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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 23 Mar 2022

Vol. 283 No. 11

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

I commend the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his attempt at the Greek language. That was most delightful. I welcome the deputy ambassador to the House and wish her a happy independence day and ask her to convey our condolences to the ambassador on her family bereavement.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude at 2 p.m., with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, statements on humanitarian support for Ukrainian refugees, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude at 3.30 p.m. with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021 - Second Stage, from the Labour Party, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

I ask that we invite the Minister for Health to the House as a matter of urgency. Prior to our recess we saw the dismantling of NPHET. I said at the time that it was a mistake and still believe it was a mistake. I could ask cynically where Dr. Tony Holohan and Dr. Cillian de Gascun are now given that we have seen a resurgence of the new wave of Covid-19. I made the point in this House previously that we should not have removed the mask wearing requirement. I very much hold that view to this day still. I ask that we have a debate on the issue of mask wearing and that we as a House ask the Government to investigate their reintroduction and the advice to wear masks in appropriate settings.

The World Health Organization speaks about mitigation and vaccination. Our vaccination programme is one of the most successful in the world. It is not mandatory yet the people of Ireland responded. Our mask wearing is not now mandatory and people have in their own way decided to reduce the need to wear masks. I ask that Government give consideration to reintroducing wearing masks where appropriate. Mitigation works. The wearing of a mask helps to reduce the spread of Covid-19. I am not asking in any shape or form for us to go back to the days of lockdown - anything but. I am asking for the Government to show leadership in regard to the issue of mitigation.

I ask for the Minister for Health to come to the House next week to discuss the rise in Covid-19 cases and the need for the possibility of wearing masks in appropriate settings. We all read the World Health Organization’s comments about Ireland and our rush to reduce restrictions this morning. I think the majority of us wanted to see rid of them. The one area I was reluctant about was that of mask wearing. I ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate that debate.

I second the Order of Business as outlined by the Deputy Leader. I congratulate the Cross and Passion secondary school in Kilcullen, County Kildare on having been acclaimed as the first ADHD-friendly school in Ireland. I commend the dedication of the teachers and staff who have committed a lot of time to expand their own knowledge of ADHD and learn strategies to support students with ADHD in their school. I understand a new classroom programme has been designed and is rolling out now and that a number of schools will be coming on board. I commend the Cross and Passion school in Kilcullen and recommend that other schools take that up.

The Deputy Leader has often spoken about the Permanent Defence Forces and recruitment and retention issues. There is no doubt that there are a great many challenges while our Defence Forces are faced with missions at home and overseas. Increasing the age limit for cadets and the possibility for direct graduate entry is crucially important in meeting the challenges so that the Defence Forces can widen their selection pool. The review of the age limit was recommended in the Public Service Pay Commission report in 2019. I know that we are awaiting a debate with the Minister Defence in respect of the commission report. This could be really important as a simple step that would help support recruitment.

I have spoken to a number of farmers over the past few days in south Kildare. We are at a crucial stage in farming. While the announcements yesterday of €12 million to support tillage were certainly very welcome, it is really important that we do more. I raised the cost of fertilisers a number of months ago. Now we are at a critical juncture not just in terms of cost but of availability. I call on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure a subsidy is put in place based on tonnage, not hectares. The cost of green diesel also needs to be examined. I request that we ask the Minister to come here to have a debate on the crisis farmers are undergoing.

The final issue I want to raise is that of the travel clearance requirement that non-Irish EU citizens crossing the Border will face after Tuesday’s vote. At Westminster on Tuesday, MPs voted to reinstate the requirement for a US-style visa waiver for non-Irish EU citizens crossing the Border as part of proposed British immigration laws. The imposition of any border control is concerning and we should do everything we can to keep a fully frictionless border on this island of Ireland.

The Air Corps is 100 years old today. They have just flown over the city of Dublin and out to south Dublin. The Air Corps has never been found wanting in its 100-year history. Any time it was called upon for mercy flights, or to carry out vital operations to deal with forest fires and so on, it is never ever found wanting. It would be a matter of great regret to me that it will not be forming part of the next search and rescue contract for this country because that is a vital service in which we should have the Air Corps involved.

I have spoken quite a lot over the years about the way our Defence Forces are treated, terms and conditions of employment and so on. I know the Deputy Leader wore the uniform herself and will agree with me. Despite all of those things, it is a wonderful career. Young men and women should aspire to become a part of it. The benefit accruing from service far outweighs the difficulties. I hope that we will see a change in the treatment of the Defence Forces in the immediate future.

On the issue of people coming from Ukraine, myself and Deputy Cathal Berry went to the border in Poland. I have to compliment the Polish people. It was just amazing to see. I came across four young women in a bus station sitting on the ground with a load of sweets in front of them. I asked them who they were with. They said they had just finished work a couple of hours earlier.

They had pooled what money they had together and bought some sweets because there were a lot of kids around. The kids were coming up, taking what they wanted and walking away. It was so moving to watch.

I spoke to the Deputy Leader yesterday about my fear that, with thousands of people crossing the borders and hundreds of thousands of people moving through Ukraine and into Poland, Moldova, Romania and so on, there is a danger of young people being trafficked. That is something we have to be extremely vigilant about. We have seen ten-year-old children sent to relatives with notes on their hands. They are travelling alone by train. I have a particular fear for young girls travelling alone. In the train stations in Poland, people can volunteer to take refugees to anywhere in Europe. One finds people standing there with signs offering free trips to Germany, France or wherever. The Poles are doing a fantastic job but that does not mean there will not be an oddball in the pile every now and then. We need to be extremely vigilant in that area with regard to young people coming into this country. If there are young men or young women arriving with people who do not appear to be their relatives, we need to be very careful. I compliment the Irish people but I advise caution with regard to the rush to provide accommodation and so on. It is a long-term commitment. One's home is one's castle and the moment one opens it to somebody else, one is committing for at least six months. People need to be aware of that. They need to be careful and to be sure they know what they are committing to.

I thank Senator Craughwell for that pertinent contribution.

I offer a warm welcome to the deputy ambassador from Greece and my sympathies to the ambassador, Ekaterini Simopoulou. I had a wonderful trip to Athens last week as part of the St. Patrick's Day celebrations so it is great to see our colleagues in the Chamber.

Of late, there have been a number of calls for the reopening of midlands bogs as a solution to rising energy costs but these calls are counterproductive, divisive and unhelpful. My colleague, Councillor Hazel Smyth, was the only councillor in her municipal district in Westmeath to vote to reject a motion to allow the widespread burning of turf to tackle rising fuel costs. I know that some of these calls come from a place of deep concern for the well-being of others and I share those concerns but tackling one crisis by worsening another is not the answer. Anyone pushing for a renewed focus on fossil fuels as a solution to the problems we face today needs a lesson in energy economics. What we need are sustainable proposals and this Government is responding to that challenge.

In the short term, recent increases to fuel allowances, including a one-off payment of €125 this month, the €200 energy credit and changes to entitlements and income thresholds, will help those in greatest need over the coming months. The Government will continue to assess this situation, as it always has done. In the medium term, the Government is working hard to deliver schemes that support home energy efficiency. I know it is a bit of a cliché to say that the cheapest energy is the energy we do not use but many of my fellow public representatives seem to be ignoring this. The national retrofit scheme, for example, provides for 80% grant aid towards some very simple measures to insulate homes while grants of up to 100% are available to those in receipt of fuel allowances. This is one simple step and something we all could and should do. Any public representative who is not championing these schemes is not serving his or her constituents. Perhaps it is easier to say that it will not work than to actually try it. In the long term, this Government knows there is a great need to ramp up the generation of renewable energy. This week, we gave the green light for some major offshore wind energy projects. With applications expected by the end of the year, the first turbines could be producing electricity in 2026.

Necessity is the mother of invention and this is a time for invention and for looking forward to innovation rather than backwards to business as usual. There are many more proactive ways to deal with this issue. If people are not sure where to start, I ask them to please give my office a call. It is past time for some of our public representatives to get their heads out of the peat and to start thinking about the generation that will come after us because that generation is well aware of the solutions to this crisis. I was recently contacted by a student from Oaklands Community College in Edenderry who had done a project on how the use of turf for home heating is perceived. His call to action was for the Government to raise awareness of the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Turf plays a role in that. For the students in his school, this is a real crisis. They will be the ones to deal with the consequences. We must not unpick good environmental policy for short-term gain. Our generation owes it to the next generation to maintain forward momentum on climate action. One crisis cannot be used to add to another. I call on my fellow public representatives to pull forward together and think outside the bog.

Ba mhaith liom ábhar iontach tábhachtach a ardú ar maidin. As Senator O'Loughlin has referred to, last night, the British House of Commons voted to effectively introduce a hard border for some people travelling from the South into the North of Ireland. The Deputy Leader will know that this is an issue I have been raising concerns about in the Seanad for a period of weeks, if not months. I have been highlighting the very real dangers of this particular legislation. From a political perspective, I find the intent behind the Nationality and Borders Bill quite repugnant but, nevertheless, I choose to focus on this issue because it has direct implications for citizens here.

I will refer to some of the concerns. In the first instance, there is a concern that pertains to people from the Leas-Chathaoirleach's own county of Cavan. I refer to people who have come there to live and work or even just to visit and who want to move just a short bit up the road, whether for tourism, work, study or shopping or to see a doctor. The outworking of this legislation is that such people will have to apply for an electronic travel authorisation. I am fully aware of the Deputy Leader's investment in this issue. When we committed to the withdrawal agreement, we did not say that there would be no hard border for some people but that there would be for others. We were very clear in our intent and understanding.

One of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement is the all-Ireland bodies. Tourism Ireland is one of these bodies. It works internationally to promote Ireland as one unit as a tourism destination. With the outworking of this legislation, we will see non-Irish and non-British EU citizens coming to this jurisdiction and wishing to visit the North to see the iconic Giant's Causeway, to visit Derry or to see Titanic Belfast having to apply for an electronic waiver. How does that sit within the context of an all-Ireland body that arises from the Good Friday Agreement?

Last week, we saw another invitation extended to the US President, Joe Biden, who is an Irish-American very proud of his Irish heritage. If he leads a delegation here including Congressman Richard Neal and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, all of whom have been steadfast in ensuring that there would be no diminution of rights and no threat to the Good Friday Agreement, will they have to apply for an electronic travel authorisation if they want to go up the road? This is quite stark. It may not impact on us but the intent behind this move is quite devastating for the people it will impact upon. We need to hear more from the Irish Government than that it raised the matter with the British Government and was ignored. We have to do much better than that. We have to call on all of our diplomatic wherewithal and might. I am not really sure what we can do at this stage because the legislation is going through Westminster and has passed, but we need to do something.

I will first join with my colleague in congratulating Cross and Passion College in Kilcullen on becoming the first attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, friendly school in Ireland. It is a very significant moment for the school, which has wonderful staff, wonderful pupils and a wonderful school community. I have visited it on many occasions. It is very important that we acknowledge that it is the first school in Ireland to achieve this.

I also congratulate the Irish Air Corps, as others have already done, on its significant birthday. A number of us were on the plinth as the aeroplanes flew over this morning. I acknowledge the work they do, much of which is literally under the radar. It provides humanitarian aid for many people.

I acknowledge the Irish Air Corps on its 100th birthday. It is a very significant day for it and one we should all acknowledge.

I want to raise an item I have raised before. The housing aid and housing adaption grants, along with the mobility grants, offered by local authorities can be life changing and can ensure many of our older population can continue to live in their homes in comfort. However, I am increasingly getting worrying calls from applicants that they simply cannot afford to proceed with these grants given the rising building costs and the limits on possible payments on these grants through the application process. When I raised this previously, I was informed that a review of the process was under way and the amount and criteria of these grants would be reviewed. Unfortunately, I have not seen or heard of any update on them in the interim. I now have a growing list of people who simply cannot afford to proceed with their grant offer, and in some cases, the only avenue open to families to consider is long-term care for their loved one. The review of these grants cannot happen quickly enough. There is a standstill on so many of them. I would appreciate if the Deputy Leader could contact the Minister to seek an update on them and find out where that review is at this time.

I also raise the issue of mask wearing, which was raised by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO. It called for the reintroduction of mandatory mask wearing following almost 24,000 new cases confirmed yesterday evening, following on from almost 64,000 confirmed cases over the bank holiday weekend. Last night and this morning I received calls that up to eight ambulances were parked outside my local hospital, Naas General Hospital, in Kildare. The accident and emergency department was full, with many of those inside actually on chairs. It can only be imagined the pressure the staff are under in that hospital, having to deal with such high numbers. I am sure these scenes are being replicated in other hospitals. I listened to the Tánaiste reply to my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, when he raised the call by the INMO yesterday in the Lower House. He said cases are rising but he did not have the medical advice to make such a call on mask wearing. I sincerely think consideration needs to be given to strong advice at least on the wearing of masks in public settings and crowded places. I believe we owe it to those who continue to work on our front line to offer them as much protection as we can over the coming weeks, as we are told by the Tánaiste and others that cases will continue to rise over that time.

I join others in asking for a debate on the crisis facing the agricultural sector. It would be appropriate if we had the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine before us in the House. I very much welcome the decision of the Government yesterday to set aside up to €12 million to assist farmers generally in meeting the challenges faced with the crisis in the grain supply. The encouragement of the Government in that regard is helpful, and I am sure that €12 million will bear fruit.

Notwithstanding that, considering the critical importance of our agricultural sector in terms of food security and the uninterrupted supply of food, it is absolutely important that we address all of the aspects of farming. There is an impact on the dairy sector. The inability to import grain from Ukraine and Russia in the back end of this year will impact on the liquid milk market. Farmers may not be able to milk year round. The cost of diesel, fertiliser and inputs generally will have a very significant impact on the beef sector and the ability to grow grass at an affordable price. To be sure, milk and beef prices are holding their own and have improved in the marketplace. However, any increases that have been made in recent weeks and months are completely wiped out now by the increase in the cost of inputs.

If we are to have a strategic approach here, and I know that is the focus of the Minister, we need to have an open and frank debate here. There is no point addressing this crisis at the back end of the year in September, when we discover we do not have enough grass and grain to feed our cattle through the winter to produce beef and milk and we do not have the supplies to meet our own demands and the demands of elsewhere in Europe. Now is the time before the growing season starts. We can plan ahead. It is not just about money, although money is a very important part of it. It is about having a strategy to address the crisis we see emerging. That is why it would be very important to have a debate in this House at the earliest possible opportunity.

I recognise the Irish Air Corps and congratulate it on its centenary. Brigadier General Rory O’Connor and the more than 700 personnel who work within the Air Corps deserve our recognition for the good work they do. They have a history they can be very much proud of and, in the context of the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, a future they can look forward to. To a large extent, the Air Corps has been underutilised. We look at, as a particular example, the lack of capacity we have as a nation in terms of radar detection of overflights of Ireland, surveillance flights and the broader extension of surveillance of our maritime exclusive economic zone. This is the future the Air Corps can look forward to. While it consolidates its past, it can look into a future where it will be of huge service to the Irish people and a tremendously important component of the Defence Forces. Unfortunately, I missed the flyover because I was in the Chamber, but it is entirely appropriate they should fly over Dublin to mark that centenary. I congratulate them and look forward to its future.

I also raise the issue of Ukrainian refugees, particularly people trafficking. It is distressing to hear stories of children being abducted from Ukraine and taken to Russia without any explanation of where they have gone or where they are now. This is another major problem and new frontier that has been crossed in this war we all hoped and thought would never happen on European soil again. For those children entering the European Union and especially for those children entering Ireland, we must do everything we can to ensure they are safe in every possible respect. There can be no question of trafficking on this island or in the European Union and we must do everything we can to ensure that does not happen.

Go raibh maith agat féin, a Sheanadóir. Ba mhaith liom na mic léinn agus na múinteoirí atá in éineacht leo a fháiltiú anseo inniu chomh maith.

I want to raise the issue of housing and again call for a debate in that regard. I live in a beautiful village called Castleconnell in Limerick, which had a population of 2,100 in 2016 and it is probably heading for around 2,500 now. Under the current plan for the village, between now and 2028, we are going to get five additional public houses – not pubs, but houses. That is what the population can look forward to. It is absolutely shocking, it shows a complete lack of planning, and it is an example of the reality on the ground people are facing, namely, lengthy waiting lists going back years and people having no prospect of getting a home. In addition, another issue is the fact the threshold for qualifying for public housing is so low. In Limerick, it is between €32,000 and €34,000. If you earn more than that, you do not even qualify to get a house.

I have met so many times in my village people paying €1,400 a month rent for substandard three-bedroom houses, giving them no prospect whatsoever to save for a house and no prospect of having any kind of security in terms of where they live. Each year, they are presented with another fait accompli in terms of a price hike, or oftentimes they are just told to leave with spurious excuses, and then the rent can be hiked up for the next tenants. It is an appalling prospect for young working families trying to make progress and hoping for a better future. It speaks of years, let us face it, of failure in terms of housing policy. The prospect right now for the 2,500 people of Castleconnell of just having five new social houses is an absolute disgrace. It needs urgent action. It speaks more widely of the failures of Government housing policy. That is why we continue to see matters get worse.

If Senator Gavan could convince his councillors to actually vote in favour of housing projects, we might have more in towns like Castleconnell----

It is a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael run council and has been for years.

-----than the five being built. There are thousands throughout the country that have been refused.

The speaker, without interruption, please.

We have members of Sinn Féin who have never in their time as public representatives ever voted for housing projects and yet claim they will be able to solve the housing crisis.

I was in the House yesterday and I listened to very fitting contributions by a number of Senators, including the Leas-Chathaoirleach, on the very sad passing of Mr. David Hill at the weekend.

I was playing with Senator McGahon and Deputy Richmond in the game on Saturday at which David lost his life. It was a real tragedy and very upsetting. I want to put on the record my condolences to David's family - his father, Rodger; his mother, Sharon; his step-parents, Leslie and Gordon; his brother, Alex; his sister, Georgia; and his nephews, Freddie and Hunter - and, of course, to all his rugby teammates in the Scottish Parliament. We play against them every year and it is a very enjoyable game. We have created great friendships over the years.

No one ever imagined something like this happening, especially to such a young man. He was a real gentleman. There were fitting tributes paid by the Tánaiste yesterday, by the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and, in particular, by Jamie Greene, for whom David worked. I pass on my condolences to Jamie as well. This was a real tragedy and something that everyone who was there will never forget. We all are very upset by it. I acknowledge, as have other speakers, the wonderful work that was done by the emergency team at the scene, including the fire brigade staff, ambulance staff and the staff at Old Wesley Rugby Football Club. I thank all of them for everything they did. Although David is gone, he will not be forgotten. Our thoughts are with all his family and friends in Scotland.

I thank the Senator very much for his remarks. As he will know, if he was watching proceedings, we had a minute's silence for David yesterday. He echoes the thoughts and prayers of everybody in the Chamber.

I would like to be associated with the remarks of Senator Ahearn and those of other colleagues yesterday. I knew David and had the pleasure of visiting the Scottish Parliament on the many occasions when our Oireachtas teams had meetings. There is great friendship and camaraderie between us. My sympathies are with his family and colleagues as well as our Irish colleagues for what they went through on Saturday. Nobody envisaged that what started off as a fun day would turn into such a tragedy in which a young man lost his life. He was great fun and great sport and, as Senator Ahearn said, he will not be forgotten.

I join colleagues in calling for a debate on the issues raised by the Irish Grain and Feed Association and for the Minister to come to the House for that discussion. We all are aware that we are facing a number of issues in this whole area and it is really important that the debate be held sooner rather than later. There is no point in having it down the road. It needs to happen now.

More than 1,000 children in the mid-west are waiting to access disability services, of whom 667 are in Limerick alone. A report published during the week showed that some children are on a waiting list and receiving no services. It is not acceptable that more than 1,000 children in the mid-west are in this situation. Will the Deputy Leader bring this issue to the notice of the Minister? It needs to be dealt with straight away.

Last weekend, I visited the Longford Arms Hotel to meet with a large group of more than 40 refugees from Ukraine who have come to our county in recent days. I compliment Orla Reynolds, another staff member, Aisling, and all the staff on the way they have looked after the group for the past week and a half. The people seeking refuge were very complimentary and appreciative of the staff for all that has been done for them.

I thank the Government for the significant funding that has gone into capital funding for education infrastructure in my county. I pay tribute to the boards of management and principals for the work they have done in putting forward their proposals. As politicians, we like to claim credit for these things but the reality is that the funding would not be put in place by Government if it were not needed to cater for the increase in population.

Recently, 1,194 schools throughout the country, with 240,000 pupils, have received funding under the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, scheme. This funding is allocated based on the Pobal HP deprivation index. The entitlements the designation gives a school include an undertaking to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio to 1:23 at primary level, provision of additional schoolbook programmes and so on. There is a large range of additional supports at both primary and post-primary level. However, these are things to which all pupils should be entitled. I am concerned that we are creating something of a two-tier system. When it comes to additional school meals programmes, planning supports and schoolbook grants, to name just a few, all pupils in all our schools should be entitled to those supports. We need to look at putting additional funding in place to make sure all our pupils, no matter where they go to school, get those entitlements, including reduced pupil-teacher ratio numbers.

I thought the Leas-Chathaoirleach was going to call Senator Conway, who has just come into the Chamber, rather than me.

Senator Conway would not want that.

I raise the issue of how local authorities are using section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1994, which allows council executives to make decisions on road traffic issues, including on such matters as the provision of footpaths, public lighting, pedestrian crossings and cycleways. Traditionally, this process would have involved the provisions set out in Part 8 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, whereby local authority members would have their say. However, we are now seeing a bizarre scenario in which local authorities are advertising a major or minor change of infrastructure, undertaking a public consultation to get people’s views and then disregarding them. In the particular case I want to highlight, 98% of the population were opposed to the council’s proposal, as were the six elected members of the local authority, but the management said it would go ahead, which it is doing.

We have a huge issue with something called democracy and how it works when it comes to how the section 38 process is being used. In the village of Minane Bridge, County Cork, a one-way system is being put through the village, even though 98% of the people do not want that to happen. The six local authority members are totally opposed to it, but the management of Cork County Council has said it will proceed with a section 38 process. It has taken people’s views on board, said they are wrong and it is putting in the infrastructure to give this small village a one-way system. This is not democracy and I strongly believe it is an abuse of the section 38 process. We must have a meeting or debate with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, under whose remit this issue falls. If we do not have such a debate about how local authorities use the section 38 process, that process will be used in every local authority and, unfortunately, democracy will not be served.

I am utterly disappointed and concerned, but not surprised, by the vote in the House of Commons last night to reject an amendment that was put forward by the House of Lords to make Northern Ireland exempt from provisions under the nationality and borders Bill, whereby citizens who are not Irish or British will be required to apply online for pre-travel clearance, using something like the US system of electronic travel authorisation, before entering the UK.

We are talking about one of the most one of the most cherished features of life on this island post the Good Friday Agreement being utterly undermined. I refer to the free movement of everybody across our island and the invisibility of our Border, not just on the Border, on the road or on the ground but in our minds. This affects tourism, as has been highlighted by the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and in other forums. It affects education, including third level education, family life and healthcare, including emergency healthcare. This undermines all that we aspire to improve through all-island co-operation now and in the future.

People will have to plan their whereabouts with a porous Border. It is utterly out of touch with life on this island. I must acknowledge that checks have been taking place and the number of checks on public transport has increased, which obviously I am not in favour of. How else will this change be enforced? It will affect thousands of people and what will be the punishment?

Representatives of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, CAJ, were before the UK Northern Ireland Affairs Committee during the week. They described the provision as "unworkable and risks a hard border for many non-British and non-Irish citizens in Border communities who have been able to freely cross the Border to date". This underlines the divergence and convergence that have been talked about in terms of Brexit and the direction of travel in which the British Government is bringing us. It undermines the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. We have discussed this matter at meetings of the British-Irish Parliamentary Association, BIPA, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and with the Department of Foreign Affairs but we need Ministers to continue to be vocal about this huge issue for the whole island.

Hear, hear. Well said.

Yesterday, I spoke about the Ukrainian refugees who are being accommodated in this country. They are all extremely welcome. In my area of north County Clare there are almost 1,000 refugees and in Lisdoonvarna alone there are over 500 refugees. It was heartening to see some normality, with 66 pupils having started in the secondary school in Lisdoonvarna and 27 young people having started in primary school. We need to urgently ensure the necessary resources are made available.

I believe there are now 60 doctors from Ukraine in Ireland. I know there are five doctors and one orthodontist in Lisdoonvarna alone. There is a critical shortage of doctors and orthodontists in this country. I ask the Deputy Leader to contact the Medical Council. I contacted it yesterday and I still have not received a response as to what it is doing to recognise the qualifications of Ukrainian doctors to enable them to practise in this country. This is urgent as it would alleviate the challenges posed by waiting lists and overcrowded accident and emergency departments and tackle the queues of people waiting to attend GPs. They would also be in a position to attend to the medical needs of refugees who have fled Ukraine because these medical professionals speak their language.

I want liaison officers to be appointed in each Department. To take as an example, the Department of Transport, I have received a number of inquiries from people from the Ukraine about their driver licences. They want to know whether their driver licences will be recognised in this country. There is also a major problem with insurance. Will members of the Ukrainian community who have cars here or wish to buy cars be in a position to insure them or will the insurance companies return to type and rip people off? There is a war in Ukraine and I expect the insurance companies to act with integrity, decency, dignity and respect. Will they do that or will they rip people off? These questions needs to be answered urgently. I appeal to members of the media who are following this debate to ask the insurance companies if they are going to rip off Ukrainian refugees who are insuring their vehicles?

I thank the Senator for so lucidly putting his questions.

Next Friday will be a special day for the Irish Cancer Society. Many fundraising events and activities will take place all over the country. For example, people can host coffee mornings where people can engage and donate. I want to highlight the importance of volunteering and the many ways to support an organisation other than just giving money. People can donate to all of the hospice and Irish Cancer Society shops located all over the country. Many organisations need drivers to bring people for treatment. This Friday is a very special day and everyone will take part. There will also be an event tomorrow in Leinster House. Volunteers are needed to act as drivers, help out in shops or make a donation. There are lots of way to help apart from making a financial donation.

I thank the Senator. She caught me off guard due to the brevity of her contribution.

The Senator made her point not just with brevity but also with efficiency, which is always good. It is much harder to convey a point using fewer words.

I thank all Members for their contributions to the Order of Business.

Senator Buttimer kicked off the debate by discussing the rise in Covid cases and the health situation. He requested a debate with the Minister for Health, which I have been informed is being requested through the Leader's office. We will get that date as soon as we can provide it. He made a general point about mask wearing and suggested we need to re-introduce it. We will have that debate at the earliest opportunity.

Senator O'Loughlin raised a number of issues. She spoke about Cross and Passion College in Kilcullen, which has become the first ADHD-friendly secondary school. I congratulate the school and wish it well and I hope many other schools will follow suit. It is fantastic to see our schools are catching up in this area. I wish the teachers, students and school community in Kilcullen well.

The Senator also spoke about the Permanent Defence Force and the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis it has faced for many years. She spoke about the need to review the entry age for cadets and explore the possibility for direct graduate entry. Both of the Senator's suggestions are sensible, logical and long overdue. If the PDF wants those changes, it should be facilitated as there is a significant staff retention crisis in the organisation. The Senator asked for a debate on the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. We will request that debate at the earliest opportunity.

Senator O'Loughlin also spoke about farming issues in south Kildare and noted that €12 million has been allocated to support tillage. That funding is very welcome. A debate has been requested with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine through the Seanad Office. I spoke to the Minister today and he will provide us with a date as soon as he can for a debate on a whole host of agricultural issues, including food shortages, the food crisis, tillage, grain and fertilisers, that we need to deal with in the House.

Finally, Senator O'Loughlin mentioned non-Irish EU citizens here in Ireland who may find it difficult to cross the Border into Northern Ireland. That issue was also raised by Senators Ó Donnghaile and Currie. I concur with all of the remarks made by the Senators in that regard. It is a very serious issue. This change undermines the Good Friday Agreement and the clear understanding on this island, and across both islands, that there should be a seamless Border and no hard Border. That is what we have agreed to and the Government and this country needs to take a stronger stance in that regard.

The Seanad Brexit committee has worked on this issue and it is covered in our report. We will have to keep a watching brief on it and continue to highlight it in this Chamber.

Senator Craughwell first congratulated the Irish Air Corps on reaching its centenary. It had a flyover this morning. I concur with his remarks and wish the Air Corps the very best. One hundred years is a significant milestone. All of the work and service it has given the State and our citizens is to be commended. I wish the organisation well for the next 100 years. We, in this House, will always support the work they and their organisation do.

Senator Craughwell also emphasised that service in the Defence Fences is a wonderful career.

We want to encourage men and women to enter the Defence Forces because the pros far outweigh the cons and it is a fantastic organisation. He also spoke about the recent visit he and Deputy Berry made to the border in Poland and raised the important issue of the potential for human trafficking of refugees coming from Ukraine to neighbouring countries and the need for security checks on those providing transportation to other locations. That was discussed at the EU affairs committee this morning and we have to keep an eye on it. Unfortunately, in any crisis, somebody will seek to profit from the misery of others. We need to be careful and provide support to the refugees, who are mainly women and children, fleeing the conflict.

The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, spoke on the calls from some to reopen the bogs in the midlands. It is her firm view that we should not exacerbate one crisis to alleviate another but must find sustainable solutions to the energy crisis, which she acknowledges is a significant issue for all households in trying to deal with rising costs.

Senator Ó Donnghaile spoke about the decision of the British House of Commons to reject that amendment, as did Senator Currie. I have dealt with that. We will keep a watching brief on that. It may require statements in this House.

That would be welcome.


Senator Wall spoke on a couple of issues, firstly agreeing with Senator O'Loughlin on Cross and Passion secondary school. He also asked to expedite the review of housing aid, adaption and mobility grants because of the rising cost of construction. Everyone in every part of the country will deal with that issue. I suggest that the Senator put down a Commencement matter on that issue because it is quite specific. He also spoke about the pressure on our hospitals because of rising Covid cases and called for a health debate which has been requested with the Minister for Health. We will get it as quickly as we can.

Senator Dooley spoke on the ongoing crisis in agriculture. That debate has been requested. He pointed to the cost of inputs to agriculture, including feed, grain and fertilisers. That is putting serious pressure on farmers and the farming sector and will impact on the cost of food. We will get that debate as quickly as we can.

Senator Ward concurred with the remarks of Senator Craughwell on the Air Corps and said a number of Oireachtas Members were on the plinth for the flyover by the Air Corps. He wished Brigadier General Rory O'Connor and his team the best of luck. He also raised the issue of trafficking.

Senator Gavan spoke on the housing crisis. He referred to Castleconnell. I do not have full details of that area in County Limerick. We have a Government programme of housing, a commitment of €4 billion in spending, which the State has never seen the likes of, and a pledge to deliver 33,000 homes annually. The good news is that new figures are out today for the last 12 months showing commencement notices are at the highest they have been for a rolling 12-month period since records began. While the issue is not solved and the housing crisis persists, we are starting to turn the ship in the right direction and we are seeing more homes being built. That is on the back of a pandemic where construction was shut down for periods of time. That is positive news in the housing space to give people hope that homes are being built and beginning to come on stream.

Senator Ahearne spoke about the passing of David Hill. We had a minute's silence for David yesterday. Senator Ahearne was present on the day and I have no doubt that for those Members present for the game with the Scottish Parliament, it was a traumatic experience. I extend our sympathies to David's family, friends and work colleagues on his tragic passing.

Senator Maria Byrne spoke on the need for a debate on agriculture, which I have dealt with, and raised the issue of the waiting list for children for disability services in her area of the mid-west, where there are over 1,000 children waiting. It is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed. It is a saddening situation for those children and families. I thank the Senator for raising it.

Senator Carrigy spoke about the Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Longford. I have no doubt the Reynolds family are doing a fantastic job in the Longford Arms Hotel in welcoming the refugees. The issue of the numbers coming into the country was raised yesterday as well. We spoke about it this morning at the EU affairs committee. The numbers will increase and will create significant pressure but it is great to see hotels like the Longford Arms Hotel coming on stream giving that facility and accommodation. Many hotels, bed and breakfasts, guest houses and people are opening their doors to take people in where they can, which is to be commended. The Senator also mentioned the huge amount of funding every part of the country has seen for capital building projects for schools and paid tribute to the boards of management. We pay tribute to the Minister for Education and the team at the Department across the board for working with the schools which have put in good applications for funding. It is welcome and makes a big difference for many years afterwards to a school and its students to get money for capital works. It is good to see. He also spoke about the expansion of the DEIS programme, which is welcome. It had not been expanded since 2017. A host of new schools are involved in the programme. The Senator rightly pointed to the significant benefits of being in the programme to addressing imbalance. Not every student is coming through in the same space so addressing imbalance and having equal opportunities for children coming through is important.

Senator Lombard spoke on a road traffic issue involving section 38 and local authorities. He raised concerns about the operation of democracy in areas where the public and local elected members are in conflict with the local authority. That is an issue to be worked out at a local level. The views of residents of the area should be taken on board and given priority. If they are living with the traffic changes, their views are paramount.

Senator Currie spoke eloquently on the Good Friday Agreement, the Border issue I have addressed and the non-Irish possibly having to get a visa waiver, which we would not agree with in this House.

Senator Conway spoke on the Ukrainian crisis. He raised the same issue yesterday. He paid tribute to the people in Clare. A significant number of people have landed in Clare and I have no doubt they are receiving a huge welcome and assistance. He rightly pointed to the practicalities of living in the country, such as getting driver's licences and insurance and living and working in the area. We have not had the time to plan in advance for these issues so we are resolving them as we go. We ask that any organisation, company or business dealing with these practical issues for Ukrainian refugees does so with compassion and a desire to help and make it as easy as possible.

Senator Dolan spoke about the importance of volunteering and stated it can be done in many forms. It does not always have to involve money. One's time is one's most important and precious asset. People giving their time can be exactly what an organisation needs. The Senator rightly pointed to the Irish Cancer Society's big day on Friday, 25 March, when the country will go yellow and we will all wear our daffodil pins and do what we can to support that organisation, which in turn supports so many people and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis. It does fantastic work. I will finish on that positive note. I wish the Irish Cancer Society well for Friday. It has had a couple of difficult years so it is a big day for it.

Order of Business agreed to.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 12.38 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.48 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 12.38 p.m. and resumed at 12.48 p.m.