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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Mar 2022

Vol. 284 No. 10

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re referral to committee of the Data Protection Act 2018 (Section 60(6)) (Office of the Ombudsman) Regulations 2022, to be taken without debate on conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude at 6.15 p.m., with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, Redundancy Payments (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government; and No. 4, Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 7 p.m. and to adjourn at 10 p.m., if not previously concluded.

This is one of the sadder contributions I have had to make in the House. It is to pay tribute to the late David Hill, who was playing with the Scottish Parliament against the Dáil and Seanad team on Saturday and tragically passed away during the match. We had come to know David immensely well over the past three or four years, both from going to Edinburgh to play and from them coming here. David was an incredibly nice young man. He had worked for the Scottish Conservative Party for a number of years.

He was well respected not only by those in his party but by people across the political spectrum in Scottish politics. That was a testament to the concept of parliamentary rugby, which is that the political differences that we all experience in political parties are left at the door when we go to play. David was a young man who was tragically taken away from his family. I send our heartfelt prayers and thoughts to David's family and to his friends, not only in the Scottish Parliament but also in wider society.

I listened to his boss, Mr. Jamie Greene, Member of the Scottish Parliament, this morning talk about how somebody had kindly left a vase of daffodils on David's desk in the Scottish Parliament. He said he hoped and felt that the vase of daffodils would serve as a small reminder that even in the darkest depths of winter, spring will come. I really hope that will come along for David's friends and family as soon as possible. I acknowledge David's father, Rodger, his mother, Sharon, his step-parents, Lesley and Gordon, his younger siblings, Alex and Georgia, and his two adored nephews, Freddie and Hunter. It is a horrific tragedy. It is one of those things, and I do not say this lightly, whereby at whatever stage we are in this life we do not know what our last interaction with a loved one or anyone could be. That was brought home to many of us on Saturday.

I pay tribute to the paramedics who spent 35 to 40 minutes working on David on the pitch last Saturday. We want to send from the Oireachtas to David's family and friends our deepest and most heartfelt sympathies on this most awful tragedy for David Hill and his family.

Thank you, Senator McGahon. We all share those sentiments on the great tragedy. I call Senator Dooley.

Senator Horkan will express sympathy on behalf of Fianna Fáil with regard to Mr. Hill. The Senator knew him personally and I understand he was in his company over the weekend.

On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I ask the House to reflect on and remember a former Member of this House who passed away over the past few days, Mr. Paul Kavanagh. He served here for a period in the 1980s. He was undoubtedly a dynamic force in Irish business at the time. He sat on the boards of An Post, Aer Lingus, Eircom and IDA Ireland. He had groundbreaking skills and abilities in the printing and fulfilment sector and went on to become an internationally renowned businessman, heading up Stream International and Donnelly Documents, a US multinational. He gave freely of his time to many people to assist them in developing their business. He was the brains behind the Dublin Digital Hub, which today houses more than 70 companies and employs 700 people. He was also one of those involved in the International Financial Services Centre and played a part in its development. I am sure the House will join me in expressing sympathy to his wife, Anne-Marie, his son, Killian, daughters, Fiona and Sinead, and his sisters, Hillary and Colette. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

The rising price of fuel is having an impact on all aspects of society. However, it is having a significant and disproportionate impact on the lives of those whose work is caring for people in their homes. These are workers employed by the HSE in a private capacity and sometimes through section 39 agreements. The extreme cost they are now undertaking as a result of the increase in the price of fuel is resulting in many of them giving up their work or not taking on that work. That is having an impact on people who are trying to be looked after in their homes. If we do not find a way of resolving this problem, there will certainly be a situation where more people will end up in hospital. They will not be able to be discharged from hospital to return to the home for recuperation because, quite frankly, the home care packages are unable to be delivered. I have spoken to many people over the past number of weeks who no longer have the same level of care. They just cannot get the people to provide that care in the home. That is a crisis that must be dealt with and I appeal to the Ministers for Health and Public Expenditure and Reform to address it without delay.

We are told today, through documents to the Cabinet that have been well reported, that Ireland could be expected to take up to 200,000 refugees in the coming weeks. That will pose a very significant challenge to the State but I have every expectation we will be able to achieve and address it, especially if what I have seen in my county of Clare over the past two to three weeks is anything to go by. There is a level of support that communities are putting behind the refugees when they arrive that is phenomenal. I visited areas over the weekend, including Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughan, Kilkee, Shannon and Ennis, where refugees are being catered for in hotels and other community settings. There is an outpouring of support from Irish people who want to help, coming in the form of fundraising and provision of supplies, and it is a credit to the good nature of Irish people.

There is some suggestion we are not playing our part because we are not militarily aligned in this conflict. We do humanitarian support really well and it does not require the State to direct it. It is in our DNA and in our nature. I see it even in our young. I met some of the Ukrainian families in Kilkee over the weekend together with Councillor Cillian Murphy. When we were chatting with the families I saw in the corner of my eye three young fellows dressed in soccer kits walking into the foyer of the hotel carrying an expensive leather soccer ball. Perhaps it was a Christmas or birthday gift. Together with a welcoming card, they handed it over to three young Ukrainian boys. If that is not the epitome of the kind of support that exists for people who have, sadly, had to leave their homeland, I do not know what is. Nothing reflects better on the Irish people not just for this generation but the coming generations. It is that level of community involvement that is required. It is a spirit of support in our DNA that will see us through what will have to be a great challenge for all aspects of society.

I carry on the theme referred to by Senator Dooley, with many hundreds of thousands of people that might be expected to come from Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Poland. I hope we will issue them with a major céad míle fáilte and welcome. I put this against a background of our celebrations for St. Patrick's Day. I extend my good wishes to the Taoiseach, who I know is stuck in the United States. I am sure he is not stuck and is using his time constructively. I wish him well and a speedy recovery before he returns. I thank and acknowledge the work of our Cathaoirleach, Senator Mark Daly, in the United States over the past ten days. He and the Taoiseach were effectively ambassadors for us, promoting and connecting with the Irish caucus and many others. We must always be very grateful for the strong Irish-American connection. We have fostered and developed it, taking advantage of it and leveraging it to a great extent for our own prosperity in the form of jobs and inward investment to the country. It is something that should be acknowledged.

I was in the UK some weeks ago as part of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I had an invitation to go to St. Martin-in-the-Fields to see at first hand the work going on there for the London Irish, the forgotten Irish for many. These are not people who left in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s or 1960s. They are people who left in the late 1980s and 1990s and they are now on the streets of London. They receive hospitality, care and support.

We have a history of being a displaced people and having emigration forced on us as people. I hope we have learned something and passed the stories down through generations. I know many of my family ended up in the United States many moons ago but they were richly connected to their humble origins, whether in Laois or the west of Ireland. They sent back money and kept the link, the hope and the ambition. Many of them had a successful opportunity to return. I hope we will be mindful of our past and open our hearts, our doors and our minds.

Looking at the history of many politicians in local communities, there has been resistance to direct provision. I am not in favour of direct provision centres themselves. I do not want to see people coming in from the Baltic states to be warehoused in direct provision centres. That is not how to welcome people into a country.

I hope we will all genuinely sustain and prolong our compassion, affection and welcome for the people who are fleeing their country terrorised and that we take some responsibility with our neighbours in the European Union to support and sustain these people and families fleeing their homes.

It is important we all remember, and I know we do so here, that many Russians living in Ukraine are being forced out of their country. They are absolutely devastated by this and many of them are victims too.

The Senator mentioned, as he described them, humble relations in various counties. He overlooked his many fine relations in County Cavan, who are my neighbours, and was presuming they were in a different category. I will move on to the next speaker, Senator Warfield, on behalf of Sinn Féin.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for reminding me.

I look forward to the statements on the humanitarian support for Ukrainian refugees in the House at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

I also wish to extend my condolences to all who knew David Hill who passed away suddenly while the Oireachtas rugby team was playing the Scottish Parliament team at the weekend. I played with the Oireachtas rugby team only a couple times in Donnybrook before Six Nations games and I know how close all the players are with those in the other parliaments. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has seen a 49% increase in the number of requests for help with energy costs. Recent research by Red C has found 37% of folks have cut back on essential heating and electricity. The backdrop to all this is the most recent Government strategy on energy poverty, according to which, 475,000 households are in or at risk of energy poverty. There were 30 price increase announcements from energy suppliers last year. Bord Gáis is introducing price rises of up to 39% next month. While home heating oil has increased by more €1,000 for 1,000 l this year, it is obvious to everyone there is cost of living crisis. It is our job and that of the Government to do all we can to support workers and families to address the spiralling cost of heat and other energy costs to ensure households are not locked out of any supports or access to them. The Government should cancel the scheduled carbon tax increase in May. These are all actions the Government could take. We should also seek a derogation from the European Commission to temporarily reduce VAT on bills as people are under great financial pressure. Implementing just one of these measures, in addition to the €1 billion to which, I am sure the Deputy Leader will tell me, the Government has already committed, would go some way to reflect the scale of the crisis.

I want to express my solidarity with the 800 P&O Ferries staff who were sacked last Thursday. I want to express my outrage at the manner in which P&O Ferries effectively fired one fifth of its workforce over a Zoom call.

It was absolutely disgraceful that a company would operate in that manner. It is important to note that up to 100 workers on the island of Ireland who were working with P&O Ferries have been affected by this and have now lost their jobs. This is a case of Irish Ferries mark II. Some Members will remember that Irish Ferries engaged in the very same practice in 2005. It pulled a stunt and tried to fire 543 workers overnight and replace them with non-unionised, low-wage labour. Thousands of people took to the streets at that time because they recognised a threshold of decency had been breached. We want to express our solidarity with those who have taken to the streets in protest, particularly in Britain, at this outrageous practice by P&O Ferries. The Irish Government has said it is limited in what it can do. We have legislation in this country that provides for notification in the event of collective redundancy to both the workers and the Minister.

However, we should never be complacent. We need to send a message to all employers who are thinking of engaging in the appalling practice of effectively firing and rehiring with labour which, we understand, is one fifth of the national minimum wage in the UK. That is the wage that is on the table at the moment. The last thing I want to say today is that while the Irish Government has said it is limited in what it can do here, a review needs to be undertaken of whether there are any State contracts with P&O. If so, the Government needs to terminate them immediately. The Government in the Republic of Ireland cannot be seen as condoning or associating itself in any shape or form with a company that treats its workers in this manner.

I rise to reflect and pass on my deepest sympathies and condolences, along with my party, Fianna Fáil, and, indeed, the entire House, to the family, friends and colleagues of Mr. David Hill. He was over at the weekend representing the Scottish Parliament and passed away during the match against the Oireachtas rugby team, the Dáil and Seanad XV, early on Saturday afternoon. I met Mr. Hill the previous night at an engagement that the Scottish office had organised. I am wearing my Scotland and Ireland flags today in his memory. He was an absolute gentleman. He was a really lovely human being. He loved politics and he loved rugby even more. They all travelled over on Friday in various different ways - some got direct flights from Scotland, some came via Heathrow and so on. He was just a really lovely gentleman. Respect and tributes have come in from all over and particularly from the Scottish political sphere, including everybody from Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, to the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland. Some of the tributes note that he was calm, helpful, professional, kind, generous, well liked and highly respected. To his family, his parents, Rodger and Sharon; his brother, Alex; his sister, Georgia; his nephews, Freddie and Hunter; all of his colleagues in Scottish Parliament; and all of his friends, I just would like to send the deepest sympathies and condolences not just from myself and my party, but from the whole House. It was an absolute tragedy. It was something that we never expect to happen in a fairly amateur match. I know many Members of this House have played in similar events in the past. It is an absolute tragedy. If it is appropriate, I ask that we have a minute's silence in his honour and memory at the end of this Order of Business. Hopefully, there might be a time when the joint Houses here and perhaps the house in Scotland, Holyrood, where he was so well liked and he did so much for that rugby team, particularly, in the Scottish Parliament, can do something in the future to respect and remember him again. I hope we can agree on a minute's silence.

I thank Senator Horkan. Sadly, I will be accepting his proposition of a minute's silence. When I say "sadly" it is because it is unfortunate that is what we are doing.

I pay tribute to Senators McGahon and Horkan for their very sincere tributes. I pay tribute to the late Mr. David Hill and to both Senators, who I know have been very shaken by the events. Our thoughts are with them as well. We thank them for their solidarity here today. We send our deepest sympathies to the Hill family.

I ask that we have a debate on customer care and customer service. I ask that we also have a look at the role of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. If we are to be honest, all of us as public representatives and the people who we work for and with are having a nightmare in dealing with a multiplicity of departments of agencies around customer care and customer service. It is high time we call halt to the shoddy treatment of people by a myriad of Government Departments, semi-State companies and public bodies for the way in which they treat people.

In particular, let us reflect upon those elderly people who put pay money to put credit in their phones and dial a company yet are made to wait an hour or two and their credit dwindles out of their account. In the old days one could press button B and get one's money back but today one is given the option of pressing buttons 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 but will only be connected to someone else. People are sick and tired that there is no accountability and no customer care or service. There was a time when the customer was always right. Sadly, customer care has been outsourced to call centres, which is a situation that needs to be re-examined and looked at by a multiplicity of agencies, bodies and companies. I ask for a debate to be arranged and suggest that we bring in the communications regulator to speak to us because the way people are being treated now is unacceptable. People cannot get answers to basic simple questions yet at the same time companies fob people off. I hope that the treatment of people and customer care can be prioritised. We saw Covid used as an excuse and it was said that people were working from home but now people are moving back into their offices so there can be no excuse for the shoddy treatment of people around customer care. I ask that the Leader facilitates a debate at her earliest convenience.

The Deputy Leader will be aware of the fact that I wrote to all Members of the House yesterday regarding the need for a debate on Ireland's status in terms of whether we are neutral, militarily non-aligned or militarily aligned. It is time that the debate took place and I appreciate that the middle of a worldwide crisis in Ukraine is not the best time to have it. I was rather disappointed to see one of our colleagues, in the other House, bring forward legislation, which they hope to bring into the Dáil in the next few days on the neutrality issue. I do not think that it is the way forward but I think that there is a need for a discussion and we need to consider carefully where we go with this. For too long the issue has been bandied about as neutral, non-neutral and all sorts of other things. We are moving into a situation here by default where statements are being made by Ministers and the Taoiseach, which has moved Ireland's policy position from where it was to a new position of being non-aligned and, in fact, the words "non-neutral" have been used. It is no secret that I want to send weapons to Ukraine so my position may not necessarily fall into the neutral camp but certainly the debate must take place. The people are entitled to hear that debate take place. I am mindful of a period when I was president of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, and I made a statement; one of my executive members asked me who the hell gave me permission to say what I said. This House is the House that makes decisions about how we progress the neutrality issue.

I want to mention a second issue. The Government has been very generous and brought forward a payment for those who were front-line workers during the pandemic but we missed out people such as those who worked in organisations like Ability West in County Galway where staff came in every day to deal with people with disabilities of one type or another. They had to deal with all of the same front-line issues encountered by nurses in hospitals and other front-line workers. We might have a debate on that at some stage in the future and consider what organisations are entitled to be considered for a front-line payment because staff put themselves at risk every single day when they went in to work and dealt with people coming in for respite.

As per party rotation, I call Senator Malcolm Byrne and he will be followed by Senator Burke.

Deputy Leader, this afternoon, after 11 days, a boil-water notice was lifted for Wexford town and parts of the surrounding area. So for 11 days, including over the St. Patrick's holiday weekend, the people in and around Wexford town were not guaranteed to have clean water and a reliable supply. Other parts of the country have experienced the same problem and last year my home town of Gorey had a well publicised case of E.coli.

Many of us have said that one of our biggest challenges in the housing field is making sure Irish Water responds. Clearly, it is not, so I ask again for that debate on Irish Water.

I am conscious there will be a debate tomorrow on humanitarian issues in respect of Ukraine, but we also need to look at the educational and higher education and research implications of what has happened. A significant number of refugees who come here will look to integrate into our school system. Quite a number of them will have experienced trauma and will need additional counselling supports. There will be language issues in some cases. It is important that both the Department of Education and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science are able to respond effectively.

There are a number of anomalies. If we treat Ukrainian students who come here as EU students, will Ukrainian students already studying here, who are currently classified as non-EU students, now receive the same treatment? A number of Irish students had been pursuing their education in Ukraine and some in Russia. They have now come back to Ireland and there is an issue about integrating them into the Irish system, especially because a number of these are in the medical and paramedical fields. Will the Deputy Leader write to the two Ministers concerned to look at outlining the strategy and organise a specific debate on the education and higher educational needs of those coming here from Ukraine?

I thank Senator McGahon and Senator Horkan for their worthwhile and heartfelt contributions. I send my condolences regarding their colleague from the Scottish Parliament. I also support Senator Dooley on the vote of sympathy for former Senator, Mr. Paul Kavanagh.

In view of the decision made by An Bord Pleanála to dismantle the Derrybrien wind farm in Galway, who will pay the fines, €17 million of which have been accrued and which are clocking up at the rate of €15,000 per day? The ESB should pay them. I do not see why the taxpayer should have to foot the bill for those fines to Europe. I would like the Government to make a clear statement on who will pay them and if the State would ask the ESB, which as we have seen made nearly half a billion in profits last year, to pay the fine of €17 million that the State has forwarded and paid to Europe.

In that context, we should have a very worthwhile debate on wind generation along the west coast, whether onshore or offshore. We need a clear policy statement with regard to the big players, the ESB, Coillte and so forth, and we are not getting that. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, should come to the House, put it on the record and give a clear statement. We have stopped all exploration along any coast in Ireland, we have an abundance of energy and, going forward, the Government has no choice but to make a clear statement. We are in a hurry as well and we need this to be done as quickly as possible to generate all the energy we can along the west coast.

I wish to raise the issue of blood donation. As someone who has been a blood donor since I was 18, I encourage anyone who is eligible to contact the blood bank and make an appointment to donate. Only this morning, I got a text to tell me that stocks of my blood type are down to 1.6 days of supply when they should be seven days. I cannot believe there has been no public campaign to inform gay and bisexual men that, as and from 28 March, the eligibility criteria will change. From 28 March, a four-month deferral for gay and bisexual men will come into place and oral sex between men will no longer form the basis for a deferral.

This is really welcome progress but we really need to move to an individualised risk assessment system for all donors, such as is in place in the North. The Minister, Deputy Donnelly, has confirmed that this will be the case in Ireland but we have no confirmed date, having only been told that it will be later this year. I would like to hear the Minister's rationale for this phased approach as opposed to moving directly to individual-based risk assessments. I would also like clarity as to the date on which that individual assessment system will be introduced. I would also like confirmation as to whether the Minister will address the anomalies regarding women donating. Under the new proposals, women who have sex with men who have had sex with other men will face a 12-month ban while that same man will be free to donate. I ask the Deputy Leader to seek clarity on those questions but also on why this low-key approach to these changes is being taken. The blood service is importing blood from England while there are potential donors who are completely unaware that they are eligible to give blood and could be making appointments today for next week. This is a good news story so I have to ask the Deputy Leader why the Government is not letting people know about it, thereby allowing eligible blood donors to donate next week.

It looks like we are poised to host the 2028 UEFA European Football Championship alongside the UK as we will be the only bidders when submissions close tomorrow. It is great news for football fans and our economy, which will be due to net somewhere in the region of €750 million from visitor spending. It is definitely a more realistic option than going for the 2032 World Cup. Given that we missed out on hosting games in last year's deferred European championship because of Covid, it is fantastic for football fans to see this happening. However, only today, we have already seen an issue develop with one of the main venues that could potentially be used for these games. We only have two: Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium. The issue pertains to Croke Park. UEFA prohibits the use of temporary seating at major championship finals. When the FAI has previously used Croke Park, such temporary seating has been installed on Hill 16. For the venue to be used, Hill 16 would have to be converted from a terrace to a stand. It would be ironic if a soccer tournament were to sound the death knell of one of the most famous terraces in the world.

A memo has been brought to Cabinet today by the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Chambers, in support of the bid, and rightly so. We need the Government to back this bid as it did the bid for the Rugby World Cup. However, in doing so I ask the Minister of State to engage with the FAI and UEFA on the stadium issue from tomorrow with a view to allowing the prospect of safe standing. We have seen this practice return right across Europe. It came back in England this year, where the Hillsborough disaster initiated the conversion of terraces to stands. Safe standing has come back in right across Europe. I ask the Minister of State with responsibility for sport to engage on this issue right from the get-go. The Government is going to back this bid. We want to see it happen, we want it to be it successful and we want to see it in Croke Park. As a sports supporter and a GAA man, I want to see it happening in Croke Park but not at the cost of seeing an end to Hill 16.

I wish to raise a couple of issues, the first of which is July provision. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of discussion of the issue and a focus group including the Department, various parents' groups and so on has discussed the potential for a new programme of July provision. Looking at the figures from 2021, it can be seen that we set aside more than €40 million but not all of this funding was used because a significant number of schools did not take part in July provision. The reality is that a significant number of children and parents did not get the provision they needed and were entitled to as a result. I look forward to seeing the proposals from the Department because significant changes to the scheme are needed to make sure that the children who need this provision actually get it.

I also raise an issue on behalf of a number of parents and advocacy groups with regard to children attending special schools and classes, and the fact that the children cannot be allowed to be excluded from school due to a chronic illness. They should only be excluded from school based upon public health advice. The fact is that a large number of schools are sending text messages to parents telling them to keep their children home if they have any symptoms of Covid-19. The House will be well aware that there are a number of Covid-19 symptoms in existence, many of which mirror a great deal of typical childhood illnesses. Yes, it is important that schools keep staff and other children safe but they cannot be excluding children who might have hay fever, for example. That illness can continue on into September or October.

I ask and remind schools and parents that children with special educational needs have many chronic underlying conditions which have some of these symptoms. In these circumstances, where these symptoms are known and are the ongoing health features of a child, this should not preclude the attendance of that child from school. Parents and schools should now focus on new and acute symptoms of Covid-19 in such children. In circumstances where this arises, and only in these circumstances, should children be kept home from school.

I thank Senator Carrigy. I thought that the Senator had the last word but he has the penultimate word as we are leaving the final word with Senator Conway.

Gabhaim buíochas, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. County Clare is one of the counties that has welcomed a significant number of Ukrainian refugees in the past number of days. Almost 1,000 refugees from Ukraine are now living among us in north and west Clare. Of those, 500 are in the town of Lisdoonvarna and almost another 200 are in the village of Ballyvaughan, just up the road. That brings challenges with it but challenges we as a nation, a county and an area are certainly very capable of stepping up to the plate to meet.

I appeal to all State agencies to respond, please, in a timely manner and to be quick in their decision-making, bearing in mind the background from which the Ukrainian people have come. Teachers are needed for the schools as urgently as possible. We need to be providing a significant number of English classes. My understanding at the moment is that it is being proposed to have two English classes a week. There should, however, be at least two English classes a day.

The one thing I have experienced from my engagement with the people from Ukraine is that they are very diverse but very much want to work and contribute to our society. These are people who were living ordinary lives a number of weeks ago and now find themselves in this terrible situation. My appeal today, and I am aware that we are having statements on the humanitarian aid programme tomorrow, is that every day matters. I want each Minister to appoint liaison people within their Departments who will respond to queries from people like ourselves and the many NGOs who are out there working tremendously hard to create and ensure that the céad míle fáilte that we want to see extended to the Ukrainian people who are seeking refuge here with us is acted upon so that they feel welcome. Their various and unique requirements should be met where at all possible.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. I wish to acknowledge all of the St. Patrick's Day parades and the community groups who were involved in organising those at such short notice. The time on which the public health guidelines were lifted to when so many groups around the country co-ordinated bands, clubs, groups and organisations to come together was completely crucial. It was also a day of solidarity with Ukraine. As well as celebrating and coming together after a period of time with lockdown and Covid-19 we were also remembering the people of Ukraine.

I also point to and acknowledge the investment of over €11 million we are seeing with Omniplex Cinemas in three rural or perhaps regional towns. This investment is coming to Ballinasloe, Mullingar and Nenagh. The construction of a five-screen cinema starts today in Ballinasloe. This is causing such excitement in our area and has been very much looked forward to.

It is testament to the fact there is a demand and a need for that type of investment in our regional towns. I appreciate that people and companies are looking at how they can expand. We need to look at the fact there are people working from home and there is ever greater demand in our regional areas for this type of investment. I look forward to seeing this cinema opening in Ballinasloe in September 2022. It is going to be a fantastic new addition.

I want to comment on the news coming from the Cabinet today that the food ombudsman legislation is being moved forward, which is something we need to welcome. This House needs to be actively involved in that engagement. We spoke about having the ability to put a body in place to help the food industry, to help the farmer at the farm gate and to show there is the ability to get a fair price. It is part of the programme for Government and something we all support. I would be concerned that this is a watered-down version of the food ombudsman. The terminology of “ombudsman” has been taken out of the legislation in the heads of the Bill and we need clarity regarding whether this new body will have the teeth required to regulate this industry. We have spoken at length about farmers getting an appropriate price at the farm gate. This is the legislation we have all been talking about. It is in the programme for Government and the terminology of “food ombudsman” was in the programme for Government. Unfortunately, in the legislation published this afternoon, the heads of the Bill do not have that terminology. It is about getting the core aim of this Bill right, and that has to be a fair price for the farmers at the farm gate.

I call the Deputy Leader to respond.

If there is definitely no one else coming in the door.

There is, actually.

Senator Currie is just in time.

Senator Currie timed it so she would have the distinction of stopping the House in action.

I wonder what I am walking myself into. Perhaps I am missing something.

I give my condolences and sincere sympathy to the family of David Hill and his colleagues, and to our own colleagues who have spoken so eloquently today and from such a heartfelt place. It could not have been easy for any of them, so our thoughts are with them as well. I am a big supporter of any kind of cross-community sports. I think sport is a great leveller and it brings people together. In fact, this Sunday, in Seaview in Belfast, the Limestone United under-16s football team from north Belfast will take on Palmerstown Football Club, who are from west Dublin, close to where I grew up. That is being supported by the Cathaoirleach and the Mental Health Commission chief executive, John Farrelly, and there will be an emphasis on mental health on the day. Sport is a great leveller and a way we can come together. I know there was a shared island dialogue on this recently as well.

I also want to reflect on the 800 P&O workers who were brutally and shamefully sacked a few days ago without any consultation or advance notice. It is owned by a Dubai-based company called DP World and the action has not been taken under Irish law, but there are an estimated 25 workers from the Republic and 35 from the North. A strong message needs to go out from this Government that that is just not acceptable. Is there any opportunity to engage with our counterparts in the North on this issue? As I said, the message needs to go out that it is not acceptable that they would be replaced by people who are going to work for less. We need to take that very seriously in terms of provisions here so no other companies can take the same steps.

I call the Deputy Leader to resume responding to the issues. It is hoped we will be able to succeed on this occasion.

I better get going quickly before I get cut off again. I thank all the Members for their contributions on the Order of Business. Just as I was getting to my feet, a number of contributors walked in in a similar fashion, so Senator Currie and I were joking.

Senator McGahon kicked off the Order of Business by speaking about the really sad passing of David Hill. I extend my sympathies and, on behalf of the House, those of the other Senators to David's family. We will have a minute's silence after I conclude my remarks. To Senators McGahon and Horkan and anyone else who was there, I say that I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be there. It was a really shocking event. Our thoughts are with David's family, friends and colleagues and everybody who was there at the time. Senators McGahon and Horkan spoke very eloquently, and I could not have put better their comments on the man and the impact he had. May he rest in peace.

Senator Dooley spoke next. He raised a couple of issues. He wanted first to pay tribute to Paul Kavanagh, who served in this House, and to extend our sympathies to Paul's family, including his wife Anne-Marie.

Senator Dooley also spoke about the rising cost of fuel, as did Senator Warfield in the context of the cost of living. The cost of fuel is becoming a massive issue and it is going to continue. We have to acknowledge that this is not just an Irish problem but an issue globally. Oil prices are going up and the war in Ukraine is exacerbating the issue, so it is not just being felt here. There is a cost-of-living debate happening in many other countries. That is not to say we do not have a job to do here as public representatives to try to deal with it, but it is important to be honest with the public that this is not an easy issue to fix or to solve quickly. The Government, however, is working hard to try to resolve it. We saw the fuel allowance lump sum of €125 in the last budget. We have seen a reduction in the cost of diesel and petrol through excise, 15 cent on diesel and 20 cent on petrol. I know it is not a lot in the wider scheme of things but it is an attempt to try to bring that cost down. There was also the energy grant and the €200 rebate to every household in the country, and now we have €100 a week for every haulier to try to reduce the cost of their fuel to do their jobs, to put food onto our shelves and to keep the country running. The Government is doing its very best to try to manage the rising cost of fuel and the cost of living, which is impacting every household and every business. We are monitoring it very closely because we know how severe the impact is on so many households.

Senator Dooley also spoke about the discussions at Cabinet today level about the possibility that Ireland could see up to 200,000 refugees, which is a phenomenal number of people, come into our country. It will be an extremely difficult task. I know from conversations I have had with my local authority in Mayo that we are looking at contingency beds in public halls and any hotel space we can find. The difficulty is that some hotels have capacity midweek but not at the weekends. We do not want to shift mums and their children from place to place on a Thursday and back again on a Monday. This will really push our country and our citizens, every inch of this island, to the limit, but I have no doubt but that with the humanitarian response, the charity and the love we will show people who have arrived here and who will arrive here, we will get through this. It will not be easy, however. It will be really difficult. It is really important for public representatives of all parties and none to try to refrain from any populist commentary that might inflame the situation or speak of it as though it is easy to deal with and easy to solve. I know most will refrain, but there will always be one or two. This is not an easy thing to deal with. It is important that all of us band together during this time because this will not be fixed in the next six weeks. We are talking months and years of dealing with this issue. It will expand and become more pressing, so it is important we all collectively, as a country, work together to try to support these people as best we can and hope to God they can get back to their own country as quick as possible and that they have homes to go to. However, when we see the devastation, it could be some time before Ukraine can be rebuilt and people can be got back to their homes, but that is the ultimate aim. I know from talking to the Leader of the House that there will be statements on Ukraine dealing with all aspects, whether higher education, education or health, of this matter. We will deal with this issue in this Chamber on a weekly, rolling basis. Whatever comes along, there will be an opportunity for all Members to have their say, to contribute on the floor of the House and to work with the Government and our Ministers to try to deal with this issue collectively.

Senator Boyhan also spoke about the refugee issue. He acknowledged the work of our Cathaoirleach, Senator Mark Daly, and our Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, in the US over St. Patrick's week, and all our Ministers who went off to represent our country and our people in what is a really important week, not just an important day, for our country in putting Ireland on the international map and building on the immense goodwill we have in so many countries across the globe, something we should never take for granted.

Senator Warfield also paid tribute to David Hill. He also spoke about the cost of fuel in particular but also the cost of living.

I dealt with that in my earlier contribution. The Senator spoke about how people are cutting back on their central heating. We certainly have to keep an eye on that issue. For low-income households this can be the difference between putting food on the table and heating their homes. We have to be very cautious.

Senator Sherlock spoke about the P&O staff who were let go, as did Senator Currie. I concur with both Senators that the manner in which those staff were let go was shocking. I join with Senator Currie in remarking that we should send a message that it is not acceptable in this country. The company's location makes it more difficult but we extend our solidarity to the workers North and South. It is a shocking way to treat any staff member regardless of the reason behind letting them go.

Senator Horkan paid tribute this morning to David Hill and called for a minute's silence which we will do after this. The Cathaoirleach will facilitate that.

Senator Buttimer requested a debate on customer care and customer service and the role of ComReg. He spoke in particular about the frustration many consumers feel in trying to contact businesses when they need customer services. Many businesses make them go through lots of hoops before they can speak to a human being. We will certainly request that debate.

Senator Craughwell spoke this morning about the need for a debate in this House on neutrality. That debate was requested by a colleague a couple of weeks ago. We are working on it.

I have been requesting it now for over a year.

Perhaps the Senator has. I will cede to that. I might add that the debate has already happened among the public. On many issues, the Oireachtas can be way behind where the people are at. Nonetheless we have a job to do and it is timely that we would have a debate in the House on that issue. It will probably be a rolling debate that will evolve over time. Certainly it is something we need to do.

Senator Craughwell also spoke about the €1,000 payment to front-line workers. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, said that if there were challenges or issues where certain workers were excluded, they would look at that. The attempt that was made by the Government, which was a difficult one to solve, was to try to identify those front-line healthcare workers. I think in particular of those working in intensive care units in hospitals who were at the front line actually caring for Covid patients at a time when they were unvaccinated and there was pressure on personal protective equipment, PPE.

So did care workers.

That is a certain level. They were trying to strike the balance. There were so many workers on the front line including in retail, delivery drivers and every aspect of healthcare, but there was a certain level where they put their lives on the line in a very real way. Trying to identify those was not an easy task but I take the point the Senator is making.

Maybe the officials were coming off a 12-hour shift.

Senator Craughwell, please.

I have no problem there, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I take the point. It is a difficult one to get 100% correct.

Senator Malcolm Byrne raised the issue of the boil water notice in Wexford town. There was 11 days of a boil water notice there. I recall that the Senator raised the issue in respect of Gorey last year in that E. coli situation. It is no secret that Irish Water is in need of additional funding. It is certainly worthwhile to have a debate on its role and the work it needs to do. We will request through the Minister's office to get that at the earliest opportunity.

The Senator also requested a debate on the implications flowing from the Ukrainian situation for education and higher education. I have put that request in today as well and will seek it at the earliest opportunity. We will probably split the debate in two between education and higher education and request both Ministers to come in and answer the questions the Senator raised. The situation will test our education system at all levels; there is no doubt about it. I cannot answer the question about the Ukrainian students currently here or Irish students abroad. Logic would dictate that if there are Ukrainian students here, they should be treated the same. If there are new rules, they should apply to all. That would be my view.

Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of the wind farm in Galway and said that the ESB should pay the fines totalling approximately €17 million. I suggest that it might be worthwhile putting in a Commencement matter on that issue as it is quite a specific and niche question.

Senator Boylan raised the issue of blood donation and the lack of a public awareness campaign as changes are coming in on 28 March. She suggested that it has been handled as a low-key change. I am aware of it but perhaps that is due to being in the Oireachtas. Maybe there is a different level of awareness. I am not really sure. Certainly if there is a shortage we should be publicising that the system is now more open in terms of people donating. I tend to pass out when I give blood so it is something I cannot do as easily as others. We should not have to be importing blood if we can increase our supply here, which would be good for everybody. It is absolutely a worthwhile suggestion.

Senator Cassells spoke about the likelihood that Ireland along with the UK will host the European football championships.

I will not pretend to have vast knowledge of this whole area but I do think it would be a fantastic event for us to host. I am not aware of the particular issue around Hill 16. That was news to me this morning but it would probably be worth tabling a Commencement Matter on it because it is quite a specific issue. Regardless of people's views on different sporting events, Hill 16 probably means something to everybody in the country. It is a famous terrace and I would hate to see a change made that was not logical or reasonable. What the Senator said was certainly news to me but it was very interesting and would be worth raising directly with the Minister as a Commencement Matter.

Senator Carrigy spoke about July provision and put on the record of the House that the money allocated last year was not spent. This has been an ongoing issue that has been raised almost every year. Resources are available but, for some reason, schools are not availing of them and at the end of the day, students lose out. Reform of that system is long overdue. If resources are available, they should be spent and children should be prioritised. If there is a reason schools are not taking up that offer, it needs to be identified and addressed. It would be worth raising this matter with the Minister for Education - perhaps through a Commencement Matter. Again, it is quite a specific issue. Doing so would be quite timely as we are heading into that period. I concur with the Senator's remarks on the need to exercise a degree of cop-on when it comes to how we deal with younger children who often have sniffly noses. However, this should not be conflated with having Covid. A balance must be struck because children must get their education. We cannot be overzealous in how we apply those rules and must ensure children can get to school within reason. I hope most schools are doing their best in that regard. I take on board the serious issue raised by the Senator. If children are being consistently told to stay at home, it is not an acceptable position.

Senator Conway spoke about the Ukrainian refugees and what everyone in Clare is doing. He spoke about the numbers coming to his county and the fantastic response from all the agencies there.

Senator Dolan spoke about the St. Patrick's Day parades. I concur with her remarks. I was also quite impressed with what people pulled together essentially in the space of two months. Normally they would plan a St. Patrick's Day parade a few weeks after the previous one. They only got the green light in January so hats off to all the parade committees across the country that managed to pull those parades together, get schoolchildren involved and get floats out and costumes made. It was really impressive. I walked in the parade in my home town of Castlebar and we had the largest crowd I have seen at a parade in years. It was phenomenal. For lots of younger children, it was the first parade they could remember going to so it was really important for the community. They did a great job at such short notice and it is worth acknowledging that.

Senator Lombard spoke about the discussions at Cabinet on the food ombudsman. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is working very hard on this issue. The appointment of a food ombudsman has been sought by farming organisations for many years. I think we will all agree that farmers should be paid a fair price for their produce and that the push for cheaper and cheaper food all of the time, which benefits consumers, can be very damaging to agriculture and the farming sector so we must strike the right balance, which is where the ombudsman comes in. The Senator posed questions about whether it is being watered down or whether it will have teeth. We have to trust that the Minister is listening to the farming organisations, and I know he is, and see what is produced in terms of legislation. We will judge the legislation when we have it in front of us. We cannot pre-empt what might come through those discussions.

Senator Currie finished the Order of Business by concurring with the remarks regarding David Hill and referring to Limestone United in Belfast playing-----

Palmerstown Football Club.

I wish both teams the best of luck and hope they enjoy the game. It is great to see cross-Border sporting engagements with younger people promoting mental health on the island. It is a fantastic event and there should be more of that. When a football is put on the ground anywhere in the world, people know what to do with it so it is a really great leveller. It is lovely to see those events going ahead. I also concur with the Senator's remarks on the P&O workers.

Order of Business agreed to.

At the request of Senators Horkan and McGahon and others, and by acclamation of everybody, we will observe a minute's silence for the late David Hill. We offer our commiserations to his family.

Members rose.