The Order of Business is No. 1, Public Service Pay Bill 2020 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.30 p.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3 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 the Government; No. 2, Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3.15 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 1, whichever is the later, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.15 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 the Government, and the proceedings shall be interrupted after two hours for 15 minutes to allow for the sanitisation of the Chamber and the order of the debate shall resume thereafter; No. 3, Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 6.45 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; and No. 4, Private Members' business, Business Planning and Development (Solar Panels for Public Buildings, Schools, Homes and Other Premises) (Amendment) Bill 2021 – Second Stage, to be taken at 7.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the later, and the time allocated to this debate is two hours.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending the Irish College of General Practitioners, ICGP, webinar which focused primarily on women's health issues. One of the topics discussed was endometriosis. Senators will be aware that I have consistently raised this issue in the Seanad. I was very happy to play my part in bringing about an information session to bring to hundreds of GPs from throughout the country the most up-to-date information on this disease from an expert in the UK. The event went very well and I commend and congratulate the ICGP on arranging the webinar, bringing up-to-date information to GPs and helping us to take one step closer to having better menstrual and reproductive care for women and girls in this country.
I will briefly comment on the ongoing Common Agricultural policy, CAP, negotiations. I commend the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, on his engagement in the process. It has been difficult as there are a great number of competing interests and there is not, unfortunately, a uniform voice across the farming organisations. I come from a rural constituency, Mayo, where farm holdings are mainly small. Farmers in my community are asking for front-loaded payments, a higher degree of convergence and a cap on the single farm payment. No farmer should be receiving more than €60,000 annually from that scheme.
I welcome that convergence is to be set at 85%, with the option for member states to increase beyond that if they so wish. I urge the Minister to consider that option of increasing the percentage further.
I also welcome that 3% of direct payments will be set aside for young farmers. A particular problem in this country is that young people do not view farming as a viable long-term career option because of the challenge farmers face in getting a fair price for their product and all of the demands we are placing on them, arising from climate change and everything else.
The proposed agreement will have to be signed off by all the EU agricultural ministers. There will also be a period of consultation and debate to consider what has been proposed. All in all, we are progressing towards a fairer outcome for small and medium-sized farmers, while still acknowledging and rewarding productive farmers.
There is much anticipation that we will see a delay in reopening, with a decision due possibly tomorrow at this rate. I make a special plea for those who are having their weddings in the next couple of weeks. I can understand the delay in reopening hospitality. While I may not fully agree with it, I can see the argument for doing so in terms of the sheer numbers. The small number of couples who are getting married in the two-week period in question have probably had to postpone their big day numerous times already and will have issued invitations, paid a deposit and made plans on foot of the plan we set out for them. In the event that the rug is pulled from under them for a couple of weeks, I urge the Government to take a flexible approach and rather than issuing a blanket delay to all aspects of the planned reopening, I ask that it consider each element on its merits and give special consideration to couples who are looking forward to their big day in the next number of weeks. They should be allowed to have the 50 guests we promised they could have.
I marched in November 2016 in support of the €850 million Apple data centre in Athenry. I still believe that if data centres are needed, as I believe they are, they should be spread regionally and in terms of the grid connection. It should be noted that the Apple data centre project has been granted planning permission by Galway County Council for some time.
It was granted by An Bord Pleanála and that decision was upheld in mid-2016. That decision was also upheld by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. I have spoken previously on the issues and problems with our planning process and more so on the legal challenges to and judicial reviews of planning decisions that have taken place, which are too prevalent. I, therefore, welcome comments by the Attorney General and the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke, on the Government's plans to speed up the planning process. The plans being considered include a dedicated planning court, which I called for in 2017 in the midst of the debate on the Apple data centre project. As well as construction and permanent jobs in the data centre, having Apple, the world’s largest company, with a centre in Galway, would be a major incentive to more and continued multinational investment. The spin-off of having an Apple data centre in Athenry would be major. The area from Athenry to Oranmore has been designated as an economic corridor in the Galway county development plan for some years. With water, grid, rail and motorway connections, the area is well suited as an economic driver for the county. Because of the issues in Athenry we changed legislation to categorise data centres as critical infrastructure but in May 2018 Apple announced it was not proceeding with the development. However, it is important to note it still has planning permission. I, therefore, welcome the decision of Apple to apply to Galway County Council for a five-year extension to its planning permission. If granted, I hope Apple will be able to proceed, at speed, and as soon as possible. It gave an absolute commitment at the time it would look at green energy as the source of energy for that important project. There was some small degree of opposition to the project but it would have been, and still had the potential to be, a major boom to the area of Athenry, Oranmore and County Galway.
I call for a debate on the issue of planning, as I have previously, for projects such as this one and also projects ranging from greenways to road projects to the critically important issue of housing. I welcome the comments by the Attorney General and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, relating to planning. It is an extremely important area and one on which the Government is right to focus. I hope it can do so to allow for a speeding up of the process at an early juncture. I look forward to a debate on that issue in the near future.
On 11 March 2020, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, forecast 85,000 people could die from the coronavirus. The death toll today is 4,989, thankfully a long way from what was predicted. We now have the data. We now know the virus. We know what to do to keep ourselves safe and what level of risk to take. On 31 May, I spoke up in this Chamber about the contradictions in the Government’s reopening plan. However, nothing was done. Hotels served dinners indoors while restaurants and pubs had their trade confined to outdoors. Back in May I agreed with the comments of Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland who called the double standards unjust and discriminatory. However, nothing was done. Hospitality struggled on with one glimmer of hope - 5 July. Nearly a month on from 31 May, I find myself disheartened, dispirited and unmotivated to see the already inadequate plan is about to be changed. The date of 5 July, with the already overdue promises it held, is about to be ripped away. Nearly a month on from 31 May, I find myself using the same rhetoric - people in power are playing with people’s lives and that is a very serious problem. Does the Government realise the impact this will have on pubs and restaurants or on our aviation sector? Does it realise the impact it is having on all those currently in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment and waiting to go back to work? Does it realise how long our hospitality and aviation sectors have already suffered? If the Government realised the impact its lack of leadership is having, it would not be waiting until Wednesday, 30 June, five days before the promised date of 5 July, to decide whether it will help or hinder hospitality in this country. If it chooses to hinder it by refusing to stick to the roadmap, the consequences will be serious.
I listened to an interview on RTÉ Radio 1 of Dr. Sam McConkey, probably better know as “Dr. Zero Covid” who stated the 5 July date for reopening of our next phase should go ahead. I cannot stress the damage that would be done due to the Government’s decision and its subsequent indecision about its decisions. To lock down or not to lock down, that is the constant question we ask in this country and the result is severe instability.
Over the weekend I read an interesting article on the city state of Singapore, which has decided to treat Covid like any other endemic disease such as flu. It has stopped its zero transmission targets, its people will stop wearing masks, it will halt lockdowns and it will no longer require quarantines. Its people will learn to live with Covid-19. In the words of their trade, finance and health ministers, "We can't eradicate it, but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza, ... or chickenpox, and get on with our lives." Get on with our lives, that is what we all want to do, but when will that happen? This Government will not be able to decide on anything, so I could not ask it to decide on that. Instead I will tell it now and when it should happen. Now is when we should be leading the country back with strong leadership. Now is when we should get on with it.
I want to raise the case of Terence Wheelock. Terence was a young man, aged 20, from Seán O’Casey Avenue in Summerhill in Dublin 1 who died in Garda custody 16 years ago. Sixteen years on, his family are still seeking answers about what happened to him in that Garda cell in Store Street. Sixteen years on, there are so many questions with regard to inconsistencies in Garda record keeping, conflicts of views as to how a ligature could have made its way into the cell and be found in the place it was found, and how quickly the emergency services were called. While the inquest found he died by suicide, from talking to his family and listening to his community, it is very clear nobody believes Terence went into that cell with the intent of taking his life.
Last Saturday there was a remembrance event for Terence and his late brother Larry who did so much to fight to clear his brother’s name and for his brother's right to justice. Walking alongside his family, relatives, neighbours and friends, the unanswered questions were very striking. Any of us who have lost someone knows the visceral desire to know why and how. If somebody dies in mysterious circumstances that is all the more the important to know. What was utterly heartbreaking is that while I was walking with my baby girl in a buggy, a woman alongside me had a child no older than three and he turned to her and asked “Mammy, what does justice mean?”. This quest for answers has been passed on to the next generation of the family. We need to have a statutory independent inquiry into this case. In 2010, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission undertook an investigation but from my reading of the 199-page report there are serious questions arising from it. I want the message to go out that we need to have a statutory independent inquiry into the death of Terence.
I want to reference another event that took place on Saturday, namely the protest rally on the National Maternity Hospital. It was an extremely powerful moment for the many hundreds who turned out to make their voice very clear on the issue. There were articles in the Business Post yesterday and a letter in The Irish Times this morning discussing concerns over religious ethos and suggesting that some of those concerns may not be well founded. I think the articles missed the point. If we are going to have a new hospital, we need to have it on publicly owned land, publicly operated and with a publicly controlled governance structure, and nothing less will do. For too long we have had systems in this country that are convoluted by being semi-privately owned or partially controlled by religious structures or elsewhere. We do not need to delay the project. There is an opportunity to get the National Maternity Hospital right. I share the concerns expressed and look forward to the debate on it that will take place on Friday.
On 27 June 1995, a former Senator, Gordon Wilson, passed away. The anniversary of his death was yesterday. His message of forgiveness and imploring people to live peacefully and to rebuild severely fractured relationships is a lasting healing legacy and comes into sharp focus in the current political instability in Northern Ireland, especially with the marching season looming.
In Enniskillen in 1987, at the very moment when people were standing in silence to pray for their dead, a bomb was detonated and 11 people were killed. Another person lost their life later, having been in a coma for many years. The late Gordon Wilson, was influenced by the last loving words uttered by his then 20-year-old daughter, Marie, who died as a result of that bombing. Clutching his hand tightly, Marie said to Gordon, "Daddy, I love you very much." Soon after, when speaking to the world's media, Gordon Wilson said that he bore no ill will and neither did his wife. His incredible words of forgiveness in the immediate aftermath of his unspeakable loss calmed down tensions in Enniskillen and further afield and many believed helped save lives, ensuring tensions did not spiral out of control. I urge community and political leaders, North and South, all public representatives North and South and all the people sharing this island to reflect and demand that there is never any going back and the only future is a shared future through mutual respect, dialogue, understanding and reconciliation.
I thank the Senator for speaking about the memory of the former Senator, the late Gordon Wilson, and his extraordinary contribution to this House. We think of his family on the anniversary yesterday of his passing.
I raise the latest daft.ie and myhome.ie house price reports released today because they made for very depressing reading. House prices have increased by 13% in the past year with people now paying an average €34,000 more for a home than last year. In Dublin, average prices now range from between €350,000 and €600,000. Of course, Covid has had some impact on supply but Government policy is also to blame. The help-to-buy scheme fuelled house-price inflation and the proposed shared equity scheme will simply add fuel to the fire. At the weekend we discovered that even the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage's officials had warned against the shared equity scheme but he is ploughing ahead regardless. The Minister should come here and explain why, despite the warnings from all of the experts, he is arrogantly insisting on proceeding with the scheme.
The Minister also needs to tell the House how he will ensure that the houses on the Poolbeg site will be genuinely affordable. The National Asset Management Agency offered that land to the previous housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, at a 50% discount. However, even when it would benefit his constituents, Mr. Murphy refused the offer. Instead, Ronan Group Real Estate purchased the site at a price significantly higher than the guide price. He is planning to build even more unaffordable build-to-rent apartments in the community. On the 570 affordable homes that are allocated in the plans, Dublin City Council has confirmed that there is no deal on the table as to how much Johnny Ronan's company will demand for those homes. In order to ensure its profit margin, it is highly likely that the Ronan Group Real Estate could seek up to €500,000 from Dublin City Council for each of those affordable homes. How is anyone from the community expected to be able to afford to buy? The Minister needs to seek an urgent meeting with Ronan Group Real Estate and insist that the affordable homes on the site will be genuinely affordable.
The Government should make it very clear to Ronan Group Real Estate that there will be no bridge, and no funding allocated for such a bridge, unless there is a deal on affordability. Young people are putting their lives on hold because they are unable to afford to rent, they are unable to afford to buy, they are going through college getting highly educated, and they are looking at their future and asking what is the point in staying in this country when you cannot afford to leave your parents home? And that is if they are lucky enough to be able to stay in their parents' homes. The Government must double direct capital investment in social and affordable homes and start delivering for the people. We need to hear from the Minister about why he is ploughing ahead with the shared equity scheme and ignoring all of the warnings and how he will ensure that the affordable homes at the Poolbeg site will be genuinely affordable.
I have been receiving many letters in recent weeks from people in the music industry who are absolutely devastated and worried about what is happening to the industry. I will read out one letter that I received late last night which really sums up what is going on for people in the industry. It states:
Dear Senator Black,
I'm writing to appeal to you, to the Seanad and to the Minister, Catherine Martin, to support the live working musicians of this country, in this very unsure time.
I'm a full time working folk musician, and most of my earnings have come from overseas over the past few years with international touring as a cultural ambassador of Ireland - promoting Irish culture, songs and history as part of my repertoire.
With the current restrictions I have not been able to work for 14 months, and with the looming cut-off date of the PUP I'm asking the Minister to put in place a solid plan for musicians to go back to work. We've been told "no live music", we've done what we've been told - we stayed home. We haven't worked, we haven't sought-out work, we've listened, waiting for guidance from our Minister. Waiting for life to start again.
Why then ... is there concerts happening in different venues all over the country - including actual indoor Tourism, Culture and Gaeltacht events just this last weekend.
We need to have clarity as to what is allowed - can we perform now? Is it okay to go back on the road?
I want to express how much anxiety this is bringing me, with the unknown, with the looming possible dates for causing the PUP. I'm worried about paying my rent. I'm worried about paying my car insurance, and I'm worried I won't be able to afford my internet phone bill, which will put me off again from the world, even more than I am today, with no work and no idea as to when we are officially back.
For us musicians - as the cultural ambassadors for our nation, we feel forgotten, we are confused, and we are deeply hurt by the lack of communication from the Minister and the Department. The anxiety is at the highest level, not knowing where we stand and when we might go back to work. My friends/colleagues, are selling their instruments, and it's becoming regular to know musicians who have taken their own lives due to the stress of everything and the lack of support and information.
Musicians are also the first to be called upon to step up to give our services for free to raise money for under-funded charities. Musicians are always the first to step up.
Musicians who perform for tourists all over the country are the foot soldiers of our culture, keeping music alive in the toughest of arenas, playing and performing in the smallest of corners, the loudest of pubs, keeping our culture alive.
These "test" events are not helpful for us who do this every day - it is like "The Hunger Games", only the top most popular musicians are being looked after. We need clear guidance and information, and for the Minister to talk directly to the musicians and the events industry of Ireland. We're calling on the Minister to ensure the PUP is in place for musicians until 2022, and we need information to save our mental health as this anxiety will kill our culture and kill our souls and our spirits, and ourselves. Please, please help us.
Your sincerely ...
I have to ask that the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media come before the House to give an update on what is happening and that she do so sooner rather than later. She must come to the House and outline the measures that will be taken to safeguard the livelihoods of the hundreds of musicians who contribute to the culture of this country and are essential to the revival of the tourist and entertainment industries.
I want to quickly express my solidarity and well wishes for Thursday's Second Stage debate in the Dáil on the very important Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill. It is essential that we see this Bill supported and passed to make the teaching of Traveller culture and history mandatory in schools and will be steps to prevent persistent discrimination against Travellers in Ireland.
Addressing the curse of sexual violence is a priority for every one of us and we must do all we can to stamp it out in all sections of Irish life. With this in mind, I very much welcome the Government initiative undertaken in third level institutions. An action plan has been published to tackle sexual violence and harassment in all our third level institutions. I was shocked and extremely saddened by the results of the survey carried out by the Union of Students in Ireland last year. Its survey of 6,000 young people found that 30% of female students had experienced non-consensual sexual penetration.
This highlights the need for this plan. I welcome the fact that among some of the measures to be introduced, classes on sexual consent are to be rolled out across all third level institutions, starting off with first-year students. Colleges will have to put in place new mechanisms for anonymous reporting of sexual harassment. Staff will also receive additional training in these areas. These are just a few of the many recommendations.
It is critically important that we create a safe environment for all our students and, indeed, staff. Many young students will head off in September for their first experience of college life. It is vital that we foster a culture of respect, dignity and integrity across all sections.
Last week, the parish priest of Our Lady of the Assumption in Ballyfermot flew the Pride flag in honour of the week that was in it, and of the celebrations that were due to happen this past weekend. The response he received was nothing short of appalling. He was subjected to aggressive, hostile, nasty messaging, both to his home and online. The online trolling was about the disgrace that it was and how he was going to burn in hell. That was the message he got time and again.
I commend the man on his courage, his compassion and his demonstration of his faith. He is certainly a noble individual. There was a rally at the weekend in support of him and of people in the community for whom Pride is so important. It was on behalf of all of us. It is important to say this is not reflective of the community of Ballyfermot, which is an inclusive and caring community. However, this is a disgrace. I want to highlight, and find some means by which to explore, the small cohort in society that bullies, harasses, says hateful things and continuously gets away with it.
I recently made a complaint to the Garda Síochána about two prominent individuals who are well known to everyone. They are former journalists. They spout racial hate speech all the time. I made a complaint to the Garda Síochána. I made my formal statement last Friday. It is not all right that a small cohort makes a large group of people feel unsafe or classifies any group of people as being undeserving of any aspiration of any job in our State. We need to have a debate in this House, exploring why we, as a group of people who are representative of the people of the country, do not stand up more to this small cohort.
I have spoken on search and rescue many times in this Chamber. It is coming to the end of a time when I will be able to speak on it. In 2010, the future helicopter study group, FHSG, started to look at what Ireland needed for search and rescue. There was a number of recommendations. One was the implementation of night vision on helicopters. Another was the ability to carry underslung loads in buckets for fighting fires. The third was that they would be able to carry incubators. Ten years on, despite having spent €700,000 plus VAT per aircraft on upgrading them for night vision, and buying goggles for the crews at the cost of €570,000 that the taxpayer paid for, the training has not been completed, as far as I know. They cannot carry the incubators. Anytime there is an incubator call, the Air Corps has to step in. Neither have they been able to provide the underslung buckets. The last time there was a fire in Kerry, we had to call in aircraft from Scotland, as well as the Air Corps.
Who is responsible for oversight? We are responsible for political oversight, but who is responsible for oversight? It is ironic that the company CHC Helicopter got the Irish contract for search and rescue, at a time when they were suspended from public contracts in the UK for insider trading. Somebody has to answer those questions. Corporate governance is a huge part of the safety of the people of Ireland. I am getting very tired of not being able to get answers to questions.
In the last few seconds, I want to thank Dr. James Wilson, who is known to the Cathaoirleach, for organising a 19 km march across the Giant's Causeway on Saturday, in support of Irish veterans. These were members of the Royal British Legion, who stood to gain nothing. I enjoyed four and a half hours walking across the Giant’s Causeway. It is great that when we set politics aside in Northern Ireland, Northern Irish people are as loveable and as giving towards us. They have collected a substantial sum of money for the Jadotville Challenge 2021. I was proud to walk with them. I thank them for taking this initiative.
Today I would like to raise the Miami building collapse. I send my thoughts and prayers to the survivors, the families of survivors, the families of the victims, and the families of those missing. There are still 156 people missing. It is a tragedy of a huge scale, where a building collapsed during the middle of the night. There are terrifying, heart-breaking images of bunk beds hanging out of windows. It is completely unfathomable and deeply upsetting. We learned also that an engineers’ report was commissioned a few years previously. It outlined serious structural issues with the property. Nobody is saying that they were the cause, but the fact is that there were structural issues and repairs were needed to the property.
We need to look at properties in Ireland. There is a 2018 chartered surveyors' report that states that the majority of Irish apartment buildings do not have a large enough sinking fund. I am not saying that buildings are imminently going to collapse. However, as here, not enough money has been put aside for structural improvements to properties. Many of our apartment blocks were built in the 1990s. They are okay at the moment. We do not hear of a huge number of structural issues. However, anecdotally, we hear that residents of older apartment blocks are being asked to cough up either €20,000 or €30,000 per unit to fix roofs. We need to figure out what we can do. The Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 stipulates that €200 per year must be set aside per unit towards a sinking fund. That is not enough. Those who owns a small house or apartment will know that €200 is not going to cover a lot. We also have to look at local property tax. Many apartment dwellers pay local property tax but do not get a lot back from it. The Government needs to review sinking funds and, perhaps, how local property tax could be inputted into developing sinking funds for properties. This is an issue that will come down the tracks very fast, as apartment blocks that were built in the 1990s get older.
We need to have a serious debate in this House about how we address sinking funds. At the moment, they are completely inadequate. As the chartered surveyors’ report states, more than 25% of sinking funds do not even reach it at all.
In the next two or three days, thousands of primary school children will be getting their summer holidays. This will be a great experience for the kids. I am sure the parents might not have the same view. It will be an unusual period for the next few weeks. I want to mention something about primary education. There is a major issue we need to start talking about. Over the last few weeks, the Drumcondra tests have been done in primary education. From first to six class, there is a period of exams. Results from second, fourth, and sixth classes are reported to the Department of Education.
There is a major flaw within the Drumcondra process itself. The flaw is that a dyslexic child is being discriminated against through this process. This is a huge issue that we have to take into consideration. Children who have a reading average of maybe a one, a three or a seven centile, depend on technology to help them go through the primary education process. When it comes to the Drumcondra tests, that assistive technology is taken away from them. Could you imagine a scenario where a student is helped to read every day in his or her class with a reading pen or iPad? Then, when he or she does the Drumcondra tests, the iPad and reading pen is taken from him or her. Over a 45-minute period, the student is then expected to do something he or she cannot physically do. He or she cannot read the question. However, in maths, the student is given a reader, because it is understood that the student cannot read the question.
That it a huge flaw. Some 10% of our school population is dyslexic. There is a major issue with how we deal with our dyslexic population. In teacher training colleges, students have to opt in to do the course. It is not mandatory. How we deal with dyslexic children continues to be a disgrace. If I were to give the Department of Education a grade, it would be an F. That is the standard at which it is treating children on the ground.
We need to have a serious conversation about how we are going to deal with these kids. They deserve better. I met parents at the weekend who have kids in the one centile, which means that they are between the bottom 1% and 3% in reading. Their children had the assistive technology taken from them when they did the Drumcondra test. That cannot be logical. There are also mental issues to consider. These children are lovely lads. They went home thinking they were thick. They are anything but thick. They are probably the cleverest in the class but they are wired differently. The Department of Education must look at the model and change how it deals with dyslexic children.
I raise again the issue of eating disorders and the woeful lack of supports in place in Ireland. I do not know if any of the Members heard the report on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning, which outlined the ghastly situation facing those suffering with an eating disorder in Ireland and the difficult position in which their families find themselves. Very powerful testimony was provided by CARED Ireland. If Members have the opportunity, I suggest that they listen back to it.
It was horrifying to hear that there are no national specialist public inpatient beds for eating disorders. There are three beds in St. Vincent's University Hospital but they are only available in that HSE catchment area. This means people in the rest of the country must be admitted for general or psychiatric beds or must go to the UK for treatment, either privately or through our State system. I do not understand how we are still in the position that we are sending people abroad for treatment that they should be able to get here. People and their families are needlessly suffering and people are dying. I ask for the Leader to invite the responsible Minister to the House to debate the issue.
The second issue I raise concerns pay for student nurses and midwives. I find it incredible that I am speaking on this issue once again. It is 28 June 2021 and the student nurse pandemic payment has still not been paid into the bank accounts of student nurses and midwives. That is incredible. The payment amounts to less than €3 per hour, so it is not exactly going to be a whopping amount. It is an absolute disgrace.
These students, who worked for free during the global pandemic, putting their own health and well-being on the line so that we and our loved ones could be safe, were promised that they would be paid on 31 January and then on 1 June. Does the Leader know what is happening with the payment? It is absolutely shameful behaviour on the part of the Government. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister for Health, on behalf of this House, to ask what, in the name of goodness, is happening with this promised payment. It is not good enough that these student nurses and midwives are now leaving their courses and going out into the workplace and they still have not received the payment they were promised. We heard very powerful testimony in this House in support of the payment of student nurses and midwives. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister to ask what is happening.
I welcome the launch of the "Love this place, leave no trace" campaign this morning. I urge members of the public, when they are using public amenities, beaches or parks, to leave no trace and to respect the beauty that we have here. When we visit places, we expect to find them in good condition and we want to leave them that way for the next person.
I also ask that people bringing their dogs onto common lands, such as mountains, farmland and beaches, put their dogs on leads. When dogs are brought to a place where there is livestock, it is not the dog's fault if it runs after an animal or worries or kills a sheep or a lamb; it is the owner's fault. I urge dog owners to be responsible.
I also commend the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and to wish him the best of luck in the final CAP negotiations. It is most important that we protect our largest indigenous industry. We must protect small farmers and small farming families who produce the most sustainable, environmentally-friendly and highest quality produce in Europe and the world. Payments under the new scheme must be directed to active farmers to encourage and keep young farmers and farming families in the industry.
I ask that we amend the Order of Business for tomorrow to have a debate on the reopening of the country and the roll-out of the vaccination programme in the context of the decisions to be made by the Government. They are important decisions that should not be made in a vacuum but in a full, open and transparent manner that includes disclosure of the information that NPHET will give to the Government. I say that while welcoming the comment made by the Tánaiste this morning that it is not inevitable that we will not reopen the country next week. It is important that certainty is provided to the men and women in our hospitality sector.
We have had this debate for a long time and there has been lots of commentary. Professor Cathal Walsh spoke about modelling on RTÉ's "Morning Ireland" earlier. I am asking NPHET to publish the information to enable us all to read it and ascertain the real facts around its latest proposals. It is important that certainty and clarity are provided.
In the context of the vaccination programme, if there are going to be surplus vaccines, we should be provided with the information on what is to be done with them and how they will be used properly. I make that statement in a very positive manner, as a Member of this House and also as a member of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, which has dealt with the issue of antigen testing. We need to have a real debate in this House on antigen testing.
It is important that certainty and clarity are provided on the 19 July date, which is approaching. Are we ready for the EU digital Covid certificate? Will our country continue to be open or closed? Which will it be? Would it not be awful if we were not ready on 19 July to avail of a travel certificate that is valid in the rest of Europe? That would be catastrophic. Therefore, I ask for a debate on the issue to take place tomorrow, if possible.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that we take No. 19 ahead of No. 1. I am seeking leave to introduce the Worker Co-Operatives and Right to Buy Bill 2021.
I raise the issue of the review of the eighth amendment and the termination of pregnancy legislation. Last Thursday evening, I attended and spoke at a webinar organised by Together for Safety in Limerick. Two particular issues concern me. First, we need safe access zone legislation. Protests were held outside the maternity hospital in Limerick every day during Lent. I know that protests were also held at other hospitals. I gather from the response to a recent Commencement matter that the Government is actually retreating from introducing this legislation. A Minister of State gave that clear message on the day the matter was taken. We need to have an urgent debate on the issue.
I was equally distressed to hear evidence given at the webinar by someone who works with women in direct provision centres. She was able to tell us that abortion pills are being sold on the black market for between €300 and €400. That is what these women are being asked to pay because they do not have access to services. The reason is that only one in ten GPs offer services and half of our maternity hospitals do not offer termination services. I was a member of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, alongside others on a cross-party basis. Members were almost unanimous on the ancillary recommendations around the need to ensure that all women are treaty equally in relation to access to services and the urgent need for free contraception.
Unfortunately, in relation to safe access zone legislation, access to contraception and, crucially, achieving equality, we are from where we should be at this point. We need an urgent debate on the matter. Above all, we need to heed the National Women's Council of Ireland's call that the review, which the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, is telling us is progressing, has an independent chairperson at its head. It has to be a meaningful, independent review. I am afraid that, to date, it does not look like that is going to be the case.
Is the Senator's proposed amendment to the Order of Business being seconded?
I second the amendment.
I ask the Leader to raise, on behalf of the Seanad, the proposal of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to review the planning process for strategic developments, specifically strategic housing developments. It has been reported, and I welcome the fact that the Minister has acknowledged through the proposal to undertake the review, that the strategic planning process is not working and has failed to result in a significant increase in the delivery of housing, which is adding enormous pressure to an already challenging housing crisis. The strategic housing process is essentially undemocratic in its nature.
All of us in the House commend our local authorities regularly. They have robust planning processes. While the Minister's review is being conducted the strategic housing process should be paused. An Bord Pleanála should be instructed to not engage in further pre-planning discussions because at the moment there are no fewer than 26 strategic housing developments under active judicial review. That is 26 of the 50 that have been taken since 2018. Half of the board's budget is being spent on judicial reviews. It is a completely unproductive use of public money, time and resources and it is further challenging the Government's ability to respond to the housing crisis. I therefore ask the Leader to write to the Minister with responsibility for planning and ask him to come back to the House with an advisory on whether or not he can instruct An Bord Pleanála to stop engaging in pre-planning discussions on strategic housing developments, and to do that as soon as possible.
I want to talk briefly about two things. I hope the Leader might allow us to have a further proper discussion for the whole House because housing comes up repeatedly. What I see in my own county is lots of empty buildings and also lots of people doing Airbnb. I want to clearly distinguish between a person letting out a room in his or her house and one letting out a whole house because a whole house is a potential home for someone to rent and live in. A room in a house is in a person's home so it is a different thing. We have some Airbnb restrictions in Dublin but we do not have any in County Clare, for example.
I know from going around the villages and towns of the county that we have loads of empty houses. There are over 220,000 empty houses in Ireland. We know building houses is going to be tricky because we have not been able to build for a whole year. We must look at the stock that is there and we do not have proper data on it. We must offer a carrot to the owners of these empty houses but we may also need a bit of a stick in the form of looking at the vacant property tax because it is not moving quick enough. There is a housing emergency and we must do much more. The local authority should be asked to do proper research on empty houses all over County Clare. Some people do not seem to know who owns what. We do not have proper data. A friend of mine is a statistician and was trying to research the housing issues and empty houses in Ireland. We do not have any proper data on that and it is time each local authority came up with clear data on all the empty houses, not just the ones that are registered, but all of them. We must look at what we need to do to give incentives. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his Department are looking at more incentives to get empty houses retrofitted and up to livable standard again. However, we have a huge stock of houses already existing in Ireland and we must start doing more to get those houses to the people who need them.
Regrettably, it is a bit like Groundhog Day, as the reopening of indoor dining on 5 July looks like another false dawn for the sector. I point out that indoor dining is already happening but it is happening exclusively for residents of hotels. I am one of the few privileged to be able to use that facility but even last night I was inside and there were people sitting outside. My locals were outside and my residents were inside. It is about the inequality.
The undisputed fact is that the requirements, regulations and operating procedures that allowed hotel restaurants to open up are the very same requirements as apply to indoor dining in restaurants and bars. There is absolutely no difference yet they will remain closed and it looks like they will remain closed for another four weeks. We had infectious diseases consultant Professor Paddy Malone stating that he just could not see how two weeks' delay is going to make any substantial difference to that. This morning on "Morning Ireland", Professor Cathal Walsh, from the NPHET modelling team, said projections showed there could be 1,000 cases per day in certain scenarios. He said the modelling suggested this could reduce to 900 per day if indoor dining does not open. Thus, the indoor dining is only accounting for 10% of the potential cases of the new Delta variant.
Politically, we are all taking credit for the great vaccine roll-out but where is the benefit in being vaccinated? Our adult population is now 40% fully vaccinated and these people are safe to eat indoors. The people of Ireland have acted very responsibly over the last 18 months with all the hardship that has been put on them. Can we not just give them that personal choice to decide they are going to eat indoors? We should allow them to make that personal decision. There are the numbers in hospital, in ICU, the number of cases and the variants. The yo-yo effect has to stop. We are already hearing about the Delta plus variant coming from India. Are we going to be back in here in another three weeks telling the industry it is not going to open again? The impact this is having is not just financial anymore. The impact it is having on the health and well-being of the staff and the business owners cannot be underestimated. I apologise to the Cathaoirleach for going over time.
I thank the Senator. I allowed extra time as I know it is an important issue for him personally but also for an entire industry.
Senator Seery Kearney raised the issue of hate crime and I happen to know personally the priest who fell victim to the abuse and the online abuse over the weekend. He is a Limerick man who is in charge of a church in Dublin. He has always been very inclusive and tried to work with people, including the most vulnerable in society. I therefore think it is time we had a debate on hate crime.
I support Senators Casey and Buttimer on the hospitality industry. It is time businesses got the clarity they need. I had a number of businesses in contact with me over the weekend. I am aware the Government has brought forward the decision-making process but we should have a debate on it in the House. We must have a responsible debate and do things responsibly. I support the call for a debate on this because as Senator Casey said, so many people have been vaccinated and are doing things in a responsible manner. It was proven that when restaurants, gastropubs and hotels were open for dining with table service there were no major outbreaks. It is something we can do very well in Ireland.
Conor Murray was appointed captain of the Lions rugby team over the weekend when Alun Wyn Jones, who was a very fine captain, got injured. I wish him a fast recovery. Conor Murray happens to be a member of my own club. He is also a very proud Garryowen, Munster and Ireland rugby player and it is a great honour for Ireland that we have a captain based in Ireland. I know his former schools, St. Munchin's College and Scoil Íde, are very proud of him as well. I wish him all the best in his term as captain. It is a proud day for Ireland.
I thank colleagues for their contributions. I echo what Senator Byrne has said. It is an ill wind that never blows any good and it is great news and will give a lift to all Irish people, particularly rugby fans, to have Conor Murray as captain. I wish the whole team every success in the tour.
A number of colleagues have asked for a debate tomorrow on the reopening. I must apologise because I do not think it is possible as the schedule for tomorrow is already set and I am not sure I would get a rearranged schedule. However, the frustration is absolutely palpable this morning, not just in here but everywhere, be it in one's local shop or chatting with friends in a WhatsApp group or on any social media channels. There was a poll done last week and I think the country was relatively evenly divided on whether we should open up fast or be cautious. If that poll was taken this week a different response might be got. I really do wish our Cabinet colleagues making the decision tomorrow well. I am very glad I am not going to be one of those making the decision because one would be caught between a rock and a hard place. There is absolutely no doubt that our hospitality and tourism industry, and indeed our companies which are reliant on tourists coming here and tourists leaving, are really on their knees and probably can take no more. However, at the same time, we must be mindful. Having made every decision in the public's best interest for the last year it would be awful to see us slip at the very last hurdle.
The Government is between a rock and a hard place but certainty is required and it would be better to get that as soon as possible. I acknowledge everybody's contributions on that issue. Senator Casey is right that it is like Groundhog Day. I fear that in the next few weeks we will be talking about the Delta plus variant. While NPHET has made a valuable contribution over the past year with its weekly and biweekly briefings, it would be mightily helpful and would not annoy people as much if its members went back to being advisers to Cabinet and did not give personal opinions on the airwaves every single day because it is driving people insane.
On Senator Fitzpatrick's point, I will respectfully decline the request to write a letter to the Minister because I already know the answer. We cannot change what An Bord Pleanála is doing until we change the legislation. I have invited the Minister to come in after he announces his Housing for All plan on 13 July, which we are looking forward to hearing and will all hopefully support. I have invited him to come in, time permitting, to have a debate on that as soon as possible.
Senator Gavan spoke about the review of the abortion legislation. It is imperative that the chairperson is truly independent. I was concerned when I heard him say that he believes, based on a Topical Issue debate, that we will not be proceeding with exclusion zones. Much as I appreciate that the one third of people who voted against the referendum are entitled to make their views known, and it is important that we do know them, it is a real pity that any woman should be intimidated while going about what she feels is right for her and making decisions for herself. I do not know what the difficulty is. I concur 100% that all medics should be able to make the decision themselves as to whether they will offer these services but that is no reason for every hospital not to be obligated to recruit people who will offer those services, which would not put anyone in an awkward position. For nine of our 17 hospitals not to offer services that are legal and available in the State is just not acceptable. Direction should be given to those nine hospitals to recruit people who will offer those services.
Senator Buttimer requested that a debate on reopening be held tomorrow. Again, I am sorry but I cannot do that. However, I will try to organise one as soon as I can because I do not think we are at the end of the debate on this matter.
Senator McGreehan talked about the Love This Place, Leave No Trace campaign. The fact that we are all spending so much more time outdoors means we are constantly reminded that we all need to share this space and be mindful of each other.
Senator Hoey asked for a debate on eating disorders. I will try to arrange that for the first week we come back or the second week in September.
I was in pain listening to what Senator Lombard said because I have a little lady at home who has gone through exactly the experience he spoke about. Approximately 10% of our population are made feel, through no fault of their own, like they are inadequate or that there is something wrong with them when there is not. I agree that we should change the Drumcondra test but we should also change the fact that when parents are made get that test so the child can be diagnosed as dyslexic, it does not get them any extra resources unless the relevant school has a central pool. What is the point of acknowledging that a child has an issue without giving him or her the required help to get them through?
Senator Ardagh talked about sinking funds. She is right and maybe a review of the local property tax could help. Organisations that built houses in the 1990s did not have the right regulations in place to ensure proper planning. I will send a letter to the Minister and ask for a debate on that.
I am sorry but I do not know how to get Senator Craughwell the answers he is looking for. I know how passionate he is about this issue. I will write to the Secretary General of the Department today asking about the three issues he highlighted with regard to night vision, the undercarriage buckets and the incubators, and will come back to him on it.
Senator Seery Kearney spoke eloquently about a priest in Ballyfermot she knows. I said last week or the week before that we take so much for granted and think everything is fine. However, we know from examples of what happened over the weekend, as well as in Waterford and Capel Street, that not everything is fine. We should never take anything for granted and we should say often and proud that love is love no matter what shape or size someone is. We should continuously make sure we say that, and not just in Pride Week or Pride Month because the intimidation our colleagues, friends and family members suffer does not just happen in June; it happens all year round. We should say that loud and often.
Senator Gallagher talked about the new programme of sexual consent classes that will be available in universities this summer, arising from the Union of Students in Ireland survey last year. With respect, if we did a wider survey of all women in Ireland, and even some men, we might find that the shocking statistics about university students reflect Irish society as a whole. We have an issue whereby people do not know when to take "No" for an answer or where to draw the line. The consent classes should not just be available if people want to go. They should be made compulsory for all people in third level institutions in first year. They should also be repeated in second or third year and introduced into some secondary schools at an earlier age.
I ask Senator Black to send me a copy of the letter she read out. I will certainly ask for a debate on that issue. Again, I am not sure I will get access to the Minister in the next few weeks but she needs to read that letter and be mindful of her responsibility to the entire sector. I am conscious of the decisions that are being made about reopening tomorrow and I do not mean to pre-empt them but if we are going to keep hospitality and tourism closed for the next few weeks the cut-off for new entrants to the PUP on 1 July has to be extended or abolished until we allow reopening. That is also true of the live entertainment industry.
Senator Boylan spoke about the daft.ie report that was issued yesterday. As I said, we will have a debate on housing when the Minister comes before us on 13 July to launch his new housing policy. I look forward to that.
Senator Martin spoke eloquently. He is absolutely right that this is a shared island and we need to be respectful and mindful of everybody on it. I am not quite sure I could have been so forgiving as Gordon Wilson. It is a testament to the man and his wife arising from their loss.
Senator Sherlock asked for a statutory inquiry into Terence Wheelock's passing. It is awful to think that, 16 years later, a family is still fighting for justice. The most I can offer is to write a letter to the Minister for Justice asking about the status of that investigation and what the plans for it are. I will send the Senator a copy of the Minister's response when she comes back to me.
The most interesting thing Senator Keogan brought up this morning, apart from her frustrations, was the article about Singapore that came out on Sunday. I read it too. Sometimes it is frustrating to watch other countries that are so much further ahead in their thinking. We all accept that just because we are all going to get vaccinated, please God, in the next few months, Covid is not just going to wilt away. It is probably going to take a number of years. We all need to be planning how best to live alongside Covid, particularly those who do not want to get vaccinated and our children, for whom no plans have been made yet. That was a very interesting article and I acknowledge the Senator's frustration.
Senator Kyne talked about the planning process and the debacle that happened in Athenry a number of years ago. In the new regulations and plans that will be announced for critical infrastructure legislation, we need to be mindful that we cannot hinder progress. However, we also have to allow people to assert their rights when they have genuine reasons for doing so.
Senator Chambers opened today's proceedings by referring to the endometriosis seminar she organised. I have been promising a debate on maternal health for the last few months. Again, September will give us a bit more space and opportunity to discuss some of these matters as we will not have as much legislation to get through. I will organise that as quickly as I can.
I will be accepting Senator Gavan's amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Gavan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 19 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that she is willing to accept it. Is that agreed? Agreed.