An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on Forestry Licensing, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to conclude at 3 p.m. if not previously concluded, 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; No. 2, statements to mark Science Week, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude at 4.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, 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 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m.

Two days ago I spoke about the price of tickets for the match between Ireland and Portugal this evening. I am glad to say that the FAI has capitulated and refunded the difference between the cost of a ticket for a child and a ticket for an adult in terms of the person of whom I spoke. That is really good news. I referred to the company that sold the tickets online but it still has not replied to either myself or the individual. Of course, we all wish the Irish team well tonight.

Last night, I watched a recording of the documentary entitled "The Missing Children" that was aired on television on Tuesday night. The programme was shocking, horrific and showed us how the State failed many times to protect these vulnerable souls and the survivors. The documentary tells the story of the incredible work done by Catherine Corless and her discovery of death records for 796 babies and infants. By now the story is well known and I know that the area concerned is geographically close to where the Acting Leader is from. I am confident that the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, is acting on this matter but we, in this House, must send a very strong message. We must ask the Government to make it a priority to exhume the remains and afford these innocent souls the dignity that they did not have in their short lives or, indeed, in their deaths.

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the Irish Thoroughbred Country Destination Experience Development Plan by the mayor of Kildare, Mr. Naoise Ó Cearúil, and the mayor of Tipperary, Ms Marie Murphy. The horse has been an integral part of Ireland's cultural and sporting heritage for the past 2,000 years. Ireland is internationally recognised throughout the world for its equine industry and horse breeding so it is important that we develop all that. The plan is five years in duration and has a vision to deliver the world's best collective thoroughbred experience for both domestic and international tourism. The initiative is headed up by Ms Laura Magee and spearheaded by Mr. Cathal Beale, the manager of the National Stud. I wish them well and encourage people to visit the counties of Kildare and Tipperary, and to see this plan for themselves.

Finally, I wish to mention a fascinating and fantastic project that the Kildare Chamber of Commerce undertook with sponsorship from Intel. The chamber of commerce availed of an app called Ducky and invited companies to join so that their employees can log how they will reduce their carbon footprint. I am glad to say that in two weeks employees have sequestered almost 10 tonnes of CO2. Basically, companies can log on and record activity. The app encourages people to walk or avail of public transport to get to work, to take a shorter shower, etc. We should adopt a similar initiative in Leinster House as 1,300 people work here, including Members of the Dáil and the Seanad. Such an initiative would encourage all of us to make a personal difference in terms of our fight against climate change.

We all recognise that domestic violence is a scourge on society. It is something that affects many families throughout this country. When it happens then we must have in place structures to deal with it and to allow people who are the victims of domestic violence to seek refuge earlier.

That is why I welcome the moves this morning by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to re-establish that certain payments will not be used against people who are the victims of domestic violence to deny them the opportunity to get housing elsewhere outside that abusive environment.

In welcoming that, I should say I come from Dún Laoghaire which is probably the most populous area in the country that does not have a domestic violence refuge. When I was on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council from 2009, I called many times for a refuge. I found an article this morning by Fiona Gartland in The Irish Times from 2012 which referred to a study that identified what she referred to as a major gap in the provision of domestic violence refuges and domestic violence services in the Dún Laoghaire area. That was nearly ten years ago. This week Ellen Coyne essentially wrote the same story in the Irish Independent, that it has not changed in ten years. This was on foot of another study done by the Irish Independent, again in conjunction with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, on the fact there is no refuge in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area, an area of approximately 250,000 people. There are nine counties throughout Ireland that do not have refugees but Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is by some distance the most populous of them.

This was discussed by the justice committee last week. There is a major problem here. I raised this previously with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. There was to be a study earlier in the year to examine where the gaps in provision were and I have yet to see the outcome, but I do not know what other information is required to identify that there is definitely a gap in Dún Laoghaire, a large suburban area in Dublin, where Dublin generally has a smaller proportion of refuges than the rest of the country. There is a gap there. The problem also has a knock-on effect for surrounding areas, because when an individual or family in Dún Laoghaire needs to be given refuge, they are put into another area which means someone in that area must go elsewhere. It is grossly unfair on people for whom the wider Dún Laoghaire area is their home that they must go elsewhere to seek refuge. They should be entitled to one on their doorstep the same as anyone in Cork, Galway, Letterkenny or wherever. There is a gap which has been identified for more than ten years. It needs to be addressed urgently. I ask the Deputy Leader that we would have a debate in the House as soon as possible and to bring to the attention of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, this massive lacuna that needs urgently to be plugged.

I call for a debate on the reinstatement of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. It has been mentioned a few times since its dissolution on 8 October 2020, 11 days before another level 5 total lockdown was imposed on this country. More than a year later, our case numbers are three times what they were then and the dedicated Covid committee, established to consider and take evidence on the State's response to the Covid-19 pandemic has remained disbanded having been forced to give its final report less than half way through the pandemic it was established to help with.

The reason for its dissolution is as clear now as it was at the time. As Senator McDowell explained earlier this month, the Government found it inconvenient that there should be a forum of parliamentarians to which it would be responsible. A dedicated Covid committee established with the expressed dual purpose of (a) critically analysing and evaluating the Government's response to Covid and (b) planning a legitimate roadmap out of this crisis for the country. It is a no-brainer.

At this stage of the pandemic the people deserve something a little more from the Government than sitting and waiting, watching case numbers rise with their hands over the big red lockdown button. Is a grand exit plan being whipped up behind closed doors? No one would be happier than myself but unfortunately it seems the failure of the vaccines and the Covid certificates to suppress the virus is to change nothing and continue to champion the same measures.

The most vaccinated county in this country is the one with the most cases. Covid certificates can allow people with Covid to enter premises while barring those who are Covid free. It is not working. It no longer makes sense. Something needs to change. Most importantly, we need a committee with teeth. Last time, NPHET only appeared before the committee once or twice. We need a proper committee with the powers to service its function. NPHET, the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, the Minister for Health and all must be answerable to it to ensure all decisions being made at a national policy level are adequately scrutinised. Can we discuss this in the House or, better yet, establish the committee with colleagues from both Houses and get on with the work?

I raise this week's report by Daft.ie on the most recent increases in the price of rents. I will home in on Limerick where the average price of a one-bed apartment in Limerick city is now €999 a month. For a three-bedroom house it is €1,277, an increase of 8% in the year. The average cost of renting a single room in Limerick city centre is €464, an increase of 21% year on year. The average cost of a double room in the suburbs is €505, up 13% year on year, clearly driven by the outrageous shortage of accommodation around our colleges. Just 236 homes were available to rent in Munster on 1 November, the lowest ever in a series extending back to 2006. The pre-Covid average for 2019 was 750.

This marks the 36th consecutive quarter where rents are higher than a year ago, in other words, nine years of rent rises. The impact on people is truly horrendous. People are unable to pay their bills. There is a cost of living crisis, with people challenged each month. It is impossible for people to save for a home of their own. They just do not have any money because of these exorbitant increases in rents that have happened over ten years of Fine Gael governments. There is now another phenomenon where adult children are having live at home with parents because they cannot afford to rent their own homes.

I have to raise the subject of ideology because this decision to outsource large swathes of social housing to the private sector is ideological. We had further evidence of that this morning thanks to my colleague Deputy Ó Broin. The figures for the housing assistance payment and the rental accommodation scheme are truly shocking. Some €1.5 billion was spent on the housing assistance payment since 2017 and €260 million has been spent this year alone. That is a huge transfer of wealth from the State to private landlords. The most shocking figure of all is that one in three people now rent privately. They have outsourced social housing to the private sector. This does not happen by accident. This is not some natural phenomenon. It is because the Government failed to build houses for so long.

Now they tell us they are going to build houses but there are two issues. First, there is no ambition in the targets which are nowhere near what is necessary to address the scale of the crisis. Second is the most outrageous proposal in the most recent budget, which is that 2,600 homes next year will not be bought by local councils but instead the Government insists they will be leased from vulture funds which can then take the profits for the 25 years tax free. How does that make any sense? How does it make sense for local authorities to lease homes so that they own nothing after 25 years of payments rather than buying them? I have yet to hear any decent explanation from any Government Minister. People in Limerick are shocked to hear this is happening throughout the State, but there it was in the budget.

I am calling for another debate on housing because we have not received good answers and unfortunately all the statistics show us things are getting worse rather than better.

By this weekend we expect the outcome of the COP26 negotiations, a profound set of words and commitments it is hoped will demonstrate that developed countries are taking this climate emergency seriously. Profound words are one thing but real action is another. I welcome the declarations the Irish Government has signed up to in recent days on aviation and car transport, but I also question why Ireland did not expressly add itself to a declaration signed last weekend on a just transition. That declaration was signed by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Sweden along with other countries in the EU, the UK and the USA. We must ask why Ireland decided to hide under the umbrella of the EU and not add its name to that when it did to other declarations. If we are to understand anything about the scale and the challenge of combating global warming, we need to support those who are most vulnerable, least able to invest in changes to how they live and to their housing, transport and everything else, and whose jobs need to change.

I would like to see the Government making a much clearer statement on a just transition. We have had foot-dragging on the establishment of the just transition commission. It was referred to in the climate action plan that was recently published. The Government must take the issue much more seriously.

Going back to putting the profound words into action, this week we had the publication of the draft transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. I am dismayed at the lack of ambition on getting people out of cars. There are a lot of fine words about cycling and walking. I agree that we must encourage people to do that, but we will not truly have safer streets and cleaner communities unless we invest in rail. The extension of the timelines for the metro in particular is simply not good enough. We have spent at least €219 million on the metro in recent years and we still have nothing to show for it. The Government is planning to reduce car use within the greater Dublin area from 52% to 42% over 35 years. That lack of ambition is simply not acceptable, and we must see more ambition on rail and getting people out of their cars sooner rather than later.

Today, I wish to raise two issues. First, I seek a meaningful debate on the St. Michael's House rejuvenation project. This is not just any development; it is one of the State's flagship cost-rental developments. At this stage we do not have a meaningful update from the Minister on where exactly we are with the project in terms of the budget envisaged and the timeframes. I would like the development to be treated with more urgency. It is a huge vacant site in the middle of Inchicore. Traditionally, it housed hundreds of families and we want to make sure that the site is brought back to life and housing families from the area on a cost-rental basis. Perhaps the Acting Leader could invite the Minister to the House for a specific debate on the rejuvenation of St. Michael's House because it is such a significant flagship development for the State.

The second issue I wish to raise today relates to childcare. The budget for 2022 went some way towards extending childcare and laying the foundations for a better childcare system. I mentioned this previously. We are all singing off the same hymn sheet as a House. This is something you could get involved in, a Chathaoirligh, in that the Seanad could champion childcare properly. Early preschool childcare must be brought into the primary school system and curriculum. We will not have a decent childcare system until that happens. If it was brought into the education system, I understand that private providers might not be happy, but there are ways to merge it. That would give workers proper career progression and it would give families and, ultimately, women proper autonomy to flourish in their careers. It would also give them stability. The current haphazard childcare is just not working for families and it would be better if it was brought within the ambit of the State. Many Gaelscoileanna have a naíonra on site. They are a little bit ahead of other types of school. It should be the norm for all national schools to have a preschool on site for families and parents.

This is Science Week, which takes place from 7 to 14 November. Creating our Future is a national conversation that is taking place. It has been great to see the broadcasters going to towns around the country in a few key areas trying to get good feedback from the public about current research that is taking place. We have had virtual Science Week with magicians and scientists and events happening all around the country. It is possible to log on and find an event happening close to where you are based. Events include coding for kids, DNA fingerprinting, Go Fly Your Kite in Cork, reptile superpowers in Celbridge, a bug doctor in Galway, a telescope tour in Birr, a science trail in Sligo, and Pint of Science with stand-up comedians in Tralee. There is something for everyone in there. It is also a great opportunity if you want to find out about careers because that is available with engineers and doctors this week. For fun, there is even a Science of Happiness event.

Science Week is bringing industry, colleges, schools and everyone together. It is important to note as well this week and with COP26 taking place that we had another historic first for Ireland, in particular for the Acting Leader. In east Galway, we had the first ever win for an Irish national school, Clontuskert, which won the climate action project school of excellence award. The children in the school, along with the incredible principal, Kate Murray, are real trailblazers, along with the teaching staff. They are becoming champions and advocates for change. They have a campaign to get rid of plastic on vegetables in supermarkets. The whole community in east Galway is so proud of this school, which has been winning awards for years, such as the Microsoft showcase school. It is a green flag school and also a digital school of distinction. As spokesperson for research, innovation and science, I am so proud this school has achieved such an award. It is a great primary school in east Galway having such an impact at a global level and driving change.

I wish to express my delight with the funding announced yesterday by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for communities to get funding for climate action projects. There is a commitment to €30 million over the next 18 months and another €30 million 18 months later. To break it down, it gives an opportunity for community groups or individuals who want to work with community groups to look for funding under five themes: home energy, travel, food and waste, shopping and recycling, and local climate and environmental action. This is really positive because everybody knows that climate is at an emergency stage and that we need to do all we can at every level from the bottom up and from the top down as well.

I will give an example of some of the funding applications that could be made. They include, community electric vehicle, EV, charging points, small renewable energy projects, community EVs, bike parking, repair hubs, food growing and bulk buying of energy for a group of houses. It is worth looking into. It will be run through Pobal. Some €24 million of the initial €30 million is going to the local authorities, but €6 million will be available through Pobal. I strongly suggest that people who are interested get involved. There are lots of great community volunteers and activists all over the country, and we are not short of them in County Clare. There will be a webinar to inform people more clearly on 18 and 25 November. All the information will be available on pobal.ie. This is an important initiative that the entire House should support and inform their communities about, because for too long we have had to do everything without any funding. There have been volunteers and pioneers for ages but now we see real money being provided to make it easier for communities. Every community must look at climate change and see what it needs to do in its local area. Think globally and act locally is more true now than ever and it is good to see the funding put behind that. I thank the Minister for helping people to get through this period. A just transition will happen if we can get the money to local communities at grassroots level.

I want to raise an issue you broached in this Chamber, a Chathaoirligh, on many occasions. I know it is close to the heart of the Acting Leader as well. It is six months since we enacted the long-promised legislation on councillors' pay that had been bandied about for some time. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party dealt with it head-on, and we implemented the recommendations on pay that were contained in the Moorhead report. However, allowances and expenses remain to be addressed. The Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, have written to the Minister, and I have written to him several times, on what should be allowable and what would ease the burden on councillors and help them to carry out their daily work. It would be apt if we could bring the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to the House to discuss the issue. He is very hands-on with this matter. We could discuss what should be allowable and what would be of help to councillors going forward.

The Acting Leader might see whether it is possible to have the Minister of State come to the House to consult Senators. It would be constructive.

I agree with Senator Davitt's comments.

I did not speak in the House yesterday, so I wish to extend my sympathies to our colleague, Senator Currie, on the death of her dad, Austin, a man who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Catholic community in Northern Ireland when they needed it. He never did it through violent means, but always through peaceful means. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.

Senator Dolan referenced the wonderful environmental work being done in schools. Funnily enough, I have received a request from a number of schools because they want to purchase polytunnels. That is a fantastic request but - Senator Garvey will tell me whether I am wrong - there does not seem to be a fund to support them. Quite a deal of money in the budget has gone towards horticulture. I have checked with the Department of Education but have not spoken to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. If there is not a fund, I would like to suggest that we ask the Minister of State and the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to see whether we can get one. Schools tell me that there is no such fund available. I have done a bit of a trawl and cannot see one either, although money can be provided for various developments. A fund would be a good measure. If one goes into a supermarket, one can see the various produce from Brazil, Peru and Colombia. One can see green beans from Kenya and lentils from somewhere else. All of those crops can easily be grown in this country. If we had to subsidise our growers to do so, then fantastic, because cost would be an issue. When national and secondary schools want to purchase polytunnels and are seeking assistance in that regard, we should rally to their cause and help them.

On a point of information, there is not a particular fund for polytunnels, but many schools have got funding for them through the community environment action fund, which was formerly local agenda 21, or biodiversity grants under local community development.

We will not open up a debate on the matter, but I thank the Senator for that information.

Will the Acting Leader facilitate a debate on the future of retail so that our nation might have a new retail strategy? As we all know from observing the cities and towns in our areas, a major challenge is facing retail on the high street with the migration to online shopping. Streets and towns are being hollowed out. The House needs to debate the matter with the Minister of State, Deputy English, who should be praised for his proactivity. We should also acknowledge the considerable work being done by local enterprise offices and councils.

There is a nervousness within the SME sector and wider business community concerning what will happen when the scaffolding of supports is taken away or diluted. Businesses cannot find people to work. Does this shortage of workers mean that people have returned to their native countries, moved to different sectors or changed their lifestyles? An action plan for retail is needed sooner rather than later, in particular around Christmas. I applaud Chambers Ireland, which is asking people to shop local and in person and to start early. I hope the Acting Leader can facilitate a debate as soon as possible.

The North-South interconnector has been a controversial project since it was first mooted. In its present guise, it will not proceed because the communities affected will ensure it does not.

With this in mind, I was disturbed to hear last week that EirGrid or its agents were caught sneaking - that is the word I would used - across a landowner's property without the landowner's consent or giving prior notice. For a company that is working on behalf of the State, this is deplorable and needs further investigation. The high-voltage overhead power line will travel through Meath, Cavan and Monaghan on its way to Tyrone, but the project does not have the support of the local community and will not go ahead unless the local community supports it. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, come to the House as soon as possible to update us on the current review of the project, when the review is expected, what is happening and what EirGrid is doing on behalf of the State by sneaking onto private individuals' lands without their consent.

I wish to discuss the Northern Ireland protocol and the Brexit situation in the North. The business community is beginning to lead the way in pointing out the advantages of the protocol. Almac is a leading pharmaceutical company with more than 6,000 employees, almost 4,000 of whom are located in Northern Ireland. It is creating a further 1,000 jobs in Craigavon and in its Derry plant. This is good news. A page entitled "Post-Brexit: The Almac Advantage" on the company's website reads: "Unique, unfettered and flexible access to the UK, Europe and beyond". This is the key. I would like more businesses to lead the way instead of politicians from certain communities leading us down a blind alley. It is time we listened to the business community.

I wish to raise two matters. This morning, the Joint Committee on Disability Matters heard from the mother of a man with an acquired brain injury and from a woman who was 33 years of age when she had a stroke. The latter stated:

Not one medical expert came to our house following my discharge. Members need to realise that, at this time, there were a large number of everyday tasks that I could not do for myself. There were no follow-up services for me once I was discharged. There was no one to check on me. The first time I needed to wash myself, I stood in front of the shower for a full five minutes trying to figure out how to turn it on. I only had to press one button but I had absolutely no idea what to do.

The Irish Heart Foundation also appeared before the committee. It spoke about the national stroke strategy, which was commissioned by the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in 2017 but remains unpublished. Might the House write to ask when the strategy will be published and for a comment? I will follow up with a Commencement matter, which I hope the Cathaoirleach will oblige on top of the other three Commencement matters on my list. I ask that the Seanad write to find out where the national stroke strategy is. The Irish Heart Foundation does extraordinary work. Just 3% of its funding comes from the State, with 90% coming from donations. It provides support groups, nurses and advice. We need a stroke strategy to be implemented.

Shamefully, the Irish Sun published an article yesterday that induced people to gamble on a match. I believe there is a big match tonight. Is there? I do not know - I am not really a soccer girl. According to the article, if people bet a certain amount, they would be guaranteed to get money back even if they lost. Induced gambling like that is the sort of thing that brings people back into addiction, costs people their homes, families and livelihoods, and makes children go hungry. The Bill has been published, so we need to bring its gambling regulations in as a matter of urgency in order to stop the scourge of actions like this, which are appalling and undermine families and people.

I support Senator Seery Kearney's comments. I was also at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters this morning. I wish to highlight the words of the lady who had a stroke when she was in her 30s about the inflexibility of our public system in terms of providing employment.

If there is one area in which we should be able to meet targets in terms of the employment of people disabilities it is the public sector. It should be a welcoming employer, but it is so inflexible in terms of supporting people with disabilities. I was shocked to hear this morning that the Department of Education is putting up barriers to this lady being able to get back into work and teaching our children. She is the type of person I would want teaching my children because she has empathy, experience and the best qualifications a teacher could have.

I want to raise another issue, which is a local issue with regard to disabilities. This matter was highlighted last week by an individual, Darragh Ó Heiligh, from Drogheda. This gentleman is visually impaired. There are very welcome roadworks taking place in the Drogheda area but as a result, access to the town of Drogheda is completely blocked off. This is happening repeatedly. There are guidelines in place. Last year, the Department of Transport put in place temporary traffic measures and signs for roadworks guide. However, the requirement is only that "they should allow for access". This needs to be changed to "must allow for access". As I said this gentleman is visually impaired and he had to walk in the middle of a road to get around safely. Thankfully, he did manage to get around safely. This needs to change. When local authorities employ companies to do roadworks they must ensure that they provide safe access for our citizens.

I thank the Senator for raising that issue. In my own county, the Ring of Kerry road is blocked off completely for access for hours each day. In the event of an emergency an ambulance would not be able to get through to people who might need its services.

All politics is local.

Indeed. Tip O'Neill was not wrong, as we all know. The next speaker is Senator Carrigy.

Following on from a conversation I had with a constituent with regard to renewal of car insurance, I want to raise the issue of car insurance. Despite no change in circumstances in terms of no penalty points and no accidents, the constituent's premium had increased. It is stated on the coverinaclick.ie website that the average motor insurance premium secured for customers at renewal is down, on average, 8.5% since June 2020 and 24.5% since June 2019. The decline in premium reflects the final premium paid, not the initial renewal quote offered by the current insurer. The online broker warning states that drivers who opt to auto-renew their cover are missing out on savings. This is an issue, in my opinion, in that insurers are automatically issuing a renewal that is not the actual premium amount they are prepared to accept. They are doing this in the hope that people will auto-renew. A percentage of the population will auto-renew and not move their insurance to another company, particularly the elderly citizens in our community. The joint committee with responsibility for this area needs to bring in the insurance companies. They need to be quoting the actual premium. With the reduction in accidents and claims, we are being told that there are significant decreases in premiums, but the insurance companies are not passing this on to the customers. They are sending out renewals in the hope that a significant number of customers will auto-renew and they can make bigger profits. I ask that the relevant joint committee with responsibility for this matter would bring in the insurance companies. There was significant engagement a number of years ago when the insurance companies were brought in with regard to claims, etc. We are now hearing about significant reductions but that is not the case for everybody.

As people might be aware, next Sunday, 14 November, is International Diabetes Day. We have come a long way in this country in terms of supporting and providing treatment and so on for people with diabetes. Unfortunately, that is not the case in the mid-west. The diabetes unit in the mid-west hospital is grossly inadequate to support the needs of people with diabetes in Limerick. There are people who require expert support and advice in terms of use of insulin pumps but they cannot get it at the hospital in Limerick. They have to travel to Galway or other areas to get it. The clinic in Galway is a very good clinic. Many of the people in the mid-west who previously used the services in the clinic in Limerick have been moved to the Galway clinic. This is unacceptable. New treatments coming online, such as the dose adjustment for normal eating, DAFNE, approach in terms treating people with diabetes, are not being provided in Limerick. New treatments that have been identified and new ways of supporting people with diabetes are not being provided in Limerick. Limerick is not taking on any new patients who require support with insulin pumps. This is not good enough. I want a debate on this issue with the Minister for Health. I have submitted a Commencement matter on this issue for discussion next week, which I hope the Cathaoirleach will accept, but we also need a debate on what is going on in Limerick, why the investment is not being provided in Limerick and why the unit is not being upgraded and made fit for purpose. People with diabetes in Ennis, County Clare, Limerick and Tipperary deserve the same standard of care and support as citizens in other parts of the country.

I want to raise an issue I seem to be raising every week in this House, that is, animal welfare. Last night, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine heard from the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, DSPCA, on what needs to happen to strengthen the laws in this country, particularly in the area of dog welfare. The DSPCA pointed out that puppy farms are the biggest animal welfare problem it faces. This entire industry is based on the concept of cruelty to animals and deception of the consumer, with pups as young as six weeks old being transported across the Border and smuggled into Britain.

The DSPCA has called for dog breeding laws to be brought under the remit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and for a single public database showing how many breeding bitches are on a site, who owns the site and how many times it has been inspected. It has also called for the DSPCA and other authorised officers under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 to be designated as the inspectors of those dog breeding establishments because the local authorities are not doing an effective job. It is quite possible for a responsible breeder to make a living, but in Ireland there are as many as 600 breeding bitches on one establishment. That is not including the pups and the stud dogs. These animals have no socialisation skills and no genetic screening. They are being fed mechanically and, as such, they are having very little human interaction. They are then being sold into families who are left wondering why the pups have behavioural problems or they are very sick.

We are the puppy farm capital of Europe. It is not a label that we should be proud of. This can be fixed but we need proper transparency and inspections of these sites. We also need Revenue to scrutinise these establishments which are breeding up to 600 bitches, possibly, twice a year, with ten pups being sold for approximately €1,500 each. When one does the maths, Revenue is losing out because we do not have the proper transparency and no monitoring of this area by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

I call the Acting Leader to respond to the Order of Business.

I thank all Senators for their contributions on a wide range of topics. Senator O'Loughlin raised the issue of ticket pricing for the Ireland-Portugal match. We all wish the boys in green well this evening. Senator Seery Kearney raised the issue of gambling in advance of that match, which is being proposed in an article in the Irish Sun. That is despicable. It is that type of leading article that brings people back into gambling. I agree with Senator Seery Kearney on that point.

Senator O'Loughlin also spoke about the television programme, "The Missing Children" which aired on Tuesday night. I watched most of the programme, which set out the story of the mother and baby homes in Tuam and elsewhere. I acknowledge the work of Catherine Corless and the RTÉ programme with regard to the 796 missing children. As stated by Catherine Corless, she does not believe they are all buried at the Tuam site. It may be that there are children who were illegally adopted and untraced, perhaps in the United States. We need to progress the legislation with regard to the exhumation. I will seek an update on that from the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman.

Senator O'Loughlin also mentioned Irish thoroughbred mares. I acknowledge the official opening by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Deputy Heydon, of the €3.3 million thoroughbred equine experience facility in Kildare. The sod was turned in 2019 by the then Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin. There was Fáilte Ireland funding for the project. This is a wonderful tourism initiative in the Kildare area. The Senator mentioned carbon sequestration and the work of Kildare Chamber of Commerce in that regard.

Senator Ward mentioned the very important issue of domestic violence and the fact that nine counties do not have refuges. There is also no refuge in Dún Laoghaire, which, I acknowledge, is a major urban area. As the Senator rightly pointed out, where an area has no facility, there are knock-on effects in other areas which can mean that vulnerable women have nowhere to go. This is an important issue and we should have a debate on it with the Minister for Justice.

Senator Keogan mentioned the possible re-establishment of the Oireachtas Covid committee. That would be a matter for the Seanad Committee for Procedure and Privileges, CPP, and the Dáil's Business Committee. The original committee was established on 6 May 2020. At that stage, a new Government had not been formed and Oireachtas committees had not been established. The Covid committee was established on a cross-party basis and did a tremendous amount of work right through the summer of 2020. By the start of October, members were quite tired because they had a lot of other responsibilities to attend to because the Dáil was back in business and doing important work. It was decided that the sectoral committee would deal with Covid matters. The Joint Committee on Health has met representatives of NPHET, NIAC on numerous occasions. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly has also appeared before the committee, as has Mr. Robert Watt from the Department of Health, to discuss all of the relevant issues. Whether there is a need to re-establish that committee is a matter for the CPP of this House and the Business Committee of the Dáil. The matter can certainly be discussed with Senator Keogan's representative on the CPP.

Senator Gavan spoke about housing and requested a debate with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on rents. I can certainly make that request of the Minister's office. I acknowledge the very high rents being charged at present as a result of pent-up pressure and supply constraints. Housing for All focuses on tackling supply and affordability issues within the housing sector. In the short term, the Government is legislating to cap rent increases at a maximum of 2% in rent pressure zones and is committed to the provision of more cost-rental homes. Senator Ardagh mentioned the St. Michael's Estate rejuvenation project in Inchicore, which, I suggest, is an issue for a Commencement matter debate. That said, I will ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate housing, including in the context of cost-rental homes and rent increases.

Senator Sherlock talked about the importance of action versus words in the context of COP26. The Government's climate action plan has been published and over the coming weeks we will be debating sectoral areas in the context of that plan. We will be dealing with forestry today and hope to deal with transport and agriculture soon. The Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was here to discuss energy recently too. This is a matter in respect of which words are not good enough. We need to see specific sectoral actions in all areas responsible for carbon emissions

. Senator Sherlock also mentioned the draft transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. Fine Gael party members tabled a motion last week on public transport. We supported the MetroLink and Dart+ but if the Senator has specific questions, it might be appropriate for her to table a Commencement matter on the subject.

Senator Ardagh referred to childcare and bringing it into the formal education system. She rightly talked about the great work that naíonraí are doing at preschool level. As former Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, I know that the Government funded the development of a naíonra on the site of Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh in Knocknacarra in Galway city. Excellent work is being done there and in many other areas and where it is possible to provide childcare within the formal education system, that should be looked at in terms of public provision.

Senator Dolan talked about Science Week, which we will have statements on later this afternoon. She referred to the great work being done by children in Clontuskert national school in east Galway. Those children are trailblazers and advocates for change. I wish them well in their work. It is important that we continue to educate but also to allow children to teach adults about what needs to be done. There are no better advocates for change than young people.

Senator Garvey welcomed the good news regarding just transition funding of €30 million over the next 18 months, with more to follow thereafter. That funding will be used for many things, including EV charging points in communities and repair hubs. The Senator spoke about an important webinar later this month and urged us all to promote this within our communities, which we will certainly do.

Senator Davitt talked about the great work done by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke, on councillor's pay. The Minister of State has the support of all in this House and in the Dáil in that regard. Senator Davitt referred to the Moorhead report and asked that the Minister of State would come to the House to discuss it. I will raise this with the Minister of State who is constantly engaging with the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG and the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, in relation to councillor's expenses. Perhaps he could come to the House to debate the matter or he might meet the group leaders privately to brief them on progress to date.

Senator Murphy concurred with Senator Davitt regarding councillors. He also paid tribute to the late Austin Currie. The Senator spoke about the wonderful work going on in schools and about the need for funding for polytunnels. Senator Garvey confirmed that funding is available for same, which is good news.

Senator Buttimer spoke about the retail strategy and the need to update it. I will certainly write to the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English, to encourage him to come to the House to discuss that strategy. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, was in Galway last Friday and met a number of business people who raised the issue of well-known chains closing during the lockdown and, having evaluated the situation, deciding not to reopen. This is unfortunate and the move to online shopping makes the challenge for retailers of maintaining a presence on main streets throughout the country even greater. This is an issue that will become more important and more serious in the future so I will ask the Minister of State to come to the House to discuss it.

Senator Gallagher talked about the North-South interconnector. Perhaps the Leader would be the more appropriate person to deal with this because she was very concerned about the interconnector during her time as a Deputy for Meath East and continues to be interested in it. I cannot comment on any specific alleged trespass but I would suggest that the landowner takes the matter up with a solicitor. I will certainly ask the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications to the come to the House to discuss the matter but it might also be worth raising it as a Commencement matter.

Senator Gallagher also spoke about the Northern Ireland protocol. He is quite right to say that businesses in Northern Ireland, thankfully, have the best of both worlds in terms of having access to the EU Single Market and access to the UK market and yet there are politicians in the UK and in the Tory party who are trying to suggest that the protocol is not working for Northern Ireland. It is patently ridiculous, to be honest, and they should accept that the protocol was negotiated in good faith, signed by the UK Government and is working well for Northern Ireland.

Senators Seery Kearney and McGreehan talked about the Joint Committee on Disability Matters and the testimony its members heard regarding stroke. The Irish Heart Foundation does tremendous work in this area, as does Croí in the west of Ireland. The latter appeared before the Joint Committee on Health a couple of months ago. I will seek an update on the national stroke strategy which is hugely important. As I said earlier this year, a stroke can hit anyone of any age at any time.

It can hit people in their 80s and 90s but it can also hit people, as Senator Seery Kearney said, at the age of 33. Stroke can hit people quite suddenly. I will ask for an update on the strategy.

Senator McGreehan also talked about Drogheda town and access issues there. I do not know the exact ins and outs of the situation to which she referred but clearly more cognisance must be taken of people with disabilities, including those who are visually impaired, by those engaging in roadworks. They must ensure that safe access is provided and that someone is available to assist those with disabilities when such works are taking place. That is a matter for the Department of Transport and, more specifically, for Louth County Council. I am sure the Senator has taken it up with the latter already.

Senator Carrigy talked about car insurance. I acknowledge the work done by the former Minister of State, Michael D'Arcy, in that regard, followed up by the current Minister of State, Deputy Fleming. We were of the view that car insurance premiums were coming down but there is evidence that they are creeping up again. I will perhaps invite the Minister of State to come in and give an update on insurance of all types. He has done much work regarding the book of quantum but many insurance providers left the market because of the high payouts. Perhaps the level of competition is not what is needed to reduce premiums.

Senator Conway spoke about diabetes. Former Member, Ray Burke, is an inspiration regarding his weight loss and diabetes story, of which he has rightly been proud in his time here and since then. Regarding the issue in the mid-west, I hope the Senator is successful in his Commencement debate request on that matter next week because it is hugely important to counties Clare, Limerick and Tipperary, as the Senator said, as to why the unit has not been upgraded in Limerick.

Senator Boylan rightly spoke about the importance of animal welfare legislation. I did not see the committee last night but I have seen some of the evidence on news investigations and they are quite horrific. As a former Minister of State, my Department updated at the time the dog-breeding legislation. There was reluctance from the Department of agriculture to take over that area but there were huge improvements in the area. Enforcement is the crux of any legislation. We tried to improve the issue of socialisation, which is very important for puppies. Having human contact from the get-go, in terms of vision, smell and all of that, is very important in those puppies going on to lead the lives they deserve and provide company and comfort to children and adults. I was involved in this and we worked on it but there are people who are not following any guidelines.

As a former owner of a rescue dog, I know the cruel treatment they can undergo, yet they can be wonderful companions for people. We were delighted to give a nine-year-old doggy a good home for the five years she was with us, little Ciara, who passed away in March. I agree with the Senator and perhaps the area is worthy of a debate because it is important.

Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.33 p.m. and resumed at 1 p.m.