The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion to approve Ireland’s opt-in to an EU measure on hate crime and hate speech, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude at 2 p.m., with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed five minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I support the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader. I start by wishing everybody a very happy St. Patrick's Day next week. This is our last sitting day before that. It is wonderful to have a day where people throughout the world celebrate our country, our nation and our people. I am really pleased that the Taoiseach has committed to using all the diplomatic engagements that will happen to raise the plight of the people of Ukraine.
I wish to raise an issue with birth registration. During the week, a lady contacted me to tell me she was trying to have her baby registered. She could not get through via the phone line for a number of days. She was then told that she needed to present at a particular meeting. However, there is a two-month delay in getting that meeting. A parent cannot claim child benefit until the baby is registered. Obviously, the first few months are the most expensive time for new parents. The system is wrong, in that it is not supporting the parents of newborns in this situation. It should be possible for somebody to register their child remotely. We have done so much remotely over the past two years and having to wait two months is simply not good enough. I ask the Leader to take that up.
I also raise the issue of emergency tax. People are coming from abroad to fill urgently needed vacancies in retail and health and are being crucified with emergency tax while they wait for a personal public service, PPS, number. There are delays in getting their PPS numbers. It I believe we should do away with the whole notion of emergency tax because that money is eventually paid back anyway. The cost of living is very high, particularly the cost of accommodation, and we are not helping by having this.
I wish to raise the issue of food security. I note the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been meeting farming organisations and has committed to set up a group on this. As an island, we were very self-sufficient. I spoke to a farmer yesterday who told me about a former Minister for Agriculture standing in his farm and telling him not to bother growing wheat because we would never have a shortage of flour and it is cheaper to import it. We must do better to address food security. At the moment, our farmers are getting very mixed messages about the direction they should take. These directions involve different skill sets etc. We need to support them to deal with rising fertiliser prices. That should be an absolute priority for us.
I express my condolences to the family and friends of Paulina, who died in the Ashbourne House direct provision centre in Cork. There are concerns that she may have died four days before she was found. There must be an investigation into this.
I welcome the establishment of the national fodder and food security committee. I invite the Minister and Ministers of State from that Department to come to the House once we return after the St Patrick's Day break. I understand from the Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Heydon, that we can expect to see a package of supports being prepared for farmers and finalised by the end of this month. The farming community is under enormous pressure. We know the important role farmers have in ensuring we have sufficient food. We know that the pressure the atrocities in Ukraine is having and will have on food supply particularly relating to grain. The Ministers met farm organisations on Monday. There have been meetings throughout the week with feed, fertiliser and fuel importers. These are the areas that have seen the most significant price rises. We need to incentivise greater use of certain forage crops. Obviously, farmers will face significant cash flow pressures. We need to look at options for flexibility with farm payments as well as working with our EU colleagues on a common European response. We also need to look at issues such as intervention or aid to private storage for the pig sector to reduce supply to the market as pig producers, along with the poultry sector, have been the most significantly affected sector. At this stage we do not have an issue with food or feed security, but we need to ensure we do not have one in the autumn and winter. Preparing for that is very important. Teagasc will have a key role in that committee.
I welcome the supports announced by Government yesterday. Clearly, they have been gobbled up quickly by what in my view was price gouging at petrol stations. While there are pressures relating to the cost of importing fuel, it is a bit of a coincidence that fuel prices were increasing at petrol stations by 10 cent, 15 cent and 20 cent in certain outlets. As I said to the Minister yesterday, there will be no thanks for this package because it has been gobbled up so quickly. However, it is still important and is reducing the excise duty on fuel by one third, 20 cent for petrol and 15 cent for diesel. There is also a 2 cent reduction in the excise on agricultural fuel. That is 2 cent out of 4.7 cent, which is a reduction of more than 40% in the excise duty on green diesel.
We need to acknowledge that we cannot do everything in respect of wholesale prices. We are an importer and a price taker when purchasing fuels. I acknowledge the decisions made by the Government. I know from the Minister that the Government will be keeping this under review in coming weeks and working with our European colleagues in respect of what changes are necessary regarding VAT and other areas to ensure we provide additional supports for important sectors, the hard-pressed homeowners who rely on their cars, the haulage industry and the agriculture sector.
Circumstances require me to leave the Chamber but I will try to be back to hear the Leader's response to what I want to raise.
In any event, I will pay attention to it.
I want to raise a difficult issue that I do not like bringing up, to be frank, but which has to be spoken about. That is the plight of women in Ukraine who have been engaged to act as surrogates by Irish couples. These women are the birth mothers of Irish citizens and of children resident in Ireland. I think we should all agree that we need to extend every possible assistance to them and offer them shelter in their hour of need. I have been concerned that although the issue of Irish couples and children stranded in Ukraine has been raised regularly, it seems to me there has been precious little concern shown for the birth mothers. As I saw one journalist tweeting about it, these children did not materialise out of thin air. To her credit, I heard Senator Moynihan raise the plight of these women here last week, but unfortunately, the Minister for Foreign Affairs did not address her point on that occasion. I read last week that Rosanna Davison, whose child was born to a Ukrainian surrogate, has extended the hand of friendship to the birth mother of her child. She deserves credit for that. However, I would argue that the question arises as to whether other couples who have engaged a Ukrainian surrogate, either in the past or at present, have a moral duty to the birth mother of their children or whether there should indeed be a legal duty in these situations. The fact that these women were paid to act as surrogates does not absolve anyone of their moral, or, if we develop it, their legal duty to them, but in any event the State should extend every possible assistance to them at this difficult time. When these children reach adulthood, we need to be able to look them eye, should we ever meet them, and tell them that we did our best to protect the women who gave birth to them. In a broader sense, this highlights how we have no legislation in Ireland to protect vulnerable and poor women from possible exploitation or, indeed, from being abandoned or forgotten about, as women in Ukraine now are.
Surrogacy is a moral and ethical minefield. Countries such as Sweden ban all forms of it because it is viewed as inherently problematic given how it leads to women being taken advantage of and, indeed, children being treated as commodities. I share that view, although I acknowledge that it is a deeply personal and sensitive issue that demands respect in all our communications around it. There is a special Oireachtas committee being established to look into this area. I believe we should follow a similar course to Sweden and give serious consideration to that. I will try to contribute to that Oireachtas committee in one way or another. In the meantime, we, as a Seanad, need to speak about the issue openly and respectfully. We need to address urgently what I and others regard as our moral obligation to women in Ukraine whose lives may be in danger.
I have raised in the House before a number of anomalies that exist around broadcasting issues across the island. While the issue is multifaceted and appears quite complex on the surface, when you actually delve into it with a view to resolving it, it is quite easily done, between technology and a will, if it is there. I will elaborate slightly. I raised the issue a number of times in the last Seanad, but this is the first opportunity I have had to raise it in this one. I refer, for example, to the current bar on audiences from the North entering competitions on RTÉ. RTÉ will cite legislation in the North that prohibits it from allowing entrants from the Six Counties into what it deems premium level competitions. I have referred before to the very strange situation where RTÉ was advertising a competition when counties Tyrone and Dublin were in the all-Ireland final to win all-Ireland tickets, get a limousine ride to Croke Park and have a stay in a hotel, yet viewers in County Tyrone could not enter the competition. It is crazy and it is something that really frustrates people. It very much happened out of the blue. RTÉ has said that it came about as result of a review that it conducted. I met with the Minister for Communities in the North. Her officials told me they did not interpret the legislation as putting any bar on people in the North from entering competitions in the South. This seems to have been a unilateral decision, and one that does not really make sense. In today's Irish News, the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, stated again that her interpretation is that the bar should not be in place. That is not her officials' advice to her.
Outside of the issue of passports, the one that probably mobilises the most engagement with me on social media is the geoblocking of certain sporting events via satellite providers, including GAA games. The GAA is an all-Ireland institution; it is the same with the IRFU. However, there is this mad situation where broadcasting rights are differentiated and sold on that basis. We also have to encourage the sporting organisations which operate across the entirety of the island to ensure that when they are selling rights to broadcast their games to organisations, such as Sky and Virgin, the island is treated as one entity, so that audiences will not be blocked from watching those important games. It happened during the Olympics and during big GAA championship matches. Perhaps located within the context of the shared island work, we could have an update from the relevant Department and Minister on the matter. That would give me and others an opportunity to delve deeper into the issue. Perhaps the Leader could consider organising that after the break.
I would like to mention an issue that has been raised by many Senators, namely, the energy crisis that we are dealing with at the moment. Oil prices, in particular, are reaching nearly €200 a barrel today. I think this is considered to be the largest energy shock we have ever seen in the history of the new world, as they say. It puts us in a completely different space. We need to start talking about energy security and where Ireland fits into it with its own energy security policy. Is it appropriate or logical for us to be importing oil or gas from Russia? Is that going to be our long-term aim? We all know there is a renewable policy, but that will not deliver in time for where we are at the moment. We have our own natural resources. We have natural resources off the coast of west Cork in the Barryroe oil field that has not been exploited. A terminal is being proposed for Ballylongford in County Limerick, which is also an important part of the ethos of Ireland. When natural gas is brought in, it is regarded as a transition fuel between now and 2050. There is also the potential to extend that gas field currently in operation in County Mayo that produces 40% of our gas. We need to have a comprehensive debate on how we are going to ensure we can be self-sufficient as possible when it comes to gas and oil going forward to reach our demands between now and 2050. It is not appropriate for us to put our hands up now and say that we will keep it going by using renewables. Renewables are part of that process, but they will not feed us going forward. We are in a new world and regime. We have seen how the war over the last 16 days has had a huge impact on oil and gas prices. That is going to be a huge issue for our society. We need to have a real change in policy when it comes to oil and gas in this country. We need to exploit whatever resources we have until we get our renewables set up. That will present very hard choices for some people. Those choices involve, hopefully, deciding to build an LNG terminal and trying to exploit whatever resources we have to make sure we are self-sufficient.
I, too, want to talk about the energy crisis. The vote by the Cabinet to reduce the excise duty on petrol and diesel was the correct response to a wild and unsustainable fluctuation of price in a commodity which experiences elastic demand. The idea behind the excise cut is, of course, that the reduction is passed onto the consumer and helps tackle the cost of living, with the implications that if the goal is not achieved, then the cut becomes pointless. That is exactly what we are in danger of experiencing, as reports flood in from around the country of petrol stations hiking prices in increments of 2 cent and 3 cent over the course of yesterday in order to match the 20 cent and 15 cent cut in the excise duty on unleaded petrol and diesel, respectively.
Ultimately, this will mean that the Government will be transferring millions of euro from the future Exchequer not back to the people as intended but to the international corporations and oil and gas companies. Of course we cannot expect anything else. These companies exist to please their boards and shareholders. The monopoly price-setting has one end only. They are going to find out just how high they can lift prices before shoppers begin to punish their bottom lines. If every petrol station in the country or even the majority engaged in this sort of profiteering, the average consumer would have no choice but to fill their tank at an absolute premium as demand for fuel of this kind is economically elastic and therefore companies are not punished for engaging in despicable behaviour.
While the Government's decision to cut excise duty was correct, additional steps must be taken to ensure the effect of that measure is as intended. I understand there are limitations at EU level with regard to the energy taxation directive. However, some form of freeze must be placed on petrol prices to ensure the excise cut is passed on to consumers. Otherwise Cabinet's olive branch becomes nothing but salt in the wound for ordinary people. What happened yesterday was absolutely disgraceful. I was talking to drivers yesterday of 200 lorries from the haulage group who are not going to be in business if there is no freeze on fuel. We need to look at nuclear energy and have that conversation now. We need to reopen those peat plants that were closed down.
To explain to Members, we are operating two forms of selection for speakers. One is rotation of parties and the other is rotation of time of arrival into the Chamber. That is to explain for those who may feel they have been here a while and see a Senator from another party coming in. It is party rotation and then time of arrival. I know there is no difficulty but just to clarify that I am not exercising some subjective approach of my own.
I raise the issue of Garda numbers in Galway city and county. Limerick, Waterford, Cork and Dublin have one Garda member per 300 people. In Galway, it is in excess of one per 430 people. As has been well documented, there have been a lot of burglaries, rural break-ins and break-ins in the city.
I also raise the lack of crime prevention officers throughout the country. In my region of Connacht, there is a significant lack of crime prevention officers. We need to get out into the communities, get the crime prevention officers out, hold public meetings and inform the community of how best to protect their homes. As has been raised in this House on numerous occasions, people's homes are sacrosanct. The homes of elderly people have been broken into in Galway city and county. The effect that has on them is frightening. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to come before the House and explain why certain parts of the country seem to be at a disadvantage. I have full confidence in the Garda to do a terrific job but I am concerned about the crime prevention officers and Garda numbers in west Galway.
A new toll is being introduced at Dublin Airport for people being dropped off or picked up as part of a sustainability drive and to encourage use of public transport. I think I speak for the majority of Dublin 15 residents when I ask, bemused and bewildered, what public transport? We do not have any public transport to the airport, neither public nor private services. I remind Senators that those travelling from the west via the M4 or anywhere south of the River Liffey are already paying up to €3.20 when they go over the toll bridge at the M50. Those travellers face a double toll for the luxury of being dropped or collected directly at the airport.
This measure will not reduce the number of car journeys to the airport. It simply means the DAA will benefit from an increase in the number of people parking at the terminals and from a penalty for those who do not park there. Given the uncertainty around fuel prices, this is a tone-deaf move on the part of the DAA and Fingal County Council. Not only is there no public transport to the airport now for people in Dublin 15; that is not going to change until at least 2024. I know this because I recently asked for the timings around BusConnects on behalf of people who want sustainable modes of transport to the airport. The proposed new N8 route under BusConnects from Blanchardstown to the airport is not to be included until the later stages because suitable locations for bus terminals in Blanchardstown and Clongriffin have yet to be identified.
What about Lucan village? It is already overwhelmed with traffic and congestion because it is used as a rat run for the M50. How are two tolls going to impact that? Is the M50 toll going to be reviewed? The wider implications of this decision have not been worked through. The toll is not an exercise in sustainability. It is a self-serving exercise in revenue raising by the DAA approved by Fingal County Council. It gives sustainability a bad name. The only thing green going on here is the colour of the money the DAA will get from this new toll, which needs to be scrapped. The people of Dublin West must be given the public transport and connectivity they want and deserve.
I will raise two issues today. The first refers back to yesterday's Order of Business and the fur farming Bill. All of us want to see an end to fur farms as soon as possible. It would be helpful, now that we have a break for the next week or two, if the Minister would engage directly with the affected farmers and workers. I still have a real concern, which I know is a cross-party one, to ensure that these workers are properly looked after. The implication I see, having reread the Minister's speech from last week, is that this is something he will look at after the Bill is passed. I am worried about that. At that point, these workers will have no leverage. It behoves the Minister to take the time to meet these people directly. If the correct assurances are given, we can all be happy and move on as quickly as possible but we need to see those assurances.
There is some good news from both Limerick and the North. Limerick City and County Council has invited in the Centre for Local Economic Strategies to talk about community wealth building. At the same time, the Minister for Communities in the North, my colleague, Deirdre Hargey MLA, has set up an advisory panel on community wealth building. In essence, this is an entirely new way of directing public spending to ensure it tackles inequality and builds wealth within our communities. It is a really innovative strategy that has been in practice across a number of districts in Britain and America. It sees local wealth being generated across our communities by looking at how the State spends money and then spending it differently to ensure good employment practices are taken into account along with the development of co-operative ownership. It is a radical new way of doing local economics. I commend my colleague, Councillor Sharon Benson in Limerick, who has won the agreement of all councillors to have a talk about this and see how we can develop it as a strategy. I commend my colleague in the North, the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey. I invite all parties to look at community wealth building. It is a new way of doing economics to ensure people come before profit.
I concur with Senator Keogan's comments on the announcement yesterday, which was very welcome. The media is not covering the fact that there are a lot of severe EU constraints on taxation policy and that the Government went as far as it could go. We do need to go further, however, in particular with the haulage industry, the bus industry and agricultural contractors. We need to look at expanding the rebate scheme already in place, extending it to agricultural contractors. We are looking to the farming community to plant more tillage because of what has happened in Ukraine. Contractors will find it difficult to do that with, first, the lack of supply and, second, the cost. We should therefore look at allowing agricultural contractors to use the rebate scheme. As for the bus companies and tour operators, the reality, as I have said here before, is that they cannot claim VAT yet the bus companies in Northern Ireland can and are now outbidding the bus companies here for a lot of the contracts down here.
I also welcome the announcement by the Minister for Education on additional DEIS schools, in particular two secondary schools in Longford town that were added, St. Mel's College and Meán Scoil Mhuire. Huge additional resources come with that designation, but a lot of those resources should be available to all schools. Why in some parts of the county can one school be a DEIS school while another school in the same town, pulling in pupils from the same geographical area, is not? It just does not make sense to me. That is happening in the area of Granard and Cnoc Mhuire.
The housing aid for older people grant is very welcome, and significant investment was put in by every local authority and the Government, but the maximum amount under the grant is €8,000. It was increased to that amount in 2020. The reality now is that the maximum grant is being allowed for a lot of that work but what elderly people are being quoted is significantly more than that maximum. We therefore need to give a little more flexibility to the local authorities to increase that spend to allow elderly people who might be in financial difficulty to get work done.
The image from Ukraine that many of us saw last night and today in the newspapers and in other media of the heavily pregnant woman being stretchered out of a bombed maternity hospital is one that will stay in my head and, I am sure, the heads of many others for a long time. Russia is waging a barbaric war. I have been struck, having talked to Russians and Slavs here in Ireland and abroad over recent days, by the shame they believe Vladimir Putin is bringing to their country.
Ireland has very few tools available in this war and in the fight for democracy other than our voices and our money. There has been an enormous outpouring of both logistical and financial support to the Red Cross and other organisations, but it is a matter of encouraging that further. I commend the really important work being done in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council at present. I refer to the motion passed last night by my colleague, Councillor Peter O'Brien, to rename Orwell Road, where the Russian Embassy is located, "Independent Ukraine Road". Some might say that is just a gesture, but it is an important one and it is important symbolism in our stand with the Ukrainian people. I very much hope that our colleagues on Dublin City Council will follow through with the motion on that name change that will come before them next week.
There has been a lot of frustration over the past 24 hours about the price gouging we now see by some fuel companies in response to the excise cuts overnight. There are serious questions for the companies involved and for the Government. There is a real issue here. We cannot complain about exploitation of the excise reductions and lament that this is happening when the Government has powers under the Consumer Protection Act 2007 to impose maximum fuel prices. If we have learned anything over the past 14 years, it is that the impossible is possible. The Government now needs to act to use those provisions within the Consumer Protection Act 2007 to impose maximum prices.
You are unstoppable, Senator.
I agree with Senator Sherlock about the horrific bombing yesterday in Ukraine. More disturbing, however, is that those infamous words "fake news" are now being used by the Russians where women and children have been maimed and killed. It is just shocking. All we can do is hope there is some type of breakthrough and ceasefire there because it is very much a doomsday situation for everybody.
I also support Senator Sherlock in her comments on the fuel situation and fuel pricing. I raised last night at our parliamentary party meeting the fact that many filling stations are owned by wholesalers. Let us not forget that. Many of the people in them are managers. Sometimes we blame the retailers. Senator Sherlock is right that the Taoiseach indicated that the Government would pursue these people to see if this is going on. It is very peculiar that over recent days petrol and diesel prices have gone from A to B to C to D all of a sudden. We have a reserve of 90 days in this country, so I appeal to people not to get into a panic.
Senator Carrigy is right that farmers, hauliers, coach drivers, the people who run school bus services and many others are under pressure now. I am satisfied, however, that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Government will come up with further supports and schemes. We are either with the Ukrainian people or we are not. If we are, we all have to accept we will face some pain. We cannot speak out of both sides of our mouths on this issue. What is happening is horrific, and there are consequences for every one of us. Absolutely, the Government must do everything to support vulnerable people, businesses and industry because everything could collapse if it does not. There will, however, be pain for every single one of us, and we have to be prepared to take some little bit of pain if we are genuine friends of the Ukrainian people.
I will follow on from some of the previous contributors' comments on the announcement yesterday on the cut in fuel costs, including diesel prices. While it is welcome, it is utterly pointless if we have petrol stations around the country increasing their prices by the amount by which we are reducing them. I have had phone calls from people in Tipperary who saw those increases happen within 24 hours of the suspected announcement and then further changes following the announcement. That really is shameful when people are to the pin of their collar in being able to afford to just travel to work. A great many people in my area in Tipperary drive to Cork, Waterford, Limerick or Kilkenny. They are all an hour away from where I live. People drive every day. The cost of fuel has doubled for them in recent weeks. As a Government, we are trying to do something to help those people, and then, on the back of that, people try to exploit the generosity and support that has been given. It needs to be called out. It is shameful.
I ask the Leader, maybe after next week, to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come before the Chamber to outline exactly what he plans to do for tillage farmers. I know he set up a national fodder and food security committee yesterday. He is talking about a multimillion euro package for farmers to encourage them to grow crops. I come from a tillage farm. My family have been tillage farmers for seven or eight generations. We have always been the forgotten side of farming in many ways. I welcome that people are being encouraged to grow more crops. However, if there are packages available for beef farmers and dairy farmers to turn some of their land into crops, that support and that package needs to be there for current tillage farmers who have been doing it for years and who have the capabilities and everything else to do it.
Tillage farmers are often forgotten about. They provide an essential service to this country. If supports are to be put in place, those supports need to be there for the people who have been doing it for years and years. Could we get the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to outline his plans? There was total shock when that was announced a couple of days ago, and we must know how it will be done.
He needs to explain to the farmers exactly what supports are going to be there and what finance will be put behind it.
I want to raise two things this morning. The first one is my long-suffering search and rescue tender process that is under way. The pre-qualification questionnaire, PQQ, has been issued and the PQQ date has passed. However, I believe an entirely new PQQ has to be issued because the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, issued an instruction to CHC, the current incumbent, to change its shift cycle from a 24-hour cycle to a 12-hour one. This means it will have to possibly double the number of crews it has. That will have a massive impact on the overall employee cost for the forthcoming tender. I estimate the current cost of salaries is about €20 million a year, so I estimate it will go to €30 million or €35 million a year over the duration of the next contract. We have to try to find out what is going on.
The second issue relates to the current situation in Ukraine. We had the report on the future of the Defence Forces and the Department and the Minister said they needed some months to consider it. Contrast that with what happened in Germany. The chief of staff in Germany criticised the state of the defence of Germany and within three days the German Government responded with a €100 billion package to improve defence. We need four or five months to think about €1 billion and yet the Germans were able to make a decision within three days.
I call for a debate in this House on cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is in the wrong Department for starters; it should be under defence. We need to know exactly what steps are being taken. We are entering an extremely dangerous time in cybersecurity. I am in contact with CEOs of private companies. Indeed, I am studying cybersecurity at the moment. We need to put it on the agenda here and now and front and centre because we are about to face serious attacks from all over the world.
I ask Senator Sherlock to listen to Dr. Ronan Collins’s remarks on the renaming of the road on this morning’s "Today with Claire Byrne". There are lessons in it for all of us, notwithstanding the need to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. I would advise her to listen to that radio interview. It was an interesting interview with a resident who is supportive of the people of Ukraine. There is a need for us all to reflect on that.
I commend those involved in the Global Greening campaign on asking for world landmarks to be lit up in the Ukrainian colours this year and to pause the greening of world landmarks in our colours. It is a wonderful gesture and it is one we should support. Today is day 15 of the war in Ukraine. The mayor of Kyiv cited a very interesting statistic in his press conference this morning. Two million people, or one in two, have fled the city. I was there three years ago election monitoring for the OSCE, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Parliamentary Assembly. They are beautiful people and Kyiv is a beautiful city. One in two fled the capital city. I hope our Taoiseach, who is travelling to Versailles today, will join with the German Chancellor and President Macron in asking for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine. It is just heart-breaking.
This morning I talked to a friend of mine who had been in Kyiv working but who is now back in the USA. I heard stories of people with whom he worked who are missing or gone, with hope abandoned. It is just appalling. Pausing the greening of landmarks is a small symbol.
I request that the Ministers for Justice and Social Protection come to the House after the St. Patrick’s Day break to discuss how we, as a country, will facilitate the Ukrainian people. Let us not call them refugees even though they are since they are fleeing. They are people coming to our country and we should assist them in their repatriation.
A number of colleagues have raised Ukraine this morning. I wish to note two things, the first being the pregnant lady. I agree with Senator Sherlock in that I do not think that photograph will ever be erased from my mind. I note also the very elderly lady who was being carried away in a blanket by two soldiers and the sheer fear on her face. The gentleman on this morning’s programme said they do not even have time to dig graves because of the bombing and the shelling. He had no idea who the 47 bodies were who were buried in an unmarked grave yesterday. It is only a tiny flavour of the horrific situation and the evil being displayed and yet Senator Buttimer talked about the compassion that is being displayed by all countries, but none less than what is going on at Poland at the moment. I am in awe at the generosity of Polish people and will not to try to define the reasons other than their generous, compassionate nature. They are also living in fear that it could be their country next.
Senator Buttimer is right in regard to the world leaders meeting in Versailles this afternoon. The international leaders who are talking to each other on a daily basis need to do more. It is easy for us to stand here and commend the solidarity we have. I absolutely concur with colleagues that it would have been absolutely trite for us as a nation to light up and continue with the greening we normally enjoy on St. Patrick’s Day when there are humanitarian crises going on in all the neighbouring countries of Ukraine and an absolute vision of evil going on in the cities Senator Buttimer and other colleagues talked about. It is hard to fathom in this day and age that evil still exists. It is inexplicable. I acknowledge everyone’s contributions this morning.
I have a humanitarian response debate organised for the schedule the week we come back. Our personal response, as a country, on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Justice, should be outlined and I will invite both of them to come in after St. Patrick’s Day.
Senator Craughwell talked about the Defence Forces report. It sometimes puts us to shame how quickly other people can respond. It is not to deny the responses that we have already made, but I acknowledge what he said. I will bring his comments to the Minister for Defence. I am also flabbergasted that a new PPQ has to be issued. I wish him continued success in his investigations and I have no doubt they will come to something.
A number of colleagues welcomed yesterday's third decrease on the excise duty on oil, petrol, diesel and industrial oil. Everybody is right. My husband has become obsessed with checking petrol prices, as I am sure most people in the country have, and not just between petrol stations, but between countries. Colleagues reflected on the fact that on the hour we saw petrol stations increase their prices on the basis of the anticipated reduction. It is absolutely shameful and a stain on the economies of the large companies that enjoy the profits they make from Irish people but particularly the profits they are now making off the misery the Ukrainian people are going through. It is absolutely a stain on those companies and their management. We should call it out daily until it is recognised and reversed.
Hear, hear. Well said.
The Government will do what it can. I agree completely with colleagues that we need to do more. What really worries me is to see somebody as practical and prudent as the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, which we all know he is, as worried as he was yesterday. It tells me there is far more pain to come. The display of greed we saw in this country yesterday and the day before was absolutely shameful and it needs to be called out.
Senator Ahearn talked about the new organisation the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine established yesterday. Senator Kyne touched on it also. Senator Ahearn is absolutely right that it cannot just be about incentives for farmers to change their practices from one type of farming to tillage.
This has to encompass all of the existing tillage farmers to improve their output and help them to do more of what they have always been doing. I will bring this message back to the Minister.
Senator Murphy spoke about Ukraine and fuel prices, as did Senator Sherlock. Senator Carrigy spoke about excise duty and very much welcomed the additional €350 million allocated to DEIS schools yesterday. I agree there is not a town or village where there are not unexplained reasons as to why there is a DEIS school on one side while another school on the other side is not DEIS. We still have a long way to go to support education. The Minister's announcement yesterday was very welcome and I thank the Senator for acknowledging it.
Senator Gavan spoke about the animal welfare Bill. I am very much assured that when it comes back to the House the week after next the Minister will give us the assurance that we will all be seeking, particularly with regard to an enhanced redundancy package for the workers in the three farms being closed by the State and a fair and reasonable compensation package for those people whose means of livelihood we are removing. Senator Gavan also spoke about an interesting concept this morning on community wealth building whereby Limerick County Council is doing a pilot scheme. That is very welcome.
Senator Currie was speaking my language this morning when she gave out about the new toll for which Dublin Airport Authority has been given planning permission to install in our capital city's airport. The other day, I was accused of talking about this because apparently it only affects people in Fingal. As Senator Currie rightly pointed out, people in south and west Dublin are affected as are people in Kildare and Roscommon. Anywhere and everywhere people are affected by this wrong decision at the wrong time. It needs to be reversed. Yesterday, I wrote to the head of the Dublin Airport Authority and the chief executive of Fingal County Council. We should all do so. This is the wrong thing at the wrong time. The sustainability argument is absolutely crass and we can all see it for the money grab that it is. It needs to be called out.
Senator Crowe spoke about Garda numbers in Galway. I will certainly organise a debate once we come back. Senator Keogan asked for a debate on the energy crisis and, more importantly, energy security which is vital. I fear it is something we will be speaking about weekly in the coming months. Senator Lombard also spoke about energy security and improving and increasing our natural resources in the country, particularly given the crisis. This is notwithstanding that we have climate targets. Everybody needs to realise we are in a wartime response situation. Not all of the things required under normal circumstances can and will be facilitated.
Senator Ó Donnghaile brought to light something that is absolutely crazy. I will certainly bring it to the shared island division of the Taoiseach's Department and ask it to investigate it. It does not make any sense whatsoever. The Senator has been asking about this for a while.
Senator Mullen asked for a debate on surrogacy. That debate will take place in the surrogacy committee being established. The Senator made a suggestion I would have to refute, and it is only because I know of the parents who are expecting babies by surrogates in Ukraine and the level of supports they have given them in recent weeks. They absolutely do care about the surrogates. It would be wrong for the impression to be given that they are treated as a means to an end. I can tell the Senator that is not the case. We hope and expect that surrogacy will be legislated for and the conditions will be debated in the surrogacy committee.
Senator Kyne spoke about the national fodder and food security council and a package of supports to be announced by the Minister at the end of the month. That is very welcome. We will keep an eye on it and seek statements and a debate when it is announced.
Senator O'Loughlin spoke about the national greening we normally enjoy on St. Patrick's Day and how it is very apt and appropriate that it is being changed to reflect the situation in Ukraine. She also spoke about the continuing problem with birth registrations. I will send a letter to the Minister. She described how emergency tax affects people and questions the logic of it. There is probably no logic to it.
I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to indulge me before I finish. I want to make a contribution today as Leader of the Seanad. I wish a wonderful lady, one of our very first woman Deputies, Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins, a happy 90th birthday. She is a former Fine Gael Deputy. She was first elected to the Dáil in the 1957 general election at the very young age of 24. Shane Dolphin who works with me tells me she was not even allowed into the bar or the canteen at the time to get a cup of tea because she was a woman. A man had to go in and get them for her. There were toilets in the vicinity of Dáil Éireann that women were not allowed to use so she used to have to go to Buswells Hotel to use the toilets. When we speak about giants of women going before us and opening the doors she definitely is one.
Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins's father was Patrick Hogan. He was one of the first Ministers for Agriculture we had in the Free State. Brigid was a ferocious constituency worker. Her husband was also a Deputy and they were the first married couple in Dáil Éireann. I was regaled with a tale last week whereby he lost his seat and subsequently became the Seanad Leader. He was appointed to the Seanad by the then Taoiseach. Because she was a ferocious constituency worker, Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins blamed her husband's lack of constituency work for the loss of his seat. Perhaps I can concur with that.
Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins's main priorities were agriculture and education. She was on Liam Cosgrave's Opposition benches as a spokesperson for posts and telegraphs. She is the only surviving member of the Sixteenth Dáil. She really is one of those women who broke the glass ceiling long before we were even twinkles in our parents' eyes. I wish Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins a very happy birthday and continued health and happiness for what I hope will be many years ahead.
I concur with the Leader's remarks on Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins and I welcome Shane Dolphin to the Chamber and the Gallery. I understand he is related to Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins. It is a pleasure to have him here. He is carrying on a noble family tradition in the Leader's office. It is apt that we should recognise this pioneering woman today. She started to break the glass ceiling. There is a bit of breaking to do yet.