The Order of Business is No. 1, Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services Bill 2021 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I support the Order of Business as outlined. I give a shout-out for an event, Calves for Ukraine, happening in Kilcullen Mart. The sale of 50 calves is happening on 20 April and has been organised by the Kildare and west Wicklow branch of the Irish Farmers Association. It is great to see so many different factions in our community supporting Ukraine.
The Deputy Leader will remember we had a debate in the House on maternity leave for councillors. I initiated it with the support of Senators from the administrative panel. I am happy to say, following a meeting between members of the women's caucus and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, it is hoped legislation will be put in place before the summer to enable maternity leave for councillors. There will be that element of flexibility around supports in a financial way for secretarial support if councillors wish to remain on and not take maternity leave. There will also be options around having a substitute if the councillor wishes. I thank the Association of Irish Local Government for all its work on this. Three Acts will need to be amended. I thank the Cathaoirleach and all Senators for supporting this debate and ensuring this will happen.
I mention also an event happening tomorrow morning. It is the turning of the sod for a Primark facility in Newbridge. I mention it because it is a €75 million development for Newbridge and it is going to provide employment but it is also providing significant levies. The figure is €3.5 million. When we put that with the development levies that came from the recently-built Lidl extension, which were also €3.5 million, we then have €7 million in such levies. Under Kildare County Council, 71.8% of commercial development levies go to roads and 8.4% go to recreation and amenity. I thank Richard Kelly for digging out the figures and doing some of the sums on this. There is another €7.2 million in development levies coming in from residential and of those a smaller percentage, 47.5%, goes to roads and 34.5% to community and recreation.
My point is that €60 million is coming into the council for that area in Newbridge and at the moment there is a huge imbalance between the number of developments and housing that has been built and what is being spent on community recreation versus roads. The biggest issue, which I have spoken about here before, is the need for a second bridge into Newbridge. On my accounting, €7 million has come in for roads in development levies and €3 million for community. We need to see that spent on a second bridge and we need oversight from the Department with responsibility for local government to ensure development levies are being spent in the very best way they can to service the needs of the community.
It goes without saying we are living in times of unprecedented challenge and upheaval across the world but especially here in Europe. I refer to the tragic loss of life and the impact of the illegal war in Ukraine as well as the suffering and plight of people and the number of them who have had to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. This is of course having an impact on Ireland and all our citizens.
The main drivers of inflation are commodity and energy prices. Oil is up 40% on average since January and gas was up 60% compared with the average January prices. The cost or raw materials, such as those needed in construction, has increased. In agriculture, we know of the increases in the cost of fertiliser and the fuel costs affecting the sector too. These factors are impacting on the cost of living for all our citizens.
The Government has responded. Prior to this becoming a major issue the Government acted by increasing the standard cut-off rate for a single person by €1,500, by raising it from €35,300 to €36,800.
There was a €50 increase in personal tax credits and a remote working deduction of 30% of vouched expenses for heat, electricity and broadband. All of those measures are positive and do help. In February, we also saw the energy credit increase to €200, including VAT, and the fuel allowance lump sum payment of €125, the drug payment scheme reduction to €80 and a 20% reduction in public transport fees. In March, the excise rates for petrol and diesel were reduced by 20 cent and 15 cent, respectively.
We must continue to keep the cost-of-living impact under review. I am asking for an early debate on this area with the Minister for Finance and other relevant Ministers. We should provide time to discuss this very important issue, which affects all sectors of society, from businesses and households to elderly people and farmers. The electricity or gas element of the household benefits package has been €35 per month for some time. Increasing it by €5 would equate to a €60 annual increase for the 476,000 householders who benefit, at a cost of €29 million. This would be a positive step, particularly for those over the age of 70 who are facing particular cost-of-living challenges. I can only hope and pray that we have decent weather this year but we have no control over that. I hope we do not have cold spells and wet weather for silage harvesting, saving hay and the harvest in the autumn. That would be detrimental in what is already an expensive and challenging year for farmers. I ask for an urgent debate on the cost of living after the Easter break.
With the horrors in Ukraine continuing to unfold, it seems almost indecent to talk about the kind of normal business that occupies us. We must of course acknowledge the terrible things that have been happening in Syria, Yemen, China and many other places in recent years. Rightly or wrongly, it is much more shocking for us that our continental home, Europe, is again the scene of the kinds of atrocities we associate with the Nazi era. In Vladimir Putin and the actions of his government, army and paid mercenaries, we see the silhouettes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Perhaps we see also the shadow of smaller generals who, in the name of irrational nationalism, atheistic materialism, blasphemous religious fear or bigotry, or just human greed, have, in past centuries and in recent times, visited cruelty and terror on the innocent.
I commend Sister Bernadette MacMahon - Dr. MacMahon indeed - of the Sisters of Charity and her associates from the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice and Family Carers Ireland on their report, Care and Home - Costs of Care Arising from Disability, which was presented to Deputies and Senators on Tuesday at an event organised by Deputy Marian Harkin. We could have a very good debate, and perhaps take this report as starting point, on the challenges facing people who care for a loved one with a disability. This carefully prepared report takes a case study of a family living with an only child, a 14-year-old with a profound intellectual disability who is living with incontinence, using a wheelchair, is not independently mobile, is attending a special education facility and is healthy but prone to infection and occasional hospitalisation. The report compares the cost of a minimum essential standard of living for a family in that situation with that facing a family with one adolescent child who has no such disability. The minimum essential standard of living includes the costs of transport, caring, personal care and so on. It costs the family living with a disability 50% or €244 per week more to reach that minimum essential standard. This is a very careful and close study of the differential in families' financial needs. It shows that a higher salary would be needed - €32,000 per year compared with €25,500 per year - just to get to that minimum standard. Those on the minimum wage have a deeply inadequate income but the depth of inadequacy is deepened when there is the disability factor. I commend this report to colleagues, the Government and all those responsible for the State's financial planning.
I also express my disquiet at the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union on the issue of retention of data for the purposes of investigation of a crime. It remains to be seen what the implications are of this decision for the conviction of Graham Dwyer, but it seems to me to be perverse that data can be retained for commercial and litigation reasons by telecoms companies, whereas we can have a limitation on the requirement to retain records for criminal investigations of a kind that would invalidate and prevent the kind of persistent, painstaking and patriotic detective work that led to the conviction of Graham Dwyer.
I do not blame the Court of Justice. The abandonment of common sense that led to such a law is what makes many people suspicious of the European Union, even at a time when the potential of the EU for driving a common, moral, economic and security purpose in the face of Russia is needed. I want to hear a clear expression of dismay from our Government at this decision and I want steps to be taken towards changing the law. The retention of data is not the problem; the issue is the need for careful definition of who may access it and how. When it comes to the investigation of murder, the higher demands of justice must always be respected.
I support Senator Kyne's call for a debate on cost-of-living issues. We may not agree on some issues but there is one on which we may share common ground. While we may not agree on what should happen with the carbon tax rise - I do not believe it should go ahead in the next month or two - in the budget before last I raised the issue that the fuel allowance goes to too few people. I will give a clear example. A minimum wage worker in this country does not qualify for the fuel allowance. This means that working families who are put to the pin of their collar, with increase after increase in key costs, have no recourse to the fuel allowance. This issue should have been dealt with in previous budgets. In fairness to the Deputy Leader, I remember her acknowledging this as an issue, but here we are two years into this Government and it has not been dealt with. It would be useful if the Seanad could collectively agree on that and see if we could send a clear message to the Government that the fuel allowance issue needs to be tackled. Sinn Féin's proposals on the fuel allowance in our most recent pre-budget submission were for an extension to the allowance by two weeks, an extension of eligibility and, crucially, a €15 million discretionary fund to help struggling families with bills. Those were sensible proposals and it is a pity the Government did not take heed of them.
The second issue I raise relates to the legislation we will deal with this afternoon, the Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services Bill. I emphasise the importance and urgency of this Bill. I will quote the words of some people to emphasise why this Bill is so important. These statements are from women who have experienced such protesters in recent times. The first is as follows:
I struggle with anxiety and felt very intimidated walking past the protesters. I ended up having a panic attack in the waiting room of the clinic and had to ring my boyfriend to come and pick me up to get me home as I was extremely distressed and could not face walking past them again.
The second woman said: "It was shocking. They were waving a photo of dead babies." The third woman said:
I have been receiving treatment for cancer, which means I won't be able to have children. I find passing the protest is really, really upsetting as it is a reminder of my situation
The final statement is as follows:
We finally have access to abortion services in our own country after a long-fought battle. The women of Ireland deserve peace. It is 2022 and we have had enough.
The Deputy Leader will know that there is only one Bill on the books at the moment with regard to safe access zones. I appeal to the coalition of the willing across all parties to work again today to ensure the Bill completes its passage through the Seanad. A photo call will take place in ten minutes and I apologise to the Deputy Leader as I must leave to attend it. I encourage colleagues to do likewise if they can. It is a cross-party photo call for the Together for Safety campaign. I acknowledge the support of members of all parties in relation to the Bill.
Following on from Senator Gavan's appeal on the Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services Bill, it is to be commended that we have space on the Order Paper to bring the Bill to Report and Final Stages. The critical issue now is what will happen to it. As Senator Gavan said, it is the only Bill we have, notwithstanding that commitments have been given by the Minister for Health in this space.
Almost two years ago, on 9 April 2020, 955 people lost their jobs by email when the Debenhams stores closed overnight. In the weeks that followed, the Government rightly said that it was determined to ensure that no other workers would find themselves in a similar situation in which they would be effectively locked out of their workplaces in the manner in which the Debenhams workers were locked out, with the State having to stump up the statutory redundancy payment to the workers.
We are two years on now. What has the Government done to follow through on those commitments that were made throughout the spring and summer of 2020? There is an urgency to the need to put protections in place. The employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, will cease by the end of this month and redundancies are coming down the tracks because of a variety of factors. A number of manufacturing companies, in particular, are under increasing pressure. Where are those protections the Government committed to in 2020? Ten months ago, it published its plan of action and we were told there would be an employment law review group and amendments would be made to company and employment law, but we have not seen them. We need to see an urgency to that employment law review group. It is simply unacceptable that workers have been left waiting so long.
The other issue I raise follows on from one I raised yesterday relating to the arts space in Dublin and throughout the wider country. I raised the issue yesterday in the context of Richmond Road Studios and the 21 artists who are still waiting to hear from the receiver of the building in which they are tenants. Despite our appeals, we have yet to hear from Kroll, and I again extend my appeal to the firm to engage. In the context of the wider crisis, I highlight in particular the circumstances in Dublin. In 2021, Dublin City Council undertook a cultural infrastructure audit and found there were 2,500 artists and 25,000 creatives in Dublin, yet there were only 392 individual and shared arts spaces. Even in Dublin, therefore, there is a significant shortage. What is the Government going to do to secure arts spaces if it is the case that we value art in this country?
Yesterday, when President Zelenskyy was speaking to the Dáil and Seanad in very unfortunate circumstances, it struck me when he stated Ireland’s “skill in valuing lives … [and] its community development experience” are among what we are known for throughout the world. I found that very empowering for us as a country, in that we are recognised not just for our culture of drinking or music but also for the community development role we play in the world.
I am a qualified community development worker, so I know the value of community work, how it can benefit people in marginalised communities and how it can empower people. It empowered me to be where I am today, and it plays a key role in my everyday political work in Leinster House in working for a common goal, being strategic and working with people. Community development work can empower groups and open people's eyes. There is an expression whereby once someone's eyes have been opened to the world, it is very difficult to close them again and to pretend he or she cannot see what is going on around him or her.
In that context, I call for the Minister of State with responsibility for community development, Deputy Joe O'Brien, to come to the House to speak about how important community development work is in Ireland and the key role it can play in communities, as I outlined. Most important, following the most recent economic crash, our sector was, unfortunately, the most severely hit and there was a lack of jobs and so on. Some people with expertise in economics might say we are heading towards another crash and that circumstances for people in Ireland are getting worse. We in community development work are somewhat fearful for our sector, although Community Work Ireland is working hard to secure our future.
While we in Ireland do not always value the sector and it can be undermined in that people might consider someone who is a professional community development worker to be no more than a "community worker", community development is at the heart of what we do and it is exactly what we are doing now for Ukrainian refugees. It is work we do every day. Our sector's safety should be guaranteed and we should be treated like the professionals we are. Again, therefore, I call on the Minister of State to come to the House to give us an update on the sector and on what will happen for us in the near future.
This morning, the Minister for Rural and Community Development launched the 2022 Tidy Towns competition and I wish all the Tidy Towns committees the very best of luck. I congratulate them on all their tireless work every week to make our towns and villages and byroads and high roads aesthetically better. They foster such community spirit and greatly improve our communities.
Nevertheless, I would like a debate to be held on the circular economy and the lack of ambition in the new Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022. The State is asking Tidy Towns volunteers to be heavy lifters and to collect bags and bags of rubbish every week. In our new circular economy, there will be levies for plastic cups and so on, but there will be no incentive such as a digital deposit return scheme and there has been no effort to ensure every local authority will have proper litter wardens who can enforce the law in respect of littering. Moreover, there are many people who fly-tip. County Louth is a blackspot for people dumping mattresses and other objects on the side of the road and no one has the authority or role within Louth County Council to go after these people. The resources are just not there. I want to ensure our Tidy Towns committees will not be seen as rubbish collectors. They should be people who merely tidy our towns, such as picking up the odd crisp packet left on the road. They should be planting our community gardens and organising community projects. They are not there to be litter collectors. We need the circular economy Bill to provide for those resources in local government and to be more ambitious by providing for a digital deposit return scheme.
I raise the Ukrainian crisis and where we stand in respect of that dilemma. We are 40-plus days into the war and thousands of refugees have come to Ireland. On Tuesday last, 42 refugees turned up in Clonakilty, where there was no accommodation, after leaving Dublin Airport at 2 a.m. They arrived in Clonakilty in the afternoon to be met with no accommodation and had to be shipped off to Killarney.
I am really concerned about where we are regarding accommodation for these refugees. A really unfortunate war is putting unbelievable pressure on our housing and economy, but how will we deal with this issue in the longer term? We are only 40 days into the war but we are already at a crisis point. We have taken the easy option so far by filling up hotels and the others forms of accommodation that came easily to us. The roll-out of the so-called Red Cross rooms in private homes has not really begun, from what I have seen.
A long-term strategic plan needs to be discussed and we need to find out how the local authorities, which constitute one of the leading drivers in the crisis in that they represent a central point of contact, will deal with this daily, and it will be a daily issue. Busloads of young women and children are coming and we do not have accommodation lined up for them. I am very concerned about how we will work this. We need to have a rolling, weekly debate in the House to get updates on where this accommodation is going to be provided and how we will adequately serve the thousands of people who will come.
I am fearful that we are not prepared. While the roll-out was really positive at the start, cracks are now forming.
I too call for a day to be set aside to discuss Ireland’s response to the Ukrainians coming here. The Ministers for education, social protection, health, housing, local government and heritage, children, equality, disability, integration and youth, transport and justice should be required to update us on the measures implemented within their Departments.
What safeguards are being put in place for those living in temporary accommodation provided by families or friends? Many have contacted me in recent days about longer term solutions. Families' intentions were sincere at the very beginning, but that enthusiasm has faded. We are only one month into this and we are already seeing the cracks in the system. We have fantastic volunteers in Duleek and Bellewstown who have been tirelessly working and supporting refugees, of whom we have nearly 200 in our communities. The volunteers have been getting them set up with social protection, medical cards, schools and local clubs. I thank the volunteers.
Yesterday, I highlighted an issue to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney. I would like the Deputy Leader to write to him because I did not get a response from the Department. A live fire exercise is to take place at Gormanston camp from 19 to 29 April, but the camp is currently being used as a reception centre for refugees. I do not think it is appropriate to run a live fire exercise in a camp where there are children who have come here from a war zone. It could cause the Ukrainians further trauma, especially the children.
I wish to issue a warning. It is about an important issue, so I would like the Cathaoirleach to allow me some time. I want all the Ukrainians to know – I hope someone translates this – that there are people who may seek to exploit them when they get to this country, but no politician or citizens' advice centre charges for giving advice. No one needs to pay anyone to keep a roof over his or her head or to get him or her a job. Please, do not be intimidated by anyone. Irish people are here to help. I have already seen charlatans swooping in, posing as friendly faces and trying to victimise our new residents. As politicians, we need to ensure that this does not happen in any of our communities.
I agree with the Order of Business as outlined.
I wish to speak about the memory of the late David Hill, whose funeral service is today. He died at the rugby match between the Irish and Scottish parliamentary teams on 19 March. I will be watching the service online, where it is available if anyone would like to watch it at 1.30 p.m. Some Members have been able to travel to the service. Unfortunately, I was not able to because I have a long-standing engagement here, but I wish to remember him and think of his family, friends and colleagues on this sad day. His committal to a crematorium will take place this afternoon.
I acknowledge the departure of the Portuguese ambassador, Mr. Miguel de Almeida e Sousa, who is leaving on Sunday. He has been a great friend to Ireland since his arrival in October 2017 and I acknowledge his great commitment to the Irish-Portuguese relationship.
I wish to join in the theme of Senator Keogan's suggestion of a whole day on Ukraine and the issues involved in Ukrainians coming to Ireland, how we accommodate them and how we bring them into our school system, health system and so on.
If anything, the past six weeks have shown us how dependent we are on fossil fuels generally. We have all been talking about this issue for a long time, but perhaps there has been a lack of urgency about it. Perhaps we could have a green day or a green week to discuss how we will try to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, be it through retrofitting, electric vehicles or wind farms, how we will deal with agricultural emissions and all of the various other issues in a holistic way. In this House, we tend to spend half a day, an hour here or there or two hours on another day discussing these matters, but we need to put an emphasis on how we go forward and do everything we can – recycling, reducing, upcycling and so on – to reduce our consumption.
I wish to pay tribute to all of the staff of the Houses as we go on the Easter break. I wish a happy Easter to Members, staff and everyone who helps us in performing our roles.
As today is World Health Day, I commend all those who work in our health system and thank them for their dedication, and I call for another debate on health in the coming weeks.
Like Senator Kyne, I call for a debate on the cost of living. According to the figures released today, inflation is at its highest level in 22 years after jumping from 6.7% from 5.6%. That is a staggering figure. A debate on the cost of living is urgent because, notwithstanding the immense work that the Government has done through mitigation measures, a significant proportion of working people in our country are the squeezed middle. Tá siad faoi bhrú. It is not good enough just to talk about it. We need to have a debate and, arising from that, action. I ask that working families – those who are in the middle, pay for everything and get no handouts – be given recognition by the Government in what is admittedly an extraordinarily volatile situation. The Government has acted, but prices have increased by 1.9% and, in the coming weeks, we will see significant inflation in food prices. There is an onus on the Government to act on behalf of the squeezed middle. I hope that the Deputy Leader will arrange for the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform to attend the House for such a debate after the Easter recess.
I thank the officials and staff of all parts of the Oireachtas for their courtesy during this term. I wish everyone a happy Easter.
I only have one issue to raise. It relates to the census. Well done to everyone involved in what is very important work. It will be a long time before it is all read, of course. I received a call from a lady in the west who is now a widow and lives on her own. She asked me what I thought she should write in the census time capsule. I told her to write whatever she wanted to. She spoke to me later and told me that she had written a simple line: "My hope is that people of my age [she is in her 80s] will be able in the future to remain in their own home." For me, this was profound. She will not be around in 100 years' time, but her aspiration is for people to remain living in the west right out on the coast. Her family has moved on, her husband has departed and she is on her own, but she is enjoying life, is happy and can rely on the support of her community and friends. This hammered home for me that here was a person who was investing in the future, thinking of a new generation and hoping that she herself might somehow be assisted.
There is a challenge in this for us. We all want to remain in our own homes as long as we can. We want independence and dignity and to play a role in our communities. We need a greater debate on how we can support people in staying in their homes for longer. Disappointingly, ageism is alive and well in this country across a range of areas. We need to tackle it. We need to support people who wish to stay in their own homes and communities. I ask that we have a focused debate at some point on older people who wish to be active in their communities and to live safely, securely and independently in their own homes. There is a need for this approach, particularly in rural Ireland where people do not have the support services that those in urban areas do.
At some stage, we should arrange for a debate on the national development plan. There will be major changes in the plan's costs because of inflation in the price of materials, diesel in most cases and, due to shortages, labour. I hope that the Deputy Leader will arrange for such a debate.
The collapse of Roadbridge is having a considerable effect on our area in Mayo as well as in Roscommon. What will happen to the Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge road? The work on this carriageway project is valued at more than €400 million. Will it be retendered? I hope that the Department will consider this significant and badly needed road into the west and act on it quickly. Roadbridge was also the main contractor at the Oweninny wind farm, which is the largest wind farm in the country.
The ESB is the project leader and I have no doubt that it will sort out the matter in a short period. This infrastructure is also badly needed for energy provision in this country.
It has been brought to my attention that a sound barrier of only 1 m high will be provided for a housing estate in the Balloor area that is located very close to the Castlebar to Westport road. I hope that the builders of the road do not cut corners. I call on them and on Mayo County Council to make sure that the 1 m sound barrier is raised to afford greater protection to the houses. A proper road surface will be used to reduce noise but I call on the National Roads Authority to make sure that the barrier is raised.
I would like to address the frightening rise in transphobia, trans hate and trans abuse that has swept over from the UK. This week, which had Trans Day of Visibility, the Tory Government moved to ban conversion therapy for so-called members of the LGB community but not for the T or trans family. Conversion therapy is a discredited, dangerous and unethical practice that has long-lasting psychological impacts. Research shows that trans people are more likely to endure this practice that absolutely and utterly has no place in a modern world. The UN has called for a global end to conversion therapy and says that it may amount to torture. Currently only five countries have a full ban on conversion therapy. Why does Ireland still not have a law against conversion therapy? Why has the UK recognised that conversion therapy is a cruel and abhorrent practice for the so-called LGB people but not for trans people in 2022? I cannot imagine how frightened trans persons must be right now. My heart hurts and I am really frightened for my trans family across Europe, in the UK and in Ireland. I also know that they are frightened.
I once again want to put on the record that trans people are loved, and they have a right to live as their authentic selves, free from hatred, questioning or attempts to change them from who they are. My office and my politics are safe spaces for all of them and they are always welcome. I hope that we, as a nation, will continue to fight against this sweep of transphobia and see this unfounded moral panic for what it is.
When will we get movement on the ban on conversion therapy, which has been promised? It is a frightening day for all of the LGBTQ community; there is no LGB without the T.
A number of students will undertake oral and practical exams over the Easter period. It would be remiss of us before the House goes into recess not to acknowledge the great work that teachers, supervisors, boards of management and, indeed, the Minister for Education and the officials in her Department, have done throughout the pandemic over the past two years. Most important of all, I wish to acknowledge all of the students. I wish each and every one of them the very best of luck. Some students must sacrifice what should be their downtime with their families over Easter to facilitate the orals and the practical exams. I am very cognisant of the fact that a number of those students will be the class who did not sit their junior certificate and, therefore, the oral and practical examinations will be their first experience of an official State exam. Any exam is trying and the junior certificate will break the ice for many students before they undertake the leaving certificate, which is the more important acid test. I am mindful of the students who did not have an opportunity to do the junior certificate but now over Easter in what should be holiday and family time must face their very first official State exam. I wish them all the very best of luck and I thank the teachers, supervisors and scrutineers who have facilitated these exams so that the leaving certificate can happen this year.
I join with the Senator in wishing all of the students who face exams the very best of luck. I am sure that their hard work will pay off.
I thank all the staff, as we break up for Easter, for their hard work throughout this term. I call the Deputy Leader to respond to the Order of Business.
I thank all of the Members who contributed to the Order of Business.
Senator O'Loughlin kicked off by congratulating the people who have organised the Calves for Ukraine event at Kilcullen Mart to raise much-needed funds for the Ukrainian crisis. She also referred to the progress that has been made by the women's caucus, of which she is chair, in advancing legislation to provide maternity leave for councillors, following a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. It is great to see progress and she thanked all of the Senators for supporting the project.
The Senator acknowledged the sod turning event tomorrow for the new Primark store in Newbridge. In particular, she acknowledged the development levy of €3.5 million that will go to the local authority and will be used locally, which is a significant amount.
Senator Kyne raised the impacts of the war in Ukraine. He specifically asked for a debate on the increasing cost of oil and gas and the cost of living. Senators Gavan and Buttimer requested a similar debate. I can inform the House that we have requested a debate on the cost of living with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan, and await a date from his office. A request has now been made to the Minister for Finance to come here to speak on the same issue. We will arrange a debate as quick as possible.
Senator Rónán Mullen acknowledged that there are conflicts in other countries apart from the Ukraine. He referenced Syria, Yemen and China and the is need to acknowledge the other conflict zones.
The Senator also referenced the report by Family Carers Ireland that was published last Tuesday entitled Care at Home: Costs of Care Arising from Disability, which I think was mentioned in the Seanad that day as well. The report compares the cost of caring for somebody with a disability with a household that does not have a person with additional needs. He said that it has been estimated that it costs €244 per week extra, which is a significant amount, and called for us to support those families.
The Senator mentioned another important issue, which is the recent decision by the European Court of Justice on the retention of data and the implications that the decision might have for the Graham Dwyer case. The Senator made the compelling argument that justice should rank higher when balancing rights. There is a requirement for the Government should respond to the potential implications of the decision.
Senator Paul Gavan requested a debate on the cost of living. He also spoke about the carbon tax and, in particular, the fuel allowance, which is an issue that he has raised previously in this House, in particular, the need for the scheme to be expanded to bring more people into the fold, especially those on lower incomes and the minimum wage.
The Senator referenced the Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services Bill 2021, which will be debated in the House later. He stated that the legislation has cross-party support. He has raised this legislation on numerous occasions as has Senator Sherlock. I reiterate that many Senators support reaching the objective of providing safe access zones and I certainly do as well. I am aware that it is the only Bill on the issue that is currently tabled but Members will be aware that the Minister is working on legislation, through his Department, and will bring that through both Houses. This evening's Bill is not opposed and there is support to achieve that objective. My view is that whatever Bill is published we must be prepared for the potential of challenges that may try to test the legislation in court and, therefore, it is important that the legislation is as watertight as possible and that it is enforceable so that we can provide safe access zones for all women who try to access legal services in the State.
Senator Sherlock mentioned the safe access Bill. She also mentioned that it has been two year's since the workers in Debenhams were told awful news. The way that they were treated is appalling. She is correct to request an update but I am sorry that I do not have one. Perhaps she might talk to me or the Leader of the House about a debate or a Commencement matter to begin with and we will try to get some progress on that as quick as we can.
The Senator raised the issue of the Richmond Road Studios and the artists. I watched the piece on RTÉ from the artists. I wish them well and hope that they find a space to continue their work. I was disheartened to hear artists talk about having to down tools because they do not have enough space in which to work. There is an onus on us to place a value on their work that is not always an economic or monetary and provide a space to the artists to do work that is of huge cultural importance to this country.
Senator Flynn spoke eloquently and pointedly, as she always does, about President Zelenskyy's address to the joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad.
His reference to our fantastic community work here in Ireland is something she values very closely. The Senator said she is herself a product of that community work in getting to where she is today. She requested a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, on providing security for the community sector and ensuring its viability in the long term. We will request that debate for Senator Flynn.
Senator McGreehan spoke about the launch of the 2022 Tidy Towns competition by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and wished all participants well. I will reiterate the point that Tidy Towns committees do not have sole responsibility for keeping the streets clean. That is ultimately for the local authorities and they should be supported to do that work.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of Ukraine and the refugee situation, in particular the huge pressure to provide accommodation for refugees entering the country. Every part of the country is feeling that now. He referenced a particular issue in Clonakilty where there was no space for those who had arrived. Senators Keogan and Buttimer also raised the need to have a debate on this issue. We have requested a debate with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, who I hope will be in the Chamber with us over the next few weeks to have that debate on supports for refugees and the accommodation situation.
Senator Keogan asked for a similar debate and referenced an issue with Gormanston Camp, which is currently housing refugees, and the fact a planned live firing exercise is planned between 19 April and 29 April. Obviously, those exercises are a completely normal part of Defence Forces business as part of training and development for serving members. I take on board the Senator's comments, however. She might perhaps liaise directly with the Leader's office to try to get a response on that.
Senator Horkan spoke about the sad passing of Mr. David Hill and pointed Members to the fact that his funeral is taking place today. It will be streamed live online at 1.30 p.m. for those Members who would like to tune in. He also requested a debate on the Ukrainian situation. We will have rolling debates, if we can call them that, on different aspects. We are trying to get a debate at the outset on supports for refugees, which will cover many of the issues raised by Senators. We will then keep abreast of what is happening and schedule debates as they are needed. The Senator also paid tribute to the staff here in the Houses of the Oireachtas. We all concur with that and wish everybody a happy Easter. They do fantastic work. When we head off out the door, they are very often left behind to do all the other work that is required once the sittings have concluded. I acknowledge that work.
I also mentioned having a green week in the Oireachtas.
Yes, absolutely. Senator Buttimer highlighted that today is World Health Day and commended all the healthcare workers. He said we will require a debate on health at a future date in the coming weeks to keep on top of that issue. He also raised the issue of the cost of living.
Senator Boyhan spoke about the census that took place within the past week and referenced in particular the need to protect people living in their homes, which was a wish of a woman to whom he spoke. When asked whether she was putting something in her time capsule and what that might be, she said it was her wish that people her age, in their 80s, could remain in their homes.
Senator Burke spoke about the national development plan, NDP, and the need for a debate because of the increase in the cost of materials and labour, which have seen a significant change that will undoubtedly impact the delivery of the NDP. We very recently had a debate on the NDP with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy McGrath. We will request a second debate on the NDP in the coming weeks, it is hoped before the summer recess. The goalposts have shifted and things have changed because of the cost of everything.
Senator Hoey spoke very eloquently about the rise in transphobia. I saw the passion with which she spoke this morning. I do not know how conversion therapy is considered a therapy or treatment in any way. We have long passed that. I would certainly urge people to stay away from that. The Senator is right, however. There is probably the need to put that on a statutory footing or find some way to protect people who may not be making those decisions for themselves. That is a very important point. We have to keep an eye on that issue and have a debate in this House if and when it is needed. I am sure we will have future debates on that issue. The Senator is right to say there is no LGBTQI without the "T". It is a very succinct way of putting it for that community.
Senator Paul Daly spoke about students who are taking their oral and practical examinations. It is very good to point out that, for many students, it is their first State examination. It is a nerve-wracking experience. It is very well for all of us who have been through it many years ago to say it is fine and, once it is over, they will not be thinking about it again. In reality, however, it is stressful when a person is going through it. The junior certificate examination is an opportunity to have a trial run, in some ways, in that people get to see what it is like to sit a big State examination. Those students are doing these examinations this year without the benefit of that experience. I wish them well as they enter into those examinations, and, obviously, the teachers and school communities. I hope they all get through it and get the results they are hoping for.
That concludes the Order of Business.