I thank the number of colleagues who raised the disappointing announcement this morning regarding Bank of Ireland closures, which is on top of the announcement that nearly every colleague raised last week with regard to Ulster Bank. I acknowledge the concerns raised and that the bank has announced that 88 branches in its network will be closed.
There were two bits of solace I took from the announcement this morning. Most of the branches being closed are already self-service locations so I hope that will minimise any job losses because our thoughts need to be with the people who work there and who have earned their living from Bank of Ireland for many years. That is notwithstanding the customers.
We have to acknowledge our change in behaviour. A number of colleagues today have brought up and commended the LEOs, of which we all have one in our home counties, for helping people and businesses adapt over the last year to conducting their businesses online. In effect, that is what has happened with all of our banking practices as well.
I had to think this morning to remember the last time when I was in my local branch of Bank of Ireland. I have been there only once in the past year but that is notwithstanding the fact that there are those who do rely on the support and services of the counter staff. It is welcome, therefore, that no branch is going to close for at least six months and that there are contingency arrangements. Perhaps an investment in An Post's rural and urban networks is something we should all be actively working towards so some of the customers who still need the support of humans, and who do not just use their phones or computers, will be able to access local services in the towns and villages where the 88 branches are to be closed. Notwithstanding that, Members will be aware that arising from the Ulster Bank announcements last week, I asked the Minister for Finance to come to the House to have a debate on the future of banking. It is now more relevant than it was a couple of weeks ago. The date has still not been secured but I will follow up on it again today.
Maidir le seachtain na Gaeilge, beidh ráiteas ann ag ceiliúradh na Gaeilge Dé hAoine seo chugainn. I will do my best to try to brush up on my skills in the next couple of weeks.
Many colleagues have mentioned local enterprises around the country. This is local enterprise week. In line with everything else, all the services, seminars and celebrations of businesses will be online this week, for what it is worth. We have all praised our local enterprise offices, and rightly so, so I ask all Members to use their social media channels to give them the advertising space they need for all the seminars they are going to run this week. It certainly is a bit of a parallel universe in which we are all operating.
Both Senators O'Loughlin and Wall brought up the incredibly difficult-to-watch and moving programme that "Prime Time" aired on Monday. Before I speak about it, I commend RTÉ because it has done some sterling work over the past year highlighting some of the most cruel and difficult periods in Irish history, in addition to some of the most horrendous practices that could be inflicted on children. It is incredibly hard to fathom. I do not know whether colleagues agree but I believe it was incredibly difficult to watch grown men and women in such serious pain many years after the events they were describing. It absolutely warranted the announcement made by the Minister the following day that he would be willing to meet survivors and victims in the group in question. One has to wonder when we will be able to look back on Irish society with some solace and joy, and not have to be concerned about the harrowing intergenerational events and the impacts of some of the behaviour of Irish people on the people who are now older and more mature in society. I will follow up with the Minister to find out when the meetings are going to go ahead and ask what plans are afoot to look after the people who are still very seriously suffering.
It is a credit to Senator O'Reilly that he is so tenacious about the issue he raised. It is a scourge for many people. I do not have a date for the gambling regulator appointment. I do not have a date yet for the publication of the Bill. The relevant Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, has been invited to come to the House beforehand. We do not want to wait until the publication of the Bill. The Minister of State has accepted an invitation to come to the House for statements on gambling and its impact. I am just waiting for him to give me a date but, as soon as we have one, the debate will be put on the schedule.
Senator Casey talked about one of the issues affecting rural Ireland. I very much hope that the advent of our having closure and people working from home in their tens of thousands in the past year will give solace but also lead to recognition of the need for a change in the national planning framework with regard to the contingencies and restrictions associated with the development of rural areas. We cannot encourage people to work remotely, including from home, if it is not possible for them to live at home and to populate our schools and clubs, and all communities. I very much welcome the fact that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, is coming to the House on 22 March to talk about the national planning framework and the development plan but I recognise that there are other Ministers who should also hear our views. I will arrange a date for the Minister for Housing, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, to come to the House also.
Senators Gavan and Ó Domhnaill, along with others, raised the disgraceful scenes we saw on Saturday.
At the mildest level, up to 2,000 people congregated in a manner that was more dangerous to themselves than anybody else but they then returned to their villages and towns. On the other end of the spectrum, we had thugs and gurriers who saw fit to cause mayhem. None of us has any doubt that the only reason they arrived on Saturday was to cause mayhem.
I agree with Senator Gavan on asking Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to close down the advancement of information through all of our communities because we all know how fast a lie travels. It travels a hell of a lot quicker than anything we might say or any truths we might tell people. It is our responsibility to make sure we have these conversations in our towns and villages. The Senator is right that there are a number of worthwhile organisations that probably need support to spread to every county to make sure we have a conversation about the rise of racism and hate. Disinformation is something we have always had but we now have mediums that make it far easier for it to travel. We need to take responsibility for ensuring that information that is truthful, honest and based on facts and science travels as far as and is as loud as the disinformation. I commend Senator Gavan on bringing up this matter.
I will accept the amendment proposed by the Labour Party on announcing its Bill. I am conscious that a number of colleagues noted that today marks the start of endometriosis awareness month. Far too often, women in this country go undiagnosed. The recommendations outlined by my female colleagues would be very worthwhile if they could be followed up by the Department of Health.
A number of mammies raised the glee and delight of their children going back to school this morning. I am sure that is echoed in tens of thousands of houses across the country.