I welcome our friends from the United States. They are very welcome.
Tomorrow marks Irish AIDS Day created to raise awareness of HIV and the resulting AIDS epidemic. Since the beginning of the epidemic more than 70 million people have acquired the infection and about 35 million people have died. Today around 37 million worldwide live with HIV, of whom 22 million people are on treatment. It is 40 years since the first reports of HIV and AIDS in Ireland in 1982 and much has changed since then. People are now living with HIV and cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners.
I am mindful since I last spoke in this Chamber about HIV that the Channel 4 series "It's a Sin" has put a spotlight on the pandemic in the early 1980s and 1990s and it got everyone talking about it. Crucially, it was an opportunity for professionals in sexual health and well-being, people like Adam Shanley and the MPOWER programme and people in HIV Ireland, to get talking about sexual health strategies and about HIV prevention and sexually transmitted infection prevention right now. That is what we need to be doing with a memorial. The Government announced through the Department of the Taoiseach and the Office of Public Works, OPW, there will be a HIV and AIDS national monument and I welcome that announcement.
I acknowledge the work of individuals such as Tonie Walsh, who have been calling for and encouraging a conversation about having an Irish AIDS memorial for many years. In an address to the National University of Ireland, NUI, Maynooth to mark World AIDS Day in 2016, Mr. Walsh said:
What is remembered, lives. Not just the names of our deceased, but their voices, their bright faces are refocused. Lives lived in adversity and often despair are recalibrated, not only for those of us mourning our dearly departed friends and lovers, but for successive generations.
These hidden histories of how we lived, how some died and other survived, yearn to be heard. … We are in huge need of inter-generational dialogue.
He concluded his speech by saying:
It’s time. Time to dry away our tears and build from them a monument to the destruction and loss from AIDS in Ireland. Please join me as we make this a reality.
I commend all those who have been part of that process who have brought us to a place where the Government is now committed to having a national HIV and AIDS monument. I offer the Government an opportunity to make a statement here in the Houses of the Oireachtas on what that monument would look like and what process will take place. I will have some questions about that.
It is important that, as opposed to just being a monument, it be a memorial that ties the past with the present and gives us an opportunity to talk about why some people are still getting AIDS, why there were 404 new cases of HIV last year, why our sexual health education system is not up to scratch and why our sexual health services are underfunded.