Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 14 Jun 2022

Vol. 286 No. 2

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re address to Seanad Éireann by Members of the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Wednesday, 15 June and Thursday, 16 June, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion re the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2022, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, motion re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Chiropodist) Regulations 2022, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate; No. 5, the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and to adjourn at 3.35 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated for the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each, and the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply; No. 6, address to Seanad Éireann by Members of the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, subject to the approval of No. 1, to be taken at 4 p.m. in accordance with the arrangements set out in that motion; No. 7, the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 5.45 p.m. and to adjourn after two hours if not previously concluded; and No. 8, the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 7.45 p.m. and to adjourn after two hours, if not previously concluded.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach will be aware of the reported decision of the UK Government to unilaterally change parts of the Northern Ireland protocol that was agreed between the UK and the European Union. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have been clear that this has been a breach of good faith as well as a breach of international law and that it undermines the trust that is necessary to do business. The EU position has been clear and the role played by Maroš Šefčovič has been quite noble. It has always been the case that this country and the EU have said that if there are ways we can improve the operation of the protocol then that can be done through dialogue and engagement but not through the whiplash diplomacy that is being practised by the Johnson Government. Trade must be done on the basis of trust and respect for international law. I am sure the Leader would agree with me that the support of all parties and none in this House is for the position of the Government and the EU that international law must be recognised.

I want to raise the Future of Media Commission report, which was provided to the Government last October. The Leader will know that we have already had extensive debate on the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill in the absence of the publication of this report, and we know about some of the challenges that are faced by our local media, including newspapers and radio. My colleague, Senator Cassells, has regularly raised this issue. There are also concerns on the part of RTÉ and TG4 on their future models of funding and we continue to have a debate on trusted media, fake news and disinformation. The Government has had this report since last October. Brian Mac Craith and his team did the necessary work and provided the work to the Government. In spite of many requests from this House and from the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, it has not been published. I am asking the Leader to schedule a debate on the future of local and national media in Ireland before the recess. We should have that debate whether or not that report is finally published. It is far too important an issue to allow it to go on. The delay has been unacceptable so I ask that we have that debate.

I want to acknowledge that around this time every year a number of new cathaoirligh and mayors are elected in local authorities all around the country. It is an enormous honour to hold one of those roles and I want to pay tribute to those who have carried out that work over the past year and to wish those who are about to don the chains the best of luck for the year ahead. We need a debate on the powers of local government in this country and I ask again that this would be facilitated.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir. That was an apt ending to his contribution.

It is interesting that Senator Malcolm Byrne should end his commentary on local government because I want to spend my few moments today paying tribute to one of the most distinguished county councillors this country has ever seen. We learned last night of the death of the Independent Councillor Noel Collins from Cork County Council. He was a wonderful man who represented east Cork first and was elected over 54 years ago. Many may not know but he started off as a Fine Gael councillor for a short period of time and he remained a poll topper. He was a true and remarkable gentleman and I valued him as one of my greatest friends in politics.

Councillor Noel Collins was one of the longest serving councillors representing this State and I visited him two weeks ago, which was the last time I spoke to him, at Oaklodge Nursing Home. One of the abiding memories of that was that he took my hand, held on to it and asked me if I was going home.

I took that as a sort of a prompt to wonder whether I had overstayed my time or talked too much. Our entire conversation was about politics. Indeed, he welcomed by thanking me, as the "county clerk", for coming to see him, and I said, "I ain't the county clerk." He said, "I know you're not; you're Victor. I'm only joking." We had a chat and, interestingly, he spoke about the former Labour Party Councillor Jane Dillon Byrne, so he could think far back. He asked me to take him home, and he said there was nothing better than being at home in one's own home, belonging to a community that values one.

There is a message in all that for us as politicians. As those who knew him will recall, he was a politician who had no mobile phone, no car and no computer, yet he connected with his people. He had little handwritten cards, recycled from the back of, invariably, Weetabix or Ready Brek cardboard boxes, and he stood at the church wall between his house, St. Jude's on St. Mary's Road, and the church, and he asked people who wanted to see him to make an appointment with him. He was a generous man, full of charitable deeds and work, and he worked behind the scenes, especially for the homeless and the vulnerable. Noel Collins was a tireless and fearless public servant, afraid of nothing and respected by all.

I met the parish priest in Midleton with him before Covid. The priest called him over and said, "Collins, I hear you're always down with the Protestants", to which Collins replied, "Yes, and this is one", pointing at me. He then said, "Father, you're missing one thing: God is everywhere and I'm following Him." That, in a way, summed up who Collins was. He was a man of great passion. He found a passion and a vocation. Indeed, he had always wanted to study for the priesthood, and when I asked him why he had not done that, he said he had taken another journey and another route. That shows the similarities between the roles of parish priest and politician. He was a truly wonderful councillor. He earned a devoted base of voters through his work. He walked with his people and broke bread at people's tables. He shared with people and cared for them. He was independent of mind and of spirit, and that made him best placed to be an Independent councillor.

We will miss him, as will local government, Cork County Council and the Association of Irish Local Government. We will truly never see his like again. May he rest in peace.

I will certainly request the Senator to give my eulogy.

Are you planning to leave?

I expect you to live for long after me.

I echo the words of Senator Boyhan regarding Councillor Noel Collins. I spoke in the Chamber less than three weeks ago when he stood down from Cork County Council after 54 years of dedicated, unbroken service. He was a great friend of mine for a long time. The last time I was in his home, he sat back and sang "The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door", which was quite amazing given the fact his house was called "St. Jude's". He did not have a mobile phone or a computer, he did not use social media, and his greatest challenge was trying to find a ribbon for his typewriter. I got regular correspondence from him on behalf of the people of Cork, particularly Midleton, and it was always about the poor man or poor lady or the person who was not well. Towards the end, he signed the letters he sent to me as "The Pest" because he considered himself a pest, but a pest for the right reasons because he wanted to look after his people.

I think there is a lesson in that. In the most recent local elections, in 2019, in the world of social media, emails and all the modern technology, he still topped the poll. Politicians, therefore, do not have to completely sell their souls to social media and so on to serve the people. His clinics were at the wall outside the church in Midleton, and I have to say, he was close to God in every sense of the word.

I sincerely hope, and know, that he will find his true reward in heaven. Ar dheis Dé. When one talks about Noel Collins and then one thinks of the 40 Catholics in Nigeria who lost their lives in a massacre it is appropriate we should think of them and send our solidarity to their families and the Catholics in Nigeria following what was an atrocious massacre.

On other matters, I welcome that County Clare has been included in the mica redress scheme. The decision by Cabinet today was the correct one. We know of almost 1,000 homes in Country Clare that have been directly impacted by mica. Those people deserve to be in the scheme the same as people in other counties deserve to be in it. I fear this problem is only going to get worse as people identify mica as a problem in their homes. The Cabinet decision is a welcome one. We look forward to the legislation, which I am sure there will be much debate around, because this is going to be a very costly exercise reflective of terribly poor regulatory oversight in the decades passed. We must welcome that there is proper and much more robust regulatory oversight and inspection of properties in today's world. I hope history will not repeat itself and we will have learned from the mistakes of the past.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is next to speak, after a couple of false dawns.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. For the month that is in it, I want to talk about Pride in 2022. I recall having an overwhelming sense of pride in my country when Ireland passed the same-sex marriage referendum. After all, love is love. However, seven years on I am prompted to reassess. It is my wedding anniversary today. I have had 21 happy years with Mark. Never once in those years, or the time preceding them, have I or we ever considered our safety while expressing our affection in public. It might even be something like holding hands, which is such a natural human gesture. However, recent EU Agency for Fundamental Rights data tell us a quarter of members of the LGBT+ community in Ireland always avoid holding hands in public for fear of being assaulted, threatened or harassed. Most will assess their environment before even taking such a decision. That puts me and my husband, and the majority of us, in a very privileged position.

Scrolling through the excellent Cork LGBT Archive, I found the report of Ireland's first National Gay Conference in 1981, which was a precursor to Pride in Ireland. It refers to a certain David Norris as a speaker and reports "David hoped that the positive note of the Conference theme would be reflected in a commitment to move forward with a strong sense of unity". I thank my colleague for his 50 plus years of advocacy for LGBT+ rights in Ireland and helping to repeal Victorian-era laws.

I am also proud of the legacy and the current role my party, the Green Party, has played in this area. There is a bright rainbow within the green and a bright green in the middle of that rainbow. I am proud to be part of a Government that will publish a scheme to disregard convictions prior to decriminalisation in 1993. Pride is clearly as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. I am excited that in my own area there is now a Laois Pride that was created in partnership with the Midlands LGBT+ Project. Yesterday, an exhibition was launched in Abbeyleix on the changes to the laws on LGBT+ people from 1860 up to today. I am also thankful that in Offaly, a sub-group of the joint policing committee is launching an online survey on gender-based violence and harassment in public amenities. We need these conversations; we cannot be complacent. Pride is an opportunity for LGBT+ people to celebrate who they are but it is so much more than a party. It is a reminder to the rest of us of what we take for granted.

I thank the Minister of State. Just to maintain party rotation, I call Senator Ó Donnghaile.

I shall begin my remarks with a quote by a very famous and well-known Dubliner. In 1921, Edward Carson said:

What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power.

Replace 1921 with 2022 and replace the words "to get the Conservative Party into power" with "to keep the Conservative Party and, probably in particular, Boris Johnson in power" and we can see the very dangerous and retrograde antics play out in London. I refer to knowingly breaching international law. That has been done, with eyes wide open, by the British Prime Minister and his Government, which jeopardises the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions and, indeed, the economies of this island both North and South.

As I am sure colleagues will know and agree with me, the reality is that the protocol, which was agreed to and negotiated by the British Government and the EU Commission, works for the benefit of people, businesses and the economies here on this island. It is by no means the perfect solution nor is it the solution that we wanted here given that no one in Ireland - North or South - consented to Brexit.

I wish to express my very real concern and, indeed, that of my party, about the direction of travel by the British Government and not just this breach of international law with its protocol Bill but coupled with moves around issues like legacy and other matters of deep concern. We need to be alert to what is happening in Britain and Westminster. We need to ensure that here in this House we remain, as we have consistently done, united in our support for the protocol and for its proper effective implementation, and above all else our resolute unity and support for the Good Friday Agreement and its institution.

I do not believe anyone is under any illusions about the machinations that are playing out in the Tory Party, and how willingly they put Ireland and our peace and progress under threat to suit their own agenda. They also operate to give political cover to a section of political unionism which, ironically, do not support the Good Friday Agreement, never did support it and opposed same yet sees people day-to-day continuing to suffer without institutions in the North as we face ever more into a cost-of-living crisis. I appreciate that this is playing out before us. Therefore, it would be right and proper, and certainly before the summer recess, that the Minister for Foreign Affairs updates us on this issue and outlines the measures and moves the Irish Government will pursue to oppose this direction and to garner and mobilise international solidarity and diplomatic support in opposition to it.

Senator Wall will speak on behalf of the Labour Party.

I wish to raise an issue that I have previously mentioned a number of times in this House. I refer to the need to extend the short-hop zone to Newbridge train station, other train stations in south Kildare and to Portarlington in County Laois.

I welcome the creation of a focus group by Newbridge Community Development within the last number of days to advocate for an extension. On my way here this morning I listened to my local radio station, Kfm, and heard Jennifer Caffrey, who represented the focus group, eloquently state the reasons for the extension. Over the last number of years the local Labour Party in Newbridge has run a campaign to change the pricing structure. We met Ms Anne Graham, CEO, National Transport Authority, and handed her 8,500 signatures of local commuters in County Kildare who demand such a change. Since then we have continued to raise the issue at every opportunity. We have continuously raised this matter with each Minister for Transport and, indeed, the NTA.

Quite simply, hard pressed commuters bypass Newbridge and other Kildare stations and drive to Sallins station in Naas to avail of the short-hop fares but who can blame them? Many people save up to €200 per month by choosing to drive past their local station in favour of stopping at Sallins station. The result is that the N7 has become a car park as other commuters make the hard choice to drive all of the way into the capital to attend work. Time and again I am contacted by commuters from every corner of County Kildare asking for an update on our campaign. Recently those queries have come from students, as I have previously stated in this House. Students simply cannot afford the cost of accommodation in Dublin or avail of student accommodation in the city.

The youth travel card has helped but we still have problems with students paying considerable amounts of cash that they work hard to earn to avail of transport. The solution is to extend the short hop zone or even to create a medium or intermediate zone. This must allow for the use of the Leap card and the privileges it has given to commuters within the existing short hop zone. I recently made a submission to the greater Dublin transport strategy on this matter asking for such an outcome. In all of my recent conversations with the National Transport Authority, NTA, I have been told that a review of the short hop zone pricing structure as against the structure for other stations and how these differences are impacting commuters is under way. However, the CEO of the NTA is also on record as stating that, if public service obligation, PSO, funding was provided by the Government and the Minister, the NTA would change the pricing structure in the shorter term. This is what needs to happen. Government must provide such funding to alleviate pressures on those hard-pressed commuters who have no choice but to use their cars. Funding would alleviate pressure on the car park that the N7 and its feeder roads have become. The most fundamental point is that we are in the middle of a climate crisis. That alone should concentrate minds on the urgent need to address this issue in the shorter term. Once again, I ask the Leader to organise a debate on rural transport with the Minister for Transport. I would appreciate that.

The issue of the changing of Navan hospital's accident and emergency department into a medical assessment unit has been the subject of debate on national television and radio over the past 24 hours and in the homes of people in Navan and Meath. At this time yesterday, a meeting that took place down the road in the Department of Health between the Oireachtas Members from Meath and 18 of the lead clinicians in the country to discuss the clinical concerns of the HSE about the accident and emergency department at Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, as those clinicians saw them. It was a frank and robust meeting between everybody in the room. Discussion was led by Meath man and director of operations, Gerry McEntee, who set out his concerns about dealing clinically with things in Navan. However, at the end of the meeting, the HSE handed out a document, which I am holding right now, saying that the final stages of the implementation of this process of changing to a medical assessment unit is to begin on 30 June, in two weeks' time. The last time I checked, the HSE did not run this country. The Cabinet, the Government, is responsible for the running of the country. The HSE was reminded of that fact very forcefully by the Minister for Health last night and again this morning. He reminded it who runs the health service. Ultimately, responsibility rests with the Minister for Health. These people who think they are a law unto themselves and can bypass Cabinet and elected Members got a reminder today. I will read exactly what the Minister for Health said in his statement. He said:

I have heard clearly the concerns of clinicians in Navan as to the ongoing safety concerns [...] I have also heard the concerns of clinicians at other hospitals that would be impacted at a time when all health services are under such pressure.

He also stated "No decision regarding the HSE’s proposal for the transition of the Emergency Department at ... Navan ... has been agreed by this government." I am glad the Minister has clarified that. There are serious issues that need to be discussed. The HSE should remember that, if it wants to have an honest and frank discussion with the political leaders of the country, it must start by showing respect for those leaders and not with what was attempted yesterday.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 113 be taken before No. 1. No. 113 is a motion regarding the accession of Georgia to the European Union. In the times we are living in, we need to support those countries that are living under the cosh of Russia.

I join with my colleague, Senator Boyhan, in his remarks in respect of Councillor Noel Collins.

May he rest in peace.

I will also remark on the settlement that was reached yesterday on behalf of the victims of the Ballymurphy murders in Belfast. While the settlement was welcome, there remains unfinished business that must be dealt with. I hope it will be dealt with and not legislated away.

Everybody in this House will have received a number of emails from me with respect to search and rescue. Yesterday's email laid out 44 safety recommendations that arose as a result of the crash of Rescue 116 in which four brave people lost their lives. Some of those involved in search and rescue have been reckless in respect of the way they have handled things such as staff complaints, staff concerns with respect to safety, etc. It absolutely baffles me that the Department of Transport and the Irish Coast Guard, which have no aviation expertise whatsoever, will tender for aviation search and rescue for the next ten years. A wonderful document was put together by the Irish Air Corps and was scrapped by a three-page document which would not stand up to the scrutiny of a national school child. That is how seriously I feel about this issue. There are 44 recommendations. Two of them deal with the lack of aviation expertise in the Irish Coast Guard and in the Department of Transport, yet we are allowing those two organisations to come together and tender for the next search and rescue service. The current operator was found to be reckless. Will that operator be one of those tendering? I sincerely hope not. We also find that some of those who were involved in the business case for the next search and rescue service are themselves attached to potential bidders. The system is rotten to the core and needs to be stopped and examined by an independent organisation that can look at who did not make it into the business case.

The Senator's time is up but, more importantly, we cannot refer to an individual operator.

I have not done so. I have said nothing that is not in the public domain.

We will leave it at that. Irrespective of whether the information is in the public domain, it cannot come in here.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 113 is taken before No. 1.

We will see if there is a seconder for that proposal later. I call Senator Carrigy.

I wish to raise a couple of issues. The first relates to childcare and is becoming a major issue in the community childcare facilities with which I work in Longford. I am sure the situation is replicated across the country. Some facilities are at a point where they are struggling to get staff in order to provide services and are turning away parents who are looking to get their children into childcare for the September coming. We need the relevant Minister to attend the Chamber because the issue needs to be dealt with immediately. We need to put proper pay structures in place for our childcare sector or we are going to face a crisis whereby people will not be able to go to work because they cannot access childcare. We must compliment the staff in the childcare sector for the work they do. They need proper supports and pay. Parents need childcare to be able to go to work. I would like a debate on that matter, if possible before the summer recess, because it is going to be a major issue come September.

I also raise the Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill, which is at the stage of pre-legislative scrutiny. I sincerely hope it will come before one of the Houses before the recess. We have a major issue on our hands in the area of vaping and e-cigarettes. There are children as young as ten or 11 years of age addicted to vaping because controls are not in place at present with regard to the sale of those products. I know the Bill is in process but we need to make sure it comes before the Houses. This addiction is going to lead to follow-on crime, etc., if youngsters are addicted. I have heard of shops that are delivering vaping products to children in their homes. Kids as young as ten or 11 years of age are addicted to vaping.

I wish to raise a few points regarding the Bill. We need to look at the issue of small retailers. There is a growing market in the sale of larger packs of cigarettes, which now account for 30% of cigarette sales. The larger packs are sold at discounted prices to get more people to buy more cigarettes. We are allowing that. That needs to be addressed and we must stop the practice. In some other countries, retailers are only allowed to sell packs of 20. We should follow suit. It is important that we address the matter. We must look at the whole issue of identification requirements in the sale of tobacco. Retailers must ensure that they know whether a child is over or under the age of 18. The issue must be addressed.

I second Senator Craughwell's proposed amendment to the Order of Business on the motion regarding Georgia's candidacy for membership of the European Union, and specifically that it be taken without debate, with the agreement of the House. I reiterate the important point that it has been 31 years since Georgia regained its independence and 26 years since diplomatic relations between Ireland and Georgia were established. It is worth bearing in mind that on 8 November 2008 Russia invaded a democratic and independent state and still occupies 20% of that territory. That has tended to be forgotten by the international community over the years. It is important that the goodwill of the European Union is offered to Georgia on this occasion. I know that Georgia has been working hard to fulfil all of the obligations required of it in this regard. I look forward to the motion receiving the full support of the House. The Irish Government fully supports Georgia's candidacy for membership of the EU.

Briefly, I agree with Senator Carrigy on the issue of vaping shops. I have tabled a Commencement matter on the issue for later this week or next week. It is an important issue. The late former Deputy Nicky McFadden and I fought for years to get legislation implemented on the issue of head shops. That took a long time to be put in place. I hope we do not make the same mistake in respect of vaping shops. They are very dangerous. The must be regulated as a matter of urgency.

Finally, I note the Leas-Chathaoirleach and I attended the memorial launch and plaque-unveiling for the late Inspector Samuel Donegan, who was killed while on duty in the Border area by a booby-trap bomb on 8 June 1972. I might need some assistance shortly from Senator Carrigy on the pronunciation but Inspector Donegan was a native of Ballintempen, County Longford. He served in County Cavan and other places with distinction for many years. It is important that the inspector is recognised. It took 50 years for the memorial to be put in place, which is far too long. In this year, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána, memorials should be erected for every member of the organisation who was killed while on active duty in the State.

Tréaslaím go mór leis sin. Tá sé tuillte aige agus ag a chlann.

I wish to be associated with the sympathies offered today on the death of the Independent councillor, Noel Collins.

I want to extend my deepest sympathy and prayers to the people of Nigeria at this time, as they continue to mourn the deaths of as many as 40 Christians, who were killed in church on Sunday of last week. Some 87 others were also injured. It can sometimes be the case that when these atrocities are committed far away, the impact on us is dismissed. It is felt that we cannot identify with the victims. Therefore, the scale of the horror is not appreciated. No doubt, for many, the Ukrainian war feels closer to home than events in south-west Nigeria. However, people of faith are a body. An attack against us is felt keenly by many as an attack on our spiritual family. As of yesterday, local authorities suspect that the responsibility for the terrorist attack lies with the Islamic State in West Africa Province, ISWAP, a militant insurgent group which operates in the region, although no official claim has been made by the group.

In recent years, the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in Nigeria. Globally, there has been a clear rise in recorded instances targeting Christians since 2019. According to the data collected by the armed conflict location and event data, ACLED, project, there have already been 23 separate attacks on church premises and people linked to them so far this year. For the whole of 2021, there were 31 attacks and in 2020, there were 18. This is not the result of climate change. This is violent extremism.

The Bishop of Ondo, where the attack occurred, stated that "to suggest or make a connection between victims of terror and consequences of climate change is not only misleading but also exactly rubbing salt to the injuries of all who have suffered terrorism in Nigeria". To date, I do not think we have seen a mention of this from either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste; not so much as a tweet.

Ireland needs to have a hard look at what supports we give to persecuted Christians around the world, including people in many areas whose exposure to the faith came from missionaries from our own shores. Those who want to help can donate to Aid to the Church in Need, which spans 195 countries and works tirelessly to end persecutions of Christians.

I, too, wish to be associated with the votes of sympathy to former Councillor Noel Collins. He certainly was a gentleman. I know he will be missed by many and especially the people he represented over a long period. May he rest in peace.

I rise today because 700 is a number that is lucky for some in County Limerick and not lucky for others. More than 700 people were accepted into the mica scheme today. It is something in which I have been involved down through the years. I originally worked with people in relation to pyrite in County Limerick. I am very glad to say that Limerick was accepted into the pyrite scheme and has today been accepted into the mica scheme. More than 700 families will benefit from that, which is most welcome.

On the other hand, however, we are not even halfway through the month of June. There are 30 days in June; it is now 14 June and more than 700 people are on waiting lists for new beds in University Hospital Limerick, UHL. That is halfway through the month. We are not even in the winter season; this is summer. It is still at crisis point. I want to put that back on the agenda of this House.

Finally, tomorrow evening in St. Mary's Park in Limerick, the community centre is having its third jobs fair, which is being organised in the regeneration areas. I was in a community yesterday where I heard a very positive story whereby seven people who had never worked in their lives started employment ten days ago. They went to a jobs fair in Our Lady of Lourdes community centre and met with employers who were able to talk to them about the different jobs they were offering. Approximately 30 different organisations came forward offering jobs.

It is a great compliment to the Government that so many people are in employment. I believe unemployment figures are the lowest we have had since prior to the pandemic. It is a good news story when we see people who have never worked going back into the workforce and it is to be complimented.

I also offer my condolences to the family of Councillor Collins. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I wish to raise the issue of domestic violence and violence against women and children, as was reported today in the annual report from Women's Aid for 2021. The report describes things like hammers, hurls, golf clubs and ordinary household items being used in the hands of abusers who are perpetrating real violence on women and children in their own homes. The report from 2021 said there were 33,000 disclosures of domestic abuse, 5,000 of which came from children.

The victims were thumped, strangled, slapped and headbutted, often while holding their child or children and trying to protect them. There were almost 1,000 disclosures of sexual abuse and almost 500 disclosures of rape. Seven women were murdered in one year alone - 2021. The Women's Aid report states that the duration of calls and contacts from victims has extended and it attributes that to the increasing intensity of the abuse, the complexity of the abuse and the absolute desperation of the victims looking for support. The report details how abuse goes beyond the physical to the psychological, financial and emotional. The report is very hard to read, but I commend all of the staff and the volunteers at Women's Aid who respond to those calls. I commend them on the publication of the annual report.

I know the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is working on the third national domestic, sexual and gender-based violence strategy. I urge her to complete the strategy and to come back to this House, as she did previously, and engage with us on the strategy so we can support it and make it real.

I will begin by associating myself with the vote of sympathy to the former councillor, the late Noel Collins, who was a friend of mine. Noel was an extraordinary character and a dedicated public representative. I pay tribute to him today. I smile as I recall that he always finished his conversations with me by asking: "And how is your daddy?" That was his final parting comment every time I met him. He was an extraordinary man.

I support Senator Craughwell's motion on Georgia and I wish to be associated with the remarks of Senator Wilson regarding the need for the motion to be progressed today.

On foot of the announcement by the Cabinet earlier on the plans to introduce a living wage to replace the minimum wage, I propose that we would have a debate in this House on two issues, the first of which would be a debate on the world of work and what it means in 2022. In such a debate, it is important that we recognise that our world has changed. Fundamentally, there needs to be a voice within this Chamber, in the Houses of the Oireachtas and within the Government, for those in the workforce who get up early in the morning and those who work late at night. We must make work pay. Whether that is through a combination of the living wage, tax breaks, childcare or whatever, there is an incumbency on us to ensure that the world of work pays and that those who go out to work are able to live in a comfortable manner. I hope that debate will take place in advance of the budget.

My second request, even though we do not have a direct say as a House in the budget, is that as we are now in the pre-budget submission season, it is important that we as a House debate the framework of the budget and what we would like to see as part of the budget in October of this year. I hope that the Leader will facilitate those requests.

Today is a very sad day. A man who was a tremendous public representative for 55 years has passed to his eternal reward. He was a man who loved life, who loved people and who believed in the decency of everybody. He changed his views on many social issues and was very supportive of many of us. Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam dilís.

Tá sé sin fíor, gan dabht.

I, too, want to be associated with the words spoken about the late Councillor Noel Collins on his sad passing. I never had the privilege of meeting Noel, but I do have a wonderful letter at home that was written on his typewriter. As Senator Boyhan said, Noel did not have a mobile phone or computer. It is a testament to the strength of his work, therefore, that he was elected every term and for so many years. As Senator Buttimer stated, it was because he was so embedded in his community.

Yesterday, I joined the artists in Richmond Road studios in Dublin 3 in a protest outside the Dublin City Council offices. It was a wonderful celebration of music, dance and art, but it was also a day of protest to say that they should not be yet another name in the long list of artists' studios that have closed in Dublin over the past 20 years.

That list includes: Blackpitts Studios, Mill Street, Dublin 8; New Art Studios, Mary Street, Dublin 1; Steambox Gallery and Studios, the Liberties, Dublin 8; Red Stables Studios, Dublin 3; Commonplace Studios, Dublin 2; Millstreet Studios, Dublin 8; Exchange Dublin, Dublin 1; She-d, Gardiner Lane, Dublin 1; Abbey Artist Studios, Marlborough Street, Dublin 1; Broadstone Studios, Dublin 7; Print Block Studios, Dublin 8; Moxie Studios, Lad Lane, Dublin 2; Mabos, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2; The Joinery, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7; Monster Truck Gallery and Studios, Francis Street, Dublin 8; South Studios, Dublin 8; Littlesalt, Hendron Building, Dublin 7; Market Studios, Halston Street, Dublin 7; and Brunswick Mill Studios, Dublin 7.

They are just some of studios, arts and culture places that have closed in the city over the past decade and a half. We need the Government and Dublin City Council to step up. We need to reverse the long-term decline in hollowing out arts and culture spaces in this city.

No one can accuse the Senator of not doing her research.

I offer my condolences to Councillor Collins's family.

As this is Pride Month, I offer solidarity to all the LGBTQ+ community. I especially offer solidarity to our trans brothers and sisters.

I call for a debate on the National Parks and Wildlife Service review. Such a debate already took place in the Dáil and I hope that the Seanad will also have the opportunity to discuss that very important and welcome review. We have a very poor track record in protecting wildlife and biodiversity in this country. There are areas of concern with the report and I hope the Leader can facilitate that debate.

On World Blood Donor Day, I remind anybody who is eligible to give blood to do so. Stocks are again running low, particularly for anybody who has type A+ blood. Only two days stock are left in the country. If we are forced to have amber alerts, it means the cancellation of medical procedures in hospitals. It is vital that we have the stocks in place. I also welcome plans to move to the individual screening model that we have seen in Britain and Canada where everybody is assessed on their own individual risk. People who may have thought they would not have been eligible to give blood in the past may now be eligible to do so. I encourage them to come forward and donate blood.

I also offer my sympathies and condolences to the family of Councillor Collins.

As someone whose life, personal and political, has been defined by the values, the ambition and the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement, I cannot stand by and let the British Government and the DUP misappropriate it. For the British Government to claim its motivation for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is to protect the Good Friday Agreement is deplorable. It has twisted the Good Friday Agreement and the achievements of our collective peace process to suit its own selfish party-political needs, the antithesis of what the agreement is about, which is partnership and compromise.

The British Foreign Secretary, Ms Truss, has said the EU does not understand the unique context of Northern Ireland or the principle of consent even though the majority of people in Northern Ireland rejected Brexit. The majority of MLAs who reject this legislation are pro-protocol, pro-power sharing and understand when people destabilise the Good Friday Agreement, dialogue brings stability back. The British Government is jeopardising Northern Ireland's economic progress and the stability it desperately needs as does everyone on this island. The British Foreign Secretary said the people in Northern Ireland will not be treated differently from those in the rest of the UK anymore.

Does that mean they will not have that effective dual access, which has helped Northern Ireland weather the post-Brexit realities and the soaring cost of living better than anywhere else in the UK, and increased interest in inward investment? She says this Bill will protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland. In recent months the British Government has talked up an imminent threat to peace but there have been no mass movement protests despite the best efforts of a minority of a minority. MI5 has reduced the security terrorism threat level from severe to substantial. The Good Friday Agreement always sought to bring stability, partnership and shared opportunities and to alleviate suffering in Northern Ireland. Where are those priorities now? When it comes to breaking international law, the British Government states that the doctrine of necessity provides a clear basis to justify the non-performance of international obligations based on the strain on Northern Ireland's institutions and sociopolitical conditions. Those conditions have not been met. The DUP is fuelling this nonsense. Shame on the DUP and shame on the British Government.

I join with others in honouring the memory of Councillor Noel Collins. I knew him a long time. He was one of the last of that generation of hard-working councillors who did all their work with a pencil and notebook and delivered a great service to their constituents. He was a very hard man to canvass because he was never at home. He was always out working for the people. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.

I join with Senator Keogan in expressing my horror at the shootings in the Catholic church in Nigeria. It was one of the worst atrocities we have seen in a long time. It is a country we have had a lot of association with over the decades because of our Catholic missionaries. There is hardly a parish in Ireland where someone does not have a relative, either a priest or a nun, who toiled in the mission fields of Nigeria. In fact, the church in question was built by Irish priests and brothers. I was disappointed with the general reporting on the issue in our media and politically. It seems we reserve our horror for things that involve Israel or the Americans. It amazes me. It was very unfortunate that the bishop was upset by the comments made by President Higgins. I will not criticise our President because that is not my function but it is sad that the Catholic bishop and some of his colleagues were upset by the comments that were made. Everyone in Ireland stands in solidarity with the people of Nigeria.

The Good Friday Agreement is coming under threat from all sides because of the duplicity and bloody-mindedness of the British, but also because of intransigence from loyalists and opportunism from the extreme republicans who will continue to use the North as their political football to game both sides, North and South. It is very fitting at this time that the Taoiseach unveiled the bust of the great John Hume in Strasbourg only last week. If one had to single out one person, John Hume was more responsible than anyone else for the Good Friday Agreement. He proved that one can earn a place at the negotiating table without shooting people, bombing people or killing innocent women and children. He delivered more than anybody else.

I acknowledge Senator Currie's contribution and those of many other colleagues. What we are hearing from the UK today is atrocious. Naomi Long, head of the Alliance Party, spoke on Radio 1 this morning. She was very clear that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and the majority of MLAs, who are the representatives of Northern Ireland, wish to see an operational Northern Ireland protocol. She spoke very clearly about the importance for the communities in Northern Ireland and how it is about quality of life in Northern Ireland and their economy. The economies of two regions in the UK are flying and Northern Ireland is one of them. That is because of the access to the Single Market, as well as access to the UK market. This protocol has been agreed and signed up to. What is happening now is absolutely shocking. It is great to see the leadership we are seeing from some of the Northern Ireland representatives.

We need to see more, though. The DUP is not representative of the overall majority in Northern Ireland.

Senators Dolan, O'Sullivan, Currie and Ó Donnghaile referred to the publication of the protocol Bill, the unilateral move by the British Government to throw the negotiated international agreement under a bus. The only comment I can make, other than to accept Senator Ó Donnghaile's request to arrange a debate with, and receive an update from, the Minister as soon as possible, is that this is singularly the most partisan and self-serving manoeuvre that we have seen from Boris Johnson in his very coloured career to date.

It is only about his personal political survival and has nothing to do with the growth or development of the economy in Northern Ireland. I will try to get that update from the Minister as soon as I can.

Senators O'Sullivan and Keogan spoke about the atrocity that occurred in Nigeria recently. I wish to put on record our condolences to the families of the 40 people who passed away and our good wishes to the 87 who were injured in that horrific attack.

Senator Boylan spoke about Pride month. She also sought a debate on the national wildlife review, which I will try to organise as quickly as I can. The Senator referred to the blood donation crisis. I thank her for raising that issue.

Senator Sherlock discussed the long list of artisan studios that had closed. She is right in that Dublin City Council, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage need to work together, examine what is wrong and determine what supports are needed to ensure that we foster creativity, not just in Dublin, but around all of the country. I thank the Senator for raising this matter.

Senators Buttimer, Wilson and Craughwell asked for an amendment to the Order of Business to discuss No. 113 before everything else. I would be happy to do so. Unfortunately, I cannot take it without debate because that would not be fair to colleagues. Instead, I will try to arrange a debate of 60 minutes as soon as we can next week, after which we can pass it as a House, if that is okay with everyone.

Senator Buttimer also sought a debate on budget preparations, the world of work and how we ensure that work pays better. I will organise that as quickly as possible, although I will point to Fine Gael's Private Members' business tomorrow, which is connected with this matter.

Senator Fitzpatrick discussed Women's Aid's annual report, which was issued today. I have taken a particular interest in these reports since my election 11 years ago. Every year, the statistics grow more shocking. They do not appear to be receding in any way, shape or form. I look forward to the implementation of the third strategy by the Minister for Justice and to a debate on that strategy in the House as soon as it is published.

Senator Maria Byrne referred to this morning's welcome move by the Government to include Limerick and Clare in the mica redress scheme. She correlated the 700 mica-affected families waiting in Limerick with the 700 people waiting to access beds in University Hospital Limerick. She has been raising the issue of the hospital week in, week out for the past two years. It is time that we put in place an independent review to find out what is, or is not, happening in the hospital to cause it to be such a constant concern.

Senator Wilson supported the call for a debate on the motion on Georgia.

Senator Carrigy sought a debate on childcare in the community and the staffing of same, which is an issue around the country. He also sought a debate on vaping and e-cigarettes. That legislation is at pre-legislative scrutiny stage and we will get it as soon as the report is finished. I will keep the Senator updated.

Senator Craughwell spoke about Rescue 116 and the lack of in-house aviation expertise in the Department and the Irish Coast Guard, which seems striking. He is right, in that, of the 44 recommendations, 16 of which were made to the Minister, two related specifically to the lack of expertise. Once Mr. Jurgen Whyte's report is released, it will be interesting to see whether those recommendations have been taken on board. We will watch closely.

Senator Cassells passionately shared his feelings regarding the debacle of yesterday's meeting in respect of the accident and emergency department in Navan.

I am pleased to hear the Minster is in charge and will make decisions and not anybody else.

Senator Wall of the Labour Party asked for a debate on rural transport and particularly on the NTA funding for the public service obligation levy with regard to the short hop zone in Newbridge. I will organise that debate as quickly as I can.

Senator Hackett spoke about Pride and I want to wish her and her husband, Mark, a happy anniversary. Twenty-one years is a great milestone and Senator Hackett paid tribute to our colleague, Senator Norris.

While Senator Conway also spoke about him, Senator Boyhan set out the sad loss of Councillor Noel Collins from Cork. We only spoke about him a couple of weeks ago on his retirement and people were regaled of the stories of his particular style of politics, which went down incredibly well and was well received in Cork because of his repeated re-election for 54 years. He was a remarkable man and an enormous loss, not just to his family but to the entire community he served in Cork. They will be very big boots to fill. I extend all of our condolences to his family, constituents and supporters on his sad passing today.

Senator Malcolm Byrne opened today by talking about the UK's unilateral legislative move and he looked for a debate on the future work of local and national media arising from the delay in the publication of the report on the models of funding we should have for our local and national media. I will arrange that debate as soon as I can, as well as arranging a debate on local government.

Senator Craughwell has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 113.1 be taken before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?

The issue is that the European Council is meeting in the coming days and we would like this House to endorse Georgia when that meeting takes place. It has been a long time trying to get-----

Is the Senator pressing the amendment?

I do not want to force a vote on it but I ask the Leader to reconsider accepting the motion.

Is the Senator withdrawing the amendment?

I am in your hands and it is not my decision. I want to support the candidate status for Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and we have done so in the Committee on European Union Affairs. We will have our Ukrainian colleagues and new friends here this afternoon. If colleagues are accepting of the motion to pass it without debate, I will not object to that. I just did not want to be unfair.

There is a precedent for a motion to be taken without debate.

In that case I will press the amendment.

That is fine. It is agreed.

Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.