucial decision that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine must make about the basic payment system. Under the Common Agricultural Policy, as we know, he was successful in that we have maintained a certain level of discretion that allows us to make our own call on the level of convergence. It is important that we continue to support the productive farmers in this country. I do not believe that we should go beyond a rate of 85% convergence. Even if we moved to a rate of 85% many farmers would lose out and that includes many small farmers simply because they have high entitlement values. We can see the value of food production in this country, so it is important that we protect the farm families where there is productivity.
Now is a really difficult time for agriculture. The work is challenging and farmers will be at the front line in the battle against climate change. Farmers are committed to sustainability but they want not just sustainability from an environmental perspective but that family farms are financially sustainable. When the Minister met the representatives of the Wexford branch of the Irish Farmers Association, they made a number of constructive proposals under Pillar II. There has been much discussion, and I tabled a Commencement matter in this House, on how we can support young farmers. It is a real concern that only 5% of the people involved in farming are under the age of 35. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the future of farming, food production and ways to ensure the sustainability of farming not just environmentally, which is critical, but also that there is financial sustainability for family farms.
I congratulate the Senator on winning a medal in the Community Games and on his marathon run last weekend in London.
I wish to convey my condolences to the family of the late Tom Burke. Many of us will remember him standing outside of Leinster House in the pursuit of photographs over many years. On my very first day in Leinster House, in May 2011, Tom took a photo of me when I approached the gate. He has photographed many of us over the years. He became a good friend to many of us and gave us plenty of advice. I extend my sympathies to his wife, who is originally from County Clare, and family. Ar dheis de go raibh a anam dílis.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the National Maternity Hospital and update us on who owns the site. Yesterday, women and men were outside of Leinster House to protest against the restrictions imposed by Covid and so on. They were right to protest. The hospitality sector and nightclubs have opened and it is unacceptable to still have restrictions placed on the people who seek to accompany women when they have their babies.
We need a debate on the National Maternity Hospital. I fundamentally believe that the hospital should operate completely independent of vested interests, including the church. That should happen, and we should make that happen. I would like an update on the current situation and ask the Leader to schedule a debate on this issue in the not too distant future.
I rise to agree with the national neurology strategy and that we need an extra 100 neurology nurses. On Tuesday, 16 April 2019, in this Chamber I raised the issue of neurology services in regard to University Hospital Limerick as it awaited the recruitment of three or four specialist neurology nurses. On that occasion I was told such appointments were part of the national clinical programme for neurology, and that there was going to be a model of care that would be prioritised by the Government for the next five years. On that occasion, I called for one nurse to be appointed even though there was a recommendation that three nurses be appointed. At the moment, there is a report that shows there is a shortage of eight nurses. The University Hospital Limerick specialises in neurology in the mid-west region and it is quite frightening to learn that there is a shortage of eight nurses.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House to debate this matter. Neurology services are not just a local issue but a national one. Such shortages have created waiting lists as well. The provision of specialist nurses would alleviate the problem because more people could be seen. Plus investing in the recruitment of neurological nurses is cost efficient.
More than a year ago, in another Chamber, I commended the newly launched East Belfast GAA Club. The club's crest depicts the Harland and Wolff cranes, a sunrise, a red hand, a shamrock and a thistle. The club's logo is written in English, Irish and Ulster Scots and states, "Together". I did not know when I commended the club that its first president was the Irish language activist, Linda Ervine, who people regard as having impeccable loyalist, unionist and Protestant credentials. Linda Ervine MBE is proud to be the first president of a club that has shown how sport can unify. She is a wise person and today she said that people should give the protocol a little time to be worked out. Do not pre-judge or pre-empt it or tear something down for the sake of narrow political gain when the people lose out. Just give it a chance. In a proverbial sense, and without being flippant, calm the jets.
We all know Ms Ervine's late brother-in-law, Mr. David Ervine, as having a courageous voice of peace and reconciliation. Once again, I commend the calm intelligence of putting people first as practised by Linda Ervine and so many others, which is what is needed in that part of this island at this politically delicate point in time. We need to hear lots of voices like Linda Ervine who plans to say an Irish prayer at a controversial event that is due to take place and concerns the foundation of Northern Ireland. Well done, Linda Ervine and well done to everyone who takes the middle ground thus putting people and peace first.
I join with the Senator in his praise of Linda Ervine and her presidency of the East Belfast GAA club. I was in Belfast during the summer and attended one of the club's camogie games, which it won.
An Cathaoirleach: I join with the Senator in his praise of Linda Ervine and her presidency of the East Belfast GAA Club. I was in Belfast during the summer and attended one of the the club's camogie games, which it won. The club is going from strength to strength with its underage structure in a part of Belfast that would not normally have a GAA club. However, the club welcomes everybody from all over the island. Anybody from Kerry, who ends of in g
They are going from strength to strength with their underage structure in a part of Belfast that would not normally have a GAA club. They bring people from all over the island together. Anybody who ends up in Belfast, whether from counties Kerry, Longford or elsewhere, ends up joining the East Belfast GAA Club because it is such a broad church in every sense of the term.
I have just come from chairing an online event entitled, Countering Human Trafficking in Ireland, hosted by the all-party Oireachtas Life and Dignity Group. We heard from two experts, Ms Sunniva McDonagh, a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, and Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab. Given Ireland's low, tier two or "watchlist" status in the Trafficking in Persons, TIP, report I am sure the House will agree that this is an issue that needs the attention of Oireachtas Members and the Government. The emerging picture is that while efforts are being made to combat human trafficking, we continue to be behind the curve and behind new and emerging events including, for example, the emerging reality of pregnant women being trafficked for the purpose of illegal adoption. One of the points made was that there is a need to put on a statutory footing measures to combat human trafficking that are only operating on an administrative basis currently. Reference was also made to the role of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. The people we encounter in nail salons, car washes and so on may have been trafficked. Is the WRC treating that as a labour issue? If a person is undocumented and is not being paid legal wages, is there a perverse incentive for employers to use undocumented people? Are sufficient inspections taking place? Is the WRC the body that ought to be responsible for dealing with the fundamental problem of illegal human trafficking and its impact on human dignity?
We have a long way to go. The presentations that were given online are available and can be emailed to colleagues. I encourage Senators to seek them out and I would be delighted to forward them. This issue is going to run and run and it will continue to need and deserve our attention.
I thank the Senator for sharing that information on videos relating to human trafficking, a form of modern slavery in today's world. I call Senator Seery Kearney.
I want to give a big shout-out to Dublin 8, which came 15th in the world ranking of "coolest" neighbourhoods to live in. It is an area that is full of historic places and fantastic eateries, and everybody should make it their business to visit Dublin 8 as well as other areas in Dublin South-Central.
I wish to raise a serious issue and ask for a debate on it. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters where we talked about inclusion in political, cultural and social life. Horrific experiences were recounted by artists with visual impairment who lose their entitlement to the blind pension if they accept a commission. The blind pension is dealt with by the section of the Department of Social Protection that deals with the old age pension, and artists are subjected to audits if they report an income. The blind pension is €203 per week and artists are allowed to earn €140 above that, which does not even reach the rate of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, that we set up to compensate people during the pandemic. If they fall in love and have a relationship, their partner's income is taken into account and they may lose their blind pension. It costs at least €200 per week extra for a person with a disability to cater for all of the needs that arise out of that disability. We listened to what the witnesses had to say and person after person spoke of experiencing micromanagement by the State. They have to adopt an almost defensive position and defend themselves against the accusation that they are trying to defraud the State. They named it as an "ableist privilege" and the more I hear from witnesses at the disability matters committee, week after week, the more I believe that this is the reality across our society. We need a national conversation about this and I am calling for a debate in this House on ableist privilege. We must use the fantastic position of this House to call it out, name it and begin the conversation because it is desperately needed.
Today is National Women's Enterprise Day and it is appropriate to acknowledge the many women involved in business throughout the country who do sterling work at both local and national level. I want to acknowledge a number of excellent businesses in my own area run by women that are unparalleled. I could talk about numerous shops, restaurants, accountancy firms and lawyers in the area but I want to mention a couple in particular, including Jane Carroll Design in Blackrock, a shop that provides good quality clothing and interesting toys for children. Jane had difficulties in the past year when the lease on her building ran out in Blackrock. She had to move to another premises but it is a testament to the strength of her business that she has been able to do so and continues to meet the great demand for her services. Louisa Cameron runs Raven Books in Blackrock, which is recognised nationally as an award-winning bookshop. Raven Books is a small, independent bookseller that sells used and new books. If one goes into Raven Books, one will get great recommendations. Louisa has also run good workshops for children in conjunction with Blackrock Library to set them on the path of reading the kinds of books they want. I also want to mention Pat Kane's Reuzi shop in Foxrock, which sells items that enable people to genuinely follow a path towards a sustainable lifestyle, and Nuala Woulfe's beauty salon in Glasthule. There are many others that I do not have time to mention but it is appropriate on National Women's Enterprise Day that we recognise that so many women throughout the country are at the core of the local economy, delivering services and providing employment and so many other benefits to their local areas.
I call for a debate with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media on media rights for sporting events. I am particularly concerned about the GAA because last year the majority of that organisation's matches were only available on pay-per-view platforms, which was quite distressing for many. In 2020, all three Cork senior hurling intercounty matches were only available on a pay-per-view platform. This year we had to get to the All-Ireland final before we could watch the team on our national broadcaster. It is our national sport. We invest money in the GAA through sports capital grants and we back our clubs, parishes and counties on an almost religious basis. The situation whereby pay-per-view platforms have exclusive rights to 12 or 14 championship games every year needs to be examined.
Negotiations on media rights will happen again in 2022 and we need a debate with the Minister on those rights and on whether the State should step in. The State should step in and ensure that GAA matches are available on free platforms so everybody has the opportunity to watch them. As I said, the negotiations will happen next year and we need to get ahead of the ball. We need to make sure that we are in front of this issue and that the 2017 arrangement is not repeated, whereby the majority of games are on a single platform, which means that the section of society that does not have the ability to pay is alienated. The other issue is that the aforementioned arrangement forcing people to go to pubs to watch matches. I have a difficulty with parents having to take young children to the local pub to see their beloved county play a match. It makes no logical sense and undermines the community ethos of the GAA. It is important that we schedule a debate with the Minister on media rights, sport and society.
Senator Ward named four or five people from Dublin in the context of National Women's Enterprise Day. I would like to mention my sister-in-law, Jennifer, who runs a business at home in County Tipperary.
She runs a whiskey business at Tipperary Distillery. She just had a baby a couple of weeks ago.
Since there is honey going around, we can draw the obvious conclusion.
Like a lot of women who are self-employed and who run a business, she is back at work already, bottling whiskey.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate in regard to the roll-out of broadband. Broadband is being rolled out at the moment and, obviously, it was the previous Government which put this through, essentially. The speed of it needs to increase. There are people in Tipperary at Borrisoleigh and Templederry who have been told they can expect to get roll-out of broadband by 2026 or 2027. It is just too far away. There are people in my own community in Grange who are told they should try to get a private provider, such as Imagine, but they are in areas where they are blocked by mountains or trees and they cannot get satellite coverage. They do not have any alternative. As many people are working from home, the roll-out of broadband is very important. It is something Fine Gael has committed to over the last number of years, and people who voted against it previously are now criticising it because it is not being rolled out quickly enough. They are right but imagine how slow it would be if Fine Gael did not push it through at that time.
We have had a good debate on Housing for All. It has come to my attention that two building sites in Limerick have essentially downed tools for the simple reason of the cost of materials. They cannot justify continuing with work on the sites because of the price of materials. They either have to wait until the price or materials drops or they have to renegotiate the cost of doing the job. This is only going to get worse. I know we are going to debate this further with the Minister but there is an evolving situation in regard to the housing crisis. The cost of materials, whether wood, steel or in particular cement, has increased dramatically in recent weeks. It is a real issue that we need to address as quickly as possible.
I want to raise a couple of issues ahead of the budget. My own family are involved in the coach and bus business. We all know the tourism industry has been decimated. The cost of fuel has risen far ahead of what it is in Northern Ireland. The fact is that operators cannot reclaim VAT on diesel whereas those in the North can, so they are now totally uncompetitive when compared with the Northern Ireland bus companies in terms of getting contracts here. That needs to be looked at.
A good friend of mine, James Cawley, is the policy officer with Independent Living Movement Ireland. He asked me to highlight a number of its concerns. First, there is no legal right to personal assistance services in Ireland. The Government needs to prioritise investment and enact legislation to enable disabled people to live the life they choose. Second, a specific budgetary commitment needs to be made to cost and resource full and timely implementation of moving people out of congregated settings. Some 7.5% of all new social housing and housing provided by approved housing bodies must be ring-fenced for disabled people. We need to increase the public service employment target from 3% to 6%. We also need to invest in a fully accessible transport system which connects disabled people and enables them to be included in the community. There is a need to continue to embed disability in the commitment to equality and human rights budgeting. Disabled persons organisations should be directly consulted and engaged with in all policy discussions impacting on disabled people's lives as they are the experts with their lived experience. It is very important that any decisions that need to be made are made in conjunction with these organisations that have the lived experience.
I call the Leader to respond.
I thank my colleagues. James Cawley is a person I know well. It is a long time since I have seen him so I want to send him our best regards. I acknowledge the asks. If there was ever an organisation that amplifies the "nothing about us without us" ethos, it is certainly something for Mr. Cawley's organisation to be credited with.
I know Senator Carrigy raised the cost of fuel and VAT reclamation with the Minister for Finance. I wish him well, in particular in regard to that industry, as it is going to become a very big issue in regard to losing business to our Northern Ireland colleagues and customers.
Senator Ahearn talked about the roll-out of broadband. I very much welcome the all-party consensus on the fact it was a good and right investment to make. To be honest, I do not think there is anything wrong with us clamouring to improve the speed at which it delivers on behalf of the people we serve. I will certainly organise a debate because it seems to have slipped just a little bit. To expect people to wait until 2027 is not on. I will organise that as quickly as I can.
With regard to Senator Lombard’s point, I am reminded that when my children were small, although this is probably not the most politically correct thing to say, the only time we would get to go out for a pint was on a Sunday, when we went down to watch the match in the local GAA club. I take on board the merits of what the Senator is saying and that it is not and should not have to be a necessity. We did it for pleasure and to get out, but the fact families are being forced to do it, in particular to go to pubs in our villages, is just not on. They certainly should not have to do it. It is a debate that we definitely should have. We all cherish different sports and I do not think any sport that is in the national interest, and certainly one that has a national team, not least of which is the GAA, should have to be paid for to be watched. I will certainly raise that and ask for a debate.
Senators Ward and Ahearn extolled the virtues of women in business. I would say that this is something us women knew, long before National Women's Enterprise Day. I do not think this can be overemphasised and, although we have been talking a lot about women's issues, it is probably new to me, as a Member of the Seanad, because it is certainly not something we ever did very much of in the Dáil for the last ten years. It is to be commended from the perspective of the Seanad. Women do not just run businesses; they run homes, communities, families, school libraries and they are involved in every single facet and asset that we call this great country of ours. I have to tell the House that I am sorry that they are not recognised a fraction enough, given what they contribute to our society. I thank both Senators for raising National Women's Enterprise Day.
The coolest place in the world to live is a pretty high accolade, so congratulations to Dublin 8 and to all of the people who represent Dublin 8 here today.
Senator Seery Kearney is right that the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, as an organisation and as a committee, is certainly the right place to highlight what are injustices in the delivery of services and the provision of income supports for people with disabilities. Although this is probably bold and cheeky, when I was Minister with responsibility for social welfare, I obtained some €60,000 in the budget of 2019, I think, and Senator Boyhan might remember this-----
Yes, I do.
It was to commission a report on the cost of disability because the €203 flat fee or income support for all people who have disabilities, at entirely different levels of the spectrum and entirely different levels of outgoings because of their disability, just does not cut it. Senator Seery Kearney might ask the Minister where that report is and we might have a debate on that because it will then be based on structured research, and we can have a proper discussion as to what needs to be done.
The difficulty is that it is across every Department.
It might be a good place for us to start. Let us have a look at the report and see what the recommendations were. I ask the Senator to contact the Minister for that one.
Senator Mullen talked about the meeting he organised this morning. I thank him and I think he is right. I do not know about sending it to everyone but he could definitely send it to me and to all colleagues. I did not have an opportunity to attend this morning. That recent court case in the midlands concerning women totally abusing other women really shocked me. In my mind, we nearly expect men to abuse women and, again, maybe that is a stereotypical image, which is wrong. However, we have a real, serious and growing issue in this country, and it definitely needs to be highlighted. I thank the Senator for that.
Senator Martin talked about East Belfast GAA Club, which was founded just over a year ago. Again, we can shine a light on the fact that Linda Ervine is a very calm, intelligent and respectful woman, and to acknowledge what she said this morning.
Senator Maria Byrne talked about the extra 100 neurology nurses needed around the country and I will certainly ask for a debate. It is shocking that eight are required in one setting that looks after one region of the country. I will try to do that as quickly as I can.
Senator Conway asked for a debate on the continuing saga of the ownership of the national maternity hospital. The recent announcement by the audit and risk committee certainly highlights some of the things that some of us have been saying for quite a long time, that is, there is no way that hospital can be built without it being in full public ownership and without us having full control over it. This is certainly the time for a new debate.
Senator Malcolm Byrne talked about the CAP payments system and the negotiations on CAP. The Senator is absolutely right. We cannot talk about sustainable farming from an environmental perspective without ensuring we have sustainable incomes for those people who work, love and cherish our land. I will organise that debate as quickly as I can.
Senator Dolan talked about Marathonkids Ireland, which is a great initiative and I wish them every success.
Senator Crowe raised the issue of the 100,000 people, most of them young, awaiting driving tests. His idea of extending to weekend testing is a great one. I will send a letter in that regard to the Minister.
Senator Ruane asked for a debate on care leavers. I am happy to be able to tell her that a debate on children in care and thereafter is scheduled for 11 November. The Minister agreed to that this morning. I look forward to that debate.
Senator Boylan raised the issue of Merchants Arch and the announcement in recent weeks of the plans in that regard, which are ludicrous. Why one would knock down something that is so beautiful and precious to build something that is new and average is beyond me. The Senator highlights that there is need for stronger planning legislation and a better plan on behalf of Dublin City Council.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly spoke about last night's debate on succession, which was very welcome. She also raised the issue of maternity restrictions. I am mindful that we will probably have to continue to raise this issue on a weekly basis. Although everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet in regard to the removal of restrictions for one nominated partner in the maternity journey, it does not seem to be happening. Everybody says they want it to happen, but we cannot seem to put our finger on the person who is responsible for making it happen. We need to keep raising it until it does happen to show respect and solidarity to some of the women who came out yesterday. For those who did get the opportunity to go down to the protest yesterday outside Leinster House, it was a warm and emotional protest. The feeling was lovely, perhaps because there were many babies there. It was really lovely, but they do need all of us to support them. I thank Senator Pauline O'Reilly for raising the issue.
Senator Boyhan spoke about waiting lists. It is shocking that there was an increase of 66,000 in one year. I hope it was because of Covid and that it is an overlap, but it means we are right back to trying to catch up on catching up. I will ask for a debate on hospital waiting lists but I encourage Senators to continue to raise the issue even more regularly than once a month.
Senator Kyne spoke about European Carer's Day and his requests in regard to the budget, in particular for a review of the national carers strategy. Senator Murphy opened today's Order of Business with a request for a debate on childcare. It was also raised by a number of other colleagues this week. It certainly is timely. I have asked for that debate. I do not think it will happen before the budget but it will have to happen as soon as it possibly can.
Order of Business agreed to.