The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion re early signature of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Bill 2021, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion re extension of the period of operation of sections 1 to 7, inclusive, and 9 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to conclude at 2 p.m., with the time allocated for the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed five minutes, all Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2021 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after three hours by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I would like to express condolences and sympathies on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group to the families and individuals who lost their lives in the English Channel. It was a really tragic event and all our thoughts are with the individuals. We ask the acting Leader to write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and our MEPs in Europe to emphasise again to them the desire of this House and all the citizens of Ireland for the EU to take a strong role in providing safe routes to security for those who desperately need them.
Today is UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It marks the start of 16 days of activism, which Senator Sharon Keogan referenced earlier this week. Over the next 16 days, it would be appropriate if this House could facilitate a debate with the Minister for Justice on efforts to eliminate violence against women.
I also want to raise the issue of housing and homelessness. There are more than 8,000 people homeless today in Ireland and more than 2,300 of them are under 18 years of age. Housing for All, the Government's action plan, commits to eliminating homelessness by 2030. It commits to greater targets in Housing First and €20 billion in a State-led provision of 300,000 homes. Some 90,000 of those homes will be social homes and almost 60,000 of them affordable homes, using State-owned land to reduce the cost of provision of housing.
Focus Ireland has a radio ad that Members may have heard. In that ad, a little girl talks about how she is living in a hotel and her little brother cannot stop crying because he wants to go home. Anybody who has heard that ad has to have been touched. Far too many children are being born into homelessness. That is why the Government has made the unprecedented €20 billion commitment to invest in the provision of housing for our people.
Today, I would like to ask every Member, and in particular those in opposition, to put politics aside and to do the right thing, not just by people who are homeless, but people who are at risk of homelessness and people who desperately want to own their own home. This week, we saw Dublin City Council finally, after more than 30 years, approve a plan for 850 public homes and social and affordable homes on State-owned land, and it was opposed by Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and Labour. This hypocrisy is morally bankrupt at a time many of our citizens desperately need housing. When the State is committing €20 billion and State-owned lands are being used and being provided to deliver public housing, it is wrong for any politician of any party or none to oppose the provision of housing, to object to it, to lake legal cases against it or to block it. I ask them to stop.
I ask that the Minister for Health be called in as a matter of urgency regarding the winter plan he announced a week ago. I recall that, last year, it was announced in the second-last week of September and it was a winter plan for October to March, yet this winter plan was only announced a week ago. That has raised concerns for the public, although it is welcome that there will be an increased number of ICU beds, which have gone from 300 to 350.
I was looking at the nationwide trolley count this morning. Some 274 people were on trolleys this morning and even though that sounds a lot, it is actually quite good because, earlier in the month, the figure was above 500. However, there is always a fear that it will go up again. To take some examples, Limerick University Hospital this morning has 45 people on trolleys, and that is after an extra 100 beds were put into that hospital. My colleagues, Senators Maria Byrne and Martin Conway, have brought this up previously, and the acting Leader will also know the situation in Galway. We need to have a serious discussion with the Minister on the management of hospitals. If we are bringing 100 beds into a hospital, we should surely see a difference in the trolley count. To compare that to Tipperary University Hospital in my home town of Clonmel, a 40-bed modular unit was started by the Tánaiste when he was Minister for Health and it was delivered by Deputy Simon Harris, his successor, and opened a number of weeks ago. Today, it has zero people on trolleys. It is expected to get an extra 33 beds in the St. Michael's unit, which acts as an overflow for the hospital. This just shows that, in the management of hospitals, one hospital in Clonmel has zero people on trolleys, or very few, after getting an extra 40 beds, but Limerick University Hospital, after getting an extra 100 beds, still had 45 this morning and last week had 95. There is a need for the Minister to come to the House to outline his vision for the next number of months.
A number of people have contacted me about weddings in the next weeks and months, in particular regarding the closing time of hotels. One of the biggest changes made in recent weeks is that residents' bars are closed at midnight. While I totally agree with that, I believe there should be an exception for weddings. If weddings are going to be on in hotels from 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., people are going to be there for eight or nine hours. What difference does it make if it closes at 12 midnight or 2 a.m.? Predominantly, residents at weddings are family members - it is a brother, a sister-in-law or people we are with every day. It does not make a difference. There is a real frustration for people who have had their weddings delayed three, four or five times in the past two years. They are now being told they can go ahead but, even though they are with their family every day of the week, they cannot be with them after 12 midnight.
There are a couple of issues I want to raise this morning. First, we all received an email with regard to the pay and conditions of secretarial assistants for Senators. Currently, they are earning €24,400 per year, which equates to €11.75 an hour. There was to be a meeting with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in 2019 and this meeting has not taken place.
Will the acting Leader please organise a meeting about the pay of secretarial assistants? They help each of us in our work and it is important they get a living wage.
Several Members spoke yesterday about the continuous use of vaccine passports or extending their use and limiting the number of services the unvaccinated can access. If we follow the science on this, it is clear that having a Covid certificate does not stop a person carrying the virus, passing on the virus or getting the virus. New evidence this morning states that the efficacy of the second Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine only lasts 90 days. We can see what is happening throughout the world where millions of people are protesting on this very issue. People are being forced to take vaccinations against their will and those who refuse are locked out of society. We need to wake up. If people must show papers to move around and to access food, services or travel, that is not freedom or democracy. I caution those in this House to stop the persecution of the people who for many reasons, including medical reasons, cannot get the vaccination. Some people may have got their first vaccination and, due to complications, cannot get their second vaccination. Others simply do not want the vaccination at this early stage. The Lancet, one of the world's most prestigious medical journals, has published an article asserting that people who are not getting vaccinated are being bullied. The unvaccinated are being stigmatised and that is not justified.
Our nation, people and businesses are suffering at the hands of the mismanaged health service. The people of this nation must, once again, shoulder the cost. We certainly do not want Senators adding to the fear that drives division in our society.
I will move on to talk about cybercrime in Ireland. A Grant Thornton report stated there was a 50% increase in the level of cybercrime in 2020. Furthermore, it is estimated that cybercrime cost the economy €9.6 billion last year, an astronomical increase from the €630 million estimated by Grant Thornton in 2014. The cyberattack on the HSE, combined with pressures caused by Covid-19, left the healthcare system in anarchy, with an 80% drop in the number of appointments in the days after the attack. Staff struggled to cope. The effects have been felt in the months since. The increases in spam emails, texts and calls to millions of our citizens since the attack must surely be a concern for us all. I have questions about the HSE. Has any assessment been carried out on the damage this has caused? Has there been analysis of what types of data have been leaked, and the level of that leak? Will those findings be made public? Perhaps the Minister for Justice could be asked to come to the House to discuss this issue and how it will be dealt with.
Who ever said Covid certificates stop people getting Covid?
"Do not be despondent." So began a recent email to me from Mr. Fergal Monaghan, project manager of the Hen Harrier Project, which is supported by my Department. He was referring to this year's provisional breeding results of this protected bird, which were disappointing, to say the least. However, he went on to say that all of these things have ups and downs, good years and bad years, but it is the overall trend that is important. What we must do is to provide these birds with an environment that makes that improvement possible, reduces their vulnerability to predators and minimises disturbance by human activity.
During the summer, I had the opportunity to visit one of the hen harrier sites in the Slieve Bloom Mountains on the border between counties Laois and Offaly, where I had the chance to speak with some of the farmers involved in the project. There was a great sense of pride and sense of place that comes with collective community engagement and that brings an area to life.
One of the most important places for the hen harrier is Athea, County Limerick. I have not yet had the opportunity to visit but I understand that the hen harrier is held in such a position of pride that the village has changed the sign on its outskirts to include a hen harrier. The village has a landscaped, hen harrier walk along the river. There is even a statue of a hen harrier in the village. Positivity among the people who share a landscape is probably one of the best protections that any species could have, perhaps even better than any number of designations, laws, regulations or new rangers. We need to harness that.
I witnessed that same positivity clearly last week in County Offaly when I was honoured to be invited to attend St. Brendan's Community School in Birr for its relaunch of the Killaun Bog boardwalk almost 30 years after it was originally launched by former President, Mary Robinson. This is a heart-lifting story of a community working together and the sense of pride of place that comes with that. This community was ahead of its time in laying that boardwalk through the stunning Killaun Bog and it was great to have the chance to meet and talk with Mr. Mick Spain, one of the people who laid the original boardwalk all those years ago. The evening was made extra special because renowned botanist and local man, Mr. John Feehan, was launching his latest book, When the Nightjar Returns, which is all about the history of Killaun Bog, its rich habitat and what the future may hold. "A rainforest on our doorstep" was how Mr. Feehan described it, and he is right. This is an extraordinary place and exceptional too are the community and the students of St. Brendan's who are so intent on conserving it.
At the end of the day, nature needs our help and the story of Killaun Bog is a shining light for many other communities across the country that are passionate about protecting nature, preserving what is there and, where possible, restoring it to its former glory. There are some who wish to continue to plunder our natural resources but I want to champion those who wish to protect it, such as the students of St. Brendan's whose understanding and appreciation of nature, climate action and biodiversity is encouraging. I have no doubt they will be the driving force for a brighter future. Let us hope that one day the nightjar will indeed make its return to Killaun Bog.
I raise the issue of our secretarial staff, on the back of a very powerful meeting that many of us attended at 10.30 this morning. Their starting rate of pay is €11.75 per hour. A living wage is €12.90. They have no job security. I have lost two excellent colleagues because they could not afford to keep working in the job. My current secretarial assistant, a fantastic guy, had to move back in with his parents because he cannot afford to rent.
We all know that the title of "secretarial assistant" is a complete misnomer. These people do the same jobs as parliamentary assistants but are paid dramatically less. Parliamentary assistants start on a salary of €41,000. I want to approach this on a cross-party basis because all parties had representatives on that call this morning. There is huge frustration that nothing has been done. Two years ago, we had an excellent debate in this Chamber and we all supported the motion demanding that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform meet with the representatives of these workers and engage with them properly. I mean this respectfully and not to be confrontational, but that meeting never took place and still has not taken place. The union has surveyed these workers and presented all the evidence. From what I can see, the HR department is in agreement with the union. The blockage is with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, so much so that a union representative told us that it did not even send decision-makers to the most recent talks. What is being offered to them is 3% over a year. That is a pay cut. We have inflation of 5%. All of us know that these people are not paid properly The current set-up means those workers will probably leave because there is no future for them working as secretarial assistants.
The union has made a series of constructive suggestions not just relating to an increase in pay and regrading the position of secretarial assistant, which must happen, but also on issues such as the conversion of overtime pay to an allowance and compressing the scale. One thing I did not know until this week is that the scale takes 18 years. It is completely out of whack with other scales. We have a collective responsibility to deliver for these secretarial assistants. Let us be clear: we have the power, as parliamentary representatives, to do that. All that is lacking is the political will. I mean it respectfully when I ask the acting Leader to give us a commitment that he will get the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to meet these people and that he will get that Minister to ensure the right people from the Department go to the next set of talks, engage meaningfully and deliver.
We cannot let the term of this Parliament end without the issue of our secretarial assistants finally being resolved.
I also attended that very powerful meeting this morning. The mark of an employer is how well they pay and treat their workers. It is a stain on all of us here in this House, as employers, that our secretarial assistants are paid at the current rate. We cannot control their pay, but there are things that we can do to make sure it changes.
Senator Gavan eloquently set out all the arguments. When I look at the figures, I see that a secretarial assistant is paid 41% less than a parliamentary assistant to a Deputy. Anybody in this House who is a former Deputy might tell us whether there is proportionately 41% less work involved in being a Senator than in being a Deputy.
It is very clear that there is not. In 2018, SIPTU lodged the pay claim. In 2019, we had the motion in this House. It is now 2021 and there has still been no progress. We must figure this out right across the House. As Senator Gavan said, we cannot allow this Seanad's term to conclude and have secretarial assistants still being treated so shamefully by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We had domestic violence, rape and other forms of violence against women in this country long before the State was ever set up, but, in particular, we have had them during the pandemic. We saw a frightening escalation in the number of reports to the Garda last year. Women's Aid alone received 30,000 calls in 2020. How many women are present in the Chamber today? Data from Women's Aid show that one in four women in this country has been she has been abused by a current or former partner. That is frightening. Not only is there a personal cost to the women and their families, there is also a societal cost, an economic cost in terms of their jobs and a cost in terms of access to housing among other issues.
Ireland signed up to the Istanbul Convention, which was ratified in 2019, but we have a long way to go to meet the commitments under it. One of those commitments relates to the number of refuges in this country. There are nine counties with no refuge. Senator Ward has spoken about the lack of a refuge in Dún Laoghaire. Huge credit is due to the refuges in Stepaside and Coolock, which I have had dealings with over the years. If the Government is to do anything, it must put in place a greater number of refuges so that women are not left short when they are in desperate need of urgent care.
I echo the sentiments expressed by the previous speaker on secretarial assistants. In the previous Seanad we all signed a cross-party motion to bring change in this area, but the change has not come. We only have to look at the Bill I introduced which was discussed during Private Members' business yesterday, and which was drafted by my secretarial assistant. That is the level of skill, input, knowledge and experience that goes into our offices. Secretarial assistants do a lot, but on a secretarial assistant's wage. We must bring a similar motion back to the House and agree again on the contents of the motion in light of the make-up of the new Seanad. It is a disgrace that we have not done anything. We talk about equal pay for equal work in these Houses, but we do not implement it within our own institution. That does not make sense.
If we cannot introduce quality pay based on experience and expertise, then how can we promote our ideals in a wider sense in terms of society and democracy? We must fix what is happening in-house.
Regarding gender-based violence, I met with a woman last night from the Tallaght community. I knew of her many years ago, but I had not heard much about her for years. She has experienced a huge amount of trauma throughout her lifetime, but I will not go into that on the floor of the House. In the past eight weeks she was inspired by her own experiences and by the lack of community that exists in many spaces now. She looked at how she could bring women back together in spaces in working class communities. She set up what are called Sister Sheds, where women from different walks of life, mainly those from Tallaght, Ballyfermot and Finglas, can meet. Women are popping up everywhere. In the space of eight weeks, 1,000 women are engaging with this one woman to try to help her create a safe space in their communities where women can get together and talk.
The reason I mention this is because it is very difficult for grassroots initiatives that grow organically like that to get support. We are told that it is necessary to have a company limited by guarantee and that charitable status is required to apply for a small bit of funding to pay for a room. I have committed to covering the cost of one of the Sister Sheds groups. If any Dublin representatives in this House or in the Lower House want to support such a group, they could also take on paying the costs of one of those rooms in their constituency where the women can meet once a week and support each other. Refuge is one answer, but there is a prevention piece that can happen when women come together to support each other. It would be great if we could support such initiatives.
I agree with the many speakers who spoke up for our secretaries. In response to what Senator Sherlock said, I was a Deputy and two people worked with me. My secretary is doing the work of two people. Incredibly, on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays she is doing work that I would not ask anybody to do. These people are so committed and dedicated. I hope we can solve this issue as quickly as possible.
I support all of the people who have spoken here this morning about violence against women. We must all work very hard to ensure that we stamp it out. In that regard, I welcome the funding announced to date by the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to help a number of groups with the issue. The Government is going to address this issue as soon as possible, and I hope it will do all the right things.
I will finish with a plea for the pony racing industry, which you know well in your part of the country, a Chathaoirligh, in the south - in Kerry and in Cork. There are races in Dingle. Senator Paddy Burke knows about the races in Galway and there are also races in my county of Roscommon and in parts of Meath. Pony racing is such a part of the community all over the country. Pony racing has produced the finest jockeys who have become worldwide names. The sector is struggling and it gets no funding. Despite Horse Racing Ireland getting a budget of almost €80 million, it claims it can give no funding to pony racing.
I also wish to deal with another aspect of the matter. Many a young lad and lassie in the community can go a little bit wild, if I can use that term with respect. Many of them have been brought on board by people in the horse racing industry and they have turned out to be incredible leaders. There is no doubt about it. Apart from the joy of it, the fact is that this has been such a brilliant process for helping people who might be getting into a little bit of bother to get back on track. I appeal that a small amount of funding, less than €100,000 per annum, could be given to that business in order to ensure that it survives. If it does not survive, we will pay a huge cost.
I echo the comments of a number of colleagues on pay for our secretarial assistants. Michelle who works for me - she worked for me even prior to my being elected here - does the work of a parliamentary assistant. I second Senator Ruane's proposal that we look at bringing forward a cross-party motion and that we push it and make sure it happens, long before our term finishes.
Given the week that is in it, I ask eager shoppers to please shop local on Black Friday and in the run-up to Christmas.
Green Friday Ireland is a movement to highlight the value of small businesses in local communities. Traditionally, Black Friday is a global day of mass consumerism, with large multinationals benefiting the most. Once again this year I am asking people to think before they click. People believe in supporting their communities. If you shop local, you are supporting local businesses. Google searches for "Black Friday in Ireland" have soared 138% on last year. As well as researching what to buy Irish shoppers are keen to shop local, with searches for “near me” increasing by 50%. When you go into a local shop, you are supporting the local producers, employment in the shop and the businesses and the services that they, in turn, spend their wages on. It is estimated that every €1 spent in Irish retail generates up to €250 in the economy. Anyone involved in a community group - whether it is in the GAA, a parents association, or a soccer club - knows that every year their local businesses support these groups with spot prizes, etc. This is something to remember. Amazon will not support your local football team when you are looking for a spot prize.
Shop local and make sure we have a green Friday and a green Monday, not a Cyber Monday.
If people are shopping local, they might also shop Irish, while they are at it. I call on Senator Craughwell.
I might be so bold as to suggest that at some stage we would refuse to process legislation, while our secretarial assistants are being treated the way they are being treated. This came before the commission three years ago, when I was sitting on it and nothing has been done. It is really outrageous. In any other organisation the secretarial assistants would be supported. We should consider whether or not we would be unwilling to process legislation until there is some action. I spoke yesterday about the overarching power of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We need to re-examine whether we do need a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It was needed at the time it was brought in, but I am not so sure that it is needed now.
I read today and yesterday in the newspapers of Ireland’s inability to protect the undersea cables coming into this country. The reason is that An Garda Síochána are responsible for it, but they do not go to sea. The Naval Service could go to sea, if they had enough people. The Naval Service is currently operating at 65% capacity. I am going to suggest something today that people outside would scream to the high heavens about. It is time we had a referendum in this country to increase our number of senior Ministers. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, is a wonderful Minister for Foreign Affairs. He is held in high esteem across the world. Asking him to be Minister for Defence at the same time simply does not work. Having the same person hold the role of Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and the role of Minister for Transport does not work. There are too many different issues calling on their time. The bottom line, from a defence point of view, is that this country is being left defenseless. Soon, one of the fastest cables in the world is going to land in the Acting Leader’s constituency in Galway. It will come down from Iceland. We cannot protect that. We do not have the legislation to protect it or the personnel to protect it. I think that there is nobody in charge of defence and security in this country. We have to do something about that urgently.
This morning I want to raise a serious situation that is happening at the moment in Navan. Production has been halted in Tara Mines. People will know that Tara Mines is the largest zinc mine in Europe. It is critical to the economy of my town, but also to the wider north-east area, because some 700 people are directly employed in that mine where production has halted. Many hundreds more people are indirectly employed as well. Yesterday, while drilling a pilot raise borehole for a ventilation shaft, a high flow of water was encountered. That caused the production to be stopped. The flow of volume of water exceeded the capacity of the de-watering infrastructure in the mine. It is a serious situation. Production has been stopped for health and safety, to protect the infrastructure and the equipment and to try to eliminate unnecessary addition of water into the mine. I am seeking any assistance that the State can give Tara Mines this morning. Various taoisigh have visited the mine due to its critical importance to our export market and to our economy. It is a specialised area. We should consider any support that we can give to it. As I said, it is the largest zinc mine in Europe. There are 700 people employed there. Exploration was currently ongoing where a new body of ore was identified that would add an extra 50 years to life of this mine. We cannot see that jeopardised. Given the seriousness of the situation, anything that we can do as a State to assist these people this morning, I will do so, for the workers and for the future of the mine.
I join with colleagues in support of the need for secretarial assistants to have their pay rate increased. Senator Gavan spoke about the meeting. Maybe the Cathaoirleach, as a member of the commission, might explain to the House why the commission has not supported or made a recommendation that secretarial assistants of the Seanad would be promoted to the position of parliamentary assistant? The role, as we all accept, has changed and evolved since it began in this House. We need a bit of honesty in this House as Members about our staff. The role is not secretarial assistant; it is parliamentary assistant. As Senator Ruane rightly said, it is about drafting legislation, doing social media, researching legislation, writing speeches, answering queries, interacting with the public, lobby groups and NGOs and working with councillors. That is the role of a parliamentary assistant, in my opinion. We should be honest as Members. The Cathaoirleach, the Ceann Comhairle and members of the commission should support the change in the position from secretarial assistant to parliamentary assistant. That is what we should be doing if we are to be honest about it. Let us stop the pussyfooting and the carry on. The commission should lead on this matter in my opinion.
I want to make a second point this morning in the time left to me. I ask that the deputy Chief Medical Officer would apologise to the Irish people following his remarks history about schools. We were told repeatedly that schools were safe places.
We were told repeatedly by a multitude of people, from the Taoiseach, to the Tánaiste, to NPHET members. Does he think we live in comical Ali world, or what? That is part of our problem. The messaging is confusing people. I would appeal to the members of NPHET and members of Government to use their language carefully to bring people with them.
I want to agree with what has been said about our secretarial assistants’ pay.
I want to begin by expressing my deepest sympathy and devastation at the loss of 27 souls in the channel between England and France. It is timely to call for statements on support for refugees. I do not want to call this a refugee crisis because the implication there is that somehow the refugees, the people themselves, are the crisis. In an actual fact, the real crisis primarily comprises the political, economic, military, ecological and environmental policies that are driven by so-called developed states, most of which are in the West.
We have heard about the problem of smugglers exploiting these people. That of course is the case, but smugglers exist to exploit a particular situation. They step in where exploitation is available to them. When you adopt policies like a "fortress Europe" approach, when you vote in the European Parliament to diminish search and rescue operations for refugees fleeing oppression and military occupation or ecological devastation, then of course people will flee. Of course people will seek refuge. It was not so long ago that that was us. We used to call these boats “coffin ships”. That used to be us fleeing that devastation. We have a key role, not just as members of the European Union, but particularly given our position on the United Nations Security Council to ensure that Ireland is a voice for people fleeing and seeking refuge around the world. People like mysefl and Senator Alice-Mary Higgins have been raising for years now in this House the reorientation of our Defence Forces away from search and rescue capacity, as we are drifting worryingly ever-closer to an EU army.
Given the tragedy in the Channel between France and England, it is timely that we have an update from the Minister for Foreign Affairs on what the State is doing to ensure that those seeking refuge can avail of it here and across the EU.
Before I call on Senator McGreehan, I agree with some of Senator Ó Donnghaile's sentiments regarding this issue. I was in Italy when the foreign affairs committees came together to reduce Operation Mare Nostrum from an area of many hundreds of thousands of square miles to just a couple of thousand square miles, which would clearly have the effect of people dying quietly in the Mediterranean Sea. That was a policy decision. What is now happening with the Libyan regime is a policy decision of the EU. There is little point in politicians crying crocodile tears when it is on the news, as people are dying every day in the seas off Europe.
That is a policy decision that was taken a number of years ago to reduce the search and rescue operation, knowing what the consequences would be for refugees. Bear in mind that most of those refugees are created by situations that were largely exacerbated by European countries many decades or centuries ago.
Hear, hear. I agree with the Cathaoirleach's sentiments.
Today is day 1 of 16 days of action against gender-based violence. For the next 16 days, I urge Senators as basic humans, as legislators, as parents and as sisters or brothers to consider how we can act at an individual level to eradicate gender-based violence. They say that domestic violence has been the shadow pandemic for the past two years, but gender-based violence was simply more hidden before Covid. It reached breaking point during Covid and people could take no more. We must remember that the people and families that were tortured by domestic violence were tortured before Covid as well. Gender-based violence of every kind is on the rise, for example, sexual harassment and rape. It is relentless. It is horrifying to think about what people have to put up with in life.
It is up to us. For the next 16 days, I urge all Senators to talk to their friends and colleagues when sitting with them at the bar and to ask themselves how they as human beings can work to support their friends and colleagues if they are going through this at home. I call on Senators to support their local refuges, Safe Ireland and anyone they think might be going through this. I have no doubt that there are people in this House who are going through it.
I am fundraising for Women's Aid Dundalk. I will send Senators a donation link if they want to support it. It does incredible work in Dundalk and elsewhere in north County Louth. We have a fantastic refuge and system. Women's Aid Dundalk has worked against all odds for the women and children of north County Louth to create a space that is a safe place and safe home for them to go to and to give them a better life.
I wish to associate myself with Senator McGreehan's remarks. We need to do everything we can to highlight gender-based violence. The problem is that, in many instances, we do not know. There is a culture of masking it and pretending that everything is right when it is not. As such, it is good that we have 16 days to highlight it.
Every Thursday morning, I come to the Chamber and give out about what I have heard at the Joint Committee on Disability Matters. This morning, though, I bring good news. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, appeared before us. To say that she is impressive and on top of her brief would be putting it mildly. She is extraordinary. I asked her about the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, the lead-up to the ratification of the optional protocol by the Government, what work was under way and whether she was driving it. She is driving an impressive group comprising representatives from all Departments as well as activists and advocacy groups from across the country. The voices of people with disabilities are being listened to and are at the table. That is what this is about, namely, nothing about us without us. To drill down and hear about the implementation of change for people with disabilities has been impressive.
The Minister of State gave a shout-out to two bodies that I am proud to amplify in the Chamber. One was the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, under the Tánaiste, who is our party leader, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, in terms of workplace changes. She also noted the extraordinary work being done across the country by the Office of Public Works, OPW, in particular. That work provides access to monuments and public buildings, opportunities to get out and about, etc. The OPW is under the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. I wish to pay tribute to all of that and to supply some good news for a change.
I thank the Senator for sharing that with us this morning.
I commend Into Kildare, the main tourism body in Kildare, which ran a fantastic conference last week in the stunningly beautiful Kilkea Castle. It was a celebration of the resilience and ambition of people and stakeholders in Kildare. I hope that other counties have such fantastic local bodies on the ground.
Something that we in Kildare are keeping a close eye on is the prospect of a bank holiday on St. Brigid's Day. It would give an uplift to the county of Kildare in particular. All public representatives support it and the Green Party has been discussing this since before Covid. We are delighted that others have joined in or are stronger in their support for it. It is a non-party political issue, just like climate change. I envisage this bank holiday being particularly strong for Kildare. We could put on workshops in schools and hold something like a summer school to mark the start of the new season. That is important. The Taoiseach is open-minded about this but the Tánaiste on radio today gave the strongest hint to date - it is his portfolio specifically - that the Government was open-minded about it happening the year after next. Well done to the Government. We would like to hear more about it.
Senator Gavan summed up in a non-political way the struggle of secretarial assistants. He epitomised it and did not turn it into a political football. The Green Party - An Comhaontas Glas wholeheartedly supports that. I wish to call out the lack of progress. It is unacceptable. The statistics were set out by Senator Sherlock and may have been by others as well whom I might not have heard while walking to the Chamber from my office. This is a disgrace. Secretarial assistants are not getting fair treatment. We must do something about it. Now is the time to change words into action. I commend Senator Gavan and the others who articulated the secretarial assistants' call so brilliantly. I would not like to repeat it, as Senator Gavan covered all of the main points.
I wish to mention the deplorable actions that have been taken against the Wet'suwet'en First Nation in Canada. It is disgraceful to see rightful protests against an oil line on First Nations land being brutally suppressed. I urge us to have a debate in the new year on front-line environmental defenders, who are now front-line human rights defenders, given that the UN has recognised the right to a healthy environment as a human right.
My main focus in this contribution is on adding my voice in support of the need for urgent action on secretarial assistants. Others have spoken about the starting wage of €24,423 per year. That is woefully below the living wage. It takes 18 years to climb the scale.
The scale does not recognise any kind of experience. It does not recognise, for example, an undergraduate degree or experience, even though we know that people come to work with us because they want to make a difference and they bring with them bring extraordinary experience from which we all benefit.
I will highlight four of the documents. I am sure that other Senators have spoken about them. One of the recommendations in the report on a family friendly and inclusive Parliament states that working for a Senator should be a family friendly role. In other words, someone should be able to perform that role and, maybe, contemplate having a family or even being able to pay rent for a place in the city centre. We must bear in mind that we are national parliamentarians here in the Seanad and that many assistants will need to be based in Dublin in order to work with us.
The motion that was passed by the previous Oireachtas was cross-party in nature. Senators on every side of the House supported the pay claim. I thank SIPTU for its briefing and for its persistent work on this matter. I also thank the workers themselves.
I wish to say something different. We know the work that these staff do. It involves research, speech writing and writing newsletters. It is not just briefing on legislation and committees, they are involved in writing legislation. These secretarial assistants support us as one half of the legislative process in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The idea that persons who support us in doing work that affects everybody in this State are not being recognised for their work but are being treated as secretarial assistants is a disgrace, especially as we approach our 100th anniversary. I am sure that we want this matter fixed before then.
I want to mention the lack of regulation enforced by local authorities in respect of Airbnb. I have done a body of work on the number of Airbnb properties that are available. I discovered that there are ten times the number of Airbnb properties available on the Airbnb website in comparison with that the number available on daft.ie. That is an issue we must start talking about. We brought forward legislation in 2019 which gave local authorities power to licence Airbnbs but that has not happened. Local authorities must step into the arena.
The town of Kinsale is located in my part of the world. This morning there were 85 Airbnb properties available in Kinsale but there were only five properties listed on daft.ie as being available to rent. It is no wonder that there is a rent crisis in Kinsale because all of the properties are listed on the Airbnb website. As of this morning, no property in Kinsale has gone through the process of getting a licence from the local authority. We need to ensure, therefore, that national legislation that we pass here in the Parliament is enforced locally by local authorities. There is no point in us going through regulations and legislation if local authorities do not put their shoulder to the wheel and deliver. Accommodation is a major issue. At the moment, if one were lucky enough to rent a property in Kinsale then one would have to pay anything up to €2,000 for it because there are no properties available. We must ensure that local government steps up to the mark and delivers on the legislation that has been put in place to ensure that the rental market can work appropriately. It is absolutely crazy to have ten times more properties listed on the Airbnb website than on daft.ie. Unless we do something about this matter, the rental crisis will continue until local authorities implement the legislation that is there.
I support the case made on behalf of secretarial assistants. If a level in the Department must be agreed with then secretarial assistants should be moved to a different level of pay within the structure of the Department because we all know that the work done by them is without question.
I support the call made by Senator Buttimer yesterday for a debate on amateur boxing. The Senator mentioned Councillor Andrew Duncan from County Westmeath who has a genuine interest in promoting amateur boxing throughout the country. As we all know, our greatest successes at the Olympics have come in amateur boxing. There are people such as Sean Horkan and John Hamrock in County Mayo and Dan Hurley in Cork who have had a genuine interest in promoting boxing over the past 50 or 60 years. Boxing is a great sport to follow and I support the call to arrange a debate.
My final point relates to felling licences, which is an issue in my area and in that of the Deputy Leader. There is a road network in each forest on which timber can be transported. In some cases there are problems deciding who is responsible for building these roads. I must take issue with the people who grant felling licences because they say one needs to employ a contractor to prepare the roads. I believe that should not be the case. If a road is good enough to take the timber out then that should be adequate. Also, these issues should be dealt with at the planning permission stage. I cannot see why these issues were not addressed before planning permission was granted. I ask that this issue be dealt with.
I second the suggestion made by Senator Buttimer that the commission should take the lead and put together a proposal for the secretarial assistants. I lend my support to all of my colleagues who raised that issue.
I welcome the fact that today is the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence against Women. I also welcome that will be 16 days of activism to highlight the matter. I welcome the funding that was announced this morning of €445,000 for the many organisations that support women who have gone through a very traumatic time. Last week, I met representatives of the Rape Crisis Midwest centre in Limerick. Some of the issues that they highlighted to me were certainly frightening and harrowing. I wish to lend my support to the campaign in this regard.
The main thing I want to talk about is the shop local initiative. There is a great opportunity for us all, especially with Black Friday tomorrow - some people have renamed it Green Friday - to support local businesses. Many small local businesses create local employment. They are niche businesses and many of them are family owned. These businesses have had a harrowing 20 months and it is important that we shop local.
I wish to highlight the fact that there is a small benefit or exemption available to all companies where they can avail of tax relief when buying Irish vouchers for their employees. It is important that companies do two things. First, they should acknowledge the work that their employees have done over the past 20 months. Second, they should buy Irish vouchers to support small local Irish businesses. Such an initiative would greatly benefit the economy in terms of keeping businesses open and keeping people in jobs.
I again support the calls to buy from businesses based in Ireland.
China has abused its position on Interpol by issuing red notices in respect of dissidents from its own jurisdiction. China uses the Interpol red notice system to catch people such as Uighurs dissidents and people abroad who speak against the regime. China gets these people arrested in other countries through Interpol and then repatriates them by means of extradition. That is an absolute abuse of the system. Unfortunately, Hu Binchen, the nominee of the Chinese Government, was today elected to the executive committee of Interpol. The appointment apparently gives the green light to China to continue to behave in this way . That is absolutely unacceptable.
In 2007, Brian Lenihan, the then Minister for Justice, made an agreement to have an extradition treaty between Ireland and Hong Kong. Last year, the treaty was suspended because of the national security law in Hong Kong. Again, another law that totally compromises the right of freedom of expression and freedom of association in Hong Kong. The time has now come for us to rescind the agreement altogether. Suspension is not enough and we should get rid of it. There should be no question of anybody being extradited from this country to China, Hong Kong or any territory that is ostensibly controlled by China. It is not reasonable. China does not respect the rule of law. Now that China occupies a position on the executive committee of Interpol, we can have no faith that the Chinese are not going to continue to abuse their position as part of Interpol, abuse their might as part of the international community and disregard the ordinary, fundamental rights that we associate with the rule of law and being a human being on this planet.
Today is UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Figures show worldwide one in three women has been abused in her lifetime. At times of crisis levels of violence and abuse rise. We have seen this throughout Covid-19 and during the pandemic. Earlier, the Minister for Justice announced funding of €445,000 for 18 domestic abuse services in towns throughout Ireland. This funding has a special focus on ensuring services are rolled out in regional areas outside of our city centres and urban areas. It is going to increase phoneline hours, emotional support and increase court accompaniment. I welcome an allocation of €15,000 for Roscommon Safe Link, which provides information, support and counselling and acts as an advocate. Many of these places also do outreach clinics. It can be seen throughout County Roscommon, including Ballaghadereen, Castlerea and Roscommon town.
Many groups suffer in silence. One group funded today is the AMAL Women's Association, an organisation to support Muslim women in Ireland to access support. Other groups include Longford Women's Link, the Offaly Domestic Violence Support Services and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.
There is a new fund of €4.9 million to support victims of crime. Applicants can apply to this fund. Applicants have to be a civil society organisation or a registered charity, and applications must be returned by 5 p.m. on 6 December.
In addition, if Members have time, Mná 100 celebrating women in the justice sector is being livestreamed at 1 p.m. This brings together Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Ms Oonagh McPhillips, the Minister for Justice, former Minister for Justice, Nora Owen, and retired assistant secretary, Sylda Langford, along with a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan. This will be important to show how important it is to have women representing us within the justice sector.
Before I call the acting Leader to outline the Order of Business, I want to point out that I agree with Members the issue of pay for secretarial staff. The acting Leader will outline this in his response because he is also a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. This item has been dealt with by the commission, month in and month out. The reason Members might not be aware of that is our role on the commission is to do the work quietly. I also raised the issue of the parliamentary staff pensions and the secretarial assistant, SA, pensions. For the benefit of Members, this is an issue we have been discussing with the Government. I will circulate a note on this later and they might make sure they come back to me on the issue. The five-year service pension calculation or the occupational pension for an SA after five years of service is €656.23, not per month, per annum. A pension for ten years is €1,312.46 per annum. After 20 years' service an SA's pension is €2,624.91 per annum. The issues of pensions and pay have been before the commission and will be at the next meeting. The Ceann Comhairle and I have been working on this issue through the commission for a long time, as has the acting Leader, and all the groups represented at the commission meeting. However, that is not an issue that started in this Dáil or this Seanad; it is an ongoing issue, but I would, like all of us, like to see it resolved fairly, as Members have brought up today. I now call on the acting Leader.
On a point of order, a comment was made earlier by a Senator that Covid certificates do not prevent people from getting the virus. Comments like that diminish public confidence and confuse people. It is important to say that Covid certificates are there to protect people from going into environments. No politician in this House or the Lower House has ever made a comment like that. It is important to clarify.
Technically, on the Order of Business when you are bringing up a point of order, it should be on the rules of the House rather than on a point of information.
I hope that when comments like that are made, the Cathaoirleach would intervene and clarify for the public who are listening.
That is clearly not my job. My job is not to tell people what to say on the Order of Business.
It is blatantly untrue. People listen to this and they trust what is said in the House.
If people are raising issues, you can ask - and I am going to circulate it again - to intervene with a Senator who is making the statement at the time-----
I was and then you told me to stay quiet.
No, I did not say to you to stay quiet.
Well you did not say to stay quiet, but the next Senator was up to speak.
You can intervene when a Member is making a statement. At the end of the debate, when you are bringing up a point of order, it must relate to a ruling of the Chair on an issue or a procedure in the House. I will circulate that note again, along with a note on the other issue. There is an opportunity. It is not my role to tell people what is or is not appropriate in what they are saying.
It is dangerous commentary.
It is free speech.
Senator, there is an opportunity to intervene.
It is rubbish; that is what it is.
Senator, we are not reopening debates, but there is an opportunity to intervene while the person is making the statement, just so you know.
I did, and then you went to someone else.
The Senator did not ask. He has to ask. There is a Standing Order. I will send the Senator a copy of the Standing Order. For the benefit of everybody, if someone is saying something, Members have an opportunity to ask to intervene. If the speaker does not wish them to intervene or does not allow them, then that is the rule of the House.
I call the acting Leader to outline a response to the Order of Business.
I thank all Senators for their contributions. There was a number of common themes and I will touch on the two main ones. Senators Byrne, Dolan, Murphy, McGreehan, Seery Kearney, Ruane, Sherlock, Fitzpatrick and Ó Donnghaile raised a very important issue in regard to this being international week or two weeks or 16 days of campaigning on the elimination of violence against women. I wish to acknowledge the important work being done in this area both in Government supported initiatives and by the voluntary sector, which plays a pivotal role. The Minister for Justice, as others have said, has detailed extra funding for areas of the country or categories of victims not currently fully covered by support services for victims. That big exercise was undertaken to identify gaps in services. As others have referenced, among 18 organisations, €445,000 is being allocated to Victim Support at Court, Lifeline Inishowen, Longford Women's Link, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. The extra funding is being provided this year, and is separate from budget 2022 in which increased funding was also announced for combating domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and supporting victims of crime. An additional €2.4 million for specific awareness raising and training programmes on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Some €1.1 million will be used to put in place a legal advice and aid service in court for victims of sexual abuse, €1 million is being provided under the Garda Vote to provide accommodation for divisional protective services units, and €4.9 million is being provided to support the victims of crime. Others, including Senator Ward, have previously raised issues relating to refuges. This is hugely important. Senators raised the issue in Dun Laoghaire, and we will seek a debate with the Minister on that, domestic and gender-based violence and the issue of refuges.
The second major issue that was raised was the highly important role that our secretarial assistants play. I received a text message on Sunday from my SA, Anne Flaherty, who reminded me she was ten years working with me that day. I sent her back a reply commiserating with her for having to put up with me for that period. We all appreciate the important role that SAs play and the Cathaoirleach has addressed the issue in regard to the commission. The Cathaoirleach and I and Senators Wall and O'Sullivan have continuously raised and sought a solution to this very important issue. The proposals from SIPTU date from 2018. They included reducing the scale that SAs face; all staff would move up an increment; an additional maximum increment for each role be introduced; and the SA role in the Seanad be made into a PA role. These SIPTU proposals are sensible and fair. The job description, of course, was drawn up in the 1990s. Times have changed and moved on compared to the 1990s, not only in the country. The role of SAs and PAs roles have grown fundamentally. This is above politics; this is about fair play and decency. I will, therefore, write to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ask for an update and for intervention and engagement. Senators Sherlock, Carrigy, Ruane, Murphy, Gavan, Higgins, Craughwell, Buttimer, Ó Donnghaile, Burke, Martin and Byrne all raised the issue. I am sure everyone else who did not will support fully the sentiments expressed.
Senators Fitzpatrick and Ó Donnghaile referred to the tragedy in the English Channel. I am afraid to say that such incidents are becoming more common and that will continue in the decades ahead. Nobody can blame a person for trying to seek a better life. Irish people have done so for many years. Many Irish people went to the United States. Originally Irish people were sent to Australia but after that other Irish people tried to get there, as well as to Canada and other places, including, of course, our nearest neighbours in the UK. I have a sister, uncle and other family in the UK and I have family members in Australia and the United States. It is an issue that we can understand as Irish people. The consequences for Europe are significant. Members are aware of the issues and division that, unfortunately, it causes around the world, as well the consequences in the context of the direct provision system here and the pressures on that system. I welcome the decision by the Minister to consider a new regime or basis for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers in this country, rather than continuing to deal with them through the direct provision system. I welcome that. Perhaps we will seek an update on that and an update from the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator Fitzpatrick also spoke about the Oscar Traynor site. Obviously, I have not dealt with the issue directly but I have followed on Twitter from time to time the developments in the case. It seems to be a long-running saga. It is good news that 850 public and social homes are being provided. It is to be hoped that will bring finality to that debate and provide much-needed homes in that part of Dublin.
Senator Ahearn spoke about the winter plan, which was recently agreed and published. It was discussed yesterday at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, should anyone wish to look back at the transcript of the meeting. The Senator referenced the number of patients on trolleys at University Hospital Limerick. He referred to the recent investment that added 100 beds in the hospital and 40 beds in Clonmel hospital and highlighted the differences between the hospitals in terms of the numbers of patients on trolleys. All present appreciate the hard-working staff in all hospitals and the difficult decisions management face in all hospitals. That is not to say that things cannot be done better or that they are not being done better in some hospitals than in others. Senators Maria Byrne and Conway have raised this issue previously. I do not know if there are management issues in Limerick hospital, but if there are, they certainly need to be addressed. I know that when there were particular problems in the hospital in Galway several years ago - there are still problems there in terms of capacity - a hit team came down from the HSE nationally to look at discharge policy and improve it and ensure there was a better flow of patients once they were ready to be released to community beds and the like. Perhaps there are issues within Limerick hospital that need to be addressed.
The Senator also raised the issues of weddings. I see the point he is making. If one spends all day at a wedding, it does not matter if one is there until 2 a.m. in the morning or 3 a.m. in the morning. We have all been there in various guises at different times. I will leave that issue to the Cabinet and to NPHET, which offers advice. It is a fair point but I will not comment on the rights or wrongs of it.
Senator Keogan spoke again about secretarial pay. She also raised the issue of vaccine passports and discrimination. This comes back to the point made by Senator Ahearn. There are so many unvaccinated people taking up beds in emergency departments and putting pressure on the system. We need to do everything we can to encourage people who have not received the vaccine to get vaccinated. I appreciate there are people who may have medical conditions that mean they cannot receive the vaccine. I accept that. However, there are other people who are listening to scaremongering on social media. I will not say they are not aware but it may be the case that some individuals are experiencing language issues or whatever. I know from the comments of Mr. Paul Reid yesterday at the health committee that the HSE is doing a mountain of work, for example, in providing information in a range of languages and visiting certain hotspots such as meat plants where there is a large foreign national population to ensure they know about the services available and get a jab and, of course, the booster when it is available and offered. There are many no-shows at booster clinics, which is regrettable.
I refer to cybercrime. When it happens, it is very serious, but when the issue is solved, it goes into the background until the next time it crops up. We may be able to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to come to the House to give an update on State cyber policy and so on.
Senator Hackett spoke about the hen harrier. Communities have to play to their strengths. If there are communities that have a particular resource such as a bog, hen harriers, corncrakes on Inisbofin, curlews or whatever and it is intrinsic to and synonymous with that area, they have to grasp that and promote, embrace and encourage it. It is great to see the young people of St. Brendan's school in particular, as well as the wider community, working to showcase what they have. I acknowledge that work.
Senator Murphy raised several issues I addressed earlier. He also raised the issue of pony racing not receiving supports from Horse Racing Ireland. I am not sure if he was speaking about point-to-point racing. It might be an issue suitable to be raised as a Commencement matter but I am sure it is a valid point. There is always debate regarding the horse and greyhound fund and how that money is being spent. It is an important and valid point.
Senators Carrigy and Maria Byrne spoke about black Friday, which is not a term I particularly like. Green Friday or green Monday would be more suitable. The Senators rightly urged people to buy local and, as the Cathaoirleach said, to buy Irish. I recently attended a meeting with businesses in Galway. There is concern that some businesses are leaving the high street. I know Senator Buttimer called for a debate on retail strategy and policy. It is an issue of concern in terms of the changing face of high streets in cities, urban areas and small towns that more people are moving online. It is fine if a company can embrace both and have a front-door presence as well as an online presence and encourage people to buy Irish and, indeed, encourage people from abroad to buy their products as well. I agree that it is an important issue.
Senator Craughwell raised several issues. He spoke about damage to sea cables. I have encountered examples of that, including damage caused to an ESB cable to the Aran Islands a number of years ago. The Senator made the point that the Garda does not go to sea, but the Naval Service does. Although increasing the number of Ministers in the Government would be very popular among politicians, I am not sure how the public would react to that unless there was a very valid and strong case for an additional Minister or two at senior level to deal with a specific issue that was not being addressed.
Senator Cassells spoke about Tara Mines. I am very familiar with the mine. I have been down in the depths of it. I cannot remember how many kilometres underground-----
The lowest point of the mine is 850 m underground.
Yes, I remember that. I was there some years ago in my capacity as Minister of State with responsibility for natural resources. It is a wonderful and important place in terms of being an employer and, as the Senator stated, the largest zinc mine in Europe, with 700 employees. Of course, there is the Tara Deep project, which is the next scene that will provide a sustainable mine and employment in the area into the future. I note the concern of the Senator, predominantly for the health and safety of workers, but also for the security of their employment in the run-up to Christmas. I note that Gunnar Nystorm, the general manager of the mine, stated this morning they have a solution and plan to tackle the water flow and that it is hoped it will stop the flow in the coming days. Everyone is at work. He stated:
Safety is of course our number one priority. We have all the risk assessments done.
He offered workers and their families assurance in respect of job security. I know the exploration and mining division section of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, which has responsibility for natural resources, and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will be providing assistance on request and I am sure they have already been involved on that issue.
Senator Buttimer asked for an apology from Dr. Glynn. I am sure journalists will be putting questions to NPHET and Dr. Glynn regarding the comments in respect of schools being safe. Many Government representatives may have been asked to trot out those lines in recent weeks.
We know that there are inherent risks for all gatherings, whether younger or older people. It particularly affects younger people in our schools who do not wear masks. I will leave it to journalists to ask Dr. Glynn questions.
Senator Seery Kearney talked about the good news at the committee. She gave a good update about the important matters relating to disability and the good work being done by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. She gave the example of the OPW and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Senator Martin talked about St. Brigid's Day. I believe there is a connection to St. Brigid in County Kildare, which claims her. I hope that next year and in the following years, we will be able to celebrate St. Brigid with St. Brigid's Day as a bank holiday.
Senator Higgins talked about the First Nations peoples in Canada, who are front-line defenders of the environment. That is a matter for a Commencement debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator Lombard talked about Airbnb. The example that he provided and the number of houses available for Airbnb but not for rent in Kinsale is striking. Perhaps we could write to the County and City Management Association to remind it of the legislation and the requirements.
Senator Burke talked about amateur boxing. Perhaps we could have a debate on amateur sports at some stage with the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. He talked about the road network and felling licences. I am not familiar with the issue. Was the Senator referring to roads through the forests where felling will happen? I imagine that would be part of the application for the felling licence. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Hackett, made statements on that here a couple of weeks ago. I am not sure if that issue was addressed. Perhaps Senator Burke could liaise with Senator Hackett about that.
Senator Ward talked about abuse of the Interpol process regarding extradition to China. I suggest that he table a Commencement matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs because it is quite a specific question.
Senator Dolan referred to important issues regarding assault and violence against women, which I have commented on.
I thank all Senators for their contributions.