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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 12 May 2022

Vol. 285 No. 3

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on a recent media report regarding governance in local authorities, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3 p.m., with the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed eight minutes, all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than seven minutes to reply to the debate.

The first issue I wish to raise relates to unauthorised developments. At the moment in County Kildare, as with many other counties, we are going through the long and arduous process of the county development plan. All Members know how difficult it is to get planning for a one-off house or many other types of development. Unauthorised developments, however, are popping up to a significant extent. I am speaking in particular about my experience in south Kildare but I have no doubt the same could be true across the country. I have been working with local councillors on several cases in Rathangan, Newbridge and Kildare town and there is no doubt that we need a more effective system for dealing with unauthorised developments. The resources of local authorities are stretched very thin. That is particularly true in Kildare because there is one county council but two Dáil constituencies. There are issues in respect of enforcement and that is basically what is causing the problems. We cannot allow unauthorised developments to go unchecked. In several of the cases to which I refer the developments are causing significant issues for neighbours. Even after being instructed to stop and having gone through the courts system, some of the developers are continuing to develop their sites. That is leading to a financially onerous situation for local authorities. The system we have is costly and inefficient and does not meet the needs of communities. There is a need for the House to have a debate on this issue.

The second issue I wish to raise relates to public transport. I welcome the reduction in public transport fares that was announced. It makes a significant difference for many people. We need to ensure that all services are affordable, but also reliable. I refer to the No. 120 Go-Ahead bus route. It basically starts in Edenderry and goes through Derrinturn, Newbridge, Allenwood and Kilmeague on its way to Dublin. It sometimes goes through Suncroft as well. It is a key commuter route but it is not up to scratch. Signage and so on are a problem. I have received a commitment that will be fixed. The route is completely unreliable, however. People are relying on the service to get to work, college or hospital appointments. Last Thursday morning, two buses did not show up. On Friday morning, three buses did not show up. That forces commuters to take expensive taxis, miss appointments or go to the expense of buying a second car. It is not acceptable and it will deter people from using public transport.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to bring the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConaloge, around rural County Kildare. We spoke to farmers and breeders about the challenges they are facing, particularly those in the context of Brexit, climate change and the Ukraine war. A particular point raised related to fertiliser. I saw this morning, and it is worth noting, that fertiliser manufacturer Yara International has reported a threefold increase in profitability for the first quarter of 2022 despite a sharp fall in product deliveries. One could say it is possibly a sixfold increase. That has to be addressed.

I apologise for interrupting the Senator. I ask that there be silence in the Public Gallery.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, given the price of fertiliser and the profitability of the company despite the lack of availability. This will put farmers under significant pressure. It is a difficult issue for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deal with, but something has to be done.

I welcome the students from Listowel to the Public Gallery. They are very welcome. I hope they have a good day.

They are from the kingdom.

I had the pleasure of meeting them in the corridor on the way in.

We will not mention Páirc Uí Rinn last Saturday night.

I acknowledge and pay tribute to the women and men of the nursing fraternity and profession on International Nurses Day. I thank them for their work not just during Covid, but in general. I acknowledge that the Covid pandemic payment needs to be paid and expedited as a matter of urgency. I hope the Leader will bring that request from the Seanad back to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. It is important we pay tribute to nurses working in all aspects of healthcare.

I have made my next contribution previously but I want to do so again in light of the potential rise in ECB interest rates and the fact that inflation in this country reached a 22-year high today. As the world, and Europe in particular, wrestles with the war in Ukraine and our reliance on Russian energy, I am calling for a debate on fiscal policy and budgetary and economic matters as a matter of extreme urgency. There is the Committee on Budgetary Oversight in the Oireachtas but Seanad Éireann can play a role in the framing and preparation of the budget. Although this House does not have a specific budgetary role under the Constitution, we can facilitate a debate in terms of fiscal policy for October. I hope that between now and the summer recess the Leader will consider and, perhaps, facilitate a range of debates on economic, budgetary and fiscal matters. It is important that we do so. As all present are aware, prices have gone up and people are wrestling with balancing their household or business budgets.

Today is an important day for nurses and I hope the House will send a strong message to nurses in all aspects of healthcare that we acknowledge, thank and pay tribute to them. They are a pivotal and important part of all aspects of healthcare, from public health nursing to hospital care and from elderly care to care for young children.

I thank our nurses. I am proud to be the son of two nurses who were devoted to their profession. Like so many members of that profession, they continue to be so, and I thank them today.

I join Senator Buttimer and other colleagues in welcoming the students from Listowel, which is a great town. I hope there are future writers among them. Listowel is famous for its writers. One of the great writers from Listowel wrote a letter to Brendan Kennelly, who, in turn, had written to one of the people working at the newspaper The Kerryman. In the early days, Brendan Kennelly was not as good as he became. He got a letter back stating that in his writings he was making all the right mistakes. I hope the students in the Gallery all become writers and come back to visit us again soon. We are delighted they are here and we hope they enjoy their day in Seanad Éireann and in Leinster House.

I join the Cathaoirleach in welcoming the students from Kerry. He stated that he would like them to be writers. I would like some of them to be politicians. I do not think he advocated that. There is plenty of opportunity in the future for them.

W.B. Yeats was more famous as a writer than as a Senator.

Earlier, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine announced a €45 million emergency package under the Brexit adjustment reserve, BAR, fund, which is really good news. This is the second BAR announcement in recent times. The impact of these packages is critical, particularly in the context of capital and diversification in the fishing and marine industries. That is clearly critical not only in parts of Cork and in Donegal but also around the coast. Dún Laoghaire Harbour, which I live beside, received funding in the previous BAR announcement. That is really important. We on this island, particularly those of us in the Seanad, do not spend enough time talking about fisheries and the marine. Perhaps at some stage in the future we might have focused statements on the fishing industry and the challenges that go with it. I acknowledge and salute the enormous work the Minister has done in that regard. This scheme is operated by Bord Iascaigh Mhara and all the details of it are on its website.

This morning, I received a really nice postcard. We in Leinster House receive a lot of angry letters but we also receive a lot of nice letters. This is a little postcard with an image of the Proclamation on the front. On the back is a thank-you note regarding the debate we had in this House - a very respectful debate, might I add - on the mother and baby homes and illegal adoptions. It is from a group called the Irish Registered Adoptees. It does not have an address on it but it came through the post today and I thought it was nice and fitting that it was on this Proclamation postcard, which is clearly bought and not homemade. I have never seen it before. It is just an acknowledgement that people are always listening in. I acknowledge the way in which the Minister for Children , Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth conducted himself and interacted with many of the visitors after the debate that night. He engaged extensively with a number of the people in the House well into the night, and they really appreciated that.

In that context, I call again for a debate on children. We have spent a lot of time talking about the history of children in care, vulnerable children, displaced children and children disconnected from their parents or families through various circumstances. At this time, we can learn so much from the past and put into place supports for children. I am thinking especially of Ukrainian children and education. The Leader will be aware that I have asked before for a focused debate on education, and I call for it again. I was reminded of that because there was a segment on "Morning Ireland" about it. Some Department officials are meeting today to talk about how they will manage and cope with school places in September, specifically in the context of Ukrainian children and the importance of full integration of and support for both them and their parents. I ask that we have that debate and a focus not only on education but also on play for children because that is critical to their personal development.

I call for statements on the latest annual report of the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon. He has done amazing work. The Cathaoirleach talks about Seanad reform. Let us make it real, let us make it relevant and let us bring before the House current reports and discuss and debate them here.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 17 be taken before No. 1." No. 17 is the Animal Health and Welfare (Dogs) Bill 2022. This is legislation on which I have worked closely with the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, DSPCA. Many people are familiar with the images of puppies seized at ports or on the border or from illegal puppy farms. All too often people offer to take the poor mites in, but most people are not aware that animals seized under the Animal Health and Welfare Act cannot be rehomed either until the dog is surrendered voluntarily by the owner or until the legal proceedings conclude. That means that puppies, after receiving whatever essential veterinary care they need, must remain in either foster homes or, worse, in the animal shelter. This means that they could be nearly two years old before they have a permanent loving home to go to. This also places a significant financial burden on the rescue organisations, which is often not recovered in court decisions and is being used by the illegal dog smugglers to drain the resources of those organisations. My Bill seeks to bring the Animal Health and Welfare Act in line with the Control of Dogs Act in order that dogs seized under the Control of Dogs Act, if they are found roaming or are unlicensed, can be rehomed after five days if they are not claimed. My Bill would allow for those dogs seized under the Animal Health and Welfare Act to be rehomed after five days, subject to a veterinarian deeming it to be in the best interest of the animal's welfare.

Another element of the Bill would align the microchipping law and the dog licensing laws. Currently, a dog licence can be obtained online very easily. In some cases, criminals use dog licences to retrospectively claim ownership of dogs that have been seized. My Bill will make it mandatory for the licence to include the microchip of the dog in addition to the current requirement of a description. In addition, it would mean that the local authorities would continue to get the revenue from dog licensing, which they absolutely need. It would also help to raise awareness among dog owners that they are required by law not only to have their animals microchipped but also to have the details on the microchip kept up to date. Many people, including very responsible dog owners, are unaware that their dogs might still be registered to the breeder or to a previous owner. Given the devastation we know families go through when their dogs are stolen or go missing, up-to-date microchip information is the single most important tool in reuniting a beloved family pet with its family.

I hope the House will accept my amendment to the Order of Business and that we will soon have an opportunity to bring this Bill to Second Stage. This is notwithstanding the wonderful work that organisations such as the DSPCA and Dogs Trust do. I thank the DSPCA for all its support on the Bill. No dog should spend a day longer than is absolutely necessary in a shelter.

I second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.

I wish to raise the issue of the latest Daft report. It comes on the back of a number of reports from both Daft and the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, which show that rents in the country are rising exponentially. They are a huge contributor to the cost-of-living crisis. They are up 11% nationwide. In particular, there is a real worry in the north west, where the rent on a lot of homes that are not in rent pressure zones has gone up by nearly 20%. The issue is very concentrated there. The Daft report highlights in particular the lack of rental properties that are available and coming onto the market for people to move into. That indicates a big problem with supply. To my mind, the way to address this supply crisis is to invest in cost-rental housing, which we know is more linked to affordability than other forms of housing. Instead the Government launched yesterday the Croí Cónaithe fund, which essentially gives a no-questions-asked subsidy to developers in order to complete apartment buildings in towns and cities. The subsidy, potentially, can be €120,000 per apartment. Only €5 million will be allocated to the fund this year, but the amount involved will eventually rise to €500 million. That money would be much better invested in and spent on better the development of cost-rental housing.

We need to look at this as a longer-term project. Countries such as Germany or Austria have done so, where they reinvest the money from rents in providing cost-rental housing and build other housing. It is not the answer to give developers subsidies in order to build housing. While we have a supply crisis, the way to address that is through State and Government intervention, not through incentivising developers. We know what happened when that last happened.

I want to raise the issue of build-to-rent standards. We have supply coming on. For example, there has been a supply of approximately four years within Dublin that has not yet commenced. While I am not against build-to-rent, because I do not see anything wrong with the tenure of people renting, I do have a problem with the affordability. We also need to be building stock that will last into the future. This is because it requires an awful lot of carbon to build that stock.

I live in a very small house of 40 sq m. One of the things we need in our very small house is storage, because we are planning on living there for a long time. Unfortunately, in build-to-rent apartments there is not adequate storage, there are not adequate balconies and they are not buildings that we could see in 50 years being developed into housing that is still there and operational. They are just boxes. I understand that the Government needs and wants to bring supply. This is welcome, but we need to make sure that such housing can last into the future and for hundreds of years.

I wish to raise an important issue on the Order of Business that I brought to the attention of this House in January 2021 concerning cases of hepatitis. At the time, I genuinely thought it was unique to have cases of hepatitis in Ireland. Today it was reported on RTÉ News that unfortunately, a young child has died from hepatitis. Another young child needs a liver transplant due to hepatitis. In the case in Labre Park that I was speaking about, and in many other cases, there are people living in marginalised accommodations and in horrible living conditions within many communities. I have seen outbreaks of hepatitis A in Wexford, Carlow and on both sides of Dublin.

Not only am I nervous, but all of Ireland is also now nervous about the welfare of children in respect of hepatitis. It is a conversation that we need to have as soon as possible in this House. The Minister needs to come in to update us on the information he has and to outline how we can put services in place. There is a stigma and a shame that comes with hepatitis and now, more than ever, we need to have these conversations. I note the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC, has reported 450 cases worldwide. I would like to get information from the Minister for Health about this. This has not been in Ireland just for the last number of months but to the best of my knowledge, it has been here since before January 2021. It is important that we get this conversation going about hepatitis in our country now, as soon as possible.

This morning, I attended the opening of the Dublin Climate Summit 2022 in UCD’s O’Reilly Hall. The Taoiseach was the first guest speaker to make a speech. He had a question-and-answer session with the organisers directly afterwards, which has already been covered by the national media this morning.

The Taoiseach pointed out that the climate change challenges are very stark. We need a debate and an update on this. We do lots of talking about it, put in carbon budgets and so on but yet, how do we implement all these things? How do we make sure we are making our move to active travel and to public transport? We heard Senator O’Loughlin complaining about people trying to use public transport and then the bus does not turn up. People are trying to retrofit their houses and they cannot find plumbers or people to do updated heating systems. They cannot get windows. They cannot get retrofitting for insulation and so on.

We therefore need not just a single-session debate but rather a series of debates to deal with the idea of climate change, with just transition and with the different sectors. The debate should address how we are dealing with it in agriculture, how we are dealing with in housing and how we are dealing with in transport. The challenges are stark and urgent and while everyone says that we must do it, we are not all doing it. We are perhaps not in a position to do it. This is about how we move to the new economy and about the circular economy discussion, which is about reusing, reducing and recycling.

All those points are really important matters we should debate in this House. There is an urgency to it, particularly in the context of rising energy prices. Fuel is getting more expensive but if we can manage to reduce people's fuel use that will save them money. Equally, people may not initially have the funds to provide for the construction themselves. Therefore, we need to be looking at how we can front-load the construction and then people can pay it back to their ESB bills or pay it back in other ways. There are also grants needed from the carbon tax and so on.

We need an urgency in this House. We need to take on board Mary Robinson’s challenge to us at the launch of the Seanad100 programme to take ownership of this topic. The sooner we have debate on the urgency of climate change in its broadest form, the better.

I know that I am out of time, but I also seek an update on how we are getting on with our new Ukrainian people. I have met people who have found them in retail and in hairdressers. They have been really impressed with their willingness to be involved and to integrate into the community and in schools. We might get an update on how we are doing on that soon.

Speaking of our new Ukrainian friends, the Cabinet subcommittee will be meeting today to review where we are at. We now have 29,000 Ukrainians living in Ireland. Many of these are children who are going to school and who have little English. There is also a quite a number of Ukrainians who were teachers in Ukraine. They have good English and are working in schools doing translation. Yet, it has come to my attention over the past few days that, so far, they have not been paid. The convoluted process to recognise their qualifications through the Teaching Council is causing them a huge amount of distress. Some of them are in a situation where they cannot get certain documentation from Ukraine for reasons that are clearly obvious. Yet, the Teaching Council is not showing any flexibility. The paperwork is complicated and convoluted. These people are in the schools and are providing support for the school community. Vitally, they are acting as a communication link between the children and the teachers. When will the Teaching Council cop itself on, reduce the red tape and resolve this problem? Will these teachers get their back payment to the day that they started teaching? They could easily go off and get jobs and cafes or in the hospitality industry, which badly needs them, but their top priority is to do what they are trained to do, that is, teaching and ensuring that the children who have come here from Ukraine get every possible opportunity to learn and to be happy. When you have hundreds of Ukrainian people, mostly women, in our schools who providing supports for nothing, because they are not getting paid, that is not acceptable. I would appreciate a debate on this, or at least a query to the Minister's office about whether they will get their backdated payments and when the Teaching Council will cop itself on.

Over the weekend, we learned of another member of the Defence Forces from the vital bomb disposal services who is leaving because he cannot afford to keep his family on his income. A payment of €35 for a 24-hour duty is hardly an incentive to stay. There are talks commencing with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, with respect to the current pay round because of inflation etc. For years, the Department of Defence and the Minister have dithered on whether they would allow affiliation.

The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, has balloted its members and they also want to be affiliated to ICTU. The Commission on the Defence Forces, which was established by the Government and the report of which was given to the Minister last February, recommends that it be allowed to affiliate, but still no decision has been made. This is nonsense. It is a simple stroke of a pen by the Minister. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister to ask him if he would please make a decision, once and for all, and allow these people to have the same parity of esteem when it comes to negotiating on pay.

The second issue relates to Hong Kong and the human rights abuses taking place there on a daily basis. Yesterday, a Catholic archbishop was arrested in Hong Kong. Could we organise to have a debate on the situation in Hong Kong? I am fully aware of the sensitivities of anything to do with China, but we cannot sit on our hands and allow human rights abuses to take place in any part of the world purely because there are a couple of tonnes of beef on the other side of the equation. We just cannot do that. I ask the Leader if she would be willing to hold a debate on human rights, specifically in the context of Hong Kong.

I was not here on certain days for the Order of Business so it is possible that the issue of high energy prices has been discussed this week. If so, I apologise for bringing it up again. We learned recently that householders are paying €250 more for electricity than the EU average. We are told by journalists like Charlie Weston and others involved in the media, including Daragh Cassidy of, that our electricity prices are between 26% and 28% higher than the EU average. Only a small number of countries, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, have more expensive energy prices. We must bear in mind that those figures, which show an enormous difference, were published before the war in Ukraine. We have a major issue here with the cost of electricity. That is despite the fact that there are 12 electricity suppliers in this country, which is high number for an island of this size, but we still seem to have a significant issue with the cost. On average, most families will pay €800 or €900 a year more annually for electricity. That will be a shocking weight around the necks of many families in the coming months and years if the war does not come to an end. The war is not helping the situation. I ask that we have the Minister in here, not to fire arrows at him but for a constructive debate. We can all come up with new ideas on why electricity costs so much more in this country. I always make the point that we are part of the EU, but we are an island off Europe and providing anything in an island country is always more expensive, but, nevertheless, there is a stark difference in electricity prices, and the Government needs to investigate the matter.

I rise today, International Nurses Day, to pay tribute to nurses on the wonderful work they do, many of them in very tough circumstances. I often raise many of the issues that are going on at University Hospital Limerick and how the staff are working in horrific circumstances, but I pay tribute to them because they work every hour when they are at work, and they give it their all to make sure that the patients and everybody within the hospital have a very safe experience. They are so committed to their jobs. I pay tribute to them because it is important to acknowledge the hard work they put in. Many nurses work in nursing home settings or in health centres. They are very committed, and they undertake the upskilling and training they require over many years. I pay tribute to them and wish them all the best in the future.

I have just come from the front gates of Leinster House where a considerable number of former Debenhams workers have gathered in advance of the debate on a Bill being put before the Dáil today. It is two years, one month and one day since they lost their jobs in such a shameful way. Last month, I stated in this Chamber that we had a lot of honeyed words back in the spring and summer of 2020 and that we have yet to see any substantive action from the Government. There have been many promises with regard to the employment law review group, but we have yet to see anything from it.

My colleague, Senator Moynihan, referred to the Daft report. Rents have increased by more than 11%. The Labour Party introduced a living wage Bill this week to ensure that we move all minimum wage workers to a living income over the next three years.

Many are listening to the debate on the national maternity hospital. They see it as a bubble debate. We all want to see a new national maternity hospital built as soon as possible. It is important to state for the record, however, that I very much believe this is a lousy deal. I am conscious that the scrutiny by the Legislature will be complete as of today. Once what is proposed passes through the Joint Committee on Health, it will go to the Cabinet next week unchanged. Ultimately, this will be a public-private hospital. It will be privately influenced because there are three private directors who will decide the chair in three years' time. The key issue of why we are in this place is because the State has failed. The Government has not had the courage to make the site the subject of a compulsory purchase order in order to put it up to St. Vincent's. This is a hospital that receives millions of euro every year under a service level agreement. The questions that we have about why St. Vincent's so desperately wants this site and how it intends to use its ownership of the site into the future will only be answered in time. It is a real shame, however, that we are going to see a new hospital on this site that is not going to be developed as a full public hospital but that will instead be a public-private hospital.

Last weekend, we in the Fine Gael Party had a very successful meeting in Tullamore in respect of agriculture and rural Ireland. Hundreds of people were there and wanted to give their views on what we, as a Government, could do to support them. It was a listening exercise for us. As a party, we have always prided ourselves on representing rural Ireland and farmers. Many people from my county were there. In that context, could I ask that we have a debate on rural Ireland and farming because we are the party that created the Department of Rural and Community Development under the then Minister, Deputy Ring. The current Minister is Deputy Humphreys. When we look to support rural Ireland, it is through that Department as well as the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Both can help to enhance regions like mine in Tipperary. We have been fortunate to have many schemes, such at the town and village renewal scheme, the rural regeneration scheme and a new scheme for the improvement and development of community halls. Could we have a debate with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, on the schemes that are available to rural communities such as those in my county of Tipperary and what there can be done in the future? Representatives from a number of villages and communities have already come to me to ask if they can make applications in respect of the community hall scheme. There is €15 million available. That money will be gobbled up very quickly in view of the number of villages that are interested in the scheme. In future, we will need to put more money into it.

Rural Ireland needs to be supported. It has been supported by Fine Gael in the past. It needs to be in the future. In every single recession we have had in this country, it has been rural Ireland and agriculture that have helped us to recover. It was no different ten years ago in the context of the most recent recession. I ask that we get a chance before the recess in July to have the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, come before the House to outline her plans to get as much money as possible in the budget for rural Ireland.

In the last couple of days I have been reflecting after the visit of my great friend and colleague, Senator Ward, and Senator Ahearn to Ukraine. There is particular risk for Members of the Oireachtas participating in these visits. I am concerned about depleted uranium, which is a by-product of nuclear enrichment after uranium-235 is extracted. The remnant uranium is widely used as armour and on the tips of projectiles, missiles and bullets by both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries. I am conscious of that when I look at the pictures from Ukraine.

Wherever one sees a burnt-out vehicle or a building that has been destroyed, there will be massive amounts of depleted uranium present in the environment. It is a highly toxic contaminant. It is used as a hardened projectile or a penetrating tip but when it hits the target with the kinetic energy that is provided it oxidises and generates millions of microscopic particles of depleted uranium that are invisible to the human eye. They are very persistent, because they are heavy, and they will remain in the location of the strike for years. If a person were to pose next to a vehicle and brush off it or accidentally touch it or even go into a building or inside a burnt-out vehicle to have a look, there is a possibility that the person may inhale one or two of these particles or even ingest them. One particle inhaled would be the equivalent of having a chest X-ray every day for the rest of one's life. It is associated with multiple tumours in the lungs, oesophagus and the digestive tract. These weapons have proliferated and the calibres have gone down so it is very commonplace in the environment.

I advise all Members of the Oireachtas, and I do not know who is travelling out there, to seek health and safety advice about how to prepare for a visit. There are certain things one should and should not do. The United Nations Training School Ireland in the Curragh used to provide such training days, and I used to contribute to those. If anybody is travelling and has a concern, I would be delighted to meet him or her, have a cup of coffee and give a few very useful tips for travelling to a hostile environment, particularly one that is contaminated in this way. Is there any way of communicating this to our colleagues in the Dáil who may not be listening to this or hear it? It is a very pressing concern.

Thank you, Senator, for your telephone call about this topic. Given your experience, it is always important to learn from experts and people who have such knowledge, as you do. Obviously, we are in discussions with the Defence Forces and we are getting a briefing from them in advance, but the topic you raise is a very practical issue in terms of avoiding all elements of harm and I will share that with the Ceann Comhairle. Thank you for raising the issue.

Two days ago I raised the spectre of the new Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the fact that he is a former security minister there and that he has been involved in the past in crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations, particularly in 2019 and since then. Overnight, we see the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen as an expansion of that crackdown on those who were involved in the 2019 pro-democracy demonstrations. It is another indication, as if we needed it, of Beijing in particular and, through Beijing, the Hong Kong Administration's absolute determination to suppress any discussion, opposition or political freedom of expression. It is tremendously important that Ireland takes a stand on this and makes it known to Beijing and Hong Kong that it is not acceptable and that Ireland is absolutely opposed to that type of behaviour. I hope we can do that and perhaps, if it is possible, we can invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House to discuss that subject as well.

This morning I had the pleasure of going to my alma mater, St. Laurence College in Loughlinstown, which is hosting a community day. There was a fantastic atmosphere with lots of community organisations there. They included local sports clubs such as St. Joseph's soccer club in Sallynoggin, Cuala GAA from Dalkey and the Leinster Rugby women's academy with their rugby skills. Emily McKeown, the women's development officer, and Ailsa Hughes, an Irish international scrum half, were showing the skills to young girls and boys from St. Laurence's and the surrounding area and exposing them to rugby. I had a conversation with them and I was struck by how little they are resourced in real terms in helping women's sports advance in this country. There is a misconception that somehow there is a greater interest in men-only sports and they therefore get attention that is beyond what is reasonable. There is a growing interest in women's sports, particularly international rugby. I was at some of the international matches this year and they are every bit as competitive, if not more so. They are very well attended and they are great events.

Could we have a debate about what resources the State is specifically targeting at women's sports, internationally and professionally or semi-professionally, and also women's participation in sport, which is well below the level at which it should be? We should be pushing for a much stronger agenda for women's sport in this country and we should invite the Minister to the House for a discussion on that subject.

This morning saw the publication of the first quarter Irish rental report by Daft and it paints a stark picture of the housing situation in Ireland. Market rents are at a record high, with inflation close to record rates since 2005. The average market rent per month rose from just over €1,400 a year ago to €1,567 in the first quarter of 2022. This level of rent is over twice the low of €765 per month of just over a decade ago in late 2011. It is more than 50% higher than the Celtic tiger economy peak of €1,030 per month in the first quarter of 2008. That is an astounding figure. I doubt that the people walking in the streets of Dublin would say that it feels like we are back in the Celtic tiger economy by any other metric.

However, sky-high rents are not the only prong of the fork poking the Irish people. The availability of new rental homes has utterly collapsed since 2019. On 1 May this year, there were 850 homes available to rent nationwide. That is down 77% year on year and, frankly, is an unprecedented number in a series extending back to the start of 2006. The average number of homes available to rent nationwide at any given point in time over the 15-year period from 2006 to 2021 was nearly 9,200, which is over ten times the supply available today. Granted this figure does not account for the rentals offered by multi-unit rentals but ,even so, the current analysis by Daft predicts that there are not enough multi-unit rental developments, perhaps only a few hundred homes, to overturn the extraordinary tightening in rental supply in the traditional rental market.

The release of this report is timely as it coincides with the conclusion of the Housing Commission's conference on a referendum on housing in Ireland. Nobody has mentioned that in this House over the last number of days. On that front, I find myself agreeing with my colleague, Senator McDowell, and I understand the frustration that this was caused by the failure of successive Governments to tackle the housing crisis. I am sympathetic to those who would seek recourse through the Judiciary through the enforcement of a constitutional right to housing, but I believe that the implementation of a solution to this crisis is the remit of the Executive and that is where the pressure must be applied.

Next Tuesday will be the 48th anniversary of the Monaghan and Dublin bombings. Every year for the past 48 years the families of the victims have been searching for answers as to who was behind the awful atrocity that occurred in 1974. An investigation is currently under way. It is headed by Mr. Jon Boucher, a former chief constable in the UK. His team is seeking documentation from both the British and Irish authorities. We have been pleading with the British Government for years to hand over documents, but that has fallen on deaf ears to date. Thankfully, the security service, MI5, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and the Minister for Defence are now co-operating with Mr. Boucher's investigation, known as Operation Kenova.

What is disappointing is that, to date, the Garda has not handed over any documents whatsoever regarding this investigation. That is considerably disappointing for the families of the victims. I understand that the Garda's interpretation of whether this is called an investigation or review is part of the problem. It is difficult that although the terms of reference were signed off on this some time ago by Mr. Drew Harris, the Garda Commissioner, we are still in a limbo with regard to whether we call what is happening an investigation or a review. Quite frankly, for the families who have been waiting 48 years, that is simply not good enough.

I ask the Leader to ask the relevant Minister to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to tell us the exact cause of the problem and the delay, and why the terms of reference that were signed off on have become an issue. I would be grateful if the Leader could do this as a matter of urgency because the families of the victims have been waiting 48 years for answers. That is far too long.

I thank the Senator for raising that important issue this morning.

This morning, I attended a briefing at and tour of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, with the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, Professor Shane Higgins, the master of the hospital, Ms Mary Brosnan, the director of midwifery, the senior clinical team, and other Members of the Oireachtas. The hospital building dates from the 1930s. There are two wards, one with 15 rooms. Women going into labour are separated by a curtain and there is one toilet. We walked around the hospital and noted that the corridors are too narrow to take beds. Beds cannot be fitted into the lifts.

Portiuncula University Hospital, Ballinasloe, dates to the 1940s. We fought so hard to get a 50-bed unit across the line two years ago. It took ten to 15 years to do so. It has still not been built. It is at stage 2, thank God, and will be built, but we needed that hospital 20 years ago. The women of Ireland needed a new national maternity hospital 20 years ago. It is not good enough to say that the quality of life entailed is acceptable for women or that we have to pause. There are valid concerns among women.

We need to have very clear guidelines on the 299-year lease and the fact that the new hospital will provide services. There are letters, signed by more than 400 clinicians from around the country and also England, about the services that will be provided at our new national maternity hospital, which involves a multimillion euro investment. The conditions in which women are currently having their babies are incredible. One member of the senior team I met this morning said women who must deal with certain medical procedures must also deal with the crisis of losing a baby. Bereaved women, who have just experienced one of the biggest losses in their lives, must go in and out the same door as those going in to have their babies.

We have to have a duty of care to women. We have to have equality of care, and this State must deliver that. It should have delivered it years ago. The State needs to deliver it now. It is not enough to say we can wait longer. We need to have the support of the Government to move the project forward, and we need to deliver the services for women. I want to ensure that our Government is taking all the steps necessary to provide reassurance to people who have valid concerns. We know from our clinical experts and the legal team who spoke to us this morning and previously that there are concerns to be met. Seanad Éireann needs to say it is delivering services for women in Ireland - services we can stand over. Right now, we cannot stand over them.

I ask for a debate on infrastructure. I have in mind a piece of infrastructure extending from Longford towards Ballaghaderreen, with which Senator Murphy would be very familiar. It bypasses Strokestown. I refer to the N5, which has been the subject of problems because Roadbridge went into receivership. The project may well have to be retendered for. There are problems now. The Leader might like to organise a debate on infrastructure. The infrastructure in question is very important to the west; it is the gateway to the west. The project has been approved and work has been done on it. The route has been fenced. I would like to know what is happening.

Before I call on the Leader to respond, I would like to make a few comments. As Senators know, all politics is local. Next Saturday is the 60th anniversary of our local barber opening his shop in Kenmare. Pete Hanley, who is on Henry Street, just a few doors down from my-----

Not much of customer.

I will be a customer on Saturday; I can guarantee that.

Has the Cathaoirleach ever gone in there?

Pete has been a barber in Kenmare for 60 years. He is a great character. Not only did he play football for Kenmare, he also played for Kerry. He has many stories, none of which I can repeat here because some of them are, well, very questionable. Nonetheless-----

Colourful and very creative. Pete will tell those stories when the Senators visit Kenmare during the summer. Pete has a claim to fame other than playing football for Kerry: in May 1969, he was asked to cut the hair of Charles de Gaulle, no less, after the latter had resigned as President of France. The whole world was looking for de Gaulle. He was staying in Reen-Na-Furraha. Our good friend Pete Hanley was asked not only to cut his hair but to shave him as well. They had a great conversation. He relayed the conversation but is now a State secret and will not be released until the remainder of the time covered by the 100-year rule is up. I wish Pete and all his family a great celebration on Saturday.

He got a few tips on the football field as well.

He could do that, too.

We all wish Pete continued success. May the Cathaoirleach enjoy the anniversary on Saturday.

Senator Paddy Burke was seeking a debate on infrastructure, particularly in the west. There is a standing request in Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for a debate on the national development plan. I will chase that up again today.

Senator Dolan recounted her tour of Holles Street hospital this morning. The building has been creaking at the seams for decades. Patches and short-term alterations do not cut the mustard. The need is no doubt glaring to every single one of us, but what needs to be put on the record - we all have varying opinions on the proposed new hospital - is the tremendous service that the women and men who work in what is an antiquated building give the women of Ireland in all their work.

On the matter raised by Senator Gallagher, I will send a letter to the Minister for Justice asking her to talk to the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Harris, to find out the reason for the delay with regard to defining what is happening as a review or an investigation. If a redefinition by the Minister is required and directions need to be issued by the Garda Commissioner, these should be done sooner rather than later seeing that the 48th anniversary is approaching very soon.

Senators Keogan and Moynihan asked for a debate on the latest Daft report. I will organise it in the coming weeks.

Senators Ward and Craughwell asked for a debate on Hong Kong, particularly on the human rights abuses that we hear of. I will organise that.

What Senator Clonan compassionately raised is so concerning. I was certainly not aware of it. I was not near anywhere that was being bombed, thankfully, but quite a number of our colleagues have been. I thank the Senator for raising the issue and sharing his knowledge. We got briefings on security and all local issues, but what was raised was certainly not in my briefing. However, I was not going to Ukraine. I thank the Senator for raising the matter in the House today and for his offer of assistance to anybody else going.

Senator Ahearn talked about the rural conference and looked for a debate on rural Ireland and regeneration. I will organise that as soon as I can.

Senator Sherlock spoke about the former Debenhams workers outside the House today and the Bill that will be before the Dáil next week.

Senators Maria Byrne and Buttimer both paid tribute to our nursing fraternity today, the International Nurses Day. Nurses' lifelong commitment not only to the patients they look after but also to their own educational resources is second to none.

Senator Murphy sought a debate on energy prices and the absolutely crazy variations highlighted to us this week by the media. Ireland is paying a rate that is 26% higher than the EU average. It certainly needs an explanation.

Senator Craughwell sought a debate on Hong Kong but also sought the affiliations of our Defence Forces' members. I will write to the Minister today to ask him to make a decision on that and let us know about it in the House.

Senator Conway spoke about the Teaching Council, but the matter is not unique to the council. For example, the medical practitioners legislation requires amendment so we can allow our trained, skilled, new refugees to work and use their skills in Ireland.

I will certainly bring that to the attention of the Cabinet sub-committee. There are a number of pieces of officialdom that need to be sorted out to help our people to integrate.

Senator Horkan spoke of coming from the Dublin climate summit and asked for a rolling series of debates on climate change and the updates that are happening. I will organise that. Senator Flynn spoke to us about the absolutely horrendous recent reports on the rise of hepatitis in Ireland and the substandard accommodation that is probably feeding into the increase. I will ask the Minister for an update and request a debate and come back on it.

Senator Moynihan looked for a debate on the Daft report. Senator Boylan outlined her dog Bill the full Title of which I did not catch. However, the merits of the Bill which she described absolutely warrant support and I wish her every success with it and hope to God to debate it here shortly.

Senator Boyhan spoke about the €45 million food and marine fund announced this week by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. He sought a debate on fishing and also on children. Senator Buttimer spoke about the ECB interest rate increases and the fact that unfortunately we are experiencing a 22-year high in inflation rates. He sought a range of debates on economic and budgetary matters. I will organise that.

Senator O'Loughlin opened today's debate talking about the scourge of unauthorised developments which I know is not unique to Kildare and we should have a more effective system of enforcement. She also talked about the unreliability of some of our service providers in the public transport sector and sought assurances that there would be better services, particularly given that we as a nation are trying to encourage people to get out of their cars and onto public transport. I will see if we can organise that debate.

I thank the Leader. Senator Boylan has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 17 be taken before No. 1". This has been seconded by Senator Moynihan. The Leader has indicated that she is willing to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.