Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Monday, 24 May 2021

Vol. 276 No. 5

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

Before I call on the Deputy Leader for the Order of Business, I wish to inform the House that today is Croatia's national day, Statehood Day. The day commemorates when the first multi-party parliament was constituted in 1990, an event that paved the way for democratic change, freedom and independence in Croatia. As small nations that struggled for so long for independence, Ireland and Croatia share a common bond. Next year we mark the 30th anniversary of Ireland's recognition of Croatia as an independent state but our links go back further. Count Laval Nugent, born in Westmeath in 1777, was a field marshal in the Austrian Army. He was a strong advocate for Croatian nationhood and served as a member of the Croatian Parliament. We share a love of language and culture. The Croatian language is an examination subject in our schools. A statute of one of Ireland's greatest writers, James Joyce, stands in the city of Pula, commemorating his time there. Eight Croatian cities took part in the global greening initiative to mark St. Patrick's Day, reflecting the growing friendship between our two countries.

We wish the Ambassador, H.E. Vidiš, the Croatian community in Ireland and the Croatian community throughout the world a happy Statehood Day. Sretan Dan državnosti.

The Cathaoirleach has fairly blown us away.

I call the Deputy Leader on the Order of Business.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and congratulate him on his opening remarks. I join with him in celebrating Croatia's national day and I extend a warm word to all our Croatian friends here in Ireland and abroad.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding early signature of the Education (Leaving Certificate 2021) (Accredited Grades) Bill 2021, to be taken on completion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the Tenth Report of the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight: Amendment of Committee Names, Matters Relating to Remit and Orders of Reference of Committees, and Amendments to Standing Orders Relating to Committees to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, Loan Guarantee Schemes Agreements (Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland) Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude at 2 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government; No. 4, motion for the earlier signature of the Loan Guarantee Schemes Agreements (Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland) Bill 2021 - to be taken on conclusion of No. 3 without debate; No. 5, Health and Criminal Justice (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2021 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 4, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 90 minutes, with the time allocated to the Minister's opening remarks not to exceed ten minutes and the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 6, Planning and Development, Heritage and Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2021 - all Stages, to be taken at 4 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 5, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 60 minutes by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government, with the time allocated for the Minister's opening remarks on Second Stage not to exceed five minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply and Committee and Remaining Stages are to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 7, Affordable Housing Bill 2021 - Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at 5.15 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 6, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 105 minutes with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than 15 minutes to reply to the debate.; and, No. 8, Private Members' business, Organisation of Working Time (Reproductive Health Related Leave) Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 7. 30 p.m., or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 7, whichever is the later, with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

I rise today to speak about the medical condition of epilepsy. This week, starting today, is National Epilepsy Week. I am acutely aware of the extraordinary health difficulties that face this country, the HSE and the Department of Health with regard to the cyber ransom event, which is appalling and frightening. I have a duty, as a public representative, to proclaim that I have been diagnosed with this condition. On 25 October 2019, when I was the Cathaoirleach, I collapsed and had a near death experience. Thankfully, my wife saw me collapse and go unconscious so I was rushed to St. James's Hospital and survived.

There are 40,000 people in this country who are known sufferers of epilepsy. That number is grossly underestimated because many people say the figure is double if truth were known. There are many myths associated with epilepsy. Some people say that one is born with it but that is not correct. Some people say the condition is inherited. I am the youngest of a long tailed family of 11 and there has been no evidence of any epilepsy in my family.

I have been in touch with the epilepsy association of Ireland, Epilepsy Ireland, which does wonderful advocacy work. Sometimes there is a myth and stigma attached to what I call a medical condition that should be unravelled. On the law of averages, one in 80 people suffers from the condition. As there are 220 members of the Oireachtas, then at least three other Members, apart from myself, should have the condition.

Unfortunately for me, I walked around with the condition for many years before being diagnosed. One consultant said that I had sleep apnea, another consultant said that I had transient ischaemic attacks, TIAs, which are mini strokes, and somebody else said that I had global amnesia. Thankfully, in the end the matter was sorted. On 21 July 2020, and nine months after my collapse and ending up in St. James's Hospital, I had seven or eighth absence seizures, which are mini episodes. I did not go unconscious and knew what was happening but I was in a frozen state for 20 seconds. As a result, neurologist immediately confirmed that I had epilepsy. Thankfully, since then I am on medication, which is normal enough. I live a normal life and hope to resume driving on 1 August. Not being able to drive is a big setback for me as I live in the remote area of Schull, so I must get buses and trains to Dublin and elsewhere. I was used to the freedom of driving.

Given the week that is in it, I hope my speaking out publicly will create a focus on and an awareness of this condition. One can live a normal life once one knows one has it, but the problem is that if the condition is not diagnosed, one is walking on thin ice or walking a tightrope. I was very fortunate to survive. Had I died that day, they would have said it was a heart attack. Nobody would have known the difference. However, I am here to tell the tale. Given the week that is in it, I ask the Leader for a debate on this very important medical condition, if possible before the summer recess.

Thank you, Senator O'Donovan, for sharing your story and raising awareness of epilepsy on National Epilepsy Week.

I am delighted Senator O'Donovan is here to tell his tale and I concur with him on the importance of the condition of epilepsy.

I call for a debate on the issue of planning. Every element of our infrastructure is dependent on our planning process. In the main it is open and transparent and allows for objections and submissions to the supreme authority for appeals, An Bord Pleanála. The duration of some cases and in particular the open-ended nature of the legal challenges to decisions frustrate the process, making infrastructure expensive. NIMBYism is alive and well. All this adds to the cost of delivery of many projects, a cost borne by our local authorities and the State and, in the case of housing, a cost that is added to house prices by the eventual developer or a cost that causes a developer to give up and not try on that site again or indeed anywhere else. Housing, roads, greenways and wastewater schemes can all be subject to the lengthy legal challenges that delay projects which are much needed for development, sustainability, job creation and environmental protection.

Former Supreme Court judge, Susan Denham, proposes a separate jurisdiction of the High Court for planning and environmental law similar to family law. This is due to it being a technical issue in nature. I understand that the programme for Government proposes such a court. As we continue to grow our economy through capital expenditure, timely decisions and decision-making are necessary and in all our interests. A legal impasse lasting years benefits nobody except those earning money from it, the legal profession and environmental experts. Meanwhile, communities are frustrated by delays lasting in some cases years in the provision of key infrastructure for homes. The south Kerry greenway is a project in point and a test case for greenways across the country. The old Galway city bypass went through the Irish courts before ending up in the European Court of Justice, which is fine, but the process was inordinately long, with huge delays. The Apple case in Athenry is another example. The project did not proceed because Apple said it had had enough due to the delays. Objectors using the system to frustrate and delay, delay and delay a project is not right or proper. A yes-no decision in a timely manner is what is needed in this country for all types of projects.

I therefore call for a debate on the matter of planning delays at an early juncture in the context of the progress on the proposals in the programme for Government on the numerous examples we have around the country of projects being delayed, predominantly because of the open-ended nature of the appeals process through our courts and the European courts as well. Planning is hugely important. As I said, it allows all projects to proceed. Thankfully, we have a robust planning system but we need a timely and efficient one as well for the reasons I outlined earlier.

I thank my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, for speaking out today. So many people do not speak out. I have personal experience within my family of somebody with epilepsy and it is a tough station.

I thank Senator Kyne for raising the planning issue. We have seen what it did in Galway and Athenry, particularly, and it would be good to have that debate.

I am very proud to stand here this morning and to advise anybody who does not know that Ireland's first female Defence Forces general has smashed through the glass ceiling in defence. Major General Maureen O'Brien has been promoted and will serve her time, for now anyway, as military adviser to the United Nations Secretary General. This is a very proud moment for Ireland. However, such good news has been soured slightly by the story that ran in the Irish Examiner at the weekend of Chief Petty Officer Tadhg McCarthy, who after 24 years as an engine room artificer, has left the Naval Service.

In leaving the service, he speaks of a vicious cycle. The less the manpower available, the more the Naval Service is asking of the people who are left and the increased pressure is, in turn, leading more people to leave. I note that Commodore Malone was obliged to take two ships out of service last year and it looks very much as though more will be taken out of service in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. McCarthy addressed the Government initiative, the sea service commitment scheme, and pointed out that it has led to a two-tier Naval Service. Someone who has served longer than three years has an entitlement to the €10,000 pay-out but those with less than three years' service do not qualify for that payment. PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, have both maintained that increasing special allowances across all boards would be vitally important and it was part of the high-level implementation plan. As the Deputy Leader has worn the uniform with pride herself, she will understand where I am coming from here today.

The Government does not have time for the Commission on the Defence Forces to report. Too many people are leaving right now. We have seen in the case of the Air Corps that once brought in, an initiative can have a dramatic effect on retention if it is implemented quickly. We need to start an implementation process right across the Defence Forces or there will be nobody left. PDFORRA has constantly asked for membership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. The Minister has said "No" and that he favours a commission on pay instead. Unless that commission can go outside the terms of national pay agreements agreed with ICTU, we are simply going nowhere.

Finally, those of us in politics, in uniform and in the Civil Service who have overseen the decline and destruction of the Defence Forces need to hang our heads in shame. What has gone on is outrageous. The first and most loyal to respond every time are being treated appallingly.

I, too, want to thank Senator O’Donovan for bringing up epilepsy this week. I have a very close family member who had a late life experience, just as Senator O’Donovan had, and I can assure the House that it is a very scary experience to see a loved one going off in the back of an ambulance without knowing what has happened.

I raise two issues with the Deputy Leader today. The first one is the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and the problem that some local authority members are having in going about their day-to-day business in trying to help as many of their own constituents as they can. I am aware that this issue has also been affecting the work that many of us are trying to carry out in this House on a daily basis, which is the need for compliance with section 40 of the Data Protection Act 2018. In my local authority, a form must now be signed by the person on whose behalf one is making the representation and countersigned by the local authority member. Simply put, the local authority will not deal with the member unless this form is signed. The problem, of course, is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and getting such forms signed is difficult, to say the least, for so many public representatives.

A bigger issue is that the need for such forms differs all over the country, even though all of our public representatives, including Members of this House, are trying to achieve the very best for the persons we are representing. It was always my understanding that we, as public representatives, must ensure that we keep the data that is provided to us safely and only use them for the purposes of making the representation. We must standardise this requirement to ensure that all of our public representatives can do their jobs on a daily basis. We all know that in dealing with various Departments, one must have a level of personal information in order to make a representation but calling to houses to have forms filled in is putting an additional step into a process that is not needed. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to the House to discuss this matter.

I thank the Deputy Leader and the Leader of the House for facilitating the important debate this House had on the terrible and totally unacceptable events in Palestine with the Minister for Foreign Affairs last week. However, to facilitate that much-needed debate, we had to postpone our statements on the Defence Forces. I join with my colleagues in asking a number of questions on the Defence Forces, given, as my colleague has said, what we have learned over the weekend about the Naval Service and Tadhg McCarthy in the report in the Irish Examiner, where senior naval officers are quoted as stating "the concerning and continuing fall in [personnel] numbers" in the service is "hampering best efforts to provide the expected level of service to key stakeholders, and indeed the State". I ask the Deputy Leader to convene the debate with the Minister for Defence as urgently as she can. Numbers are falling in all parts of the Defence Forces and this cannot continue. We have seen the key role that the Defence Forces are playing and can play in the recent cyberattack on this country but if the recruitment and retention crisis continues, then there is a growing fear that the Defence Forces will no longer be able to carry out many of the vital and underestimated tasks they undertake.

There is a pay and condition crisis in the Defence Forces. Waiting on the outcome of the Commission on the Defence Forces or the setting up of an independent pay commission may be too late. Time is running out. Many Senators will appreciate the Leader's support, as always, in facilitating such a debate.

I join with the Cathaoirelach in celebrating Croatia day today. Some 22,000 Croatians have moved to Ireland since Croatia joined the EU, and they have family beyond it. It is a good day for Ireland to celebrate with Croatians and to speak about the importance of the EU.

On a related matter, I was stunned and shocked at the assault on our Union when a flight was diverted. It is piracy in our skies. The statement from the Minister for Foreign Affairs was very strong but I look forward to seeing what steps will be taken when the European Council meets today. That is essential. We joined the EU in order to have security and a common economic purpose. Part of that means protecting our airlines because people need to feel secure when they step onto an aircraft. We also need to feel safe in our homes and our home is the EU. I look forward to hearing what action will be taken beyond words today.

An issue I have raised many times here is maternity services. Protests continue in Galway. I join those protesting to say that it is outrageous that we continue week after week to have no assurances that women and their partners can have full access to the kinds of supports they need from their families. Women's healthcare is a postcode lottery in this country. People in the west deserve the very same as those in the east of the country.

Finally, I raise school bus services. I have seen many letters coming back from Bus Éireann saying that people are not entitled to a school bus where they are going to the closest school that serves them and their ethos and that of their families. More and more children have to get into cars when buses are available because they choose a school that fits with the family's background, whether religious or non-religious. This must be dealt with urgently and for this September. We cannot wait another year.

I thank the Minister for Justice for finally signing the regulation to facilitate the progression of the Stardust inquest. I have spoken many times in this House on how the financial eligibility test was causing huge distress to families and how they were being asked personal information down to the type of car they drove. The signing of the regulation has lifted that distress and the families can now focus on getting justice for their loved ones. However, it was deeply disappointing to see that the regulation is so narrowly defined that it precludes any other families who might find themselves in similar circumstances. It is clear that when the Civil Legal Aid Act was drafted in 1995, the Minister at the time accepted that there may be incidences where a case is in the broader public interest and there should be scope for waiving the financial criteria. For more than 25 years this intention in the Act has never been given effect and on news of the regulation being signed last week, I was contacted by a number of families who have been denied civil legal aid at inquests. They wanted to know if the regulation would apply to them. Imagine their disappointment when I had to inform them that it would not, that the income threshold for accessing civil legal aid remains so low, combined with the fact that the housing assistance payment is counted as income, it effectively excludes most people from qualifying for civil legal aid.

I believe the State is in contravention of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as the failure to enact a financial waiver for civil legal aid is, effectively, denying people the right of access to the courts. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the Minister for Justice had an opportunity to fix this last week but instead opted to keep access to civil legal aid as restrictive as possible.

Despite commitments given by the Minister with responsibility for equality, Deputy O'Gorman, that period products would be provided for free at direct provision centres, an article in today's edition of the Irish Examiner highlights that a recent survey conducted by Homeless Period Ireland found that more than 50% of respondents still have to pay for products. Also of concern in the survey is that even when the products are provided for free, women and girls in many cases have to ask an employee for them. Surely it is not too much to ask that products just be available as needed. I hope we can get a statement from the Minister on how he intends to ensure that direct provision centres follow up on the instructions he gave to direct provision centres, which we all welcomed. He might also outline how he intends to safeguard against direct provision centres that invoice the Department for products but are potentially still charging residents through the points system.

I commend Senator O'Donovan on highlighting the issue he raised. I have a family member in his position, so I understand the devastating impact of the condition.

On Wednesday last, I attended a powerful Oireachtas briefing with Relatives for Justice on the tragic killing of two schoolboys, Gavin McShane and Shane McArdle, in 1994. They were murdered by an unmasked gunman while they played a video game in an arcade. The young boys were targeted because they were in an area of Armagh city frequented mainly by Catholics. I was really moved by the contributions made by the members of the McShane family, Alana and Caionn, who bravely and courageously spoke of the nightmarish 27 years since their beloved brother's death. They said they remain focused on getting justice for Gavin. I highlight the campaign the McShane family have been carrying out and I seek the solidarity and support of Senators to get the meeting with An Taoiseach that has been requested by Relatives for Justice.

At the briefing on Wednesday, we also heard from John Finucane MP, who experienced the murder of his father, Pat. He spoke of the legal knock-on effect of the failure to carry out any meaningful investigation after the deaths of the two boys. It was shocking. He stated that the criminal investigation opportunities were limited from the outset due to a failure to collect necessary evidence. He went on to state that in the case of Gavin's death, it was one family and their supporters against the system, and that the legal arrangements are now in the civil area and are exploring the opportunity for an inquest. My heart breaks for the McShane family. Gavin's death is one of many needless tragic murders and we need to do all we can to bring justice to the brave families who seek it. John spoke of the detailed report on Gavin's and Shane's deaths published by Relatives for Justice in 2019, which highlighted multiple deficiencies in the subsequent Royal Ulster Constabulary murder investigation. Relatives for Justice would be a very important and viable witness for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice. It should be given an opportunity to present the findings of its 2019 report. It is important that Relatives for Justice secures the solidarity and support of Senators in order to get a meeting with An Taoiseach.

On the diverting of the aeroplane in Belarus, I fully agree that action must be taken against Belarus. I agree also with the sanctions taken against Russia over Crimea. Nevertheless, when sanctions are suggested against apartheid Israel over the massacre of women and children in Gaza, with war crimes being committed daily, the silence is deafening. There is considerable injustice in that regard.

I too acknowledge the comments of my friend and colleague, Senator O'Donovan, and wish him all the best in the future.

I raise the issue of the plight of adult medical card holders and their difficulties in getting dental care and treatment. It is believed that last year, one quarter of participating dentists left the medical card scheme.

As a result of that, there are many towns throughout the country that have very few if any dentists participating in the adult medical card scheme for patients.

The dental treatment services scheme covers basic dental care like examinations, extractions and two free fillings per year. Other forms of treatment are possible, provided there is prior approval given by the Department of Health. In recent years, we have been made aware of the importance of good dental and oral health to other aspects of health so it is vital one's oral and dental care is looked after to the best standard. Dentists say they have left the scheme because it does not pay them anymore and is actually costing them money. Unfortunately, the net result is that the most vulnerable, those adults with medical cards, are losing out in relation to dental care and maybe even in relation to general healthcare. I ask the Deputy Leader to write to the Minister for Health and ask that the Department engage substantially with the dentists to find a resolution. Many of them are leaving the scheme, resulting in vulnerable adults losing out in relation to dental healthcare.

At the start of December last year, I raised the plight of the performing arts sector, including dance schools, stage schools and music educators, on the Order of Business. I engaged, as many in this House did, with people outside the gates of Leinster House. Last week, along with my Fine Gael colleagues, we had a meeting with the Performing Arts Educators of Ireland, Comhaltas and the Irish dance sector. Unfortunately, they have been left frustrated and disappointed at the lack of clarity for their industry, which employs so many people across the country.

As we approach the reopening of society, with hospitality, sport, gyms and wider sectors reopening next month, they as a sector need to have clarity and they have not had it to date. They need clarity to perform their lessons and to have summer camps, which are a really important outlet for young people.

We have to be mindful as a Government that not everybody wants to play sport, and I say that as a former PE teacher. Whether one plays a musical instrument, engages in hockey, is involved in arts such as dance, acting or singing, plays athletics or is involved in hurling or football, everybody deserves the opportunity to practice his or her given talent.

I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, to the Seanad next week to have a debate on that. It cannot be left in the ether any longer. People have to rely on interpretation of guidance that is now out of date in relation to levels of reopening. They need clarity and they need it quickly.

I will raise a couple of issues. The first is mental health and the care plan for those over 18 year of age. Anyone who watched the "Prime Time" interview last week or heard Andrew McGinley this morning on Newstalk will have heard his plea for support of an advocate to those suffering. I have come across this many times as a foster parent. One week I could play a vital role in supporting a person under 18 years of age and, as soon as that person turns 18, I cannot gain access to any information. This is so wrong and we, as legislators, must look again at the vital supportive role that can be provided by an advocate to someone suffering. We owe it to Conor, Darragh, Carla and all the children who have been murdered due to mental health issues in this country.

The next issue is the aviation sector in this country and the butchering of 4,000 jobs by the Government's failure to act and support this industry. I highlighted in the House in July 2020 the issue of testing at airports. Travel restrictions in Ireland have been the most stringent of any European country. The loss of Aer Lingus jobs in Shannon and Cork will be the tip of the iceberg if the Minister for Transport does not deal with this sector urgently.

I call on the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, to come to this House to outline his plans for this sector.

I also wish to raise the closure of the Sudocrem plant in Baldoyle, with the loss of 100 jobs. According to the manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Limited, the Baldoyle factory will close in 2023 and production will move to Bulgaria. The plant has been operational since 1940. Sudocrem, which has been a household staple in Ireland for 90 years is now available in more than 40 countries, with an estimated 34.5 million pots sold each year. To date, nobody from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, has been in touch with the management and staff about this closure. I find it astonishing that we could allow the manufacturer of an iconic product like Sudocrem, which was developed and manufactured here in Ireland, to close up and waltz off to have the product manufactured in Bulgaria with no intervention by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar. I call on the Deputy Leader to ask the Tánaiste to engage with the management and staff on what supports are needed to enable the company and jobs to be retained in Ireland.

Last weekend was a pretty good weekend for the people around Lough Funshinagh in Roscommon. I want to take this opportunity to thank a number of people. First, I thank the Deputy Leader who, in consultation with the Leader, made contact on the matter with the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW, Deputy O'Donovan. I also contacted the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue on it. I thank the Cathaoirleach for facilitating a Commencement matter when he learned of the seriousness of the issue.

Last week, the Government announced funding of €1.5 million to allow work to commence to alleviate the flooding that was threatening 45 homes and family farms. One house has been already lost. I was brought to the area by a local councillor, Laurence Fallon, who showed me the devastation caused by the flooding. Outdoor sheds and houses were under threat from flood waters. It is an issue that has arisen at this turlough. In light of the Government's provision of €1.5 million, which will allow work to commence quickly, it is only right that I would thank the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue and the CEO of Roscommon County Council, Eugene Cummins, who did huge work on this issue, and local councillors. It is good news and it shows what can be done through co-operation.

I want to also raise the issue of flooding in south Roscommon, particularly around the Callows. I have been contacted by a number of local farmers who told me that birds' nests have been destroyed because of rising waters. We are told the weather is to improve but owing to the weather of recent weeks, water levels have risen. I ask the Deputy Leader to use her good offices to make contact on the issue with the ESB, which controls the water levels The concern is that owing to water being held up and not released downstream, farmland and bird wildlife in the area is being destroyed.

This morning, I want to raise the wedding industry, which is worth approximately €2.3 billion per annum. I understand it is worth more than the conferences industry. We all know the impact of weddings on our local economies in terms of the business for venues, caterers, bakeries, florists and hair and beauty salons, all of which services attract VAT at 23%, not 9%. There is a wedding ecosystem. Ireland is a top international destination for weddings. It competes with other markets in that regard and had been doing really well in the past few years.

Weddings are not properly classed under the Covid restrictions. They should be classed as events. This will be important going forward as part of the recovery. Weddings are not appropriately catered for under tourism or hospitality. Not every wedding takes place in a hotel. They also do not fall under the arts even though live entertainment is part of it. They are also not accommodated under the business sector, although they have been able to avail of some grants. As part of the reopening, weddings need dedicated information and guidelines available at one location. It is important for recovery and planning to avoid the loss of business to other markets and to market Ireland as a destination. The UK is doing this in respect of Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. They all provide this information. It affects the backlog of 30,000 weddings from last year and thus far this year and all of the couples involved. Wedding planners and the industry are being left to field all of the questions.

There is an organisation called Wedding International Professionals Association, WIPA, which has started operating in Ireland, that helps in this regard. The House can imagine the kinds of questions those in the industry have. Clarity around numbers indoors and outdoors as part of our guidelines is not enough. They are asking questions about marquees, whether the numbers include vendors and the couple, and whether they can carry out risk assessments based on size like those being conducted in the North.

I mentioned a figure of 30,000 weddings. The average wedding costs €32,000. A destination wedding can cost €500,000 to €1 million. The cost for a leisure tourist is estimated at €90 per bed night and €300 for a conference, but we do not even measure how much wedding tourists give back to the economy.

I wish to raise the issue of the outdoor summer in Dublin. We have been told this year - we should have been told at Christmas - that socialising outdoors is the thing to do. Unfortunately, our capital city is not equipped for that and Dublin City Council seems to be slowing down compared with other local authorities, for example, Dún Laoghaire, in making provision for an outdoor summer. Until recently, only six public toilets were available in the city. Some public buildings have been opened so that their toilets can be used, but there is also inadequate access to public bins. When the Portobello area was closed down, people simply moved down the street.

It is important to have a proper strategy in place for an outdoor summer and to facilitate local authorities and people in socialising safely. To do this, we must provide access to public toilets and bins, security guards to clear up anti-social behaviour, and seating for people. There are reports of people sitting on the side of footpaths in pedestrianised areas because there is no adequate public seating.

We need to make Dublin a world leader like other European cities, one where people can socialise safely and comfortably outdoors. This situation has highlighted the stark difference between Dublin, which is a European capital city, and other cities where there are public facilities. We seem to want to punish people for wanting to socialise, but we must realise that people want to socialise and be with their friends. We need to provide them with safe facilities in order to do so.

I commend my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, on telling his personal story. It is National Epilepsy Week and 40,000 people in this country suffer from epilepsy. As such, I support his request for a debate on this important matter and I hope the Deputy Leader takes it on board.

I wish to raise the issue of antigen testing, which I also raised last week. On Thursday, the European Parliament came closer to opening up our skies by agreeing a digital green certificate, central to which is the use of rapid antigen testing. However, we know that the Department of Health has a major reluctance to introducing antigen testing. We learned over the weekend that, since September, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine had been trying to encourage the Department of Health to introduce rapid antigen testing in meat factories, but that has still not been done properly. The Department's reluctance was on public display at a recent HSE press conference. Will the Government subscribe fully to the digital green certificate or will we opt in partially?

The Irish Air Line Pilots Association, IALPA, is meeting today to encourage the Government to roll out rapid antigen testing. I support the pilots in that endeavour. IALPA will bring a plan to Government Buildings, and I hope it is supported.

Is the Department of Foreign Affairs speaking to the Department of Health? Will we be able to subscribe to the digital green certificate or will we be curtailed because the Government and officials in the HSE have taken a dislike to antigen testing? We know that it is not a silver bullet and that it has a 50% effectiveness rate, but the European Commission has said that it has a major role to play, as has the Ferguson report, which was commissioned by the Department of Health. What is the reason for the reluctance? It could be rolled out in maternity units to let in partners. It could be rolled out across hospitals. Rapid antigen testing has a major role to play and it would be remiss of us not to follow through on that.

I ask Members and everybody in the Chamber not to engage in conversation when they come in and out of the Chamber as it is distracting for the person speaking. I call Senator Carrigy.

I wish to raise a couple of issues with the Deputy Leader. I seek a commitment from the ESB to provide funding of €500,000 to develop a community facility in Lanesborough, County Longford, following the closure of the Lough Ree power plant. I recently met Kieran Mulvey, the just transition commissioner, who has put proposals to the ESB to provide that funding for both Lanesborough and Shannonbridge. Yet, the ESB has not made a commitment to do so. I ask the Deputy Leader to write to the ESB encouraging it to support the measure that has been put forward by the just transition commissioner.

I support the comments by my colleague, Senator Cummins, regarding the arts and dance sectors. It is important for the Minister to come into the House to discuss the arts and dance sectors, as well as other sectors covered under her wide portfolio, including the broader tourism and hospitality sectors. There are a number of issues in that respect, including the representation of members of the hospitality industry on many of the tourism boards. That needs to be dealt with.

Under the current Covid-19 resilience and recovery plan, the guidance for the dance sector is identical to sport, yet all outdoor sport, camps etc. are going ahead. In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Minister stated that indoor team group sports, including dance and exercise, would be considered in late June. It is far too late for the summer season to consider that in late June. Many of these organisations are dependent on summer camps etc. to fund their organisations and keep themselves viable. I echo Senator Cummins in asking that the Minister would come into the House and give an earlier decision as to when indoor camps can go ahead. The issue also arises with respect to swimming. The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, could perhaps address both areas. Swimming is another major issue and no commitments have been given with respect to swimming camps or lessons.

I echo the words of Senator O’Donovan and thank him for his remarks. Having experience of epilepsy in my family, it is important that we talk about it, share information and make sure people have such information. I say fair play to Senator O’Donovan agus gabhaim buíochas leis.

I note a significant lifting of restrictions across the Six Countries this morning and wish people there a safe return to work and to a wide variety of activities and amenities. I encourage them to enjoy it but to do so safely and in line with the continued guidance and advice. In that spirit, and I certainly do not want to get into any mud-slinging because it does not warrant it, but I am concerned about remarks from the Minister of Health in the North about the failure to get a response from the Minister here, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, regarding a meeting he sought more than two weeks ago in terms of strategising, all-island engagement and joined-up messaging. We are at a point where we are moving ahead, thankfully, but we are at different junctures, North and South, in terms of vaccine roll-out and the lifting of restrictions. It is crucial now, more than ever, that Ministers, North and South, are effectively joined at the hip to ensure the steady, navigating out of the current restrictions and difficulties we face. It is not good enough to hear about this via the airwaves or that our Ministers are communicating via the airwaves. While official level engagement is welcome and important, we are at a point where both Ministers need to engage regularly and crucially on this important issue as we move forward.

Is mian liom dhá ábhar a ardú. Aontaím le Seanadóir Cummins agus Seanadóir Carrigy faoin ngá le díospóireacht ar na healaíona.

I have often spoken in this House about getting clarity for theatres and arts and music venues. When the Government announcement is made this week on the arts, we need to have clarity. We also need it for dance and drama classes. It is not acceptable that there is a scramble after every announcement by those in the arts sector to find out the details of what has been announced. I ask the Leader to communicate with the Government directly to ensure clarity in the announcement later this week.

The Cathaoirleach will be aware that I have regularly raised the question of Belarus in this House. Currently, as a result of the actions of the tyrant Lukashenko, over 30,000 people have been detained unlawfully in that country. This is the equivalent of the population of a town the size of Navan. Dissent has been crushed. This weekend, we have seen the hijacking of an EU airline flying between two EU capitals. A journalist, Mr. Roman Protasevich, has been detained unlawfully. In addition, his girlfriend, Ms Sofia Sapega, has also been detained, purely for the crime of being his girlfriend. This is state-sponsored piracy. I welcome the strong response by the Taoiseach, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs but this is a defining moment for the European Council. If it does not take strong action, any journalist or anyone who wishes to dissent could be victim to this sort of state-sponsored piracy. What is going on in Belarus is no longer acceptable. I ask that some of our MEPs, who have been cowardly enough in the European Parliament to oppose or abstain from agreeing to sanctions against Belarus, be called out because this is about European values. The actions we now take are at a defining moment for Europe. I ask that a very strong message be sent from these Houses.

It is correct to say we need to take a stand on human rights. There are human rights issues on several levels in the news today. We have heard about the human rights violations in Cork, where a young girl has talked about living in an abandoned place that people forgot about. A member of the Traveller community has spoken about the absolutely unacceptable circumstances in which Travellers are being asked to live in Ireland. When I hear about Gaza, I worry that it might again become a place that people forget about. While there is a ceasefire, the death is continuing. The coronavirus testing laboratory was bombed and the head of medicine was killed so we will see the consequences rolling on. We have seen the effects of the policies of eviction and annexation, which still must be challenged.

I add my voice to the condemnation of the appalling state-sponsored hijacking and piracy involving an attack on a journalist. Sadly, across the world journalists are increasingly becoming front-line defenders. It is unacceptable. Sanctions should be issued. I note that we have a record of issuing sanctions in some cases. Regarding Russia, sanctions related to occupied Crimea and goods from there were found last year by the European Court of Justice to be legal within our trade law, under the Rosneft ruling, because it was found that it is a matter of public policy when human rights are being violated. I still have not heard an explanation as to why the occupied territories in Palestine are different from occupied Crimea and why the same principle of public policy and human rights does not apply. I need to hear that rationale because we have not heard it. I ask that action be taken.

Let me refer to an area where there is no ambiguity on trade policy. We can choose to suspend intellectual property profits for a period to allow global access to vaccines. I welcome the European Parliament's vote for a waiver of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS. Some 62 countries have now signed up for a waiver but Ireland and the EU Commission still stand in the way of something very meaningful that they could do for human rights and global public good and health.

I concur with Senator Higgins. The bombs and guns are silent in Gaza and the children are no longer being slaughtered. What more could we hope for?

An awful lot more. At the heart of that awful lot more must be accountability. People must be held to account this time because if they are not, as sure as night follows day, it will happen again and again. This will take the international community. I welcome President Biden’s recent remarks, however belated, but America was silent at a time when we expected more from them less than a week ago.

Many people are waking up today terrified and petrified that their highly sensitive medical information might be publicly disclosed and published, or that they might get a phone call from someone representing the Dark Web trying to engage them in the black market. Stress levels are heightened by the fact that some people may not want their employer to be aware of the sensitive nature of their information. No one should be disadvantaged from illegally obtained information. There should be a mechanism put in place to protect citizens. This would deter those in the black market and the vulnerable people from deliberately succumbing to the black market for fear that their employer may hear something about them that was utterly sensitive, private and confidential heretofore. I will bring this matter up with the justice committee but one way of stamping out the black market is if we can put protections in place for affected citizens. If it is proven that an employer found out information solely and exclusively through illegal means, they ought not be able to use it to move against a vulnerable employee.

I applaud Senator O’Donovan for having spoken about epilepsy. This is national epilepsy week and there are a few things that can change the lives of people with epilepsy. The epilepsy association is calling for free travel for people with epilepsy and for reasonable accommodation during examinations. They appear to be very practical requests. We should be lobbying for the provision of free travel and reasonable accommodation, as well as a few others. I am sure we all got the briefing from the epilepsy council.

I also want to highlight, as Senator Higgins has, the issue of Traveller accommodation and the awful findings of the report this morning. There is something incredibly wrong with the fact that children are living like that in this country. There are children, adults and families - our citizens - living like that. No matter what their background or whoever they are, these are our citizens and they are living like that. There is something innately wrong with how we provide accommodation to people from the Traveller community. It is not working. We must have a different approach to how we accommodate the Traveller community. Travellers have been identified as an individual race. We must change things. We must look outside and talk to the people who live the Traveller life and see how we can best facilitate their backgrounds.

Following on from the words of the Cathaoirleach, I wish all Croatians living in Ireland well. Happy Croatia day. I was taken aback when the Cathaoirleach was naming some of the cities. I actually got engaged in Pula. In an almost previous life, I used to be a bartender on a cruise ship.

I hope it is your current life.

It seems such a long time ago. I used to be a bartender on a cruise ship, and we used to stop at different ports. It is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I would recommend anyone go there.

I want to raise the fact that the Irish Air Line Pilots Association, IALPA, held an extraordinary general meeting at 10 a.m. followed by a rally and a protest. They will deliver a letter of protest to the Taoiseach today. Its members are outside the gates of Leinster House at the moment. It is about rapid antigen testing and what it could do for airlines. The sector is in total crisis as everyone understands. The closure of the Shannon base was very disappointing, as was the temporary closure of the Cork base.

Pre-Covid, Aer Lingus was going to expand. Obviously the industry needs support but what we need from IAG, which actually controls an awful lot of the decisions made by Aer Lingus, relates to the 23 slots at Heathrow held by Ireland. I call on the Minister to extend the legal right to veto any disposal of Aer Lingus slots at Heathrow for a further 20 years. It is hugely important. We have such valuable slots. If one looks at the sale of those slots in 2016, one can see that Oman Air bought one early slot from Kenya Airlines for $75 million. That is one slot. We have 23. This is hugely valuable and we must make sure they are secured if we are going to support the industry.

I thank all of the Members who contributed to the Order of Business. Senator O'Donovan kicked off with a very personal story of his diagnosis of epilepsy and his journey to reach the point he is at today. I congratulate him for speaking so eloquently about a really important issue. I have no doubt that his words will help many others. He raised additional awareness of the condition today at the beginning of National Epilepsy Week.

I note that Senator McGreehan raised a similar issue. Certainly consideration should be given to the issues raised by that particular organisation, that is, free travel. Given what Senator O'Donovan said this morning, the impact of losing one's licence, particularly somebody living in a remote rural area, is very significant.

Senator Kyne raised the issue of planning delays. Deputy Cowen has brought a piece of legislation before the Dáil on that issue. It is a problem affecting many communities. Senator Kyne outlined many of the planning issues across the country. He touched on Athenry as well. We all agree that people have a right to engage in the planning process and raise concerns and objections. However, where this stymies development and impacts a huge community because one person has an issue with it, it is a problem that needs to be rectified. A debate on this issue would be worthwhile.

Senator Craughwell congratulated Major General Maureen O'Brien on her appointment as military adviser to the Secretary General of the UN. On behalf of the House, I extend my congratulations to her for reaching such a high-level position and representing her country and the Defence Forces with distinction. I wish her well in that role. Seeing her reach those heights is fantastic in terms of being a role model for women across the country. It is no mean feat to get to that position.

Senator Craughwell also raised the issue of the ongoing difficulties in the Defence Forces, as did Senator Wall. It has been accepted that our Naval Service has gone beyond being fully operational. The smoke and daggers exercise that has been going on for the past number of years to try to pretend that it is fully operational has passed. It is fully on show for all to see. Our maritime interests are significant. We are an island nation. The need to protect our seas is really important in respect of so many aspects of the country but we do not put the resources into our Defence Forces that we need to.

Senator Craughwell raised the issue of retention of personnel. We are at a stage where the brain drain is so significant. We have lost immensely qualified and experienced personnel and it will take years to build up that level of expertise in the Defence Forces. We cannot simply hire people with these skills from the private sector. We must grow that experience and expertise within the organisation organically, which are then passed down through the ranks and generations as they come through. We have lost some of our best people and it will take us years to come back from that.

The work of rebuilding our organisation needs to start now. With the recent cyberattacks, we have seen that the Defence Forces is the first place we go to so we expect it to perform to the best of its abilities as if it is being fully resourced and supported when it is not. Far from having a lean organisation, which is what was attempted, we have starved the Defence Forces of resources and it is now a skeleton organisation. We cannot expect it to do what the country needs it to do without it being properly resourced. I hope the Department will take note of the challenges that have arisen, particularly from the cyberattack on the HSE, and how much our country relies on our Defence Forces at a time of need.

Senator Wall raised the issue of the GDPR and the impact on elected members at local authority level. I had a quick look at section 40 of the Data Protection Act. It does not specifically require written consent from the constituent. It does require consent so I suggest that it might be a good Commencement matter in respect of which the line Minister could provide clarity because as elected Members of the Oireachtas, we do not require written consent from constituents to act on their behalf. I see no reason counsellors should be treated any differently. Uniformity of approach across all local authorities is something we should be demanding rather than merely asking for.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the issue of Belarus, as did Senators Black and Malcolm Byrne. I join with all of my colleagues in utterly condemning that act of aggression towards the European Union. It is remarkable and almost unbelievable that an EU airline - an Irish airline - would have a demand that its aeroplane land while going between two European countries, with over 170 passengers from 12 different member states on board. A journalist was kidnapped from that plane and is now in detention. We do not know his current status or his state of well-being. I hope that he is okay, and his girlfriend Sofia as well.

I echo the calls from everybody in this House that the EU Council needs to act decisively this evening and needs to show its teeth, because it will be a toothless organisation if it allows this type of behaviour. It must not go unpunished. The comments of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs have been extremely strong in this regard and in demanding EU solidarity. I know a number of our MEPs, although not all, as Senator Malcolm Byrne pointed out, have been very strong in calling for decisive action from the European Union and calling for solidarity from all member states to support significant sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. It is long overdue.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly also raised the issue of maternity services. As she knows, it is an issue close to my heart and I am in ongoing consultation with women across the country. Even as recently as yesterday, a woman contacted me who is attending at Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar and she has been told she will not have her partner with her until the very late stages of labour. There is the ongoing issue around what constitutes labour and at what point the partner is permitted. It is something we are going to have to continuously raise in this House until the matter is resolved. We have to let the women of Ireland know they are being listened to, that their representatives are working on their behalf to get this issue resolved and that we care about the distress and trauma that it is bringing on them, their families and their babies as well.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly also raised the issue of the school bus scheme. I am not fully au fait with that issue but I gather from what she says that if, for example, people choose to go to an Educate Together school and it is further than the closest primary school, they are not being facilitated. That is wrong. It is a matter that must be raised with the Minister for Education. I will bring that to her attention and to the attention of the Minister for Transport.

Senator Boylan raised the issue of the Stardust inquest and of the Minister for Justice signing the regulations. The Senator has been strong on this issue and she has raised it many times. It is only right and proper that the regulations have been signed. I take on board the comments she made in regard to civil legal aid. The income threshold is very low and in this circumstance, which is quite exceptional, something should be done for the families of victims so they can access justice and participate in the process. Otherwise, what is the point?

Senator Black brought to the floor of the House the murder of Gavin McShane and Shane McArdle, and I thank her for that. To be told that the evidence gathering at the time was not sufficient to allow a proper investigation is very difficult for the families. There are questions to be answered. My condolences to the families on what has been a very long and difficult journey for them.

Senator Gallagher raised the issue of adult medical cards in regard to dental treatment. If dentists are leaving the scheme because it is not financially viable, that needs to be addressed. We have come a long way in this country in regard to oral health. We now realise it is part of physical health whereas, heretofore, we perhaps had not placed as much value on that. Everyone should have access to basic dental care and that is something we would all agree with.

Senator Cummins raised the issue of the performing arts sector. He made the very important point that while we have placed a far greater emphasis on getting children back to sport, not every child plays sport, but they may do arts, drama or music and that is equally as valuable to a young person as sport. Perhaps our priorities have not been quite balanced in that regard. I will bring those remarks back to the Minister. Senator Carrigy raised a similar issue. It was also pointed out that those sectors have been in an extremely challenging position. I commend Senator Malcolm Byrne for consistently, almost on a weekly basis, raising the issue of the arts sector, which has often been left at the back of the queue when it comes to getting clarity as to when the sector will reopen. I know the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is working hard on that issue. We will seek a debate with her, given several Members have requested that she come before the House to discuss the reopening of the arts sector.

Senator Keogan raised the issue of mental health and brought to the floor of the House the really tragic case of the McGinley family, in particular Conor, Darragh and Carla.

Their father has rightly raised the issue around mental health services. There seems to have been a gap in care for his wife and the tragic consequences of that are evident to all of us. Senator Keogan is right to bring that issue to the floor of the House.

The Senator also raised the issue of aviation and 4,000 jobs. The Senator used the expression that the Government was butchering 4,000 jobs. I remind the Senator that in March of this year, only two months ago, she stood on the floor of the House in a health debate and questioned why the United Kingdom was not on the mandatory hotel quarantine list. The Senator went on to say that all non-essential travel should be subject to mandatory hotel quarantine. The Senator seems to have changed position somewhat on that particular issue in a short space of time, and not for the first time either.

Senator Murphy raised the issue of the Office of Public Works works taking place in Roscommon. I commend the Senator on his work on this issue. I know flooding is a significant issue in his community and the Senator has legislation coming forward on the issue. I know personally how hard the Senator has being working on the issue not only during this term but during the previous term as well. It is great to see some movement on that. I note the issue raised by Senator Murphy around water levels and the loss of bird life and farming land. That is a significant issue and it should be raised directly with the ESB. The water levels must be addressed in that regard.

Senator Currie raised the issue of the wedding industry. It has come up on many fronts as it is an industry that employs many people across multiple sectors. The Senator was right to point out that it does not really come under any particular heading, whether tourism, hospitality or business. It touches somewhat on all those sectors.

There is also a real human impact on the many couples who are waiting to tie the knot and who have planned a certain day but may not get the day they have planned. That is not to be under-estimated. There is a call to give greater clarity and support to people working in the industry and those couples who want to make those important plans within their families.

Senator Moynihan raised the issue of an outdoor summer in Dublin and how we should have been told to be outdoors at Christmas. I am unsure whether that might have been as feasible as suggested in Ireland. Certainly, the Government is working hard to provide assistance to businesses that are reopening. There are multiple grants in place, including grants for outdoor seating. When we come through Dublin city centre we can see the significant works ongoing to put in place additional space for outdoor seating for the hospitality sector. This has been welcomed by many restaurants in the city. Work is under way. We look forward to having a busy summer socialising together outdoors, if it has to be that way. That is fine and we will do our best on that front.

Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the lifting of the restrictions on Northern Ireland. I wish everyone who is reopening in the North the best. It is a great day for them and we are not too far behind them.

I can see that the Senator is here. It is great to see it happening. We are not too far behind. I wish all the businesses well and I hope it goes well. I imagine it will.

The Senator raised the issue about the Northern Ireland Minister of Health awaiting confirmation from the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, about a meeting. I do not know the ins and outs of that particular correspondence. I have no doubt the Minister is probably up to his eyes with the cyberattack but that the meeting will happen at the earliest opportunity. The Senator is right to bring it to the floor of the House.

Senator Byrne raised the issue of Belarus as well as the theatre, arts and hospitality sectors. The comments of Senator Byrne relating to Belarus were strong and we all share the sentiments raised. The question of 30,000 people being detained needs to be addressed. We cannot simply brush it under the carpet or express outrage every few weeks and then move on to the next topic. I hope that the events of yesterday and the meeting this evening will mark the start of real change in tackling this issue and standing with the people of Belarus to deal with it.

Senator Higgins raised the issue of human rights on many levels. Senators Higgins and McGreehan raised the issue of the report from the Children's Ombudsman relating to Traveller accommodation. It should be a cause for concern for every citizen that any child in this State is living in those conditions. I listened to the reports this morning about rodent infestation, lack of sanitation and children having increased respiratory and skin difficulties. We should be ashamed that any child in this State is living in those conditions. There is an onus on the local authority in the area to do something about it urgently. I have no doubt those conditions are not isolated and indeed are replicated in many parts of the country. I hope the local authorities throughout the country are taking note and assessing the services and accommodation they are providing to citizens in their local authority areas. Moreover, I hope that we can make real and meaningful change on this.

Senator Martin raised the issue of accountability in Gaza. I too was unimpressed, if I can put it that way, with the weak response of the United States at the UN Security Council in respect of Gaza.

Rumblings would suggest that President Biden did have a word behind the scenes and that ultimately the ceasefire did come about. Certainly, it took far too long, too many lives were lost and almost 70 children lost their lives in those 11 days. Let us not forget that and that the situation is far from over.

Senator McGreehan raised the issue of epilepsy and Traveller accommodation. She spoke very well about the need to address the ongoing lack of decent treatment of the people in the Traveller community. I hope that the report will start some changes on that front.

Senator Ahearn raised the issue of rapid antigen testing. Earlier Senator Ardagh raised the issue, which she has done for quite a number of weeks, of rapid antigen testing not as the only means but one of the ways to open up the aviation sector. I believe that has merit and cannot see why we are not using antigen tests. I know that if one gets a negative test it does not mean that one does not have Covid but the test is an extra layer of security and would assist in getting things up and running. I was unaware of the value of the Heathrow slots, which was an important point to make. That is the history that our country has in terms of its links to the United Kingdom. The loss of those routes would cause significant damage to the Irish aviation sector. There is no doubt that the sector has had a difficult time and many jobs rely on the industry.

Senator Ardagh also made an important point about the EU digital certificate that we have signed up to. It is my understanding that the Government is fully committed to signing up to the certificate and its implementation. We have a six-week period to implement the scheme. We are eager to implement it as fast as possible and, hopefully, before six weeks in order to get things up and moving as quick as we can.

I wish to make a point of order.

I remind the Senator that it must be a point of order, not an issue raised by the Deputy Leader.

It is a point of order. I did not get up when the Deputy Leader made some very personal attacks on me.

That is not a point of order. A point of order is about the rules of the House.

Sorry, I asked the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Transport to come to the House to discuss the aviation industry. That is what I asked her to do.

The Deputy Leader responded.

All right. I thank the Cathaoirleach.

Out of courtesy and to reply to the Senator, it was not a personalised attack. She used the word "butchering" and accused the Irish Government of butchering 4,000 jobs.

That is why people are outside this House today.

I merely reminded the Senator of her own words-----

We are not re-opening the Order of Business.

-----that are on the Seanad record for all to read and all to see from two months ago.

Absolutely. Read everything that I have said about the industry.

Yes. All I pointed out was the Senator's own words.

We are not re-opening the debate.

Order of Business agreed to.