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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 31 Mar 2022

Vol. 284 No. 3

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Consumer Protection (Regulation of Retail Credit and Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m.

The Leader will be well aware that in recent days a number of our utility companies have outlined their intention to increase significantly the charges for electricity. We all know that the context for this is the very significant increase in wholesale fuel prices. Most of our electricity is guided by the price of gas and the cost of a therm of gas has gone from 60p prior to the Covid-19 pandemic to approximately £2.30 on the international trading market. That is a very significant increase, so there is a clear context or reason for electricity prices increasing.

However, I am concerned about the fact that the fixed standing charge is being increased as well. I note from Electric Ireland that it is increasing its standing charge by 36% and Bord Gáis is increasing its standing charge by 43%. The standing charge is a fixed amount that is added to the top of one's tariff rate to cover the energy supplier's fixed costs. That is the cost of paying for delivering the gas to the home. To some extent it is understandable that this might increase in line with inflation, but inflation is expected to reach 8.5% this year. I do not understand why the fixed charge in Electric Ireland has gone up by 36% and by 43% in Bord Gáis when inflation is only pegged at 8.5%. I am somewhat concerned that the electricity supply companies are using the massive increase in the wholesale price of gas, and we see it fluctuating daily, to justify their increase in the overall cost to the consumer. There is a justifiable increase in the cost to the consumer but it relates to the cost of gas, not the cost of delivery.

Perhaps the Leader might arrange for a debate in the House or she could write to the Minister and ask that the matter be referred to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. As with lots of other companies, when everything gets out of control there are opportunities to slip in additional charges and costs, which are not to the benefit of the Irish consumer. We are aware of the pain and suffering people will go through with the increases in the cost of living as a result of the supply chain issues due to Covid-19 followed immediately by the impact of the crisis fallout from the war. We must ensure that people are protected to the greatest extent possible and that there can be no opportunity, particularly for utility companies, to gouge consumers under the fog of increased prices associated with the war.

I wish to raise a couple of items relating to the census. I heard Senator Malcolm Byrne refer to people who would obstruct the work of the census or make life difficult for census enumerators as "muppets". I certainly have no sympathy with any such obstructive tactics by people, but it is important to say that part of the democratic contract between us and which binds us to the State is that in return for our compliance we can expect fairness, accuracy, transparency, accountability and adherence to high standards.

Turning to the question of the assignation of sex, the Central Statistics Office website states that if people are uncomfortable ticking one of the options of "male" or "female", they can mark both boxes and, for analytical purposes, then a sex will be assigned at random. Bearing in mind that, normally, supplying false information is subject to a very serious fine, the website is telling people that if they are uncomfortable with this or that aspect of the process they may do something that otherwise would come under the heading of false information.

Regardless of what one thinks about the debate about so-called transgender rights, and that is a term that can mean different things to different people, it cannot be right that people would be asked to supply false information if they are uncomfortable about answering correctly. If I feel uncomfortable about answering some other section of the census, am I entitled to answer it incorrectly? Less an example of sloppiness, it is a decline in the standard of accountability, fairness, accuracy and respect for process that we see in different areas in these times.

I have had extreme difficulty getting the Minister for Health and the Department of Health to answer a basic question. As an elected representative, when I write a letter to the Minister for Health or to Ms Geraldine Luddy in the Department of Health and the people involved in the three-year review of abortion, as I have done, asking about whether people can supply information in a free-form manner other than the prescribed template and whether their issue will be considered, and when I do not even get an answer to the letter and the policy of the Minister for Health is just to ignore anything coming from pro-life people as though they do not matter, what one is seeing is a decline or a small bit of death for democracy. Everybody should matter equally in this State, and when people's elected representatives ask questions they deserve to get answers. I have seen very bad standards from the Department of Health in recent times and I do not believe it is a forced linkage to say that what we are seeing with the census is an example of the same type of sloppiness.

The census form is considered to be a notice for the purpose of the Act, and the sections require that the notice must specify a date by which the information in the form has to be returned. It has been pointed out to me that the census form does not actually specify this date. The form refers multiple times to census night but, bizarrely, does not specify a date. What is going on here? On a strict and extreme reading of the Statistics Act, that could potentially invalidate the entire census. Is this more sloppiness coming from the system?

Finally, there are the complaints from Irish speakers which tend to arise during every census. Irish speakers do not feel they are being given an opportunity either to answer the census in Irish or to converse with enumerators in Irish. That is something that must be addressed.

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Sheanadóir.

I will finish. We cannot expect all 5,000 census enumerators to be able to provide the service through Irish, but there must be a mechanism provided for Irish speakers if we are serious about what we say about the importance of the Irish language.

Aontaím leat faoi sin.

I do not want to begin on a negative note, but it is unfortunate to hear the phrase "so-called transgender rights" from Senator Mullen. Sinn Féin stands clearly in support of transgender rights-----

Can the Senator define them? I am sure we will agree on some of them, but not on some of the other things the Senator might describe.

Senator Gavan, without interruption.

-----and I hope that all parties will stand clearly in support of transgender rights. I wish to put that on the record.

On authentic rights, yes, but perhaps not on the fuzzy stuff the Senator comes up with.

Senator Gavan, without interruption.

I welcome the Leader back and thank her for scheduling the Fourth and Final Stages of our Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services Bill for next Thursday. This is very much a cross-party initiative. It has received support and, indeed, signatures from almost every party here. It means a great deal to an awful lot of people.

I place on record my thanks to the Leader in that regard. My understanding is the Government has promised to bring forward a Bill of its own but the latest news is that there is no timeline for that Bill appearing. I again appeal to colleagues of all parties to get behind the Together for Safety safe access Bill next Thursday. I am delighted that safe access legislation has been passed in the North. That is a step forward and I congratulate the Green Party and, indeed, my own party for making that happen in the past week. We can take a similar step and complete the passage of the safe access Bill through the Seanad next Thursday. I appeal to Senators of all parties to continue on that cross-party basis and enable that to happen.

I wish Conal Henry, the new chairperson of the Shannon Group, well. It has been an unfortunate 12 months. There was an appointment that did not go ahead. Our good colleague, former Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, was appointed but, unfortunately, after six months he felt the need to step down. That is unfortunate because he had a lot to offer. It would be good to understand what happened to make him feel he had to step away. A fundamental point is that in his new job, Mr. Henry needs support from the Minister for Transport. Members saw the chaotic scenes at Dublin Airport in the past week. Of course, much of that relates to the current crisis and staff shortages but the other issue in this regard - I hope colleagues from the west of Ireland will appreciate this - is that while 90% of aeroplanes are taking off from Dublin Airport, there will always be a degree of chaos. Right now, unfortunately, people are being asked to arrive three and a half hours early for their flights. We need a new national airport authority with an explicit mandate for a new regional balance to support airports in Shannon and Cork and across the west of Ireland. I am surprised the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has not grasped that. The transport committee gave him an all-party instruction to consider doing that. We need that kind of fundamental change.

I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to allow me a few more seconds due to the interruption.

The Senator caused it.

Ultimately, we will not see the sort of fundamental change we need to secure our airports unless that regional balance is incorporated into Government policy at the highest levels. I call for a debate on that subject and for the Minister for Transport to address the House on it.

The Senator got his few seconds back.

I refer to a proposal I put forward approximately six weeks ago in respect of having a silent street for St. Patrick's Day parades. I know the Leader's office wrote to local authorities around the country to ask them to take part in that initiative. Several parades did so this year. I attended the parades in Longford and Athlone. I commend the organisers of the festival for taking this proposal on board. Very positive feedback was received on it. We will keep going with the campaign to make sure every parade that does it next year. It needs to be taken on board not just in Ireland but should be considered internationally. We have had discussions with the organisers of the parade in New York, who will consider it for 2023. I thank the parade organisers, particularly those in my home town, including Fiona Fenelon of Longford Chamber of Commerce, who took this on board and worked with local parents. Ann O'Leary, whom I know personally, was involved and has been a very strong advocate for children with autism. I thank them and put that on record. We will keep the campaign going and make sure there is more of it next year.

I refer to just transition. Many groups are struggling for funding for projects. The midlands, my area, has been particularly badly hit in the context of just transition by the closure of Lough Ree power station. Significant funding has been allocated for projects but large community contributions have to be made to ensure those projects are delivered. With prices increasing, that is becoming ever more difficult. I did some research into funding. The Western Development Commission, which covers the west of Ireland, was set up many years ago and provides low-interest loans. It has a community loan fund under which loans of between €25,000 and €250,000 are provided at 3% over ten years. It also provides bridging loans at 1% that can be used for match funding for LEADER projects under the rural development programme. I ask the Government to consider extending that scheme to the areas affected under the just transition. A significant amount of funding has been allocated for projects but these projects have not progressed as a result of the large local contribution that is required. As one involved in community activities, I know the difficulty involved in accessing money from banks and so on. If that community loan fund could be extended to cover the just transition area in a manner similar to the fund offered by the Western Development Commission, it would be of great benefit. It is about adding extra counties in which groups would be eligible to apply to that fund. I would be very grateful for that. It would ensure we actually deliver a just transition for the midlands.

That is an interesting proposition.

It is no surprise on Trans Day of Visibility that I am offering my support and that of the Labour Party to the trans community in Ireland and worldwide.

One of the biggest things we need to think about today, on Trans Day of Visibility, is that it is really sad that there are no trans Members of the Upper or Lower Houses. I hope that someday that will be rectified and there will be visibility across society. I was thinking about this in the context of the census and the binary question in respect of sex. The census is used for many things, such as collecting data in respect of disabilities, access and travel. It is used for planning. Given that a couple of years ago Ireland was a beacon for trans rights and gender recognition globally - I know the Leader was a part of that - it is a real shame that this census, the biggest data-gathering exercise in the State, will not offer an opportunity for trans people and non-binary people to be seen, affirmed and heard this time around. I hope that will be changed for the next census. One of the biggest things on which we will lose out in this regard relates to an issue on which some of us who support our trans friends and family have spoken, namely, proper access to healthcare. If the census does not provide data in respect of how many people will need access to this healthcare, how will we ever fully address the need for healthcare and identify what is missing? I encourage Members to read a brilliant article written by Aoife Martin and published on thejournal.ie about trans people and their lives and just to think about the damage one's words, or even sometimes one's actions, are doing. Trans people's lives are worth living and they are worth living with dignity.

I put on record once again that I and many people here and in the Labour Party celebrate and stand in solidarity with the trans community worldwide and want to see them thrive as their true authentic selves.

I want to quickly raise the fact that the repeal review, that is, the review of the operation of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, is closing tomorrow. Some 400 people are still travelling for care. Among the issues the Labour Party will be putting into its submission, and a matter raised by several of our members, is that of extending the 12-week limit on access for people diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities. We need wide local coverage. There are still counties in which people cannot access abortion healthcare. We need safe access zones. Of course, the Labour Party is supporting the legislation brought forward by Senator Gavan. It is disappointing that we do not have a date for when the Government's legislation will be brought forward. We need to tackle rogue agencies. Telemedicine is so important. Yesterday, England made it a permanent option. Telemedicine expands patient choices, supports reproductive healthcare and is safe and effective. We need to deal with the three-day wait. It is infantilising and does not reflect the reality of any other medical care. A person knows his or her own body and mind. The three-day wait has to go. I encourage all Members to please make a submission online. It takes less than 15 minute. The Labour Party will be making a submission.

I agree with colleagues. Senator Mullen's choice of phrase when he referred to "so-called transgender rights" was inappropriate.

Come on, Senator. That is rubbish.

Senator Malcolm Byrne without interruption.

In a republic-----

Surgery on underage kids to change their life-----

Senator Mullen-----

That is some people's definition.

With respect, in a republic-----

We all have views in respect of authentic human rights.

In a republic-----

Senator Malcolm Byrne without interruption.

On a point of order, I ask that politicians in here stop trying to close down debate by stigmatising each other. It is obvious to everybody that we all agree with authentic human rights.

That is a speech. The Senator has made his point of order.

There are controversial issues here that some people would regard as rights and others regard as potentially problematic. There needs to be an openness and respect for each other's views.

People's rights are not up for debate-----

Senators Malcolm Byrne and Gavan have never called for an open debate-----

They are not up for debate.

That is another point of order.

It is very important in this House that we do not have people's rights and existence up for debate. That is not what we are here for.

The Senator should think about the unborn in that context.

I call Senator Malcolm Byrne. There should be no further interruptions.

I assume the Leas-Cathaoirleach will be generous in time in light of the interruptions. Let us be very clear that within a republic, all citizens and residents deserve to be treated equally and with respect. That applies-----

Hear, hear. We all-----

Senator Mullen, no more interruptions.

-----agree with that. Stop the nonsense.

That applies-----

-----those who are not born-----

-----to those who are transgender and choose to define themselves in that way. By the way, as far as I am concerned, there were no efforts on my part to shut down free speech. In fact, the interruptions were more a reflection of an effort-----

Please do not provoke further reaction.

There is an attempt to stigmatise people who-----

I wish to move on to-----

Senator Mullen, please do not continue. Senator Malcolm Byrne, without interruption. I ask the Senator to please stop reverting to the matter.

I do not intend to. I wish to raise the issue of Garda numbers. I have raised previously the fact that the Garda numbers for the Wexford division stood, at the end of November last year, at 341. At the end of February, the total Garda numbers in the Wexford division fell to 334. The reason I raised this matter specifically is because of the increased traffic at Rosslare as a result of Brexit, with more pressure on customs and immigration. It is great that Rosslare is busier, but it means that gardaí from the Wexford division are being deployed to serve a national and European port. The Garda numbers in the division have continued to fall. We now also have a very significant challenge, obviously, with large numbers of people arriving from Ukraine into Ireland. Support is needed at Rosslare from the Garda in terms of processing applications. We need to look at Garda numbers within the port. Officers should not just be coming from the Wexford division. I ask the Leader to please consider writing to the Garda Commissioner and Minister in respect of this matter.

The other local issue that I wish to raise and have raised before relates to the Ahare river in north Wexford. This is at Castletown, which is just outside Gorey. It is subject to regular flooding. It is an issue that has been raised by Councillor Joe Sullivan and many locals. It has been with the Office of Public Works for quite some time. There have been reports and so on which have shown that every summer it is guaranteed-----

The Senator has had his injury time now.

Every summer it is guaranteed-----

I appreciate the Leas-Cathaoirleach's indulgence. Every summer and winter, the river is nearly always guaranteed to flood. I would appreciate if the Leader would raise the matter with-----

I thank the Senator, who certainly got his injury time. Hopefully we can have Senator Buttimer without interruption.

That might not happen. I propose that we as a House send a message of congratulations to the Tory MP, Jamie Wallis, who came out as transgender yesterday. On this very important International Transgender Day of Visibility, I, on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, say that we stand strong and firm in support of our transgender family and friends. It is important that we send that message today to Jamie Wallis, that we, as fellow parliamentarians, support her in her journey. I wish Jamie every joy, love and happiness in that journey. I ask that we have a debate on transgender issues as a matter of urgency, given that we have lacunas and deficits that need to be addressed from a State perspective.

In light of An Taoiseach’s interview this morning on Claire Byrne’s radio show, I ask that we have a real debate on energy security, the cost of energy and energy supply. Notwithstanding the Taoiseach’s comments where he said that Government cannot react weekly to rising costs, Government can and should intervene. I ask that we have a whole-of-government debate next week in the context of the rising cost of energy. We might get an update as to how our negotiations with the European Union regarding the VAT are being held and how they are getting on. It is important that we give clarity and certainty to people.

I finish on this point: today is very important. It is world International Transgender Day of Visibility. As parliamentarians and leaders in society, in a republic and in a democracy, it is critical that we send a very strong message to transgender people that we stand with them and will walk with them.

Our 2022 census is due to take place this Sunday, 3 April. The census is a powerful tool in the making of public policy, giving an in-depth nation-wide snapshot of who is living in Ireland and how they are living. From housing to childcare, taxes to health services, up-to-date and accurate census information clearly displays the state of the nation, informing Government policy and programmes alike. Thus, it follows that the inaccuracies in the information received obfuscates the reality of the situation on the ground and hinders any possible Government response. While the issue of spoiled census forms in the manner of spoiled ballots is unavailable, it is rather a different thing for the Central Statistics Office, CSO, to direct people to give nonsensical answers on their forms. The instruction to tick both boxes, male and female, when asked to indicate one’s biological sex, for those who do not wish to describe themselves as either one, is not only devoid of reason, but is incompatible with gender theory, the adherence of which are very people the CSO is trying to appease. Gender theorists have, since the 20th century, sought to establish the idea of gender as socially constructed, unfettered and distinct from biological sex. Everyone has a sex and everyone has a gender. One cannot choose one’s sex, but one can choose one’s gender. Such is the maxim of gender theology.

I would have no problem with the CSO putting in a text box in a form where anyone could fill in a gender of their choosing, so long as the essential binary sex options were there. However, it did not think of that. Instead, it scrambled to conjure up some compromise after the forms were printed, resulting in this muddying of our data. The CSO of course knows that this solution makes no sense. It does not care, because when it comes to gender in this country, sense is subservient to sensitivities. Actors and singers have long feared being cancelled. It seems now that our CSO will forever operate under the same fear.

Yesterday, others and I met a group of farm contractors who arrived in Leinster House to outline in stark detail the serious concerns they have about the future of their businesses. They have a number of issues, one of which the price of fuel. Again, to give a stark example to illustrate the huge increase that has taken place in diesel prices in the past couple of years, back in 2020, a litre of diesel cost 54 cent. Last year, the price of that litre of diesel increased to 75 cent. As of yesterday, a litre of diesel now costs €1.35, which is a serious increase. These contractors are very fearful that their work will grind to a halt and their machinery will not leave their yards this spring.

Farm and forestry contractors employ close to 80,000 people and operate on farms the length and breadth of this country. They are an unrecognised power group that have helped to drive Irish farming and food industry. Without them, our farm families would simply not continue to exist. This issue is not just simply about farm contractors; it is about much more than that. It is about the future of farm families, the future of rural Ireland, winter food shortages, the reduction in the national herd, food exports and potential job losses.

I ask the Leader to ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine come before this House in order that we can have a debate specifically on the future of farm contractors and the dangers associated with their not being able to do the work they do.

I wish to raise the bonus payment for healthcare workers. We are still waiting for the final details or an FAQ on it. I know it is very difficult and that there has been a lot of debate on it to decide how it will work when people have sacrificed so much. This was a national and collective effort. I am sure that the things being thought about include the length of time people worked. I think especially of the people at the beginning of the pandemic who really stepped into the unknown, with the lack of PPE, the suboptimal conditions and no vaccination on the horizon. Then we have to consider people who volunteered versus people who were employed. We need to give consideration to the volunteers who also worked in a healthcare or clinical environment, most especially the community swabbers, who were a critical part of our response, working in places such as temporary structures and army tents, rain, hail or shine. They did not do it for the thanks, but sometimes you give gratitude anyway. I am thinking of somebody I know personally who did community swabbing. She was officially hired as an employee only in May 2021 but had worked as a volunteer since the very start and stepped into the brink, as I said. I am incredibly grateful to her for doing that. We need to consider that group of people. Even though the recruitment of community swabbers started only in October 2020, they were in those positions long before then. The sooner we have information on this, the better.

I know that the census has been mentioned already but I am not sure the point I am going to make has been mentioned. I met the Romanian ambassador this morning. It is really important that all our new Irish right across the country make sure they record their status and identity and let us know they are here. In planning the curriculum, for example, if we know there are more than 100,000 Romanians here, it is more likely we may have Romanian as a leaving certificate subject on the curriculum. It is important that people are proud of where they came from and that they put that down on the census form. It is all completely anonymous, and it is really important that people acknowledge and appreciate that fact. This is about planning for new communities, acknowledging where we need new schools and hospitals, acknowledging that where there are more ageing populations we need to provide for them and that where there are younger populations we need to provide for them and acknowledging where we have seen massive increases in population. The Leader will be familiar with places in Fingal, Meath and so on that have seen huge increases in population that we do not really know about until the census data are made available. It is the only way we know this stuff is happening. We have had an extra year because of Covid, so it is six years since the last census. It is vital that everybody right across the nation plays their part and answers the question on the form in as much detail and with as much honesty as they possibly can in order that we can all, as a State, provide for better services for the people living here. That is my main point. I encourage everyone right across the country to fill in the census form as accurately and as honestly as they can in every respect.

Second, I wish the Trinity by-election candidates who are still in the race well. I think seven of them have been eliminated at this stage. It shows the power of transfers. I think it will go down to the wire in the end. As of that result, I will no longer be the most recent addition back to this House. I look forward to meeting and congratulating whoever gets there.

Finally, I wish to highlight that I cycle a lot and that I used never to have punctures but that I have had four in the past four months. There is an awful lot of broken glass out there. Can everybody just be considerate? The local authorities need to step up their game but, equally, can people not keep breaking glass all over the place? It is very damaging to all those people who are trying to do their bit for active travel and trying to get around the place. We need a debate on that.

Thank you, Senator Horkan. Indeed, on behalf of the House, thank you for your excellent temporary chairpersonship of the Seanad the other day.

This morning I rise to inform the House that Quartermaster Sergeant Michael Tighe passed away yesterday. Michael Tighe was one of the Jadotville heroes who have been neglected and ignored by this State for the past 65 or 70 years. It breaks my heart to think of Michael going to his final resting place still unrecognised by the State. Michael was one of the three people who attended Enda Kenny's office some years back and convinced him to have An Bonn Jadotville. It was a campaign medal awarded to all those who served in Jadotville. Contrast the treatment of Irish veterans with those of the United States. In Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, Corporal Patrick "Bob" Gallagher's eternal remains rest. Fifty-five years ago yesterday, Corporal Gallagher gave his life in the Vietnam war. So highly did the United States think of his gallantry that they have named a ship after him, the USS Patrick Gallagher. Just a few headstones away from Corporal Gallagher lie the eternal remains of Private Billy Kedian. Billy was in Lebanon when the unit he was with came under mortar attack. In order to save his comrades' lives, he threw his body at the door of the building they were in and he lost his life. Billy has never been recognised by this State - never. I could go on and name the people who saved John O'Connor, who was shot the day he arrived in Lebanon. While he was severely wounded and dying, Dick O'Hanlon, Martin Fahy and two others went, under fire, to his rescue, carried him to a medical aid centre and saved his life. They have never been recognised. May those who have prevented medals being awarded to these heroes hang their heads in shame forever because they owe these men a damn sight more than they have ever given them. Our Defence Forces have always been treated badly in this country, and today I am rightly angry about the way we treat our heroes. We treat all Defence Forces personnel badly, but our heroes particularly.

I rise to raise a number of issues. The census has been referred to. Question 23 on the census form relates to carers. Whether you are a paid permanent carer or a carer in the home, you are asked how many hours you contribute to caring for your loved ones. It is really important that people answer that question.

Saturday, 2 April, is World Autism Awareness Day, and the theme for this year is inclusion in the workplace and challenges and opportunities in a post-pandemic world. It is a really important theme and something we should all be aware of, especially this Saturday, 2 April.

Finally, I wish to raise the fact that Mental Health Ireland is holding a "hello" campaign on Thursday, 7 April. It is encouraging people to say hello and "How are you?" to their neighbours and to people they meet on the street and to listen very carefully to the answers. So many people out there are suffering. Limerick Mental Health Association is hosting its own campaign on the same day. It is encouraging community groups to hold coffee mornings, get-togethers and walks, asking people to join in and to be compassionate towards others. They are also encouraging schools to have colour days. It is a matter of talking to people in a humane way and communicating with people. The main point is to say hello. The campaign asks people to listen to the answers they receive back.

The community whence Senator Keogan and I come has been blighted by a number of tragic deaths of young people by suicide recently, so Senator Byrne raises a very important point.

As the previous Senator mentioned, Saturday is World Autism Awareness Day, as designated by the UN. The theme this year is "Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities...". That is particularly important in Ireland because we have the lowest rate of employment for people with disabilities in Europe. It is something we have to be far better at and we need to reach out and understand. That is an important message we could give from here.

I congratulate the Fórsa for its excellent symposium yesterday, which president Michael Smyth organised, in relation to 20 years of service of the school completion programme. It was wonderful to attend and listen to the voices of young people whose lives have been positively impacted by participating in the programme over those years. It showed the transformative power of education to expand the realms of possibility for students, as well as the ripple effect in society and the effect it has of transforming our society. Every young person in school should have the opportunity to participate in such a programme or in a home school liaison programme, if needed. We saw the power of it and well done to them.

The other item I want to mention relates to the circular economy Bill, which I welcome, and specifically the use of CCTV to detect and deter illegal dumping and littering. Every county has a problem with this and in Kildare we spend more than €1 million every year on gathering litter. We have a particular problem around the Bog of Allen and the Curragh. Around the Curragh, we also have a problem with illegal encampment, which starts around this time every year. It does not have the title of a national park, even though I have been fighting for that since I came in here, but the Curragh, because of its unique archeology, heritage and geology, needs extra supports and funding to tackle illegal encampments and illegal dumping.

I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to come into the House in relation to the energy situation. Where are we going? How will we meet our targets by 2030? Where are Coillte and the ESB going and what will they do? They are the two big energy players here and it is nearly impossible to see what their plans are. A large number of farmers want to get together and to know where they can enter the grid. They need to speak to the ESB and Coillte. It is important to have a debate here on that.

I am disappointed with the increase in the standing charge. It is a retrograde step by the ESB to increase the charge by such a high percentage. Not alone do we have that charge, we also have the PSO levy. If you apply for a connection to a house, you have to pay for that connection. If there is a disconnection, you have to pay for it. If there is a reconnection, you pay for it. You have to pay for all of those charges. Why is there such a thing as a standing charge? The standing charge or the PSO should entitle customers in some way to get retrofitting done to their houses or maybe that annual charge could be increased but would involve concessions for householders, allowing them to offset some of their carbon footprint. At a time when the ESB is making €200 million profit and gives a commission to the Government of €126 million, the increase to the standing charge by such a huge percentage is an area we have to have a debate on in the not-too-distant future. I ask that the Leader bring the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, into the House to debate those issues.

I raise our national sport, the GAA, and how a percentage of those games are on pay-per-view platforms. We do an awful lot to support the GAA and are all actively involved in it at local level, in particular. To have a scenario whereby some games will only be available on a pay-per-view package, whether it is Sky or whoever, is inappropriate. Ireland is a sporting country. It is so involved in this and to have your county on a package that you would have to go to the local pub to watch, in some cases, makes no logical sense.

I propose a debate about how we fund sport with the Minister of State with responsibility for sport. He should come to the House. We should acknowledge that we do so much to fund these sporting organisations; because of that, these games should be on platforms like RTÉ so everyone can watch them. Unfortunately, if we go down this line, it will become nothing more than an elitist organisation and we will lose the focus of that community spirit which has made it so great over the last century.

Other Members have mentioned the census, which is coming up on Sunday. It is an exciting opportunity in relation to the time capsule that has been included. I congratulate the CSO on that idea. I am not sure it exists anywhere else in the world. When I looked at the 1911 census in relation to my grandparents, it was fantastic to find their households recorded. I encourage people to think about what they will put into that time capsule. I heard somebody on the radio suggesting they might record the name of their pets, for example. The Irish Thalidomide Association is asking people to write the word "Thalidomide" into it and underline it as a mark of the fact that that is an unresolved issue. It is an exciting time and it is important for people to record their personal circumstances confidentially but for the benefit of our statisticians.

Agus muid ag labhairt ar an daonáireamh Dé Domhnach seo chugainn, an 3 Aibreán, tá sé an-tábhachtach do dhaoine i bpobal labhartha na Gaeilge. Is iad na daoine a labhraíonn Gaeilge gach lá, go minic, gach seachtain nó pé rud é. Ba cheart dóibh a mhaíomh sa daonáireamh go labhraíonn siad Gaeilge ionas go mbeadh a fhios agus eolas againn faoi phobal labhartha na Gaeilge agus an méid daoine a labhraíonn Gaeilge gach lá nó go minic. Muna chuireann siad an t-eolas sin sa daonáireamh ní bheidh an t-eolas sin ag an Stát. Caithimid an t-eolas sin a bheith againn ionas go mbeadh an Stát in ann gach rud a chur in áit do dhaoine a labhraíonn Gaeilge gach lá. Sa bhealach sin beidh gach rud ann dóibh chun an teanga a chothú. Molaim do phobal labhartha na Gaeilge a mhaíomh sa daonáireamh go labhraíonn siad Gaeilge más sin a dhéanann siad.

I will point out two events that are happening. First, my office in Ballinasloe is holding a coffee morning in support of people from Ukraine. It will be a fundraiser for the Irish Red Cross. Everyone is welcome to come along but there are many ways for people to volunteer or get involved as well as giving financial donations.

Second, a fantastic event called Headstrong is being run by Caltra GAA in Caltra community centre on Friday evening, tomorrow, at 8 p.m. Sir Stevo, aka Farmer Michael, will be there and it will be a light-hearted way for teenagers and their folks to come along and engage. We also have sports star Michael Meehan, whose family probably single-handedly propelled Galway to amazing heights when it comes to football.

Completely. Michael will be there. It is in association with Ahascragh and Fohenagh men's and ladies', Caltra Cuans, Caltra and District Athletics Club and St. Cuan's United. It is a great way to engage at a local level, particularly around well-being and the pressures on teenagers after lockdown over the last two years. I would love to see this model of bringing role models and celebrities in sports and comedy together with sports psychologists. We have Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh, who is with Galway GAA and also commentates on Virgin Media, to talk with young people about what has been affecting them over the last year or two.

It is to pay tribute to them and welcome people along. It is open to people who do not play sport at all. Not everyone is into team sports. Young people are into lots of different things. It is open for people between 11 and 18 years of age. They can pop along and have a laugh with Sir Stevo tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. in Caltra community centre.

Before I say any more I want to quote the Republican Governor of Utah who said about the transgender community last week that, "Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few." It is important to put on the record that trans rights are human rights.

Today I want to speak about the decarbonisation of our energy infrastructure and the importance of energy security. We know that our power system is undergoing an unprecedented transformation in order to decarbonise. However, the war in Ukraine has brought into sharp focus why it is so important not just to decarbonise our energy system from a climate perspective but also the importance of having indigenous energy security. One way in which we can help that transition is through demand reduction.

The lunacy of inviting data centres into this country with no strategy whatsoever for how our grid was going to deal with the number of data centres is coming home to roost for some Government parties which were their biggest cheerleaders. This week, I welcome the call from MaREI for a moratorium on data centres. It also outlined other ways in which we could reduce demand on the grid and it is not the only one calling for a greater focus on demand reduction.

Last week, the Committee on Environment and Climate Action heard from the Demand Response Association of Ireland. It outlined how demand response unlocks flexibility in how and where we use electricity and turns consumption into a tool in operating the power system. It is through demand response that we can balance the grid without the need for additional infrastructure. That is why it was upsetting to hear from it that it appears that demand reduction in the poor cousin of climate action. While the Taoiseach said on radio today there is a big focus on demand reduction, at the committee we heard there have been no meetings between the Government and demand reduction organisations. The demand reduction strategy will expire very soon and there does not seem to be any impetus to introduce a new one. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on the importance of demand reduction, given the current crunch around energy security.

At this juncture, it would be appropriate to welcome to the young people to the Gallery. The future is yours, so it is good that you are here to listen. You have come in at a very apt moment because I now invite the Leader to respond to the issues raised. There were a large number of issues raised, and I think the Leader's mental agility will be well tested today.

It will keep me on my toes. I want to join An Leas-Chathaoirleach in welcoming the visitors today. I do not think they appreciate how lovely it is to see them here because we have been very lonely for the past two years. We have walked around without even being able to talk to one another because there was so much social distancing and fear of being caught by our colleagues who mind us so well. They are very welcome and I thank them for coming. A number of colleagues have asked for an energy debate-----

Deputy Joe Flaherty was also with them.

I thank the Deputy. A debate on energy has been requested by a number of colleagues, namely, Senators Burke, Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne and Boylan. We have to talk about a variety of issues, not just security of supply but also rising energy costs and the impact not just on households but our businesses and farm contractors. The farming community is a wider community. I will arrange that debate. Next week's schedule has already been completed, but I will arrange for debate the week after Easter.

A number of colleagues spoke about the census, which is welcome given that it is a year late. The collection of data is incredibly important for mining so that we can ascertain what kind of future policies we have and, in particular, what kind of services we have and where those services should go.. A number of people raised particular issues with it which I will touch on. In response to Senator Ward, the stress in our household regarding what we are going to put in that particular section is causing no end of conversation at our dinner table every evening. It is novel and allows us to reflect on the past and where people in our families were 100 years ago. It also invites us to think about the advances in 100 years for the people who will come after us and what we are doing now in order that they have a safe environment to live in. It is lovely. Even if it only prompts conversations at home, it is welcome.

Other colleagues have reference the oddity, if that is the nicest way I can put it, of the CSO and its officials asking people, when assigning a gender, to pick one, other or both in terms of male or female. It would have been perfectly simple to put the categories of male, female, transgender, non-binary, gender neutral, pangender or agender on the form and allow people to tick a box, without causing consternation, upset or any difficulties for anybody. I agree it is very odd and unfortunate and we have to make sure that we try to make sure it does not happen when we gather the next round of data in four years' time.

A number of people touched on a dividing issue, which should not be divisive because human rights and treating people with dignity is something to which we should all aspire. Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. I was struck by something Senator Mullen said, namely, that everybody should matter equally. That is absolutely true. Everybody should be treated equally with dignity and respect, regardless of the form they take.

We will have debates in this country on the provision of services, in particular healthcare services, disrespect, lack of equality and the sometimes repugnant nature of the way people are treated with a lack of dignity in this country. We can certainly have that debate. We cannot have a debate on differences of opinion without respect for the people at the centre of the debate. Senator Hoey said it perfectly when she remarked that just because we might not agree with somebody's form, decisions or choices in life - we all know most of them are not choices - we do not get to disrespect people's right to be who they are, be visible in terms of who they are, be treated with respect and be acknowledged. Many of our friends and people in our communities are treated with disregard, disrespect and downright disingenuous behaviour by some people. To be honest, it is not good enough.

Senator Horkan asked for a debate on trans issues and the delivery of services for trans people. It is within that debate that we can have and share our differences of opinion, but we cannot disrespect human beings who are trying to live their lives with dignity and expect us to support them with dignity regardless of whether we agree with their choices. That is something that should be said today. Senator Horkan also welcomed the announcement from Mr. Jamie Wallis, MP yesterday, which must have been incredibly difficult for him. It was incredibly brave, given the backlash we see against people in the trans community. I want to put on the record that I hope, as parliamentarians, that we all support his announcement, and continue to support what is a minority community in Ireland and around the world and treat people with respect.

Senator Dolan spoke, as she always does, with such pride about her local initiative, and I wish her every success with it.

Senator Lombard spoke about the GAA. He said some games are being ring-fenced for pay-per-view packages, which is a real shame. A number of years ago certain sports events were ring-fenced by the then Minister for sport to make sure they could never be pay-per-view. We need to have that conversation again and I will bring that matter to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, and will ask him to come to the House for a debate.

Senator O'Loughlin spoke about World Autism Awareness Day, as did Senator Maria Byrne. Inclusion in the workplace is something that I do not think gets enough attention. We have a 6% target within State agencies and authorities, yet we have exactly the same recruitment mechanisms and tests for people of all abilities. As we all know, a tremendous amount of people are on the spectrum and suffer from Asperger's syndrome, ADHD or any of a list of challenges. They could not possibly go through a normal interview process or test in the same way as people in their whole of their ability could. It is incumbent on the State to make sure that we reflect the target of 6% in how we recruit people. I encourage people to make representations on that basis if they can.

Senator O'Loughlin also spoke about the school completion programme and the symposium held by Fórsa yesterday. I congratulate it on that.

Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the census question on carers, something I forgot to mention when I spoke about it. It is important that we gather information in respect of family carers, most of whom are unseen, in order that we can respond appropriately.

Senator Craughwell, in quite an emotive contribution spoke about his passion for the Defence Forces and the very sad passing of Michael Tighe. I want to put on the record of the House that we will send our deepest sympathies and condolences to Mr. Tighe's family. Senator Horkan spoke about the Trinity by-election. We are all political animals and we are probably all refreshing our Twitter feeds every ten or 20 seconds to see the latest news on the vote. I thank all of the candidates for applying and for partaking in democracy in Ireland. I wish the remaining candidates well. I look forward to welcoming one of them as a new Senator to the House next week.

Senator Currie spoke about the bonus payments for healthcare workers. As only we can do in Ireland, we take what is a wonderful initiative and make a hash of it before it finally gets awarded. I hope a decision is reached very soon and that it is a fair and just decision that genuinely reflects the people Senator Currie spoke about this morning. They volunteered through nothing else except good community spirit and goodwill. We should look after everybody who minded us and served us so well during the 24 months of the pandemic.

Senator Gallagher spoke about farm contractors and sought a debate which I will organise. Senator Buttimer asked for a debate on trans issues and I will organise it in the coming weeks. Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about Garda numbers specific to the Wexford division. I suggest he writes to the Garda Commissioner and perhaps the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the basis that local gardaí are being used at a national port. Obviously the port has increased traffic and throughput because of Brexit. Perhaps it should be a separate assignment for gardaí.

Senator Hoey spoke about the review of the repeal legislation and the closure date tomorrow. I look forward to having this debate in the coming weeks once we have the review. Senator Carrigy spoke about the success in his neck of the woods, and obviously it is because he championed it, of the silent streets for the St. Patrick's Day parade. It is heartening to hear other parades such as that in New York will take on the initiative and look at it next year. This will be very good.

Senator Gavin spoke about the safe access zone legislation that will come to the House next Thursday. I hope that it passes and that there will not be a lengthy wait before it goes to the Dáil. It is something we genuinely all need.

Senator Malcolm Byrne opened the debate speaking about the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, and energy costs. We will arrange a debate the week after Easter. Arising from our contributions on that date we might collectively write to the CRU with regard to the standing charge increases that are multiples of inflation and keep a close eye on the increases we have seen announced by Bord Gáis, Electric Ireland, Energia and all of the other service providers in recent weeks. There is no doubt international prices are increasing but the prices being reflected locally are nowhere close to the prices quoted on the international markets. We need to keep a very close eye on it. I will organise the debate as soon as I can.

I thank the Leader for the response. I need have had no concerns. Earlier, with the Leader, I welcomed some young people to the Gallery. I have been informed by Senator Horkan they are from Moyne Community School and are accompanied by Deputy Joe Flaherty. They are very welcome. They are my neighbours. I served in local government in Cavan with the school principal. If it is not the current principal it was the former principal but I believe it is the current principal.

Order of Business agreed to.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 1.04 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 1.15 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 1.04 p.m. and resumed at 1.15 p.m.
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