I call the Deputy Leader to announce the Order of Business and thank the ambassador again for being here today.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The ambassador is most welcome. I concur with the Cathaoirleach's remarks in that regard.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on third level funding and costs of going to college and places for Ukrainian students in Irish universities, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude at 2.15 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed eight minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes, all other Senators not to exceed three minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than seven minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, Private Members' business, Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 3, Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 7 p.m. if not previously concluded.
Like the Cathaoirleach and Senator Chambers, I welcome the Dutch ambassador on King's Day. From his script about the relationship, the Cathaoirleach may or may not be aware that the chain of the Lord Mayor of Dublin has on its crest "King William of Orange", which was a surprise to many people. It has been there for a very long time.
I did not know that. I thank the Senator for raising that.
It is another link between us and the Netherlands. I pay tribute to both Jimmy Leonard and Michael O'Kennedy, who passed away during the recess. I was at the funeral of Michael O'Kennedy in Nenagh last week. I did not know Jimmy Leonard well, but he served in the Chamber for a long time. Michael O'Kennedy had a distinguished career as a Minister, Senator, Deputy and a European Commissioner for a period. I pay tribute to both those gentlemen. I offer my deepest sympathies and condolences to their families and friends.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for wearing the flower symbolising Organ Donor Awareness Week. I am wearing mine and I am sure other Members are wearing theirs too and will be over the next few days. It runs from 23 April to 30 April. It is staggering to see how many lives have been saved and improved by the unfortunate and tragic death, in many cases, of those people. Sometimes it is very sudden, such as a car crash, while other times it is anticipated, but it is still very sad when somebody dies. In many cases, multiple lives have been saved with the gift of life when one person's life has been lost. A system is being looked at where those who want to opt out can opt out, but almost everybody else is included. I know there is sensitivity around that. I think more than 1 million people have already said on their drivers' licences that they are happy for organs to be taken once they are no longer in a position to use them themselves. I encourage as many people as possible to opt in and to let their family and colleagues know.
I raise the issue of delays in the processing of various forms by the public service. We are all inundated by passport forms. The online passport applications and renewals are fantastic. Anything that does not involve any human interaction and is automated seems to work in a streamlined way, but it should not take eight weeks for a new child's passport to be processed. I presume that much of that is due to backlogs. We need to clear those. It also applies to work permits and visitor visas. Every Member of the Oireachtas is hounded daily by frustrated people. They put in their applications, which come back after five or six weeks to say something is wrong, then people go to the back of the queue again.
I congratulate the gardaí on the detention of five prominent gang members who were recently involved in a prolific amount of crime. There is a problem with our justice system where we seem to allow people who have committed many crimes back out to commit more crimes. We need to have a debate on public service delays and on crime.
I too extend a céad míle fáilte to the ambassador and wish him well on the Netherlands' national day.
Unfortunately, the situation in Ukraine is not improving. Approximately 30,000 Ukrainian refugees live among us now. I salute the community response throughout the country, which has been good at welcoming the Ukrainian people to Ireland. Some local authorities have been better than others. I know it is a work in progress and an evolving situation, but this needs to be a top priority. Some Departments are better than others. It needs to be a top priority and there needs to be a whole-of-government response. I single out the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, who set up a one-stop shop in his Department to deal with queries from people from Ukraine who wish to study in Ireland. Before the recess, I asked for a one-stop shop in each Department. I hope that other Departments will respond accordingly and open a one-stop shop to deal with queries from Ukrainians. It is important to acknowledge that the situation with drivers' licences has been resolved. It was resolved with a signature, which could have been done weeks ago, but it is better late than having further delays.
We are approaching the last term for thousands of leaving certificate students, including those who have disabilities or who are blind or visually impaired. In this day and age, not having digital leaving certificate papers is something of the Dark Ages. If the Department of Education provided digital leaving certificate papers, they would be fully accessible not just to people who are blind or visually impaired, but people who have print disabilities. Other countries are doing it. Why is the Department of Education always so conservative in the way it does business? A young man was on "Liveline" last week, expressing his shock that he is blind, doing an oral examination in Irish, and is expected to interpret pictures. In this day and age, do we not have the cop on to realise that somebody who is blind or visually impaired cannot interpret a picture, either in English or in Irish? We need to cop on and the Department of Education needs to cop on.
The conservative nature of the Department of Education really needs to change. If we want to see an equal society, we have to start with the education system. If young people are not able to achieve their potential through education, they will not be able to achieve their potential in employment and they will not be able to be equal citizens in this country. I want a debate with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, as early as possible about what is being done to create an accessible, equal leaving certificate that respects everybody, respects people's disabilities and does not really make a mockery of it by asking somebody who is blind to interpret a picture.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for inviting His Excellency, the ambassador of the Netherlands, to the Chamber today. It was fitting and I thank the Cathaoirleach for his remarks to the ambassador, which I clearly enjoyed. It is a wonderful country. As I was listening, I remembered being in the Netherlands picking bulbs at the age of 16 or 17. Many of us went there to pick bulbs. It was a good opportunity for students from Ireland. It is a wonderful country and I am delighted that the Cathaoirleach invited the ambassador and said a few words to him.
I would like to inform the House that Senator Tom Clonan has joined the Seanad Independent Group. We look forward to working with him, as I know everyone in this House does. I want to share that with the House. I also flag that the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021 is scheduled for this afternoon. There are only two amendments, in my name and that of Senator David Norris. I thought there might have been more, but that is the nature of this business, and I hope we will have some engagement. It is a huge issue. We are an island and we are surrounded by marine casualties. I will not rehearse all that I will say later, but hopefully some people will be in the House. There are two amendments and we will see how they go.
My main focus today is the Irish Prison Officers Association's annual meeting in Sligo, which the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is due to address. I understand she will outline the Government's vision and plan for the Irish Prison Service to become an independent State agency. I have major concerns about that. I saw some of the detail yesterday. The Irish prison system is unique. Today, we will hear prison officers tell the conference of overcrowding, violence and major problems in prisons. We know from today's Irish Times that 35 inmates slept on floors in Cloverhill Prison this week. The training unit in Mountjoy is closed.
I am sure there are circumstances around that. I do not want to pre-empt them or the reasons to which the closure is attributed. We have a closed training and education unit in Mountjoy. That begs the question about prison reform and penal reform. We are going to hear many issues between today and tomorrow in regard to this conference but it is really important that we work with people. We heard the Minister last week talking about the Horses for Hope project in Castlerea. We have seen the horticultural programmes and other arts and cultural programmes that are introduced in the prison.
I was on the visiting committee of both Mountjoy Prison and Saint Patrick's Institution. I always like to think about prisons that everyone in there is someone's son or daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, nephew, niece. They are all humans, individuals and through sets of circumstances - not always within their own control - they ended up there. Penal reform is really important. I acknowledge the enormous work of Deputies Ivana Bacik and Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and indeed the Deputy Leader, Senator Lisa Chambers, may have been involved in the all-party Oireachtas group on penal reform. Penal reform is a really important area and I would like a debate on it in this House as soon as possible.
In February I welcomed my Green Party colleague, the Minister, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, to Portlaoise to unveil a powerful Pride mural on Lyster Square to mark one year of the midlands LGBT+ project. After the Laois launch in summer 2021, Midlands LGBT+ Project identified the huge need for similar support for people in Offaly, Kildare and beyond. In response to this the group has expanded its services to Offaly and at the weekend arrived with a splash of colour at its launch event in Tullamore. I was lucky enough to attend. Its mission is to reduce isolation for adult LGBT+ persons living in the midlands. It runs a number of virtual and in-person peer support groups such as its Laois social group, Trans Midlands and Queer Book Club, as well as many LGBT+ events throughout the year. It also provides training to businesses and community groups and delivers school workshops. While we are lucky to have organisations such as Midlands LGBT+ in Laois and Offaly, nobody should experience isolation because of how they identify. Yet tragic and violent events in Dublin and Sligo recently tell us that we still have a lot left to do.
Members of the LGBT+ community have the right to feel safe and be safe in their homes, on our streets and online. Research by the Hate and Hostility Research Group, HHRG, at University of Limerick, identified that one in five of those surveyed had been punched, hit or physically attacked in public for being LGBT+ and one in three had been threatened with physical violence. We must change this now. It is for all of society to deal with. I am grateful that Councillor Mark Hackett is pursuing the issue of gender-based violence at council level in Offaly and is doing this through the joint policing committee. I wish that sub-group all the best with its important work. It is 2022 and Ireland still does not have hate crime legislation. The law on incitement to hatred dates back to 33 years ago. Thankfully legislation is on its way to change this. Hate crimes are message crimes intended to target entire communities. Victims are targeted because of what they represent and the impact of hate crimes goes beyond the single person. Their whole community is affected as well as our wider society. We as policymakers, as communities, as families and as individuals can play our part in solutions too. So if we see homophobia and transphobia in society, we must call it out. Never sit idly by. Never be silent. If you know someone who is experiencing homophobia or transphobia encourage and support them to report hate incidents to LGBT Ireland and to the Garda. This behaviour cannot be tolerated or normalised. We must stand in power together, we must stand in pride.
Before I call on the next Senator I welcome from Wexford in the Gallery Councillor Andrew Bolger and a school from Wexford, I guess. I welcome them all to Seanad Éireann this morning along with Patrick Higgins. I now call on Senator Annie Hoey.
I was lucky enough last week to attend an incredible production of Who’s There? by Droichead Youth Theatre, my alma mater and most important stomping ground in growing me into the person I am today. This ensemble production was directed by one of my longest and oldest friends, Christina Matthews, the creative director of Droichead Youth Theatre. I was struck by the content of the play. Droichead Youth Theatre always lead on brave brave productions. It always challenges us. This play was no different. It was about teenage cancer and the experience of a young person with cancer. It did not just address that issue. It addressed the complicated and related struggles of teenagers, family dynamics, bullying and romantic relationships or lack thereof as the case was when we moved along in the play. I commend the Droichead Youth Theatre. The topic of young people having cancer is just not a topic that gets a huge amount of air-time.
At the end of the production they wrote an incredible piece about the number of people who have cancer; the Irish Cancer Society funds more than 100 cancer researchers, laboratory researchers and research nurses. All of the things that the Irish Cancer Society does are incredibly important in tackling cancer. Droichead highlighted in 1994 that four out of ten people survived a cancer diagnosis. In 2019 it was six out of ten. Now, eight out of ten young people will be completely cured. I did not know that piece of information until I went to this play and these young people told me. I sit on the Joint Committee on Health and I consider myself quite informed. The young people talked about CanTeen, an Irish organisation that supports people aged between 12 and 25 who have been diagnosed with cancer – again an organisation that I had never heard of. It supports and empowers young people who are facing illness and bridges the gap between childhood and adulthood which is a complicated area. It would be on the front line of battling cancer. I was really shocked when the young people doing this incredible production talked about CanTeen only receiving 3% of its funding from Government. Last year it had to raise €21 million through donations, fund-raising campaigns and charity shops throughout the country, which allowed 1.6 million people throughout Ireland access to free information, advice and support.
I want today to highlight CanTeen. Young people facing cancer is an important issue and we should be concerned about the fact that it only gets 3% of its funding from Government and €21 million comes, as with all sorts of cancer research and funding, through the goodwill of people who have been affected or know someone who has been affected. I just want to put that on the record today and commend Droichead Youth Theatre on raising an issue that was very delicate but dealt with very sensitively.
We all appreciate that the economy has been under a very particular strain over the past two years particularly resulting from the Covid-19 crisis. Notwithstanding that some sectors of our economy are going well and flourishing, they are unfortunately unable to find staff to meet the demands and needs of the industry. I ask the Leader to try to arrange a debate at the earliest possible opportunity to look at labour movements and the deficits within our labour market. There are certainly problems right across the hospitality sector, among others.
One sector in particular with a really acute crisis is long-distance truck drivers. I talked to the haulage companies in County Clare and those that do international haulage are unable to get staff either in Ireland, the UK or across Europe. Often they look to South Africa for the obvious reason that they drive on the same side of the road. Unfortunately there is a backlog is processing the work permits. I have been told that it can take up to two years from a point where the driver is identified to have them on the road. That is not acceptable. It is not good enough and it is damaging to our economy. We need to be lean and mean and fit to respond to every issue that arises in the challenging environment that we have come from with Covid-19 and now through a war experience. Our supply lines are very important. We export so much of our produce. Part of that relies on the hard work of long-distance truck drivers. If we do not have that piece boxed off we will not be competitive and other markets will take the contracts that we have.
It is, therefore, really important that we address this. If possible, we should have a wider debate on labour shortages in certain sectors with a particular emphasis on processing work permits for those who really need them. The area of greatest concern at the moment is that of long-distance truck drivers.
Before I call on the next speaker, I welcome to the Gallery all the teachers and pupils from Glenageary Killiney National School. They are here with Senator Ward. I hope that they enjoy their time in Leinster House, that they learn loads and that the highlight of the day is not the shopping but being in the Seanad Chamber looking at our fabulous room with our fabulous Senators. I thank the group very much for coming here today.
I welcome the students and staff and thank them for being here. Democracy and politics are very important in every aspect of their lives. I wish them well in being here today.
I seek a debate on vaccines beyond Covid. This is World Immunisation Week. Ireland spends 0.2% of its health budget on immunisation. That figure would alarm and amaze all of us. If it does not, it should because, during the Covid pandemic, we have seen the importance of vaccine take-up. We have seen our success of our vaccine programme in the numbers who took up vaccination, in the way in which the immunisation programme worked and in the positive outcomes of the programme. Interestingly, the level of take-up of the flu vaccine in this country is lower than the European recommended level of 75%. The rate among healthcare workers is also lower than that recommended by the European Union. I ask for a debate on the issues of immunisation and vaccine hesitancy. The World Health Organization tells us that, in the context of global health, vaccine hesitancy is one of the top ten reasons for health issues in the world. During this very important week, we should reflect on the importance of vaccination and immunisation. We have seen the success of vaccines for HPV, measles, mumps and a list of other conditions for which vaccines have worked. I ask for a debate on the issue of vaccines and immunisation as a matter of urgency. It is an important debate to have. I commend Deputy Colm Burke on holding a briefing earlier in the audiovisual room.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for welcoming my colleague, Councillor Andrew Bolger, my secretarial assistant, Patrick Higgins, and Christopher, Conor and Joe to the Gallery. I also welcome the students who are here. It is very important that they hear about democracy and see democracy in action. I again raise the question of the voting age. As the Leader will know, I have raised on a number of occasions the issue of lowering the voting age to 16. I have a Bill before the House for this purpose. Those in Scotland and Wales are going to the polls in their local elections quite soon and 16-year-olds will have the right to vote. This is a very active campaign in many countries all over the world. The Children's Rights Alliance recently announced that it is pushing even harder to ensure that we see the voting age reduced to 16. We can do it for the local and European election simply by legislation. The Convention on the Constitution considered the matter in detail and was in favour of it. I hope that this will be provided for as part of the legislation on the electoral commission. When the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, came before this House to deal with a Commencement matter, he indicated his support for the proposal. It is important that we have that debate and that we engage as many young people as possible in it.
The other issue I wish to raise relates to the sports capital grants scheme and the concerns now being raised regarding inflation in construction costs. The Government recently announced the largest ever sports capital grants scheme. The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, did a wonderful job in getting the scheme over the line and in making the announcements but many of the clubs and organisations to get grants are now being hit by inflation in construction costs. The costs of their projects are much higher than the quotes they had received when putting in their original submissions. I ask that the Leader raise this matter with the Minister of State with responsibility for sport and that she ask whether any allowances can be made for clubs impacted in this way.
I will raise an issue I have raised before both at an Oireachtas joint committee and in this House, the issue of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA. An Oireachtas committee met with this organisation. The then CEO of Sport Ireland, Mr. John Treacy, indicated to us that a governance review of the organisation was taking place following our queries. No report has been forthcoming to date despite it having been due at Christmas. As a committee, we looked for specific answers to a number of questions and the organisation committed to providing them but, to date, we have not received replies. We have not even received replies to letters we have sent to the organisation. An election for officers and an AGM was organised. In the middle of the election, a significant number of the officers who were running were suspended. The AGM did not take place and we still do not have the result of the election that took place. I have read in the Irish Independent that the appeals these officers took to Sport Dispute Solutions Ireland through the Federation of Irish Sport were successful. The board of directors of this organisation has not met in nearly 12 months. In comments the Garda Commissioner made in respect of MTK Global, which made international news, he asked individuals involved in sport to cut all ties with that organisation. Does that extend to amateur boxing? Should the IABA make a statement on the matter? It is an issue the Minister of State with responsibility for sport needs to deal with. It has been going on for a number of years and, to be quite honest, it is a sham.
Along with colleagues who have paid tribute to a number of former Members of this House who have passed away in recent times, I offer condolences to the families of Michael O'Kennedy and, closer to home for myself, Jimmy Leonard. Jimmy was a Member of this House for a period and a Member of the Lower House for many years. He served the people of Monaghan and the Cavan-Monaghan constituency and was totally dedicated to their cause. He entered politics as a member of Monaghan County Council, a position he held for many years. He worked in the local co-operative, which was where he had his roots and from where he set out building a career for himself in both local and national politics. The phrase that best describes Jimmy Leonard is "a true gentleman". He was a real man of the people who served all of the people regardless of who they were, what they were or their political backgrounds. The legacy he leaves behind him is one of years of dedicated service to the people of Monaghan and, indeed, County Cavan as well. It was with great sadness that we learned of his passing. His beloved wife, Tess, was by his side throughout their long years of marriage and was a great aid to him politically. He had three sons and two daughters, one of whom, Ann, was also a Member of this House for a time. I would like to extend a vote of sympathy to the entire Leonard family and to the O'Kennedy family as well.
I wish to pay tribute with two very inspirational young men. One is 12-year-old Pádraig O'Callaghan from Limerick and it is his birthday today. Recently he was appointed Limerick Person of the Year 2021. Every Monday he does a podcast and people should listen to this very inspirational young man because he motivates people. He talks about his disability but does not allow it to drag him down. The second inspirational young man is called James Casserly. He is travelling around Ireland on buses and trains, including Luas, to assess public transport for wheelchair users. He was on the BBC this morning. I wish both of them all the best.
In terms of a primary care certificate for someone with a disability, I have been contacted by a person who applied for a primary care certificate last November, was told in mid-November that he or she did not qualify and then lodged an appeal. It is now the end of April yet nobody has been appointed by the Department of Transport to adjudicate on primary care certificates. Perhaps the Deputy Leader and her office would write to the Minister to highlight this matter because delays are not fair to people who await a certificate. The person to whom I refer is in their 80s, must use taxis because they have no driving licence and cannot drive because they await a decision on their appeal. It is inappropriate that six months have elapsed and no qualified person has been appointed to adjudicate on whether this person qualifies. There are many people in the same position and I would like the Deputy Leader to support this matter.
I ask the Deputy Leader to write to An Taoiseach and ask him to join us for a debate on a shared island. Next week, Assembly elections will take place in Northern Ireland and we are all too well aware of how long the parliament in Stormont has not been working. I know from being in Northern Ireland canvassing that people are sick of politics not working there. I believe that it is important that Stormont does work for the coming term. In the context of a shared island, what happens there is very much in the interests of the people in southern Ireland because if we really are to have a shared future then it is important that we work collectively on the basis of democracy that works and on the basis of respect. With that in mind it is timely that we ask the Taoiseach to come in here for this debate. Let us hope that next week's election results in politics starting to work for the people of Northern Ireland, thus ensuring that their economy works, health services work and the cost-of-living difficulties that they all face can be tackled by parties that wish to do so.
I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate or to update us on the Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan, which deals with the bus networks between towns and villages located outside of urban areas. The submission deadline was last December and people ran campaigns in local areas. The Department made very good proposals on ways to connect different towns so people could reach hospitals, third level institutions or services. Bus networks are even more crucial now as an increasing number of families have come from the Ukraine and live in different centres and, especially as some centres are located outside of the main urban areas. These people need access. I would like to know what type of mobility plans will be put in place for these centres and would appreciate it if the Deputy Leader arranged for the Minister for Transport to speak to us about these matters.
I thank all of the Senators who contributed to the Order of Business.
Senator Horkan kicked off by welcoming the ambassador from the Netherlands to the House. The Senator also mentioned that 23 April to 27 April is Organ Donor Awareness Week. He stressed the importance of raising the issue of organ donation because it saves and improves numerous lives despite the tragedy that it flows from. Finally, he requested a debate on crime and we will seek that debate at the earliest opportunity.
I also mentioned the delays in processing passports, work permits and visas.
We will probably have a justice debate for the whole thing.
Senator Martin Conway spoke about Ukraine, as he has done on many occasions. He welcomed the fact that the driver's licence issue has been resolved. He also said that there is a need to establish a one-stop shop that will provide information and assistance to Ukrainian refugees as they arrive.
The Senator spoke passionately about the leaving certificate. I think all Members will concur with his remarks on the digital leaving certificate papers but also the particular story around a young person with a disability who is blind but was asked to read a picture in an oral examination. The Senator was correct to suggest that there was a lack of cop-on in that situation. The Department of Education needs to be updated on how it deals and assist people with disabilities. I see no reason that digital leaving certificate papers could not be provided to assist anyone who has an impairment.
Senator Boyhan informed the House that Senator Tom Clonan will join the Independent Group and, therefore, will join him and his and his colleagues. I wish Senator Clonan and the group well.
Senator Boyhan mentioned the forthcoming annual general meeting of the Prison Officers' Association, which will be attended by the Minister for Justice. He expressed concerns about the plan to make the organisation an independent State agency. He also asked for a debate on penal reform. We will have that debate, at the earliest opportunity, with the Minister so he and others can raise issues then.
Senator Hackett, who is a Minister of State, spoke about LGBTQ+ projects in her area that try to deal with rural isolation in the midlands. Isolation is an issue in many rural areas and particularly for the LGBTQ+ community. She spoke about shocking statistics revealed by a recent survey whereby one in five of those surveyed had been punched, hit or physically attacked in public for being LGBTQ+ and one in three had been threatened with physical violence. Those statistics are a shocking reminder that we have come a long way but not far enough. The Senator also referenced the tragic murders in Sligo and the assault in Dublin visited on that community.
Senator Hoey mentioned a production by the Droichead Youth Theatre that deals with the difficult topic of cancer in young people. I am sure that the topic was dealt with sensitively. I, too, was unaware of the fantastic organisation called CanTeen Ireland that assists young people who are going through this ordeal and are on this journey. I also was unaware of the statistics the Senator pointed out that in 1994 four out of ten people survived a cancer diagnosis and it was six out of ten in 2019. That is incredible work and is a credit to the health service. We do not get everything right. We are doing well with cancer care but we can always do better. The Senator was correct to point out that the level of Government funding for these supports is quite low. I was not aware that only 3% went to youth cancer and that is an important statistic to put on the floor of the House. I also thank her for alerting us to the theatre production and the CanTeen organisation.
Senator Dooley spoke about staff shortages, labour shortages and labour movement. He also asked for a debate on these issues. He spoke about the shortages in the hospitality sector and how difficult it is to attract staff to the sector. He spoke about the difficulty in getting long-distance truck drivers. He spoke to hauliers in his area of County Clare and highlighted that it takes up to two years for work permits to be granted for these workers. There is no justification for such a delay. If we have a labour shortage then we must do everything that we can to secure permits and assist businesses to remain open and operational. The Senator also requested a debate on labour movement and shortages.
Senator Buttimer spoke about health issues, in particular about immunisation and vaccines and highlighted that we have only spent 0.2% of the health budget on immunisation. He has asked for a debate on the issue and on vaccine hesitancy. He put on the record the statistic that we are lower in terms of the uptake of vaccines like the flu vaccine than what is recommended by the European Union.
Senator Malcolm Byrne expressed the view that the voting age should be lowered to 16 and said that he hoped the electoral commission would deal with the issue. He also mentioned the sports capital grants scheme. He acknowledged that the scheme had provided a record level of funding but that sports clubs are now having to deal with the impacts that the price of inflation is having on materials and labour, which, in turn, makes it difficult to deliver these projects.
It is something we will have to keep an eye on to make sure that money can be spent and those vital sports projects in our communities can be delivered.
Senator Carrigy raised an issue around the IABA. I do not have a response for him specifically on what should happen in that regard. I suggest he raises the matter directly, perhaps through a Commencement matter, with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. That might be the appropriate avenue to yield the response he is looking for.
Senator Gallagher expressed his sympathies to the O'Kennedy family on the passing of Michael and to the Leonard family on the passing of Jimmy. I concur with the Senator's remarks and extend our sympathies to both families on the passing of their loved ones.
Senator Maria Byrne raised the issue of the primary care certificate, which is a particular difficulty. We have all had cases where people have applied for those certificates because they need them to assist them in their mobility and getting around. She raised the particular issue of no adjudicator having been appointed from the Department of Transport to assess applications for certificates. I suggest to the Senator, at the outset, to try a Commencement matter because it is quite a specific question. If that does not yield a result, we will try to follow up with the Department of Transport, through the Leader's office, on that. It would be a good Commencement matter.
Senator Blaney asked for a debate on the shared island unit, which we can request through the Department of An Taoiseach. He spoke about the upcoming Assembly elections in Northern Ireland and the need to ensure that politics works there for its citizens. We can all agree with those remarks.
Senator Dolan spoke about the connected Ireland rural mobility plan. An update on that plan would be welcome to see where it is at. There were many good proposals in my area of Mayo. There is a lot of excitement around new bus routes and connecting towns because populations have moved and changed and people are living in different areas now. We might request a debate on transport with a particular focus on getting an update on that plan. We will try to get that at the earliest opportunity.