The Order of Business is No. 1, Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 – Second Stage, postponed division, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at 12 noon, or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 4, whichever is the later; No. 24, motion 5, re the Shannon Group, postponed division, to be taken on the conclusion of the postponed division on No. 1; No. 2, motion re the fifth report of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to be taken on the conclusion of the postponed division on No. 24, without debate; No. 3, motion re the establishment of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, motion re restoration of Bill to the Order Paper, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I was very saddened during the week, as I have no doubt all of us were, when we got an email from Senator Norris telling us that, sadly, Cathal Martin had passed away. During the debate on Senator Norris's Bill three weeks ago, he and Senator Casey spoke very passionately and compassionately about Cathal and the difficulties he had in life. On behalf of my grouping, I extend our deepest sympathy to Les, Linda, Ciaran and Holly, and acknowledge the incredible work Les has done on the National Screening Advisory Committee Bill. We commit to doing all that we can to support the Bill. It is very difficult for any one of us to lose any member of a family but to lose a child is especially traumatic. I cannot even begin to imagine the great sense of loss and grief the Martin family have. In saying that, I also think of all those who have lost children, especially during this national week of child loss and the fact that yesterday was Pregnancy and Child Loss Remembrance Day.
It is an incredibly difficult time for those who are pregnant. It is a very welcome event in people's lives but our thoughts go to those who perhaps have had miscarriages previously or who are at a difficult stage of pregnancy. In particular during the Covid crisis, we all want mothers and new babies to be as healthy as possible and to make sure every precaution is taken to ensure they do not contract Covid. However, I believe some leniency could be shown, especially at the time of the 20-week scan, in order that partners would be allowed to accompany pregnant women to hospital for the screening. I urge the Leader to take that on board. I am aware that it has been raised here previously.
The second issue I wish to raise concerns respect and loyalty. I am from Kildare and I am very close to the Defence Forces family and I have been involved with their issues for many years. The budget gave an extra €32 million to the Defence Forces, which was very important. Much of that will go to capital funding and €10.5 million is to support and improve pay and conditions but we still have a journey to go. In talking about respect and loyalty, I wish to speak about the respect and loyalty the State should show to those who have served this country both at home and abroad. That is most important. Senator Craughwell and others in the House raised the siege of Jadotville in 1961 in the Congo, five days of heroism and courage by 155 men, led by Commandant Quinlan. As we know, Commandant Quinlan recommended that 33 of these men would be awarded medals, five with the highest honour. Only eight of these 33 still survive. It is incumbent on the State to ensure that those eight individuals are awarded the medals and that the others are awarded posthumous medals. It would mean so much to their families and to their comrades in the Defence Forces. It would be beyond tragic if that did not happen.
The final issue I wish to raise today relates to justice, which is very important to all of us, as is ensuring that the justice system is fair and equal and that people do not lose out. While I am conscious that speaking about judges is a sensitive issue at the moment, I wish to-----
When Members are speaking in the Chamber, addressing the Leader and asking questions, or even during debate I ask others not to engage in conversation. If Members wish to engage in conversation they must step outside the Chamber.
I draw the attention of the Leader to justice, which is hugely important to all of us, specifically District Court area 25, County Kildare. In this District Court we have twice the number of cases that are in many other jurisdictions, so we have a situation where cases dealing with important matters such as child custody, access and maintenance are not being heard. I know of a particular situation where 15 months after a child has been born a dad is still waiting for a court case to make sure he has access. That is completely wrong. There is an urgent need for another judge to be appointed to District Court area 25. I ask that the Leader would take that on board to ensure we can deal with the serious consequences that are evident in terms of the impact on the service users.
First, I put on record that the leader of my group, Senator Boyhan, received the Order of Business for today at 10.19 a.m. It is not good enough that we should receive the proposed Order of Business so late in the day, with effectively 11 minutes to go before the Chamber assembled.
Second, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, as proposed by the Leader, to provide that the words "and Remaining Stages" in respect of the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 would be deleted from the Order of Business. In other words, I am proposing that only Committee Stage should proceed today. I understand that Senator Boyhan will second the amendment.
Third, the House has been told that the urgency of this matter arises from the fact that the commission will stand dissolved on 30 October and therefore arrangements in respect of its documentation would have to be made while it is still in existence. As I understand it, the situation is that the commission is now in a position to deliver its final report.
The commission has a separate report based on the evidence it received from people who appeared before the confidential committee. The commission is anxious to deliver its final report by 30 October but it will need time. It cannot conclude its business before 30 October and will need an extension, partly because staff have been forced by the circumstances of the Covid emergency to work from home. There is a lot of administrative work in respect of the records of the commission that needs to be completed and will not be completed by 30 October. Therefore, it follows that the supposed urgency in respect of passing this legislation is unfounded because the commission needs and wants extra time. It should be given that extra time. Its final report will be out by 30 October, as I understand it and, depending on what this House does in respect of it, the confidential report will follow very quickly. However, the administrative work associated with dealing with all the records and preparing them to meet whatever legal requirements exist will take further time. We need extra time. The commission needs extra time. It is bogus to suggest that there is a hurry or an emergency requiring the passage of this legislation. I ask the Leader, therefore, to accept the amendment I am proposing and to proceed today only with Committee Stage.
I was planning to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to reflect what Senator McDowell has just outlined. Perhaps he might allow us to second his proposal to take only Committee Stage today.
I remind the Leader of what she said on Thursday, 10 September:
I hear Members very loudly and clearly. I recall how standing here some six weeks ago I told the House that we would not do all Stages of Bills again and I find myself in a very uncomfortable position this week of having to ask Members to do it today. I give my solemn word today that except in the event of an emergency, [...] I will not accede to having all Stages of a Bill on a same day sitting in future. There is a caveat, we must find an agreement this afternoon at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on how we run and order our business.
A commitment was given, however, that we would not railroad through all Stages and disrespect the process of this House. These Houses work best when the Government and Oireachtas work together and when all Stages are respected in the Seanad. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service has presented a very helpful infographic on the Stages of the legislation, laying out the process for all Members.
In my Second Stage contribution, I referred to the unprecedented engagement on this Bill with Members of House and other representatives. There is no doubt that the public is watching. It does not reflect well on this House if we concentrate all our critical examination into a few hours. Sinn Féin has submitted detailed amendments for Committee Stage and this will be the first opportunity to put them to the Minister. Many of the amendments reflect the deep alarm and concern of survivors of mother and baby homes over the direction and speed, in particular, of this Bill. I would like the Minister to have had more time to consider our amendments and determine whether he could compromise and come up with solutions of his own. The entire point of a Report Stage sitting is that Seanadóirí, the Minister and his officials can consider all amendments, even those defeated, in the period leading up to it. It has happened before that Ministers have considered Committee Stage amendments that were defeated and brought forward their own amendments. Without any period of reflection and engagement between Committee Stage and Report Stage, there is no chance at all of this happening. I appeal to Members, even those who may have supported the Bill this week, to allow time so we can fully listen and consider the concerns of the women and other survivors, who have themselves waited for so many years to get to this point. I appeal to the humanity of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, so he may do the right thing by the women and other survivors.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I indicate our support for the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator McDowell. We, too, believe it is unnecessary and unjust to rush through this legislation today. I do not need to tell his House how important it is. As we all know, it has generated very intense personal interest. It concerns people's lives. As Senator Warfield said, we need time to listen and to consider the 38 amendments tabled, some of which are very detailed and substantial. We very much hope that the proposed amendment to the Order of Business will be accepted today.
The other issue I wish to raise concerns the schools building programme of the Department of Education and Skills. I wish to express my extreme frustration over the tortuous and unnecessarily protracted process involved in getting some schools built. I am dealing with the two schools at present. The first is Pelletstown Educate Together National School, Dublin 15. It is only a new school. When it was established, children were educated in a basement in their first year. In the second year, children had to be bussed to another school. There was no planning for a proper school building when the project was announced. It is a disgrace that the Department establishes schools but puts in place no proper buildings.
The second school I am dealing with is Bunscoil Coláiste Mhuire, Parnell Square. This is a school that had to move into temporary accommodation almost 30 years ago. Ten years ago, a commitment was made regarding a new school building. Management has been waiting ten years for a new school. It is absolutely shameful that the Department has dragged its heels despite the tremendous efforts of the príomhoide, the families, students and teachers. There is a wonderful school community but it is really up against the odds. There is plaster falling down from the ceilings. The playground is the car park for the teachers. Two major issues arise. First, the Department is wasting valuable money, amounting to €300,000 per year, on rent to a landlord when it could be used to build a school. Almost €3 million has been spent on rent over the past ten years, which is one third of the cost of the school. Second, at every stage of the building process an enormous campaign had to be launched to get the Government to act. This is clientelism at its worst. The Department needs to put in place a smooth, streamlined system for building schools. We should not have to have a campaign at every stage of delivery.
I am glad to be back here again. I was very lonesome for all the Senators over the past few weeks but-----
We are glad the Senator is back.
------my medical people said not that I was a high-risk person but that I was an at-risk person. The last time I was able to come into this Chamber was when I served in Dáil Éireann. It is nice to be back here again. It brings back fond memories. I am probably one of the longest here. I was here in 1989. I am not sure how many Members other than Senator Norris have a longer record of penance and public service. I am not sure how well it was received or how well I did, but sin scéal eile.
I rise today primarily to express my extraordinary concern over the need for the likes of the Cathaoirleach, Ceann Comhairle and President of the High Court to issue instructions and a mandate to people in these surroundings, namely, the lawmakers, not necessarily in this Chamber but in the Oireachtas as a whole, and those who serve in our courts, the barristers and solicitors. I am technically still a solicitor but have not been practising for a while. I am concerned that a caution or warning had to be issued to barristers and solicitors in courts and Senators and Deputies on the basis that they are not fully complying with the instructions on social distancing and the regulations we are supposed to implement.
We are the legislators and the people working in the courts implement the laws. It is hard for people, whether they are on peninsulas such as Sheep's Head, Beara, Mizen, where I live, Inishowen, Dingle, in the Cathaoirleach's county, or in Connemara hearing that they cannot see their children or grandchildren. It is a hard pill to swallow. Yet, we in this Chamber and the Lower House and in the courts refuse with disdain to accept the regulations imposed on us. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Due to circumstances, this Chamber has sometimes sat on Monday and, because of the Dáil, we sometimes sit almost a five-day week. We are giving two fingers to the hewers of wood and the drawers of water. I do not say that in a derogatory or disparaging way but the ordinary working-class people are told they must do this and the pillars of society - that may be too strong a term because sometimes I do not think we are pillars - can do what we want. That is a bad message. If we want the ordinary working-class people of this country to come on board, by God, we are making a hash of it.
I will raise one other issue. I often wonder, putting on my legal hat, if much of the work in the Seanad and the Dáil could be done in another way. My esteemed colleague, Senator McDowell, who has experience in the courts, in both Chambers and as a Minister, asked if this Seanad could have sat with the 49 elected Members without the 11 nominated Members. That is an important point to reflect on. Can this Chamber and the other House do much of its work at a distance? We have Zoom. When I came in here in 1989, there was no Zoom, Twitter, Facebook or anything like that. We were lucky to have a paper and a pen and we have moved on a long way since. Should we look at that and, if necessary, put a test case, by way of State cases, to the High Court and the Supreme Court to see if we can operate in some way under the extraordinary circumstances we are in? This pandemic is going nowhere and will probably be here next year, and lives are at risk. Can we look at the possibility of sitting fewer days and of committee work being done at arm's length? I am sure the Supreme Court or the High Court would interpret the regulations as set out broadly and in a different way because of the circumstances we are in. That might be something the Chamber could reflect on.
I thank the Senator for his important contribution. I call Senator Seán Kyne.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I raise the issue of services for people with disabilities and their families. Budget 2021 builds on the strong work of the previous Government and the former Minister, Finian McGrath, in this area. I commend the Government for securing additional resources and funding for disability services in this budget. The additional €100 million is much needed and very welcome. It will provide more targeted and tailored services for persons with disabilities, including school leavers, and help with the resumption of day services across the country. Most important, it will help continue the transition to a more inclusive, person-centred system that empowers people.
However, while the initial funding is welcome, we need to focus on how it is spent to ensure it achieves the greatest impact. We need to ensure that the recruitment of additional posts such as therapeutic services, including speech and language therapists, starts immediately and that such important personnel are not seconded to other areas of the health services such as contract tracing, which is happening at the moment. We need to ensure the additional training places and day service enhancements are introduced as soon as possible. We need to ensure disability service providers such as Ability West and the Brothers of Charity Services Ireland are fully resourced so they can carry out their vital services without obstacles or complications and we need to provide more support and respite for the families of persons with disabilities, parents, brothers, sisters and others. It is difficult for many of us to understand how challenging it can be to care for a person with a disability. It impacts on all aspects of family life, including on siblings. The challenge becomes greater as parents grow older and we have all met parents and made representations on behalf of many parents whose greatest concern is who will care for their loved ones or their children when they cannot, or when they die what will happen to their loved ones.
Will the Leader facilitate a special debate on disability services and the disability budget? This will involve a proper, reasoned debate to ensure every euro is spent appropriately for the greatest good. Will the Leader follow this up with the Minister for disability services?
I endorse everything that Senator McDowell said and I thank Senator Warfield for agreeing to second that. I would be happy to second it as that is a good gesture of support across the House and it makes a lot of sense. There are many people tuning in to us today, as there were the other day, on this important issue. Many people looking in are not familiar with the legislative process or the Oireachtas but they are concerned and troubled by what they have heard and seen in recent days.
I will make an appeal to the Leader. To come and have the Order of Business at 10.19 a.m. is not good enough. The responsibility is hers. She is the Leader of the House. With that job comes responsibility to the House and its Members. I will wait to hear the Leader's response. Is she going to suggest that the officials, the Cathaoirleach and the Leader's party members receive the first notification of the Order of Business at 10.19 a.m.? I have an answer to that but I will listen to what the Leader has to say and take an opportunity to see her in the next week or two to discuss it.
I appeal to the Leader to start, as her predecessor did, having on a weekly basis a meeting with both the Leaders and the Whips, so that we can support each other and help the smooth running of this House. It does not operate on the basis of one side versus everybody else. We can all work together but Senator Doherty is the Leader and I appeal to her to give us leadership.
It is important we have time to debate the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 today. It can be a difficult episode for people, both here and outside.
I draw the House's attention to something I received in the post this morning, namely, the minutes of Galway County Council of Monday, 23 September 2019 and the commitments the council gave to the women and families from Tuam. I can make a copy available to anyone today via email. I hope the Leader will talk to her councillors in Galway County Council and I hope they echo her party's honourable commitments to these people in the debate today.
I will touch on the debate that has been raging in the country over the past 48 hours in respect of the playing of GAA matches this weekend and, in particular, Members of these Houses weighing in and putting pressure on the GAA to concede that the competitions should be abandoned and drawing the false comparison between what has happened at club level in this country and these elite games. What happened after country finals over the past number of weeks was totally wrong. The GAA acknowledged that and came out ahead of the Government by shutting down the club championships two weeks ago.
The inter-county games are elite sport games. They are categorised under the Government's tier plan as elite sport. I listened to medics last night on television speak about how players would celebrate this weekend if they won. They have obviously never seen the dietary plans of elite GAA players because if these players took one pint, they would be off the county panel.
What galls me most is the singular focus on the GAA. There is no consistency in this new-found commentary by some Members of these Houses about sport. Are the same Members unaware that in eight days, the Italians are coming to Dublin to play in the Six Nations and one of their squad tested positive for Covid on Tuesday; or that, on Thursday, a Norwegian team come here to play Dundalk in a Europa League game, which the owners of Dundalk are trying to have switched to Windsor Park, Belfast? I have not heard them call for these games to be called off. People are naturally worried but these elite games are being played in a bubble, behind closed doors and with no fans.
They are broadcast on television and will provide people with some joy and hope this weekend. Critically, they are catered for in the tier plan agreed by the Government. I ask that people not try to unpick the plan on television just because a journalist has put the question in their mouth. It is time for people to think for themselves, agree to the plan for the country and be responsible.
I rise to raise the issue of those who need to renew their driving licence. The situation is now at a critical stage as some people are driving without a licence. If one drives without a licence, one is not insured. Some people need their licence to be able to drive to work, but some others need an up-to-date licence as part of their work. I note the Minister ensured people over the age of 70 can register online for a licence, but there will still be a backlog in that area. I ask that the Minister immediately look at this issue and grant some sort of amnesty in respect of expiring or expired driving licences for a short period of time until the backlog is cleared or something can be done. It is a farcical situation.
On Standing Order 31, arising from the most recent meeting of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges it is proposed to delete the Standing Order without debate. It is a very important tool for Members which allows them to raise issues on Thursdays for two minutes. It is proposed that the Standing Order will be deleted. Some Senators who may not be aligned to a group or party may not contribute on the Order of Business but can use this tool to raise particular issues of importance with the agreement of the Cathaoirleach for a two-minute period at 12 noon on Thursdays. I ask the Leader to consider this issue. It would be a retrograde step to remove Standing Order 31.
On the 5th Report of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, the Leader outlined that the motion would be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business but did not outline whether it would be taken with or without debate. Will it be taken without debate?
I support the amendment to the Order of Business. I wish to put on the record of the House that I am genuinely disturbed by the way in which the House is being used. Every Senator should be disturbed by it. As Senator Warfield stated, having received a commitment just three or four weeks ago that legislation would not be rushed through the House, that is exactly what is being done again today in a way that is entirely inappropriate. It is being done for a Bill that, as was so eloquently explained by Senator McDowell, is not an emergency. It is being done in the face of the significant concern of thousands of people. The very reasonable request is that the Bill would be paused after Committee Stage. I ask all Members to bear in mind that there is no way the Minister or the Government could have read the thousands of emails Senators have received this week, many of which give harrowing personal testimony. There simply has not been enough time for those emails to be read or the issues they raise to be considered. For the Government to railroad the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 through today because it has the numbers to so do is, frankly, disgraceful. When the House was dealing with the Retention of Records Bill 2019 last year, Senators in every corner of the House were rightly horrified. The members of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills worked together to ensure that Bill would not go any further. Where are those voices today? The very same issues arise with regard to the Bill before the House today. The threat to transfer information to Tusla and seal records for 30 years is an affront to the thousands of victims. Senators are aware of the harrowing testimony in that regard in particular. If Senators disagree with me on this issue, that is fine but, for God's sake, they should not agree to have this Bill ramrodded through today. Senators on the other side of the Chamber should stand up and state there is something fundamentally wrong with the way this is being done.
Most Members will be familiar with the problems associated with pyrite and mica. However, they may not be aware that the schemes involving restitution for those affected by these issues are limited to certain areas, namely, counties Mayo and Donegal in respect of the defective block scheme and parts of counties Dublin and Meath in respect of pyrite. The pyrite scheme has been extended to cover County Limerick. It is about time for a national scheme to be put in place. A situation is developing in the county I know best, County Clare, where between 30 and 40 houses are affected by the defective block situation. That number is growing. Anyone who has visited one of these houses knows it is devastating for the owners and their families to see a relatively small crack in an otherwise well-built home widen over a period of months or, in some cases, a year or two to such an extent that one could put one's fist through it. That has a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people concerned.
I am calling for a debate on the matter in an effort to extend the scheme nationwide such that those affected in each county or area where these problems develop do not have to get together, spend a vast amount of money trying to prove their case and go through the same rigamarole as the homeowners in Mayo or Donegal or on the east coast. We should do all we can to give certainty and security once and for all to those who have been impacted so badly. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on this issue at the earliest possible opportunity. I know there are departmental mandarins who like to limit the potential exposure of the State. I get that. I understand that. Why does the scheme developed for Donegal and Mayo not apply to homeowners in counties Clare, Kerry, Limerick or elsewhere? A nationwide scheme should be instituted in the interests of fairness and equity and in recognition of the tremendous impact this issue has on homeowners and families. If one's home is not protected under such a scheme, what else can be done? These issues are not covered by insurance. When these houses were built, building regulations were not as strictly observed as they currently are. Nobody wishes to cast blame or look back. One cannot do so because this condition was not known or tested for at the time, but the manifestation of it now is very serious. It is a matter the House should try to address without delay.
I wish to raise the issue of the continued problems being experienced by travel agents in accessing flight refunds from Ryanair, a company that has been particularly critical of the Government in recent days. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, travel agents have submitted thousands of claims to Ryanair in order to refund their customers whose flight bookings were affected. To date, travel agents are owed approximately €20 million in refunds from Ryanair. Senator Dolan and I spoke to my local travel agent, Kane Travel in Longford, about the issue. It should be noted that funds held by licensed travel agents are guaranteed by the State in case of insolvency, which offers further protection to customers in the event that the agent or operator becomes insolvent or goes out of business.
Mr. Pat Dawson of the Irish Travel Agents Association, ITAA, stated that travel agents are doing their best to secure refunds for customers as quickly as possible. He stated that customer protection is travel agents' top priority and that the issue continues to affect high street agents as well as online travel campaigns. He pointed out that as Ryanair continues to refuse to deal with ITAA members, travel agencies have reached an impasse when it comes to securing flight refunds for their customers. This is not acceptable. Agents have been working solidly throughout the pandemic to assist customers with bookings. The companies simply could not close down even though they were effectively blocked from claiming refunds. Instead, they have remained open to service customers with cancellations, refunds and rebooking holidays. They are not using the current situation as an excuse to avoid refunding customers. They respect and value their customers.
I call on the Commission for Aviation Regulation and the Department of Transport to work with the ITAA to secure refunds for hard-pressed customers as quickly as possible. We need legislation to be implemented such that any vouchers issued to customers can be used by the travel agent and sold on to another customer should the person wish to receive the funding back. More than 3,000 jobs in the industry have been affected. It is time to protect travel agents in order to protect their customers.
I rise to speak about maternity care in the time of Covid. Senator O'Loughlin has already spoken about this. Yesterday was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I am sure Members will join me in thinking of those who have suffered a miscarriage, are waiting for their rainbow baby, have suffered infant loss, are struggling with their fertility, have suffered a stillbirth or are still yearning to be parents. We have all heard on the news, from friends and from constituents about the ongoing issue of lack of access for partners of pregnant people in maternity care. At their appointments, pregnant people receive a range of different kinds of news, from the most joyous to the most concerning, and in some cases even the most tragic news an expectant parent can receive. They are doing so, in the main, entirely alone. This is not just the case on labour wards but in GP offices, consultation rooms and hospitals. As it currently stands, the partner of an expectant parent can go to a pub, café, restaurant, park, gym, salon or bookies with others from outside their family but cannot accompany their partner to a labour ward, consultant's appointment or operating theatre. A friend contacted me saying she had an emergency caesarean section quite recently and she lay on the bed soiled because her partner was not there and the nurses were so rushed off their feet that they could not help her. It is not acceptable in this day and age that we have pregnant people in that situation before or after delivery.
This has been raised across the national airwaves, in this House, in the lower House, and by my colleague Deputy Duncan Smith on the Covid committee and thus far there has been virtual silence from the Government on the matter. It is the position of the Labour Party that there must be compassion in care even during Covid. In fact, there has never been a time when compassion in care was more needed. I ask the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, who did so much to campaign for compassionate access to abortion care alongside those of us in Together for Yes, to request that the Minister for Health come into the Chamber to listen to the concerns of pregnant people, their partners and families regarding maternity care in Ireland.
Today is the first day of level 4 regulations for the good people of counties Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal. Yesterday evening it was absolutely heartbreaking to witness shop owners, hairdressers, beauty salons and hotels close their doors for the second time in six months. This was done through no fault of the business owners concerned. They did everything they were asked to do. They invested in their businesses, they trained their staff and today they are closing their doors and again facing an uncertain future. My heart goes out to them because I can only imagine the stress and anxiety the business owners, their families and indeed their staff are going through at this time. I welcome the measures introduced in the July stimulus package and those in the budget passed this week. All of them will be needed, and perhaps even more. However, for businesses in counties Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal, additional help is required. For that reason I propose that the Government introduce a helpline for such businesses, particularly small businesses with five or fewer employees. Those who are busy looking after their businesses and trying to survive are not aware of all the help and assistance that is out there. A helpline for those businesses is an absolute necessity so that people can pick up the phone and talk to someone who can guide them as to what they can and cannot do and what help and assistance, financial or otherwise, is available to them.
I wish to raise enforcement laws and the powers of the Garda in relation to Covid-19. The last week has been very difficult, particularly for the three counties that have gone to level 4. It is now widely accepted that all other counties are going to be on level 3 for quite some time and will not be coming down from it soon. That means asking people to stay within their counties and asking businesses to remain closed for a long period of time. Most people are abiding by and sticking to the guidelines and recommendations. They are sacrificing an awful lot in their business lives and normal lives to abide by these guidelines. Certain people are not doing so, however. There is a certain group who believe the guidelines do not apply to them. It seems to me and certainly to people who have closed their businesses, including restaurants or pubs, that other people can still carry on as if there is no problem. The Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, has said he does not believe extra measures need to be brought forward. Does the Leader agree that if we want people to follow these guidelines, as they previously have, through the winter months, there has to be seen to be a deterrent for those who do not? In other countries fines have been imposed on those leaving their districts or not wearing masks. A small minority of people are behaving in this way, but this virus is so deadly that measures are needed to ensure everyone stays onside.
I would like to request a debate on equality, or more importantly inequality. In the programme for Government we have a commitment to a national strategy for women and girls. I would like to invite the Minister to the House to discuss this issue, to set out when work on the strategy will begin and to clarify when it will report. In light of the debate we have been having this week, it is really important that we have a proper national strategy on gender equality and inequality across the Houses and across the country. The programme for Government also commits to examining the addition of socio-economic disadvantaged status as a ground for discrimination. This is very important. We heard earlier this week from Senator Ruane about coming from a Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, school and going on to study law at third level. A person can suffer prejudice for a basic thing like their accent or address. I was told as a young one that I would not get anywhere in the world - some people might say that I still have not - but I am damn proud to be here with my County Louth brogue and to talk in it. Inequality based on who a person is or what he or she looks like is not acceptable. We need to have a proper national strategy on how we are going to deal with this because, for the first time in our nation's history, class and where a person comes from really matters. It is really disappointing because I grew up in an area where I went to school with the children of people who were on the dole and the children of solicitors, doctors and tradesmen but that is changing. Different levels of class, for want of a better word, are coming to the fore more and more. We disadvantage and marginalise people at our peril and I would very much welcome a debate on this in the House.
I will address a very serious issue. Next month, the United States of America elects its next President. I hope it will be a new President, with Joe Biden becoming the 46th holder of that office. It could not be a more serious time for the world. The outcome of that election will have serious long-term consequences for the Iran nuclear deal, for the Paris climate agreement, for the EU, for Brexit, for ethnic minorities and for respect for women.
Many years ago, in the 1990 World Cup penalty shoot-out as Dave O'Leary faced the ball, George Hamilton uttered the immortal phrase, "The nation holds its breath." Next month, the world will hold its breath, in a sense, praying and hope for a certain outcome in that election. There are 33 million people in America who claim Irish ancestry and so many more friends of Ireland who care about Ireland and peace on the island of Ireland. Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, said that we need more than Hail Marys next month. Every single vote matters in the swing states and we can do something about it. It might not be the convention for a Government to involve itself in someone else's election but our voice as individual public representatives should be heard. The voice of individuals who may not be public representatives in Ireland, throughout the world and throughout the EU, should be heard loud and clear. People should contact their long-lost cousins, friends, relatives and friends of relatives' friends. Every single vote matters in this once in a lifetime opportunity to get the world back on track. I appeal to Members to do what they can to have effective input into next month's critical election for the world.
It is not our place as a country to interfere in the elections of other countries. I am not sure that is an issue for the Order of Business. I thank the Senator.
He is right though.
The Cathaoirleach is the guy with the experience on the Capitol, that is for sure. I raise the concept of teachers who are considered to be extremely high risk, due to medical issues, and who continue to have to work in our schools. I spoke with a teacher in my home county, Louth, during the week and again this morning as I drove to this House. She is based in a part of County Louth where she is dealing with students who are coming from Dublin, County Meath and County Louth, so that is three different geographical areas. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, she had to have a serious operation that involved having part of her lung removed. She is considered high risk medically and she now has to take sick leave. That sick leave will naturally affect the number of days that she is allowed to take over four years. She will have to pay tax on the sick leave too, so there will be double taxation. One can compare this with other teachers in the severely high risk category who are allowed to leave on a full Covid payment. It is not her fault or the school's fault.
The reason for it is Circular 0049/2020 issued by the Department of Education and Skills, which sets out defined limits regarding what is considered to be severely high risk. We have all been told that we have to work from home when we are considerably high risk, but this individual has to take sick leave because she is so high risk. She works with children with learning disabilities in our school and, therefore, she has to have close contact with those students. There is no concept of her being able to socially distance. The Irish National Teachers' Organisation asks that boards of management be given the means to discharge teachers who are high risk but that puts boards of management in an unfair position because they are not medical doctors. I would like Circular 0049/2020 to be re-examined. This only affects a small number of high risk teachers. It is not fair that they are being forced to take sick leave as a result of a circular and the definitions that the Government has sent around.
This morning, I renew my request for this House to debate the issue of homelessness, particularly homelessness in Dublin city. This week, the deputy chief executive of Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny, issued the latest report from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, which documented that, as of the last count, there are currently more than 6,227 homeless people in Dublin. There are more than 856 families with more than 2,000 children, and close to 3,000 single people are homeless in the city. I commend the Government for the action it took this week in announcing the largest housing budget in the history of the State, and €3.3 billion will go a long way. Some €1 billion will be spent on social housing. More than €200 million will be spent on homelessness. That is to be commended and I support it. In August, I asked that we would debate the issue following the deaths of five homeless people in the city in one week. The latest report shows that despite having added beds, beds are going empty, yet in excess of 100 people are sleeping rough on the streets of the city.
We need to debate the quality of emergency accommodation being provided, the overconcentration in the north inner city, with no family hubs in Fingal or south County Dublin and families from Dublin 15 and beyond having to relocate back out to the county with their children, travelling on buses. We need a proper debate on the issue. It is a human issue that the Government and all of us in this Chamber should be concerned with. I renew my request for that debate to happen sooner than later.
I want to bring to the attention of the House that this is Tusla National Fostering Week 2020. I implore any parents who may have a space in their home to consider fostering.
I raise the issue of the EU's flight travel policy that was voted on this week and that will be voted on by our Government on Tuesday. We are closed for business. We need a debate with the Minister with responsibility for tourism and the Minister for Transport, so they can tell us what they will do to reopen our economy. Foreign direct investment, FDI, is important to this country and we can see that executives and people involved in FDI cannot travel in and out of this country. We want our economies to be opened. We want our businesses to thrive. We will be totally alienated from all of Europe come Brexit. We do not want to be a pimple on the ass of Europe. It will sound like that, but really-----
Sorry, I cannot use that word. I beg the Cathaoirleach's pardon.
I appreciate the Senator's use of the terminology but it is unparliamentary.
Please forgive me. We are taking up valuable time.
The Senator is grand. It is slightly unladylike.
Posterior is a better word.
We do not want to be a pimple on the posterior of Europe.
All I would say is that it is slightly unladylike.
Is the Cathaoirleach saying that I am unladylike?
To be clear, the phrase is slightly unladylike.
Thank you kindly.
The Senator is most definitely a lady.
Oh my goodness. I have run out of time.
I apologise to the Cathaoirleach and the House for the word.
That is quite all right. The Cathaoirleach took absolutely no offence from the phrase. I would just point out that it is unparliamentary and slightly unladylike.
Is it ungentlemanlylike?
The phrase is slightly unladylike. I know that the Senator is too humble to mention her own great work in the area that she first brought up, which is fostering, and I thank her for raising it.
I echo the sentiments and spirit of Senator McGreehan's proposal on the basis that I have had the experience myself, when dining in Kings Inns, of a senior member of the Law Library asking me what school I went to. When I replied, the next comment was, "How very remiss of your parents." I support her views.
I have three points to raise with regard to the changing environment and our requirement for compliance. At the beginning of this crisis, we had fantastic resources on the HSE website with posters and information. It was translated into 27 languages and it was great to get it out among the community. We have updated our position. At the moment, the information on face masks, etc., is only in Romanian, Russian and Bulgarian. It is necessary in our multicultural society to update that and make sure that the level 3 information is available as quickly as possible. I have written to the Minister in that regard.
The Tánaiste, during a briefing the other evening, spoke about the idea of touch points, although he did not quite use those words. He was referring to the reasons we are being asked not to have visitors in our homes, that is, that we share things such as doorbells, cups and spoons. We need some information on the idea of touch points. Health and safety professionals have gone into businesses and advised in this regard but we have not tailored the same interventions to our homes. For instance, can we leave gates open so the postman does not have to touch them? There will be a lot of parcel post arriving to homes and we need to be mindful about doorbells and that level of hygiene. There is another little piece of work to be done on hygiene and advising people what to do around their homes.
My final point relates to Christmas shopping and returns policies. I would be loath to start Christmas shopping now, though I have a sister-in-law who I am sure has it all done because she is fantastic. I would be afraid that the people in my family who always return gifts will not be able to.
The Senator should not compare herself with her sister-in-law. She is not here in the House to defend herself.
Returns policies usually apply for 28 days so if one does one's Christmas shopping now, it will not be possible to return the gifts after Christmas. We need to support the Consumer Association of Ireland, with funding or otherwise, in getting out the information and ensure that where there is a need for exchange policies, it is broadcast and supported so that we have social distancing and a longer run-in to Christmas.
I want to express my disappointment that Members of the Oireachtas and the Law Library have not tried to keep to the rules and regulations. We might not like some of them but we all have a responsibility to do what we are supposed to do.
Within the next 24 or 48 hours, football teams from all over this country will engage in matches. That is a grave mistake. I understand how people feel and the point made by my party colleague, Senator Cassells, about the well-being of people who are looking forward to seeing those matches on television. However, let me give the picture from my part of the country. I am one of the most avid sports fans in County Roscommon. I am hugely into GAA and travel all over the country to watch games. I am also into soccer and always go to Longford Town matches because its ground is close to me. I also follow rugby. I watch all sports. Roscommon are scheduled to head to Armagh, Leitrim to Newry and Longford to Derry, although the Longford county board objected to going there. Kerry is scheduled to come to Monaghan.
What about Cavan?
I cannot leave out Cavan, I know lots of people there. Can I remind everybody of what Dr. Tony Holohan, a man who we all respect even though we might not always fully agree with him, said yesterday evening. He said that the virus is out of control in the Twenty-six Counties. He is a medical man, whether we like what he says or not, and it is outrageous and unacceptable that we could not ask the GAA and the Government to ensure those matches are postponed for a couple of weeks. I am not talking about abandoning them. We may look back with regret on this weekend in the weeks ahead. It is perhaps not the bravest thing to say because there is division in society on this matter but, really and truly, politicians on all sides have to be brave here, show leadership and say things that may be unpopular. I appeal to everybody, even at this late stage, to postpone those matches for two or three weeks until we get control of the virus. The same should apply to League of Ireland matches and the Italian rugby team should not be coming here in a couple of weeks' time. All those games should be abandoned for now.
I compliment my colleague, Senator Murphy, on his speech and agree with everything he has said.
We were promised that, when the schools reopened, there would be no particular problem with substitute teachers, etc. A number of principals of primary schools have contacted me in the past few days about the difficulty in finding substitutes. I was not a primary school teacher so I am not sure how the system works but I understand there are primary and secondary groups of substitutes. One principal told me of ringing 34 substitutes from the secondary list and being unable to get one into the school.
We are constantly being told by the Minister for Education and Skills that schools are not a source of transmission of the virus. I agree that the discipline in schools is excellent. Anyone can take a walk up the street by the Shelbourne Hotel any day when schools are out and watch hundreds of students coming towards them. I am over 60 and am petrified of this virus. I have met people in my local area who are absolutely petrified of children coming out of schools and there are a number of schools around my area.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business whereby the Minister with responsibility for education can come here and explain to the House the plans that are in place to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of substitute teachers available to principals of national schools. I also want to be given the scientific evidence that states that children do not spread the virus. A scientific piece of research was published yesterday which stated that children are superspreaders. The bottom line is that I want somebody to come to the House today to deal with that matter. The Minister told me in Seanad Éireann that schools are not a problem. They are a problem if we do not have substitutes and we do not have a way of marshalling students as they leave the school.
Seven Senators wish to contribute and we are way over time so I ask Senators to be brief.
I join with Senators Carrigy and Keogan in asking that we have a debate about the issues of travel agents and travel. Only this week, Ryanair has announced the closure of its bases in Cork and Shannon. I will repeatedly demand that we have an honest debate about whether we, as a country, are going to be open and open for business. It is incumbent upon us to have that honest debate in this Chamber.
I ask Members of the House to reflect on what they have said about Cumann Lúthchleas Gael and the GAA championship season. The Chief Medical Officer wrote to the Government and stated that, under level 5, matches can take place. The matches are taking place behind closed doors and, as Pat Spillane said this week, the championship is the symbol of hope for all of us. I support Senator Cassells and ask Cumann Lúthchleas Gael to reflect on the point that it makes no sense for Kerry footballers to drive to Monaghan in single cars next Sunday, nor does it make sense for Donegal players to drive to Kerry a week later. I ask Cumann Lúthchleas Gael to come up with a neutral venue policy. We are playing the games behind closed doors. I am a member of my club executive and a former county board officer. I was chairman of my club for six years. We should not play politics with Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. It is the binding force of unity in communities in our country. I appeal to the management committee of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael to be sensible about the venues that are selected for matches and come up with neutral venues.
I second the proposal of Senator Gallagher about the helpline for those businesses caught up in level 4.
As a former Member of the Lower House, I was once appointed co-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly at a time when unionist participation had never taken place in its 20-year history. I spent the next 21 months alongside former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy and Mr. Peter Hain, doing everything we could to get participation from unionist parties. I am now a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement which met yesterday with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney. That committee now finds itself in a situation similar to the one I was in with the parliamentary assembly and I have asked the Minister to do everything he possibly can to ensure unionist participation.
I ask, with the agreement and support of the House if possible, that the Leader writes to both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, with the support of the Upper House, for us in the Oireachtas to do everything we can to ensure that unionists are encouraged and facilitated to join the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We know the work that is possible with a shared island now being put together and the €500 million pot for projects across the island over the next five years so it is imperative that this happens. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to discuss a number of projects that were mentioned concerning the €500 million pot. I have a keen interest in the Dublin-Donegal railway line that no longer exists but could very well be one of the great greenways of this country.
If the Senator is agreeable, I would do the same and write to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste as well. The Senator has made a very good proposal.
It was with great regret that Ryanair announced yesterday that it would close its bases in Shannon and Cork for the winter. The decision was not a surprise because Ryanair is a private company that must make commercial decisions.
Next Tuesday, at Cabinet, the Minister for Transport will make a proposal to provide funding for Shannon and Cork airports and other airports. I sincerely hope that the funding package will be significant. I hope that it will facilitate capital investment in the airport and help the airport with its operational costs.
I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on transport, particularly on Shannon and Cork airports, after the Government announcement was made because it is critical that this House analyses, with the Minister present, the details of the package of measures that will be available to airports. I appeal to him to ensure that the package is large enough to sustain the airport not just through the pandemic but to facilitate it developing and building. People reckon that 2024 will be the next year we will see figures like 2019 but that is four years away. A lot of critical work needs to be done in the intervening period. We are an island nation and the west of Ireland is deeply dependent on air travel. It is critical for us to have a debate whereby the Minister outlines his proposal to make the airports sustainable.
I still have five Senators offering and I want to get them all in. I do not want to cut them off as they have been here quite a long time so I ask Senators please to confine their contributions to one minute. We are about to run half an hour over our allotted time. I call Senator Mullen.
I second Senator Craughwell's amendment. I am happy to do so.
The Senator does not have to second it.
I have to, morally and in a spirit of collegiality. I will find out later what precise Vote is being proposed.
The Senator still only has one minute.
The Senator will need more stationery.
Please stop interrupting Senator Mullen. He has a valuable contribution to make but only one minute to make it.
I want to talk about the artists' tax exemption but there is more to be said about it than I can say in a short period.
In response to what Senator Martin said, regardless of which administration or candidate succeeds not everything about either administration will be good. That point was brought home forcibly as I watched some of the hearings that featured the very impressive candidate for the US Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. The thought struck me that she would not have a hope in hell of being nominated by a Democratic administration, which would be a great pity in my view. The thought also struck me that despite the sadness of the divisiveness in Senate hearings in recent times in America on the appointment of senior judges, and I reflect in some way on recent controversies in this country around the Judiciary, there is something to be said for some kind of parliamentary scrutiny of proposed senior appointments to the courts. I am not always a fan of putting politicians in the role of judges, as I have stated in the past, but there is something to be said for some kind of public visibility of Government nominees to the superior courts before the appointments are concluded.
Many Senators have mentioned the GAA and the national league. We really need to discuss the matter. I do not see a need for national leagues at the moment because there is no logic in players travelling, for example, from Kerry to Monaghan and Cavan to Kildare. We need to look at what we are trying to do.
As much as the GAA can control what happens on the pitch, it cannot control what happens off the pitch. We saw that in my county in the last few weeks after a county final. I worry about such scenarios and so appeal to the GAA to step back from the issue and realise that the national leagues do not need to happen. As a GAA supporter, and without being rude to the national leagues, they are not the most important part of the GAA calendar. At a later stage we can assess whether the All-Ireland series should be go ahead. For now, I urge the GAA to step back from the abyss and cancel the national league games this weekend.
I will not need a minute as Senator Craughwell has covered all bases. I was also going to second his proposal.
I take the opportunity to ask Members of the House that before we debate the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 this afternoon that they go outside to the front of this House and meet some of the survivors. They are standing outside and ask this House not to pass the Bill, not to put their documents away and not to prevent them from having their testimonies and information.
I ask Members to go outside and explain to the survivors - to their faces - why they are going to seal their documents away for 30 years.
Yesterday evening, we in the Gorey local electoral area in County Wexford discovered, having had a very low rate of Covid-19 infection, that we rocketed up to have one of the highest on the island. We now have an incident rate of about 533.8 per 100,000, which shows how contagious the virus is so people are worried and frightened. For any community where there is a sudden upsurge it causes a lot of problems.
I welcome the fact that the HSE has now provided an emergency Covid testing centre in Ferns and increased the number of lanes at the Wexford centre from two to four. There are very good supports in place for business but we also need a debate on the strategy for rebuilding communities. We have got to give people hope. We will overcome the virus but we must show how our arts, sporting and community organisations can be helped to rebuild our communities.
I ask the Leader to convey in writing our congratulations and good wishes to the Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner on the successful completion of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe's murder trial and sentencing. It is important and vital that justice is done there. We owe great gratitude to the gardaí, various forces of law and order here and, indeed, the Department of Homeland Security in America.
The Donohoe family is highly respected in my county. The parents are still alive there and the family is very respected. After their terrible tragedy a little glimmer of joy came into their lives last week. Adrian's Dad, Mr. Hugh Donohoe, has been president of the local GAA club for years and is a former player. His club won the county championship last week, which was a little joy.
I congratulate all involved in bringing justice in this case and salute the Donohoe family. I urge the Leader to convey my comments to the Minister and the Garda Commissioner.
In response to some of the contributions that have been made, as a colleague and pal of mine for many years and an adversary, and a lot of those years on different issues, Senator Sharon Keogan is an absolute lady.
She is one of the hardest working ladies both in her home as a foster parent and in our community for all of the years I have known her. A number of debates have been asked for today. The issue was raised of maternity care and the co-operation of these hospitals, in recognising that there are two parents in almost every single case. Both parents need to be recognised during the duration of that pregnancy and the care thereafer. It is very vital that we have that debate as quickly as we can.
The debate on disability is, again, timely. Our services have been closed for many of our citizens for far too long. The extra money is welcome but we need to know how this will resolve in getting our day services open again. We will schedule that debate as quickly as we can.
A number of Members have touched on the US elections. I will not comment on it but I will agree and concur with Senators McGreehan and Seery Kearney’s call for a debate. When a lady, Amy Coney Barrett, is asked who does the laundry in her house when being interviewed for one of the most serious and senior positions in the American judiciary, this is an absolute disgrace regardless of whether one agrees with her politics or the politics of the party that has proposed her. It goes to show that we have a hell of a long way to go to achieve equality, not just in Ireland but in the world.
As to the debate on homelessness that was asked for by Senator Fitzpatrick, I did not ignore her call for a debate when she asked for it in August. The Minister has agreed to come to this House and the earliest date that I can get him to do so is in November which has been scheduled.
I agree that, notwithstanding that we had the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in here only a number of weeks ago, it seems like a lifetime ago as so much has changed. With the advent of adopting the green list and the funding for our airports, which will happen next Tuesday, it will be vital that we get both Ministers back in to this House at the earliest convenience and I will do this for Senator Carrigy as quickly as I can.
On the two amendments to the Order of Business, I will take the second one first. Unfortunately the Minister, Deputy Foley, is in Kerry today. Even if I was of a mind to try to facilitate Senator Craughwell's amendment, I cannot get hold of her as she is in Kerry and there is no feasible way for her to be here today. I will certainly asked that question as the issue raised by the Senator is very relevant, not just to our primary schools but to all of our secondary schools also, and does not just extend to teachers but to resource teachers and SNAs also. This is really vital and permeates through every statement made, not just by Ministers but by leaders in Ireland, and particularly by our leaders in NPHET. Our main aim is to keep our children in school and to keep the education system working. We all know the damage that was done to quite a number of our children during the months that schools were closed. We must keep the schools open safely and ensure that we have replacement teachers for staff members who may get sick during the course of this pandemic. If there is not a plan there then we certainly need one. We need to hear what the plan is or at least be able to input on what our suggestions should be to keep our schools open. I will arrange that as quickly as I can but I am not in a position to support the amendment.
I am also not in a position to support the first amendment to the Order of Business which proposes to take Report Stage at a later date because the Bill is scheduled to go to the Dáil next week. On that basis I will be opposing the amendment.
I wish to briefly refer to Senator Boyhan’s irksomeness at having received the Order of Business at 10.19 a.m. The Order of Business, a Chathaoirligh, as Members know well, is drafted in consultation with the Seanad Office to ensure that what I read out on the Order of Business is procedurally correct. As to the business to be dealt with, absolutely nothing was added that was not already in the schedule that I issued to all Members last week. I reissued a revised schedule to Members yesterday arising from the issues that were dealt with at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, this week. There should be no conspiracy theory suggested as to people getting anything late. The schedule put before the Senator this morning was exactly the same schedule that was given to Members last week and yesterday. The Senator is more than welcome and willing to meet me any time and I am here nearly every day.
I am fully open to the request for a leaders and whips meeting and I am willing to do this every week but we do have a CPP meeting every week. This week we are having two such meetings. What I do not want to do is to assume that people have nothing better to be doing than having the same conversations in two meetings. When we have run our course of scheduled items on the CPP, it will probably go back to meeting on a monthly basis, and we can then certainly have a scheduled meeting for leaders and whips every week.
Certain members have touched on what they think should and should not be happening in Irish society. One either agrees with the GAA or does not. It is very telling that no other specific sporting or entertaining organisation was raised today. We need to have a significant debate, not just in this House but in Irish society on the psychosocial impacts of Covid-19 that are affecting every single household, whether it is a single-person household that has been impacted by the no-visitor rule or suggestions that were made this week, or a household with a lorry-load of children in it. The psychosocial impact of Covid-19 is something that we are all talking about in quiet corners in terms of how we can ensure people’s well-being is going to be minded. However, we are not talking about it at a national level or from a programme of delivery perspective, or how we will build resilience in our children who we certainly want to keep going to school. Some of these children are absolutely petrified that they are going to get sick and make their granny or grandad sick.
We are not talking about the underlying levels of anxiety that exist in healthy normal people who have good jobs, before we ever get to the anxiety levels of people who are on €300 a week. This is a huge debate that we need to have not just in this House but in Irish society. Society needs to show and be shown leadership from our Ministers, our Government, from the HSE and from organisations that look after our mental health and well-being but this usually happens after the fact that we have reached crisis. We are in the biggest emergency this country has ever seen.
The fact that we announced almost €18 billion worth of investment in Irish people on Tuesday and by Wednesday we had moved on to talking about something else tells us that we are living in a time where people are moving from announcements made three or four hours ago and we nearly forget what happened yesterday because we are so concentrated on what is happening today. If that does not tell people the level of anxiety that people are living under, whether they recognise it or not, then we are storing up enormous problems in terms of the well-being of our citizens in this country. We cannot ignore this any longer. To that end, with the agreement of Members, I will write to the Cabinet and ask it to convene a special group to consider what programme should be put in place to build not just resilience in our children and schools, but resilience in all of society. I fear that sometimes when announcements are made there is a lack of information or understanding as to why. Other Members mentioned today that we need touchtone information as to why announcements are being made so that we can appreciate and follow them. I feel that we will have a very grave situation like that which is currently being experienced in Israel, where if we lose the minds and hearts of people as to what we are trying to do for the public good and in their best interests, then we will have a very serious problem that we will not be able to come back from.
I thank the Leader. Senator McDowell has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That in respect of the proposal regarding the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020, the words 'and Remaining Stages' be deleted." Is the amendment being pressed.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Black, Frances.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Boylan, Lynn.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Hoey, Annie.
- Keogan, Sharon.
- McCallion, Elisha.
- McDowell, Michael.
- Moynihan, Rebecca.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Ruane, Lynn.
- Sherlock, Marie.
- Wall, Mark.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Ahearn, Garret.
- Blaney, Niall.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Malcolm.
- Carrigy, Micheál.
- Casey, Pat.
- Cassells, Shane.
- Conway, Martin.
- Crowe, Ollie.
- Currie, Emer.
- Daly, Paul.
- Davitt, Aidan.
- Doherty, Regina.
- Dolan, Aisling.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Fitzpatrick, Mary.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Garvey, Róisín.
- Hackett, Pippa.
- Kyne, Seán.
- Lombard, Tim.
- Martin, Vincent P.
- McGahon, John.
- McGreehan, Erin.
- Murphy, Eugene.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- O'Loughlin, Fiona.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- O'Reilly, Pauline.
- Seery Kearney, Mary.
- Ward, Barry.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
Senator Craughwell has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on her plans to ensure sufficient numbers of substitute teachers are available to national schools, and on the medical basis on which it is deemed safe for children to attend school, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
No, I will not press the amendment. I take the Leader's word that she will prioritise this issue and deal with it on the nearest possible date.