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Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Jul 2022

Vol. 287 No. 2

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the appointment of Members to the Joint Committee on Standing Orders (Private Business), to be taken without debate on conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Electoral Reform Bill 2022 – Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 2.45 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall in relation to amendments include only those set down or accepted by Government; No. 3, Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to conclusion at 7 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall in relation to amendments include only those set down or accepted by Government; No. 4, Institutional Burials Bill 2022 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to conclusion at 9.p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall in relation to amendments include only those set down or accepted by Government; and No. 5, Private Members' business, Employment Equality (Amendment) (Non-Disclosure Agreements) Bill 2021 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 9 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after one hour.

I extend my welcome to those visitors joining us in the Visitors Gallery. It is always good to see people who want to see democracy in action. I support the Order of Business as outlined by the Deputy Leader but there are a few things I want to bring up. First, it was a very good announcement last night regarding the extra €100 towards back-to-school costs. We all know the implications to parents of an impending September and it is a very difficult time of the year. Barnardos and the Irish League of Credit Unions have done excellent work in that regard through their surveys. Added to this is free transport, which is another great development, and the extra hot meals for 60,000 children - an investment of €67 million. There is still more to go and I appeal to the Ministers for Education, Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, when they are speaking about back to school costs, to look at raising the capitation allowance for students and finally get rid of the dreaded voluntary contribution.

That brings to mind the parent and student school charter legislation, which went through both Houses in 2019 and has not been implemented yet. This is excellent legislation that will give parents and students the opportunity to discuss costs in schools with school authorities and the management board. I ask the Deputy Leader if she could put pressure on the Minister in terms of getting this implemented and finding out the delay in it.

I also raise the issue of pension abatements. This policy was originally designed to stop highly paid civil servants and politicians from retiring during the financial crises in 2011 with sizeable pensions and lumps sums and then returning the public sector. I appreciate my colleague, Senator Craughwell, has also raised this many times. However, it is negatively affecting those who are not so highly paid, particularly those from the Army who have left and gone back into other jobs. Ex-Defence Forces personnel, who would never have earned a lot in the first place and would not have a big pension, are getting caught in this system. We need to look at it and make sure there is equity there. If people wish to work and continue working, we should be able to support them without them being financially penalised.

A tweet from Dr. Mary Wingfield caught my eye yesterday. Dr. Wingfield was in Milan at the European Atlas of Fertility Treatment Policies. Ireland is practically at the very bottom of the list. We are 40th out of 43 countries, which is absolutely shocking. We know according to data that one in every six couples has fertility problems. We absolutely need to help to support them. I acknowledge the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, has opened five out of six fertility hubs promised and the remaining one will be open in Nenagh at the end of this year, but the elephant in the room is IVF. There has to be an absolute commitment from this Government to support financially IVF for couples and that should be made in the budget. I echo that call.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 2 be amended by the deletion of all words after "12.45 p.m." and the substitution of the following: "and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after two hours". The reason I am proposing this will be obvious to all. It was interesting to hear Senator O'Loughlin welcoming people to the Visitors Gallery, as indeed do I, and commenting on how desirable it is that people see democracy in action, when this very day we have a Government using its two thirds majority in the Seanad to spit in the face of our democracy by proposing, yet again, the disgraceful use of the tactic of the guillotine to prevent the full discussion of legislation in this House.

I am talking about Bills as important as the Electoral Reform Bill, to which I have one amendment and my colleagues, including the university Senators, have amendments, and the very important Higher Education Authority Bill, about which the university Senators have major concerns which are reflected in amendments we have proposed, amendments which will probably not get heard because the Government wants to ram through legislation at the end of term because it has not being doing its job properly up to now instead of allowing legislation the time it needs to be properly discussed.

I mention another example of the lack of respect for democracy. Today, we have the launch of a report from the Joint Committee on International Surrogacy. My colleague, Senator Keogan, who wanted to present a minority report but was not facilitated in doing so, points out that none of the potential witnesses who had valid dissenting views and questions about commercial surrogacy to put to the committee was allowed to participate. They were purposely and tactically excluded. It seems to me that surrogacy is one of those issues where we increasingly have government by media. There is a one-sided, soft-focused presentation on radio, but one would expect the national Parliament, Oireachtas Éireann, to make sure there would be thorough and fair scrutiny in its Chamber debates and in its committee.

Senator Chambers and I had our disagreements on the Oireachtas all-party committee on the eighth amendment. I had concerns about the lack of fairness accorded to different sides of the argument. We fought and succeeded in making sure there was a certain hearing of different sides of the issue. That has not happened with the Joint Committee on International Surrogacy. In fact, the only public thing we have seen from it so far was the disgraceful treatment of my colleague, Senator Keogan, by fellow Senators and by Deputies. She was effectively bullied for having a different view and communicating it respectfully. That is a stain on our democracy. The Oireachtas must rise to the challenge we face in these times. We cannot be the place where dissenting voices get cancelled. We have to be the remedy to that problem in our society by insisting that people who have mandates of various kinds get to represent the views of their electorate fully and thoroughly. That starts with not guillotining legislation and continues with committees being ready to hear different points of view instead of just coming with one-sided reports and recommendations.

I concur with the statements on guillotining and cutting off debates. It seems to happen every year as if we did not know the summer recess was going to come and we suddenly have to hurtle through business.

Today at 12 noon outside the gates of Leinster House, Equality for Children and a number of other organisations including the National Infertility Support Information Network, LGBT Ireland, and the Independent Living Movement Ireland are calling on us to stand with their families. Currently, in Ireland, thousands of children are being denied the right to have their families legally recognised. I am sure many of us will be in the Chamber at that time but if anyone is not, those groups will be outside the gates.

The majority of LGBTQI+ couples and approximately one in six Irish heterosexual couples require assisted human reproduction, AHR, treatment to be able to conceive a child. However, most children born through this treatment are left in an uncertain legal position without any functioning legal framework to establish a legal parent-child relationship with both of their parents. This has many practical impacts for the children of these families in areas such as birth registration, citizenship provisions, childcare, education provision, access to social welfare, succession and inheritance rights among other things. The Government has published a report on children's rights and best interests in the context of AHR. It was written by the Special Rapporteur for Child Protection, Professor Conor O'Mahony, who recently said he will not seek another term. I acknowledge the work he has done on this. If adopted, the recommendations contained in this report would address numerous legislative gaps that prevent children conceived through AHR from having a legal parent-child relationship with both the parents who love and care for them on a daily basis. The groups outside the gates are calling on the Government and the Minister for Health to immediately adopt and implement these recommendations.

The report provides clear, practical solutions that uphold the rights and best interests of children, including their right to family life, identity and non-discrimination. It recognises the reality of AHR treatment. It also addresses the need to take into account the circumstances of individual children, including those who have been born, in order that they can establish a legal parental relationship to the parents who love and care for them daily. It highlights the need to provide comprehensive legislation in a wide range of areas, including addressing the gaps left in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill 2022.

The report acknowledges the distress caused to children born through AHR and their families due to the absence of appropriate legislation. Children have been left in a vulnerable legal position for lengthy periods due to the failure of the Oireachtas to legislate and address their status. Significantly, the report recognises the uneven impact this has had on children conceived outside clinical settings and born to LGBT parents who cannot rely on the presumption of paternity and maternity as opposite-sex couples can. This goes against a significant pillar of our campaign for and belief in equality for children. I draw Senators' attention to the protest outside Leinster House today and request that we get a move on that legislation.

I concur with the comments made about the guillotine. It is shocking in our democracy and should not be allowed. I want to raise the progress of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022 progress through this House. The Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, stated that he now believes it will be impossible to progress the Bill through all Stages in the Seanad before the recess. It is hard to express how I feel about this development. I welcome his commitment to examine the points raised by Deputies Ward, Cairns and others during the Bill’s passage through the Dáil. As they have pointed out, the Bill is deeply flawed in several crucial ways. Its exclusion of people formerly detained under the Mental Health Act is deeply discriminatory, as is the exclusion of 16- and 17-year-olds who are allowed to make decisions about their physical health but not their mental health. I hope that these issues are addressed by Government amendments or that Opposition amendments are accepted. However, I am crucially aware of the harm that this delay will cause. The legislation is supposed to replace the deeply flawed wardship system. While it is delayed people are being taken into wardship and are being denied this opportunity of supported decision-making that will better vindicate their rights and autonomy. If the Bill is to be delayed until after the recess, then we need a commitment that it will be passed before the budget.

I want to make a broader point about the legislative process. This Government has taken on responsibility for delivering legislation on legacy issues and other important, emotionally charged topics. That is a difficult task and much of it has been led by the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, who undoubtedly has a difficult job, but whether it is the records Bill, the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 or the Institutional Burials Bill 2022, there seems to be a pattern of inconsistent and inadequate engagement with stakeholders. These are issues of tremendous significance, and many courageous and dedicated individuals and organisations have spent significant time and effort campaigning on these issues. Our legislative process is supposed to ensure they feel included and understood, yet they continuously experience disappointment and dissatisfaction with the process. This failure needs to be addressed.

As legislators, we should be led by the people who are affected by the decisions we make. There are many reasons this is not the case such as the complexity of legislation, the opacity of the drafting process and the uneven rhythm of the legislative process. Mostly it feels like very little is happening on a given issue and then the process unfolds so quickly that it is difficult to make one’s voice heard. I do not have the answer to this problem but it is an issue that degrades our democracy and dilutes the wealth of knowledge, experience and insight that campaigners and civil society share with us. Will the Minister address the House to outline his new timeline for the passage and enactment of this much-needed legislation?

I welcome the opportunity to raise the excellent report that was launched this morning. I was very proud to be a member of that committee along with some very dedicated Oireachtas Member. It is unfortunate that Senator Mullen is not present to hear my comments. He raised the issue of the surrogacy report. We all came into it with an open mind and listened to the evidence from leading academic experts, legal experts, medics, surrogates, children born through surrogacy and families who have gone through that process. We all had the opportunity to input on witness lists, table amendments and call votes on amendments. To say that anybody was sidelined is completely inaccurate. To say anybody was bullied by any member of the committee or the committee as a whole is completely inaccurate. We are all Members of this House or the Lower House. We all have a platform to voice our opinions and we are all well able to put forward our opinions. I take personal offence to any suggestion that there was anything other than people working diligently within a tight timeframe, dealing with a difficult topic. I strongly refute any suggestion that was done in any way in bad faith or that there was a position decided beforehand. We came through a whole journey and I certainly learned an awful lot and acted in good faith. I am disappointed that such a good, positive day is brought down into the mire by some comments here.

We are moving towards a more inclusive society, lifting taboos around reproduction and women's health. The families that have gone through surrogacy, before they got to that point went through an awful lot of trauma. Quite often there was illness and other difficult issues for them to deal with in their lives. They have triumphed and provided a home for their children. These children are loved and wanted.

We need to be very mindful not to use issues such as these, which are very sensitive but very important, to engage in some sort of culture war that we do not have in this country. If one person on the committee disagreed with the report, it is not because anybody was bullied. Maybe that person is just in the minority. Maybe Ireland has moved on and is an inclusive society. We all came from different parties and perspectives but we listened to the expert evidence. It is very unfortunate that this report is not widely welcomed. I wish all parties would accept the report and the recommendations. I hope the Government will act speedily to enact this legislation because families are crying out for it.

I second Senator Mullen's proposed amendment in respect of No. 2. I will be moving my own amendment, that No. 3 be amended by the deletion of the second paragraph and the substitution of the following: "to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and that the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be adjourned after four hours." That leaves the same amount of time for discussion today, but it means that the guillotine will not come down. I formally protest the manner in which these three guillotines have been put before the House today. We have Leaders and Whips meetings and a consultation process which is supposed to warn the Members of this House of what is planned by the Leader of the House and the Government for the business of the House. No warning whatsoever was given to us that these matters would be guillotined. That is an abuse of the customs and conventions of this House. More than that, it is a deliberate insult to those people who want to discuss the Electoral Reform Bill 2022 and the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022, and amendments to them, at length, which is very important for our democracy.

When the Minister, Deputy Harris, came to this House, I asked that the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 would not be rushed through. He nodded his head as if he agreed with me but, a week later, he is trying to guillotine this legislation through. It is highly important legislation and it has considerable implications for the control, direction and independence of higher education institutions for the next half a century. For it to be guillotined through this House in order to meet what the Government considers to be the deadline of the summer vacation of this House, for its convenience, is disgraceful. I will make it very clear that we will not agree to that and we will not agree to the implementation of the Order of Business to bring it about.

I second both amendments from the Independent Group with regard to the guillotines. This is what the Minister, Deputy Harris, said about the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022:

I am here to engage in good faith. It will take the time that it takes, and we will work our way through it. I would not be so rude, as a Member of the Lower House, to try to tell the Upper House how to do its business.

Those were the exact words of the Minister with regard to the Higher Education Authority Bill 2022 in recent weeks.

We will join with the other groups with regard to the amendments seeking to remove the guillotines.

I am disappointed that Senator Mullen has left the room. As a Member of-----

We know the rule with regard to referring to other Members.

I say it in order for him to listen to my contribution, rather than to out him for having left the Chamber.

With power comes great responsibility. We all have very privileged positions. We talk about free speech and our responsibility, but for some reason we are talking about the mistreatment of individuals with power, privilege, voice and space on a committee, instead of talking about witnesses who had to leave committee rooms in tears. Who protects them? Where does the Oireachtas protect them and their experiences as laypeople coming in to our Houses, invited in to give us an insight into their very personal and private lives? There is something seriously skewed in this Chamber if we will allow accusations of bullying to be thrown out unchallenged.

Anyone who studies and understands the law knows there is an objective test to meet to understand bullying. It is not a once-off clash between two politicians. It is not someone asserting his or her free speech or opinion. Bullying exists over time. It is an assessment, undermining and bullying of a person on a constant basis and it is very dangerous. People see through the dangerous language being used. I would much prefer to focus on the mistreatment of witnesses who came before our committees in the past few weeks and on how they were goaded and inflammatory language was used to insult them and their families. They were our guests in this House and if anything, they should be the ones with complaints of bullying in this room.

I will raise the excellent session that was held in the audiovisual room on energy poverty and energy pollution. It was a very welcome initiative to see both the social and the environmental organisations come together to call for a true just transition. We know that 29% of Irish households are currently living in energy poverty. That is the highest number that has ever been recorded. Average household energy Bills have increased by €1,100 in one year and the rising costs of energy continue to disproportionately impact households in the bottom 20% of the income distribution, who spend a higher percentage of their income on energy.

We had an issue with energy poverty in this country long before the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis. We heard today from civil society groups such as Age Action, Community Law & Mediation, Disability Federation Ireland, the European Anti-Poverty Network, Friends of the Earth, Irish Rural Link, the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, Social Justice Ireland, the Think-tank for Action on Social Change and Threshold that the current system of addressing climate change and energy poverty is deeply unfair and that unless we have a system whereby we reduce our carbon emissions through a retrofitting programme that will also reduce energy poverty, all we are doing is transferring wealth up in society to those who can afford to retrofit their homes and put in heat pumps while the rest of society is left behind. It is a very important message and I thank the colleagues who came to hear it.

The energy poverty strategy lapsed in 2019, which shows that it is not a priority for this Government. I do not know how many times I have raised it in this House. A report by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said that we did not have the data to see what sort of social impact our retrofitting scheme was having on households. I encourage everybody, especially coming up to the early budget, to read this document and the joint statement and to look very closely at the solutions they are putting forward. Nobody is saying we do not have to meet our climate targets, but we have to do it in a fair way. We have to bring society along with us and it has to be about a just transition.

I welcome to the Visitors Gallery Deputy Cahill, from the Lower House, and Mr. Mattie Ryan. Mr. Ryan's grandson, Matthew, might be taking up the mantle in politics soon. Deputy Cahill never knows - Matthew might take his job one day. He had better watch out. I thank them for coming to Seanad Éireann.

I think Senator McDowell's amendment has already been seconded. I propose a third amendment, that No. 4 be amended by the deletion of the second paragraph and the substitution of the following: "to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 or at 7.15 p.m., whichever shall be the later, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be adjourned at 8.45 p.m.".

First, there is much talk about RTÉ LW, the long-wave channel, 252 again. I wonder if we forget those Irishmen and Irishwomen who travelled, particularly to the UK, during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s with shovels and nothing else. Quite a number of them live a very lonely existence today. Is it terrible to ask RTÉ to maintain the long-wave channel? I have seen the arguments. People ask why do they not log-on to their mobile phones and why do they not go onto the Internet. These are simple people who went to the UK, many of them sending home fivers, tenners and £15 a week to educate those of us who stayed at home or to keep those of us who lived in Ireland in body and soul. I would like this House to use all of its powers to ask RTÉ to maintain that channel for a period of time and I would ask the Cathaoirleach to row in behind that.

There has been some discussion this morning on the surrogacy report published. I have one thing to say on it: we live in a democracy and in a democracy everybody has a right to be heard. If my colleague wanted to publish a minority report, nobody had a right to prevent that from happening. I do not know exactly what took place and I am not interested. I disagree with many people in this House but I defend every person in this House's right to say what he or she wants, when he or she wants, and how he or she wants. If one wishes to argue with them, do it through debate and win through debate. There is no other way to win or lose.

I have a couple of issues following on from yesterday's second meeting of the Joint Committee on Autism. We met with the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Madigan, the Irish National Teachers Organisation and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland. One common theme that has come up over the past couple of meetings in particular is the issue of the summer provision. We have a situation at present where a significant number of special schools in the country are not providing the summer provision. In fact, the children whom the summer provision was set up for in the first instance three-to-four years ago are the ones who are not getting it and they are the children who are most in need.

There are parents struggling to get teachers and special needs assistants to do the home provision. The reason we set it up was to look after those children with high needs and they are now not getting the provision. We need to look at it, if it is not too late, for the last two weeks of July. Every special school in the country should be compelled to provide the provision. We need to look at what they have done in Newbridge about which I spoke to Senator Wall yesterday where the four schools in the town have come together and each year at least one of the schools will provide that provision to make sure that the children in that area get what they are entitled to, what they need and what they deserve.

I also want to raise the issue of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA. It is an issue I have raised regularly here over the past 12 months. The governance review report was published following the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, of which I am a member, asking the IABA to come in to the committee to tell us that there as was nothing wrong with the association. The report has 64 recommendations, none of which refer to the people who are in charge of the sport who have been in the public domain for a long number of years.

If we are to move on with the sport and with the IABA, we need to do it by removing those who are in charge of the association. We saw 30 volunteers suspended last year in the middle of elections, the results of which still have not been announced despite the vote having taken place. All 30 of those won their case when they had to go at their own expense to defend themselves through Sport Dispute Solutions Ireland. That result has never been published because the IABA does not want it published.

We had the situation in the past three weeks where the issue with regard to the Bernard Dunne case and two directors was put before the IABA internal disciplinary committee of three independent solicitors. It has been in the media over the past 12 to 18 months. That result has never been published but the result is that unanimously those two individuals won their case and it was thrown out. There is a vote this weekend in relation to this review and I believe, for boxing to move forward, we need to remove those who have been at the helm of this organisation for the past eight or nine years and have been at the root of many of the problems within the association.

I want to raise the issue about the retirement of senior members of the Garda Síochána. It is an issue that has been in the media for the past few weeks. The issue of senior members of the Garda Síochána having to retire at 60 is an issue that we have to look at. We have civilians working in the Garda Síochána who have the option to stay in the service up until 70 years of age but a member of the Garda Síochána's retirement age is 60 years of age. Sixty is an exceptionally young age. Sixty years of age now compared with 20 years ago is a completely different game. These are young, capable, active individuals who have so much knowledge. To have them leave the force at this stage is something that we need to look at.

We should have a genuine debate in the autumn with the Minister for Justice about the future of the Garda Síochána retirement age. I personally believe we should extend it because there is a brain drain. We are losing real knowledge from the Garda Síochána. I note that there are three members of the Garda Síochána to retire from senior posts in the next few months and it will be a significant drain on the Garda Síochána's resources to have them replaced. We need to have a real decent look at this issue. I suggest we should have a debate in the autumn with the Minister. We need radical change to ensure we keep these valuable personnel serving, if possible.

I want to raise the issue of bus transport with specific reference to Limerick, but there is a wider debate to be had. Last week, with only a week's notice, a private company, Dublin Coach, announced it would suspend its 307-308 bus service, which goes from Limerick city centre to the University of Limerick and on to Annacotty. To explain, Castletroy, which this bus service serves, is one of the fastest growing areas, not only in Munster but in the country. This is shocking news because students and families depend on these services.

Here is the point. I am making a clear call this morning to Bus Éireann to step in and expand its services to include Newtown and the route from Monaleen school to Supervalu. The difficult is that when one raises issues with Bus Éireann, it immediately refers one on to the National Transport Authority. Everybody here knows there is no comeback from the National Transport Authority. It is literally throwing a request into a black hole. It is not good enough.

People want accountability. I want Bus Éireann to respond to the need that people in Castletroy have and the service gap there is now to increase services for families and students to ensure that people do not have to take their cars when going to university and when going into Limerick city centre. I also want to see an expansion of services to the greater Castleconnell area, which makes perfect sense as well. We could take hundreds of cars off the road each morning if we had a regular service in Castleconnell instead of the three-hourly service that we have at present.

My problem, frankly, is how do we get the attention, not only of Bus Éireann but of the National Transport Authority. I have heard other Senators complain about this in the past. I want a debate about it. Right now, the National Transport Authority is simply not accountable in terms of reasonable requests about expansion of services. We cannot wait for years. What we need is a guarantee from Bus Éireann that before September comes we will see an expansion of its services to take up the gaps in the market that now exist and ensure that we have decent bus services so that people in Castletroy and the wider Limerick area do not have to rely on private car transport.

I agree with Senator Carrigy about his concerns with regard to the Irish Athletic Boxing Association. There are serious questions to be answered around governance in the IABA. I am aware the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, is meeting with them this week. The people who I am worried about are the volunteers in the clubs on the ground and the athletes. There are particularly serious issues. There is an extraordinary general meeting this week but the organisation needs to sort out its governance issues. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State has said that he will withhold funding if the organisation essentially does not cop itself on. I am in agreement with Senator Carrigy that many of the current management and governance structures are not meeting the purposes of the sport.

I want to raise the question of the Ahare River in north Wexford which I have raised previously and to look for support from the Office of Public Works.

The river frequently floods and blocks access to a significant part of the Castletown area of north Wexford. Wexford County Council recently commissioned an independent flood risk assessment report that made several recommendations, including for a flood warning system, along with other actions. We need the system to be sensitive to nature in the local area but it is also important that roads are not being continually blocked every time there is heavy rainfall. I ask the Deputy Leader to request that the Office of Public Works provide the necessary support to ensure this issue is addressed.

In the context of the public sector pay report, I am aware that many public servants rely on the travel and subsistence allowance. I am also thinking of carers and so on. As a result of the increased cost of fuel, the cost of travel is significant. This impacts across the public service in a big way, but there are also many in the private sector who use the public sector rates to determine mileage. I ask that the issue of travel and subsistence allowances be addressed in the context of the debate on public sector pay.

Before I call on the next speaker, I welcome to the Public Gallery Molly Walker and Jodie Stenson, along with Clodagh Rafter, the daughter of Peadar who works in the Dáil bar. I thank them for coming to Leinster House to see the Seanad in action.

I, too, welcome our guests in the Public Gallery. It is great that young women are coming in to visit the House. I hope they will be representatives in future.

I wish to acknowledge the work of Maria Walsh, MEP, on mental health. I am a member of the Joint Sub-Committee on Mental Health. We know the impact the past couple of years have had, particularly on young people in towns across Ireland. We hear it from parents, teachers and everyone else. Ms Walsh is doing a significant amount of work at European level to make 2023 the European year of mental health. She has set up a petition and I ask colleagues to consider supporting it. It is important that we support mental health in the time ahead. She is also seeking the establishment of a comprehensive EU mental health strategy and for minimum requirements for teleworking across the EU to be defined. This is crucial because, while we want to discuss well-being, the impact of working online has to be considered. In many cases, it is non-stop and 24-7. When it comes to mental health and the digital world of work, we want to support people being able to work from home. We in the regions know how important it is that people do not have to commute for several hours to get to work. If they are working non-stop, however, that will be a major issue in terms of their well-being. I ask colleagues to support the call of Maria Walsh. It is important to support campaigns relating to mental health in rural areas.

I second the third proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I do so because I am extremely disappointed with the manner in which the Minister gave a commitment regarding the Higher Education Authority Bill. It is an important Bill and I had hoped to discuss several issues relating to it today. One of those issues relates to city and county councillors. I have a schedule in front of me listing the councillors, their party affiliations and the universities they serve. I will speak about it later if I have time. Frankly, I do not think we will have time for that if the Bill is guillotined. I have given a commitment to these people. I contacted these councillors around the country and I have a definitive list in front of me. These are the same people to whose doors we went, seeking a mandate to represent them.

I never shy away from representing city and county councillors. This is a game in which councillors will be stripped from the boards of all these universities. We have seen it with the harbour companies. We did not get an opportunity in this regard in the context of the Land Development Agency Act. We should stand together and make a strong case for city and county councillors who are on these boards. A 12-month transitional period will apply if the Bill is passed but I will not go into that now. It would not be right to use my time on the Order of Business to tease out issues.

Let us be careful. Let us not agree to a guillotine on a debate that affects loads of people but, in particular, the very people who have given us a mandate to represent them in this House. That is an important point. Each Senator makes his or her own decision; that is grand. We have to make our decisions. I will respect whatever decision is made. Let us be clear that if the discussion on this legislation is guillotined, we may not have an opportunity to discuss this critically important issue because of this House and certain of its Members. I ask colleagues to support the proposed amendments to the Order of Business and to stand in solidarity with the broader Higher Education Authority family and group, as well as the city and county councillors who have a rightful place on these boards and are put there by votes, not by favouritism.

Before I call on the Deputy Leader to respond on the Order of Business, it is a matter for the House to schedule its own business but I know, as do all Members, that there is a large amount of legislation coming before the House in the run-up to the summer recess. We had a similar situation last year. I am concerned about the pressure that is placing on the Houses of the Oireachtas Service. The Bills Office is dealing with a large volume of amendments due to the scheduling, turnaround time, lists of amendments, republishing of Bills and the whole process. The staff dealing with amendments left the Bills Office at 7.30 a.m. this morning.

That is because they were forced to do the amendments to meet the guillotine.

All Senators support the idea of a family-friendly Parliament.

As I stated, it is a matter for the House how it schedules its business but we must be conscious of the people who have to work behind the scenes in order for legislation to be dealt with in a timely manner.

I ask Senators to bear with me because I want to properly deal with the amendments that have been proposed. I thank all Senators for their contributions on the Order of Business. In taking the Order of Business on behalf of the Leader, I am relaying information of which Members are already aware. I am not in a position to accept any of the amendments. I apologise to Senators for the obvious disappointment that will bring. I concur with many of the remarks in respect of the pressure that is put on this House to pass legislation before certain deadlines that are imposed by various Ministers.

As regards the Higher Education Authority Bill, the Minister, Deputy Harris, was asked for more time on this. We were told that it had to be passed by the recess and, in order for amendments to be taken and potentially debated in the Dáil, we were under time pressure to get those back next week.

He said the exact opposite here last week.

The Deputy Leader without interruption.

I hear that. I hear what was said and I know that Senator Ruane read out the comments of the Minister. I can only relay to the House that the Minister was asked. The request was made. If we were to sit beyond next Thursday, going into Friday or the following week, the amendments would not be taken in the Dáil. That is the response I have been given. I am being honest and open with Members. I am sure they are aware of this anyway. There is a significant amount of business and we have tried to accommodate it. This morning, I had sight of the proposed schedule for next week. It is jam-packed. There is a lot of legislation coming through and it is putting pressure on staff in the Bills Office and other staff. I acknowledge that.

There is a point that Ministers could reflect on how the business is being run in both Houses. The same pressures are being felt in the Dáil. That puts pressure on the offices. This deadline of the summer recess is imposed but I am not sure if that is always essential. Yes, some Bills need to be passed before the recess but other Bills could probably wait until the autumn session to give more time. I am not a Minister or at Cabinet, however. I am not making these decisions. I ask that Ministers bringing legislation through consider whether there is a need to set that absolute deadline of the summer recess.

In terms of the Higher Education Authority Bill and the Electoral Reform Bill, if amendments that are tabled now are to be discussed in the Dáil, the Bills have to go back next week. Otherwise, the amendments will not be discussed. That is the reality of the two weeks that we are in. I know Senator Doherty spoke to Senators last night and again this morning to try to find changes that could be made. Some changes were made on foot of speaking to Senator Ruane, as well as Senator Higgins, who is not here but who was speaking to the Leader. Changes were made to the schedule but I accept that not all the changes that were requested were made. Out of respect for Members, I wanted to be honest about where things were at and what we were dealing with.

On the contributions on the Oder of Business, Senator O'Loughlin welcomed the significant investment announced yesterday by the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, in respect of the cost of going back to school.

It is a particular pinch point for many families. Those costs are accruing and being incurred now by families. There will be an additional €100 payment under the back to school clothing and footwear allowance. An extra €67 million has been allocated for that scheme. Some 60,000 children will also benefit from extra school meals.

I take on board the Senator's comments around the need to increase the capitation grant and to remove the voluntary contribution which, as we know, is not voluntary in many schools. Anecdotally, we hear evidence that some schools put pressure on parents to pay that voluntary contribution in the full knowledge they cannot afford it. We ask schools to be mindful of that, particularly in the context of the situation with which we are dealing.

I also take on board the Senator's comments about pension abatements. It is an issue Senator Craughwell has raised on many occasions. That would be an appropriate Commencement matter if the Senator would like to raise it.

The Senator also raised the issue of funding for IVF, which is a matter many Senators have raised, and the need to provide funding in budget 2023 to assist families that require IVF treatment. We know that the World Health Organization classifies infertility as a disease. It is one of the only diseases that we do not financially support individuals to deal with and get the treatment they need.

Senator Mullen asked for an amendment to No. 2, which I will not be able to accept. I do, however, take on board his comments. He spoke in particular about the Joint Committee on International Surrogacy, as did Senators Clifford-Lee and Craughwell. Senator Craughwell referenced Senator Keogan in his contribution. I was not present at the proceedings to which the Senators referred. I know there have been some difficulties at the committee. I agree with the points made by Senator Craughwell, albeit we were not a party to those proceedings. It is important that all views are accommodated in both Houses and at committee meetings. Senator Mullen spoke about the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of which he and I were members. We had many debates that were quite fiery and where we disagreed. We were on completely opposite sides. It is important that all views are accommodated and listened to and that all debate is respectful. I take on board Senator Ruane's comments that we should never seek to upset individuals, committee members or witnesses. All debate should be respectful. I am always mindful that if we were to go back 40 years, the views that I hold on the eighth amendment and abortion services would probably not have been facilitated to the extent they are today. It is important that we accommodate people's views. Even though I am in the majority today, that may not be the case at a time in the future so it is important that we ensure a balance. We do not know at what stage things might change.

On a point of order, there were no difficulties about how the committee business was done. Some of the narrative is not an accurate representation of events. All voices were heard at the committee.

I dispute the comparison with the repeal committee. The situation was the same at the surrogacy committee.

I thank the Senator. I want to let the Deputy Leader respond on the Order of Business.

As I said, I was not a party to or watching proceedings so I have no idea what was said. I know there are different views involved. All Senators who have made points on the issue believe what they are saying even if others strongly disagree. I know there are ongoing issues in that regard. I will move on.

Senator Hoey spoke about the demonstration relating to inequality for children outside today. There are families still awaiting support. I know Senator Clifford-Lee also spoke those issues. Many of us are tied up today but perhaps as many Senators as possible could get out there, wish the protestors well and thank them for making the time to come to Leinster House and make us aware of those issues.

Senator Black asked about the timeline for a Bill. I suggest she submits a Commencement matter on the topic to see what the Minister is doing with the Bill and what stage it is at. I do not have an answer and cannot provide a proposed timeline. A Commencement matter might be best because that is quite a specific question.

Senator Clifford-Lee welcomed the report of the surrogacy committee, which I have dealt with.

Senator McDowell has proposed an amendment to No. 3. I apologise but I am not in a position to accept it. I take on board the comments that were made. I have dealt with that issue.

Senator Ruane made comments about witnesses at the surrogacy committee. I acknowledge the points she has made and agree with her.

Senator Craughwell spoke about RTÉ long wave. He has asked RTÉ to maintain or extend the service for a little longer. I take on board his comments.

Senator Carrigy spoke as a member of the newly formed Joint Committee on Autism. He spoke about the issue of summer provision which has come up on many occasions. I suggest he submits a Commencement matter in that regard as it is quite a specific issue.

Senator Lombard spoke about the retirement age for senior gardaí and the brain drain that happens when we lose senior personnel. He has requested a debate, which we will try to arrange for the autumn session.

Senator Gavan spoke about the local issue of bus services in Limerick. I have not been briefed about Dublin Coach, the private bus operator that has removed services. I suggest the Senator contacts the Minister for Transport directly or submits a Commencement matter to seek further detail on that specific local issue.

Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about the Ahare River in north Wexford. He has asked for the support and assistance of the Office of Public Works because there is a flooding issue. I suggest he submits a Commencement matter on the topic, which is quite specific. I have not been briefed on the details of the issue. I take on board his comments about the Irish Athletic Boxing Association. There are ongoing issues in respect of that organisation. The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, is doing a lot of work in that space.

Travel costs for public sector workers are becoming a serious issue. As Members will be aware, approximately 80 cent is paid for a certain number of kilometres but that payment falls if somebody travels further. The travel and subsistence allowance is not even covering the costs of public workers who are on the road as part of their jobs. The costs of getting to work and doing the job are not covered. Fuel prices have doubled. For example, staff who are doing inspections for the Health and Safety Authority are on the road three to five days a week. Their travel costs are not covering the cost of doing their jobs. That needs to be addressed. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is mindful that any response cannot relate only to pay and that there are other areas where pressures on workers can be alleviated and the Government can assist with cost-of-living issues.

Senator Dolan spoke about mental health and the work being done in the European Parliament. It is not a competency of the European Parliament but at the same time, it is important that it is mindful of that important overarching work. We have a lot of work to do domestically on mental health. We are in a far better place than we were ten years ago and have come a long way. I commend Maria Walsh MEP on her work in that area. It is an important area of work to continue to highlight and to give a voice to those people.

I am not in a position to accept Senator Boyhan's amendment to No. 4. I take on board his comments about city and county councillors and the removal of those councillors from the boards of educational institutions. They will be in a position to apply for those positions but it is not the same as having a set place for those councillors. I have yet to hear the rationale or logic behind that decision. Local elected members have a mandate to represent their local areas. That is an important perspective to have on the board of a university or college that is operating in a municipal district or local authority area. Members are representing the views of the locality and the people in the area in which the college is operating. Theirs are important voices and I am not sure that has been properly considered by the Minister. The Senator's views are agreed with across the House.

Senator Mullen has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That in respect of No. 2, all words after "12.45 p.m." be substituted by the following. "and the proceedings thereon shall if not previously concluded, adjourn after two hours"." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 19.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Flynn, Eileen.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Michael McDowell and Rónán Mullen; Níl, Senators Lisa Chambers and Tim Lombard.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator McDowell has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the proposal re No. 3 be substituted by the following, "to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and that the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be adjourned after four hours"." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 20.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Flynn, Eileen.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Michael McDowell; Níl, Senators Lisa Chambers and Tim Lombard.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator Craughwell has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the proposal in respect of No. 4 be substituted by the following, "to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 or at 7.15 p.m., whichever shall be the later, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be adjourned at 8.45 p.m."." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 21.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Tim Lombard and Lisa Chambers.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 14.

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.

Níl

  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Flynn, Eileen.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Tim Lombard and Lisa Chambers; Níl, Senators Michael McDowell and Sharon Keogan.
Question declared carried.

I welcome to the Visitors Gallery Councillor Amanda Smith and Councillor Gráinne Maguire of the Clonalvy revival group in County Meath. I thank them for being here.

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