The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of the proposal for a Council recommendation on the conversion of hryvnia bank notes into the currency of host member states for the benefit of persons fleeing the war in Ukraine, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government; No. 3, statements on the current situation regarding Covid-19, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude at 2.30 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed five minutes, the contributions of all Senators not to exceed four minutes each, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, Garda Síochána (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill 2021 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government; No. 5, motion regarding proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a collaboration platform to support the functioning of joint investigation teams and amending Regulation (EU) No. 2018/1726, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to conclude at 4.20 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed five minutes, the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes each, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 6, Private Members' business, Defence (Restriction on Use of Certain Titles) Bill 2021 – Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 7, Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and to conclude at 8.30 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each, and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
First, we need to acknowledge the unusual and wonderful experience we had this morning in the Dáil Chamber, where we had a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I pay compliment to our Cathaoirleach who attended and the Ceann Comhairle. It was an emotional occasion that captured the Ireland’s feeling about Ukrainians and their coming to Ireland and the need for us to do more. As a society and a people, we need to do what we can to help Ukrainians in their hour of need.
I compliment the President of Ukraine on his absolutely wonderful address. It was powerful and emotional. Given the pressure that man is under, it is simply amazing he found time to give such a wonderful performance of a speech. He captured the hearts and souls of the Irish people with his performance. If one listens to social media or anyone else, it was a wonderful display by a man under considerable pressure. It is important this House acknowledges that and the wonderful contribution. We are behind the Ukrainian people when it comes to the darkest day of their existence.
With regard to other, more mundane matters, we need to broaden our debate about social media platforms and the control they have in our society. We have considerable issues when it comes to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms and how regulated or unregulated they are.
I speak about young children in particular and the need for so-called time on the tablet. It is becoming an epidemic in many places. Many kids get up in the morning and the first thing they want is technology. They want to know where the iPad or phone is. We are all probably in that circle in our households but a debate is required about how we will make sure, going forward, our kids can interact with each other and with society rather than just interacting on social media platforms. As children get older, there is the issue of how those social media platforms can be policed to make sure children are not being groomed and other unfortunate issues are not happening.
It is important we have a good, honest debate about how we are going to teach our children and society about the hazards of social media and the so-called technology. It has wonderful benefits. I spoke last week about dyslexia services; technology is part of that circle making sure people can read, write and develop appropriate learning skills. There is an issue about how much screen time is appropriate, however.
I join colleagues in extending thanks to the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle and particularly to all the staff of the Houses for facilitating today's very important address by the President of Ukraine. The solidarity that was shown by the Members of both Houses reflects the solidarity of the people of this country. The scenes we are seeing in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine are just horrific. We need to continue to ensure that those who are responsible will be held to account.
I raise the question of higher education funding again. We are coming close to the anniversary of the publication of the Cassells report. We have not yet seen the publication of the European Commission review which the Department commissioned. It is not going to tell us anything we do not know. It is going to tell us that our higher education funding system is in crisis and that institutions are struggling to provide the basic services for students and researchers. It is essential this year that we address the question of core funding as well as the SUSI grant reform. While I would favour a cut in student fees in an ideal world, there is a fear that if there was such a cut, the money lost to the institutions would not be made up by the Exchequer. We have to ensure that the core funding grant issue is addressed. The Minister, Deputy Harris, said that it would have been addressed in 2021. That has not been the case. I have called for a debate on higher education funding. We have discussed the matter at the education committee. Nearly every witness who has come before that committee has said that priority has to be given to investing in core funding and reform of the SUSI grant scheme. A cut to student fees will not benefit the most disadvantaged students because about 42% of new entrants do not have to pay fees anyway as they are in receipt of a student grant. We have to ensure that the student grant is adequate. I ask that we have a debate on the future of higher education funding.
I hope colleagues will join me in extending congratulations to four students from Gorey Community School, Caoimhe Crean, Caoimhe Horan, Eoin Kelly and Pádraig Kinsella, who won the 2022 certified Irish Angus schools competition. They explored the environmental, ethical and economic benefits of the certified Irish Angus breed. The interesting thing is that none of those four students come from a farming background. They have an understanding of the breed and a love of agriculture. It would be appropriate for this House to extend our congratulations to them.
Indeed we will. We would like to invite them up here to visit our Seanad and hear some of our debates on agriculture.
I might send them to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett's farm as well.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle on the presentation we received from President Zelenskyy. We stand with Ukraine.
The HSE is once again in the public eye as a result of plans to return greater decision-making abilities to regionally based authorities rather than top-level managers. The plan of the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is to set up six regional health authorities. If this sounds familiar, it might be because we had regional health authorities 17 years ago. They were done away with and replaced by the HSE as per the design of the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Micheál Martin. I hope that in another 17 years, centralisation is not tabled as a brand new solution to the systemic issue of bloat and bureaucracy which plagues our health system.
More light needs to be shone on the HSE than perhaps the Department is willing to shed. Monday saw coverage of an unreleased 2019 report which showed unsafe and unacceptable treatment in emergency care departments of nine separate HSE hospitals. Some 50% or more of patients spent at least one night in the emergency department on a trolley before getting a bed or being discharged. In at least one hospital they found patients spending up to ten nights on trolleys. The report, Independent Review of Unscheduled Care Performance, was led by Professor Frank Keane, the former president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. It addressed issues of overcrowding, saying that the dignity, privacy and safety of patients on trolleys need attention. Perhaps more worrying are the findings regarding leadership, staff and the communication between them as well as pervasive negative work practices. Hospital staff did not always know who was in charge. The adequacy of executive leadership and operational groups gave rise to concern and out-of-hours executive leadership commonly relied on tight rotas, often on a goodwill basis, which could promote burnout and become unsustainable. Wards containing patients with a range of illnesses meant consultants and nurses were constantly moving around the building to find their patients. The policy is any bed, anytime, anywhere, including mixed gender wards.
Taken all together, it paints a stark picture of a healthcare service which has consistently fallen far below the standard expected of it, and whose senior management lacks any appetite for meaningful reform. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has had enough on his plate during the Covid pandemic, but now is the time to be proactive rather than reactive, and to create lasting change. I hope we do not stop short of seeing it through.
In light of this morning's historic, powerful and emotive address from President Zelenskyy and at a time of increasing pressure on homeowners, businesses and farmers, it is crystal clear we must do everything we can to starve Russia from its fossil fuel funds. One way we can do that is by increasing our rates of renewable energy production in any way we can. Each of us has a potential role to play in this. It can start very locally, on the rooftops of our homes in towns and villages across Ireland.
I have had a lot of inquiries from homeowners, many of whom are already benefiting from solar PV panels on their homes, asking when they will be able to avail of a payment for the excess energy produced. The answer is from this summer. The specific timing will depend on their billing cycle. Since 15 February, those who are generating excess energy from renewable microgeneration could be accruing credit. Depending on their contract and utility company, payment for excess is set to begin in the coming months. The clean export guarantee will allow customers with registered microgeneration devices to sell any excess electricity back to Ireland's electricity grid in return for payment. Energy companies are currently announcing the tariffs they will offer. This is a win-win for homeowners and renewables. It allows families to reduce utility bills while being paid for excess energy.
People can also avail of the SEAI microgeneration support scheme for domestic users, which opened in February. This offers grants to help to install solar PV panels on homes. I encourage all homeowners to explore whether it might work for them. One barrier which is proving difficult is the current need for planning permission for solar panels on roofs. This is something my Green Party colleagues in the Seanad have worked hard to move along. I hope the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will move quickly to complete the legislative changes needed. There is frustration which I share that similar schemes for non-domestic users such as schools and farms are taking longer. I believe solar energy generated on farms in particular will play a very significant role in our transition away from fossil fuels. I assure my colleagues in the Seanad that the Government is actively working on this issue. The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities will consult on an implementation plan for the clean export premium tariff for larger non-domestic producers later this year. A grant scheme for non-domestic users is due to commence this summer.
In my own constituency, some public representatives have tried to claim the entire policy is failing miserably. This is disappointing and untrue.
We will solve the issue. We have proven we can do it with the domestic scheme. I look forward to hearing the same public representatives herald Green Party policy when payments begin for non-domestic users in the coming months. Finally, I wish the students from Gorey Community College the very best with their Angus calves.
I compliment the Cathaoirleach, the Ceann Comhairle and everyone here in the Oireachtas who organised a very special joint sitting of the Houses. I also compliment the President of Ukraine and offer our unwavering solidarity to the Ukrainian people.
The Minister, Deputy Martin, was here last night to discuss tourism. I did not take the opportunity to welcome the new artists' income scheme that has been announced. A thriving cultural economy is built on the work of people from all backgrounds in our society who have the talent and the means to create art. How do we ensure diversity in that cultural production in the face of rapidly declining incomes and rising property prices and insurance costs? Not only are our artists poor, but they are getting poorer even as the cultural sector becomes more valuable. The harder it is to live as a working artist, the more voices will be excluded from our cultural sector, the more culture will become a playground for people who have money and privilege, and the more it will support the inequalities of our society. The first step towards making our cultural economy thriving and diverse is to make a creative career sustainable. That is why it is very welcome that the Minister and her officials in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media have put in the work needed to deliver an income scheme. It is something for which we have been calling for a number of years. I commend the National Campaign for the Arts in particular on the work it has put in. It is great to see this coming to fruition. I commend the Minister on that.
I note that Tourism Ireland invited Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for greater Manchester, to be a member of a delegation as part of a link-up between Irish cities, Liverpool and Manchester. It is good to see recognition of the importance of the night-time economy in our cities. This is a step change in terms of Government policy and I again commend the Minister, Deputy Martin, on this. We will all have seen reports at the weekend with regard to reform of opening hours and licensing laws. Nightclubs need their own type of licence which is fit for purpose and workable and which will not involve the barriers to entry we see with regard to the pub industry. There were 522 nightclubs in 2000. There are now 85. That shows the importance of the licensing law reform aspect of the work of the Minister, Deputy McEntee. I would welcome a discussion in this House on those issues.
I also compliment the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle on this morning's joint sitting and on their statements in particular. April is sexual assault awareness month. As we know, rape and sexual assault are considered war crimes and breaches of international humanitarian law. Women across Ukraine are grappling with the threat of rape as a weapon of war as growing evidence of sexual violence emerges from areas retaken from retreating Russian forces. The world was horrified on Sunday by a picture taken by the photographer Mikhail Palinchak on a highway approximately 20 km outside of Kyiv in which the bodies of one man and three women were to be seen piled under a blanket. The women were naked and their bodies had partially been burned. These harrowing images add to a mounting body of evidence that summary executions, rape and torture have been used against civilians in areas under Russian control since the Kremlin launched its invasion on 24 February. We heard at first hand from President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, about what is happening on the ground and the realities of the brutal Russian army.
Particularly difficult for many of us to comprehend is the scale of the sexual violence. As Russian troops have withdrawn from towns and suburbs around the capital to refocus their war efforts on the east, women and girls have come forward to tell the police, media and human rights organisations of atrocities they have suffered at the hands of Russian soldiers. Gang rapes and assaults taking place at gunpoint and rapes committed in front of children are among the grim testimonies that have been collected by investigators. The president of La Strada Ukraine, a charity that supports survivors of trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault, has said the charity has received several calls to their emergency hotline from women and girls seeking assistance but that, in most cases, it has been impossible physically to get to them. We know rape is an under-reported crime and stigmatised even in peaceful and normal times, so what we are hearing about now is likely to be merely the tip of the iceberg. There are also reports from one woman, Antonina Medvedchuk, who said that when she woke up to the sound of bombing, her first thought was to get scissors, condoms and contraception. In between the bombs, she would go looking for emergency contraception rather than an emergency first aid kit. We also need to think of the situation of people fleeing to Poland, where reproductive health services are impossible to access. This is coming at women and children in Ukraine from every direction.
We know the trauma caused by the use of rape as a military tactic will lead to deep suffering across Ukrainian society for years to come. Rape, sexual assault and violence never leave you. I know this to be all too true. While there may be remedies in the future via the justice system or international courts for the war crime of rape, this will do little to provide comfort to the women and girls currently facing the reality of rape and sexual violence upon their bodies. Women and children always feel the worst brunt of war and those in Ukraine are no different. During this sexual assault awareness month, I think of the women and girls in Ukraine who are facing the most horrific of circumstances.
I thank the Senator for bringing that important topic to our attention. It requires the international community to come together and give assistance with regard to what has been perpetrated upon the women of Ukraine as a result of war crimes committed by Russian troops, along with any other assistance we can provide.
Like others, I compliment the Cathaoirleach on the excellent leadership he gave this morning in our historic morning in the Houses of the Oireachtas. It was historic for the wrong reasons but it was nevertheless wonderful to see the pride, honesty and sincerity of the Cathaoirleach, the Ceann Comhairle, our Taoiseach and other speakers. We all have to stand with the Ukrainian people. That brings me to the point of now being able to support Ukrainian people here in Ireland on an ongoing basis. I do not believe the numbers that have been mentioned will come, but having said that, there will be 40,000 or 50,000 of them here and we have to do everything possible to make them as comfortable and as happy as they can possibly be.
I heard a really sad story from my own region, although I will not say exactly where. Some Ukrainian people have arrived recently. A man was making a delivery there yesterday morning and there was a little boy of seven crying uncontrollably in the corner. Out of curiosity, this man asked some of the Ukrainian people in charge who could speak English what was wrong. He was told that the little boy's dad had been killed in the war the night before. That struck me and really went to my heart. The particular guy who was doing the delivery was also really struck down by it. It really brings it home to you. These people are under a roof and being looked after here but news can come that will devastate whatever little bit of happiness or ease they have.
We will need more support in this area. I commend what the Government has done to date. Quite a few have been taken in at the Cuisle centre in my own county. The Lions Club in Roscommon and the local people have done great work.
I congratulate a lady called Denyse Campbell who is the new president of the Irish Hotels Federation. She comes from Strokestown and is a well-known lady. She will be a magnificent advocate for the sector, as was the lady who has just left, Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, who was excellent. I wish Ms Campbell well in her tenure as president.
I will comment on this morning's sitting. I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle for organising it. It was a very respectful meeting. We heard the President referring to what is going on in his own country and paid our respects.
I was in an emergency hub in Limerick where 22 people have arrived in recent days, and more are arriving today and tomorrow. The services that are being provided in Dublin are very organised. When people arrive in Dublin Airport, there is a one-stop-shop where they get their personal public service, PPS, numbers and everything else. However, this is not as well organised down the country. This must be raised. The hub I mentioned is being run by St. Munchin's Community Centre and the centre knew where to go to access the services, how to make an appointment for people to get their PPS numbers and how to get their mobile telephones. In addition, the centre is starting English language classes on Thursday. There are many similar hubs in the Limerick area and there should be somebody in place to co-ordinate this fully. In the Radisson Hotel there are almost 200 Ukrainians and they have received many supports, but they wonder whether they will learn English and if somebody is going to look after them. The same support must be given in hubs around the country as is given in Dublin, and that is something I wish to raise.
Finally, there was a good news story in Limerick yesterday when the council took back control of King John's Castle. I thank Shannon Group and Shannon Heritage for minding it for the past 25 years, but it is now back in the rightful ownership of Limerick City and County Council. We look forward to welcoming the many tourists who will visit the castle. It is an historical building right in the heart of the city.
People have been fighting over that castle for hundreds of years and it is interesting to see that the battle continues. I call Senator Horkan.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh.
My apologies, it should be Senator Craughwell.
Okay, that is fine.
The wrong Gerard.
It is now.
I compliment you, a Chathaoirligh, and the Ceann Comhairle on what you organised today and off camera and in a private room downstairs, where you entertained the ambassador and some refugees. Your empathy with people was remarkable, a Chathaoirligh, and I compliment you personally on that. It was wonderful to see.
There have been many fine words about the situation in Ukraine and we have provided some support to the people there. I must say that I agree with my colleague, Deputy Berry. We need to provide what weapons we have to allow them to defend themselves. We have to come to terms with that, and fairly soon.
I cannot let today pass without talking about the United Nations Security Council. We lauded the winning of the seat, which I totally disagree with anyway. The United Nations Security Council is sitting on its hands while, as we were told this morning, 10 million people have been forced to leave their homes in Ukraine. If the United Nations Security Council cannot provide peace and cannot bring about peace enforcement in Ukraine, it is time to scrap that useless waffle shop. We have seen wars all over the world and all we hear are fine words on what needs to be done, but nothing is ever done. We see it on our television screens every day. The United Nations Security Council is a waste of time as long as the permanent members have a veto.
Today, my colleague, Senator Malcolm Byrne, is bringing forward a Bill regarding the restriction of names with respect to the Defence Forces. This is a test for all democrats in this House. The use of the term Óglaigh na hÉireann belongs to only one organisation in this country and I expect to see 100% cross-party support for that. I compliment the Senator on bringing that Bill forward.
Finally, I agree with what Senator Maria Byrne just said. I have had telephone calls from around the country regarding people who have arrived here and, for example, only got a three-month visa. One woman is absolutely petrified she will be gone in three months. The Senator is 100% correct and I thank her for raising it.
Like other Members, I compliment you, a Chathaoirligh, and the Ceann Comhairle on the historic address by President Zelenskyy to the Houses this morning. This all started six weeks ago and it has been horrific to imagine what has happened. I got a 16-year-old into a school and I have somebody else who is getting extra hours for English as an additional language. It is happening on the ground in Ireland. The Irish people, the State and all of us are doing everything we can, but it is an awful pity that all this destruction and wanton viciousness is allowed. We all stand with the people of Ukraine.
I welcome the most senior member of the Colombian Government ever to visit Ireland, the Colombian Vice President, Marta Lucía Ramírez. She is the country's first female vice president as well as its foreign affairs minister. She has been here since Monday and I understand she is flying out tomorrow. I met her yesterday evening. We have an excellent relationship with Colombia and long may that continue and improve. It is worthy of the House to acknowledge her presence in this country.
I wish to make three brief points. Members of the transport committee visited Dublin Airport on Monday to understand the challenges it is going through. It has approximately 600 security staff and needs to increase that to approximately 900. The biggest problem it is having is Garda vetting and what is called enhanced background checks, which involves referring back to another jurisdiction if people have lived out of the State for more than six months. The challenge is the Garda vetting system appears to be quite slow.
There is also an issue with tourism generally in respect of work permits. People in the hospitality sector have told me it is taking them ten months to get people work permits to work in their industry. They are effectively turning away guests because they do not have enough staff to cope with them.
Finally, there is the passports issue. I am still getting, and I am sure this is the case for all Members, endless numbers of passport queries. Sometimes it is the applicants' fault, but a lot of the time it is clogged up in the system. The office could have a screening process where the initial passport application is looked at immediately and, if there is something wrong, it is sent back that day, instead of it sitting in a pile for days or weeks and, when it is reached, it has to go back to the start of the process again. It is very frustrating. I know the office is doing its best but we need to improve it.
I commend you, a Chathaoirligh, on your speech this morning in the Lower House.
It will come as no surprise that I am again raising the secondment of Dr. Tony Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer, to the public health professorship in Trinity College Dublin. This morning, the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, said on "Morning Ireland" that he did not sign off on it. Last night, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath, said he was not involved. He said it was unusual. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said he did not sign off on it. Both he and the Minister for Health did not sign off on it, but the reality is somebody did sign off on it. The question that needs to be answered is, why are we, the taxpayers, paying the salary of the outgoing CMO in Trinity College Dublin and paying the salary of the new Chief Medical Officer? Why is Trinity College Dublin not paying the salary for the newly created position?
This morning, the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, added to the confusion and muddied the waters by his intervention in the interview. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have nothing to do with it, according to themselves. As I said yesterday and in making my remarks again today, this is not personal. I commend the role Dr. Holohan played. I accept the points made by the Minister for Health this morning. He said we are coming off the back of a pandemic and we must learn to deliver better outcomes in the delivery of healthcare in case of a future pandemic. However, there is something not right when this situation is allowed to happen. The three pertinent Ministers, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, had nothing to say or do with regard to signing off on the role. The Cathaoirleach and the acting Leader will agree it is unusual that a person who is being seconded is being paid by the State and then the State is hiring a Chief Medical Officer. I have another important question. Is the position for one year, two years or five years, and will the new Chief Medical Officer be in place for one year, two years or five years? In fairness to the House, we need answers, and that should happen as a matter of priority.
I, too, pay tribute to your comments this morning, a Chathaoirligh. We were all very affected by that family being brought to the House, their horrendous lived experience and those they have had to leave behind.
I welcome the announcement yesterday of a basic income for artists and pay tribute to the work of the Minister, Deputy Martin, and, in particular, the National Campaign for the Arts which has worked on this tirelessly for many years. A basic income is no substitute for addressing the bigger and more important issue of decent wages in the arts. However, it is a very important step in terms of ensuring that there is a safety net for artists. We have questions about how the scheme will work and will direct them at a later date.
In welcoming the basic income for artists, I do so with mixed feelings because today 21 artists in Richmond Road Studios in Dublin 3 are facing the prospect of eviction from their studios as of tomorrow. They have been in the studios for 20 years. They are an amazing set of artists engaged in visual art, photography, painting, installation work and other art forms. They received a letter two weeks ago to say that the building of which they are tenants is in receivership and they will be kicked out. In fact, they are now currently trespassing. I want to make a direct appeal to the receivers, Kroll, to engage with the tenants. There are works that are valuable to the artists, if not necessarily financially valuable, and equipment in the building and we do not want an ugly situation to arise whereby the locks are changed. To date, Kroll has failed to engage with the tenants despite our many pleas. There is a bigger issue here with regard to how the Government is securing art space in Dublin and across the country. We have seen a continual hollowing out of arts space. The Government needs to put in place finance and other resources to ensure that arts groups can survive and thrive in this city and country.
I would also like to join with Members of the House in commending the Cathaoirleach on the speech he delivered at the historic joint session of the Houses this morning. He did this House proud, as did the Ceann Comhairle of the Lower House. The quality of all speeches made us proud to be part of the democratic world and parliamentarians.
The debacle which immediately preceded this day, when it was understood that an invitation had been extended to the Russian ambassador, had the potential to ruin a very special and poignant day. In light of that, I ask for a review of the protocols, practices and procedures around such invitations. We should never afford additional privileges to people in such an unhelpful situation. It could have sent out the wrong signal. It took diplomacy too far and could have backfired. Luckily, it did not and a diplomatic stand-off was averted at the last minute. It might have caused some people not to turn up this morning. Thankfully, all's well that ends well.
I have reliable information on the names of the companies in Ireland still trading in Russia. I ask the Acting Leader to assist us in ascertaining the exact names of these large firms, which are publicly listed companies. That would be the first step. I would suggest the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs invites in the CEOs of those companies to explain themselves. There are two sides to every story. A lot of explaining has to be done in light of what we are witnessing and the carnage and barbaric acts carried out by Russia. If the Acting Leader can assist us with an officially confirmed list of the firms concerned we will inquire further into this. We owe it to the people of Ukraine.
I too would like to congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his contribution to the joint session of the Houses this morning and on inviting President Zelenskyy to address the Houses of the Oireachtas. I would also like to congratulate the Taoiseach on his contribution and his overview of the scenario. We are all at one with Ukraine in this situation.
The Acting Leader might ask the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, to the House for a debate on a comprehensive evaluation of the school meals programme she has requested. The review will be reported back to her for budget 2023. The scheme is significant and it is only right that we have a comprehensive overview or evaluation of it. The programme has an annual budget of €65 million. Some 1,500 schools participate in it and over 230,000 children the length and breadth of the country avail of free school meals. It is important that young children have a proper meal at least once a day, and this programme provides that. There are a lot of questions to be answered in terms of how the scheme affects school attendance and whether it has helped that since it has been implemented. We also need to know which meal is most important, be it breakfast, lunch or an evening meal, or a combination of all three. I welcome the review put in place by the Minister. It is important that the House has a debate on the issue before the review is completed.
I too congratulate the Cathaoirleach on the address by President Zelenskyy today and thank him for his contribution on behalf of us in the Seanad. In highlighting the case of the mother and five-year-old daughter who have travelled to Ireland, he described the decisions we are making and the challenges we face. What is happening is all being done in the best interests of the citizens of Ukraine and giving them some sort of opportunity to have a life and a roof over their heads while they are here. As the Taoiseach said, this is their home for as long as they want to be here. That rang true today in all contributions.
After the Easter recess, I ask that we have a debate on mental health with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler. It seems as though we go from one crisis to the next quite quickly without reflecting on the previous crisis. Over the past three years, as the Acting Leader knows, mental health has been very challenging and the demand on mental health services has dramatically increased on the back of Covid. Given the increasing numbers coming to Ireland from Ukraine, people will need services. There will be an influx of demand over the next period of time. It is important that we in the Chamber have a debate on how we manage that in terms of mental health. It has always been an area of the health service that we would all agree is underfunded. It is very hard to fund it to the extent that is needed, but the challenges in that regard will increase more and more as the months go on.
This is an issue in my country. We do not have any acute psychiatric beds in Tipperary. If someone in south Tipperary needs overnight care, he or she has to go to Kilkenny and those in north Tipperary have to go to Ennis. We used to have acute psychiatric beds in St. Michael's in Clonmel. There has been a lot of investment in health services in Tipperary. A 40-bed modular unit was opened by the Taoiseach a number of months ago. St. Michael's is being turned into a step-down unit, which is positive, but there has been no investment in long-term beds in Clonmel and Tipperary. We need the Minister to support Tipperary. It is not right and proper that people have to go as far as Kilkenny and Ennis to get services. A lot of good volunteers work in mental health in Tipperary, but the Government needs to support us locally.
I would like to raise the issue of animal welfare, and not for the first time, in this Chamber. In the past week there have been two horrific cases of mutilated animals in south Dublin. A decapitated dog was found dumped in an apartment block bin shed and a couple of days later a decapitated cat was found in a green space in Ballyboden.
I echo the calls of the DSPCA that anyone who has any information on what happened to these poor, unfortunate animals to come forward to An Garda Síochána. We cannot allow people who carry out such barbaric acts on defenceless animals to go unpunished. That said, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine will tonight have a third session on the completely unnecessary cruelty that is being inflicted on dogs daily, some of which is legal in this country.
A couple of weeks, the committee heard from Mr. Tim Kirby of PetBond that surgical artificial insemination is on the increase in Ireland and in some cases is being carried out by non-vets. Surgical artificial insemination is cruel and has rightly been banned in Britain. While previously confined to the greyhound industry in this country, it is now happening right across the dog world to feed an insatiable desire for artificial breeds like pomskies. Whether it is being done to a greyhound, a bulldog or a Pomeranian, surgical artificial insemination is a highly invasive procedure that cannot be justified. To make matters worse, in 2021 there were 27 cases of dead dogs' semen being used in the greyhound industry.
The other practice of canine mutilation that is increasing in Ireland is ear-cropping. It is fashionable among bulldog and doberman breeds and while it is illegal in Ireland, animal welfare organisations and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have said the law needs to be strengthened as it is virtually impossible to prosecute anyone under the current legislation. Ear-cropping is a mutilation that denies a dog its basic means of communication and can have lifelong impacts on the dog’s welfare. I ask that we have a long overdue debate in the House on the issue of animal welfare but, in particular, dog welfare. We in Ireland need to hang our heads in shame when it comes to how we treat dogs and in what is legal in this country.
Many Senators paid tribute to the Cathaoirleach and I want to be associated with those comments. It is only fair that we name all the Senators who did so. They were Senators Lombard, Malcolm Byrne, Keogan, Hackett, Warfield, Hoey, Murphy, Maria Byrne, Craughwell, Horkan, Buttimer, Sherlock, Martin, Burke and Ahearn. Everyone commended the work the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle did to ensure the joint sitting of the Houses took place this morning. It was very moving to be in the Dáil to listen to President Zelenskyy. What an inspirational, incredible person he is. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders. I was looking at him and thinking that while he was calm, compassionate and passionate when speaking, he must be surviving on very little, if any, sleep as he tries to give direction and leadership and engage with world leaders. I know all Members will join me in saying Slava Ukraini.
On the points raised, Senator Lombard spoke about social media platforms and how they are regulated or, indeed, unregulated, particularly in respect of the amount of time children are spending on their tablets. He sought a debate on that type of interaction, how we monitor it and the hazards of technology. Four Members of this House, Senators Malcolm Byrne, Cassells, Warfield and Carrigy, are active members of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media. The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will be in the Seanad for Committee Stage in the week after Easter. This welcome, important and necessary legislation will regulate social media companies.
Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about higher education funding, not for the first time, and noted it is the anniversary of the Cassells report. He made the point that the EU report requested by the Minister at that time has still not been circulated, even though we believe the Government has received it. As the Senator pointed out, we know the report will state that the sector is in crisis.
Senator Malcolm Byrne also spoke of the need for reform of the SUSI grant and the need to address the whole issue of core funding for once and for all. He also congratulated Eoin, the two Caoimhes and Pádraig from Gorey who won first prize in the certified Irish Angus schools competition in Croke Park last week. I am very happy to add my congratulations on behalf of the House. I saw some of the images posted by the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and Deputy Michael Moynihan, which were wonderful. It is incredible that the four people mentioned by the Senator do not come from a farming background. It just shows that it is very important that we encourage children in an urban environment to learn more about the rural environment.
Senator Keogan spoke about the HSE being in the public eye. It is a good thing that the six regional authorities have been set up. Basically, this measure is the implementation of Sláintecare, which was proposed in an all-party committee report. Its main focus will be on primary care and the co-ordination of services. That is very much to be welcomed.
The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, spoke about the role we have to play in the area of energy. She made the very welcome announcement that homeowners who generate their own energy will be able to sell excess energy this summer. That is a win-win situation for everybody and a very important policy which we welcome. The Senator also mentioned that planning permission for solar panels, particularly on public buildings, is part of a Green Party Bill that has been slow in coming. We support her on that issue.
Senator Warfield spoke about the pilot basic income for artists scheme which is a fantastic and revolutionary initiative. He is right that we have to ensure diversity and equity in respect of those who will be able to access the scheme. He also spoke about the merits of the night-time economy. Again, it is good that we had announcements in that respect in the past week.
Senator Hoey spoke about the month of awareness of sexual assault and, in particular, the women of Ukraine who are grappling with rape. We see absolutely harrowing images. Sexual violence is taking place on a huge scale. Sadly, that is always a feature of war. The Senator is correct to make the point that Poland is a very restrictive country in respect of reproductive rights. It is very important that an international organisation has the opportunity to go in to provide oversight. I am very proud that Ireland has given €1.5 million for reproductive and sexual rights for women from the Ukraine to help address this problem, which is one that has been recognised. What does one say to a woman who has been raped by a Russian soldier, finds that she is pregnant in Poland and does not having access to termination services? It is just completely wrong.
Senator Murphy spoke about the trauma that is visited on so many Ukrainians in this country when they hear of horrific events in their country, including murder, and suffering bereavement while they are here. He also spoke about the work being carried out by local organisations in Roscommon. The Senator also congratulated Denyse Campbell on becoming the new president of the Irish Hotels Federation and we certainly add our voices to those congratulations.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the Limerick emergency hub and called for more supports for communities outside Dublin. That community approach is greatly needed on a co-ordinated level. I am meeting a lady this afternoon, Angie Gough, who has set up a community group to roll out supports nationally in respect of that, which is very important. While we need skills and supports, the hand of friendship, no matter how we extend it, is of great importance and I have no doubt that will happen right around the country. Senator Byrne also spoke about the welcome acquisition by Limerick City and County Council of St. John’s Castle.
Senator Craughwell spoke about the need to provide weapons to Ukraine. He should note that while we are not politically neutral, we are still militarily neutral. That is very precious to many of us in this country. It is still very important. There is no doubt that there will be a citizens’ assembly on neutrality and that is the right way to go. It is not for anyone in this House or the Lower House to call for that.
I completely refute what he said about the UN Security Council being a waste of time. Ireland is playing a significant and important role on that.
Senator Horkan spoke about the Colombian Vice President, Ms Ramírez, whom I will be meeting at lunchtime. Incredibly, she was also the very first female minister of defense in Colombia. One can imagine that being minister of defense in a country like Colombia takes considerable courage, conviction and guts. It is wonderful that she has chosen to visit Ireland and she is certainly very welcome. The Senator spoke about building at Dublin Airport and the challenges with Garda vetting and work permits. He asked for the Army to be brought in to solve its problems. It is simply not good enough in my view. I believe 1.7 million passports will be processed this year which is an enormous number. We need to get it right and many more measures need to be put in place.
Senator Buttimer spoke about the secondment of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, to Trinity College. We need collaboration between healthcare and academia; that is how we learn. Dr. Holohan has incredible experience in the public health area. It is very significant and welcome that he has the opportunity to share that with the students at Trinity College and hopefully beyond. Open-ended secondments are a regular feature and are common across the Civil Service and public service to encourage interdepartmental and interagency co-operation. Many political staff are seconded from the Civil Service and public service. Tony Holohan has given the country wonderful service at a very difficult time for him personally. While the Senator said that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have not answered any questions, what about the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris? Questions also need to be put to him.
Senator Sherlock spoke about the basic income for artists and spoke about 23 artists losing their building because it is going into receivership. That is sad to hear. I hope there is some engagement there. I agree with her that we need to support artists to survive and thrive.
Senator Martin asked me to find a list of companies still trading in Russia. I believe that is beyond my payscale. He is right in saying that the Joint Committee on European Union affairs should look for that list and invite representatives in. There are questions to be asked and that certainly should be done.
Senator Burke asked that we invite the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to come to the House to debate the comprehensive evaluation of the school meals programme. I support us doing that.
Senator Ahearn called for a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, on mental health. We cannot just say mental health; we need to be more specific because it is such a complex area. We can certainly look for a debate on how supports will be put in place for those from Ukraine. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, has secured a far higher budget than ever before. Every cent of that is needed. It is also about outcomes and not just about money.
Senator Boylan spoke about animal welfare. She spoke about two particular cases of mutilated animals in south County Dublin. She also informed us about the surgical artificial insemination which is being used for artificial breeds of dog. It would need to be very carefully monitored if not made illegal. Ear cropping is illegal but the law needs to be strengthened as it is very difficult to enforce. She said it is the subject of debate in the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine. I certainly hope that measures would come from that discussion. I support having a debate on animal welfare.
I thank the Acting Leader and all the other Members for their remarks on the joint sitting. I pay tribute to all those involved in organising the event. President Zelenskyy set us a challenge and I know we all intend to meet that challenge.