The Order of Business today is No. 1, address by the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. in accordance with the arrangement set out in the motion agreed by the House on Tuesday, 16 November 2021; and No. 2, statements on the Air Accident Investigation Unit's final report into the Rescue 116 air accident, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to conclude at 5 p.m. with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed 15 minutes and that to group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes. Time can be shared and the Minister is to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I support the Order of Business as outlined.
As tomorrow is International Men's Day, I would like to express my wishes for a good day to all of my male colleagues here.
It is an important day because it celebrates the positive values that men bring to their families, to their communities, to the world and, in this case, to the Seanad and the Dáil. The day has gone from strength to strength. As we hear a lot about International Women's Day, it is important that we celebrate International Men's Day. The day is important to me because it is also my dear departed dad's birthday. It is a day that I will always remember. One of the six pillars of International Men’s Day is to improve gender relations and to promote gender equality not just for men, but for women also. In that light, the theme for 2021 is better relations between men and women. I am glad to say that in the Seanad we all have an excellent relationship and work very well together. We all need to lead by example to promote respect for one another and to create a fairer and safer society.
This week is also Transgender Awareness Week. It is a week to help raise visibility about transgender people and address issues that members of the community face on an ongoing basis. As a society, we need to show compassion and understanding. We also need to address bigotry in relation to transgender issues. We need to listen to the stories of the men and the women and to understand where they are coming from. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” We need to give people that opportunity to be themselves.
There is good news today for the people of Newbridge. I spoke before about the possibility and potential for Newbridge and Kildare County Council to acquire the Patrician monastery, which is located within the community of Newbridge. I am glad to confirm that Kildare County Council has acquired this unique and centrally located building. I hope that they will use it in full consultation with the people of Newbridge, to serve all of the community, young and old. I look forward to the possibility of a new playground, which we need there also.
The last point I like to raise tomorrow is the very first Adult Safeguarding Day. I am proud to wear the pin that we all received in the post. The day is about putting measures in place to uphold our rights and support health and well-being, particularly for those that are vulnerable.
I thank the Senator for mentioning International Men's Day, as well as her father, who I know was an inspiration to her in being involved in public service and public life.
I wish to join Senator O’Loughlin in recognising International Men’s Day. I had a Commencement matter debate on this issue yesterday. I welcome the fact that the Department of Health is renewing the men’s health strategy, which has been a huge success since 2009 in improving and giving recognition to men's health issues. It is important that we continue to promote and urge all men to get regular health checkups and to visit their GPs, as well as to encourage women and men to encourage their men folks to get a checkup at regular occasions.
Yesterday's announcements by the Government obviously were difficult. They have led to much frustration about the possibility of further restrictions down the line, particularly as the Christmas period approaches. I note one of the initiatives will be working from home and encouraging people where possible to work from home, whether that is for three or four days per week. There is an obvious recognition that many people do not have that possibility, such as people who are out and about on construction sites, those who are in trades and salespeople, or whatever. They are continuously working away from home. That possibility may not be there in most cases.
Connectedhubs.ie, which is operated by the Department and the national hub network, is a Government of Ireland initiative providing a vehicle for individual hubs to come together. It is important, and recognition once again that we will see remote working or working from home being thrust onto people, but there are huge benefits in relation to working from home. There are 164 co-working hubs across the State, identified as part of connectedhubs.ie, with 220 desk plans available and 214 meeting rooms, offering private rooms and meeting spaces, co-working and collaboration spaces, hot desks, virtual office facilities and enterprise and supports to help and grow businesses. This is an initiative from Our Rural Future, a programme of the Department of Rural and Community Development, and supported by the Western Development Commission. The national hub network working group, led by the Department of Rural and Community Development, has identified more than 400 remote working hubs across the country. There is still an opportunity for more of these hubs to be part of the connectedhubs.ie programme, which is accessible. If a person is going to Connemara or Kerry for a holiday, for example, and perhaps needs to find space to partake in a vital meeting - even though he or she should be relaxing on the holiday, this is not always possible - then the opportunity would be there and this platform identifies the hubs and is easily booked. A person could book an hour in the Portershed in Galway, or elsewhere. It is a wonderful initiative. It would be important to get an update from the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on the progress on this and how we can get more than 400 hubs identified and onto the connectedhubs.ie platform.
Senator Fiona O'Loughlin has reminded us of the number of days that we are dealing with and the Cathaoirleach has also done so, but today an important opinion has been mentioned in the European Court of Justice process in Luxembourg, which is the advice of the advocate general on the issues raised in the Graham Dwyer prosecution and appeal. I regard what Europe has done in this area as inexcusable. In the pursuit of privacy the EU has seriously damaged the capacity of member states to investigate serious crime.
The court's suggestion that the retention of data should be reserved to national security is not practicable. We have instances of children abducted and there is an immediate requirement to find out where the abductor's phone is at any given time. That is nothing to do with national security, it has to do with plain humanity. The idea that somehow the privacy or dignity of an individual is improved by saying that the data retention period should be two years rather than six years is laughable. Prior to any of this interference with member states' rights in this matter all of us were subject to the ordinary law, which was that our phone company kept our data for six years because that was the statute of limitation if a person wanted to contest a bill and say that he or she did not owe what the company claimed it owed, or whatever. There was no difficulty as far as most people were concerned about that situation as it existed. There is problem now, however. When I was with the Department of Justice, we and the Attorney General tried to contest the two-year limit when it came through. We were unsuccessful. On totally different privacy grounds, the European Courts of Justice struck down that exact same directive. There is absolutely no reason now why, if a woman disappeared four years ago and the Garda get a tip off now, the Garda cannot go back to a reservoir of information to see if there was contact between a person now suspected of having had an involvement in that disappearance and the victim of the kidnapping or murder. The European Union had better cop itself on. In the so-called pursuit of privacy, the EU has interfered excessively in the rights of member states. It has exposed member states. If this continues, serious crimes will go undetected from now on. An article in The Irish Times today reports on member states joining Ireland in our positioning on this case. It is about time that those member states got together and told the European institutions that, if necessary, they will agree to a short supplementary treaty to reverse this situation and to give back to member states the rights to do what is proper for the safeguarding of their citizens. If this goes unchecked, major injustices will be done and criminals will get away with savage crimes that have nothing to do with national security.
Hear, hear. Well said.
I do not know if colleagues were able to listen to Dr. Andrew Westbrook on "Morning Ireland" today. He is the ICU consultant for St. Vincent's University Hospital. He painted a very worrying picture on the current situation in relation to ICU beds. There are currently 119 patients in ICU, which is up 31 from one week ago. Dr. Westbrook also went into some detail on what has not happened in our health service over the past decade and more. He referred to the report produced by the Prospectus Group in 2009. I took the time to have a look at that report this morning. The 2009 report told us that we have a severe deficit of ICU beds. It told us that we needed to get to 579 beds by 2020. Currently we are at 301 beds. We were at 30 beds below that, so it has gone up 30 in the past year, I imagine because of Covid. How many Ministers for health have we had since 2009? What has been the political response to a report that tells us we have not just a deficit, we have a severe deficit of ICU beds? We are at just over half of what we need. I must make the political point that we have parties in this room, Fine Gael being a prime example, that have promised tax cuts over the past decade. As my wife always reminds me, life is about choices. Successive governments have made very poor choices over the past 12 years. The only reason that there has been an increase in ICU beds at all is in response to the Covid crisis. Frankly, how can anyone stand over the record of this Government or the last one, and the ones before that, all of which ignored the fact that we have a severe deficit in critical care beds?
Each successive Minister for Health has ignored that and carried on regardless. We are paying the price for that now. There should be no more talk of tax cuts. There should be no more talk of promising tax cuts when we have a health service that is severely underfunded. Please do not come out with the line "We are spending more than we ever did before." There have been decades of under investment. Yesterday we spoke about University Hospital Limerick, and a claim was made that it is not a resource issue. It absolutely is a resource issue. I know that because the management told me that the hospital is 200 beds short. The promise at the minute is that they should wait another two years before another 96 beds are introduced. There is a fundamental problem here. One either believes in a national health service and proper funding for a national health service or one does not. On this side of the Chamber, my party Sinn Féin believes in a national health service. The evidence is there to show that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not.
The first issue I wish to raise this follows on from the abortion working group. I am aware that the group has contacted the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to express serious concerns over the confusing and somewhat contradictory messages regarding the legally mandated abortion review. I share the group's concern. The review was announced last March and six months on there is still a lack of clarity on the timeline and scope of the review. When he was questioned on 9 November, the Taoiseach had very little knowledge of the review. I believe there are three main issues outstanding. There is a need for the Minister for Health to announce publicly the independent chair and the panel of experts, including service users, providers and reproductive rights advocates who are going to govern this process. The Minister also needs to publish on the Department of Health website the terms of reference for the review. The Minister also needs to provide a clear timeline for the review duration, including the timeline for public consultation. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister from this House seeking clarity on the review. It is just not good enough that six months on, service users and those of us involved in the campaign for improving the legislation do not have a clue as to what is happening.
The second issue I wish to raise is the concern in respect of the treatment of migrant workers in the fishing industry. A recent report conducted by Maynooth University's law department revealed details of poor or, in some cases, no wages being paid, wages being withheld, racist slurs, workers being forced to live on boats with appallingly inadequate living conditions and all sorts of terrible abuses. This report has received much coverage from around the world and there was a damning report in The Guardian on it.
There is also the egregious issue of the discriminatory policy denying migrant fishermen the right to long-term residency, stamp 4, which is available to other workers after five years of working on work permits. I am aware that leave has been granted by the High Court to challenge this so hopefully there will be movement on it. It is important from a workers’ and migrants’ rights perspective that we discuss this report and the broader issue of employment standards in Irish fisheries and for migrant workers. I request that the Leader write to the Minister and ask him to come to the Chamber to discuss this matter urgently.
I want to first mention Seán Binder.
As many Members will have read during the week, he is on trial in Lesbos for his humanitarian work. Seán was in the same year as me in college. He is 27 years of age. We spoke in the Chamber recently on legislation concerning the need to carve out humanitarian work and have it as an exemption rather than as a defence. This is the type of case that proves this point. Seán is now in Lesbos on trial for humanitarian work but trying to take people out of crisis and away from war.
I also wish to speak briefly on access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system and the report that came out this week. When I read it I was reminded of a piece of research that I was involved in a few years back with Dr. Fiona O’Reilly on the state of mental health of people in our homeless system. A phrase which Dr. O’Reilly used in that context rang true for me when I read this report, which is that the streets have become our asylums. We close down, or say that we close down, institutions for mental health but we just changed what those institutions were. The institutions became the streets and have ultimately become our prison walls. This week's report, Access to Mental Health Services for People in the Criminal Justice System, which was written by Dr. Susan Finnerty, reveals some very stark issues in respect of how we treat people with mental health issues and how we divert them from the prison system. Many of their crimes happen while undergoing an episode of mental health difficulty. Can we uncouple those issues when we deal with people? Crime is crime, but what about the intention of someone when the crime is being carried out? If it is due to a mental health issue, we need to find ways to help and support people adequately and in the right way.
The report states that a prisoner in Cloverhill Prison was found lying on a mattress on the floor in a cell. He was severely mentally ill, and was refusing food, drink and medication. The report refers to an area within Mountjoy Prison that was staffed by prison officers with a special interest in mentally unwell prisoners. The in-reach team provides a comprehensive mental health service in deciding who is admitted or discharged from the unit. Prisoners with mental health issues told inspectors that they prefer to be in the unit than in the general prison. The inspectors visited the women’s prison when three fairly mentally ill women were there. I worked many years ago in a hostel with women who had been released from the Dóchas Centre. This hostel was only for women being released from prison. I can tell the House, obviously without presenting accurate statistics, that it felt like nine out of every ten of those women were experiencing mental health issues in some shape or form when they came to the hostel after being in prison.
On the National Forensic Mental Health Service, the report points out that there are about 4,000 people in prison in Ireland and that 10,000 people a year are passing through those 4,000 places. Obviously, there are no places for people who need extra care and have complex needs. I am beginning a new programme in the new year. I will be working with prisoners who are currently in the prison system. I hope they will come to work with me on their one-day temporary release while they get ready for reintegration. This is an area that we will be looking to reform. There are many people with undiagnosed mental health issues in the prison system who will never make it into these statistics because they are not diagnosed. I hope we may be able to feed into this. Perhaps we will have a debate in the new year when I will have these prisoners - I would prefer to call them people who are in prison - feeding into the policy so that hopefully we can create change.
Like my colleague Senator O’Loughlin, I would like refer to Adult Safeguarding Day, which takes place tomorrow, Friday, 19 November. This is Ireland’s first Adult Safeguarding Day and is an event to raise public awareness of a very sad activity. Safeguarding Ireland has come together in partnership with organisations across the sectors of health, justice and finance, as well as other sectors, to raise awareness of elder abuse, particularly in this country. Adult abuse happens when a person’s rights, independence or dignity are not respected. This can be a deliberate act on the part of the abuser or it can stem from a lack of knowledge on the abuser’s part. Last year, 10,000 cases of adult abuse were reported to the HSE. Other reports were made to other organisations, on which we have no data. Sadly, many cases are not reported at all. This abuse can happen at any stage but it is more likely to happen when an elderly person is living with a family due to age or physical or intellectual ability, or in situations of coercive control. It really is heartbreaking for an older person to find themselves in that situation. We can see the picture that when a person, due to health or some other frailty, is forced to live in a family situation, they feel a bit vulnerable. The message I would like to get out today is that help is out there. There are many helplines and I am sure that every older person knows someone they can trust. I encourage them to come forward and not to live through the nightmare that they may be experiencing. In order for us to do our bit in trying to create more awareness of the situation, I would welcome if the Leader could organise a debate on the issue of elder abuse at the earliest opportunity.
I support everything that my colleague, Senator McDowell, has just said. I was going to bring the matter up. In our debate on the Northern Ireland protocol yesterday, I mentioned that there had been very little public consideration of the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union, its relevance to costs and the element of delay that it brings into the consideration of legal matters affecting Irish people. This is not to deny that the Court of Justice of the European Union is necessary but we think very little about it and very few people would be able to name the Irish State’s sole representative on that court. The point is that people see the European Union primarily as a guarantor of commerce, trade, markets, environmental protection, quality of medicines and things that affect us all as a community. There will be a whole new swathe of people considering the role of the European Union in our lives and considering the role of European courts if a European court makes a decision that interferes with the ability of Irish authorities to investigate and prosecute serious crime. There will be a whole new element to the debate about the European Union and its role in our lives. I hope common sense will prevail. As Senator McDowell has said, there has already been a very unhelpful overreach by the European Union in such areas. When we come to have discussions about Poland and Hungary, and they are frequently mentioned in dispatches in this House and in The Irish Times, we rarely get into the granular detail of the difficulties which those countries have with overreach by European Union institutions in areas which are properly left to consideration by member states. I have no doubt that there will be elements of right and wrong on both sides and that nobody will agree with each other 100%, but we need to have a more careful consideration of how the European Union impacts our lives, for good in many cases, but as we are seeing now in this particular instance, also for ill. I will leave for another day the other point I was going to make.
While the judge in the European Court of Justice may have been a former Member of this House, it is not necessarily bad that we do not know the names of judges in every instance. However, I agree with the thrust of what Senator McDowell said concerning the advice given by the advocate general. Obviously, it will be a matter for the full court to make a decision.
I regard data privacy as hugely important and a key European value but every right must be balanced against competing rights. In this instance, where we have the importance of having safeguards in place and member states want to use particular information to detect a crime, it appears that the concept of the right to data privacy is a supreme right and there is no balancing. I agree with the purpose outlined by Senator McDowell. That was never the intention of the GDPR, which was very much designed so that data would only be used for a specific purpose. In this purpose, the Garda is not looking for Graham Dwyer's data to find out where he ordered takeaways or anything. It is seeking to establish whether he was engaged in a crime. This is a very serious issue and it is worthy of debate. Data privacy is important but we need to get the balance right.
This week, 350 scientists and healthcare professionals, including some of the best known of their number in this country, issued a public health statement calling for the generic production of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments so that they can be made available globally. We will not beat Covid solely in Ireland and other wealthy countries. Covid must be beaten on a global basis, as we have discussed previously in the House before, and the Government needs to take a strong stance in support of global vaccination.
It has come to my attention in the past week or so that a number of college students with Covid symptoms who were feeling unwell have not had a PCR test and continue to attend class despite the guidelines. Colleges need to support us in tackling Covid this time around. I have been told of instances where professors and lecturers have refused to post notes online or have made it mandatory for students to attend lectures. It is fantastic that students can attend lectures once again and experience college life, which we all enjoyed while we were there. However, colleges need to adapt and encourage students, where necessary, to stay at home and isolate. They also need to put alternative learning mechanisms in place. Colleges must accommodate students who cannot attend lectures by using technology to livestream lectures for anyone who is isolating at home.
I raise the issue of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA, which I mentioned last Tuesday. In the past 48 hours, the organisation has suspended one county board and two provincial councils. Elections will take place at the end of this month and the IABA has decided within the last 48 hours to suspend a significant number of the people who were nominated by the clubs to participate in these elections. The Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, must take a hold of this matter. We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. In all sporting and political organisations, it is the members who decide who will run the organisation. The actions of the IABA are outrageous and must be dealt with.
My colleague, Senator Ruane, spoke about the case of Seán Binder, which is being heard today. These issues were debated in the past two weeks. Ireland stopped its bilateral search and rescue in the Mediterranean Sea. Then we joined Operation Sophia, which then stopped doing search and rescue. We warned that would happen because the then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Paul Kehoe, had told us the priority would become security rather than humanitarian purposes. Those who =stepped into the breach to deliver on the human rights all of us are bound to uphold are now facing a massive wave of criminalisation. We warned that would happen. I am concerned that even in our smuggling legislation we have shifted the balance too far. While humanitarian reasons are a defence, there is no longer a clear exemption from prosecution.
We need to be honest about how our policies and European policies on migration are damaging the human rights record of Europe. The case of Seán Binder is one example. Another is what is happening on the borders of Poland. Whatever we think of Belarus and the House passed a motion opposing Belarus's actions just a couple of weeks ago, we have a responsibility, as the EU, to make sure the human rights of all those at our borders are protected. We cannot point a finger at others without stepping up. It is not enough that we are letting people die in the Mediterranean and on the border with Poland, and that we criminalise those who take action to fulfil what we would hope for. Europe needs to decide. We compromise on human rights in the immigration control agreements we have with Turkey where Omar Souleyman has been arrested. Europe has softened its cough on human rights breaches, even when they involve such global figures as this amazing musician because we have an immigration control deal with Turkey. We gave money to the former military regime in Sudan for its border police. When it was overthrown in a peaceful revolution we did not step up and provide support. These are really important issues. Europe must decide whether it is going to be a beacon or a fortress. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on human rights and migration. This House has a record on human rights. Let us not turn our eyes away from the fact that they are being undermined in the interest of migration control.
I refer to what occurred at the meeting this morning of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters. Four witnesses attended who all have distinct chronic illnesses. They talked about their experience of having to grapple with an illness for which we do not have a consultant or specialist in the State. While grappling with their illness, they are charged with the requirement to go from Billy to Jack explaining to various specialists how their illnesses affect their nervous system and various organs. I call for the creation of a specialist one-stop-shop where people with long-term disabilities can get all the necessary information in one place. At this stage, we should have a bespoke template for alleviating the burden on people who have to find out absolutely everything themselves, including how to access benefits, pensions and invalidity - that is an appalling word - and disability benefits or supports.
This matter goes to the heart of the cost of disability. I know the Leader is in the process of scheduling a debate on this issue. The cost of disability is prohibitive. Someone who is already ill and getting used to what that means for their lives, for example, having to work shorter hours or give up work, then has to organise and pay for consultations and various supports to alleviate their circumstances. They have this added burden while their income is reducing.
A person with a chronic illness must reapply every year for the medical card. A chronic illness, by definition, is not going away so why must people reapply every year? Many people are being told they are not disabled enough to receive a primary medical certificate. Seriously, telling a person who is an amputee that he or she is not disabled enough is wrong. People who cannot access places need an automatic car and specialist services. We have not added to the illness list since 1972, which is nearly 50 years ago. The list should be reappraised. All of these issues need to be addressed urgently. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
I want to raise an issue regarding Rebuilding Ireland home loans. We all know that the product offered through our local authorities is fantastic for individuals and families who cannot get mortgage approval from the pillar banks. In fact, these home loans will probably become even more important next year with the roll-out of affordable purchase units. There seems to be a black-and-white rule to the effect that where an individual is in receipt of the EWSS, the banks will not entertain a Rebuilding Ireland application.
In fairness to the pillar banks, and I have dealt with a number of cases, they accept mortgage applications from individuals in receipt of the EWSS. It is a State support. It is not the choice of the employee as to whether he or she is in receipt of EWSS. It is there to support the employer. It seems one arm of the State supports employment with the EWSS but another arm that deals with housing states that because people are in receipt of the support, it is not able to help them with their mortgages. That does not make any sense. I know of a couple trying to get a mortgage who were refused in two instances by the banks. They applied for a Rebuilding Ireland home loan. They meet all of the criteria. They satisfy the income limit requirements and they have their savings and their deposit. Because one of them is now in receipt of the EWSS, however, they are being refused when they had previously been approved. This is despite the fact he is a hotel employee who has since been promoted. He is on a higher salary and working more hours. There is more income in the family unit now than there was prior to Covid when they were going to be approved for the loan. Now, they are being refused. There needs to be a serious rethink in this respect. The Department for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is engaging with the Housing Agency on this, but it has to happen quicker.
I have previously raised the decade of commemorations, particularly how we will deal with the commemorations in 2022. It is a unique period in our history and it must be dealt with sensibly and appropriately. I am from west Cork and issues regarding Michael Collins will always pop up. A major campaign is under way to have a statue of him in Dublin. I fully support this campaign. We need to have a real debate in the House about how we will deal with 2022. We need to start talking about planning for memorials and statues. Arthur Griffith, Cathal Brugha and Michael Collins all died in 1922. They were three leaders in the first Executive. Should all three be commemorated? Should all three be given a statue in order to ensure that people recognise it is 100 years since they died. The House will play a role in the decade of commemorations. There is a need for debate in the Houses. It is something that we might try to work on. The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW, should come to the House as a matter of urgency to lay out how he believes we will deal with the commemorations. If we are to have memorials built for these patriots, we need to ensure that the OPW is on board. The latter will be a key driver to make sure it happens. Perhaps we should broaden the net. The idea of having one statue is appropriate but having three would be a more appropriate and sensible way to deal with the issue.
I compliment the more than 400 salons in Limerick that have signed up to the partnership between the National Women's Council and the Hair and Beauty Industry Confederation. It is very important. European research has shown that one in four women has been abused. I compliment the salons that have voluntarily decided to get involved in the campaign. Many women confide in their hairdressers when they are having their hair done. The salons will be provided with resources and with a support pack containing recommendations. We should encourage many more beauty and hair salons to get involved.
I lend my support to Adult Safeguarding Day tomorrow. I compliment all involved in the health, social, financial and justice sectors. It is about bringing greater awareness and deeper understanding of safeguarding. It is very important. It has already been highlighted that there is a helpline. People who have a problem can log complaints or seek advice. Tomorrow will be the first time this day will be held, and I support the campaign. I hope it goes from strength to strength.
We are making Ballinasloe shine for the cycleway. It is the newest town in Ireland and we are ready to welcome the Dublin to Galway cycleway. There has been multimillion euro investment in our town. We had an incredible paint scheme. Many businesses participated. This Sunday, our incredible Christmas lights will illuminate the town. Many will visit to admire how well our town looks. There are luxury hotels and fine restaurants to tempt those on the cycleway on weekend breaks to explore our region of unique landscapes, through the beauty of the bogland, the flowers and wildlife. They are protected by European law. We have migratory birds along the callows of the River Suck and remote Grand Canal towpaths.
Ballinasloe, which is at the crossing of a river and is a gateway to the west, has the majesty of the blueway of the River Suck, the marina linking to Shannonbridge, the ancient walkways of the Hymany way part of the Beire Breifne way and greenways. There are many activities for families. There are world-class recreational sports, swimming pools, running tracks and tennis courts. Ballinasloe has a criss-cross of networks. There are waterways, railways and motorways. There is now a cycleway. It is at the heart of the connection. The hidden heartlands is made up of towns linked by a common love of what makes us strong, which is our communities and families. We are open to showing all we have to offer in heritage and history. A decision on the cycleway is due at the start of December. The project team is going through the peer review process on route selection. There have been thousands of submissions. Hundreds have attended information webinars. There are signs all over the town supporting the cycleway by consensus with landowners. East Galway is welcoming and Ballinasloe is ready to welcome the cycleway.
I want to pay tribute to three young lads from Scoil Mhuire in Strokestown who recently won a national Garda youth award for the fundraising they did for Childhood Cancer Foundation Ireland. In 2020, Jack Beirne, Andrew Jordan and Mark Rogers did a transition year enterprise project. It is supposed to be a money-making enterprise but they decided they wanted to do something for Childhood Cancer Foundation Ireland. They decided to restore a 1956 Ferguson 20 vintage tractor. Even people who live in the middle of Dublin must admit that a 1956 vintage tractor is something special. They raised a whopping €64,000. Imagine that figure. Jack is a survivor of childhood cancer and a friend of my family. It is something spectacular and it shows the good work young people throughout the country are doing. We often hear about negative things but we do not hear enough about positive things. I want to pay tribute to them this morning.
Unfortunately, because of the new restrictions for Covid, the entertainment sector will be under pressure. Over the past two days, the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, which represents many of the people in the entertainment sector, has done a survey of bands and various artists. The cancellation rate for the coming months is 75%. From now until next spring, the entertainment sector will be under enormous pressure. With the agreement of the House we might write to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, urging her to put in place a package to look after this body of people because they are under enormous pressure.
I thank Senator Murphy for raising the wonderful achievement of those three young men in Strokestown. It goes to show that where there is a will, there is a way. When something is a passion for people, they put all their efforts into it. It is worthy for the Senator to commend them here, particularly given their young age and the experience that Jack has recovered from. I wish them well.
The Senator is right. The entertainment sector has probably been the most affected by the decisions made this week. Without doubt, we will need to continue the business supports both for venues but also to be very mindful of the need for continued support for artists. I use that word collectively because whether you are a rocking DJ or a fabulous singers, across the spectrum they have a craft and an art and that has to be respected and upheld. While jobs are available in certain sectors, and in recent months businesses have said that they cannot get staff, I do not think that it is acceptable for anyone to say "never mind that you are a deadly DJ, a coffee shop up the road is looking for staff. Go up there and get it". That is not acceptable. We will write to the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, today to support her in her efforts to maintain the business and individual supports for our artists because we will need them. We have been saying this for about 18 months hoping that we will get to come out of the other end. That does not seem in sight now but we will need them in the future.
I wish I had Senator Dolan's command of the English language and her joy. She stands up and speaks with such passion and pride on the part of the country that she lives in. I thank her for her contribution. It makes us all a little envious. I offer my congratulations and wish continued success for the Greenway when it does come to Ballinasloe.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke of the very worthwhile programme between the National Women's Council of Ireland and hairdressers and beauty salons around the country. It is a slight on the country that Ireland has had a significant increase of domestic violence reports in the last 18 months. It is welcome that we can speak about it as a natural occurrence whereas before Covid I think we spoke about it in sheltered corners, that it did not really happen, and was spoken of in whispers. We all know some woman, maybe more than one woman, who has been abused, harassed, or been subjected to sexual violence or coercive control. They exist in every town and village and it is a welcome move by the Hair and Beauty Industry Confederation. The Senator is right in saying that they often provide more counselling therapy than just getting your hair done. I thank her for raising that this morning.
Senator Lombard spoke of the commemorations that will be part and parcel of our lives next year and the debate that is needed around the respectful nature of how we will look at those. I will organise a debate on that as soon as I can.
Senator Cummins brought up one of those "only in Ireland" things. I will write to the Ministers for Finance and Housing, Local Government and Heritage in case they are not aware. When they are aware, they will have to do a resolution. The Senator highlighted that many of our banks, particularly the pillar banks, had such a practice but when it was brought to their attention by the Minister for Finance it did cease. It makes no sense that the State would be doing it to something that it had previously stopped our pillar banks from doing.
Senator Seery-Kearney raised the stories that came from the Committee on Disability Matters, as she does every Thursday. She is absolutely right. We have a long-term illness scheme because there are long-term illnesses that people live with. That list has to be updated. It is not just a case of saying that we do not have money. Senator Gavan referred earlier to the choices we make. New illnesses have been discovered in the last five, 15 or 25 years that are not on that list. It makes no sense that we still expect people to go through hoops. The cost of disability report debate is in with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I am waiting for her to come back to me with a date and I will come back as soon as I can.
Senator Higgins spoke of the need for a debate on human rights and migration. She is absolutely right and I will arrange on as soon as I can. I read with real dismay that Decathlon in France has stopped selling canoes because migrants are buying them to try to get themselves from the shores of France to the shores of the UK. I cannot imagine the despair that anyone would feel to put themselves and maybe their family members in a canoe to try and escape to a better life. It is a real crisis.
Senator Carrigy raised the boxing association. I sent a note to the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, but I will write again today to tell him that the situation has escalated since the Senator raised it in the last couple of days.
I agree with him in some cases around college students. College campuses have had antigen testing for several months. That has been working very successfully. Over 20,000 tests have been taken in the various institutions. Sadly, it was possible to self-refer for a PCR test in only eight of the Republic's 26 counties because all other counties, including Dublin, are full. We need to ramp up our PCR testing capacity in line with the increasing numbers of Covid cases. As the Chief Medical Officer said yesterday, for every one person who is captured and diagnosed by the PCR testing system, six people are asymptomatic and walking around spreading Covid unknowingly. It is no wonder that the modelling released the other day projects the numbers to go nowhere except up. I will talk to the Minister for Further and Higher Education about remote learning. It would be ludicrous to force anyone to go to college in person if they do not want to, if they have concerns.
Senator Malcolm Byrne and others raised the report from the advocate general about the Graham Dwyer case. While they spoke earlier the phrase "the law is an ass" rang in my ears. We are trying to capture serious criminals whether it is espionage, murder, sexual violence, gangs or otherwise. The spectrum is so large. The person who envisaged the protection of privacy and data when we first introduced GDPR at European and then member state level never ever envisaged that it would stop criminality and security forces within member states being able to apprehend those criminals. Not everything is of national security but having the women of Ireland safe is and should be a national security issue. The European Court of Justice, to be fair, is only doing what the Supreme Court here asked it to do so I would not slag it for it. However if we cannot appeal to the sense of the court and find a resolution to it in order to apprehend serious criminals in all member states of the EU, then the law definitely will be an ass. I thank the Senator for raising that, as did Senators Mullen and McDowell.
Senator Gallagher spoke on the national safeguarding day as did Senators O'Loughlin and Maria Byrne. Tomorrow will be the first awareness day for it. The numbers are available on line for everyone to see. It is a sad reflection that there are people in this country who would take advantage financially or simply maliciously of an older person who does not have full capacity. It is really important that we all support the campaign and I thank colleagues who raised it.
Deputy Ruane spoke about Seán Binder and the human rights abuses against those who are only trying to help other human beings in cases of distress. She also spoke of the mental health of people in our prison services and the rehabilitative nature of work, and the supports that should exist for people either detained in prison or are in prison and en route to society. I met a wonderful man during my years the Department of Social Protection named Paddy Richardson. He runs an organisation called the Irish Association for Social Inclusion Opportunities, IASIO, based in Blanchardstown. In my last budget I allocated €100,000 to IASIO which I am not sure has been received by it yet. The Senator might follow that up. That was to do specific work with prisoners leaving prison because the return rate in this country among those who leave and return within 18 months is astronomical. It is simply because we do not have the supports or the people who support those people back to what we would classify as a normal life. Because they do not have those supports and they are alienated it is much easier for them to go back into the life that they used to know. That organisation is wonderful. I will text the Senator Paddy's number because it might be worth her raising it. I thank the Senator for raising it today.
Senator Hoey spoke of the much anticipated and much needed review of legislation. I do not know what the delay is but I wish that there was not a delay.
I will write to the Minister today to find out when he will appoint the independent person to carry out the review, what the parameters will be and how quickly it will be established. I will refer back to the Senator as soon as I can.
Senator Gavan spoke about Dr. Andrew Westbrook's contribution to "Morning Ireland" this morning. There is no doubt that there are crises at different levels in the health service at present. Without trying to be smart or sarcastic, and I really try not to be these days, in 2009, when the economy collapsed there was €15 billion being put into the Irish health service. Today, it is €21 billion. While I agree with the Senator that it is all about choices, the spectrum of things that need to be changed in the health service must be managed effectively, efficiently and well. There are obviously cases which we can point to and highlight over the last ten years, and probably over the last 40 years, that have not been so successful, whereas we ignore the ones that have been successful. The choice of this Government, the last Government and the Government that came into office in 2011 was to increase the health spend, but with increasing it comes the responsibility to deliver a proper health service. I doubt that any one of us could say that we are proud of every aspect of it, as there is still a great deal of work to be done. The reason I will try to be respectful is that it is a little hypocritical to critique here in a party-political way when the Senator's party has been in government in Northern Ireland for over 20 years and the waiting lists in Northern Ireland are as long as, if not longer than, those in the Republic. Let us just temper the debate. We are all on the same side here. We all want a health service that is functioning well for citizens, both North and South, and it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that happens.
I spoke about Senator McDowell when he was not here, and I apologise. The words in my mind when he was making his contribution were, "the law is an ass", and if we do not fix this, it is our collective responsibility to make sure that it is not as it was never intended to be when the GDPR was first introduced in the European Union and in member states. I thank him for his contribution.
Senator Kyne opened Fine Gael's contributions today by talking about International Men's Day and the men's health strategy, in particular. There must be a revised men's health strategy. We frequently talk a great deal about women here because there are so many of us, but we equally need to mind our men. There are certain medical conditions, including physical conditions, that men tend to ignore for some reason. I do not know why. It usually when a man goes home to his wife and tells her something that she tells him to go to the doctor fast. We have to make these things more practised whereby if something is wrong, men will just go to get help and get fixed. That is never more true than with regard to the mental health of men in this country. There are some wonderful organisations that look after mental health. They have massive successes, particularly among women and younger people, but we are still failing to reach young men between the ages of 20 and 41 years who are succeeding in taking their own lives because they are not successful in asking for or seeking help. The State has a real opportunity and obligation to put specific programmes together for men, farmers and prisoners where we are not reaching those people. That is a responsibility all of us must bear.
The Senator also spoke about the connected hubs. We need people to work from home and they have to be able to work from somewhere other than the kitchen table. That is a very good initiative by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys.
The Fianna Fáil leader, Senator O'Loughlin, spoke about a variety of topics for the next couple of days. This week is Transgender Awareness Week. We know it is a very small minority group of people who have huge discrimination proposed against them and they deserve our support. I loved the idea of, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken". It is really apt for the transgender community. I am delighted Newbridge, through Kildare County Council, has taken ownership of the monastery and I wish it every success. I hope it becomes a hub in the centre of the village. Again, it is International Men's Day tomorrow, the same day as National Adult Safeguarding Day. Perhaps we all could highlight those to people on our social media outlets, in particular the numbers where men can look for help and for anybody who experiences a lack of dignity in how they are treated by their friends, neighbours or families. It is a very important campaign.
Is the Order of Business agreed?
I hope I am not being disorderly in pointing out-----
-----because I know it is a point close to your heart, a Chathaoirligh, that if we had looked at a certain directive coming from Europe, we might not be in the current difficulty in respect of the Graham Dwyer case.