The Order of Business is No. 1, statements to mark Europe Day 2022, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude at 2.15 p.m., with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed eight minutes, all Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than seven minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m.; No. 3, motion re proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of a Council decision to provide for continued exchange of DNA profile and fingerprint data with the United Kingdom after 30 June 2022; No. 4, motion re proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of a Council decision (EU) 2021/430 on the position taken on behalf of the European Union on the Kyoto Declaration on Advancing Crime Prevention, Criminal Justice and the Rule of Law; No. 5, motion re proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of Regulation (EU) 2021/2260 of the European Parliament and the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2015/848 on insolvency proceedings to replace annexes A and B. Nos. 3, 4 and 5 are to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude at 4.25 p.m., if not previously concluded. The motions shall be discussed together, with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed six minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes, all other Senators not to exceed three minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply; and No. 6, the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded. Private Members' business is No. 102, non-Government motion No. 1 on the Good Friday Agreement, which is to be taken at 7.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I welcome the Deputy Leader. This morning, I want to speak on community facilities. I welcome the Government fund that has been launched by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys. There are three categories, the first being for small-scale projects and improvements to facilities worth between €10,000 and €25,000. The second category is for large-scale projects worth between €25,000 and €100,000 and the third category is for major projects worth between €100,000 and €300,000. These categories offer a range of capital works to community facilities, including upgrading to lighting systems and stage areas, works to address safety concerns, works to improve disability access, improvements to assist and provide additional or better services to communities such as meals for the elderly and youth facilities, and essential maintenance works such as repairs to roofs and so on. There is great potential under this fund, which I believe will be with us for many years because it is vitally important.
The fund is something I have advocated for. I welcome its establishment. However, a point I have made on numerous occasions in this House, and to the Minister, is that there is a need to go further. There is a need for a fourth category for new community facilities, especially in growing communities, in areas where the population is growing and where there is a dire need for additional community space. Currently, small rural communities can apply under LEADER and smaller schemes but, as it stands, there is no scheme open to urban communities. They can try to cobble together an amount under various schemes, but I have urged the Government to consider a fourth category in next year's budget which would include projects for new community facilities. I will continue to advocate for that.
We have some fine community halls around the country associated with primary and secondary school buildings. There has been a significant level of capital investment across the country by the State. These buildings need to be available to the community at night and weekends for whatever purpose is deemed necessary. There is an onus on all boards of management and patrons to work with communities to ensure that facilities which have been provided using State investment are open for the community - the elderly, the young, for sports, after-school activities and a range of activities, including for disadvantaged communities. There are myriad possibilities where these buildings can be provided. The Government and the Department of Education must grasp the nettle on this issue. The State is going to invest in new school buildings and we need to ensure that the associated general purpose rooms or sports halls are available at all stages for communities, including at night and weekends. I urge the Deputy Leader to engage with the Department of Education on that.
I agree with Senator Kyne about using those assets to which he referred. Ba mhaith liom dhá ábhar a ardú.
I was fortunate enough to be at the launch last week of Pandemonium, the book by Jack Horgan-Jones and Hugh O'Connell. I have started to read the book, which is quite well written, and tells the story of the events of the past two years. Unlike certain other journalists, they do not put themselves at the heart of the story and they allow others to tell it. It does stress again the importance of trusted journalism and evidence-based research to provide the stories the media tell us. I am very conscious that we are in an era where we have seen Elon Musk buy Twitter. There is a big debate around plurality within the media. I remain concerned about the fact that we still have not seen sight of the report of the Future of Media Commission. We will be debating the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill again this afternoon, but we have been promised this report by the Government for many months at this stage.
It is not about the Government having to accept all the commission's recommendations but that the findings of that report would inform a debate. I am asking that we schedule a debate in this House around the future of media and journalism. It is essential. We have seen the importance of combatting fake news and information. We have seen the importance of trusted journalism. Many media outlets in this country are under pressure. We need to have that full debate.
I also want to return to the issue of Seanad reform. I am conscious that Senator McDowell is in the House. The first Bill that I brought to Second Stage here was on the question of enacting the seventh amendment to the Constitution which was passed 43 years ago extending the franchise to other higher education graduates. We rightly celebrate the many new technological universities around the country and the rapid expansion of higher education and yet we still have not had progress on the issue of addressing the broader franchise on the universities panel. I support broader Seanad reform but I want to highlight again the lack of progress. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, indicated that he thought that as part of the electoral commission Bill, we would see some progress on this but nothing has been put forward as part of that Bill as yet. I would ask that time be set aside so that we can have a discussion around extending that franchise and on the broader question of Seanad reform.
I welcome Senator Malcolm Byrne's remarks about Seanad reform. I want to remind the House that the Minister with responsibility for Seanad reform informed us that he was going to bring forward proposals. I think that was a year ago.
It is longer. It is 18 months.
Another committee should be established.
He made firm commitments that there would be Seanad reform.
Senator McDowell could chair the committee again.
Hold on. Senator Buttimer will have his opportunity.
The Minister of State told me that there was a proposal to establish among the Government parties a group that would come forward with proposals which I would be shown last October. That group has not been established let alone come forward with any proposals. I have come to the conclusion that this is an elaborate smoke screen for nothing to happen. Senator Malcolm Byrne suggested that we should implement the universities amendment. That is part of the Bill that is before this House but let us remember that would give, depending on what third level institutions it is given to, the right to roughly 1 million people to vote for six people in this House, whereas 43 seats would be elected by roughly 1,200 people. That difficulty will not go away and it will not be wished away.
Ministers can keep giving us assurances and they can keep coming into this House and sending in their junior Minister to give us timetables for reform but some time the truth must be spoken in this House.
Some time we are entitled to hear the truth as to what the Government's plans actually are.
The other issue on which I intended to speak before Senator Malcolm Byrne tempted me down that particular rabbit hole-----
I am giving the Senator only one minute to come back out of it.
I should have said that 1 million people would elect six Senators but that there are 4 million people who are not university graduates who would have no say at all on that. Let us remember that.
The point I want the acting Leader to take on board is the need to discuss the outcome of the Northern elections. Some 63 of the 90 people elected are comfortable with the Northern Ireland protocol and yet the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and his Cabinet are trying to use it as leverage to get an advantage in their broader negotiations with the EU. By the same token, less than one third of those elected want a Border poll in the next five years. That is a reality. This House needs to discuss how we get the institutions up and running and how we get everybody to co-operate on the bread and butter issues and end the polarisation of politics into this ridiculous dispute of demanding action on the protocol, when 63 of the MLAs are happy with the protocol and represent a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and demanding an early Border poll, which is bound to be defeated.
I propose that No. 22 be taken before No. 1. It will be seconded by my colleague.
I agree with the point about a debate on the Assembly elections. The changing demographic in Northern Ireland must be taken into account. It was not taken into account in the Good Friday Agreement and has landed us in a position where it is difficult when people disagree on forming a shared Executive. I note the increase in the vote share for the Alliance Party. It probably did have an impact on the Green Party. There is no doubt about that. However, it shows a shift where people are voting for different reasons other than sectarian reasons.
I wish to speak briefly on a Private Members' Bill we will bring forward next week. There are pockets around the country where groups form an alliance to not have election posters in the area. As a Green, I very much welcome that we would have a reduction in election posters. However, it leads to a non-systematic approach to where we can and cannot have election posters. Someone who is a councillor in one area may have no election posters and yet in another area, they might put up 500 or 1,000. It makes it difficult financially for those who do not have the means to compete with the big boys or girls. Therefore, for many reasons, the primary one being environmental, it is time to significantly reduce and restrict election posters in this country. People are crying out for it. That is what our Bill is about.
I want to refer back to Senator Kyne's points with which I wholeheartedly agree. We have funds to renovate community centres but nothing to start them. I have seen it in Galway. It is incredibly difficult to get grant funding. The urban regeneration and development fund had been suggested for one particular community centre in Newcastle but it was impossible for the community centre to go through that because there is nothing there. It is a bare piece of ground. It cannot get funding through the renovation fund. Therefore, I would ask that the House call for new streams of funding for community groups, particularly coming out of the pandemic. Many of us will have been at a presentation by the Irish Men's Sheds Association. What I took from that was the impact and deep scar that still exists for many from the isolation across our towns and villages and in rural Ireland. Now is the time to invest in community supports and centres and places for people to get together.
I want to highlight the horrific murder of Shireen Abu Akleh last night in the West Bank. She was an Al Jazeera journalist aged 51 years. She was shot down by Israeli forces. I know there are many people who feel passionately about Palestine in this Chamber. We need to figure out what else we can do as a country about this.
I will have the privilege of chairing a session with Amnesty International in the audiovisual room today at 1.30 p.m. It will highlight its report on why Israel is an apartheid state. Crucially, we will also have representatives from the Jewish Voice for Just Peace there. That is important because whenever we raise the issue of apartheid in Israel somebody accuses us of being antisemitic. It is so important to hear the voices of Jewish activists such as those who are going to be in the audiovisual room today. I really hope that it is not just the left that turns up today.
I really hope we see representatives of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil there to listen to and, if they want to, challenge our colleague, Colm O'Gorman from Amnesty International, in that regard.
The second topic I will raise today is that of housing. Last Friday, I was shocked to see someone I know who works in this building at Heuston Station. I asked him what he was doing there and he told me that he no longer lives in Dublin. He and his girlfriend now live in Thurles. These are two professionals working in Dublin who cannot afford to live here. They have no choice but to commute each day. They spend two hours on the train from Thurles and then get the bus. It shows the reality of how the marketplace has been failed by successive Governments when two people with good jobs choose to live in Tipperary and commute each day rather than live in the city.
This week, I discovered that the Government's target for affordable housing in Limerick is 264 houses. That is 53 houses a year. There is a massive problem whereby, if you earn more than €32,500 a year, you do not qualify for social housing. The Government's response to a city and county the size of Limerick is to say "Do not worry, we are going to build 53 affordable houses this year." Of course, it is not actually going to build them. The reality is that it will buy most of them from the marketplace, further crowding out private buyers. There is a fundamental disconnect between what we hear from this Government in respect of housing and delivery on the ground. The figures I am quoting are Government figures. Indeed, I could quote figures for a whole series of counties. Perhaps the most shocking is that, over the next five years, there are to be just 450 affordable houses here in Dublin. The Government is failing. Its targets are too unambitious. The housing policy is not fit for purpose. Sinn Féin has consistently called for a doubling of investment in that regard. I once again call for an urgent debate on housing.
I ask the Deputy Leader whether we could, as part of our programme of work, have a series of meetings and debates on the forthcoming budget. This morning, Senators Kyne and Pauline O'Reilly have made reference to community funding and men's sheds. This morning, we received a very informative briefing from the Irish Men's Sheds Association, which has produced a document on the support it needs. There are approximately 360 men's sheds across Ireland, supporting and providing an outlet to 10,000 men every week. A staggering number of men are involved. It is good for their communities, for themselves and for our country. What is worrying is that 70 Irish men's sheds have not reopened since the pandemic. This is for a combination of reasons including funding and the lack of a person to be the leader of that community group. It is important that we support the Irish Men's Sheds Association in a variety of ways. I do not refer only to resourcing, which is important, but to the appointment of regional organisers, allowing for succession planning and ongoing support. I hope that we can have a debate on the Irish Men's Sheds Association. It has four key asks. It wants a sustainability grant, support for start-up sheds, measures on security of tenure, VAT and commercial rates, an enhancement of the core grant and a national recruitment campaign. I encourage Members to support our Irish Men's Sheds Association, an organisation which does great work. It is an important prebudget submission.
My last point - and I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence - is that the whole area of prebudget submissions is one in which we, as a House, can play a role. We can articulate requests, advocate, listen and present different facts to Government.
I will raise the issue of the review that has been agreed to by the Minister for Education with regard to the use of schools for lifelong learning, other courses and so on. Schools predominantly finish by 5 p.m. The buildings then stand empty. There are buildings that have been the subject of investment from the Department and the Government over many years. I know the Minister, Deputy Foley, has committed to carrying out a review. Where I am from in Limerick, the Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival is coming up on 23 May. This event is run for a week every year. Many events are run in libraries, schools and other buildings. Those kinds of festivals can be built upon, especially if facilities are available for use. Senator Buttimer referred to men's sheds. I met with a women's shed group recently. It wants to start up and is looking for a permanent home. We could look at using school buildings for community uses. The Irish Men's Sheds Association has been very successful. Women's sheds also have an awful lot to contribute. We could look at organisations like that using buildings when they are vacant in the evenings. I would like to see the review carried out as quickly as possible because there are many community groups out there that are looking for buildings to use. It would be very positive for the community especially because different funding schemes come up from time to time but, if groups do not have permanent use of a building, they can fall between the cracks. I would certainly like that review to be carried out sooner rather than later.
I find myself once again bewildered that victims and survivors of the Troubles and people who have lost family members to murderers are yet again getting information about the future of their investigations, inquests and civil cases in the Queen's speech and through the press and that truth and justice for victims, which is fundamental to healing in our society and part of the reconciliation process, continues to be moved on unilaterally by the British Government. I repeat that measures on legacy issues need to be victim-centred and that all families of victims, regardless of the perpetrator, must have access to effective investigations and processes of justice.
The news came yesterday that a proposed blanket amnesty has become conditional on co-operation with the new independent commission for reconciliation and information recovery and that immunity is to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Existing civil cases may continue but there could be a bar on new civil claims and inquests that are open may proceed but ones that have not progressed will move to a new body. Members of this House will know that we stood in opposition to the previous proposals to introduce a general statute of limitations and an immediate end to criminal investigations, civil cases and inquests that amounted not only to a suppression of prosecutions, but to a suppression of truth. What will this process achieve for truth, for justice and for victims? Unless it delivers on all three, it is not a credible position on legacy issues. The British Government cannot stand in the way of standard criminal justice investigations under the guise of truth recovery. Investigations are needed to get to the truth. Experience tells us this, including the experience of the Savile inquiry, investigations into the disappeared and cold cases that have come into focus again because new evidence has been found.
Sandra Peake of the WAVE Trauma Centre has said that this proposal gives a choice to perpetrators that is denied to victims. I stand with her. The Truth and Justice Movement says that the British Government is fooling no one and that it wants truth and justice not fairy stories from the state and murderers. I stand with that group. The rule of law must be at the core of legacy proposals and victims must be at the centre of this process. We need more information on this as it is currently lacking. This is not a blanket amnesty. Is it just a long-winded one instead?
I thank the Senator for her work on that issue.
I second Senator Pauline O'Reilly's proposal, that No. 22 be taken before No. 1. I thank the Senator and our coalition partners, Senators Chambers and Doherty, for their work on this Bill. It is very important. It is such a waste. We have a climate emergency. We all know that all plastics come from fossil fuels. The game is up. This is long overdue. It comes up as a debate during every election campaign and we do nothing about it. It is great to see these three women coming together, taking action and making something happen about this ridiculous waste of money.
Apart from using the odd poster and turning them into good henhouses, it is a complete waste of precious fossil fuels. Turning them into posters is litter. It is also unfair because the more money a person has, the more he or she can plaster his or her face around the place and, unfortunately, that is like product placement, which we know works. Therefore, it is often the person with the most money who might be successful in politics instead of the person who maybe deserves the seat most. This is long overdue. I really commend the three Senators on putting this forward. I am very happy to second the motion.
Later today, the European Commission is set to publish its draft law on so-called chat control, which will oblige providers of digital correspondence platforms to search all private chat messages and emails automatically for suspicious content. This searching will be done by way of algorithm artificial intelligence, AI, and carried out in a blanket manner. Everyone's messages will be scanned all the time, which will result in the end of secure online communications within the EU. If an algorithm considers a message suspicious, its content and metadata are disclosed automatically and without human verification to a private US-based organisation. The reported users are not notified. While this may seem to be a case that if a person has nothing to hide, he or she has nothing to fear, there are many grave concerns with this move towards what has been seen as Chinese Government-style surveillance.
The aim of this legislation is to combat the sharing of child sexual exploitation material. The experience of national and international agencies that combat this material online, however, shows that mass surveillance is the wrong approach to fighting child abuse material and sexual exploitation. This is because abusers do not share their material via commercial email messaging or chat services but organise themselves through self-run secret forums on the darknet, which would not be caught by these controlled algorithms. Abusers also typically upload images and videos as encrypted archives and share only the links and passwords, which these chat-controlled algorithms would not recognise.
The implications for the privacy of 500 million people are stark. We in this House passed a law last year to criminalise the sharing of intimate photographs without consent yet if an algorithm now classifies the content of a message as suspicious, an individual's private or intimate photographs may be viewed by staff and contractors of private international corporations and police authorities.
According to Swiss federal police authorities, 86% of all machine-generated reports turn out to be without merit. We need a human task force to tackle this problem. Of course, 72% of EU citizens oppose the measure, as per a YouGov poll of more than 10,000 people last year, with only 18% supporting the plan. Again, this is something that is coming down the line. We ought to have debate on what we want our standard of online privacy to be for our citizens.
I had the pleasure this morning of attending a pre-budget submission on behalf of the Irish Men's Sheds Association. As many will know, there are something like 450 men's sheds throughout the country and each week, approximately 10,000 men pass through their doors. The sheds have an open-door policy to men of all ages. It does not matter whether someone is 25 or 95, there will be a smile there to greet that person and the kettle will be on the boil. It does not matter if someone is married, widowed, separated or recovering from an addiction - their doors are open and they are only too glad to see more people coming through.
In County Monaghan, we have five men's sheds in Carrickmacross, Castleblayney, Ballybay, Monaghan town and Clones. In County Cavan, there are up to 15. They are hugely popular in County Cavan with great participation. Like many voluntary organisations, however, they are now suffering through lack of funding and particularly with Covid-19, many of their premises were closed down for up to almost two years. They are now in need of funding to keep them going. Two main themes came from the association's basic message, the first of which was funding. It talked about Government allocating ring-fenced funding each year of approximately €2,500 to €5,000 per shed. That would be hugely beneficial to them.
The association also wants the Government to initiate a national campaign to recruit more members, which I thought was quite important. Great work goes on in the men's sheds. Regardless of where people are or what is going on in their lives, there are people there they can talk to and as I said, the sheds have an open-door policy. I would welcome if the Leader could organise a debate with the Minister regarding not only the funding of men's sheds, but their promotion nationally so that more members will be able to participate.
I really want to mention the late Mr. Alan Gillis. I am sure everyone knows him but for those who do not, Alan Gillis was the former president of the IFA. He was someone I knew well. I told this story during an interview yesterday with the Wicklow People. When I was first elected to the Seanad, I received a letter from Alan wishing me well. He said he was not going to give me advice and then proceeded to write 12 foolscap pages of a book on how we could have progressive agriculture in Ireland and how we needed to reform it. I thought that was strange and wondered whether that was advice or the introduction. On the very last line in the correspondence, he said that in summary he would give me one bit of advice, which was that better farming practices, better animal husbandry and better cultivation will yield better results for us all. That was his real caption and his simple message.
He was a remarkable man. He was an engineer who then went on to own a 30 acre farm in Kill. He clearly got ambitious and realised that he wanted to be a farmer by choice. He always said that he was an engineer by profession but a farmer by choice. He gave it up and he accumulated a 375 acre farm next door to my grandfather, actually, in Grangecon in County Wicklow, which is on the Wicklow-Kildare border. It is a truly beautiful part of the world, and he set up there. I did not want to let the opportunity go without saying a few words about him.
He was in many ways a combination of three things. He was political and he was a proud Church of Ireland man. He was on the board of Adelaide Hospital and the Government subsequently appointed him to the board of Tallaght Hospital. He was a major advocate for choice in education and in health. He was pioneering in many ways and naturally, Fine Gael picked up on all of that. Of course, then he ran for Fine Gael and became a successful MEP. I would just like to say sorry, particularly to the Fine Gael community, of which he was a very strong and active member, and to the farming and agricultural community. They have lost a wonderful advocate. The Church of Ireland has lost a wonderful church man who was faithful to its tradition and proud of its heritage. As I said, it was that mix of politics and the church, although he was clearly very much in favour of the separation of church and State and always respected that line. He will be greatly missed by his family, his community in counties Wicklow and Kildare and the agricultural community. May he rest in peace.
I thank the Senator for remembering Mr. Gillis's great contribution to public life in Ireland but also to the farming community, and his leadership in that community. Alan Gillis did this country great service by his work on our behalf in Europe but also on behalf of his own community and the farming organisation that he led so well. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I call Senator McGreehan.
There are an awful lot of issues I would like to discuss but I will raise a local issue this morning regarding Irish Water. The people of the Cooley Peninsula have been struggling with water pressure. I have been ignored by Irish Water for nearly two years now. I am not getting any help or assistance and have been gaslit, which I suppose is the popular word, by the organisation, which told me it was going to raise pressure and did not do so. There are people in the Cooley Peninsula who cannot even work their showers because Irish Water does not know where the leaks are. It will not turn up the water pressure because of leaks. I believe this is happening around the country.
I hope that Irish Water will start listening to people when people contact them. Multiples of people who live in the area of the Cooley Peninsula and around the country have asked Irish Water to raise the water pressure and have emphasised it is not a domestic issue. Irish Water has a policy of reducing water pressure to prevent leaks but I am afraid that such a policy is no good if people cannot use showers or it takes five minutes to fill a kettle.
I thank all the Members who contributed to the Order of Business.
Senator Kyne kicked off proceedings. He spoke about the announcement that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, made yesterday. She announced a €15 million fund for community centres to assist them to refurbish any buildings and carry out essential works. The Senator said that there was a gap as centres in urban areas were not included in the funding and has requested an extension of the scheme. I suggest it might be appropriate for him to table a Commencement matter and we can look at it further, if needed.
Senator Malcolm Byrne congratulated journalists Jack Horgan-Jones and Hugh O'Connell on the recent publication of their book entitled Pandemonium, which looks back at the last two years of the pandemic. The Senator then spoke about the overdue report of the Future of Media Commission. He requested a debate on the future of media and journalism. We have made that request through the Leader's office and we will arrange a debate at the earliest opportunity.
Senator Malcolm Byrne next spoke about Seanad reform, as did Senator McDowell. I think that we have waited 18 months for the establishment of the committee and Senator Malcolm Byrne sought an update on progress. Perhaps a Commencement matter on the issue might move this matter along.
Senator McDowell requested a debate on the outcome of the elections in Northern Ireland. I have communicated that to the Leader's office and we will get that debate at the earliest opportunity. There will be an opportunity this evening, through the Sinn Féin Private Members' motion. We will request a separate debate specifically on the outcome of the election and the acknowledgement that there is clearly majority support in Northern Ireland for the protocol, which has not been acknowledged by all the stakeholders, including the British Government.
I am pleased to accept the amendment proposed by Senator Pauline O'Reilly, which was seconded by Senator Garvey. Senator O'Reilly also spoke about the changing demographic in Northern Ireland and the big story where the Alliance Party more than doubled the number of its seats.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly spoke about the Bill on election posters that she intends to introduce. I believe it is a good thing to have fewer election posters. Senator Garvey mentioned it is the people who have the most money who can afford the most posters. I suggest, however, that it also benefits the incumbent to not have election posters because he or she is already known. I recall that had I not had posters for my first local election, that might have made it a bit more difficult to get elected. Posters have a role to play. Perhaps posters could be made from different types of material and have set places to erect them yet give everybody a fair chance because posters have a role to play when one is starting out in politics.
Senator Gavan spoke about the killing of an Al Jazeera journalist. I extend our sympathies to her colleagues, family and community following her shocking death. I also thank Senator Gavan for alerting the House about a briefing today and extending an invitation to attend.
I note his comments about housing and community. There are ongoing difficulties. There is no point in denying that there is a housing crisis and I suggest it has been with us for more than a decade. The Government has allocated a record amount of more than €4 billion to the Housing for All policy. We are seeing an increase in the commencement and building of houses despite the past two years where construction was closed down for periods. Obviously we must also deal with inflation pressures in terms of building materials and a lack of labour supply. There are significant challenges but despite that, there has been an increase in the commencement and building of houses. The number of housing units is going in the right direction. We are starting to turn that ship but it is a challenge. Senator Gavan also spoke about the affordable housing scheme in Limerick. Social and private housing will be built and affordable housing is just one element of the housing plan. I acknowledge his remark that he believes the number of social housing is not sufficient for his community and we will request a debate on housing at the earliest opportunity.
Senator Buttimer requested a debate in advance of the budget. We know that budget negotiations will kick off pretty soon and will be in full swing during the summer recess. Therefore, I think that it would be helpful for us to have a debate in the House before the summer recess and we will request that debate.
Senator Buttimer, like other Senators, spoke about men's sheds and the briefing that some Senators attended today that took place across the road in Buswells Hotel. In my own community in Mayo, there are many men's sheds in operation. There is no doubt but that the establishment of the men's sheds movement has saved lives across the country and has helped tackle the scourge of mental health issues across communities but particularly for men who do not have the same outlets that women sometimes have in terms of meeting friends and having somewhere to go. The movement is really important and needs our support. I acknowledge the comment the Senator made about how 70 men's sheds have not re-opened since the pandemic. There is an onus on us to assist the organisers of those men's sheds to get them up and running. I also note the point made by Senator Gallagher that the Irish Men's Shed Association would like assistance to initiate a national campaign to recruit more members, raise awareness of their work and encourage other men to join their local men's sheds.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the review announced by the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to assess school buildings that are lying vacant and empty after school hours and to consider ways to repurpose or re-use them for community reasons while vacant for a few hours. It is a good initiative and I suggest to the Senator that a Commencement matter would be an appropriate avenue to get an update on when the review is due to be completed.
Senator Currie spoke passionately about the victims of the Troubles and the proposed amnesty from the British Government. Almost all, if not all Senators, would concur with her remarks in that regard.
Senator Garvey, as I mentioned, spoke about the Green Party's Private Members' Bill on election posters that will be taken next week.
Senator Keogan spoke about the proposed legislation, from a European context, that regulates the control of chat forums. I do not have the full details on the proposal. I take on board her comments around whether it is right to have a policy of mass surveillance. My view is that it is not. While I do not think the ends justify the means, I understand the reasoning for the legislation. I am sure we would all agree that we need to tackle and try to address the issues she raised around child pornographic material and abusive material. I believe we should alert citizens to these proposals. I also believe that such policies and laws should come from the citizens they will affect. I take on board the Senator's remarks in that regard.
Senator Boyhan put on the record of the House news of the passing of Mr. Alan Gillis and paid tribute to his immense contribution to public life plus his expertise in agriculture. I am impressed by the fact that Mr. Gillis owned 375 acres. He seems like a man who had a very good and fulfilled life.
He had vision and wisdom.
Yes, exactly. Alan Gillis achieved a lot according to what Senator Boyhan put on the record this morning. The Senator paid him a very fitting tribute and I concur with his remarks. I extend our sympathies to his family, community and the Fine Gael Party on the passing of Alan Gillis.
Finally, Senator McGreehan spoke about Irish Water. She has previously raised this issue that concerns the inhabitants of the area around the Cooley Peninsula. I urge the representatives of Irish Water to engage with the Senator and other people in the community to ensure there is adequate water pressure in order that people can run showers. I do not think that it is too much to ask that people have basic water services in this day and age.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 22 be taken before No. 1." It has been seconded by Senator Garvey. The Deputy Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed?
It is not agreed. I want to make a point and I will not divide the house on it but I believe that election posters are hugely important and create a consciousness.
I encourage the Senator to read the Bill as he will learn that it does not ban everything.
I believe that if we do not have election posters, RTÉ and the radio stations will ration out the time among the existing parties. As the Deputy Leader said, it is okay for the existing incumbents but is bad news for anyone entering politics.
The Senator has a famous track record for putting up posters.
Having said that, I will reluctantly agree.
Despite that intervention, is the amendment to the Order of Business agreed? Agreed.