In response to Senator Carrigy, negative interest rates are an issue that was highlighted in the House last week, I think, and the week before. To that end, I wrote to the Minister for Finance last week asking for his response to it and what plans he might have. Otherwise we need to have a debate in the House to outline the impact on those who might not even realise yet that just holding money on deposit is going to start costing money now. I know that we do not get an awful lot of payback for people who save in this country in terms of positive interest rates in our banks, but it certainly should not cost people money, especially in the examples that the Senator gave of people drawing down mortgages and holding them in solicitors' accounts for a short period.
I am very surprised to hear about the National Parents Council. What the Senator should do, if he does not mind, is write to the Minister for Education asking that every single sector of society be represented at the NPC. Equal views should be highlighted in all of our representative organisations that are around the table, none so which as detrimental as what we saw happen in the past couple of days. The only place that decisions get made is around the table. If one is not at the table, then one's views are certainly not being heard.
In response to Senator Ward, it is instrumental that we have legislation that is being implemented by the Garda, yet with no list of what is and is not essential. I think we can all bear witness to the outcry arising from a number of RTÉ reports last Thursday night and Friday about a particular dentist in a particular country. That morning, the feedback from the Garda was that it was not essential to travel, but by that evening the Garda Commissioner had to come out and say that he had no way of stopping anybody from travelling to a dentist in a sunny climate. There does need to be a list of what is and is not essential. I will write to the Taoiseach today and ask him to include that in the living with Covid plans being prepared in the next couple of weeks. We all need to have a little bit of certainty and stability, and certainly a lot of hope needs to be given in those commitments in the next couple of weeks.
Senator Seery Kearney talked about the leaving certificate applied. Last week, colleagues spoke about similar implications of Covid hampering people being able to do the practical parts of examinations. The Senator talked about a certain cohort of leaving certificate students. Senator Hoey was talking about third level students last week. There has to be some accommodation made and I do not know why it cannot be assessments of their ongoing work during the course of the year or two years. If that is not possible, then there definitely has to be some accommodation made, and I will email the Minister for Education this evening asking her to respond to the Senator directly.
Many colleagues have talked about the €555 million of annual funding that was announced by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, this morning, which is very welcome. It is welcome in every single county and town. It is what we use to maintain the roads network but also to establish new routes. Senators will have heard Senator Chambers talk at the very beginning of today's session about the impact on people's lives when we put in new routes and travelways between towns, so the funding is very welcome. I acknowledge everybody who referred to the funding allocated to their counties and constituencies.
Senator O'Loughlin talked about breastfeeding, and she has raised the issue a number of times. Breastfeeding is not easy. For some people it comes perfectly naturally but for most women it does not so they need help and support. A woman is at a low ebb, even though she is full of happy emotions after her baby is born. She is knackered and tired.
There are all those self-conscious feelings and if somebody does not have support, it is easy just to give up. However, it is wonderful and fulfilling for both the mother and the child if the mother does not give up. The fact that there are 30 lactation consultants for more than 65,000 births every year tells us everything we need to know. If we do not put serious supports in place for something, is it a surprise that the Senator can cite The Lancet figures being so low for us implementing breastfeeding as a natural course of action for women? We must put more resources behind the consultants, we need to have them in multiples in every county and we certainly do not need them to be redistributed to other tasks that are apparently far more important during the Covid pandemic. If we do not put our money where our mouth is, we will not get the outcome we want. I will support the Senator wholeheartedly in raising this with the Minister for Health.
Senator Kyne spoke about the roads funding and the impact on his town. A new pedestrian crossing might appear to be something relatively small, but it has a massive impact on the safety of children going to and from school, as does the reduction of travel speed on the roads. I note that many councils last week adopted the Love 30 Campaign to reduce speeds on the roads around schools. It is very effective. The roads funding is obviously welcome.
I accept the amendment proposed by Senator Moynihan regarding No. 11 on the Order Paper. We can take that immediately before No. 1.
Senator Boylan spoke about the need for a review of the HAP system. This is a long-standing review that must be done. It should be done annually because, obviously, the rates and markets change and rents go up and down. The associated reviews need to reflect that. I have made a request to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to come to the Seanad to discuss housing, so I will add the rental sector to the list of items when he comes to the House.
Senator McGahon asked for a debate on aviation. It is in the diary for next week, hopefully. I hope to be able to give the House time not just to discuss aviation but also tourism. They are two sectors in our society that have been desperately damaged over the last 12 months and do not see any hope for the next 12 months. We have to give them reassurance that the State will continue to support them over and above the wage subsidy schemes and the PUP, which obviously will be maintained for as long as they are needed for people who are out of work. We must be able to reassure the aviation sector that there will be an aviation sector in the future, and that there will be routes to enhance not only tourism, which is a massively important industry for Ireland, but also connectivity, which has to be secured for our open economy. I hope that debate will be next Friday, but I will refer back to the House when I have a secure date.
Senator Bacik spoke about the proposed amendment to the Order of Business from Senator Moynihan, which I am happy to accept. I must have misheard Senator Moynihan when she first mentioned the catch-up for children scheme. It is a very good idea, but I heard the figure as €1 million when she first raised it, but it is, in fact, €100 million, which makes far more sense. I will make the request today for the debate and, hopefully, schedule it in the next couple of weeks, if possible. The Senator is correct that the impact of the last 12 months on children has been enormous. We can see certain impacts, and the interruption of their education is one of them. However, I believe there are far greater impacts on children which we have not yet seen. There are underlying currents in households at present because children are not outside. I hope the children are as resilient as they normally are and bounce back, but I fear we will be talking about the consequences of Covid-19 for many years to come, particularly for some of our younger children. I will arrange that debate with haste.
Senator Cummins spoke about the roads funding, particularly the €16.3 million for Waterford. More importantly, he asked for a debate on the roll-out of broadband. I can stand here with some satisfaction and say that I am happy the last Government made the decision to adopt the broadband plan. Again, I realise there were misgivings, but there is no doubt now about the value and benefit of having high-speed broadband in every home, business and school in the country and the positive impact it can have on our lives, not just because we are in the midst of a pandemic but also for the improvement of services in the future, both nationally and locally. I will arrange that debate as soon as I can.
Senator McGreehan talked about respect. We had a discussion in the House last Friday about dog poop and dogs harming sheep, and I had a little rant that got me some attention. One could hear from the emotion in the Senator's voice the impact there can be when we do not have respect. We talk about litter wardens and dog wardens, and most of us could probably say they do not have the desired impact we would like to see in our towns and villages.
Fly-tipping is on the increase and the production of dog faeces is not going to stop any time soon so we need to change tack. Using the local authorities to manage both of those issues has not worked effectively to date so we may need to look at a different way of doing it. We may need to talk about levies on dog bags or privatising this and putting it up to somebody to say that they can make money on it. We have 800,000 dogs in the country yet every local authority, even some of the larger ones, has only one or two dog wardens. The numbers speak for themselves, and if we want to take an issue seriously, we need to put the resources behind it.
On the legislation with regard to harmful drinking, two of our colleagues spoke about minimum pricing. We talk about doing things when the time is ideal. Introducing minimum prices in the North and the South at the same time would be the most impactful, but given that the Northern Assembly has told us that it will be at least years, perhaps we should not wait. We should lead by example as we have done very successfully with other public health measures.
Senator Ó Donnghaile asked for the statements on the protocol on Brexit to be taken. It is in the diary. I am just waiting on a date for the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to come back to me on it. It will not be next week but I would suggest that it might be the week after that. It is very much needed. The European Commission Vice-President will be before the Joint Committee on European Affairs to talk about the impact of some of the decisions that were made, ill-advised or otherwise, over the past couple of weeks.
Senator Garvey welcomed the roads funding of €555 million but also touched upon an issue that is very close to my heart. Part of the funding is to be used for signage for the safety of cyclists on the roads. I and Deputy Ciarán Cannon, following the serious and many years of successful lobbying by a gentleman in Wexford called Phil Skelton, got the then Minister, Shane Ross, to introduce regulations around 1.5 m for safe overtaking of cyclists on roads. He could not pass the legislation because, apparently, it was unenforceable, but an advertising campaign and signage was to have the same effect. However, if the signs do not exist, they cannot have any effect, so it is very welcome that the signs are being financed, as they should be in every town and county, by the end of this year.
No. 8 on the Order Paper was spoken about passionately and caringly by Senator McDowell. I have no issue with scheduling a debate in the coming weeks if he so wishes. He would have unanimous support in this House, and in any house in Ireland, for the safe return of Richard O'Halloran to his wife and three children. I cannot begin to imagine the difficulty they have gone through in recent years with him being isolated in a faraway country and his three children and his wife being left here isolated in their own county. We need to do everything we can to make sure that we get him home. I would have enormous trust in and a positive outlook with regard to the actions of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and his team. It is to be hoped there will be a positive outcome before there is a need for a debate but there is no problem in the Seanad having one if that is where we find ourselves in a number of weeks.
Senator Chambers brought up the issue of the national development plan. It is closing this Friday. I am not sure that there have been as many submissions to it arising from the extension. There are only four days remaining. The national development plan has to be cognisant, as does every local county development plan all counties are going through, of the major impact that remote working, albeit forced on us in the past 12 months, has had on forming and shaping the future world of work. I would very much encourage any Member of this House who has not already done so to get his or her constituents to make a submission to that plan before this Friday.