That is exactly what it is but I fear that we may be back here in a couple of months talking about four vaccine doses. We need to genuinely learn how to live with Covid. We need to really recognise the seasonality around it. We absolutely need to support businesses and workers to make sure they do not feel the ill-effects of Covid. We have tried to cushion them over the last 18 months and it is important that we keep doing so.
Senator Boylan spoke about the motor insurance industry report. It is really disappointing to learn today about profits of €163 million, particularly when most of our insurance premia have either gone up or have stayed the same simply because we were able to move to another provider. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fleming, has acknowledged that there is a considerable amount of work to be done to ensure that the insurance industry respects us as customers and recognises that our children will be the customers of the future. Insurers need to cop themselves on and start valuing their customers. Otherwise, people will use their feet and take their business elsewhere.
Senator Ahearn described what I think is an intolerable situation. I seem to be in a very critical mood today but I do not understand the logic of what we have seen with schools in the last number of months. We have spent the last year telling parents and children that schools are the safest place to be in the country. We have been telling people that Covid did not get inside the door of schools and if children got Covid, they caught it in the playground or in their best friend's granny's house or in some place other than school. That is not to say that school staff have not done everything possible to make sure that both teachers and pupils are safe. For me, it was illogical to stop contact tracing for children in schools. Telling children to carry on going to school if they had no symptoms absolutely beggars belief. We scratch our heads and wonder why this time next week or the week after we will be looking at 7,000 cases per day or, at the most pessimistic, 10,000 per day. We stopped contact tracing for children who are not vaccinated which leaves me more than scratching my head.
I welcome the news that they will look again at the way we deal with Covid in schools and crèches . I will relay that to Senator Ahearn when I see him later.
Senator Crowe, because of his personal engagement with the industry in Galway, talked about how we need to reintroduce the rates waiver and the CRSS supports for businesses. Members in this House and in the Lower House have today called for the reinstatement of the PUP. I remind Members that the EWSS is there, and it has not been reduced. It will continue to be there for many months. It will probably be there for longer than we had originally anticipated, right up until March or April of next year. It will encourage employers to put and keep staff on their books and to use the EWSS to ensure that they support their employees with their incomes.
Senator Seery Kearney talked about something that I read with much joy, even though it was tinged with sadness in another way, about the Women's Aid campaign with the hair and beauty industry. I think she is correct, and it may be as true for the fellas as it is for the girls. When you get your hair cut the barber listens to you moaning and groaning and when you get your hair done - perhaps it is a little bit longer for girls - you get a whole session of therapy because they certainly know how to listen to our woes and to advise us. They are wonderful people and they do more than just make us look good. This is a real example of women looking out for women. It is an awful pity that we have to do this. It is a devastation on us as a society and that is not just true of Ireland. The increase in reported cases of domestic violence in the past 18 months is a real blight and slight on us as communities, but the fact that we are talking about it far more openly these days is good. I commend the campaign and also the yellow sticker campaign. It is a lovely and very welcome initiative. I thank the Senator for bringing it up here today.
Senator Buttimer talked about the midnight closure and making sure the EWSS will not end. He is correct – it is not just me, I think I can speak for nearly all of us – that we are beyond frustrated at the lack of use of antigen testing in this country. I do not understand it. I somewhat understand how that was the case some months ago when medical advisers were afraid that we did not know how to do an antigen test, but that boat has long since sailed. We should be getting subsidised antigen tests. The UK was well ahead of us on this initiative. Antigen tests should be sent to people's homes on a weekly basis to make sure that we know when we are infectious and that we curb our activities on that basis and that nobody is running around with a negative test thinking "Woohoo, they're deadly". It is to make sure that people with positive tests change and curb their behaviour.
Senator Boyhan called for a debate on healthcare. We will organise that. Senator Maria Byrne talked about this morning's report from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the directly elected mayor. I am excited about this and not just because I hope that Limerick is going to get a well resourced and powerful person to look after the city, but it will give confidence to people in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kilkenny to make sure that they do the same. We need to see autonomy within those cities and people being able to make revenue-raising and revenue-spending decisions locally for the people they represent and to whom they will be directly responsible, as opposed to the management system that we have now.
Senator O'Sullivan spoke about home drinking. He had a wonderful suggestion. I do not know who I will write to, but I will find out who the appropriate person is, such as the likes of Musgraves or the liquor producers. It was a very good suggestion to make sure that we have a unit measure. We have a tiny little egg cup in our house, but it probably is not anything close to what it should be. That was a very good suggestion and I thank the Senator for raising it. I will bring it up with somebody.
Senator Sherlock talked about the PUP. I remind Members that the EWSS is there. It is something the Taoiseach will relay to everybody this evening in his state of the nation address at 6.30 p.m.
Senator Warfield talked about the regulation of the tech giants. That is welcome. I was not aware of the issue he raised. I had to get it sent to me. I will not beat about the bush with him; it does surprise me. It is welcome that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media is serious in its intent to make sure that those people who have such a massive influence not just on daily life but on how we feel, think, operate and behave are going to be regulated because it is long overdue. Margrethe Vestager is taking things by the scruff of the neck and trying to do something on a European basis. She is a woman of many talents and a personality of steel. She is not afraid to tackle the big issues. We have felt that before in Ireland.
It is a pity that we would try to have private conversations. I will follow up on that and come back to the Senator. It is welcome, from the committee's perspective, that the engagement is happening to make sure that we tackle this issue.
Senator Garvey talked about the fact that it is national clean air week. The Cathaoirleach briefly mentioned India. I am not sure when I read it that I really fully understood the full extent of it, that children were being sent home for a week in Delhi because the air is of such poor quality that it would harm them and they cannot be let outside. I do not think we have ever had that or anything like that in Ireland. We have an opportunity to make sure that we never do. I thank Senator Garvey for raising something that the Green Party has ensured is in our programme for Government. We will respond accordingly. Some of the mammies here would probably have a bit of a laugh, in that when their children were small, they might have wanted to drive them up to the door and throw them through the window so that they did not have to walk. I do not know whether that was a safety issue or just warped thinking on our part.
Senator Carrigy talked about GP shortages. A simple response to this, for both in rural general practices and in recruiting doctors for the hospitals, is to have a hell of a lot more than 350 recruits every single year. If we only put 350 people into the training, then only 350 people can come out. We know that they do not all stay. Many finish their training and then leave. We need to increase the numbers. The Minister, Deputy Harris, can look at that. I will refer that matter to him and come back to the Senator.
Senator Chambers opened by mentioning what we have witnessed, which is the disgraceful treatment of human beings by the Polish and Belarusian Governments, as people try to escape into Poland from Belarus. The Senator is right to make the appeal to both ends. The sanctions need to be made against Lukashenko. He obviously does not give two hoots about the people who he constantly says that he cherishes and about whom he says it is a pleasure and privilege for him to be their leader. His actions certainly do not match his stated intentions. The real plea has to be to the people on the Polish side of the border to say that these are human beings and to push them back and potentially damage them, as they have in the last week, is a shame and a slight on humanity. Nobody should have to live in squalor or deprivation, especially those people who are fleeing in fear of their own lives. It is up to the European Union to make sure that it takes appropriate sanctions and takes them fast.