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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Vol. 279 No. 12

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, the Finance (European Stability Mechanism and Single Resolution Fund) Bill 2021 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m.; and No. 2, Private Members' business, Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 1, whichever is later, with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.

I support the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader. Today is international day against violence and bullying at school, including cyberbullying. UNESCO member states decided to designate it such because they recognise schools-based violence and cyberbullying are particularly difficult for children and adolescents. Cyberbullying has been increasing significantly, as we know. DCU has done a lot of research in this area which shows that, last year, 20% of our young people had experienced cyberbullying, with another 50% saying they were aware of, or had seen, such behaviour. It is a huge issue we need to recognise and tackle. As I said, DCU has done incredible work in this area. The Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, recently launched a competition organised by the university seeking initiatives in this area that young people in different schools have developed. The deadline for submissions is 26 November and the entries can be in the form of posters or short videos. It is important that young people get involved in the conversation. I recommend and encourage schools to participate and make submissions to

I want to raise the issue of the increase in the number of cases of the spiking of drinks, which is very frightening. People of every age and gender need to be vigilant when they are out socialising. What we are seeing on social media and hearing from victims, mainly young women, is horrific. We need to strengthen our laws to deal with this and encourage victims to report to venues as well as the Garda. It is very important to do that. I urge everybody to stay safe and never leave a drink unattended.

The other issue I want to raise is the situation of amputees in this country. There are 5,000 people with prosthetic limbs. Without a medical card, which is discretionary and considered individually, amputees get no support whatsoever. One prosthetic limb is provided if the initial surgery is done publicly. If it is done privately, the prosthetic is not provided by the State. For children, the limb needs to be changed every year and, for adults, every two years. A person who is involved in sport will need more than one particular limb. The State should be giving more support to these people. It is traumatic enough to lose a limb without having to face this lack of support. Counselling supports should be put in place and we must look at other measures to support the 5,000 amputees in this country.

In light of the revelation at this morning's Oireachtas committee meeting that RTÉ, the State broadcaster, has paid out €10.4 million in defamation costs since 2010, I call for a debate on broadcasting. It should be a wide-ranging debate that covers not just this particular aspect but also the matter of the 500 or so workers at RTÉ who are deemed to be either temporary or on contract. That is an issue about which we should all be concerned. In addition, we should look at the licence fee and the role the national broadcaster and public service broadcasting can play in the future. It is important we have a debate on the future of broadcasting and media in this House. We have seen a modal shift in how people consume news and engage with newspapers. During the Covid period in particular, we saw the value of good-quality, local newspapers and media in giving information and keeping people in touch. It would be opportune for the House to have a debate on the role of RTÉ that would include a wider discussion on the role of the media.

I thank Members for their participation in the debate on transport. It was a very positive debate despite the lack of agreement with regard to the amendment from Senator Boyhan on the role of, and need for, a policing force on our public transport services. There is need for a wider debate around the role a new type of policing authority can play in policing antisocial behaviour on public transport. Senators will have heard what Dermot O'Leary of the NBRU had to say on the news last Friday. We are all aware of the rise in antisocial behaviour. As I said during the debate last night, we have a duty of care to the workers and to those travelling on our public transport. I am not sure if the Seanad Public Consultation Committee is still functioning, but this may be a piece of work that could be done by that committee. I would be happy to sit down with Members to put together a piece of work on that. I would ask, respectfully, that we have those debates.

My understanding is that the Seanad Public Consultation Committee will sit after Christmas.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

I support Senator Buttimer's request for a debate on the media and broadcasting. That would certainly be timely.

There are two issues I would like to raise with the Leader. The first concerns the leaving certificate. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills is currently looking at the issue of leaving certificate reform. The development of syllabi is ongoing by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA. There are many concerns among science teachers and science academics about the development of the syllabus in areas like chemistry, biology, physics and agricultural science by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. These concerns are being expressed by the Irish Science Teachers Association. The concern is that a very vague template is being prepared for each of these subjects in terms of teaching and assessment. This could lead to confusion among teachers about what they are meant to teach and, indeed, to what depth they should teach for success in the leaving certificate. Some of the changes are being proposed in the name of promoting creativity, but the science teachers argue that specifying learning outcomes is all very well but these learning outcomes can apply to any level of teaching on a given subject. They are concerned that when they raise objections the executive committee of the NCCA progresses these matters regardless, which is what appeared to happen in 2014. Rather than get into excessive detail on this, I ask for a debate with the Minister on the NCCA, how it goes about its work of curriculum development, how it deals with the concerns of those experts that it brings on to its committees in the area of science teaching and science academia and whether their concerns are in fact being listened to.

The second issue I would like to raise with the Leader concerns the information surfaced by Deputy Carol Nolan in the Dáil that there have been a total of 94 incidents of adverse events reported to the State Claims Agency with regard to the operation of the new abortion law. It is not clear what was involved in these adverse incidents. Information would be important. I refer, of course, to information that is properly anonymised. We do not know whether these adverse incidents relate to catastrophic situations such as the misdiagnosis that led to the taking of baby Christopher's life by the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, or whether they relate to issues that have adversely impacted on women's health. These issues about abortion concern women's health and, of course, they concern the ongoing contested space about whether it is right to take the life of the unborn. It is clear that we cannot just have the vague indication by the Government that there is to be a three-year review. We need to be getting information and discussing in these Houses issues such as, for example, the implications for the ongoing practice of abortion being provided through telemedicine arising out of Covid. There are many concerns about the dangers associated with that. Above all, there is a need for information and open debate. I ask that the Minister for Health would come to the House to discuss with us what is at the back of these adverse claims, what they tell us about the way abortion law is operating and what changes we can fairly debate in the Houses.

Recent reports of serious antisocial and unruly behaviour on the State's public transport services are a cause of serious alarm. The State provides these transport services and so it has a responsibility to protect all passengers. The State needs to not only protect people but to incentivise them to avail of public transport because that is intrinsic to this country reaching its climate targets. That cannot be done without a multi-sectoral approach. We need great collaboration from the different sectors. At the heart of that is public transport. We want to encourage people to use it. We get hung up about electric vehicles. Even if every car was replaced by an electric vehicle there should still be gridlock and congestion on our roads. Public transport is key.

In regard to the reports of antisocial behaviour there is prima facie evidence that they are law breakers. They are grotesquely rude, selfish and uncaring people who are undermining the rule of law. There should be zero tolerance of them. People should feel safe to travel by train but that is not the case at the moment. Germany and France have a tradition of zero tolerance, but not Ireland. We have to start that conversation, but we must have a collaborative approach. The Green Party in government has to step up here. The Green Party has a proud, close affinity and deep, strong advocacy for the use of public transport. What resources are required by the Department of Justice, the Department of Transport and An Garda Síochána to make public transport safe for people?

I am aware of a person who got his dream job of providing catering services on trains. He had to leave that job owing to the grotesque behaviour of passengers. He thought he had his dream job. I am also aware of a family who, when travelling on a train, had to go en masse to the toilet because they could not leave anyone alone owing to bullying and grotesque behaviour of passengers sitting adjacent to them. We have to come up with concrete, active ways of translating words into actions to help staff who are doing a good job. I know this House is supportive of that. During the winter, with the snow and inclement weather conditions, we know how lucky we are to have a transport system. My county is very fortunate to be served with rail transport. We must be seen to act. I propose to write to the Garda Commissioner and other relevant bodies and authorities in regard to a concrete tangible result that re-incentivises people to use public transport. People have to feel and be safe and protected on our public transport services.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the climate action plan that we are all awaiting sight of to see if it will live up to our expectations in terms of delivering on our legally binding targets. I am hoping that there will be an element of consultation around the climate action plan. We do not have a good reputation in this country of consulting with people, whether it is on planning matters, forestry or renewable energy. We seem to baulk at the thought of asking people for their opinions. This leads to us getting caught up in courts and judicial reviews and delays because one cannot stop people wanting to have their say about what is happening in their lives and in their communities.

It is interesting that even with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 we had to fight tooth and nail to have it undergo pre-legislative scrutiny. We at least managed to strengthen the Bill, but when it came before the committee we had to fight to have obligations for public consultation included. I was minded to mention that those of us who attended that committee heard from eminent experts such as Dr. Aine Ryall, who were at pains to emphasise how important consultation is when it comes to climate action. Consultation is not about delaying; it is about a two-way dialogue which should be ongoing and inclusive.

I am particularly interested to see if there will be a just transition commission in the climate action plan, because that would facilitate that dialogue to be ongoing, to make sure that we are meeting our targets, and to make sure that we are assessing as we go the impacts on different communities. That would allow us to adjust and mitigate any negative impacts that are happening.

I would also like to raise the disappointing news that Equinor, our leading offshore wind developer, has decided to pull out of the Irish market. It will probably be a real spanner in the works for the development of our hydrogen strategy. I again point out the issue of consultation. We must not fall into the trap, because Equinor is saying that it is about the regulatory framework. We have a marine framework coming. That needs to happen. The marine protected zones also need to happen. However, we cannot allow wind companies to try to undermine the process in the meantime.

I would like to finish by encouraging all the Members of the House to come to the Garden of Remembrance at 12 noon on Saturday for the COP26 Coalition. It is calling for greater ambition to come out of the COP26 talks. Its demands are simple: green jobs; a just transition; free, green and frequent public transport; a moratorium on data centres; a ban on liquefied natural gas, LNG; and sustainable agriculture and fisheries communities. I am sure everybody would agree with all of those demands. I look forward to seeing Members on Saturday.

Next week will be the first anniversary of our discussion on Jadotville, which was supported by all sides of the House. Of course, we recently passed the 60th anniversary of this great military event. These Irish soldiers are not just regarded as heroes in their homeland, but by a growing number of people worldwide.

I recently came across the wording of the surrender document of Commandant Patrick Quinlan at Jadotville. It is important to put it on the record of the House:

Jadotville, 17 September 1961. I Commandant Patrick Quinlan officer commanding Irish United Nations troops in Jadotville do hereby agree to the terms of surrender of Minister Munongo because - The Irish force is here in a peaceful police role and any further action would result in the loss of African and Irish lives. I also wish to state that my troops fought only in self defence having been fired on while attending mass on the morning of 13 September at 0740 hours. It is also agreed that the Irish troops will have their arms stored at the location of the Irish troops accommodation. In the absence of orders from higher authority I take the responsibility for this decision.

It is never too late to do the right thing. It is never too late to honour the men under the command of Commandant Quinlan in the way their commanding officer recommended.

The second item I wanted to raise today is the growing cost of energy prices for so many people in this country, as well as the urgent need for Government to address it. Like many people in this House, my own office and phone is inundated with people who are facing a cold winter. My colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, raised this matter with the Taoiseach in the Lower House yesterday. The discussion yesterday was on the recent European Council meeting of 21 and 22 October. The Council mandated energy ministers to convene an extraordinary meeting to follow up on Council conclusions. Those ministers agreed that short term measures have to be taken as a matter of urgency to shield vulnerable customers from enormous price hikes. The Commission has issued a clear policy framework that allows member states to take action, including temporary tax breaks.

Of course, this surge in energy costs is an unexpected windfall for the coffers of Government. The State charges 13.5% VAT on top of the increasing price of energy. In fact, as Deputy Howlin pointed out yesterday, not only does it charge 13.5% on gas and electricity, it also charges 13.5% on the carbon tax and on the public service obligation, PSO, levy. The EU energy taxation directive and the VAT directive give flexibility to member states to exempt or apply a reduced rate of VAT on electricity, natural gas, coal and solid fuels used in households. Given the extraordinary rise in energy costs, the Government must act to ensure that all households can battle these costs this winter. Government has been given a green light to do so. I hope the Minister can help all of those who are worried about heating their homes this winter.

I would like to address the issue of the designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorists by the Israeli Ministry of Defence on 22 October. This designation by the state of Israel is a clear attack on civil society organisations working in defence of human rights and international law. Such actions do little to challenge the view of Israel as a repressive, apartheid regime. Israel and pro-Israel organisations have for years been going after donors to cut off funding to these Palestinian human rights organisations, some of which are at the forefront of pushing cases before the International Criminal Court, ICC, including against Israeli defence minister, Mr. Benny Gantz, while also imprisoning human rights defenders on the ground. The donors, including European governments, have repeatedly found no basis for the accusations of terrorism. Remember, these orders were issued by the same government minister who this summer authorised the bombing of a building that housed various media offices, including the Associated Press, in Gaza. This was also under the pretext of secret evidence.

The attacks against six Palestinian organisations are, therefore, just another step in a long-standing series of attempts to try to ban any criticism and, particularly, any legal activism against Israel. It is little wonder that hundreds of rights organisations around the world have seen through Israel’s latest façade, and that our own Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, has stated that he has seen no evidence to support the assertion that these are terrorist organisations. This attack comes as part of an Israeli campaign against the Palestinian people and civil society to delegitimise, eliminate and smear their work in the areas of human rights, gender, and social and environmental justice. The organisations are targeted because of their powerful and professional work in documenting human rights violations and conducting advocacy to hold Israel accountable for its war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Palestinian civil society has been tirelessly documenting human rights violations, advocating for protection and justice, and offering legal and social support to the Palestinian people. The work of civil society is fundamental to upholding democratic practices and the protection of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, especially the right of self-determination and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

I call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to update the House on what he and the Government are going to do, given that no evidence of terrorism has been provided. Irish Aid-funded human rights organisations have been effectively criminalised. Are we going to fund vital human rights work and watch as the staff, some of whom are Irish citizens, face arrests and jail time? I would like the Minister to come into the House to give us an update on what is going to happen.

At a time when news feeds are consumed with Covid-19, COP26, and the Northern Ireland protocol, it is difficult to get media attention for events that happened in our country many years ago. These are events that many of us want to leave behind us. Unfortunately, for some families, those times have never gone away. This past week has seen renewed calls for information regarding the disappearance of Columba McVeigh. The family of Columba McVeigh has made a further appeal for information as part of a walk they hold every year on 2 November, All Souls Day.

In November 1975, the then teenager from Donaghmore, Tyrone, was abducted, murdered and secretly buried. It is believed that his remains lie hidden in a bog in Bragan, in north County Monaghan. Despite a number of searches through the years, unfortunately, his remains have not been recovered. Oliver McVeigh, a family member, has repeatedly made an appeal for anyone with information to come forward. In the words of the family, they are prepared to "let bygones be bygones”.

I would like to echo the call from the McVeigh family this morning. I would like the entire House to echo the call from the McVeigh family, so that this family, which has suffered now for 46 years, can finally bring their suffering to an end. They have suffered long enough. It is time for them to have peace and closure.

The Leader kindly arranged a meeting with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, about the air navigation and transport Bill. That meeting took place the other day. I was somewhat disturbed that we were presented with the fait accompli by the regulator by way of a PowerPoint presentation.

I asked at the end of the meeting that the PowerPoint presentation be made available immediately to us in order that we could discuss it with the people who care about airline safety and flying in general, the Irish Air Line Pilots Association, IALPA. I was told I would be given the PowerPoint presentation before the end of the week, along with the undertaking from the regulator. That all sounded very plausible, but the key point I want to make today is that IALPA is not at all happy with what was presented to Members of the Seanad the other day. We cannot go ahead with this legislation while this doubt hangs over it. The pilots and the pilots’ organisations are the people who know what is happening on the ground. Unless we listen carefully to what they are saying, we cannot allow legislation to go ahead. It is flawed, as far as I am concerned, and I will do everything in my power to obstruct it if we are not prepared to have a proper conversation about this.

I know this is not the fault of the Leader. She arranged the meeting and I am grateful to her for that. The meeting was a very slick performance, I have to say, but at the very end of it, there was very little time. No matter how often I asked if I could have the PowerPoint presentation, I was told “No” and told I would get a letter of undertaking. It is simply not good enough. We are talking about the safety of the public as they fly. If we take the peer support group part of the legislation, we already know one pilot who was suffering from severe depression flew a plane into the Alps. We do not want to see a serious accident. I believe the Irish pilots are genuine in their efforts to make this legislation sound. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to release the PowerPoint presentation and not to proceed with this legislation until IALPA has had an opportunity to provide a rebuttal.

Before I sit down, and I beg the indulgence of the Chair. Paddy Cosgrave at the Web Summit made the most outrageous attack on the Tánaiste of this country. I have no allegiance to any political party and have never had since I was elected to this House, but the bottom line is that people like Paddy Cosgrave-----

Thank you, Senator.

We just had Senator O'Loughlin speaking about bullying. A lot of the bullies moved from the schoolyard into corporate Ireland and beyond. I want a debate on bullying but I certainly want Mr. Cosgrave-----

Thank you, Senator Craughwell.

I just think it is wrong.

You have made the point very well but we also have to remind you that, in his absence, we cannot name someone.

He was quick enough to speak in the absence of the Tánaiste, so he was. I will leave it at that. I will not argue any more with you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

We all share your concerns but there is a procedure.

I condemn last night’s violence on the streets of Belfast. It followed an illegal protest purporting to be against the protocol. People have a right to protest. They have a right to peaceful protest in opposition to political events of the day, and I and, I am sure, colleagues will defend that right fully. Of course, this protest did not take place at the headquarters of the DUP, it did not take place at the Northern Ireland Office, it did not take place at No. 10 Downing Street; it took place at an interface. I would call from this House today on my unionist colleagues in particular in the North to tone down the provocative rhetoric in this regard. We have seen a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old arrested last night. With the greatest respect to them, I am sure neither of them could outline the concerns around the complexities of trade in regard to the protocol. There are people and families living at both sides of the interface who want nothing to do with this and who deserve to live and rear their families in peace.

I commend and thank my own party colleagues, community workers and youth workers who were out on the ground last night trying to ease tensions. I am sure they will be out again tonight and over the coming days, but they should not have to be. I do not want to over-egg it. This was sporadic and it was quite minimal in comparison with other events we have seen, but once people are brought out onto the street in this fashion and led by such provocative and inflammatory language and sentiment, it always has a very dangerous potential. I want us today, through the Leader, to condemn those events last night and to call on people to engage on this issue respectfully, peacefully and, probably most important of all, realistically going forward. We do not want to see any further escalation or any harm brought to young people or the families living along the interface between the Springfield Road and the Shankill Road.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 14 be taken ahead of No. 1.

I propose to introduce the Protection of Private Residences (Against Targeted Picketing) Bill 2021. Following on from Senator Ó Donnghaile, while we are talking about the right to protest, and it is a very important right in this country that we should protect and stand up for, with every right comes responsibilities. Sadly, while the majority of protests in this country are done in a responsible way, we have seen small fringe elements who have taken it into their own hands and decided to picket outside individual’s homes. It is not just politicians. We have seen journalists and the Chief Medical Officer being subjected to this kind of abuse. Frankly, I do not think it is acceptable. We need to give the powers to gardaí to be able to address this.

For every right, there are also responsibilities and there are competing sets of rights. Alongside the right to protest there is the right to privacy, which an individual has, and the right to a family home. It is often not just the person who is the subject or target of that protest who is affected. It is their family and it often involves children and, indeed, their neighbours. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is part of Irish law, very clearly respects that right to privacy. Under our Constitution, it has been held as one of the unenumerated rights. This very specific type of legislation was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1988. It is important we now protect individuals’ private homes.

I am happy to introduce the Bill today. It will proceed as a Private Members’ Bill but I hope the Government will consider taking it on board.

I am privileged to be on the board of directors of the Cara organisation, which is based in Tralee but is a national organisation that promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in physical activity. It has had remarkable success in recent years. I pay tribute to Niamh Daffy, the CEO, who was identified as one of the most influential women in sport in Ireland. It is a tribute to what she and the organisation have achieved, and I congratulate her on that.

I want to raise the fact the HPV vaccine has been shown to lead to a 90% reduction in cervical cancer. It is a tribute to Laura Brennan and a tribute to the people who have campaigned tirelessly for the HPV vaccine to be taken up in this country. It is wonderful that over 80% of young people now get the HPV vaccine, and we need to get that to 95%, 96% or even 100%, if possible. It is a proven and documented vaccine and a report in The Irish Times today shows how successful it is.

On a Commencement matter in the House three or four weeks ago, I raised with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, the issue that, for those who do not get the HPV vaccine for their children and decide a couple of years later it is a good idea to do so, there is a cost of between €400 and €600. That is another barrier to people getting the HPV vaccine. The Minister of State very kindly responded that this is going to be eliminated and that cost is not going to be a barrier for people taking the HPV vaccine at any stage.

That was six weeks ago. We still have not heard any detail on it. It is great when we table a Commencement matter in the House and get a positive answer but the follow-up is critical. I want the Leader to make contact with the Minister for Health to know exactly when we will have an announcement of the elimination of the cost of the HPV vaccine.

Today is the day the Government will announce the climate action plan. It is often said that an ounce of action is worth a ton of talk. Today we must all recognise the time for talking is over. Today is a day we must all take action. Climate change is real. It is dangerous and it is taking place at an unprecedented rate. This is indisputable. It is a fact that none of us can escape or deny and we must all accept it. If we want the best for our children and for their friends and future generations, we must all take action. We all want our children and their friends and future generations to live healthier, smarter and more sustainable lives than us. We must take action to enable them to do this.

Around the world, governments have wasted far too much time. This is why I say that today the talking must stop. We must take action. We as legislators must not just endorse the Government's action plan - we have to own it. We have to champion it and make it real for people. We have to make it real for home owners and enable them to retrofit their homes. We have to make it real for public servants. We have to ensure that all legislation and public policy and every publicly funded programme is climate proofed. We need to support everybody involved in the transportation industry, including bus drivers, taxi drivers and delivery people. We must help them to adapt to sustainable transport modes. We must help our farmers to grow and protect our environment.

I know the Leader knows this and the Government knows this. We have an opportunity to leave a legacy for future generations that will give them real hope for a healthier, cleaner and greener environment within which they can live and where there will be more opportunities for everyone. It is not just down to us in government. It is also down to those in opposition to stop the cynical negative prevarication and do the right thing. Supporting the climate action plan is not just the environmentally right thing, the economically right thing or socially right thing - it is the morally right thing to do not for us but for future generations. I want to use my time today to call on the Opposition and every elected member not just in this Chamber but in every chamber throughout the country to get behind the Government's climate action plan today and make it real and deliver on the promise and hope of a cleaner greener world for us all.

Does Senator Fitzpatrick second Senator Malcolm Byrne's proposal?

I agree with many of the points made by Senators Craughwell and Malcolm Byrne on protests and the abuse that many people get. This issue affects not just politicians but also many other people who work in very important roles and do what is not just very important but also what is very good.

Will the Leader get an update from the Minister of State with responsibility for sport on sports capital grants? We had an announcement in early August with regard to the equipment side of sports capital grants and this was hugely welcome for sports clubs throughout the country, including in County Tipperary. This is the small money. The big money is the next round that comes. I am being inundated by clubs. In Tipperary there are many clubs that are hugely keen to get as much funding as possible. There is a worry about when it will be announced. There was talk it would be November or December and now it looks like it might be January or maybe later. I know almost all of the applications have been assessed at this stage. Is there any update on when this will happen? The clubs are eager to get going and get funded. I have been contacted by a huge number of clubs in Tipperary that want to get started. The work done is of huge benefit to the area and the clubs. I am thinking of all clubs, including tennis and GAA clubs, Kilsheelan-Kilcash GAA club and Clonmel soccer club. The women's hockey team in Clonmel has an application for a new hockey pitch. It has had no hockey pitch for years. It has made an application with the Presentation school in Clonmel. It really wants to get going on this to support so many people who are into sport in the area. If we could get an update it would be greatly appreciated.

I will be brief and I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for facilitating me. I want to share several points with Members today. I thank the people who engaged in a very constructive and interesting debate although we did not get the outcome we sought. There has been huge interest in it and I hope we will have another opportunity at another time to engage on it. It was a very interesting debate. If I represented people on a Luas line, a train line or any other form of public transport, I would be very concerned. We exchanged these views last night so I will not reopen it. I will just say that I will be exceptionally active on it. I am doing two media interviews today on it. It is important. We had an opportunity and we took a decision not to support it but we are moving on. That is politics and we have to keep going.

Yesterday, I met the Minister for Health and spoke to him about my concerns about scoliosis. I met him here in Leinster House briefly. He has confirmed, and I accept, that he cannot come before us prior to Tuesday, 23 November, as the Leader had told us. While it is disappointing, he made the case that he had to come with some positive news and that there was no point in coming and rattling off some old story that was of no consolation to the people who have scoliosis and the advocacy group I am dealing with. I thank the Leader. I know she made efforts. They did not come to very much but that is not a reflection on her. It is a reflection on the Minister's timetable and diary and his view that he needs to come with something concrete to share with us and tell us.

We are here considering a draft Order of Business. It is the Leader's job to bring it to the House and I respect this. I would ask that at a minimum we need at least an hour and a half to consider it. We have to give it justice. We have the right to amend or seek to amend, with the consent of the House, the Order of Business and I would like to ask the Leader to facilitate that the Order of Business would be with Members at least 90 minutes before we come to the House to discuss it, if possible and if practical. It is a reasonable request and I hope the Leader will be in agreement to facilitate it.

As I call Senator Maria Byrne, I thank her for her magnanimity in understanding that we want to keep party rotation.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I rise today to thank the Leader for her intervention when I raised the issue of children under the age of 18 being discriminated against when playing competitive basketball. I welcome this morning's announcement by the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Chambers, that the Government has made an amendment whereby children will be allowed to play in competition and not just in training. This is very welcome news. I had been contacted by a number of basketball organisations and clubs on this. I thank the Leader for her intervention on this.

Yesterday, I received an alarming phone call from a mother who was very concerned. Over the weekend, her daughter had been out and a friend of hers had her drink spiked. It turned out that up to 20 people had their drinks spiked in the one premises over the weekend. This is something that has been raised on the floor of the Chamber previously. There needs to be an awareness campaign. Institute of Technology Carlow has students patrolling their bars and watching out for students, particularly first years, to ensure their drinks are not spiked. This is something that seems to be escalating and going out of control.

Is there a need to get the Minister for Health into the House to discuss the matter in order to see if an awareness campaign can be initiated or to determine what restrictions can be put in place? I ask that because it is alarming to hear of that number of people allegedly having their drinks spiked in one night alone. That was just in one place, and there are many more. Looking at local newspapers and listening to local radio stations shows that this is happening everywhere. It is frightening.

I thank the Leader for arranging for us to discuss disabilities and the associated costs next week. At the meeting of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters this morning, I heard a word that I never expected to hear in Leinster House or the Oireachtas. I refer to the use of the word "eugenics" during the discussion at the meeting. That is not something I ever expected to hear. A witness who was appearing before the raised the possibility that people with autism would be obliged to train themselves out of displaying any of the features or characteristics which go with that condition. We heard evidence about cognitive behavioural therapy that is given to autistic people in this State - they are autistic because that is part of who they are and they are proud of their identity - to teach them how to mask their condition. I was struck by reading about that in the first instance.

I attended an event held by the WALK community recently at which service users who had come through training for peer representation talked about their experiences. One of those people spoke about how he feels obliged to mask the fact that he has a disability when he is out and about and pretend that he is neurotypical. There is something to that. Each week, I have come in here and talked about ableist privilege, but we must take this matter seriously. We must consider what we are doing. I am getting more emails and messages now because I have spoken about this issue week after week. I am hearing about the lived experience of families with a child with a disability and from people in the autistic community. Children in preschool are being expelled because they get anxiety, they have difficulties or they behave in a way that is not acceptable to their so-called carers.

We need public information and training in respect of this issue. We require so many things in order to ensure that everybody in our community has a right to be who they are and has that right supported. We must ensure that we are inclusive and challenge issues in this area. At the heart of everything we do must be the principle of "There is nothing about us, without us", and that must be treasured and held absolutely sacredly. Nothing should happen in this State without the people who are most affected having a say and being able to influence the outcomes.

Hear, hear. Well said.

I thank Senator Seery Kearney and call the Leader to respond.

I sometimes think that I am unshockable. I have been here for a few years, but I am actually shocked by what the Senator said. I am the mother of a young man who is on the autistic spectrum. He is just the most gorgeous young man one could possibly meet. He is sitting his leaving certificate examination this year and he has had the same journey over the past couple of years that all our other children have had. He has the highest aspirations for himself and gets supported in the same way as my other three kids do, which is absolutely right. I could never imagine trying to tell him to be something other than what he is. I think what the Senator referred to is shocking.

I welcome the other issue that she raised, however, regarding the cost of disability report. We are going to debate it next week and I am grateful that the Minister of State has given her time. It will give rise to much more debate and, hopefully, a great deal of action to alleviate some of the financial difficulties that people with all kinds of disabilities experience daily, other than the obvious barriers that Senator Seery Kearney talks about every Thursday morning. I look forward to the debate next week.

Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the bizarre variances between Basketball Ireland and Sport Ireland which were brought to our attention last week and which she raised earlier this week. It was no problem for me to raise that matter with the Minister of State, and I am very glad that he has sorted out those regulations as swiftly as he has this week. It is not until something is done to upset people that it is possible to realise just how many people are involved in some of these organisations. A great many of our children play basketball and I acknowledge that.

The Senator also referred to the fact that she has been contacted by people, I presume in her part of the country, about a particular matter. Senator O'Loughlin started off this morning by talking about the increase in the number of incidences of spiking. Nightclubs only opened a week and a half ago, and yet we are already talking about what is a new phenomenon. The spiking of the drinks of women and men is not new, but the use of needles is a practice which is very new to us. I spent an hour on the phone yesterday evening talking to a mother. It was a horrific conversation. She has a young lady who is the same age as my 20-year-old daughter. I cannot even begin to imagine what the young lady in question and her family are going through now. Despite the abuse that some of us have received from people who seem to think that we are scaremongering, that there is no such occurrence as a woman getting spiked with a needle and that we are making mountains out of molehills, on foot of the telephone conversation to which I refer, I wrote to the Garda Commissioner, the presidents of all our universities and the directors of our licensed vintners' associations yesterday evening to invite them to a meeting at a date that is convenient, hopefully next week, in order that we can sit around a table and talk about the occurrences that have happened in the last ten days and the protocols that should be in place.

The mother to whom I spoke to yesterday said that her daughter was told by the health and safety people in the nightclub where she was to go home and sleep it off. When she went to the accident and emergency department the next day, the doctor there tried to assure her that it was an insect bite that she got on the dance floor and that she had not been spiked with a needle. It was only when she went to the accident and emergency department and the genito-urinary medicine, GUM, unit in Cork University Hospital, CUH, that she received toxicology reports. That young lady will now be on hepatitis and PrEP medication for three months arising from the incident she experienced.

This is a real and serious issue. I am a mother and most of us are parents, and we worry about absolutely bloody well everything. I never thought, however, that when my two young girls are going out to nightclubs that I would have to worry and to warn them about not getting injected by some bowsie wanting to take advantage of them. What is happening is unacceptable, and we must step up and ensure that we put in place the protocols concerning how we deal with this issue. I refer to ensuring that licensed vintners know how to deal with young women when they present in these kinds of situations, that hospitals know what to do and when to do it, that the police know how to follow up and that everybody is aware of their responsibilities. Anybody who wants to come to the meeting I have arranged is more than welcome to do so. I thank the Senators for raising the issue this morning.

Senator Boyhan talked about the debate on public transport we had last night. It was welcome. This is an issue, and that was made evident by many people who work in our transport sector and the number of public representatives who have made representations regarding the safety of those employees. It is also an issue affecting people who travel on buses, trains and Darts. Despite what Barry Kenny has said, this is an issue. I do not agree with him. Perhaps we do not need a special police force for our public transport, but we certainly do need a different way for An Garda Síochána to go about looking after the safety of the employees and users of public transport services.

I am glad that the Senator also met with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, yesterday and spoke with him about the issue scoliosis. I hope that for the person concerned, and for the other 172 under 18-year-olds on the waiting lists, that the Minister will respond to us in the next couple of weeks with good news. I wish all those people success and as much success as young Adam Terry had last week with his operation. It was a success and that is great news.

Senator Ahearn spoke about the matter of protests against individuals, and he also sought an update on the sports capital grants. I will contact the relevant Minister of State today and ask him if he will give me the magic date regarding when we are going to get the good announcements.

I also raised an issue in respect of the Order of Business.

I am sorry. With respect, Senator McDowell brought the matter up this morning at our weekly meeting of group leaders. The schedule for next week was given to people at that meeting today, which is only Thursday. The Order of Business only comes from and reflects the schedule given to the leaders of the groups on Thursdays. It is given to everybody 60 minutes before we come in, and there is little difference, if ever any difference, between the information I provide on Thursdays and what happens then in the following week. The information concerned, however, is given to every Member as early in the morning as it is possible for us to do so.

I cannot give Senator Boyhan a commitment that it will be provided 90 minutes beforehand. It is, though, given to everybody now an hour beforehand, and if anyone has a difference of opinion in respect of what is provided to the Senators on a Thursday and then what is later provided on the mornings of the following Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, then I would be happy to discuss that at the weekly meeting of the group leaders. We can only do what we can do, though. We work with the Seanad Office and all the Ministers to prepare an order every morning and we give that to all our Members within an hour before coming here. That is the best commitment that I can give. I am sorry.

The Leader does not need to be sorry.

Senator Fitzpatrick brought up the much awaited and anticipated climate action plan. I am sure we will have plenty of debates on that topic in the weeks to come.

Senator Conway referred to and congratulated Niamh Daffy, the current CEO of Cara, and that is well deserved. I will follow up for the Senator regarding the commitment made by the Minister for Health here some weeks ago concerning the cost associated with HPV vaccines.

I am happy to accept Senator Malcolm Byrne's amendment. I wish him every success. Once the Bill is introduced on Second Stage, I will request that it becomes part of the Government's programme and I will then include it in Government time. I will come back to the Senator on that.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile had, unfortunately, to raise the events of last night, which I was astonished to read about on Twitter this morning. They involved a 13-year old child and a 15-year old child, who probably could not tell us the details of the protocol. I sometimes wonder about adults and their intentions. I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Ó Donnghaile and I condemn last night's violence. I ask everybody to step back. It is interesting that in recent poll of business owners in the North a significant majority said they welcomed the Northern Ireland protocol, albeit that they wanted little tweaks here and there to make it better. They also said it had increased their level of business, both North-South and east-west, which makes me wonder if we are listening to the loudest voices as opposed to the people with the most impact.

I acknowledge Senator Ó Donnghaile's contribution this morning.

Senator Craughwell raised concerns about the Air Navigation and Transport Bill. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the meeting on Tuesday, despite having raised the time constraints with the Minister last week, because we were dealing with the Order of Business. Since I missed the meeting, I did not see the presentation that was promised to us. I will inform the Minister today that we need to see the PowerPoint presentation and seek an undertaking in that regard. I give Senator Craughwell and the 11 or 12 other Senators who attended the meeting the other day a commitment in that regard.

There are very real concerns about the Air Navigation and Transport Bill and I am in the unfortunate position of having to say that I share them. The reason is not political or based on votes in Fingal, an accusation that gets thrown in my face every 20 minutes. It is based on the fact that 1,300 pilots are crying out for these rules and regulations to protect them in order that they can protect the thousands of people who get on aeroplanes every single day and put their safety and lives in pilots' hands. I question why a regulatory office would not want to have powers and controls to ensure Ireland has the safest possible airline industry, one which reflects the safe industry we have across Europe. I will follow up on the matter for Senator Craughwell and try to get a commitment today.

Senator Gallagher spoke with great passion and remembrance regarding the plea from Columba McVeigh's family. I am astounded by the family's dignity in spite of their loss and the 46 years they have spent trying to get information. There was great dignity in the statement they made this year about letting bygones be bygones. All they want to do is to be able to bury their loved one and have somewhere they can visit and put some flowers. I concur with Senator Gallagher in making that call, as we do so often, on anyone who has any information to please give it to the Garda or local organisations that can help find this young man's body in order that his family can finally have peace and rest.

Senator Black spoke about the six Palestinian groups that have suddenly been designated as terrorist groups by the Israelis. I will make sure the Minister for Foreign Affairs hears of her reflections this morning and I will ask for an update. The Minister will speak about the Northern Ireland protocol in the House in the coming weeks, as he has been repeatedly requested to do by Senator Ó Donnghaile. I have requested a debate on Palestine, Israel, the conflict there and the two-state solution. I do not have a date yet, but as soon as I get one, I will speak to Senator Black about it. I will make sure the Minister hears her reflections this morning.

I thank Senator Mark Wall for what he read out and said about Jadotville. I agree with him. There have been a number of requests by this House. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing. I encourage the Senator to keep his passion in the place he has it.

I acknowledge that while the House debated energy security, we did not have a debate on the price of energy, which is a pertinent issue. As I am supposed to represent the Government on most days, I should note that this is not just an Irish phenomenon. However, we must put it in a national context. It is making a significant difference to people's weekly outgoings and is not something we can ignore.

Senator Boylan spoke about the climate action plan. I know Sinn Féin has raised concerns about consultation. I can only reassure the Senator that the 4,000 original submissions made on the climate action plan as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process fed into and strengthened the climate action Bill. The whole premise of the Bill is to make sure we have constant consultation. The only way this will be a success is if we bring everybody with us and do not start picking holes and fighting about this or that industry. At the end of the day, we are all of the same mind and we are all better when we work together. There is only one way this is ever going to work. We can talk about doing it for our kids and grandkids but it does not make a difference who we do it for. I am young enough and I hope I will not feel the impacts of this. We need to do this for ourselves. I acknowledge Senator Boylan's concerns.

Senator Martin spoke as eloquently as he always does about antisocial behaviour on trains. I will request that the Minister comes the House.

Senator Mullen raised concerns about science subjects on the curriculum. We have debates to mark Science Week next week, so that may be an opportunity for the Senator to raise the matter. There is probably a wider debate regarding the formation of the curriculum and reforms to the leaving certificate. I will write to the Minister today asking that she make time available in her diary as soon as she can.

Senator Buttimer asked for a debate on RTÉ, in particular in light of the significant amount of money it has spent in the past ten years either fighting or settling defamation claims. A more important concern should be the number of people in RTÉ who have been taken off temporary short-term contracts and made permanent employees in recent years. Some of them had worked for RTÉ for 25 or 30 years. A significant number of staff still remain on precarious employment contracts, which is not acceptable. I will organise a debate as quickly as I can.

Senator O'Loughlin started proceedings by pointing out that today is international day against violence and bullying at school. We have spoken about this issue a number of times. I have requested a debate, not just on the curriculum and how teachers, guidance counsellors and support staff in schools look after children, but how we can best support families – the parents and siblings of a child who is being bullied - to make sure that they do not believe bullying is a normal occurrence, as it seems to have become in towns and villages. We must support children who are experiencing increasing anxiety problems and resilience issues. I do not have a date for a debate but I will keep chasing it up.

Senator Malcolm Byrne has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 14 be taken before No. 1." My understanding is that the Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.