The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the joint meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, statements on the roll-out of the progressing disability services programme and assessments of needs, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude at 6.30 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2021 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I support the Order of Business. Yesterday, 8 November, was Equal Pay Day. Women in Ireland are effectively working for free for the final 14.4% of the year, according to research published today by WorkEqual. It is always important that we note Equal Pay Day because closing the gender pay gap is extremely important. Although legislation has been introduced in the form of the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021, it only goes so far. We have made progress but there is much more that we need to do.
I wish to raise an unusual situation. The football match between Portugal and Ireland is on 11 November and all present hope Ireland will do well in it. A person who wanted to buy two tickets for her partner and her son contacted me. She was seeking to buy the tickets on the website of a very well known organisation that sells these tickets. The prices were €120 for the adult ticket and €25 for the child ticket. That was all well and good and the woman was willing to purchase them but she was not able to buy the child ticket and ended up paying €240 for two tickets. That is bad enough in itself. She contacted me approximately three weeks ago and I suggested that she go back to the organisation from which she purchased the tickets. To date, she has had no reply whatsoever from the organisation and neither have I, having taken the matter up on her behalf. She has gone to the FAI. I hope it will do something. This is completely wrong. We want to encourage young people to play sport. The excitement of going to an international match is important in people's lives. This is an issue we need to keep an eye on. We need to send a message that it is not good enough and that we will be watching and raising it.
I wish to raise the issue of work permits, as I have previously, in the context of certain industries. The Minister said another quota would be fixed in respect of work permits. That was all well and good but I am aware of a company that sent in all the relevant information at midnight on the night of the announcement. Its application was returned and the company was told that applications will only be sought and received 28 days after the Minister made the announcement. That is not good enough. I have been told that the working group that examines these particular areas only meets twice a year and there is only one person from industry on it. Again, that is not good enough.
The final issue I wish to raise relates to Monasterevin day care centre, which was started in 1996 by a group of volunteers doing incredible work. In 2014, it was ordered to close by the HSE to facilitate essential work that was needed. The centre relocated to a local football club. which has been wonderful in sharing its time and space. This saga has gone on and on. Planning permission was granted again on 27 May 2020 but nothing has happened. There is a cohort of people involved and a very central and decent location that they could be in. We need to call this out. I ask that the Leader to contact the Minister on the issue.
I wish to raise a couple of matters relating to An Bord Pleanála. On the one hand, I will compliment the board and, on the other, I will criticise it. To first deal with the criticism, while I acknowledge that significant resources have been applied to the strategic housing development, SHD, process and new legislation will come before the House tomorrow in that respect, it cannot be at the expense of other developments, particularly infrastructure and housing projects. I am aware of two cases in this regard. One of them involves Waterford Airport, which applied for the lengthening and widening of a runway in July 2020, some 16 months ago.
A decision was due to issue in February of this year but it is now November and no decision has been made. Likewise, a decision was supposed to be made in respect of a 91-unit housing development in May, but we are awaiting a decision on that too. As my party's housing spokesman in this House, I find it frustrating when developers and people who drive projects must await decisions in that respect. I would appreciate if we could write to the board to have the matter expedited.
By contrast, I compliment An Bord Pleanála on the decision it made yesterday with respect to the 1,592-apartment development on the grounds of Clonliffe College. The project represents an investment of €602 million in the north inner city of Dublin. While I, of course, respect people's right to object to developments, it galls me to see the likes of Deputy Gannon and the leader of Sinn Féin, Deputy McDonald, openly oppose housing developments while, at the same time, they claim their parties are supportive of housing and resolving the housing crisis. One of the few matters people agree on with regard to the housing crisis is that one of the main issues relates to supply, yet the leader of Sinn Féin somehow believes building 1,592 for-rent apartments would make the crisis worse. What sort of logic is that?
At this stage, I have heard all the excuses, whether the developments are supposedly too high, too large or too small, in the wrong place, with too many private units, whether they should be built using a certain delivery mechanism or whether it is the wrong tenure type. The list is endless, but I ask when politicians are going to stand up, acknowledge there is a housing crisis, and not just diagnose the problem but rather do something about it and support housing developments, even when that is the unpopular approach. Every housing unit, whether for owner-occupiers or people to rent, has a positive impact on resolving the housing crisis. It has a circular effect. If somebody moves into a build-to-rent apartment from having lived in a house, that house will be freed up for a family to move into and that has a positive impact. Anyone who says otherwise is either codding themselves or trying to fool the public or does not understand the issue. I am sick and tired of hearing the false platitudes from some in respect of the housing crisis, and I ask them to stand up and be counted when it comes to resolving it.
This morning, the draft greater Dublin area transport strategy was published for public consideration, and I have to express a sense of shame that such a document could have been produced. It is vapid and commits us to nothing but the delivery of MetroLink at some point in the ten years following 2031 and of the BusConnects programme. Apart from those two pledges, there is a virtual standstill on Luas developments of any kind, with all of them postponed, under consideration or whatever it is, while the other projects have been simply put back to being dealt with in the period starting in 2042. I like to be positive, and one good aspect of this draft strategy document is that sanity has prevailed on its authors in their decision to drop the ridiculous idea of cannibalising the Luas green line and turning it into a MetroLink for a portion of its route. They have dropped that and stated challenges were involved in that. The first challenge was that it would have involved abandoning that line for two years while it was being upgraded, but in any event the expense involved would have been massive.
Moreover, today's edition of The Irish Times reports that the estimated cost of implementing this programme has increased, although it is very modest in the context of what we are doing now, from €10 billion to €25 billion. That is pretty horrific.
The time has come for a proper consultation on this. The NTA has had its way. It has bullied the Minister, Deputy Ryan, into abandoning the entire south west of Dublin completely. The people of Tallaght and Rathfarnham and such places are being told that they will get some kind of transport from 2042 onwards. That is not good enough. If we are serious about what is not happening, we should address it now. We had a discussion here about transport strategy last week. We did not see this document at the time. Now we have seen how absolutely naked the strategy is and how everything is a matter of we will consider this or we might consider that or we will evaluate this and study that and the work that has gone into studying this will not be forgotten and all the rest of it. Hundreds of millions of euro have been spent on planning certain projects and they are simply not going to be delivered.
The last thing I want to say is the present management of Dublin city seem to be intent on sequencing traffic lights so as to create traffic jams to discourage car usage. I was amused on Saturday afternoon to see traffic jams the whole way out to Clonskeagh because of this. That is not the way to treat citizens. It does not advance anything. It does not make cycling or walking any easier. It is just a futile ideological approach. I hope I do not sound too negative but we need a discussion of this document because one third of the people of Ireland live in the area to which it applies.
Following in the same vein as Senator McDowell's contribution, I wish to raise an issue that pertains to transport, joined-up thinking and co-ordination, which has been raised with me several times. I beg the Leader's indulgence because I do not know how we resolve it but it is becoming an issue that needs to be addressed. We are all very happy to see some degree of a return to normality and that is manifest in some big, important events. On Thursday evening, the Ireland soccer squad will take on Portugal in what I understand is a sold-out match at the Aviva Stadium. About five minutes before that match is due to wrap up, the port tunnel is going to be closed. This is not the first times this has happened. It has the potential to impact any person travelling to the match from anywhere like Buncrana or Belfast or Malahide. I do not mean to be facetious about this, but it has happened several times when major events have been taking place in the city and there has been this clash. It has impacted on people getting home in a timely way. It shows there needs to be joined-up thinking in regard to these events, and when necessary work needs to take place, it is done in a well thought-out way.
I wish to acknowledge the welcome news from the Leader last week that the Minister for Foreign Affairs will join us next week for statements on the protocol. Calling as I have over the past couple of weeks for statements relating to the protocol, I did that with the very sincere intention of trying to cut through some of the noise and some of the heat being generated about this issue. We have seen that manifested on the streets of my own city in recent days and weeks. We all joined together last week to send out a clear message that some of the rhetoric and the nature of some of the statements need to be reflected upon and toned down. I want to take the opportunity to do that here again today. It is a welcome opportunity. We should all, across this House, take the opportunity during those statements next week really to lean in to the positivity that is available as a result of the protocol, the insulation it offers to Ireland, North and South, but indeed the opportunities it affords to businesses, North and South, as well. We are at a critical time and I do not want to add any further rhetoric into that mix other than to appeal to people to reflect over the coming days and weeks on their approach to this issue and the implications this could have. If we are not at a critical juncture, we are approaching it very soon. We all need to work to ensure the protocol and the protections for Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement remain steadfast and we do not see any escalation in what have been up to now, thankfully - not to diminish them - fairly minimal incidents on the streets of Belfast.
I do not wish to diminish them, nonetheless.
I want to use my time in the Seanad today to perform a global call-out to the tradespeople of Ireland we lost through emigration over the past couple of decades. I would like the entire House to support me with this and I ask the Senators to reach out to their contacts in other countries about it. In particular, we lost many good people to Canada, Australia and England.
As a Government we have committed €4 billion per year to build social and affordable houses and we will not be able to do that without tradespeople. They are like the new national treasure. Every tradesperson I know cannot keep up with the demand for their work. The Government reckons there will be demand for 55,000 construction workers over the next 30 years and earnings in the construction sector grew by 8.2% annually in the second quarter of 2021, which is one of the highest increases in any sector in the country and well ahead of the average earning increases of 3.9%.
Tradespeople were not given the value or appreciation they earned before. Without them we would have no houses in which to live or any infrastructure. We need a global call-out to the diaspora. I have spoken to the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora about this, as well as the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. We need to do a call-out to our people all over the world to ask them to come home and help us to rebuild Ireland. We must build 300,000 affordable and social houses and we must retrofit 500,000 houses. We do not have enough tradespeople in Ireland now. They are earning good money, the wages are good and demand is high so now is a very good time for us to call them back. I want the House to support me in this global call-out, perhaps with the help of the Irish Post and our contacts overseas. We must tell our Irish tradespeople they are welcome home and there is much work for them. We need them to help rebuild this country.
I will raise two matters today, with the first relating to what a colleague from south Kildare has just raised with the Leader, namely, the Monasterevin day care centre. We are both asking that it be made fit for purpose as quickly as possible. The day care centre was closed by the Health Service Executive estates in 2014 on health and safety grounds, and since that time Monasterevin Gaelic Football Club has kindly allowed the day care centre to rent its pavilion and continue the service on an interim arrangement. The day care committee and the town of Monasterevin are deeply grateful to Monasterevin GFC for the use of its premises, but as the Leader might appreciate, this arrangement will cause more problems for the local GAA club, as with reducing Covid-19 restrictions, it is hoped the club will need its facilities more. This could limit the time allocated for the day care service.
Planning permission for the refurbishment and development was granted 18 months ago, as has been mentioned, on 27 May 2020, and in further good news the fire and safety and disabled access certificates were approved in April this year. In a recent reply to a parliamentary question to my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, the Minister advised the project is continuing to progress to tender stage and all capital development proposals must progress through a number of approval stages, including planning and design, before a firm timeline or funding requirements can be established.
The Monasterevin day care committee is a voluntary organisation trying to fulfil a need in its community with the help of the HSE. Its founding members established and developed, with the help of the HSE and its estates section, the day care centre in 1996, which is 25 years ago. Over the years the centre acquired a very special place in the lives and affections of the community. It was a great shock and loss to the community when the centre was closed in 2014 and that loss is still felt very sorely.
The community of Monasterevin looks forward to the reopening of the Monasterevin day care centre. I know many of those who attend the day care centre daily or twice weekly in Monasterevin and their lives without it would have a large void. For many it is their only social outlet. As already sought, I appreciate any assistance the Leader could provide with the project.
A second matter I raise with the Leader today is the lack of GP and out-of-hours services. Like many colleagues, I am sure, I am getting calls from people who are waiting weeks for appointments and hours or even days for a call back. I understand all our GPs are so busy at this time and I know how much work they carry out daily in our communities. However, I am sure the Leader agrees this is a developing and worrying trend.
I am also getting calls about the availability of GP services for so many new people who have moved to south Kildare to make the location their home and raise families. Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Health on our GP services at the earliest opportunity?
It would be welcomed by many people.
I rise to thank the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, for an excellent initiative it launched during a training seminar which took place on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week. The initiative relates to mental health. I commend that association and the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, which also held a training seminar on Saturday, the emphasis of which was mainly on mental health and included a briefing from the director of the National Office for Suicide Prevention. The focus on mental health for public representatives and the wider community is welcome. I commend the LAMA for its initiative which will involve the funding, from its own resources, of up to six one-hour confidential sessions with a qualified psychotherapist. That individual is the Olympic silver medalist Kenneth Egan. He is a councillor and a qualified psychotherapist. The association is willing to provide that resource. Anyone can email a confidential email address. Only Mr. Egan will know that somebody has contacted him and the LAMA will fund the sessions. It is a welcome initiative. Many people may only require a half-hour session or a single session. Perhaps something is getting to someone who does not know where to go or turn. It is a welcome initiative from the LAMA.
The seminar to which I have referred was the first since the LAMA cancelled a seminar in March 2020. It is almost two years since the organisation had an in-person training seminar. Since the local elections, there has only been one such seminar, which took place in Ennistymon in late 2019. It is welcome that the LAMA has put this emphasis on mental health, not just because of the pandemic, although it has probably accentuated those challenges. It is very welcome.
I also commend the AILG on all it has done on mental health, particularly last weekend. That is welcome and it is important for us to acknowledge that public representatives are also human beings and have the same challenges as everybody else. They are sometimes subject to trauma.
I agree with much of what Senator McDowell has said. I may return to that topic on another day.
We were all pleased to see that the American market opened up yesterday. It is great news for family members who will be able to travel to America for the first time in 18 months to meet their loved ones. Some grandparents have not seen their grandchildren and so on. It is a great news story. The positivity from New York struck me. New York, as a city, is going to be running the most aggressive marketing campaign in its history. It will be spending more money than it ever has before on marketing its city internationally. That brings to me to the question of tourism in this country. We, as a country, should now be spending more than we ever have before to market our country internationally.
With that in mind, I ask the Leader to request a debate on tourism and its marketing. When 9/11 happened, the managing director of Dromoland Castle Hotel in County Clare had a board meeting and the board decided instantaneously to move all of its marketing budget from America, from where it got massive revenue over the years, to Europe. Doing this saved the business. It kept the hotel going, kept people employed and kept the rooms filled. That was an example of an organisation acting in a flexible way. We need a massive marketing budget to rebound tourism in this country. We need to put together The Gathering and the Wild Atlantic Way into one enormous marketing budget. We need to be flexible in terms of how we go about it. A debate on that matter would be very useful. What did we learn during the most recent recession in 2011, 2012 and 2013? What was the first industry that really got going? It was tourism. It created a great feel-good factor and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Tourism can have the same effect post pandemic.
Last Saturday, we gathered in Cathal Brugha Barracks to remember the men of Niemba and the Niemba massacre. It is timely to remember that members of the Irish Defence Forces lose their lives, sometimes brutally, as they serve overseas. Next Sunday in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and many other cathedrals around the country, we will remember the Irish who fell in the first and second world wars. I hope to get to one or two of the ceremonies. I encourage colleagues to do so also.
Today I want to talk about Rescue 116. The initial report into the crash of Rescue 116 took four years longer than it should have. It is important in air accident investigations to get the report out quickly to learn the lessons. It is timely that the report on Rescue 116 has been issued when we are to debate in this House the next Bill on air navigation and transport. When debating it, we should take on board the fact that experts, particularly the pilots, sometimes know what they are talking about.
The outsourcing of search-and-rescue, SAR, services over the past two decades in this country has been a high-risk activity. Before the SAR contract was awarded to CHC Ireland DAC, it was clear that neither the Department of Transport or the Irish Coast Guard had the experience or expertise to assess the tenders, nor had they the ability to oversee the operation of the service once it was commenced. For example, in 2009 the Future Helicopter Study Group recommended that the next SAR contract should include night-vision technology. The contract was awarded without a requirement for night-vision technology, which resulted in the aircraft having to be retrofitted in 2013, at a cost to the Exchequer of €3.5 million before VAT. One of the points that has emerged in the report on Rescue 116 is that the lighting in the cockpit was appalling. I am no export and I have no idea what happened during the retrofitting of the lighting system but I am aware that night-vision technology requires low-level lighting in the cockpit. I understand modern helicopters have a switch to turn night-vision goggles on and off.
Following the crash of Rescue 116, the Department of Transport and the Coast Guard sought in 2017 a company to carry out the work they should have been doing, namely the overseeing of the operation. I am aware that the Cathaoirleach is about to strike the bell, but this matter is important. The company that was employed to oversee a €1 billion contract is a one-man operation. It is outrageous that this happened. If we learned from nothing else, we should have learned from that. One of the things we have got to do right now – I am begging the Leader to get this across to both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport – is halt the current tender process. We must not go ahead until we have learned the lessons from Rescue 116. We cannot have a company that was reckless in respect of safety-----
I thank the Senator-----
It is in the report. I am not saying anything that is not public knowledge.
I am aware of that, but-----
It was reckless in its behaviour with respect to safety.
As the Senator pointed out, it is a one-person company, which makes the person easily identifiable.
The name of the one-person company is long in the public domain.
I am aware of that, but it is not here to defend itself.
The Minister named the company, not me, so-----
It might be a matter for a Commencement debate.
My point is-----
I know but, to be fair to everybody, each contribution should not exceed two minutes. I do not disagree. The Senator is entitled to raise the issue, which is important, but I want to be fair to everybody.
These issues have to be aired in public.
I agree, but a Commencement matter is a way of doing so.
We are about to reward a contract to a company again for ten years. If, for example, the incumbent is part of the tendering process-----
I know, but it is a matter for a Commencement debate. The Senator is over time. He has raised this before and-----
Do I not have an obligation as a public representative to raise these issues?
Absolutely, but the Senator needs to use the two minutes-----
-----and the only place I can do that safely is in here because I have been threatened by the Department-----
But the Senator can table a Commencement matter.
-----that it will contact the other people.
There is the possibility of a Commencement matter and other ways in which this can be raised. The committee can also be used. I have done it myself regarding the Coast Guard service. The committee has had hearings on it that lasted five hours, but we do not have five hours here.
Let me put something on the record.
We have been prevented many times from talking about SAR services. We now have a Bill going through this House-----
I am not preventing the Senator from talking; I am just trying to be fair to everybody. Everyone has two minutes.
I am trying to be as-----
I give a bit of latitude, but there is taking a mile when given an inch.
I am trying to be measured here. We have a Bill on air navigation going through the House. We are not listening to the pilots. We must listen to the pilots lest we find ourselves down this road again.
I ask the Senator to submit a Commencement matter or raise it with the transport committee.
He can bring the matter up here as long as he can do so within two minutes, or three minutes if the Senator is allowed to lead off tomorrow.
I call Senator Malcolm Byrne.
I will try to do this within two minutes.
I ask the Senator to please try. At least make an effort.
I raise the issue of the culinary arts students at the Technological University Dublin, who do not have changing facilities. This is a significant concern given that we are talking about people operating in a kitchen environment and such a situation is not suitable for hygienic reasons. Equally, however, there are also questions here concerning student dignity. It is not acceptable to expect students to have to change in toilets and corridors. I submitted a query about this issue to the management of the university, and the matter has also been raised by the students union there and by the Ógra Fianna Fáil cumann. This situation was broached with the management of the university prior to the start of the academic year, but frankly I do not think it is acceptable for those students not to have the appropriate changing facilities, especially given the nature of the work in which they are engaged.
The second issue I wish to raise concerns a lovely story covered in today’s Gorey Guardian and syndicated on Independent.ie. I refer to an interview with a young actor, Jayson Murray, conducted by Cathy Lee. Jayson recently starred in a play in the Abbey Theatre entitled What I (Don't) Know About Autism. The production raised a great deal of awareness of the positive contribution made to society by people with autism. Jayson speaks in the interview about his own experience and the impact of the pandemic on people with autism. As our society recovers from the pandemic, we must indeed consider the impact it has had on those with autism. Jayson tells people to feel free to ask questions of people who have autism and to try to understand the condition, and the more awareness and engagement we can have, the better.
I support the request made by Senator Conway to have a debate on tourism. It is important and pertinent to the whole area of hospitality. Given the high numbers of Covid-19 cases that we are experiencing now, we must reinforce public health measures and the requirement for vaccination certificates to be sought by people in the industry. We have fallen away from doing that, and this message must be reinforced as we enter the Christmas period.
I also highlight a boil water notice in force in my county. It is the Longford central water supply line, but that encompasses most of the county. A boil water notice has been in place for the last week. I request that work in this regard be expedited and prioritised to allow the boil water notice to be removed. As a parent, I sometimes find it difficult to get the kids to brush their teeth at night normally, but added to that now we must try to ensure that we have a bottle of water beside the taps in the different bedrooms as well. This situation is causing a great deal of concern and I ask that this problem be addressed speedily.
I welcome the clarity provided by the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, following the raising of the issue regarding playing basketball and other indoor sports. They are extremely important activities for our younger generation and I thank the Minister of State for taking on that matter and dealing with it so quickly. I also highlight another sporting issue that has been in the media concerning referees of underage soccer matches in Dublin. They have withdrawn their services due to the abuse they were getting from the sidelines. Much of it probably comes from the parents concerned and not from the players themselves. It is incumbent on all parents to remember that we need referees to enable our games to go ahead. I was an umpire for 15 years at national level in GAA, but I only ever refereed one game and I would not go back and referee again. It is important therefore that respect is accorded to our referees and to those giving their time.
I compliment Senator Black for organising a powerful meeting yesterday on the subject of six human rights NGOs in Palestine. Those are the Addameer prisoner support and human rights group, Al-Haq, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees. All those organisations have now been labelled as terrorists by the Israeli Government.
That action has quite rightly been described as a brazen attack on human rights. The designation came into effect on 3 November but was made public only on Sunday. These bodies have a 60-day period to appeal this decision to the Israeli courts. Israel is making declarations on NGOs registered in different states as to whether or not they are terrorist organisations. It was harrowing to hear the fear in the voice of Irish human rights lawyer, Dr. Susan Power, who works for Al-Haq, as she spoke about the expectation of being raided and arrested by Israeli military forces. These NGOs are also fully aware of spyware, which they have found on their phones, and their conversations being hacked and listened to. I have been to the West Bank and I am proud to say I have worked with Addameer, the prisoner support group, which does amazing human rights work. This morning I looked at its website, which tells me that Israel has 500 prisoners under administrative detention. That is a euphemism for locking people up, detention without trial and internment. There are 160 children interned without trial in Israel. I ask the House to just think about that.
It is time we stood up to Israel. Condemnation is not enough. It is outrageous for Israel to label people as terrorists or anti-Semitic just for speaking out against what is happening in occupied Palestine. I am proud to call for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, as is my party. I ask the question again: why do we have our seat on the United Nations Security Council if we are not prepared to stand up and speak out about issues such as these? We need to see actions against the apartheid state of Israel. How much longer must we see people being terrorised like these human rights bodies?
Like Senator Carrigy, I wish to raise the violence and abuse on our football pitches and other sports fields. As a mother of young children who live for football and partaking in sport, I see a growing amount of violence on our football pitches. We saw last month in Wicklow a so-called melee on a football pitch. When does a melee turn into assault? When does this violence turn into something real? I do not want my sons growing up thinking it is acceptable to box or elbow someone on a football pitch and hurt them because it is on a football pitch. The GAA, the FAI and all our other national governing bodies really have to sit back and examine how we are going to police - I do not want to use the word "police" - our football and sport. There is no sport in violence or abusive language. That is not sport, and we really have to start examining this because, otherwise, someone will get hurt very badly on a football pitch or other sports field. We have to stand back and say "enough is enough". As a parent, I would be mortified to think that our referees will not referee a children's football match because of abuse. We have to learn to respect one another. We all have to take a role in this and our national governing bodies have to take a really strong role in it.
I have a young fella at home and he kicked a ball for the first time last weekend, so I support the previous comments. He is a future corner forward for Tipperary. Given the way Meath is performing at the moment, it would provide a good training session for him before the championship starts.
On a serious note, I ask that the Leader get an update from the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, on the proposed Fethard primary care centre. I brought this up as a Commencement matter last May. In fairness to the Minister of State, she gave an outline of the progress that is happening and where it is, but it is a number of months later and, until work is on the ground, people will not really see the benefit of it. We have been really lucky in Tipperary with a number of primary care centres that have come through over recent years, when Deputy Harris was Minister for Health. I am thinking of Tipperary town, Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel and Cahir. The primary care centre in the latter town opened only a couple of weeks before Covid started.
In a lot of ways, it has been a blessing in facilitating people during Covid. There is a lot of work going on at the moment in Fethard with funding that has gone into primary schools, which are right beside where the primary care centre would be built. There is also a Fethard town park which is funded under the rural generation development fund. The park is being built at the moment on the same grounds proposed for the primary care centre.
The HSE has designated this region as a preferred location for a primary care centre. It will cover not just Fethard but also Killenaule and Ballingarry and a huge area of west Tipperary on the border of Kilkenny. There are some 27 groups in the Fethard region who have all come on board around the project for Fethard town park and the primary care centre. It is a very important project that needs to be speeded up from a departmental point of view if possible. In her role as Leader I be very grateful if Senator Doherty could put a word in.
I support Senator Gavan's comments on Palestine and the really disgraceful changes in categorising groups as terrorist organisations. It is dreadful.
Not so long ago I was outside Leinster House with activists and other campaigners commemorating the senseless and tragic loss of life of Savita Halappanavar that was caused by Ireland's restrictive abortion laws at the time and fears of legal responsibility. We gathered to say "Never again".
Outside Leinster House there was "Our Maternity Hospital" campaign, which is the campaign against church ownership of women's healthcare, and they co-ordinated the call, as they have done for a number of years now, to make our national maternity hospital fully publicly owned and built on fully State-owned land. We in the Labour Party agree with the aims of the national maternity hospital campaign. We believe that the national maternity hospital needs to be a fully publicly-owned hospital built on publicly-owned land. We believe the Government must do everything in its power to ensure a fully publicly-owned hospital built on fully publicly-owned land, which is actually quite a mouthful to say. This includes being willing to compulsorily purchase the land on which the proposed hospital is to be built.
We repealed the eighth amendment, which was only half the battle. Without ready access to abortion and other services, that repeal will mean very little. With the new maternity hospital costing the State at least €350 million, and set to be built on land owned by the Sisters of Charity and run by a board appointed by them, the promised access will be compromised. I fail to see how it cannot be.
The Labour Party supports the campaign. We believe there should be no reliance on charity in the provision of healthcare. I raise this issue here again today because there continues to be a concern about the influence of religious ethos on this hospital. Healthcare should be informed by best medical practice and not by religious ethos. I implore Government Senators to take these concerns seriously and to raise them with their party colleagues.
I really welcome the National Transport Authority's Draft Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2022-2042, which was published today. We have been a long time waiting for this.
From the perspective of Navan and Meath, to read the line "The existing rail network in the GDA will be extended by the provision of a new rail line from the M3 Parkway [...] to Navan town" is just fantastic. It is the first time ever that we have seen those words written down. We have made it onto an actual transport policy for the State. The words are "will be", not "may", and not "sometime in the future". It will be extended. It is such a huge thing for a county of 200,000 people. It is a real testament to the spirit of the people of Meath, who are recognised specifically in the document by the officials on page 48 when they said that of the 4,000 submissions in total received for all of the projects in the GDA, 2,000 of those came from people in Meath "reflecting the scale of the campaign to deliver a rail service to Navan". It is something else in terms of public submissions that nearly 2,000 of the 4,000 people who made a submission did so about the rail line to Navan. I am glad that the NTA reflected the scale of the campaign in its document by actually committing and saying that yes it will be extended.
I thank Meath County Council, the local authorities and the broader community for driving this and for explaining to people that it was so important to engage in the public process.
We often talk a great deal in this Chamber about public process. The people, who are the most important of all of the factors, engaged with the public process, pushed it on, and the National Transport Authority listened to our voices. It is now incumbent on us as a political system to ensure that this project is delivered in a timely fashion, that we see it happen, and that people get the infrastructure they deserve. Today has been a very significant and welcome day. I thank the NTA for its engagement with us and with the people. I thank the Cathaoirleach.
Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh. In recent weeks we have seen progress in policing in Ireland. The visibility of policing on our streets has been a welcome change in the post Covid-19 reality and in particular in the night-time economy, which is an issue that has been raised here.
Policing, of course, goes beyond the streets of Ireland. Ireland is involved in Interpol, Europol and other international policing organisations. Later this month, the annual meeting of the Interpol General Assembly will take place, and Ireland will have votes at the assembly. The executive committee will be elected from that assembly and we will get to choose, as one of the constituent nations, who gets to sit on that committee which might be considered the governing body of Interpol.
Interpol is an international policing organisation but the reality is that it has been abused by China in its use of what are called red notices to arrest people that China feels have committed crimes against it, which can be as minor as speaking out against China. This measure is certainly applied to Chinese citizens, dissidents and refugees from, for example, the Uighur population who have fled China. It equally applies to Irish citizens who are the subject of red notices, who can land in a country that one might otherwise think is normal and respects the rule of law but, because of a red notice, will have to arrest that Irish citizen at the airport and consider extradition to China.
The reality is that China has been abusing this system and has been using the red notices to operate a kind of long arm of Chinese quasi-law around the world. This, in reality, is an abuse of its membership of Interpol. We should consider sending a very clear message to the Minister and the Department of Justice that when we vote at that general assembly later this month, we are not supporting the candidacy of the Chinese candidate, Hu Binchen - who I believe is the name of the person that China is putting forward. We should be putting down a very clear line that we do not support this kind of abuse of the red notices’ system within Interpol, which is otherwise a very important mechanism for entrapping international criminals but is currently being abused by China. Gabhaim buíochas.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and I will be brief. I welcome this afternoon the publication of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine report on the Irish horse racing industry. It is an extraordinarily interesting report and I am one of a number of members on the joint Oireachtas committee. The report has 11 strong recommendations dealing with doping, drug tracing in horses, corporate governance issues and also the composition of a board. Given the very significant amount of public funds that go into this body, it is critically important. It is a good piece of work done by members of all parties and none in the Oireachtas. I commend the report to the House. It was officially launched after 3 p.m. today.
I welcome the Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 which was eventually published yesterday. It is a very important piece of work, particularly for those advocates among us who have been opposed to strategic housing developments, SHDs. We know they have been a disaster and failure and have cost many citizens we have represented across this country in the judicial reviews they had to undertake. I welcome the fact that we are hopefully transitioning from the SHD to a large infrastructure approach. I thank the Leader and her office for organising a briefing for all Members at 5 p.m. this evening on what is a very important Bill. I thank the House.
Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí. I now call on the Leader to respond on the Order of Business.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and colleagues. Senator Boyhan is very welcome as to the Bill which will probably have some amendments from Opposition parties. It is very important that everyone knows what we are trying to learn from this, which was that the process of SHDs, as we all know, was flawed.
I have not seen the recommendations from the horse racing report published today but I hope that it addresses some of the issues that have been highlighted here and in the media over the past number of years. I thank Senator Boyhan again for bringing that to our notice.
Addressing Senator Ward, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the voting instructions from Ireland fully state that we will not tolerate the conduct he describes. What is really interesting is why this has been tolerated up until now and why the rest of the members of the voting body of Interpol have even allowed such a system to be abused by China. I will certainly pass on the Senator’s messages to the Minister for Justice and the support that he has raised here today for that strategy.
Everybody could hear the joy in Senator Cassells's contribution today. Having lived there for many years, I know that we have been trying to get support for rail services to Navan. Nobody underestimates the value of getting these words written in a document today. That is really important. I genuinely wish the campaigners and the team supporting those 2,000 people who made submissions every success. I really do hope they will not be waiting as long as some others have been waiting, but that is a matter for another response. I wish Senator Cassells well and I hope everything works out well.
I can tell the Senator that he will be waiting too.
We will not be cynical yet. Senator Hoey raised an issue on behalf of the Labour Party. Many others would share the view that the new national maternity hospital should be independent of any authority other than State policy on the delivery of maternity care. That certainly could do with updating, as we have all spoken about before. I recognise that the Senator also supported Senator Gavan in his praise for Senator Black. She raised this matter here last week and spoke eloquently for three or four minutes on the work that the groups do and on the unilateral decision made by the Israeli Government. I thank both Senators for putting their support on the record today.
Senator Ahearn looked for an update on the Fethard primary care centre. I will happily write to the Minister today to seek an update and come back to the Senator.
Senator McGreehan talked about what I can only call a lack of sportsmanship. She was absolutely right in talking about this. It does, unfortunately, stem from the sidelines and from the mammies and daddies who sometimes get overly exuberant. However, when this exuberance drives them to display the lack of sportsmanship we have seen far too often on our football pitches, that must be taken to task. The Senator is right to call on the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU to check themselves and to make sure we are sending out the right messages to create sportsmanship and develop the team element of these sports. There is no pride in winning if one has to win a particular way.
Senator Carrigy asked for a debate on tourism, as did Senator Conway. Given that we have reopened our skies to American tourists and that American skies were opened to Irish tourists yesterday, it is really important that we go back to marketing our land, our hospitality and our welcome as far and as wide as we possibly can. The Senator also mentioned boil water notices in Longford. I have also heard other colleagues talk about Wexford in recent weeks. It really is not acceptable or tolerable in a modern society that these notices should be in place for so long. Accidents can happen and emergencies take place but to be here a week later and still scrabbling for a resolution really leaves a lot to be desired. I wish the Senator a speedy recovery and hope the issue gets resolved very quickly.
Senator Malcolm Byrne talked about a lack of appropriate changing facilities. I do not know if he wants me to write to the president of Technological University Dublin, TU Dublin, to support him but I could certainly do that today. I hope we will get a response very quickly.
As he does week in, week out, Senator Craughwell brought up what is probably the issue most consistently raised in this House not only by him, but by anybody. He talked about search and rescue and the men and women who fly our planes every day not only to rescue us off our coasts and inland, but also for commercial and national purposes. The report regarding Rescue 116 issued on Friday. The lives of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy and winch team members, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith, were lost in this incident. The report highlighted the tragic loss of those lives and the senselessness of how the incident occurred. We are having a debate in this House next Thursday on the report on Rescue 116 and on the recommendations arising from it. Let us be very clear; there are many State agencies that must learn from the multiple mistakes that caused the tragedy on that day which meant that those four people did not come home to their families. One thing Senator Craughwell is right about is that the Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020 is at Committee Stage in this House. We have a real opportunity to strengthen that Bill to make sure that no regulatory authority will ever again have to question whether it has a responsibility for air safety in this country. I believe the Bill is not as strong as it should be as primary legislation.
We will have that debate on Rescue 116 on Thursday week.
Senator Conway spoke about Ireland's marketing budget and the need for the amalgamation on it to ensure we sell our capital as much as we can. I do not mean the capital city of Dublin; I mean the entire welcome and the wealth of beautiful scenery and hospitality we have in Ireland.
Senator Horkan talked about is a very welcome mental health initiative run by the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA. The Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, did something similar a few years ago in 2017. It is most welcome. What is particularly welcome about it is the fact it is so discreet and anonymous, because for some reason, we still have an issue - pride, I suppose - in admitting people are vulnerable. It is a welcome initiative. I thank the Senator for raising it here today and for applauding those involved. I challenge every other organisation that has members, of which there are many, to do exactly the same for their membership. People are fragile. Our children do not have the resilience they should have and that we probably had as kids. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure the people we care about and the organisations we are part of are inclusive and that we mind and look after each other.
Senator Wall and the Deputy Leader, Senator O'Loughlin, opened today's proceedings looking for an update on the Monasterevin day care centre. I will do my best to find out what is causing the delay and I will come back to both Senators. Senator Wall talked about the lack of GP services in County Kildare and is looking for an update from the Minister, which I will try to get.
Senator Garvey made a call-out today for the return of what probably is, unfortunately, tens of thousands of people who have left these shores, not just in the past ten years, but probably since we were younger in the 1980s and 1990s. These are craftsmen we are crying out for now. We all know that for those who do not have a husband who is handy, even those who want somebody to put up curtains in their house, the waiting lists are weeks long. Those who want painting, decorating, extensions or plumbing done will be waiting for weeks. That is because of the ambitious plans of Government to ensure we build, build, build. However, we will not be able to build without the people to build. I thank the Senator for raising the issue today.
Senator Ó Donnghaile talked about the joined-up thinking we should have with regard to promoting sports activities and transport routes to get home. I cannot believe that the port tunnel will close five minutes before the game is over on a night when we are bringing thousands of people into Dublin city. It makes no sense. I suppose it leaves an awful lot to be desired about the joined-up thinking we have in this country. The Senator asked me to raise the issue with the Minister for Transport, and I will certainly do so.
Senator McDowell talked about the draft Dublin transport strategy that was published today. I can only say how dismayed I am by it, and I know Senator Cassells is so delighted by it. It is a week after we issued probably the most ambitious targets from a climate perspective. Transport is one of the two industries that are very responsible for us achieving those targets. The only way we are going to meet the targets is by getting people out of their cars, and not just walking and cycling. Walking and cycling are great, but not everybody can do that. We need to get people onto public transport. Tinkering around with BusConnects is just not going to cut it for the next ten years. I know that the problem is not money. We must get to the root of what is causing the delay on the MetroLink, metro north and DART+ projects and what is causing us to say it will be 2042, when the Senator and I will be well retired, before we are getting around to do something for the southside.
I will be worse than retired.
I will definitely be retired at that stage. It is just not good enough. It is not from a lack of ambition, so there has to be some other plausible reason, and we need to feel our way through to get to the bottom of it. The Senator has asked for a debate on the issue and I am glad he has. I will certainly take pleasure in organising it. We will in the next few weeks get to the bottom of what is going on, so that one third of the Irish population will be able to come out of their houses in the morning, will not have to get into their cars, and will be able to walk to a decent local bus or train service or even hop on a scooter if they are only going to travel a few kilometres up the road. We need to have that conversation.
Senator Cummins raised the issue of An Bord Pleanála, and the upsides and downsides of the organisation. We know, and I think it is not necessarily a criticism of the organisation but of the strategic housing development, SHD, process, that there have been months of delays in decisions that would have been made within six months a number of years ago. There are people waiting for months on standard decisions that should be coming out of An Bord Pleanála. The Senator also highlighted the fact the organisation gave the green light to the construction of 1,592 new apartments on the northside of Dublin this week, which is most welcome.
Senator O'Loughlin opened proceedings today with the welcome reminder that, as much as some of our male counterparts would like to tell us the gender pay gap does not exist, today is the day when some women in Ireland basically stop working because the boys get paid more than the girls do, and the boys will keep getting paid until the end of the year and the girls get paid less.
We must all band together to say we need a society where a job is paid on merit and it does not and should not make any difference whether I wear a pair of trousers or a skirt to work. I should be paid on the quality of the work I do and the length of years of experience I have. This nonsense of the continuing practice in this country of paying women less just because they are women absolutely has to stop. Much and all as I probably knows it galls people when we do this, we must raise this issue every single year and we will keep doing so until this practice stops.