Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Vol. 285 No. 8

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourn at 2.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply; No. 2, Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 – Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn at 6.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 3, National Minimum Wage (Payment of Interns) Bill 2022 – Second Stage, to be taken at 6.45 p.m., with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours.

I agree with the Order of Business as set out by the Acting Leader. This morning, she and I have both come from the gates of Leinster House on Kildare Street where we joined with fellow Senators, Deputies, activists and the National Women's Council of Ireland to celebrate the anniversary of the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, which took place this day four years ago. Many of us were involved in that campaign. I feel I got involved at the 11th hour because the campaign began 35 years before that date and many of the women involved then are still involved today.

We envisaged that there would be some difficulties in implementing the will of the people and ensuring equality of access for women across the county to these legally available services. Some of those problems persist today and they are part of what we will be looking at in the review of the legislation to ensure we get it right for the women and girls of Ireland. We stand with fellow Members, activists and women across the country in once again pledging our support to ensure the legislation is properly and fully implemented, there is equality of access and we address any additional and outstanding concerns. We will work with colleagues across parties on those issues in the coming weeks and months.

I also want to speak about the horrific mass shooting that happened yesterday in a primary school in the United States. It is the 27th such shooting this year. My heart goes out the families of the victims, to the other students who witnessed it, to the two teachers lost and to that community. I have no doubt that people across the United State are heartbroken at what has happened.

It is with utter disbelief that we listen to the commentary from some public representatives, both Congressmen and Senators, suggesting that the issue is not gun control. They have moved on from wanting to arm teachers and some are now suggesting they should have armed police on school grounds. I listened to Larry Murphy on the radio this morning. His views were very strong and I concur with his remarks. It is abhorrent to suggest putting an armed police force in schools rather than changing the gun laws in the United States. There is a majority view among the public that there should be tighter gun controls, as well as from many public representatives, yet the National Rifle Association seems to have a vice grip on a majority in American politics. I concur with the remarks of President Biden on this. We hope these representatives will act and that this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back, but there is pessimism across the United States that anything will actually happen. There will be an outpouring of grief and solidarity and then people will just move on and it will be forgotten about and consigned to the history books. It is shocking.

President Biden was correct in pointing out that lots of countries have mental health issues and other challenges, such as civil unrest and different issues that pop up from time to time, but no other country in the world is dealing with mass shootings in schools like the United States is. The issue is gun control, not those other issues. I extend our support, solidarity and deep sympathies to the families and communities of those who have lost loved ones this morning, those very young second, third and fourth graders. It does not bear thinking about but it is important that we speak about this issue, highlight it and advocate for change.

I join with the Senator in expressing our sympathies to the families who have, over the last number of hours, gone through the most unimaginable horror to befall any parent, which is the loss of a child. As the Senator has pointed out, it is an unnecessary loss. This is a failure of politics at its worst. This is a world superpower. If it cannot protect its own children then the solution is not more police; it is more politics and people working together to make sure they protect their children.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and his office, the Clerk and his team and all involved in the very successful visit yesterday by Congressman Richard Neal. By all accounts, it was an amazing and historic day. It was a great privilege to be here and to share in the exchange. Based on the media coverage last night, it resonated with a lot of people. I know it was a personal choice of the Cathaoirleach's and something he wanted to see happen. I also thank the administration here in Leinster House that dealt with all the security issues and other matters that come with such a visit to this House. We were greatly privileged and I again thank everyone involved.

I raise the issue of An Bord Pleanála. I am conscious that there is litigation going on that would not be appropriate for me to talk about. That said, An Bord Pleanála plays a very important - indeed, critical - role in our planning process and the public must therefore have every confidence in the governance procedures of the board and how it and its members conduct themselves. We in these Houses are all aware that the former Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government commissioned a report called the Mulcahy report, which I will address in a minute. We are also very aware that our current Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage appointed Remy Farrell SC to provide his opinion on a number of planning decisions and a report is awaited. As I said, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on his work or any ongoing issues around An Bord Pleanála.

A report by Rory Mulcahy SC into alleged corruption in County Donegal remains unpublished almost five years after it was sitting on the desk of the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy. He said the report was on his desk and that it needed some consideration. There were many issues of alleged serious misconduct in a planning authority, which gave rise to questions. We are going to talk about confidence in the planning authority, in local government planning procedures and in our appeals board, An Bord Pleanála. Let us not waste money and time commissioning reports unless we are also committed to putting them in the public domain. I have already issued a statement today calling on the Minister to publish the Mulcahy report and lay it before the Houses of the Oireachtas, so we can at least tease out the issues and learn from the recommendations. Having reports that spell out wrongdoing, but not learning from them, is simply and quite frankly not good enough. I ask the Acting Leader for a debate at some point on planning, planning governance, confidence in planning and how we can instil greater confidence in the planning process. I will leave it at that because these reports will hopefully be forthcoming. Today, my call is on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to publish Rory Mulcahy SC's report. Let us look at it, see about it and let us debate those issues in these Houses.

This morning I wish to raise two outstanding pieces of legislation. As Senator Chambers pointed out, it is now four years after that momentous day when we repealed the eighth amendment of the Constitution, but we know that there is still a lack of provision, which affects in particular people living in rural areas, people with disabilities, the working class, migrants and people living in direct provision. The three-day waiting period is also an issue. Quite frankly, it is paternalistic nonsense. I am concerned that this House has passed the legislation on safe access zones, yet we still do not have any progress from the Minister for Health on the issue.

This morning a very worrying interview was carried out on the fact that not all maternity hospitals are offering abortion services. More damning is the fact that only one in ten GPs is signing up to provide abortion services. It is very concerning for one community where a GP has had to stop having any clinics whatsoever on a Saturday morning because of protests that were occurring on Saturdays. Now, not only are the women who are in need of healthcare for abortion services affected, but also the wider community cannot get access to their GP on a Saturday because some people think it is appropriate to protest outside a GP's office and prevent women from getting the healthcare access they need. We need safe access zones. If it is not Senator Gavan's legislation, which has been supported by many Members across this House, then the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, needs to act fast so that women are not prevented from accessing the healthcare to which they are entitled and that we fought hard to achieve.

The second piece of legislation that we are awaiting is my own Bill that was brought to the House in February on jury selection, in particular in connection with the Stardust inquest. We know that the coroner, Myra Cullinane, wants the inquest to proceed in September. These families have been waiting for decades for justice. She wants no further delays. We already had a judicial review in the High Court, which has delayed proceedings. It is essential that the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, brings forward legislative proposals and fulfils the commitment she gave to the families who were in this House. She said that she was aware that their concerns were warranted, that we must have independent selection of jurors and that their income must be protected in some way to allow them to sit for a number of months on jury service. We have a matter of weeks left before the summer recess. If the Minister does not bring the legislation before the two Houses before the summer recess, we will not be back here until late September, which means the inquest will not be able to proceed then, as the coroner wants it to. It is completely in the hands of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to prevent any further delays and hurt to the families of the Stardust fire.

I rise again today to raise a very serious matter about my local hospital and that of the Acting Leader, Naas General Hospital. It is the second time in just over a year that "RTÉ Investigates" has disclosed horrific allegations of sexual abuse of patients by medical professionals who were working in the hospital. In last night's case, it was outlined that a doctor who worked at Naas General Hospital was removed from the Irish medical register in 2015 after two patients alleged they were sexually assaulted by him. The allegations relate to a doctor who was found guilty of professional misconduct by the Irish Medical Council.

Naas General Hospital has apologised for the way it communicated with the two patients in the aftermath of their complaints. In a statement to "RTÉ Investigates", Naas General Hospital said on the day it received the first complaint the hospital convened a serious incident review meeting and decided to suspend the doctor from duty with immediate effect, pending the outcome of a trust-in-care process. The hospital went on to say that the doctor has never returned to work since his suspension. Last night's programme outlined that An Garda Síochána is currently carrying out an ongoing criminal investigation and it is co-operating with Interpol and other police authorities.

Last year, "RTÉ Investigates" also revealed three separate investigations were under way into a series of complaints of suspected sexual abuse of unconscious patients by another doctor at Naas General Hospital. Those allegations involved up to four patients. Again, I thank Aoife Hegarty and "RTÉ Investigates" for their work in highlighting these important and very worrying matters.

I want to pay tribute as well to the young man referred to in the programme last night as "Ryan" for his bravery in coming forward in what must have been a very difficult investigation and a very difficult time for him and his family. I ask the Acting Leader to arrange a debate in this House with the Minister for Health on hospital safety. We must be able to assure patients that when they are at their most vulnerable from a health point of view, the professionals treating them care for them as they are supposed to do.

I welcome the news from yesterday that the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, has been allowed to affiliate with ICTU, albeit on a temporary, two-year basis. This is very good news for the members of PDFORRA, allowing its representatives to partake in the forthcoming pay talks. This opportunity must also be extended to the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. I hope we all get the chance to raise this important point again with the Minister for Defence when he is next in this House. We have all called for a debate on the report of the commission. The Acting Leader and colleagues throughout the House have done so. I ask that such a debate would be convened in the quickest possible time.

Last week in this Chamber I spoke about the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh and the shameful attacks on her funeral procession. I said that it was part of a pattern of Israeli violence and repression employed to suppress the voices of those highlighting human rights abuses in the region. I called for accountability and meaningful repercussions of the violation of international law.

There is an update to this saga. A European Parliament delegation to Palestine, which includes Irish MEPs, Chris McManus and my good friend, Grace O'Sullivan, has been blocked by Israel, making it necessary for them to call off their visit. Israel created this situation by refusing to allow the delegation to travel to Gaza, and by refusing the leader of the delegation, Manu Pineda MEP, access to the country, when he arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday. Impeding the delegation in this way is outrageous behaviour which warrants a robust response. There are precedents to follow here. In the past, when Russia and China took actions against MEPs, diplomatic and trade repercussions were imposed on them. The suspension of a massive EU-China trade deal is evidence of how seriously these matters should be taken and it is clear that the same standard needs to be applied in this case. This is what Mr. Pineda and my former Civil Engagement Group colleague, Grace O'Sullivan, have called for. Whenever calls are made in this Chamber for action against Israel, in light of its human rights abuses, the standard response is that maintaining diplomatic relations between Ireland and Israel is important so that Ireland can press for better treatment of Palestinians and the importance of upholding international law. I do not doubt the sincerity of this argument, but it is becoming increasingly untenable. It is very clear that Israel refuses any kind of meaningful scrutiny of its treatment of the Palestinian people. It refuses to be held accountable for its crimes.

The only diplomacy that Israel is interested in is a stage-managed version, where criticism is muted and figures who express solidarity for Palestine's struggle for freedom are excluded. Ireland must stop validating this sham. If Irish and European diplomacy are unable to highlight the real issues on the ground, then it is not worth engaging. The restrictions that are being imposed on Members of the European Parliament who are carrying out their duties warrant a response from the European Union. I want this House to be briefed on what the position of the Irish permanent representative to the European Union will be on this issue. Will he echo the calls from Grace O'Sullivan MEP and Manu Pineda MEP for material consequences for Israel's restrictions on the work of the European Parliament?

I echo the compliments to the Cathaoirleach and the staff at the Seanad on the address by US Congressman Richie Neal and the warm welcome that was extended to him by this House. I compliment the Cathaoirleach on his ongoing engagement with the United States. Yesterday's interaction was important.

I also welcome the decision to allow temporary associate membership to PDFORRA of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. It is important that members of our Defence Forces have a voice in the forthcoming pay talks. I appreciate that this is only a first step but it is welcome. I think that should be communicated. I congratulate the executive of PDFORRA for its work in that regard.

I am conscious that we have often debated China in this House. Yesterday saw a leak of police files that further prove the appalling treatment of the Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang by the Chinese Communist Party. We know that China is continuing to engage in systematic abuse and in a genocide against the Uyghur minorities. While our attention is rightly focused on what is happening in Ukraine, we cannot avoid what is continuing to happen in China.

We are seeing the ongoing repression of human rights in Hong Kong, in Tibet and of other minorities. Yet, the images that have now emerged of the Uyghur community are particularly frightening. I ask again that this House communicate those messages to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in order that he in turn communicate them to the Chinese ambassador. Once again, we should express our abhorrence at the ongoing abuse of human rights by the Chinese Communist Party.

This afternoon I raise the issue of the crisis in our rental car industry. We are all very much aware of the inflation in prices. This morning I got a quote to rent a car for ten days. The sum of that, if I were to take it up, would be €1,800. That is quite extraordinary to see the inflation in the rental car trade. Some 20% of visitors who come to Ireland use rental cars. This inflation imposed upon our tourism market will have a huge knock-on effect on our credibility as being an affordable place to go on holidays. We need to look over the next few weeks at how we can ensure that our rental car trade will be competitive. That would require engagement with the motor trade and with the Minister. I respectfully ask the Leader of the House to organise a debate with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, on how she will move in the next few days and weeks to curb the inflation that is being seen at present in the rental car trade. More importantly, how will she make sure that our tourism industry will not be grossly affected by this inflation? This could undermine our entire tourism industry, as 20% of tourists use cars. They go to rural locations, such as Kerry or west Cork. They will not go to west Cork unless they have the opportunity to get an affordable rental car. We need to have a real, genuine debate in this House on how we will solve this issue as otherwise, the tourism industry unfortunately could be undermined.

First, I join with my colleague, Senator Wall, and I am sure with the Acting Leader, in welcoming the accession of PDFORRA to ICTU. However, it is outrageous that RACO has not been granted the same permission. I call today on the Minister for Defence to immediately address that. There are pay talks ongoing right now and they need to be there.

There has been much talk recently about mental health for children and mental health issues for children. One wonders about the way business is done in this country. I brought this report before this House last week. It is 415 pages in length and is the Air Corps's pitch to take part in the search and rescue, SAR. This would result in €378,661,302 in savings to the Exchequer. I guarantee the Leader that no Minister has read this or has been asked to read it. Furthermore, the critique of that report is three pages in length. There is not one technological, empirical or statistical piece of evidence to support this piece of nonsense.

The Secretary General was invited before the Oireachtas joint committee on a number of occasions to discuss this process and has refused to come. If the Departments are not answerable to the Oireachtas and the Ministers appear to not be in control of their Departments, where the hell do we go? It is outrageous there is no way to question this process. This process is banging ahead like a steam engine. There would be almost €400 million in savings over ten years and nobody will explain why it is not happening.

We talk all the time about the pride we have in the Defence Forces in this House. There is no pride in the Defence Forces. This weekend an RAF aircraft was called in to do top cover without the knowledge of the Air Corps. I am told it was RAF, but it was English and that is for sure. This fits neatly into the desire of the Irish Coast Guard to have top cover provided by somebody other than the Air Corps for the next three years.

Who is running this State? Is it the faceless civil servants who are so God-damned powerful at this stage that they are answerable to nobody, not even to the Houses of the Oireachtas? To compel a Secretary General to come before an Oireachtas committee, you need the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight of both Houses to agree. That is way too cumbersome, as far as I am concerned. This is an outrage. I understand that the tender will be going out today. That tender will be going out in contempt of this House, of the Lower House and of the Oireachtas joint committee. That is simply not good enough.

I will speak today about a very positive day that we had in Limerick on Monday. The Minister of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, visited Limerick.

Senator Craughwell will be interested to know that Limerick College of Further Education made an announcement on the purchase of three buildings for a digital and media hub. That is most fitting, given their expansion by working with the likes of Troy Studios. Limerick is now becoming one of the biggest areas for film studios in the country.

We also learned about the retrofitting programme through the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, LCETB. There we met many trainees and apprentices who are almost ready to go out and work in the workplace on the retrofitting programme.


Senator Craughwell knows the rules of the House.

The other visits we had was to Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest, TUS, and with the apprenticeship programme for the Coonagh campus. There is the expansion of the apprenticeship programme, where 800 places will be offered to apprentices from next year, once the building is complete. Monday was a very welcome day. We also had a visit to the University of Limerick. It was a very productive day for education and for training. That is important to note. The more positive days and the more collaboration we see between education and industry, the better.

Finally, I visited members of the Ronald McDonald House in Buswells Hotel today. I pay compliment to them for the wonderful work that they do with families. I would encourage anyone who has not been there to go and visit them. They had three asks. The first of these was to advocate on their behalf, the second was to follow and support Ronald McDonald House Charities Ireland on social media and the third was to help them to share the story of the new 52-bedroom house, which will be at the new children’s hospital when it is built.

At the moment, they have only 25 rooms. Doubling that number is to be commended.

I would like the Ministers for Finance and Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House for a debate about what Ireland is doing to prepare for a possible recession. Economists have for months now been warning of the prospect of a recession in late 2022, an assertion echoed earlier this month by the UK's National Institute for Economic and Social Research. The chief executive of Citigroup, one of the world's largest banks, said on Monday that she believes Europe is sliding into recession as it grapples with the consequences of war in Ukraine and a resulting spike in energy prices.

Headline inflation in the eurozone hit an all-time high of 7.4% in April, even by measures which account for volatile food and energy prices, which still point to inflation far exceeding the ECB's 2% target. We do not need to be reminded of the role that is played in the global financial markets by the economy of the United States. Much will depend in coming months on how the US Federal Reserve conducts its rate-hiking strategy as inflation soars even higher. Wall Street has been voicing its concerns for months. Since the 1940s, every time inflation has exceeded 5%, a recession has soon followed.

There are, of course, things in life which matter more than money. At a material level, money often buys us the essentials of clothes, food and shelter. Shortages in those materials are more immediately noticeable than percentage point downturns in GDP. While many a debate has been had in this House on our shortage of shelter, food could be worth keeping an eye on.

The economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, heard on Monday that the anxiety about access to food at a reasonable price globally is hitting the roof. We were warned of the spectre of global food shortages in the coming months. The UN estimates that in the past year, global food prices have risen by almost one third, fertiliser by more than half and oil prices by almost two thirds. Globally, more than 500,000 people are experiencing famine conditions, an increase of more than 500% since 2016.

Today's Ireland is highly interconnected and heavily interdependent. No longer does each household have a potato or cabbage patch. The supermarket shelves are the sole source of food for most of our population. A discussion on national food security could reveal some steps we should be taking. We need regular updates from both Ministers on these pressing matters.

I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach on the success of yesterday when Congressman Richie Neal shared his words with this House.

I support the call of Senator Craughwell for the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, to be included in the pay talks. It is extraordinary that we made a decision about PDFORRA but did not include RACO in that reimagining. I hope we can change that and that RACO can be included in those pay talks.

Senator Maria Byrne referenced the issue of Ronald McDonald House, which briefed us interestingly and informatively this morning. Those of us who have been in the existing Ronald McDonald House and have seen the benefits of the support, love and infrastructure, and the warmth of the people there, should be prompted to support the new facility in the national children's hospital. "The house love will build" is the name of the campaign. It is about ensuring that the families of young children receive support away from home. That is a cause we should all support.

The Cathaoirleach might not have heard me at the beginning of my contribution. I compliment and congratulate him on yesterday, which was a positive day for relations between Ireland and America and, more importantly, between friends. I hope we can build on that.

I welcome to the Gallery the boys and girls I had the pleasure of meeting on my way to the Chamber. I nearly bumped them out of the way. I apologise because I did not get much time to say hello, but they are welcome.

I thank the Senator for his kind words about Congressman Neal's address yesterday.

I also welcome the boys and girls of sixth class at St. Sinneach's National School in Colehill, Longford, whose local Senator is Senator Carrigy. I welcome the principal and the sixth class teacher, Ms Lavelle. I am told that Senator Carrigy's wife, Úna, teaches in the school so our guests will have to be on their best behaviour. We will pass a resolution so the students all get off homework whenever they want.

I also welcome the students and teachers from Gaelscoil an Chuilinn in Tyrrelstown in Dublin. I am delighted they were able to come to Seanad Éireann and see democracy in action. I thank them for being with us here today.

I almost knocked down one or two of our guests when I was racing to the Chamber too but they kindly left me a gap. I welcome the kids from Longford and acknowledge their local Senator and the work he does for education in this House.

It is timely because my question relates to my own primary school in Grange. I would like a debate with the Minister for Education. Schools around the country have been lucky in terms of the funding available for extensions and the building of new primary and secondary schools. We in Grange made a successful application to the Department of Education. However, because of rising costs, the expense involved in the application have increased. The school went back to the Department of Education with a small increase and have been waiting some time for a decision to be made. By the time the decision has been made, costs will have risen again. The principal, Marie Keating, along with the board of management, has done phenomenal work. The teachers are phenomenal in the work they do and the commitment they give. This is an important extension for the school in Grange. I ask the Minister to speed up that process in any way possible. I know there are schools across the country that need funding but it is important that it is done as quickly as possible. It would be timely to have a debate with the Minister for Education on that subject anyway.

I have asked in the past for a debate with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, about all the schemes she gives to rural areas across the country, including my county of Tipperary. Those schemes include CLÁR and the town and village renewal scheme. Those schemes serve an important purpose for areas such as mine in Tipperary. To give one example, the village of Drangan in Tipperary has put forward a CLÁR application to do up bits of the playground and to resurface the road. It is an important application. My colleague, Councillor Mark Fitzgerald, has been working hard on this issue. People in the community, such as Ailish O'Brien and others, have done an awful lot of work on this application. It is important to get decisions made as quickly as possible on those applications. We are lucky that we are able to fund so many of these kinds of playgrounds and community projects but we need decisions to be made as quickly as we can to get those projects over the line. That was a very good playground and it needs to have work done to fix equipment and things like that. I would be very grateful if we could get a decision as quickly as possible.

I, too, welcome the representatives of St. Sinneach's National School. I welcome the principal, Ms Glynn, sixth class teacher, Ms Lavelle, and all the students to the House. I hope they enjoy their trip to Dublin. I concur with the Cathaoirleach's comments that there is a homework pass for this evening and perhaps for the rest of the week. It is a fantastic school in south Longford. Senator Ahearn mentioned the CLÁR scheme. I know St. Sinneach's was successful in getting a grant last year through that scheme. Those schemes are invaluable throughout the county. I have been involved in a CLÁR application this year on behalf of a neighbouring school in south Longford, Lenamore National School, which I hope is prioritised. It has applied for funding to provide a sensory area for kids with needs. There are a significant number of kids with those needs in many schools throughout the county.

I hope the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, will look favourably on the application.

I concur with the comments made by Senator Buttimer and I apologise to him as I was giving someone details while he was speaking. I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach for inviting Congressman Neal here yesterday. It was a fantastic day for this House. The United States of America has made a massive contribution to the Good Friday Agreement and, ultimately, peace in this country. It was an honour for me to be here when Congressman Neal spoke and to be in the presence of other members of his committee.

I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach on the work he has done for Irish-American relations. It is extremely important that we create links, which he spoke about, with, say, local authorities and state legislators throughout the US to make sure Ireland is always at the top of the agenda in America because many people in the House of Representatives and Senate have strong Irish-American links. If we do not maintain those links, they will weaken over time. We see how important those links are every St. Patrick's Day. Ireland is one of very few countries that gets the opportunity to meet the US President and we want that to continue. I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach for the work that he has done, and continues to do, to foster links. I look forward to working with him to create links with my own county of Longford and, in particular, I wish to mention state of Maryland as it has very strong links to County Longford.

I thank the Senator for his contribution and kind words.

I welcome the school groups, in particular the group from County Longford. I know Senator Carrigy's wife, Úna. The latter group has a link to Ballinasloe as Úna Boland is from the town of Ballinasloe. We must give all of the children a big wave because we need them to come here. They will be here in a few years' time. Do they know that women only make up 40% of Senators? We need a few more girls to join us. What do the girls think? Can I have a thumbs up? Yes.

I invite everybody to Ballinasloe because the Heritage Boat Association is hosting an event to showcase barges, including a barge that dates back to 1847. Many barges will come from Dublin and Kildare. The River Suck branch of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland is newly established in Ballinasloe. I wish to thank the IWAI branches in Kildare and Athlone for donating money and gifts to help the new branch get started. As a member of the new branch, I can say we need new members and I encourage everyone to join. The event will be a special occasion because the marina in Ballinasloe is a wonderful amenity. The River Suck is the largest tributary of the River Shannon so people can rent a boat at Athlone, Shannonbridge or Banagher and sail to Ballinasloe. If people come to Ballinasloe this weekend, they will see numerous barges or really long boats.

On Saturday, 28 May, the fleet of boats will arrive in Ballinasloe between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The barges will transport barrels and kegs just like in the past along the Grand Canal into Ballinasloe. They will transport kegs of very nice stuff that children, unfortunately, cannot have yet. On Saturday, 4 June, as part of the Cruinniú na nÓg national events, there will be children's celebrations and family activities between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Of course children are very welcome to come along to that event and perhaps their muinteoir, Ms Boland or Carrigy, might bring the schoolchildren to Ballinasloe for that day.

Unfortunately, Galway County Council has reached the bottom of the league in terms of State funding per capita in terms of county council funding. I am not surprised because Galway County Council has been one of the most under-funded councils for a number of years. Unfortunately, it is official that Galway County Council has reached the bottom of the table. Galway County Council was second last for a number of years but Meath County Council has now overtaken us but is still in the relegation zone.

Galway County Council is way behind comparable counties of the same size such as Mayo, Donegal, Tipperary and Kerry. This situation has been known for some time and the Department officials have been very aware of same. Many promises have been made at Department and ministerial levels to rectify the situation, yet we still await a solution. We are being fobbed off with the excuse that a review of the local property tax is taking place. While recognising the situation in Galway and providing a certain amount of additional funding through the former Minister of State at the Department, Deputy John Paul Phelan, the current Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and the current Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, the situation has not improved and it is increasingly difficult to get budgets passed. I call for a debate on local authority funding to be arranged because we need to find solutions for counties like Galway which have huge ambitions in terms of the delivery of services by local authorities, and there is a huge demand for services by residents. For years it was debated whether the local authority would be amalgamated with Galway City Council. Whether right or wrong, the option to amalgamate is off the table. We still need to arrange a stable level of funding for Galway County Council to enable it deliver services that the residents, taxpayers and local property tax payers in the county deserve.

I agree with the comments Senator Kyne made about securing funding for Galway County Council. I am well aware of the efforts the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, have made to solve this situation but we need a general debate in this House.

Today, I want to concentrate on the N5 route from Strokestown to Ballaghaderreen that, unfortunately, has seen huge loss of life over the years. As a result of the war in Ukraine, the roads contract has fallen through due to the fact Roadbridge is no longer functioning. I am confident, having met the Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, that the project will be up and running. However, in the meantime, there are huge concerns about safety in the town of Strokestown, on the outskirts of Tulsk village and in Ballinagar. I understand Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, may do something about part of the route at Frenchpark after many politicians made representations over many years. People are really worried about safety on these roads. I ask the Acting Leader to ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Transport and arrange a debate so we can discuss the route, particularly the fact that the present contract has been held up due to the worsening situation in Ukraine. I reiterate the case for inviting the Minister to attend a debate in this House to discuss many roads issues, particularly issues with the N5 route.

Earlier I tabled a Commencement matter in respect of Ukraine and the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. There are many other things we need to do at a legislative level to support Ukraine. I refer to Resolution 2436 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and to a number of points it made about actions that can be taken to support Ukraine at a legislative level. For example, the first is legislating for the crime of aggression, something that is recognised now in the European Convention on Human Rights through the Kampala amendments, to which Ireland signed up in 2019. There is an avenue there for us to talk about what is happening there, with the blockading of ports being the most simple one. The bombing and invasion have been recognised pursuant to the Kampala amendments. That is something we could do. Other measures include the creation of a universal civil jurisdiction that would allow us to say that we know there are Russian assets, not just Russian state assets in Ireland but personal assets of people who are and are not the subject of sanctions. A universal civil jurisdiction would allow us to start to seize those assets and put them towards the reconstruction of Ukraine or provide Ukraine with assistance rather than allow a situation to continue where assets are merely frozen here by actions of the Government.

We now have a window in which we can take action against Russia. Yes, Russia has been excluded from the Council of Europe but until 16 September we have a small window within which we can take an action against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights for breaching the European Convention on Human Rights. Ireland should step up to the plate and make sure that we take this action.

Finally, I welcome the fact the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, put forward €4 million towards the International Criminal Court to help in the prosecution of war crimes that have been committed. Some €1 million has been delivered but I wonder if better use can be made of the remaining €3 million. Can that sum be directed specifically to the Prosecutor-General in Ukraine? I have met her staff in Ukraine and they are very together. As Members will know, this week they have achieved a conviction or a guilty plea in respect of one tank commander. I think the remaining €3 million might be better directed at the people on the ground who are doing this work.

As counsel before the International Criminal Court, I have nothing but praise for it but it takes time and it seems that it could be more effectively directed on the ground in Ukraine.

I find myself in the unusual position that I am directing my response only to the Government side of the House. Senator Chambers opened proceedings and spoke of the anniversary of repeal. It is hard to believe that it is four years since we had the referendum on repeal. She noted that it actually started 35 years ago. We as legislators need to ensure that the will of people around equality of access is upheld and we need to ensure that there are safe access zones and that legislation is brought in. Senator Boylan also addressed that issue. I was pleased to stand with other Members of the Oireachtas at the Kildare Street gates to commemorate that day.

Senator Chambers also raised the mass shooting in the US. We were all shocked last night and this morning to hear the testimony as it broke on our newspapers, radio and television about 19 children and two teachers. It is just shocking. That is the 27th shooting there this year. On behalf of the House I wish to express all our condolences to the families, teachers and the communities and the people of America. Some of responses from public representatives were abhorrent. They said that guns were not the problem. It was people that were the problem and we should teach teachers to use guns. They said there should be armed police at schools rather than dealing with the whole area of guns and the fact that a young man could walk in on his 18th birthday and buy two guns, shoot his grandmother and then go on to the school.

One of my brothers was in Texas for work last week. He sent a photograph to the family WhatsApp after he walked into a shop and saw guns for sale because he was shocked. Little did I think we would see something like this happen in Texas a little over a week later. We have to do everything we can to condemn the attack and stand in solidarity with the devastated community in Texas. We are lucky that we have very stringent controls on firearm certificates and conditions here and that is how it should be.

Senators Boyhan, Buttimer and Malcolm Byrne spoke about Congressman Richard Neal's visit here and what a historic day is was in Leinster House. It is the one day that I was jealous that I was not here. I was abroad on Council of Europe business. From everything I saw and heard it really was a very significant day so I add my congratulations. I believe that Miriam Lord covered it very well in her piece. I did not read it but I heard something about it on the radio. It is really important that we do everything we can to commemorate and celebrate those connections.

Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of An Bord Pleanála. There are issues that are sub judice but he is correct in saying that people need to have confidence in the whole system. We should certainly look for the publication of the Mulcahy report. It is five years since its completion. Money and time are spent on reports. They must then be published and debated and we must look at the recommendations. I agree that we need a debate on planning. I would like to include in that the matter of unauthorised developments and how our planning laws deal with them because we need to do far more. I raised that here two weeks ago. We will certainly look for that debate.

Senator Boylan spoke about the jury selection for the Stardust inquest. She referred to the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, having made a commitment that she would bring forward legislative proposals to ensure that the jury would commence. That is important and we will write to the Minister on that issue.

Senator Wall raised Naas General Hospital and the "RTÉ Investigates" programme about sexual misconduct by doctors there. He spoke of gardaí carrying out the investigation. We listened to the testimony of "Ryan", which is not his real name. I was struck by his bravery and integrity in talking about what he went through. We must be very mindful of the anguish he has suffered as a result. We do need to have a debate on patient safety and the procedures in place because part of Ryan's story was what happened when he did speak to other hospital staff. We are very conscious of how overworked hospital staff are but we need to have proper procedures in place and to ensure they are followed.

Senator Wall also raised the welcome news yesterday for PDFORRA as did Senators Byrne, Craughwell and Buttimer. I agree that RACO should be included but to be fair, PDFORRA started this campaign a long time before RACO joined the debate. I want to compliment Ger Guinan and Mark Keane. They have done excellent work in a very respectful way. Many of us would have had meetings with them over the years. It is high time this happened and it is really important. I want to compliment them in particular for their sustained campaign and I add my voice to those calling for RACO to be involved.

Senator Black spoke of the shocking scenes at the funeral of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and how Israel has refused access to MEPs. I think that is wrong. They should be allowed in. The Seanad should ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to write to the Israeli ambassador. Diplomatic relations are important, as Senator Black said, but there are areas where we must take a stand. This is one.

Senator Malcolm Byrne also spoke about the leak of police files about the Uyghur community in China and the systemic abuse and genocide being carried out there. He is correct that sometimes when things like Russia's war against Ukraine happen we can lose sight of other human rights abuses happening around the world. We just cannot do so. What is happening to the Uyghur community is absolutely shocking. We will write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs to share our shock about the abhorrent human rights abuse by China against the Uyghur community.

Senator Lombard spoke about car rental for tourists. He mentioned how he got a quote of €1,800 for ten days. Coincidentally, I spoke to an official coming here next week for a Council of Europe meeting where representatives from 48 countries will come to Dublin. He has a connection with Ireland and he wanted to hire a car for four days. He was having a problem finding a hotel for two days. I had recommended hotels in Kildare to him previously. He was quoted €1,500 for four days. For that he could have bought a car, sold it on and made a profit. Now he is not renting a car and is staying with a friend rather than staying in a hotel outside Dublin. It is shocking.

One reason for this situation, and I do not know why, is that the car rental fleet is 40% of what it was in 2019. Why? Is it because the price of second-hand cars has gone up? I really do not know. It must be investigated, I completely agree, because it is important that Ireland has a reputation for value for money. For the first time in three years we are able to open our country and our world-renowned hospitality to people. We want to ensure that they have easy access to accommodation and car hire and not at exorbitant prices. We cannot have our tourism undermined. We should look for a debate with the Minister on that issue.

Senator Craughwell also raised the matter of the tender process and said the Secretary General had refused to meet the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. He also spoke about the Air Corps being slighted. We will certainly write to the Minister regarding that and will request the Secretary General attends the committee.

Senator Maria Byrne spoke about Limerick College of Further Education, UL and the expansion of courses there around film apprenticeships and retrofitting, in addition to Ronald McDonald House. Senator Buttimer also attended the presentation this morning. The fact a new 52-bedroom house for families has been opened is phenomenal. The emotional and financial stress on families when they have a very sick child is huge on so many levels. It is wonderful to see the extra supports that are being given.

Senator Keogan raised the spectre of inflation and the issue of access to food and food security that is being discussed in Davos. While she is correct that for far too long a lot of food in this country has been sold below cost, which has caused a major problem for producers, we should also be doing everything we can to encourage allotments and community gardens for people to grow their own food where they can. Maybe we could look for a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on that.

Senator Ahearn spoke about the primary school in Grange, Tipperary, and rising costs. My understanding is the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform made an announcement about two weeks ago that due to inflation the Department will step in, rightly so, on capital grants. Following that, I received a number of phone calls, as I am sure Senator Ahearn and many Members did, to see if the sports capital grants could be included in that. I contacted the Minister's office and, while they will not be included, it is looking at doing something. I agree that when extensions are needed, they are needed immediately, generally speaking, because we are playing catch-up all the time in this regard. The Senator asked for a debate with the Minister for Rural and Community Development on CLÁR schemes. Tipperary is very lucky to get CLÁR; I wish Kildare could. It is important to have clarity on timelines relating to decisions and when funding can come through.

While welcoming the visitors in the Gallery from Longford, Senator Carrigy spoke about the importance of the Irish influence in American politics. I remember a book I read by Conor O'Clery, The Greening of the White House, which was an excellent book on the influence Ireland brought to bear on the White House. In that context, it is important to mention Ms Trina Vargo, who was foreign affairs adviser to the late Senator Ted Kennedy. She set up the US-Ireland Alliance based on that premise because the late Senator Kennedy felt there would be a time when Ireland would not have the influence it has and he wanted to ensure young people on campuses across America would have the opportunity to learn about and understand Ireland, with the hope they would one day be influential in their own country and in politics.

Senator Kyne spoke about Galway being bottom of the league for per capita council funding and looked for a debate on local authority funding. We need that debate and I will certainly write to both Ministers involved in that. That is where key funding is needed in all our county and city councils throughout the country. We need a sustainable level of funding for all our local authorities to be able to carry out the very important and significant work they do. We should look for that debate and for accountability and transparency in funding. I have often heard from executives in Kildare County Council that it is one local authority but has two Dáil constituencies, and it certainly does not get enough funding either. I agree with that.

Senator Murphy asked for a debate on the N5 route from Strokestown to Ballaghaderreen and spoke about the major safety concerns that are there. Road safety is absolutely an issue but he has spoken to the Minister and the Taoiseach specifically on the N5 issue and the Senator believes the project will be back on track. Maybe it is worthy of a Commencement debate also.

Senator Ward spoke about mutual recognition of qualifications from Ukraine. I completely agree. There was a Commencement debate in the House last week, during which this matter was asked about in respect of pharmacists, for example. Pharmacists will say otherwise, but I have no doubt there is a shortage of pharmacists in this country. Ukraine is not one of those countries that is allowed a fast-track into pharmacy here and I believe it should be. I agree with the Senator that we should certainly look at that mutual recognition. He also addressed the avenue through the Council of Europe declaration in respect of how we can support Ukrainians and that small window where we could look at Russian assets that are in Ireland, and the possibility of seizing them and using them to finance for the reconstruction of Ukraine. His final suggestion related to the €4 million given to the International Criminal Court by Ireland and the suggestion the remaining €3 million might be of better use on the ground. I do not disagree. We certainly will write to the Minister and make that suggestion.

I welcome to the Visitors Gallery Senator Malcolm Byrne's brother, Ronan. He and his partner Amanda are most welcome. We are delighted to have them here. As he knows, his brother works very hard on behalf of all the people who elected him in addition to the people of Wexford. We are delighted he is making such a valuable contribution, but Ronan can tell us all the other stories later when we meet him outside. Is the Order of Business agreed?

Ask the Opposition.

It is agreed on this side of the House.

Order of Business agreed to.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 12.37 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.45 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 12.37 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.