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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022

Vol. 284 No. 2

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding Covid exempt regulations - Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (Number 2) Regulations 2022 - to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude at 1.45 p.m. with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed six minutes, the contribution of groups spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill 2022, changed from Regulation of Providers of Building Works Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and to conclude at 3.30 p.m. with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contribution of all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 96(2), Private Members' business: motion regarding support to Ukraine, to be taken at 4 p.m. with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

I ask that the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Minister of State from that Department come to the House for a debate on the criteria we as a nation use to select how we bid for the hosting of sporting events. I do so conscious Ireland withdrew from the bid to host the Americas Cup, which is a prestigious race. The decision is a shortsighted one and a missed opportunity. If there had been resolve from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to get this event to Ireland then it might have happened. Surely the return from staging the world's highest-profile yacht race far outweighs any investment needed beforehand. This would have been of major benefit for the entire southern region and the country generally rather than just for Cork. We know my colleague the Minister, Deputy Coveney, championed the bid and I congratulate him for that. Did the Taoiseach and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, who are both Cork Cabinet Members, not think it was worth persisting with? If so, why not, when much of the proposed investment in development, infrastructure and public realm enhancement were already signposted and flagged in many different Government announcements? The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, needs to come to the House to explain whether there were not enough resources from the Department dedicated towards it.

I understand the argument can be made it would require significant expenditure and that Government money is tight. That is absolute rubbish. One must invest to get a return. Every business model for proposed bids to host sporting events shows that. In this case the legacy, for a myriad of reasons, would have been of gargantuan significance in the enhancement of Ireland's reputation around the world as a place to visit and to do business. It was a huge missed opportunity. We have suffered two hard years for tourism, the aviation sector and events around the country and the world due to the pandemic. The Americas Cup would have announced the wind is back in the sails of all of us in Cork.

We missed that opportunity. We need to understand why this was not championed and put forward by Government the way the European soccer championship was - which I support. I ask we have that debate as a matter of urgency. It is important we get clarity and certainty that events not due to be held in Dublin will not be sacrificed. Ireland does not begin and end at the Red Cow.

Be it Cork, Clare, Galway, Kilkenny-----

-----Wexford or Dublin, it is immaterial. Ireland is Ireland. The four corners of our country should be supported. We missed an opportunity here and the Government should explain why.

The Senator forgot Belfast.

I second the Order of Business. Following on from what Senator Buttimer said, we welcome all of Ireland and beyond to Punchestown at the end of April. We have a world-class event and are always very welcoming and offer great hospitality to those who come.

I begin by talking about the visionary announcement the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, made on the revised leaving certificate and secondary school reform. This is a real consensus and collaborative model. It is wonderful to see. Extensive consultation took place with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, teachers' unions, parent and student bodies and we did so at the joint committee. I wish to highlight some of the measures announced that are going to make a difference in enriching the school life of our students, empowering them as they face into the world of work or study after school and embedding well-being for them. As we know, there was huge consensus on the latter aspect during the two years of Covid. The introduction of the revised transition year programme is excellent, as is the fact some of the leaving certificate exams will take place at the end of fifth year, specifically English and Irish. It is important that there will be just 60% going on the written module. There is also the introduction of two new subjects, one being around the area of drama and theatre and the other centred on climate change and sustainable developmental work. They are hugely important and I look forward to seeing this being implemented.

The purpose of the local just transition plan for west Kildare is to support and advance sustainable social, economic and environmental development in rural Kildare, including Athy, the Rathangan and Kildare town area, Allenwood, Derrinturn and Carbury. There was incredible consultation with small community groups, Kildare County Council and Bord na Móna. Some 15 actions have been identified. I want to highlight two more. One is about progressing the opportunity for a new national peatlands park. That would be the first national peatlands park in the country and the only national park in the midlands. Well done to director Joe Boland and to Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park. Mr. Boland has been highlighting this for some time. I also highlight the actions relating to the blueway and greenway and look for support and funding.

I raise the matter of a young girl called Kate Dempsey, who was very brave in talking about her experience of having her drink spiked in a club in my town, Newbridge. When she was taken to hospital, she was told that five women had presented with the same issue on the same night, which is shocking. It is important that anybody who has this experience goes to the gardaí and the owners. I am not suggesting that the nightclub had anything to do with this, but it is a crisis and we need to do more to support young women and young men to have a good, natural social life.

I will wait until I am on the floor some day to speak more, but I made a number of proposals about leaving certificate reform and, thankfully, some of them are being used.

I will raise two issues. I support the Order of Business. I acknowledge the Government's announcement of the circular economy Bill. It is excellent legislation that takes on board concerns raised when we discussed Senator Malcolm Byrne's Bill. I acknowledge the work of the Senator. Most of that has been embedded into the Bill. The Minister of State with responsibility for the circular economy, Deputy Ossian Smyth, represents Dún Laoghaire, where I live. I acknowledge the work of Senator Malcolm Byrne and that of the Minister of State in addressing what needs to be done. I had major concerns about the data issue. The Bill contains a number of provisions, including general data protection regulation-compliant uses of technology such as CCTV for waste management. It will be a good Bill. I am supportive of what I have seen and read about it.

It is timely that we have a debate about local government, especially accountability, transparency and, ultimately, sanctions. Everyone who may have been involved in or watched "RTÉ Investigates" this day last week was horrified by some of the issues raised. Much of that was not new. It had already come through the auditing systems. There were not many freedom of information requests to the Department about it. There were active individual councillors who engaged in that programme. I pay tribute to them. It is not always easy to challenge one's own chief executive and audit committee. RTÉ did a service, as did many councillors who participated, publicly and privately, in that investigation. What was exposed was nothing short of a disgrace. That is not good enough. We need to look at it again and to learn from that experience.

My takeaway from "RTÉ Investigates" was that there were serious breaches of corporate governance in some of these local authorities. People knew what happened. I think of Mayo and what happened there. I find it hard to believe that people did not know a road, bridge and infrastructure were in place, and that people could sign off on public funding. Where did the pressure come from? Was it political? Did it come from central Government or from the Houses of the Oireachtas? Who pressured whom to make false declarations? That is what is being alleged. I seek a debate on this. It is about transparency, good governance in local authorities and accountability. The public now want sanctions for people who breach corporate governance in local authorities. At some stage, whenever time permits, we should have a focused debate and statements on local government, particularly with regard to governance and auditing of local government.

It is good to have the Leas-Chathaoirleach back in the Chamber. I thank Senator Chambers for outlining the Order of Business. Previous speakers mentioned that much has been achieved in the past couple of days in the context of greening Ireland and climate and biodiversity. I acknowledge both that and the historic step forward taken last night in the Seanad to finally end fur farming in Ireland. Fur farming is a cruel practice. Seventeen years ago, as a colleague pointed out, the Green Party tabled legislation to end fur farming. We have finally done so. It is a good day. We have also put on the Statute Book a scheme that will be developed in respect of to small-scale planting of native forestry. That also happened on the floor of the Seanad. We have the circular economy Bill, as outlined by Senator Boyhan. That came before the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. There was extensive pre-legislative scrutiny. It was a good day for those who hate dumping. There will be CCTV cameras, which many of us have sought mfor years. There will be a host of measures to cut down on waste. Much more needs to happen. We all acknowledge that.

I wish to speak on animal welfare. Last week, a ship left for Jordan with young cattle on board. It was at sea for 12 days. I have spoken on numerous occasions about live exports. Libya is another destination. It is unnecessary and does not bring in that much income. It needs to be examined. Whatever about live exports within the EU and these short journeys, this involves very young animals being on board for weeks at a time without vets being on board. This cruel practice also needs to be ended.

I frequently speak about greyhound racing. We have seen reports and investigations about the greyhound industry and yet the Minister is looking to provide funding of €1 million to Kilkenny for the redevelopment of the greyhound stadium. This is not the correct use of funding. It is time for everybody to step up to the plate when it comes to animal welfare. All of our species are interconnected. Showing kindness to other animals and species should set us apart as human beings. I ask people to examine their consciences when it comes to these issues. That goes for all parties in this Chamber who support greyhound racing. It has to stop.

I welcome the Government's approval yesterday for the national centre for research and remembrance, to be located at the site of the former Magdalen laundry on Seán McDermott Street in Dublin city centre. The centre will serve as a national memorial to honour all those who were resident in mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalen laundries and related institutions. I welcome that it will comprise a museum and exhibition space led by the National Museum of Ireland, a place of reflection and remembrance and also, according to the press release from the Department, it will contribute to the social and economic development in Dublin's north-east inner city. The site will encompass social housing, local community facilities, and educational and early learning facilities. These commitments must be delivered on. It will provide digital access, making it truly national and international, which is welcome.

I welcome the involvement of the National Archives and the National Museum of Ireland in that respect. I note in the press release that the proposals of the national centre were developed by the Secretary to the Government, following informal consultations with key advocates and stakeholders and were brought to Government jointly by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. These proposals will require a consistent and collaborative approach with communities and survivors. The steering group that will be established should include survivors and the local communities.

Lastly, this is a very important step forward in a very long-fought battle by survivors and their advocates to secure an appropriate memorial to the women and children who endured horrific institutional abuse under the State’s watch. Their stories will not only finally be told but will be protected and preserved for future generations. That is something that we can all get behind. Also we acknowledge the huge amount of work of local and community activists who have worked for years in advancing a vision for that site.

I wish to raise the issue of reports in newspapers this morning on housing Ukrainian refugees in tents and prefabs. While I understand that there needs to be a short-term response I also believe we need to have a long-term housing strategy for the numbers of refugees that we will be taking from Ukraine. Some figures suggest up to 200,000. The figure is probably going to be lower than that but there needs to be a long-term strategy. We know from history that even when people think they are going to go back within a short timeframe, that often is not the case. In some countries there are refugees who have been living for two or three generations in what essentially are tented cities. We need to make ensure that does not happen here. I wrote to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on this last week to ask him to outline the strategy to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I was told that it is the responsibility of the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. It is not. There needs to be a whole-of-government response because it is important that we have a long-term strategy in regard to social welfare, schools and housing. It is very important that we start planning for that now in order that we do not see a situation in ten years’ time where children are growing up in tents or prefabs.

The second issue I wish to raise is the issue of the tenant in situ scheme. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage put a limit on local authorities of 200 housing units that they can buy where there is a tenant in situ. It is understandable that first-time buyers are given an opportunity to purchase a place that they call home but these limits are having the consequence whereby people who are getting social housing support through the housing assistance payment, HAP, are then being evicted by smaller landlords who are leaving the housing market. It should be that local authorities are able to purchase that house where there is a tenant in situ and house them through the local authority. When getting HAP, you are in housing need, you are on the local authority housing list and it is unacceptable that because of these limits – and I understand the intention behind them – there is an unintended consequence of forcing people who require social housing support, into homelessness. The Minister needs to look at flexibility around the tenant in situ scheme. Dublin City Council councillors have written to him on this issue and he needs to respond and allow local authorities to purchase housing where there is a tenant in situ getting social housing support.

I am very much looking forward to the debate on the Ukrainian situation in Fine Gael's Private Members' time this evening. There are many questions and unintended situations presenting themselves. I thank the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland for accepting my invitation last Saturday when she visited Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan in County Clare, where there is now a significant number of Ukrainian citizens living among us. It was an extremely emotional and very powerful visit. Everybody there was quite moved, with more than 100 children singing the Ukrainian national anthem. The ambassador then did a town hall meeting in Ukrainian for the Ukrainian people. Certainly it meant a lot to them and gave them reassurance. I thank the ambassador for that.

I also wish to congratulate Conal Henry on his appointment as chair of the Shannon Group board. I wish him the very best in what is an extremely important job. It is a pity that our former colleague in the Seanad, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, felt it necessary to step down. Questions need to be answered as to why Mr. Ó Céidigh had to make that decision. I believe there is a role for the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications in terms of establishing the reasons. Was there an exit interview with Mr. Ó Céidigh by the Minister for Transport to glean and understand why he made such a decision so quickly? It does not favour confidence in what is happening in Shannon. We should ask the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications to see if there is a role for it to get to the bottom of why Mr. Ó Céidigh decided to step down. That said, I believe it is important to reiterate our best wishes to Conal Henry because Shannon is essentially the cockpit for the entire mid-west tourism industry. For decades, Shannon brought thousands upon thousands of passengers in, who came to visit our area. Between Aer Lingus and other airlines there were more than 3 million passengers coming through Shannon Airport at one stage. It is critically important that it is successful from an economic, connectivity and a job creation perspective.

I will start by thanking Senator Boyhan for his kind words and by welcoming the publication of the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022. Having had discussions with the Minister and the officials, I am quite happy that many of the measures contained in the Bill I proposed on allowing local authorities to use CCTV and other technologies to catch illegal dumping have been folded into this new legislation. I know it is about more much but these are particularly welcome measures and I look forward to cross-party support for it.

I wish to raise a proposal by Bob McCabe, who spoke on RTÉ’s “Liveline” last week, that we consider allowing those who are vulnerable to wear yellow masks to identify that they may have underlying conditions. If they chose to wear yellow masks, they could be identified and people could be particularly careful around them. Bob McCabe made that suggestion, which is worthy of consideration, and I hope the Leader brings it up with the Minister for Health.

I also wish to raise a claim by Senator Gavan, who spoke after me yesterday, that our party is in danger of being on the wrong side of history on the question of Palestine. It needs to be put on the record that as far back as 1980, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the late Brian Lenihan Snr., supported the recognition of Palestine and a two-state solution and always favoured peace. Back in 1980, Sinn Féin was not very keen on peace and military neutrality but our party’s position on this issue has been consistent. I am quite happy to debate with Senator Gavan issues around foreign policy and being on the wrong side of history, particularly given Sinn Féin’s support for Putin, the Chinese Communist Party, the autocratic regime in Cuba and Maduro’s regime in Venezuela. We talk about the refugee crisis now but people forget that over the past decade, 6 million people have fled Venezuela. These are the models Sinn Féin has wanted us to follow.

You were not even here for the Middle East debate. Where were you for the Middle East debate?

Senator Byrne, without interruption.

Sinn Féin does not talk about its support for Maduro, Putin and the Chinese Communist Party when it has its $1,000 a plate dinners at the Trump hotels with its American backers. It should not come in here and question my party’s record on foreign policy. We have always supported a peaceful solution, a two-state solution in Palestine, and we have always supported multilateral institutions. It is a bit rich for Sinn Féin to talk about us being on the wrong side of history.


I call Senator Craughwell, who is waiting patiently.

That was a rather robust exchange. Thank God I am an Independent Senator and free from all of those constraints.

The Deputy Leader will have a particular interest in Cancer Care West and the presentation, which is going on across the road since this morning, with respect to the requirement for cancer services in the west of Ireland, particularly given the age profile, the incidence of cancer and the outcomes for those on the west coast who suffer from cancer. It is all very well for a service to be mentioned in the national development plan but, just like the point that was made this morning, we need to see design specifications and other things. I know that the Deputy Leader will take up the matter and she would be attending the presentation but for the fact that she must be here this morning.

My colleague, Senator Moynihan, mentioned the tent village that is about to be created, or has been erected, in Gormanstown. It is horrific to think that families who come here must live in tents. As I said the other day, tents are fine in the summer if the weather is good but if one gets a bad summer then tents are terrible places to be. I agree that the tents are a short-term solution and I hope that this is a very short-term solution. However, such a situation brings into sharp focus the lack of investment in the Defence Forces over the past 30 years. Do we have more tents if we need them? Will we be able to erect them? Have we got sites for them if we need them? How quickly can we get tents if we need them?

The humanitarian side is all fine and dandy but unless the Ukrainians can knock tanks out then they will continue to suffer attacks in their home country. We have AT4s and Gustaf 84 equipment in the Curragh. Again, I ask the Deputy Leader to raise with her party the idea of sending these weapons. The story that weapons do not travel is a nonsense. The issue of neutrality is constantly being bandied around these days. The moment we supplied anything to either belligerent in this conflict we gave up any neutrality that we had. So let us send the weapons and give people the power to protect themselves. That is not a whole lot to ask.

Finally, again, I would like to have the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in here to discuss the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is a simple win right now to allow PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, if it wishes to go there, to affiliate with the union. That should be allowed straight away.

A quarter of the Department of Education's budget is spent on special education, which is a 50% increase since 2011 and, in the same timeframe, we have seen a 90% increase in the number of SNAs. The change to the new front-loaded allocation model for SNAs is of critical importance. For any child any new model, whether it is special schools or classes, special education and SNAs, must ensure that no parent has to fight again to secure the right supports for their child.

A recent update has informed me that work is ongoing on next year's allocation of SNAs. This will include discussions with educational partners and the work will be concluded shortly. However, there is a palpable anxiety about any possible change. There is anxiety around what is needed for September 2022 and the fact that demand is growing. Representatives of one school have told me that the number of children accessing support has increased by 30%, that they have extra class teachers and special education teaching assistants but no additional SNA access, and that the school has had three exceptional reviews refused.

In terms of the change and the front-loaded model, SNAs will be automatically provided based on a school's profile. From reports in 2019 this was based on disadvantaged areas, gender breakdown and the outcomes of standardised tests. Subsequently, I have found out that the model includes a graduated allocation that takes into account the level of need in each school. Therefore, it is not just school profiles alone that are analysed. Even though no diagnosis is necessary I believe that the model includes where a child receives a diagnosis after the allocation has been granted to a school or where there are newly enrolled pupils. Such a situation results in a lot of questions and we need to debate the new model so that we can give confidence or highlight concerns.

I condemn last week's bomb alert in Belfast that saw the Minister, Deputy Coveney, having to be evacuated from an event that was organised by the Hume Foundation at the Houben Centre in north Belfast. A funeral that was taking place at the nearby Holy Cross Church was disrupted as well. Indeed, the alert caused a great deal of fear and unsettlement in the local community not least to the van driver who was caught up in it all.

The alert comes as a small merry band of mostly unelected and unrepresentative people conduct small and sporadic protests across the North. These people are unrepresentative of the broader society and, dare I say, broadly unrepresentative of the wider unionist community. We have seen a number of alerts. We have seen an upsurge in quite unnecessary and hostile rhetoric towards the Irish Government, which is to be condemned as it is extremely unhelpful. I use this platform today, and will use it at other time that I need to do so, to call for that rhetoric to be dialled down.

I wish to reflect my deep disappointment at yet another failure by the British Government to fulfil a commitment, and again it relates to Acht na Gaeilge. Since the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006 Irish speakers in the North have waited for the same rights that are afforded to people in this part of Ireland. These are the same rights that are afforded to Welsh speakers in Wales and Scots Gaelic speakers in Scotland. Also, the British Secretary of State has refused to commission abortion services for women in the North thereby letting them down and leaving them having to wait further.

Finally, when one couples all of that with the position concerning legacy and that around the UK's Nationality and Borders Bill one can see that one supposed agreement after another has been walked away from. Therefore, the Irish Government and State must up their work rate to ensure that those promises and commitments are fulfilled.

I wish to raise two issues and one of them is public consultation, which I have just come from, on the M20 motorway between Limerick and Cork. This is a very special day because it is the first time that we have seen the proposed routes. The public consultation will go live at 12 o'clock today.

I pay tribute to the team from the Limerick City and County Council that were the lead on this and I pay tribute to the consultants who were involved in this process. The 700 landowners along the route will be consulted in the coming weeks. They will be invited to attend meetings in either Limerick or Cork or virtually online, whichever suits people.

All of the preferred routes are up. It is important that the public, especially the people who live along the route, make their choices known, engage in a public consultation and have their say. It is expected that the route will be presented to An Bord Pleanála within the next two years. I urge people to get involved in the process. I am disappointed that it is still not clear whether we will have a motorway or a dual carriageway. That is the most disappointing thing that I took from the consultation today.

Finally, I welcome the fact that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, was in Limerick on Monday. He met representatives of Co-operative Housing Ireland and attended the launch of a project where 71 families had moved into their new homes. This fantastic project is located at Baunacloka Heights, Mungret, County Limerick. The project was started under Building Ireland, which was overseen by the former Minister, Eoghan Murphy, and I compliment him on his efforts. It was great to see that 71 families had moved into their new homes, which are located in a beautiful area, and I wish them all the best of success. The new inhabitants have already set up a residents' association. They were out picking up litter and doing different things.

I thank the Senator. That is a good news story.

I want to raise the matter of our tourism industry and where it is going at the moment. Obviously, we have moved out of Covid-19, which is very welcome, and, hopefully, we are moving back to a normal cycle when it comes to tourism. Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine has affected confidence in the tourism market. The US visitors that we would like to see coming back to west Cork in numbers this summer season seem to have a confidence issue in the marketplace at the moment. We need to have a very significant debate about what will be done for the next three to six months on tourism, what actual projects will be pushed, and what advertising campaigns will be run to attract the numbers required to ensure a sustainable tourism industry.

The VAT issue must also be spoken about. The VAT rate as it relates to the tourism trade is proposed to increase towards the end of the summer. We should have a debate about this with the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in this Chamber about what their plans are for the rate going forward. We need to have an holistic approach about our tourism industry. The world has changed dramatically in the past six weeks. Ireland could have a scenario whereby it might not have the numbers we expected. Do we need to start talking about a vacation policy? Do we need to start promoting our own indigenous population to stay here with us to make sure we have a viable industry for the next six or eight months? There is a lot of things happening in this area in a short time. A real debate with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media in this Chamber in the next two weeks would go a long way to settle the nerves of the tourism industry.

I thank the Senator. He had more time, if he had needed it.

I ask the Deputy Leader for some information or to seek a debate with the Minister for Justice regarding Garda stations, especially the proposed new Garda station in Clonmel. It is in the capital building programme, along with a new station in Macroom and the children's court. Clonmel Garda station is ready to go, just like Macroom is, but it is being held up in the process because of the children's court in Dublin. It is hugely frustrating.

We have ambitious and amazing plans for a new Garda station on the site of Kickham Barracks in Clonmel. It is for all the gardaí who work in the district, and they have been waiting for it for a long time. I would ask anyone to come to see the conditions in which gardaí are currently working in Clonmel. It is not fit for purpose at all, whether it is for the people working there or for the public coming in. A new Garda station would do a lot to support the area and to build morale within the force in the area. It is incredibly frustrating that through no fault of their own it has not progressed. The most frustrating part about it is that we as a Government are developing Kickham Barracks at the moment, opening up it to the public with a new open plaza area. There is a further development of an educational campus with Tús and the local education and training board. It is going to be a fantastic area right in the heart of Clonmel.

There is, however, a real problem with the slow progress of the Garda station. I hope the Minister will be able to come to County Tipperary and Clonmel, in particular, at some point soon. We need clarity. When I speak to gardaí there, many of them genuinely believe they will be well retired before the station is ever built. I would be very grateful for an update from the Minister.

I believe the Deputy Leader attended the event earlier in Buswells Hotel for the cancer centre plans for the west and the north west for Saolta Hospital Group. Unfortunately, the health outcomes for cancer in the west are below par and below average when compared with the rest of the country. One in two of us will get cancer at some stage in our lives. Cancer treatment and proper treatment is hugely important across the State, especially in the west to bring us up to the average at least, or above average, in relation to healthcare. Unfortunately, we have had decades of underinvestment in healthcare in the west. Galway is the centre of excellence for cancer services and there are plans for a new cancer centre with inpatient beds as part of the national development plan. Treatment is top class in the facilities there, but new and more modern facilities are required. People must travel long distances, be it from Letterkenny or parts of Sligo, to avail of cancer services. That is the model. It is the world best practice model in having centres of excellence and people travelling to them. The biggest concern the consultants have in that regard is about providing beds and ensuring there are beds for the patients when they do arrive. The Inis Aoibhinn facility on the grounds of University Hospital Galway provides a free and very important service for patients who travel. They do an excellent job there but they are heavily reliant on fundraising services across the country.

I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on the capital plan as it relates to health. There is sufficient interest in projects across the State so that it would be worth having a specific health debate on the capital plan, and on concerns about delays of many of the projects, such as the one for Galway relating to the emergency department and the elective hospital, where progress is slow. I am sure there are also other examples across the State. I am asking for a particular and special debate on healthcare in the context of the national capital plan.

I thank the Government chief whip. I now invite the Deputy Leader to respond to the Order of Business.

Senator Buttimer opened to the Order of Business and asked for a debate on the criteria that are applied to the bidding by Ireland to host sporting events. He made reference in particular to the America's Cup, which I know is of particular sensitivity to representatives in the Cork area. The Senator had particular questions around resourcing from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and I have no doubt that he has been in touch with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, on the topic. Perhaps the subject is worth a Commencement matter, if there are specific questions on that.

Senator O'Loughlin welcomed the reforms of the leaving certificate that were announced yesterday by the Minister for Education I concur with the Senator's remarks. It is a significant day in terms of reform of education at second level in the senior cycle. It is my view that were it not for the past two years we probably would not be seeing the kinds of reforms that were announced yesterday and the level of support to bring those reforms through. I wish the Minister, her Department, all the schools across the State, the teachers and the students well in bringing these reforms through over the next years. It is of particular note that we will no longer have such a pressurised and sole focus on one final set of examinations, which benefits students who are particularly adept at rote learning as opposed to actually focusing on knowledge and education. More focus on learning throughout the two years of senior cycle is really welcome and it will make for a more modern leaving certificate. I welcome also the new subjects in drama and climate. Again, it shows that we are moving with the times.

The Senator also welcomed the local just transition plan in Kildare, and she also raised issues around drink spiking, which is an issue across the country. It is happening in every small town, village and city in the State. It is a very worrying epidemic that is taking hold.

Senator Boyhan welcomed the publication of the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan and Senator Malcolm Byrne, or their work on this. The Senator also requested a debate on governance at local authority level following the "Prime Time", RTÉ Investigates report last week.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly spoke about a number of issues. She spoke about the greening of Ireland and biodiversity, and she welcomed the end to fur farming as a result of the passage of the Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 through the Seanad yesterday. She also welcomed the scheme for small-scale planting of native tree species, which was also announced yesterday.

Senator Warfield welcomed the new centre for research and remembrance that will be located at Seán McDermott Street in Dublin city at the former site of one of the Magdalen laundries. I concur with the his remarks. It is a really welcome use of that building and is a fitting tribute to the survivors of that awful institution.

Senator Moynihan spoke about the Ukrainian refugee crisis and, in particular, the reports we are all hearing that there would be a tented village - if we can call it that - for emergency accommodation. We would all share her concerns that this should not be a long-term solution. I hope we could move people out of those tents as quickly as possible and into proper accommodation. I also take on board comments from other Senators that we must be very careful it does not become a long-term measure. We are all seeing the numbers coming in, which are just phenomenal.

I think we have Ukrainian refugees in almost all parts of the country at this stage. It is going to put a significant strain on the country but we will do our very best to help people in their time of need.

She also raised the issue of the tenant in situ scheme and argued that the limit on the number of properties that local authorities can purchase is working against those tenants of small landlords who are selling their property when that property could be bought by the local authority with the tenant in situ. She makes the reasonable suggestion that the limit be reviewed by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Senator Conway also spoke about the Ukrainian refugee situation. On a number of occasions now he has spoken about the numbers coming into County Clare and he thanked the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland for her recent visit to Clare to meet the people, which he said was really important. He also raised issues around Shannon Airport, the changeover of personnel at the Shannon Group and the role of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.

Senator Malcolm Byrne welcomed the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022. He also made the suggestion with regard to mask wearing that people who are particularly vulnerable to Covid could wear a particular type of mask to make themselves identifiable as such. That would give others an opportunity to be more careful or cautious around them. I had not heard that until this morning and it seems like a sensible solution, if it is a choice. If people would like to do that, it seems reasonable that it would be facilitated. He also very adequately addressed accusations made against Fianna Fáil vis-à-vis Palestine. I could not have put it better myself in terms of Fianna Fáil's support, over many decades, for a two-state solution there.

Senator Craughwell spoke about a briefing by Cancer Care West attended by a number of Senators, including Senator Kyne. Some really stark figures were presented to Oireachtas Members by Cancer Care West on the outcomes for cancer patients in the west of Ireland. We are consistently performing below the national average in terms of survival rates and outcomes. One example that struck me this morning is that for patients who get breast cancer in the west of Ireland, the chances of survival are 80% compared to 86% in the east of the country, which is just unacceptable. The same carries through for lung cancer and all other cancers. We are consistently performing below the national average in terms of survival rates. What was called for this morning, which all Members would support regardless of whether they are from the west of Ireland or not, is the delivery of a specialist cancer centre in University Hospital Galway, which is provided for in the national development plan but has not been delivered yet. We will all be working collectively to try to get that delivered in the short term. Senator Craughwell also raised the issue of the tented village and other issues related to the Defence Forces and their ability to respond to the needs presenting in the country because of the Ukrainian crisis.

Senator Currie spoke about education and special education in particular. She pointed to the fact the one quarter of the education budget goes towards special education. She emphasised the need to ensure that applying for special needs assistance for students is not made onerous and difficult for parents. There should be access to special needs support without parents having to fight for it.

Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the bomb alert in Belfast at the event organised by the John & Pat Hume Foundation. I concur with his remarks and utterly condemn that incident and what happened. It must have been a very frightening experience for those present on the day. I am sure everyone in the House will join us in condemning those actions. He also raised the Acht Na Gaeilge and the fact that the British Government has not acted on its commitment in that regard. The Taoiseach has also dealt with this issue and commented on it publicly in recent days. I concur with the remarks of Senator Ó Donnghaile and the Taoiseach on that issue.

Senator Maria Byrne welcomed the public consultation process that went live today on the M20 Limerick to Cork road. She said that it is not clear whether it will be a motorway or a dual carriageway but that the public consultation process on the route is open for submissions. She encouraged people to make their views known. She also welcomed the recent opening of 71 homes in Limerick by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

Senator Lombard requested a debate on tourism and the current situation in the industry. I am happy to request such a debate on his behalf. Senator Ahearn requested a justice debate. He referenced a particular issue with regard to Clonmel Garda station and Macroom. I advise him to submit a request for a Commencement matter debate because the issue is quite specific. If that is not sufficient in terms of getting a reply, I ask him to let me or the Leader know and we will seek that justice debate for him.

Finally, Senator Kyne spoke very well about the briefing from Cancer Care West to which I referred earlier. He also requested a debate on capital projects in the context of the health budget. As there are many health projects across the country in which all Senators would have an interest in getting some answers on, we will make a request of the Minister of Health for a debate on same as soon as possible.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach made some remarks at the outset about proposed changes to the leaving certificate. I want to acknowledge that on numerous occasions, he has advocated for points or acknowledgement to be given for students' extracurricular and recreational activities. I have no doubt he is thrilled to see the reforms that were announced yesterday.

I thank Senator Chambers for her acknowledgement of my input to the leaving certificate reform debate. I also wish to associate myself with her remarks and those of Senator Ó Donnghaile about the dreadful incident in Belfast in which the Minister for Foreign Affairs was centrally involved. I agree with both of them and it does not merit elaboration.

Order of Business agreed to.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 12.26 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.50 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 12.26 p.m. until 12.50 p.m