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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Jun 2022

Vol. 285 No. 11

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 4 p.m., if not previously concluded, to be resumed at 8.30 p.m. or on conclusion of No. 103(1), whichever is the earlier, and to adjourn after 90 minutes if not previously concluded; No. 2, statements on the national maternity hospital and Women’s Health Action Plan to be taken at 4 p.m. and to adjourn at 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed eight minutes, all Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, Consumer Credit (Amendment) Bill 2022 – Second Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 6.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed seven minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes, all other Senators not to exceed three minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 103(1), Private Members' business, a formal motion in regard to Ukraine, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours.

Before calling on the Leader of the Fianna Fáil group to respond to the Order of Business I welcome the ambassador from Portugal to the House today. The Portuguese National Day is a moment when the country celebrates one of its heroes who is not a warrior as the ambassador pointed out, but a poet. We have had some famous poets in our Seanad, notably W. B. Yeats. The poet is Luís de Camões and the anniversary of his death in 1580 is the grounds for the celebration of the national day of Portugal. His epic poem, which is a bit like Homer's Ilead, recounts the voyage and journey of the discovery by Portuguese sailors in the 15th and 16th centuries. It unites all the people of Portugal around the world, its many citizens who live outside Portugal and many who live here in Ireland. Of course as we are both located on the edge of Europe our countries have a common and shared heritage in terms of the Atlantic Ocean and the wider world as two seafaring nations.

This year is the 360th anniversary of a Kerryman who played an important role in the story of Ireland and of Portugal, Daniel O'Daly, a Dominican friar originally from Kilsarkan, founded Corpo Santo seminary and a Dominican college for students in the centre of Lisbon in 1630.

Subsequently, he went on to found an Irish Dominican convent in Lisbon as well. The nuns in the institution only departed in 2016 and it still operates as a school under the auspices of the Irish Dominicans.

This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Portugal, in respect of Ireland having a presence in Lisbon. I am delighted to say we have an Oireachtas friendship group and Senator Gavan is the convenor, along with Senators O'Donovan, Conway, Craughwell and Byrne. I extend a particular welcome to our new Portuguese ambassador, who has not yet presented his credentials on behalf of his country and his people. Ambassador Bernardo Lucena is very welcome and we extend our best wishes to him and to all the people of Portugal on their national day. I thank the ambassador for being with us today.

I also welcome the ambassador and wish him well during his time here. I have had the good fortune and luck to avail of wonderful hospitality in his country over many years and I look forward to doing so again. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I would also like to be associated with the condolences the House has offered to the Jackman family and to the Fine Gael Party on the passing away of Mary Jackman. I had several meetings with her about 19 years ago. She struck me as a warm, kind and compassionate lady. Those meetings were in connection with Limerick getting ready for the 2003 Special Olympics World Games and the Senator was also involved in that regard. Ms Jackman came to all the meetings we had and she was keen to ensure that Limerick was a part of the vibrant experience and that the athletes, their coaches and their families would have a positive time in the city. I have many happy memories of a special lady.

I support the Order of Business as outlined. Turning to the issues I wish to raise today, I spoke many times about the need for dedicated day care for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease in County Kildare. I am pleased that we have sourced a place. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has been organising day care of this kind in County Kildare, but there have been five temporary locations. For the last three years, however, there has been no provision in this regard, apart from what could be offered in homes and online. We have now sourced a custom-built area and this development is going to be positive for the people of County Kildare. I thank the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, especially the Kildare branch of the society, chaired by Marie Conlan, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, and the HSE. It strikes me, however, that we need to map areas in the country where there are no dedicated Alzheimer's disease services. These services are greatly important to the people living with dementia and to their families.

Regarding the strategic housing development project that has started, and indeed that is now nearly completed, in Newbridge, this involved a decision where the county development plan was ignored. I always thought it was the wrong thing to do. In this case, however, it is a large housing estate and in the associated planning stages, Kildare County Council stipulated that there should be a pedestrian link between the Liffey linear park in respect of connectivity and school safety. These aspects are important. It would now appear that this condition has been revoked and, instead, that walkers and children going to school will be forced to go back out onto a busy road and to use two pedestrian crossings there. Something like this is completely wrong. We must ensure at the highest level that we place a focus on these types of linear walkways in nature. We all used them during the earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Equally, emphasis must be placed on their role as safe routes to schools. This is a situation where a provision specified in the planning permission, that was relevant, and to which people did not object because they thought it was the right thing to do, all of a sudden seems to have been renegotiated. There is something wrong with this.

I call Senator Maria Byrne. I thank her for bringing the passing of former Senator Mary Jackman to the notice of the House.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I paid my own tribute to former Senator Jackman yesterday, but I am thinking of her husband, Nick, her daughter, Nicola, and her sister, Ursula, who are watching this morning. I pass on my sympathies again. I thank my colleagues and I am sure many more will be contributing further kind words regarding the passing of the late Mary Jackman.

The CEO of Age Action Ireland was on "Morning Ireland" today speaking about senior citizens and the withdrawal of Ulster Bank and KBC from Ireland. I am on the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, and this issue was raised at our last meeting. We have had several meetings where we have brought in representatives of the banks. The spokesperson for Age Action Ireland today echoed the point I had made at the meeting of the joint committee last week. Many of us are computer-savvy or adept at email. People are receiving letters and emails about these bank changes and they must go online to change their direct debits and similar services. While the representatives of the banks who appeared at the finance committee said they were going to have people on hand to provide help in the banks, several technological aspects must still be surmounted.

Many older people are afraid because they are not computer savvy. This is causing them stress and strain. We should have a debate here regarding how best to advise people in this situation. Perhaps representatives of the banks could be brought in. While they have come to the joint committee already, we should communicate our reservations now concerning what older people are going through because of these changes. It is not a nice place for older people to find themselves. Banks have become all about computers now. This suits some people, but not all. This is one of the main reasons that I raise this issue today.

I may sound like a broken record when I bring up the topic of University Hospital Limerick, UHL, but it has been reported today in the newspapers that a family's loved one, who was in UHL, disappeared from the hospital. That person was missing for several hours before being found by the Garda. I am aware as well of another family whose members encountered a similar situation recently, but they did not go public about what happened.

Given this type of issue, as well the overcrowding in the hospital and the number of people waiting on beds there, it is evident that there is a serious problem at UHL. I asked the Deputy Leader yesterday if she would contact the Minister's office in this regard. I asked the Deputy Leader to do that because I wrote to that office seeking clarification regarding what is going to happen with the independent review. To date, I have received no correspondence in response on this issue. I am concerned for the health and safety of not only families and their loved ones who are using the hospital, but also for the staff. In the article where the family I mentioned gave details about their loved one going missing from the hospital, they said they would never go back to the hospital again. It is a terrible indictment of a hospital for a family to state they are afraid to take their loved one back there. Therefore, I would like the Acting Leader's support regarding this issue.

I warmly welcome the Portuguese ambassador to our Chamber. I also join my colleagues in extending my sympathy on the death of former Senator Mary Jackman. I knew her well personally. She engaged with me in respect of her own election to the Seanad. She was a Member of this House for two terms and, of course, spent 30 years as a county councillor in Limerick. Ms Jackman was the first female cathaoirleach, or mayor, of Limerick County Council and she was very proud of that. How things have changed and how we have progressed regarding women's access to politics from the time Ms Jackman was there. She was a person who was committed to the work of the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, and the General Council of County Councillors, GCCC, as it was then, prior to the advent of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG. Ms Jackman toured around the country advocating extensively and strongly for local government and its members, and particularly for women in local politics. I acknowledge her contribution in that regard. To her family, she was, as people said, an absolute lady, and a pleasure to know and an exceptionally warm, stylish and bright person. I will always remember her for those reasons.

I wish to extend my condolences to her family and to Fine Gael. She was at the centre of Fine Gael and terribly proud of her connections with it. I thank the Leader's office for arranging the extended time to debate the Birth Information and Tracing Bill. It is important legislation. There will be a number of amendments and I hope we will have a full House. It is among the most important legislation to come before us in the past few months. Very few people have been here to engage with it in the past. I personally have a stake in it and have been down this road. Perhaps I am biased. It is important legislation. I thank the Minister, who is engaging with it in the extended time.

I note the earlier comment about strategic housing developments. The strategic housing development process was a failure on the part of the last Administration. I have sat in here year in, year out, hearing Government Members be rightly critical of it, but it was Government policy. It changed and we have a new policy now, which is about time. Yesterday, yet again, the High Court overturned a major strategic housing development in Monkstown, County Dublin, at a site called Dalguise. Citizens, residents and communities cannot always be wrong, when the High Court is vindicating them and upholding the objections. We need a debate on An Bord Pleanála, its functions and its processes. I want a debate on its processes. I am not calling into question its decisions. Ultimately, the processes will take care of it.

Finally, as I did last week, I yet again call for the senior counsel, Rory Mulcahy's, report on the investigation into corruption in Donegal to be published. It has been sitting on the Minister's desk for five years. It should be published at some point.

The Senator has to be sure that he is using the word "alleged" if he is talking about corruption.

To be clear, there is a report and the Minister has confirmed that to me. It is not an alleged report and I will not allow anyone to say it is an alleged report.

It is about alleged corruption. It can only be proven as corruption in a court of law.

Absolutely. The report is about alleged planning irregularities in Donegal.

I thank the Senator.

The report is complete. We will know exactly what is in the report, if it is alleged or not and whether it is substantiated or not, when it is published. I am calling for a report that was commissioned, and then undertaken by senior counsel Rory Mulcahy. The report is sitting on the Minister's desk and I want it to be published.

I welcome the ambassador to the Gallery. On behalf of the Sinn Féin group, I extend my sympathies to the Fine Gael Party on the loss of former Senator Jackman. I begin by welcoming the significant step forward in the Belfast High Court yesterday relating to the redevelopment of Casement Park, which has been wasted for far too long. It has the potential to be a transformative economic driver for west Belfast, Belfast as a whole and indeed the wider province. It is a great shame that a number of generations of Gaels have not had the opportunity to play on the pitch and enjoy the spectacle of Casement Park. I look forward to seeing workers on site and to seeing colleagues from across the rest of the country come back to Casement Park to enjoy a thrilling experience.

I will be there.

I know Senator Buttimer will. I turn to the issue of passports. I will make a number of political points and observations but I assure the Acting Leader that they are not directed at him. They are more for his colleagues at the Cabinet table. I welcome the growing cross-party support and recognition of the need for additional passport offices to try to help to deal with the issues, which we are all aware of, especially a new, dedicated office in the Six Counties. Derry City and Strabane District Council recently passed a motion tabled by my colleague, Councillor Emma McGinley, calling for an office in the North.

I know other councils across the Six Counties will debate similar motions in the coming days and weeks. The reality is that the second highest concentration of applications in Ireland is in County Antrim. That increase from the North has been evident and consistent for some years. If people in this Chamber were not aware of it, they should have been, because I have raised it consistently in recent years. Senators can imagine my dismay when I read reports on RTÉ and subsequently heard in news bulletins that the Government would consider it "politically tricky" to open an office in the North. How would it be politically tricky and for whom? As the Acting Leader knows, politics is the art of the possible. When the Tánaiste, who was Taoiseach at the time, said that an Irish Government would never again leave citizens in the North behind, I do not remember there being a caveat of "unless it is politically tricky". Article 2 of the Constitution states it is the birth right and entitlement of everyone born on this island to be part of the Irish nation. I have never read an addendum stating, "unless it is politically tricky".

The Government has grade A office space in Belfast. It also has a significant residence in Belfast. They are both used for positive engagement with people and I respect the workers there, doing that work. Though the darkest days of conflict, Fáilte Ireland had an office in the centre of Belfast when it was a much more volatile and dangerous city. We cannot deny citizens services they are paying for simply because it is politically tricky. More than 27,000 people have signed my online petition calling for this. Political parties are calling for this. It makes sense. Can we get on and do it?

I welcome the ambassador to the House. I offer my deepest condolences on the death of former Senator Jackman.

I support Senator Ó Donnghaile about having a passport office in Belfast. Belfast is the second city on this island and it should have a passport office. I have supported this for many years. I concur with all the Senator's comments.

I want to highlight rural Ireland at its best, especially the farming community. I draw attention to the agricultural shows being organised all around the country. Dundalk Agricultural Show will be on 12 June. It is always a wonderful day. I urge Senators to support their local shows. I commend the committees on these shows. It is so important to communities to showcase what they have and what we have as a rural community, including everything from livestock to chickens to brown bread. There is much talent and pride on show on these days. These days do not happen by accident. There are many emails, arrangements of sponsorship and time spent organising the day. Dundalk Agricultural Show goes back to the 1890s. It shows the long, proud tradition of agriculture in our county. I want to highlight the strong support for the Government for our agricultural shows, announced by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, last week, and in previous weeks by the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. It is important that we support rural communities, farmers and businesses. I urge everyone to attend them and the Dundalk show on 12 June.

I thank the Senator for the invitation. Before I call the next speaker, I welcome Nicolas Coerver, who is a student at Boston College and is here with Senator Byrne. I hope he enjoys his time here in the Seanad.

It is with sadness that I stand to join the tributes to our late friend and colleague, Senator Mary Jackman. For those of us who have been involved in politics for a long time, Mary Jackman epitomised all that is good about politics, with her sincerity, her warmth of personality, and her genuine interest in her city, Limerick, her people, her community, and indeed in the Fine Gael Party. She was the champion for many issues, but it was her warmth of personality, her genuine concern and sincerity, and her wonderful smile, laugh and roguery that I remember her for. I sympathise with Nick, Nicola and her sister Ursula on their sad loss today. May she rest in peace. I know we will join again to pay tribute to Mary. She was a wonderful person.

I am tempted to table an amendment to the Order of Business but I will not do that to the Acting Leader. It is time for the Minister for Education to come to the House to explain and outline the date for the issuing of the leaving certificate results for 2022.

This leaving certificate class deserves better than procrastination and obfuscation from the Department of Education. I know as a teacher that there are many different pieces and parts to the exam results that are to be issued. However, the CAO, the higher education institutions and students are asking for clarity, which means being able to offer places for the new academic year. That also has an effect on rooms being available for student accommodation and planning for the new year. It is incumbent on the Minister, the political leader of the Department of Education, to come into the House today to give clarity to the leaving certificate class of 2022. We are on the eve of the leaving certificate examinations. This day next week, we will be in the second level exam season. For this reason, I ask that the Minister come to the House. When we come back after the recess next week, I will propose a motion on this if clarity is not given.

Last month, which is not as long ago as it sounds, the Irish Dental Association met for its annual general meeting, AGM. It highlighted pressing concerns facing the industry here and called for Government intervention in key areas in need of reform. Top of that list is the need for the overhaul of the dental treatment service scheme, the HSE-managed scheme which offers medical card holders free routine dental care from contracting private dental practitioners.

Leading practitioners have said the current scheme is not fit for purpose and does not reflect modern dental practices and standards. As few as 30% of the dentists operating in the country remain in the scheme, which is testament to the issues that remain unresolved. Chief among these is the red-tape rules which dentists must follow to treat medical card patients and the limited materials they can use while treating medical card patients. Removing these restrictions would allow dentists the freedom and autonomy to treat patients as necessary according to their needs and offer medical card patients the same standard of care as private patients. While the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has been made aware of this and has implemented some changes, the Irish Dental Association maintains that these will be no more than a band aid for the current scheme which must be wholly reformed if it is to meet the needs of dentists and patients alike. This is a very serious issue which we need to raise with the Minister to get clarity for the Irish Dental Association.

In the next couple of days, well over 1,000 politicians and political delegates will arrive in Dublin for the congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, the political family to which my party, Fianna Fáil, belongs. I am sure the Acting Leader will join me in welcoming the delegates and I am sure they will have a good time and a very productive congress in Dublin. Our affiliation with European political parties is important, especially given Ireland's continued desire to be at the heart of the European project.

I also ask that the House have statements on school transport. The Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, has initiated a review of the school transport programme. It would be useful before we rise for the summer to invite the Minister to the House to outline the progress made on school transport, which becomes a challenge every summer, particularly in rural areas. The Minister has very much committed to reforming the scheme and it would be useful to have her before the House. We should facilitate as many children as possible to use public transport to get to school, first, because it would make it easier for parents and put less pressure on roads and, second, for environmental reasons.

I join previous speakers in offering my condolences to former Senator Mary Jackman's family. She was a very distinguished public representative for many years. This is a very tough time for her family. Not many people will know that Mary Jackman was originally from Tipperary and was a member of the Furlong family from the Cappagh White area. I pass on my condolences to them. She was a colleague of my mother's at one time when there were very few women in politics. They were quite good friends. I want to let the family know that we are thinking of them.

I ask the Acting Leader to join me in acknowledging the very positive news about postmasters and the €30 million that has been ring-fenced over the next three years to support that important sector. Today's statement is significant by the Government, and Fine Gael in particular, is highly significant. I acknowledge our colleague Senator Carrigy who has done stellar work on this in recent months in reaching out to the Irish Postmasters' Union, IPU. We have had many meetings with representatives of the IPU, including Sean Martin, about finding a solution to the very serious prospect that in the next six or seven months a couple of hundred post offices would close on the basis that they were not financially viable.

I have spoken to postmasters at home who are thrilled with the news. They say this Government decision will save post offices in Tipperary. That is a fact. This is the first time that a Government has provided direct funding to postmasters to recognise the role they play in communities, including in Tipperary. It would be terrible had this not been done as post offices would have had to close in January. I acknowledge the decision made today and the impact it will have on rural towns and communities across Tipperary.

I welcome students from Gaelscoil an Bhradáin Feasa. I hope they enjoy their time in Seanad Éireann as we celebrate our 100th birthday. Speaking of which, today is also the birthday of the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, although he is not yet 100. When they leave later they can wish him a happy breith lá. The Minister of State's son also goes to the school. I thank the students for visiting us during our Order of Business.

I also wish to pay tribute to the late Mary Jackman. When I was a young person-----

The Senator is still a young person.

When I was a younger person, Mary Jackman was a very influential politician in the mid-west. She was somebody people looked up to, as a woman politician at a time when it was not as popular to be a woman in politics. I got to know her very well more recently because she spent much of her time in Fanore. She chose well where to relax and spend time. I share with others in passing on my sympathies and condolences to her family.

Recently, a councillor asked me why we do not have retirement villages zoned within towns. The towns that have retirement villages are fantastic. People can downsize into them and make a more substantial property available to those who need them. We need to incorporate that into our housing plan. We could have a debate on housing needs of older people.

I also welcome the Government's decision to fund An Post by €30 million. It is a substantial amount of money invested to ensure post offices are viable.

For many years now we have all debated the importance of post offices. As the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, has stepped up to the plate and provided the funding to at least give a guarantee that the post offices will remain open, I call now on the public to use those post offices because it is a problem in particular parts of the country that the public simply does not use the post office.

I call on An Post to step up a little further with the services being in post offices. We need to have more thinking outside the box about what can be done through the post office. We have often heard it described as a potential one-stop shop so let us make it a one-stop shop. Let it be a place where tourists can go for tourism information, for example. There is so much that can be done but the Government has honoured its side of the bargain. It is now time for the public and An Post to honour their sides of the bargain as well.

As my colleagues have mentioned, the announcement of funding for the Government investment in the post office network is absolutely crucial. It is crucial to support our postmasters and post offices all over the country but especially in the west. A report done by the Irish Postmasters' Union with Grant Thornton states that 1.3 million people access services weekly from the post office. It is where people do their banking, pay their bills, save money and collect pensions and social welfare. There is a commitment from An Post to sustainable communities, which means that An Post has stated it will ensure access to a post office in communities with more than 500 people. It is crucial that this supports remote working and environmental action as there will be more reasons to work remotely and fewer reasons to travel long distances. It will also help us shop local because when there is a post office in a town or village and it will increase footfall in a town, with people coming in to make collections. If they collect a pension, for example, they will spend it locally.

I also note an announcement earlier from the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on the carer's allowance. It is absolutely crucial for carers all over the country. The eligibility criteria are changing and the capital disregard will increase from €20,000 to €50,000. It is really significant. They are also looking at changing the disregard for single people to €350 for single people and €750 per week for a couple. This means more people will be eligible for the full amount of the carer's allowance.

I join others in passing on my sympathies to the Jackman family. I had the pleasure of meeting Mary on a couple of occasions. She was a very dedicated local and national representative and a fine person as well.

It is said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. For the past six years I have had the privilege of being here, I have raised the matter of University Hospital Limerick and each time I have done that, nothing has changed. Each time the result has been the same, which is no change. It is interesting to note the way Leaders in the Chamber have changed over the years, however. Initially, the Leader would have argued with me and said things would get better. Then another Leader would have stopped arguing and expressed concern. Most recently, the concern expressed by the Leader seems to have changed to bewilderment.

The reality is that yesterday UHL set a new record. In April, it had 1,735 people on trolleys and in May that has increased to 1,823. The number has increased by nearly 100 in what are supposed to be summer months. My question is simple; after all these years of raising UHL in this Chamber, and each time seeing the position get worse and worse, where is the political accountability? That is what is missing. We have not had a Government act in the way it should.

I say very clearly that we need fundamental change at the top of UHL. The people of Limerick and the mid-west have suffered for far too long and I am sick to the back teeth of raising this matter. I would much rather raise others. I am in despair. As has been mentioned, the hospital even lost a patient the other day. My colleague, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, highlighted that case yesterday in the press because the family expressly asked him to do so. When will we see fundamental change and, by extension, when will we see political accountability that we need to see from this Government? The people of Limerick have been waiting for more than a decade to see fundamental change at the UHL and each time this Government has failed them. We need a different result and we need it now.

I thank all Senators for their queries and comments on today's Order of Business. I thank all of them for their warm tributes to the late Mary Jackman; I know her family is listening. On behalf of the Fine Gael Party in particular, I thank her for her dedication and service to County Limerick and here as a Member of Seanad Éireann.

Senator O'Loughlin began by relaying the good news about a dedicated centre for people with Alzheimer's disease in Kildare. She made a valid point about the need to map the gaps in services across the country. It is a worthy initiative and something I will ask the Leader's office to contact the Minister for Health about.

She also spoke about strategic housing development, as did Senator Boyhan. Strategic housing developments were initiated to try to improve the flow and processing of new housing applications because there was a view that housing developments were being held up within the planning process. The legislation has been amended and that is important. The Senator spoke about connectivity issues relating to walkways at the Liffey Linear Park and An Bord Pleanála.

It is something I have come across and An Bord Pleanála must really engage on these matters. If it makes a decision to overturn a planning permission or refusal by a county council, there must be a process that would allow the board to say to the council that it is going to overturn the decision but where it can take on board specific issues that it might have. For example, one development needed an area for buses to pull in outside. The council refused the application and An Bord Pleanála granted it, meaning there was no bus shelter in the finished project. There really should be joined-up thinking on that. The Senator spoke about connectivity and it is very important. An Bord Pleanála must be aware of that and a debate, as suggested, is a good idea as well.

Senator Maria Byrne mentioned Age Action Ireland and the elderly in Ireland. It is a valid point. Banks are looking out for people who will have to change their bank from Ulster Bank in particular, which is exiting the market. It is encouraging people to join the relatively small number of competitor banks. It is a valid point because there is much work in changing direct debits and all of that. By God if you miss a payment you will know about it. People get the phone calls and human contact when a payment is missed for insurance or whatever else. The banks look for that money. It is an important matter and hundreds of thousands of direct debits across the country will need to be swapped over from Ulster Bank and KBC to other banks. I know the committee has worked on it, and a debate on banking competition, as well as the matters raised by the Senator, would be worthwhile. I will inquire about that.

The Senator also mentioned the reports of the person who went missing from UHL. Senators Byrne, Gavan, Conway and Ahearn have raised on numerous occasions issues around UHL. As a member of the health committee, together with Senator Conway, we requested that certain hospital groups, such as those in the mid-west and the Saolta group, where there are particular issues relating to overcrowding, need to be accountable. As politicians we are accountable to residents in the area and the Minister is accountable to the Dáil and, sometimes, to this House if he or she comes in. Senior Ministers tend not to do so. The management of hospitals must also be accountable and I have requested that they be accountable to the health committee.

Senator Boyhan mentioned strategic housing developments, as I said. He also asked for a report into alleged planning irregularities in County Donegal to be published. I will ask the Leader's office to contact the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage about that. It is the report commissioned by Mr. Rory Mulcahy.

Senator Ó Donnghaile commented on the welcome news around the Casement Park redevelopment. I have not had the pleasure of being there but I have seen the pictures over the past number of years. Rewilding is positive now but not in that case because flowers and everything were growing in it. I think I saw sheep in some of the pictures.

The redevelopment of Casement Park is very welcome for Belfast, but also for the GAA and the island as a whole. I certainly welcome it.

I refer to the passport issue. Senator Wilson has a tabled a motion on the matter and a number of other Senators have indicated their support for the opening of a passport office in Belfast and the west or north west to provide that face, if you like. As Members of these Houses, we have access to a hotline. However, we have all heard from constituents, particularly in recent times, that it is very difficult to get through. The ability to have face-to-face meetings and make appointments for emergency applications in one's immediate area would be very welcome. I am not sure when the motion will be before the House but it is important that we look at these initiatives.

Senator McGreehan also commented on the Passport Office. She referred to the agricultural shows, which are a mainstay of the rural countryside. They have been missing for the past couple of years because of Covid, so it is great to see they will be back this year. The Government has supported these events under various Departments. We will all enjoy going to the various county and local shows in the coming months.

Senator Buttimer asked that the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, come to the House to discuss the issue of leaving certificate results day. I will ask the Leader’s office to write to the Minister to request such a meeting. I hope a date will be announced soon and there will not be a need for a special debate. Hopefully, a decision will be made soon to give peace of mind to students who will be sitting exams from next week. It is obviously very important for all those sitting their exams to know when the results are coming out. The CAO will also want to know, as will the third level institutions, as others have said.

Senator Keogan spoke of the need the overhaul the dental treatment services scheme. I welcome that the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has committed to a review of the scheme and recommended improvements in an announcement in April. This is an area where there have been failings. A number of dentists have exited the scheme for a variety of reasons. Certainly, if something is not done and more dentists exit the scheme, it will no longer be effective. Perhaps the Senator will table a Commencement matter on the issue to get fuller details.

Senator Malcolm Byrne welcomed members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe who are soon coming to Dublin. He mentioned that up to 1,000 delegates will arrive and that his party, Fianna Fáil, are part of the alliance. I welcome those delegates coming to Dublin. It is certainly a coup to get that group to come to here for its convention. The European People’s Party, of which Fine Gael is a member, was in Dublin in the convention centre, I think, seven or eight years ago. That was welcome at the time as well. The Senator also called for statements on the school transport scheme before the recess. It is a staple of the political diet in the month of August for people who do not get bus tickets to inquire about them and ask if they will get concessionary tickets. Any improvement to that scheme would be welcomed. I will request a debate on it.

Senators Ahearn, Conway and Dolan discussed the €30 million grant for An Post. I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and our colleague, Senator Carrigy, who has pushed for years for support for a sustainable nationwide post office network. I am told the monthly footfall in post offices is more than 1 million visits. That is indicative of the service the post office provides and its importance. There is €10 million each year for three years to protect the post office network, ensuring that it can continue to provide the service it does. I hope that can be continued after the three-year period because it is hugely important. I acknowledge all involved in that.

Senator Dolan also commented on the changes to the carer's allowance made by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys. An increase in the threshold was announced in the budget. I know the Minister also wants to see carers receive pensions. That is hugely important. I welcome the changes and initiatives the Minister outlined yesterday as well.

I think I have covered all of the matters raised by Senators.

Order of Business agreed to.
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