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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 Mar 2022

Vol. 283 No. 6

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Defence Forces Properties

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, to the House.

The Minister of State is very welcome. I thank him for coming here to discuss this important matter for the residents of the Stamullen and Gormanston areas. The Defence Forces currently own land of 261 acres in the Gormanston area, upon which Gormanston Camp is based. The camp and the disused aerodrome occupy a certain portion of this land and much of the remaining land is leased for agricultural use. The land to which I refer is filed under folio numbers MH11409N and MH6108N. It was previously zoned for industrial use some years ago but remains unzoned since 2011. What future plans does the Minister have for the land surrounding Gormanston Camp? Will he consider the disposal of a portion of this land, approximately 8 to 9 acres, to the local community in order that it may develop community facilities?

This Government has made considerable strides in the past two years to establish bodies and frameworks, such as the Land Development Agency, in order that public land may be used in the most efficient manner to serve the communities where it exists. In the midst of a housing crisis, this often takes the form of housing. We all understand, too, that dwellings alone do not make a sustainable environment or community and that facilities and amenities must also receive funding.

If this parcel of land were to be placed under the remit of the local authority, it could be used to develop state-of-the-art football pitches for the local club of 360 members. These children have been using the facilities and pitches at the Franciscan College, Gormanston, but, for reasons outside of their control, will no longer be able to do so from April. Effectively, they have nowhere to go. This land could provide them with pitches of their own to enable them to train and play freely and reach their full potential.

In addition, the local area has been in need of a graveyard for some time. A portion of this land could be set aside for this purpose and provide an essential service to the community. Other plans for the area could incorporate child-friendly and family-friendly amenities, such as playgrounds, obstacle courses and fitness areas. We know that such community facilities improve quality of life and mental health in our towns.

Perhaps the Minister of State knows of some top-secret plans for this land, but cannot divulge them here. If no such plans exist, will consideration be given to allowing the land to be used and developed for the projects I have in mind?

I would not ask the State for land if I could find land in those areas to serve the people whom I represent in the Gormanston-Stamullen area. I have gone after every landowner and farm owner in the area asking them to sell some land to the community. They just do not have any available. There is no zoned land in Gormanston. All of it was dezoned as part of the development plan, so there is nothing that can be sold for community use. I am here today to ask the State whether it would consider disposing of some of the land in question for community use.

On behalf of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, I thank the Senator for raising this important issue today. Unfortunately, I wish to advise the House that there are no plans to dispose of any land held by the Defence Forces in the Stamullen and Gormanston areas to local authorities for community use.

The Minister and I fully appreciate the importance of local community groups and the outstanding work that they do across the country. Indeed, the Defence Forces have a very proud tradition of working with such groups and, where possible, facilitating them. I understand that there have been previous requests from a local community to access these lands and that officials in the Department set out the difficulties with accessing operational military areas. The use of this military facility has grown recently for training purposes and this level of usage can be expected to continue in the coming years. I understand this request was considered at the most senior levels within the Defence Forces and the Department but, regrettably, it was not possible facilitate the requested access for the reasons I have mentioned.

While the Defence Forces engage with numerous community organisations across the country and make their premises and facilities available to local groups when possible, military landholdings should not be viewed as a resource to be handed over for civilian use whenever requested. These are military sites for military activities, and this should always be borne in mind. Apart from any future requirement, it is vital that the Defence Forces have access to land and facilities at present where they can train and engage in manoeuvres to ensure operational readiness and their ability to carry out tasks assigned to them by the Government.

I thank the Senator for raising the specific issue of lands in the Stamullen and Gormanston areas today and, on behalf of the Minister, I assure the House that the Defence Forces will continue the positive community engagements that happen all over the country on a regular basis.

The Senator raised an important issue regarding football pitches in her area and the fact that the lands at Franciscan College Gormanston are not available to them for some reason. She also referred to child- and family-friendly situations and the provision of a graveyard. She has made a compelling argument and I have no problem with her writing in to express her views. I will bring them to the attention of the Minister. The Senator said there were 270 acres and that she was looking for 5 or 6 acres.

There are 261 acres.

I will bring that back to the Minister. This matter has been discussed at the highest level in the Defence Forces. Unfortunately, I do not have good news for the Senator, but in light of the issues she has raised and the fact that no lands are available under the development plan, perhaps we could ask the Defence Forces to consider this matter again.

I thank the Minister of State. I am disappointed by the answer, though. The State has 261 acres and only 50 acres are being used for military training currently, so losing 5 to 6 acres would not make any difference to it, but it would make a major difference to the community.

The Franciscans sold their site for the development of a new school. This means that the soccer club has to get off the site in April. The club is paying €20,000 per year to use that facility. It has the capacity to buy land but there is nothing for sale. The State has the only land that I can go after. I would like to meet someone in the Department who could consider whether there is a portion of land that could be given to the community. I would be happy to sit down with that person and with the local authority to explore the possibilities. If we cannot do that, then fine, but if we could sit down and explore the matter, we might find a portion of land that could be of use to the community.

I was involved in buying a soccer pitch in my town of Boyle in the late 1980s and I know the use that has been made of it over the past 35 years. It was money well spent, so I understand the Senator's position.

She requested a meeting with the Department. It is not my Department, but if she writes to the Minister, we can pursue that request.

I restate my support for the excellent work being carried out by local community groups throughout the country. The Defence Forces make time and facilities available to local groups where possible, but they must also consider their operational requirements. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to accommodate within the role and requirements of the Defence Forces requests from communities to access lands.

I ask that the Senator write in and seek a meeting. I would love to see there being some mechanism whereby the local community could access those lands. I have seen myself how important such activities can be.

Medical Aids and Appliances

I thank the Minister of State for attending the Chamber. This is an issue for many people around the country. As he will be aware, hair loss is not an uncommon thing in men and women. It can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, including cancer treatments that result in hair loss, alopecia and so on. Thankfully, the State has in place measures to help the many people who want to obtain wigs or hairpieces to cover their hair loss, make themselves feel more comfortable or whatever it might be.

We had progress in this area recently when the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, put in place a €500 grant for people suffering alopecia to allow them to obtain hairpieces or wigs. Previously, there was no support for them at all; support was only provided for cancer sufferers. As the Minister of State will be aware, cancer sufferers usually avail of a medical card service. Through that, there is a grant to allow them to purchase a hairpiece or wig.

This issue has been brought to my attention by Mr. Aidan Fitzgerald, a hair salon owner in Blackrock in my area. Mr. Fitzgerald is an award-winning salon owner who has been operating for more than 40 years and has an established business. As part of his work, he specialises in hairpieces and wigs. He brings them into the country and fits them to people to make sure they fit and suit because hair comes in all shapes and sizes. These wigs are not made in Ireland, so they have to be imported. I understand that, generally, they are made in China. They take different forms, in that there are synthetic wigs and wigs made of real hair that have been donated, and there are different types of wig depending on whether someone is European, Asian, African or whatever. The wig has to be specific. Synthetic wigs are slightly cheaper but many people who have been suffering long-term hair loss prefer to have wigs made of natural hair, which have to be imported. No wigs are made in Ireland, although there are charities in Ireland that deal with hair for the construction of wigs.

The difficulty that arises is that, because wigs have to be imported, there is a standard cost. Many of them come through the UK but, either way, VAT and duties have to be paid on them. The grants that are available through the medical card scheme are there to assist people. I understand that the costs range from €650 to €750 for a synthetic wig and from €1,000 to €1,500 for a real wig. Obviously, various factors affect the cost. People can also get bespoke wigs, but those cost approximately €3,000. Generally, such wigs are not chosen by cancer sufferers because their hair will often have grown back by the time the wigs have been made.

The medical card scheme, however, puts in place a regime that allows people to claim different sums depending on where they are in the country. In my area, Dublin, for example, the grant under the medical card ranges from €635 to €700, which does not cover the full cost, very often, although it is a substantial contribution to the cost. In Carlow or Kilkenny, by contrast, that grant is €440, while in Tipperary, it is €500. In Cork, it is €450; in Clare, €500; and in the Naas area, for some reason, €767. There seems to be a terrible discrepancy here. Aidan told me that yesterday, he fitted a wig for a lady from Wicklow and she got a grant of €650, whereas a lady from Wexford in the same day only got €440.

There is no good reason for this. The wigs are not made locally and they cannot be bought locally, so they are bought in. There seems to be no good reason there cannot be a standardised grant for people who, in this instance, are mostly cancer sufferers, given that alopecia sufferers do not avail of this grant. Cancer sufferers throughout the country should get the same sum from the medical card scheme. They should all get the same access to wigs and hairpieces. It is an important part of their ability to deal with whatever they are going through during treatment and so on, and it is important they be allowed equal access to the grant.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and for giving me, on behalf of the Minister for Health, the opportunity to clarify the position on the provision of wigs and hairpieces by the Health Service Executive under community-funded schemes. The HSE provides many aids and appliances through its community services and it endeavours to meet needs in an equitable way within available resources and given the many demands. The provision of wigs and hairpieces by the HSE to patients who are being, or have been, treated for cancer or other illnesses is operated by means of a grant or voucher system administered by the community healthcare organisations. Patients can select their preferred wig or hairpiece and the HSE refunds the service user or the service provider up to the value of the voucher issued.

The HSE established a community-funded schemes service improvement programme to standardise the HSE provision of aids, appliances and related items in order that, irrespective of where someone lives, he or she will have access to the same items as people in other parts of the country. The HSE established an expert group for post-mastectomy products, wigs and hairpieces whose work includes a review of the provision of wigs and hairpieces. The expert group is a sub-group of the aids and appliances work stream of the community-funded schemes service improvement programme. The expert group comprises clinicians and operational staff. It engaged in consultation with service users, including participation in focus groups. It noted significant variations in what is currently provided, including in regard to current allowances for wigs and hairpieces.

The expert group made initial proposals in 2019 for the development of guidelines by the Health Service Executive to standardise the grants paid. The work of the expert group was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic because clinical staff were redeployed to deal with the demands of the public health crisis. However, in 2021, the expert group furnished a draft summary of proposed national guidelines for the provision of wigs and hairpieces and of post-mastectomy products. The finalisation and implementation of these guidelines in 2022 should address the inequity of provision on a geographic basis, which has been a problem for many years. In addition, the standardised provision that has been recommended should ensure the approval process and the associated administration will be simpler to operate.

The HSE recognises that the Covid-19 pandemic has created added difficulty for cancer patients, including through the absence of a facility for wig fittings. To address this difficulty, the HSE put in place a temporary measure whereby each patient affected by the absence of wig fittings is provided with additional funding of €80 to facilitate the purchase of up to two items of headwear. I commend the HSE on introducing additional measures to support cancer patients. It is essential that such patients are not subjected to any additional worry or stress at what is a very difficult time for them. I wish to see the implementation of the new national guidelines for the provision of wigs and hairpieces as quickly as possible.

I again thank the Senator for raising the issue. It looks as though much work is ongoing and I hope the issue will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

I appreciate that the Minister of State acknowledged there is inequity of provision on a geographic basis. To my mind, there should not be. We have made progress in respect of alopecia sufferers, who previously had no relief, but it is important people who are suffering from hair loss for whatever reason have the option to obtain a hairpiece or wig that will help them deal with the issues they have to deal with. I appreciate also what the Minister of State said about the need for the implementation of the new national guidelines as quickly as possible. Those who suffer from hair loss need solutions and we should help them, irrespective of the reason for that hair loss.

I applaud what the Minister of State said and I look forward to the implementation of the guidelines in short course.

I again thank the Senator for raising this important issue. The HSE is working to standardise the grants available for wigs and hairpieces. Based on the work done to date, an expert group has made a proposal for the development of guidelines by the HSE to standardise the grants paid. The Senator is absolutely correct that it just does not add up that somebody in Wexford would get €200 less than someone in Dublin. As I said, while the finalisation of the guidelines was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, much significant work has been done and improvements have been introduced in a number of areas.

In particular, I welcome the interim measures introduced by the HSE whereby each person affected by the absence of wig fittings is to be provided with additional funding of €80 to facilitate the purchase of up to two items of headwear. I hope this measure will be of assistance to patients who have experienced additional difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The HSE expects to finalise and implement the new guidelines in mid-2022.

Presidential Elections

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá a fhios agam gur ábhar é seo ina bhfuil spéis aige. Tá a fhios aige gur ábhar é atáimse ag ardú le tréimhse mhaith anuas.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am glad he is taking this Commencement matter because I know it will be of great interest to him personally. He will know and recall from his time in the Seanad that it is an issue I have been raising consistently. I last raised it as a Commencement matter with the then Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora in 2020 when, as we all understand, we were in a very different climate. We were not in a position whereby a referendum could be held, given the health restrictions that were in place.

As we head into the St. Patrick's Day celebrations and as Ministers prepare to travel around the world to rightly engage with our diaspora, following the commitment from the Government that no citizens in the North would be left behind, this is a crucial and opportune time for the Government to outline the timeframe for this referendum. At the time of my previous Commencement matter on the issue, I outlined all the substantial steps going back many years relating to this issue. I outlined the fact it had been committed to and agreed to at a constitutional convention, the fact the legislation had been published but fell during the previous Oireachtas, and the fact it was then reissued, republished and returned to the Order Paper.

All that preparatory work has been done. We all agree, as parties and groups, that we value our diaspora and that Irish citizens in the North should have full citizenship rights. One of the most basic rights and entitlements of any citizen is the right to vote. The President is not the president of a land mass, as he recently articulated very eloquently. He is President of the Irish people, so it is only right that all Irish people would have the entitlement and the right to vote.

I look forward to the Minister of State's response. We need to hear a timeline and what tangible actions the Government will take to implement this non-contentious commitment which was in the programme for Government. All we are asking for is to ensure our fellow citizens have a say, whether they are part of our global diaspora family or our fellow citizens just up the road in the Six Counties.

Deputy Frankie Feighan: I thank Senator Ward for raising this important issue, and for giving me, on behalf of the Minister for Health, the opportunity to clari$' the position in relation to the provision of wigs and hairpieces by the Health Service Executive (HSE) under the community funded schemes. The HSE provides many aids and appliances through its community services and endeavours to meet needs in an equitable way within available resources and given the many demands. The provision of wigs and hairpieces by the HSE to patients who are being or have been treated for cancer and Other illnesses is operated by means of a grant or voucher system administered by the Community Healthcare Organisations or CHOs. Patients can select their preferred wig or hairpiece and the HSE refunds the service user or the service provider up to the value of the voucher issued. The HSE established a Community Funded Schemes Service Improvement Programme in order to standardise HSE provision of aids, appliances and related items, so that irrespective of where someone lives, they have access to the same items as people in other parts of the country. The HSE established an Expert Group for Post-Mastectomy Products, Wigs and Hairpieces whose work includes a review of the provision of wigs and hairpieces. The Expert Group is a sub-group of the Aids & Appliances work-stream of the Community Funded Schemes Service Improvement Programme. Page 12 The Expert Group comprises clinicians and operational staff. It engaged in consultation with service users, including participation in focus groups. It noted significant variations in what is currently provided, including current allowances for wigs and hairpieces. The Expert Group made initial proposals in 2019 for the development of guidelines by the Health Service Executive to standardise the grants paid. The work of the Expert Group was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as clinical staff were redeployed to deal with the demands of the public health crisis. However, in 2021, the Expert Group furnished a draft summary of proposed national guidelines for the provision ofwigs and hairpieces and for the provision of post mastectomy products. The finalisation and implementation of these guidelines in 2022 should address the inequity of provision on a geographic basis that has been a real problem for many years now. In addition, the standardised provision recommended ensures that the approval process and the associated administration should be simpler to operate. The HSE recognises that the Covid-19 pandemic has created added difficulty for cancer patients, including the absence of a facility for wig fittings. To address this difficulty the HSE put in place a temporary measure whereby each patient affected by the absence of wig fittings is being provided with additional funding of €80 to facilitate the purchase of up to two pieces of headwear. I wish to commend the HSE for introducing additional measures to support cancer patients. It is essential that such patients are not subjected to any additional worry or stress at what is a very difficult time for them. Finally, I wish to see the implementation of the new national guidelines for the provision of wigs and hairpieces as quickly as possible. ENDS

I look forward to the Minister of State's response. Crucially, I look forward to working with Government colleagues and colleagues right across this House, and the other House, because it will need a positive, collaborative sentiment and work similar to that we have seen come about in recent referendums held in this State. It will require us to put our shoulder to the wheel to make sure this is won and ensure that we say to citizens who do not currently have a vote in presidential elections that we value them, they are equal and this is a small but important step forward in ensuring they have full rights as citizens.

I thank Senator Ó Donnghaile for finishing well within his time.

I thank my good friend and colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, for raising this important issue. He raised it on many occasions during my time in the Seanad.

In response to the evolving needs of Irish society and its relationship with the wider Irish diaspora, the previous Government agreed in March 2017 to accept in principle the main recommendation in the fifth report of the Convention on the Constitution that Irish citizens resident outside the State, including citizens resident in Northern Ireland, should have the right to vote at presidential elections and that a referendum would be held to seek to amend the Constitution to give effect to this.

To inform public discourse on this significant policy change, on 22 March 2017, an options paper was jointly published by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Foreign Affairs. The options paper set out a broad range of options for the extension of voting rights, international comparisons, the estimated costs involved and related resource issues as well as many of the legal, policy, administrative and logistical challenges associated with extending voting rights to Irish citizens resident outside the State. The options paper provided a basis for the discussion on voting rights, which took place at the Global Irish Civic Forum in Dublin on 5 May 2017. It remains available to view or download on the Government's website.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Foreign Affairs have continued to work closely on this issue, and on 16 September 2019, the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019 was initiated in Dáil Éireann by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs to facilitate the holding of a referendum on this important issue. The Bill provides for amendments to Article 12 of the Constitution which, if passed by the people in a referendum, would extend the right to vote for the Office of President to all citizens, irrespective of where they may reside, for elections held on or after 1 January 2025, which would be the beginning of the year in which the next scheduled election for the Office of President would fall due.

The Programme for Government: Our Shared Future commits to holding a referendum on extending the franchise at presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside of the State. While the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019 lapsed with the dissolution of the 32nd Dáil Éireann, in support of the Government commitment, the Bill was restored to the Dáil Order Paper in the summer of 2020. The restoration of the Bill will also support the commitment in Global Ireland: Ireland's Diaspora Strategy 2020-2025, published by the Department of Foreign Affairs on 19 November 2020, to hold a referendum on this matter. When the Bill, which is sponsored by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, section 10 of the Referendum Act 1994 requires the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to make an order appointing the day upon which the poll for the proposed referendum will take place. The Act provides that the polling day shall be not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days after the date of the order.

I again thank Senator Ó Donnghaile for raising this issue. It is one he has championed over the years, and I thank him for that.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as an fhreagra cuimsitheach. I thank the Minister of State for outlining some of the technical detail involved. I note the important fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be sponsoring the legislation going through both Houses. It is important that we have a key person, an anchor that can be identified and with whom we can work.

I appreciate that this is not the Minister of State's brief. I say this respectfully because the matter does not relate to his Department. The answer outlined to me today is almost identical to the one I got in November 2020. What we need to know is, crucially, when the referendum Bill will come before the Houses. When will the legislation be initiated? Will it be before the summer recess, for example? Will the Bill at least begin its journey? We know that we are dealing with substantial legislation currently, but it is incumbent on the Government to ensure it carves out the necessary time in the Dáil and Seanad. The Government will find the Seanad very willing to engage with it and to ensure the legislation is passed speedily. As the Minister of State says, the Bill is succinct. It is simple in what it is trying to do. We, collectively, should know we have a date to work towards to ensure the referendum is won. If the Minister of State is in a position, I ask him to tell us when it is anticipated that the referendum Bill will be initiated and brought through the Houses.

Again, I do not have that detail, but I will bring the Senator's views back to the Minister. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Foreign Affairs have worked closely on this issue. They have agreed to facilitate the holding of a referendum on this important issue. If passed by the people in a referendum, it would extend the right to vote for the Office of President to all citizens, irrespective of where they reside when an election is held on or after 1 January 2025, the year in which the next scheduled election for the Office of President falls due. I accept that Senator Ó Donnghaile wants to see the Bill before the House.

I appreciate the urgency and I will bring the Senator's views to the Minister. I thank him for raising this issue because we would like to see a situation whereby wherever green is worn, as it were, across the world every Irish citizen would have a franchise to elect the President. I understand the logistics but the sentiment is shared by us all.

I thank the Minister of State and Senator Ó Donnghaile for that interesting Commencement matter.

International Programmes

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, for taking this matter. He will be aware that the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, was established in 1954 as an international collaboration to advance human knowledge. The latest estimate is that more than 16,000 scientists from more than 110 countries have been engaged in CERN's activities. It is the world's leading particle physics laboratory and is an incredible engineering and IT project.

During the entire Covid process we have learned about how international co-operation is crucial for us to be able to tackle some of the global challenges. It is unfortunate that Ireland is not a member of one of the world's leading scientific laboratories, if not the world's leading one. Malta and Ireland are the only members of the European Union that are neither members nor associate members. The Minister of State will be aware that in 2016 there were discussions on starting membership. In November 2019, the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment stated there should be immediate plans for us to become members of CERN. Ireland's foreign policy has always been based on international collaboration. We pride ourselves on working with other countries to be able to solve some of the world’s problems. This is what CERN has been doing.

Many people heard about the Higgs boson in 2012 and read in 2013 how CERN had won the Nobel prize for physics, but CERN is also responsible for things that make big differences in our daily lives. It was responsible for the Internet, good and bad as it is. CERN was ultimately responsible for touch screens.

As a Minister of State in the Department of Health, Deputy Feighan will be aware that CERN was responsible for medical positron emission tomography, PET, scans, which allow for early detection of cancer, heart disease and brain disorders. The research that was done in CERN contributed to all of that.

There have been many reports and calls for Ireland to join CERN and yet it has not happened. I am asking for a clear timetable on Ireland's membership of CERN. For those involved in the scientific research community, it is important we send that message. It also sends a message about Ireland's fundamental belief that we want to contribute to solving global problems. We believe in science and understand the importance of scientific research. I hope the Minister of State will deliver at the very least a clear pathway for Ireland's associate membership. I hope we will enter into full membership of the organisation.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. Innovation 2020, the national strategy for research and innovation, recognises that for Ireland to become a global innovation leader, our research and innovation system must be open with strong international collaboration links. Membership of leading international research organisations is an important mechanism for facilitating this engagement. It is particularly important for Ireland as a small county due to the resource-intensive nature of cutting-edge research.

For this reason, the Government gave a specific commitment in Innovation 2020 to initiate discussions with several international research organisations. Four organisations were identified, namely, CERN, the European Southern Observatory, ELIXIR and LOFAR, and membership of three of these organisations has been completed. Ireland continues its consideration of CERN membership. These organisations were identified on the basis of a 2015 study that reviewed the costs and benefits of Ireland's existing and potential independent research organisation memberships.

Under the National Development Plan 2018-2027, as part of Project Ireland 2040, the Government outlined its intention to review Ireland's membership of CERN. In November 2019, the cross-party report by the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation recommended that negotiations start with CERN immediately with a view to Ireland becoming an associate member as soon as possible. This would generate opportunities not only for Irish enterprise but also for its research community.

While the benefits of CERN membership are recognised as significant, the cost is also significant and must be assessed in the context of other departmental and national investment priorities. Based on indications received from CERN, the eventual cost of Ireland's full membership at 2021 prices would be circa €13.4 million annually. To become a full member, a country must go through an obligatory associate membership in the pre-stage to membership phase for a minimum of two years and maximum of five years. In addition to the annual full membership cost there is a special contribution fee calculated as 1.25 times the cost of the full membership fee. Based on a cost of €13.5 million at 2021 prices, this would mean an amount of €16.8 million would be due on the day a state becomes a full member. There are, however, options for the payment of this special contribution. It may be paid over a defined period, possibly ten years, and 20% of this contribution may be paid via in-kind contributions. An associate membership fee of a minimum of €1.34 million per annum is also possible, based on 10% of full membership cost. An associate membership at a higher percentage of the full membership cost is also possible. In the case of associate membership, the return to Ireland would be capped at the same level as the amount invested.

I acknowledge there are a lot of numbers in my response. Following the establishment of the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, under the Minister, Deputy Harris, CERN membership will be considered in the context of the programme for Government and competing national investment priorities. Ireland continues its consideration of full and associate CERN membership and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science remains in active regular contact with CERN officials regarding the membership options for Ireland and the associated costs.

The Senator wanted a clear timetable. He believes in science. I am not involved in the figures I have mentioned but I think, given we have joined the three organisations I mentioned, the Senator has made a compelling argument for consideration of joining CERN. There are a lot of figures here that raise competing arguments. I will not go so far as to say those numbers are working against the Senator.

Listening to the reply that has been prepared for the Minister of State, I am reminded of the Oscar Wilde description of a cynic as somebody who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. It is clear the Minister of State's response has been written by an accountant. It has not been written by somebody who appreciates the value of research. The Minister of State will appreciate, especially in the context of the battle against Covid-19, the importance of international collaboration in the area of research. I am not saying the figures the Minister of State has outlined are insignificant but there is considerable potential in terms of what Ireland can gain for its research community and what it can contribute. Ireland should be to the fore in contributing to the international scientific community. We have some wonderful researchers here.

I respect that there has been progress, but the issue I have is that we have been talking about this for the past decade. We indicated our intentions clearly in 2016. An Oireachtas committee recommended membership in 2019. I ask the Minister of State to please get on with it. Let us join CERN and allow Ireland's researchers to contribute at an international level to the scientific community.

As the Senator knows, the reply I delivered is not from my Department. The Senator spoke about knowing the price of everything, but the relevant Department values research and international collaboration. We saw how important that is during the pandemic. Ireland, as a progressive country, should be able to take its place at the forefront of what is happening around the world. As I said, four organisations were identified, namely, CERN, the European Southern Observatory, ELIXIR and LOFAR, and membership of three of these organisations has been completed. Ireland is continuing its consideration of CERN membership. I suspect there are some difficulties regarding costs or something like that. I suspect negotiations are ongoing. I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I think negotiations in terms of costs are ongoing. I will bear in mind the Senator's comments about Oscar Wilde's definition.

I thank the Minister of State for taking all four Commencement matters, only one of which related to the Department of Health. All Senators appreciate his attendance and replies and the time he has spent with us. I thank Senators Malcolm Byrne, Ó Donnghaile, Ward and Keogan. I also thank the administrative staff and ushers for always being helpful during these sessions.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.18 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.06 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 11.18 a.m. and resumed at 12.06 p.m.
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