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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 2 Jun 2022

Vol. 286 No. 1

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

I welcome the ambassador and I hope he and all Danish citizens have a lovely day next week. The Order of Business is No.1, Private Members' business, Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.15 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

Before I call on the Deputy Leader of the Fianna Fáil group, in the Gallery with us as well we have the pupils from sixth class in Grange National School. Are they going to give us a wave? They are. I thank them. This is Senator Ahearn's local primary school and I am sure he was a well-behaved student in his days there. We have the deputy principal with us, Richard Carroll, as well as teachers, Marie and Lauren, and the chair of the board of management, Liam Ahearn. Is he any relation to Senator Ahearn?

His dad. He was a great councillor in his day and his good wife, Theresa, was a staunch Member of the Lower House. We welcome Liam to the House.

I thank Senator Buttimer for the point of information. I also welcome Liam to the Gallery as well, and all the boys and girls from Grange National School. I thank them for coming to Seanad Éireann today. I call Senator Fiona O'Loughlin.

I add my voice of welcome to the distinguished ambassador with us today. I have enjoyed many pleasant times in his country. I cannot claim to know any Danish, but the Gaelic version of my name, O'Loughlin, is Ó Lochlainn, which means "The Viking", so I reckon I am descended from Viking blood. I also welcome the boys and girls from Tipperary, because I also have blood from the county in me as well. It is always a pleasure to welcome those from that lovely county.

I support the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader. I also acknowledge that June is Pride Month, when LGTB communities, and their allies, celebrate the freedom to be themselves. During Pride Month, it is important that we all acknowledge, highlight and remember respect, understanding and compassion. On that note, I ask the Leader to ask for an update in respect of the progress of the hate crime legislation, which the Minister of Justice has promised to commit to as a priority. It is needed.

I also extend my thanks to all those involved in the inter-parliamentary unit here in the Oireachtas for all their work in supporting the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, the members of which were here from Sunday right through to today, for some of them. We had two excellent days of meetings and representatives from 46 countries gathered here in Dublin. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his presence and his words. It was a very successful set of meetings and we appreciate all the work that went into the undertaking.

I turn now to the matter of respect for special needs assistants, SNAs. We have often spoken of this issue. I was shocked to hear from several SNAs across County Kildare how they found out that they will have no jobs in September. Basically, at 4.15 p.m. yesterday, on the website of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, the allocation in this regard for schools was announced without any negotiation or correspondence with principals or boards of management. This is simply not on. The SNAs do a wonderful job in all our schools. We need them and they are a valuable resource in the context of learning. One school now has three SNAs who know they do not have jobs because they looked at a website. These people love their jobs. They want to be there in the school and they are a vital part of the school. This is not the way we should do business.

We spoke last week about the decision to allow PDFORRA to affiliate temporarily with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. It is important. We all sought the same privilege for the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. I am pleased that has now happened and that this has been accepted.

I also address the issue of the serious delays being encountered by those trying to access disability services. In my area of south county Kildare, I am working with several families who have been waiting for two and a half years to be able to access these services. This is completely unacceptable. In one case, a child needs to be seen in advance of starting school. Due to delays, though, the parents are concerned that there will not be an opportunity to apply for an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, place in the time available. Something must be done about this issue and we need to have a debate on it.

I thank the Senator for raising those important issues. I thank her also for her leadership in PACE, representing Ireland across Europe. It was important this week to have so many of our friends and allies from the European community and beyond in Dublin with us to enable us as a country to communicate our message.

It is very important that, with her leadership and that of others, we continue our diplomatic efforts in relation to Brexit and all the challenges we face as a country. I again thank the Senator for making sure that important conference took place in Dublin.

On 14 December 2022, during a Commencement matter debate, I raised the issue of the advanced paramedic motorbike unit for Cork. The Cathaoirleach ruled out of order my raising of this as a Commencement matter on a second occasion because it had already been raised, which I understand, but there needs to be a forum for us as Members of the Seanad to hold the HSE to account for the lack of provision of an advanced paramedic motorbike unit in Cork. We have no question time but we need to ensure, as Oireachtas Members, that there is accountability of the HSE.

I again raise the matter during the Order of Business of the lack of two motorbike units in Cork. They are idle, non-operational and they should be reinstated as a matter of extreme urgency. We understand and we know that Covid changed parts of the delivery of the healthcare system, but we are now living in a post-Covid world. Therefore, I call for the Minister for Health to come to the House to explain why the HSE has not reinstated the advanced paramedic motorcycle unit in Cork. Advanced paramedics save lives. They provide a care pathway and a rapid response service. In cities like Cork, with narrow, winding streets, the motorbikes are pivotal in the response time to people who require urgent care and provide a pathway to hospital or care. I ask that the Minister of Health, on behalf of the HSE, comes to the House to explain why the HSE has not reinstated the service and say when it will. This is about saving lives. It is about people and the provision of a care pathway.

I welcome the inclusion of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, by the Minister for Defence in the pay talks to join the work of PDFORRA. I commend the work of people like Mark Keane who have been so strong and steadfast in their advocacy on behalf of members of the Defence Forces.

I welcome the boys and girls from Grange National School. I formally pay tribute to Liam Ahearn who was an extraordinary county councillor and whose good wife, Theresa, was a wonderful parliamentarian and a friend to many of us. We are very proud of the work that Senator Ahearn is doing here. To the boys and girls from Tipperary, I am sorry your hurling season is over but enjoy the laethanta saoire.

Before I call Senator Keogan, I wish to associate myself personally with the words of welcome from Senator Buttimer and the Cathaoirleach to Liam Ahearn. I am aware that Liam served on Tipperary County Council for ten years and was the chairperson of that body. He was a very distinguished public representative in his own right. All of us realise that the support of our families is critical to us being able to do this job. Without that support we could not do it. The great work Senator Ahearn does here is in no small way due to the support of and inspiration and mentioning from his wonderful father, Liam. I join in Members' welcome to him.

I also welcome to the gallery students of the fifth and sixth classes student council from Lusk Senior National School, Fingal. In fact, I had an historic association with that school for many a day. I might meet some of them later. I also welcome their teacher, Erica, who is a friend of the Leader of the House. Senator Doherty is anxious that I welcome our guests. They may wish to wait until the end of the Order of Business, if they can, when the Leader will offer her own welcome to them. We had better move on or it will be evening before we finish.

The law exists in a state of flux, as do the prevailing social opinions of the people it governs. These two aspects of our shared existence act upon each other. Sometimes, changes in the law affect people's opinion. More often, legislators and the Government wait to see which way the wind is blowing before making a decision. Where this balance fails is when the Government and legislators are beholden not to the prevailing widely held opinions of the public but to the carefully curated and concentrated views of a vocal minority who have been given powerful platforms as lobbyists. This seems to have happened again in this country in perhaps the most cynical manner yet.

To all the women and mothers in Ireland, did you know the Government is about to erase all mention of you from our legislation on maternity leave? The proposition may sound ridiculous - indeed it is - but that is the plan under the deceptively named work life balance Bill. After all, who would be against work-life balance? Hidden among the miscellaneous provisions of the Bill are various amendments to the Maternity Protection Act 1994 regarding both breastfeeding and maternity leave that will remove all mention of the word "woman" and will assert that men can breastfeed too. We are regularly told that words matter, yet when women tell us that the words "mother", "female" and "woman" matter to them, they are dismissed as unkind or exclusionary. The reality is that maternity is undertaken by women and not by men. To replace the word "mother" or "woman" with the word "person" is a retrograde step and strips women of the core part of their identity.

Women have wombs where our children are conceived and nourished during pregnancy. Women have breasts with which we feed our children. These things need to be said without fear of causing offence. Who is insisting we deny there are two sexes and why? Sex is a protected characteristic in our Equal Status Acts, because women experienced discrimination based on their biology. Can we not find a way to be inclusive without erasing women's biology and experience from our legislation? This country spent years coming to terms with its treatment of women who became mothers outside of marriage. It is a journey we are still making and I am sure there are more apologies to the women of Ireland to come. Are we, at the same time as those apologies, going to launch yet another attack on women in the very legislation that was intended to protect them? Perhaps it was thought these changes would not be noticed or that we would not care. Both of these assumptions are wrong. If the Government thinks it can quietly remove us from legislation, rest assured the women of Ireland will not go gentle into that good night.

Today marks the start of Bord Bia Bloom 2022 in the Phoenix Park. It provides a fantastic opportunity for people to engage with nature, gardening and biodiversity. Bloom is open from today until bank holiday Monday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. It is to be hoped there will be plenty of opportunity for people to attend and enjoy the show.

This year's show incorporates 19 show gardens and nine postcard gardens, more than 80 Irish food and drink producers, 17 nurseries in the nursery village, more than 25 cookery demonstrations, and 130 retailers, all within a 70-acre site. I am particularly pleased that my Department has sponsored an organic edible garden at Bloom this year. The garden illustrates how to grow a range of organic vegetables and fruit crops within a linear urban space and demonstrates the steps we can take to protect the environment within our gardens. It also highlights the need to restore hedgerows, meadows and trees within our wider landscapes and environments.

I encourage everyone attending over the next five days to stop by and see what they can replicate in their own garden, however big or small, and how they can play their part for nature and biodiversity. Bloom will attract more than 110,000 visitors and has evolved to become one of the most popular events over the June bank holiday weekend.

The festival is an opportunity for the public to experience and sample the very best of Irish horticulture, food and drink direct from Ireland's world-class designers, growers, producers and suppliers. Bloom is not only a great family day out but also a platform to obtain a wide range of information and to engage with important topics like sustainability, biodiversity and mental health through beautiful floral design, expert talks and family-friendly exhibits.

This year's festival celebrates the renewed public appreciation for outdoor spaces and their role in promoting positive mental and physical health. For example, Coolmine Community School, Blanchardstown, has designed a garden space for students to calm the mind and focus. Its postcard garden is inspired by a garden that currently resides in the school to offer students a relaxing open-air space. In addition to being a space to promote positive mental health, the Zen garden promotes biodiversity by featuring plants that attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators as well as a range of sensory and edible plants.

Bord Bia is encouraging as many people as possible to come by public transport if that option is available to them. That is how I intend to travel with my hard-working constituency team from Laois-Offaly tomorrow. There will be shuttle buses running in the Phoenix Park throughout the weekend. I recommend this to anyone looking for something to do this weekend. I believe the weather is - touch wood - to be nice. I have heard different opinions but I hope it will be on the sunny side. I encourage people to get to the Phoenix Park to see how they can help nature into their own gardens.

I know Senator Hackett will have a long and wonderful career here but, if she ever decides to leave this place, marketing would be a real option for her.

I apologise in advance that I will have to leave before the end because I want to go out to support the keepers of native Irish bees who are outside. I hope everybody will support Senator Martin's Bill today.

I welcome the relaunch of the Raise the Roof campaign. We have been in lockdown for two years now but that does not mean that the housing crisis has gone away. In fact, it has only got worse. As Fr. Peter McVerry has said, the crisis is worse today than it has been at any time in the past 40 years. We seem to have a Minister who is too arrogant to accept that circumstances have moved on and that his Housing for All plan has been overtaken. We have also had to listen people saying that it takes time to build housing but people are now frustrated and fed up because we have been hearing that for the last ten years from Fine Gael in government. What we need to address the housing crisis is a doubling of capital investment in public housing. We need to increase the delivery of social and affordable homes. We need to cut rents and ban increases. We have to prevent homelessness by putting packages in place with local authorities to allow them to work with families when they get their notices to quit while also rolling out Housing First nationwide. We also need to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. The level of anger and despair in communities is palpable. Workers cannot afford to live in the cities and towns and are emigrating in their droves. I am sure many of the elected representatives here will have experienced parliamentary assistants and secretarial assistants leaving. People are leaving because they are getting notices to quit and have no choice because they cannot live in our capital city.

I encourage everyone to attend the Raise the Roof public meetings that are happening around the country. There was one last night. There will be meetings in the Tower Hotel, Waterford, on 7 June, in the Limerick Strand Hotel on 13 June, in the Mansion House on 21 June, in SIPTU's offices in Galway on 28 June and in the Glenroyal Hotel, Maynooth, on 4 July. All of those meetings are taking place at 7 p.m. I encourage Senators to attend to hear from people at the coalface what we need to do to address the housing crisis.

My final point is not relevant to the housing issue but it is always a good day to say that trans rights are human rights.

I call for a debate in the House on special education. My party leader and colleague, Deputy Bacik, has also been calling for such a debate in the Dáil. We see from the published special needs assistant, SNA, allocations that they have been frozen for the third year in a row. For an awful lot of SNAs, if issues have arisen, there will not be enough time for them to appeal and be in place in September. It is very unfair on these essential workers in the Irish education system who need to have dignity and respect in their work and to be able to plan. There are also 270 children with autism who do not have an appropriate place for September, according to AsIAm. In light of these matters, coupled with things like the proposed special education centres and the delays in assessments of need, there is a need for this House to have a special focus and debate on SNAs, autism supports and autism within education. I call for such a debate when we come back in June.

I welcome the unveiling yesterday of the six Stolpersteine in St. Catherine's National School, Donore Avenue, which is where I went to primary school. Ettie Steinberg, one of six Irish victims of the Holocaust, also went to school there. The area was known as Little Jerusalem. It is very important that the school, the area and Ireland commemorate how Ireland let down an awful lot of victims of the Holocaust by not taking the number of European refugees we should have at that time. There are approximately 2,000 Stolpersteine around Europe. They are installed to commemorate and remember Jewish victims of the Holocaust. They serve as a timely reminder that words matter and that they can be used to spread hate towards a certain group. It is worth remembering that among the first victims of the Holocaust were LGBTI people. That unveiling to commemorate Ettie Steinberg was very welcome. She lived and went to school in Donore Avenue. She was a seamstress and was one of the Irish victims of the Holocaust. I congratulate the school and its principal, Karen Jordan, and the Irish Holocaust memorial group in Dublin City Council on yesterday's unveiling.

The school can be justifiably proud of the Senator.

I call for a debate in the House on Ireland's corporate tax rate. There is a need for a proper debate and discussion with the Minister for Finance on the future of the minimum global rate which, as we all know, has been quite a hot topic. For context, I am watching developments in both the US and Poland. In the US, the Republican Party in the House is holding up the agreement to accept the global minimum rate, which the Democratic Party therefore cannot implement despite being in power. This is certainly going to be a problem. The global rate is dead in the water if it is not implemented there.

The Government of Poland has also not yet signed up to it. This resulted in the matter being dropped from the agenda of last month's ECOFIN meeting. I suppose that was to spare France's blushes more than anything else because it has been pushing so hard for this. The OECD has accepted that it will be at least 2024 before the rate is implemented. This is one year further along the timeline than had been proposed. I would say it will be longer because, unless there is a change in America, which is very unlikely, and in Poland, which is probably also unlikely for a while, this is not going to change. Ireland has very successfully used our corporate tax regime as an effective economic development tool for decades now. It is estimated that the Exchequer will lose a sum in the region of €2 billion annually, which is no small amount. The background to this is the cost-of-living crisis, surging inflation, the war in Ukraine and the plethora of other complications on the horizon. Just this week, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council warned that the public finances are now too reliant on corporation tax, which is estimated to have brought in €22 billion in total since 2005. Surely we should now be carefully considering our fiscal policy and how best to support businesses, foreign investment and, ultimately, the people of this country when it comes to the redistribution of these funds at budget time.

On this basis, I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Finance to the House for an open discussion on this matter. It is a topic of discussion but it has not had any great airing here or in the Dáil. We could shed some light on this and we could certainly get the opinion of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, on where things are going.

My thoughts are with the Burke family. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, has been a great friend of this House and a super friend to councillors. He has carried out work with councillors which had been going on for the previous ten years. He is burying his father today. It would be remiss of me, as someone who comes from Mullingar, not to mention it.

Maith thú, Senator Keogan. Everybody is entitled to speak their mind here and express their opinion.

We all express our sympathy to the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. I thank Senator Davitt for mentioning it.

I take this opportunity to welcome two changes announced by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, this morning. We have had considerable debate on the issue of passports in this House and within parties. We debated a Fine Gael motion on the matter in February. A new agreement with the Garda on witnessing first-time child applications was signed yesterday. At present about 50 applications a day are stalled and need new consent forms because of the inability to contact witnessing gardaí after three attempts. From now a daily list will be transmitted from the Passport Office to Garda management of the approximately 50 cases where contact has not been made. Contact will then be initiated on the Garda side meaning the application will not be cancelled. That is very welcome.

I have often come across cases where applicants are rushing and complete consent forms at home. They sign and date it and then bring it into the Garda station. The garda is then signing and dating it with a different date meaning the garda has not witnessed the signature in front of the applicant, making the consent form null and void. Applicants need to go back and get a new consent form. People need to be aware of that. It can take some time before they are notified that the consent form that was submitted was incorrect. For example, today I have been dealing with an applicant who was notified in recent days about a consent form submitted in early May with two different dates. I wanted to warn people about that.

I welcome that the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, has decided to offer the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, temporary access to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions ahead of public sector pay talks. The recent report of the Commission on the Defence Forces also made this recommendation. The Minister consulted with the Attorney General on the matter. I again ask for a wider debate on the issue of the Defence Forces because we have not had the Minister in the House for some time. That report on the Defence Forces would be a worthy topic.

It is telling no secrets to say that many Catholics are concerned not to say terrified by the implications of the 2018 secret agreement between China and the Vatican about the recognition of bishops and the status of the Catholic Church in China. The issue is whether the agreement is leading to more repression of Catholics and more restrictions on their priests and the practice of their faith in China, particularly as the Chinese authorities have required the formal registration of clergy. This may have major consequences for the freedom and safety of clergy who previously operated as part of the underground church. In recent years we have seen the crushing of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

I link these because one man in the eye of both storms is the brave 90-year-old Hong Kong cardinal, Joseph Zen, who has been a prominent critic of the Vatican-China accord. I met him personally in Lisbon in 2019 when he expressed his burning anxiety about the agreement but in terms which never compromised his faithfulness to the Holy Father. Two weeks ago, Cardinal Zen was arrested by Hong Kong police from the national security department along with four others for alleged collusion with foreign forces. Their only offence was to be trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund which provided legal and financial assistance to more than 2,200 people prosecuted for their part in the 2019 pro-democracy protests. The fund had ceased operations in 2021 after police announced it was under investigation and requested administrators to provide details on its donors.

Cardinal Zen is on bail but he remains a strong supporter of democracy in Hong Kong because he recognises the link between democratic decision-making and respect for human dignity. The fate of Chinese catholics and Hong Kong democrats, and the legal prosecution of this fine old man all demand our concern and attention. The influence on this country of Christian traditions and the missionary links between Ireland and China should add texture and depth to our concern. I hope the Government will speak out more on this issue particularly in the wake of the arrest of a 90-year-old cardinal for simply supporting democracy.

I welcome the €12 million funding announced to third level students with autism. It will make colleges autism friendly through the use of apps. I understand that it is €3 million for this year. The three third level colleges in my own part of the country, University of Limerick, UL, Technological University of the Shannon and Mary Immaculate College, will receive more than €400,000. While this is very welcome, no provision has been made for students who are studying part time.

I know a student who has autism and mental health issues. She is studying for a masters and hopes to complete a PhD. However, it is not right that she was disqualified from a SUSI grant. She is studying part time because the college recommended that it would be more beneficial for her in doing a masters. The student is highly intelligent but it was deemed that it would be easier for her to do it on a part-time basis. There is no provision for part-time students. I have written to the Department about it. I would like to have a debate on how students who are studying part time could be brought into the category. They should certainly not be disenfranchised from being able to access the SUSI grant.

I congratulate UL on receiving three awards at the national Digital Media Awards recently, including a gold medal.

Taxis are an essential part of our public transport services. The ten-year rule requires that vehicles more than ten years old be retired from service. Next year, in 2023, more than 5,000 taxis will need to be removed from the road, which represents about one third of our national taxi fleet. Taxis allow essential workers to go to work and attend medical appointments. They allow people to reduce their carbon emissions by not having to own and operate their own car but avail of a car service. They offer a secure and reliable service when and where some of our other public transport services are not available.

Throughout the pandemic, with the support of Government, many of our taxi drivers continued to operate and provide a service. Since the pandemic ended and the world has been reopened there has been considerable demand for their services. There have been many complaints that we now have a shortage of taxis. The ten-year rule which is looming in 2023 for approximately 5,000 taxis means that a fleet of essential public transport vehicles is likely to be reduced very significantly.

The original intention of the ten-year rule was to decarbonise the fleet, which I wholly support, as do the taxi drivers themselves. The reality is that the world has changed dramatically from when that ten-year rule was first conceived. We now obviously have war in Ukraine and a shortage of vehicles as identified by the sector itself. It is not easy to purchase an electric vehicle and they are very expensive. Taxi drivers are committed to making the transition to electric vehicles. Their earnings are still recovering, the vehicles are not available and the cost of operating and trying to purchase a vehicle is beyond them at the moment.

I would like the Leader to write to the Minister for Transport asking him to consider extending the deadline for another 12 months. If he can do that, it will protect an essential part of the public transport service and give us a little breathing space to ensure that public transport services are not interrupted in our cities. It will be greatly welcomed.

I wish to raise once again respect for special needs assistants, SNAs. I had a wonderful trip on Tuesday with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Autism to Ballyowen special school, where I saw at first hand the great work all our SNAs do in that school, but I am also aware daily and weekly, as all of us in this House are, of the great work our SNAs do for so many of the children across this State. Yesterday, however, I received a number of phone calls from colleagues in Kildare who had found out at 4 p.m. yesterday that their jobs were gone. That is no way to tell anybody he or she no longer has a job.

It is disgraceful that those SNAs had to log into a website at 4 p.m. in the evening to find out they would have no jobs come September. These people have mortgages and families, and to find out that way is totally and utterly unacceptable. We all know, as I said, what our SNAs do for us, but they do much more for the families whose children attend these schools. There is a great attachment between children and their SNAs, who go above and beyond. They know the children inside out and they complement the teaching staff. To find this out on a website at 4 p.m. in the evening beggars belief as to what is going on. The SNAs tell me they will have to wait until May to hear whether they will have a job come September. This really has to change. Teacher allocations are announced, I think, in February and were probably into April this year. The three people to whom I spoke in a school in Kildare, who no longer have jobs, told me they ran home after their teaching day, at 4 p.m., to turn on their computers to find they no longer had jobs. It is wrong, it needs to change and I ask the Leader to raise this with the Minister of State with responsibility for special education.

Senator Horkan is patiently waiting.

I pay tribute to former Senator and councillor, Mary Jackman, who died during the week. It is my first opportunity to do so on the Order of Business. I was a councillor for 12 and a half years and I regularly met Mary at various conferences, often travelling with her sister. She was always great company and an absolute lady. I think she spent almost 30 years on Limerick City and County Council and a couple of terms in the Seanad. I pay tribute to her. I found her to be an engaging human being and a really nice lady to be in the company of.

I do not know if any other Senator has done so already, but I welcome the funding for An Post, particularly those really small post offices that are not viable based on their transactions. I think most of us understand that postmasters are, by and large, not employed by An Post. I think almost 880 of the 930 post offices, or thereabouts, are run as individual businesses, whereby the only revenue they get is per transaction.

The message needs to go out to all those people who use the post office and all those who want to make sure their post offices survive that this funding is there to support them but that if they want their post offices to continue in operation, they must use them or they will, unfortunately, probably, lose them. The message is to use them more often and to get one's friends to do so.

An Post is a highly trusted brand. People can use An Post for bank transactions with AIB and Bank of Ireland and lots of other services. It is important we support An Post because, particularly during the pandemic, post offices were rocks in every community right around the country. Urban, suburban and rural areas really need their post offices. It is important we recognise that they generate their revenue per transaction, so the more business they get the more viable they are and the more likely they are to survive.

I wish everybody involved with Dublin Airport - the staff, the management and all the passengers - the very best this weekend. The airport management is on trial, if you will. We had its representatives before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications yesterday. We can never see those scenes again. We can never see literally thousands of people missing flights to go perhaps to funerals or weddings or on holidays, business trips and so on. It cannot happen again, and we must keep all our focus on the situation until it is resolved.

Thank you, Senator Horkan, for your kind words about Senator Jackman, with whom I served. I hope to speak about her personally the week after next. I do not wish to hold up the Order of Business now.

I support Senator Mullen in his comments on Cardinal Zen. It is an appalling way to treat anybody, and it is only right we show our support for him.

When we are in this Chamber we sometimes howl and growl on behalf of individuals and groups, which is our right, and we must do that for the public, but I always believe we should look also at positives that come out in life. Senator Horkan mentioned the post offices. There was commitment on the part of the Government - and Senator Horkan and I are members of Government parties - and that commitment has been honoured. Of course, people may ask what will happen in three years' time. In three years' time there will be a review, and I am sure that if more support is needed, whoever is in power will see fit to support the post office network.

In that regard I thank An Post for letting the public know that the post office in one of my local towns, namely, Elphin, County Roscommon, where the people who have been carrying out the service for many years are doing a good job but are now retiring, will not be going out of that town. It will stay in the town and everything should be up and running under the new management in about a month's time. That is good news. The money that is there might not be everything, but it is a help, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Leader know, to many of those small post offices.

It is also very important we note the funding from Government to our agriculture and rural community shows, which are part and parcel not alone of rural Ireland but of many parts of urban Ireland. It should be noted that both the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, have given significant funding to those shows right around the country. Not alone that, but the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, has announced new breeding classes for livestock at a number of the shows, which his Department will fund.

It is important we talk about the good things as well as the things that are not so good to let people know that not everything out there is negative.

In response to Senator Murphy, one would sometimes think there was nothing whatever but bad news from the discourses sometimes in both our Houses of Parliament. I acknowledge we do not get everything right, but when we do get things right they need to be at least acknowledged. The announcement of post office funding this week was very welcome, as was the announcement of rural and agriculture shows funding.

Senator Horkan talked about the difficulties the Irish public experienced and witnessed in Dublin Airport last week. To be fair, the testimony the witnesses gave yesterday was very earnest and very sincere. Some might say they had no choice but to put their hands up, but the situation obviously needs to be resolved. At least I think we feel now that all hands are on deck, and we wish anybody travelling this weekend a safe and relatively smooth journey through the airports.

I thank Senator Horkan for his kind comments about Mary Jackman. We were all incredibly sad to hear of her passing this week. She was, as he said, a real character and a gem of a lady. I missed the moment's silence the House had out of respect for her last night. I had huge admiration for her.

Senator Wall raised a really important topic, and his constituency colleague raised it at the outset this morning. Nobody should hear in the manner the SNAs heard yesterday about any position or service they offer the State, and this is an incredibly important one. The campaign Senator Wall has previously spoken about of respect for our SNAs certainly was not lived up to yesterday. I will certainly bring back to the Minister of State the feelings he has raised this morning, and not just on behalf of the three people from Kildare because I am quite sure a number of other people felt the same way yesterday. I thank the Senator for raising that matter.

Senator Fitzpatrick asked me to write a letter to ask the Minister for Transport to extend the ten-year rule for our taxi services. I will certainly make inquiries with the Minister, particularly given that a lot of our taxis were off the road for the best part of two years. The ten-year rule should be at least managed or balanced with perhaps some sort of mileage quota. I will certainly accede to the request to write to the Minister.

Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the €12 million announced by the Minister, Deputy Harris, in respect of students on the autistic spectrum attending university.

She also asked for a debate on why the SUSI grant is not available for students, particularly females, who want to access part-time courses. That is certainly an anomaly.

Senator Mullen brought to our attention the despicable treatment of Cardinal Joseph Zen by the Hong Kong authorities. I do not know as much as I should about it but do know it is not how you treat with dignity and respect a 90-year-old man who has given a lifetime to the service of his faith and parishioners. There is already a request to talk about the rule of law in Hong Kong. The matter raised by the Senator could form part of that debate, but I will chase it up again with the Minister to determine whether we can have a debate here in which he can raise his issues.

The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, was mentioned this morning by Senator Davitt. He has the very sad task this morning of bearing his Dad . I extend my condolences to him publicly because those of us who are here obviously cannot be with him this morning. However, we are certainly mindful of this very sad time for his family.

Senator Kyne welcomed this morning the passport changes that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has announced. We are all aware that the Passport Office has been working incredibly hard over recent months, as is evident from the fact that the number of passports it has issued is far in excess of the number issued at any time heretofore. People can apply online for a passport on a given day and it is put in the post the very next day. While we know the office can do its work really well, we are all well aware that the difficulties faced by some families, particularly those waiting for a child's first passport, have caused tremendous stress. The changes announced today recognise that the system was not working. It is important that we work with people to make sure they can access public services in a very timely manner. It is the very least we should do.

Senator Kyne and others welcomed the temporary inclusion of RACO in ICTU for the purpose of its public sector pay talks.

Senator Davitt asked for a debate on the Irish corporation tax rate. I will put a request in to the Minister for Finance.

Senator Moynihan asked for a debate on special education. I will talk to the responsible Minister to see whether we can arrange that.

Senator Boylan raised the relaunching of the Raise the Roof campaign this morning and would like a debate on housing.

Senator Pippa Hackett regaled us, probably in the only way she can, using beautiful, descriptive language regarding the show that has become synonymous with the bank holiday weekend, Bloom. Tens of thousands of people go to it and enjoy it. To echo Senator Hackett, please God we will get the good weather that will encourage people to go.

Senator Keogan raised concerns not just on her own behalf but also on behalf of others regarding some of the amendments in the work–life balance Bill. To be honest with the Senator, I was not aware of the matter raised until she brought it to our attention. It is certainly something we will have to discuss further when the Bill comes to both Houses. I thank the Senator for raising it.

Senator Buttimer asked for a forum to hold the HSE to account. He has attempted to do so on Commencement Matters here but failed. An obvious question needs to be asked: why are two advanced-paramedic motorbike units in Cork not being utilised? I am not sure how I will satisfy the Senator regarding his request but I will put my thinking cap on and determine whether I can find a way to help him.

Senator O'Loughlin opened by saying Pride Month is synonymous with June. It is a month that gives us an opportunity to highlight how we absolutely need to treat people with dignity, respect and, in some cases, tolerance. I refer to treating people just with love. From my perspective, human beings should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their views. We should have respect for each other. Pride Month is an opportunity for those of us who are LGBT allies – I really believe we should all be – to offer support and solidarity to people in a minority group to ensure they receive the treatment, respect and dignity that we all take so much for granted.

Senator O'Loughlin acknowledged the inter-parliamentary unit's interactions with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe over recent days and stated how we have had 46 different countries here discussing international co-operation. That is to be very much respected.

Senator O'Loughlin also raised the issue of respect for special needs assistants and allocations for schools. As I have informed Senator Wall, I will talk to the Minister responsible for special education. Senator O'Loughlin also welcomed the inclusion of RACO in ICTU negotiations.

I thank the Leader for that comprehensive response. Is the Order of Business agreed to?

Order of Business agreed to.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 12.55 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 1.18 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 12.55 p.m. and resumed at 1.18 p.m.