Tuesday, 14 November 2023
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Tuesday's business shall be: - Motion re Referral to Joint Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2023 (without debate)
- Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (without debate)
- Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2023 (Second Stage) (if not previously concluded, to adjourn either at 6 p.m. or after 2 hrs and 56 mins, whichever is the later) Tuesday's private members' business shall be the Motion re Escalation of Violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 7th October, selected by Sinn Féin.
Wednesday's business shall be: - Motion re Leave to Introduce Supplementary Estimates [Votes 5, 7, 29 and 42] (without debate)
- Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2023 (Second Stage, resumed, if not previously concluded)*
- Employment (Collective Redundancies and Miscellaneous Provisions) and Companies (Amendment) Bill 2023 (Second Stage)** Please note: if not previously concluded, debate shall be interrupted on these Bills either 2 hrs and 11 mins after the conclusion of the SOS or at 5 p.m., whichever is the later.- Energy (Windfall Gains in the Energy Sector) (Cap on Market Revenues) Bill 2023 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to commence no earlier than 5 p.m. and to conclude within 1 hr)
- Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services) (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2023 (Report and Final Stages) (if not previously concluded, to adjourn 4 hrs after the commencement of the Energy (Windfall Gains in the Energy Sector) (Cap on Market Revenues) Bill 2023) Wednesday's private members' business shall be the Motion re Imposing Sanctions on Israel, selected by the Social Democrats.
Thursday's business shall be: - Statements on Science Week (not to exceed 147 mins)
- Employment (Collective Redundancies and Miscellaneous Provisions) and Companies (Amendment) Bill 2023 (Second Stage, resumed, if not previously concluded) (to adjourn at 6 p.m., if not previously concluded) Thursday evening business shall be the Second Stage of the Protection of Children (Online Pornographic Material) Bill 2020.
Proposed Arrangements for this week’s business:
In relation to Tuesday’s business, it is proposed that:
1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:(i) parliamentary questions to the Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Order 46(1) shall not be taken and the proceedings on Second Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2023 shall commence at the time when oral parliamentary questions to the Taoiseach would normally be taken;2. the Motion re Referral to Joint Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2023 shall be taken without debate;
(ii) private members’ business may be taken earlier than 6.12 p.m., and shall in any event be taken on the adjournment of the proceedings on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2023, or where Second Stage of that Bill concludes within the available time, on the conclusion thereof; and
(iii) the time at which private members’ business shall be taken shall have consequential effect on—(a) the commencement time for the items following in the ordinary routine of business, namely, oral Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Rural and Community Development and topical issues, and
(b) the time for the adjournment of the Dáil;
3. the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments shall be taken without debate; and
4. the proceedings on Second Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2023 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned either after 2 hours and 56 minutes or at 6 p.m., whichever is the later, and shall not be resumed on Tuesday.
In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that:
1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to extent that the weekly division time may be taken later than 8.45 p.m., and shall in any event be taken immediately following the interruption of the proceedings on the Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services) (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2023, or, where those proceedings conclude within the available time, on the conclusion thereof, with consequential effect on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil;
2. the Motion re Leave to Introduce Supplementary Estimates [Votes 5, 7, 29 and 42] shall be taken without debate;
3. the proceedings on any Second Stage of a Government Bill shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted either at 5 p.m. or 2 hours and 11 minutes after the conclusion of the SOS, whichever is the later, and no proceedings on any Second Stage of a Government Bill shall be taken or resumed on Wednesday after that time;
4. the proceedings on the amendments from the Seanad on the Energy (Windfall Gains in the Energy Sector) (Cap on Market Revenues) Bill 2023 shall be taken no earlier than 5 p.m. and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 1 hour and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications; and
5. the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services) (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2023 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned 4 hours after the commencement of the proceedings on the amendments from the Seanad to the Energy (Windfall Gains in the Energy Sector) (Cap on Market Revenues) Bill 2023.
In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that:
1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:(i) the Dáil shall meet at 10.30 a.m. when oral Parliamentary Questions to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs shall not be taken and oral Parliamentary Questions pursuant to Standing Order 46(1) to the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications shall be taken: Provided that the rota of Questions as provided for in Standing Order 47(2) shall be otherwise unaffected; and2. the following arrangements shall apply in relation to the Statements on Science Week:
(ii) topical issues shall be taken either at 6 p.m., or on the conclusion of Government business, whichever is the earlier, and Second Stage of the Protection of Children (Online Pornographic Material) Bill 2020 shall be taken on the conclusion of topical issues, with consequential effect on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil;(i) the statements shall not exceed 137 minutes, and the arrangements for that time shall be in accordance with the Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, and the Resolution of the Dáil of 20th September, 2023; and3. any resumed proceedings on Second Stage of the Employment (Collective Redundancies and Miscellaneous Provisions) and Companies (Amendment) Bill 2023 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned at 6 p.m., and the Bill shall not be resumed on Thursday.
(ii) following the statements, a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes; and
I am looking for time to be set aside to discuss RTÉ's strategic plan. RTÉ workers heard about job cuts in the region of up to 400 jobs and they heard this from leaks to the media which is shameful in itself. The Government needs to come in and outline its plan for RTÉ. I understand the director general met with staff this morning and the information was quite sparse. Workers are understandably extremely worried about losing their jobs and about the amount of restructuring and how their jobs and work will be affected. I also understand the Minister has had the plan since last week so both the workers and the public need assurances and information about where the Government stands on our public broadcaster.
We in Labour are also looking for time this week to debate the situation in RTÉ in light of the leaked report on job losses. Indeed, our thoughts are with all those workers in RTÉ who have learnt that one in five of them, some 400 workers, may see their jobs cut as part of these proposed cuts. I echo the words of the RTÉ trade union group and the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, in saying that the leak and the plans are a breach of trust. When the legacy of the Government is written, will it be the total gutting of RTÉ? That is what we are looking at. It would be appropriate for us to have a debate in this House as to what the future is for RTÉ, the Government's plans, and what it proposes to do to save our national broadcaster to ensure we have a public service broadcaster. It is so important we see that. That debate should also encompass the issue of workers' rights. This is not just for those facing redundancy in RTÉ. Those who remain on bogus self-employment contracts in RTÉ also deserve some clarity on their future.
On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I seek time for a debate on the situation regarding the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, monthly statistics for new arrivals to this country in October. I looked for this at the Business Committee last week. The figures are quite startling. Some 69% or 500 are males. Of the 1,500 people who arrived in October, only 13% are females and a staggering only 5% are couples. We need to have a real debate here unless we have become a complete echo chamber. We had it at a meeting in Cashel, at the weekend in Killarney and in Wicklow, the Minister's own county, where 900 people were being put into a hamlet without even a shop. We have this all over the country and people are excited, upset and worried. I want a reasonable, calm and reflective debate on where we are going here. We have soundbites from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, who do not bother turning up anymore for Leader's Questions. They are more interested in Europe and getting jobs there it looks like.
They must have this debate here. I am not saying we must change it; we must look at it now, before it is too late. We need to reflect, have a calm debate and understanding here and bring the people with us. The people are not with us on this.
First, my understanding is that there was no dissent at the Business Committee this week about the schedule so issues that Deputy McGrath wishes to raise can be raised again and considered in terms of finding time. The Deputy can speak for his county but I can speak for mine. My county is very much a welcoming place for people seeking humanitarian refuge and I think the Deputy's county is too.
Deputies Munster and Bacik and others have sought a debate on RTÉ. The first thing for all of us to say is that we are very conscious, as is the Minister, Deputy Martin, that the director general is meeting with staff and staff representatives at 3.30 p.m. My understanding is that there will then be a consultation with staff, stakeholders and with the public in the coming weeks on this strategic vision. The Government made a number of decisions today on the recommendation by the Minister, Deputy Martin, on initial funding that she has announced this afternoon and the Government has no issue with time being allocated in the House perhaps next week. It can be considered at the Business Committee.
It can be considered at the Business Committee.
Ivana Bacik, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Holly Cairns, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Catherine Connolly, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Gary Gannon, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Catherine Murphy, Gerald Nash, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Cian O'Callaghan, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Thomas Pringle, Neale Richmond, Eamon Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Brendan Smith, Duncan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Jennifer Whitmore.
Chris Andrews, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Johnny Guirke, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Imelda Munster, Johnny Mythen, Carol Nolan, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully.
There is devastation in Galway. Businesses have been flooded and livelihoods completely destroyed. In Clarinbridge, business owners told me this was like nothing they had witnessed before. They are concerned and fearful that this is indicative of what is to come, perhaps even this winter but certainly in years to come. This is a massive blow to the livelihoods of the business owners and the workers but also to the growing community that depends on the services these businesses provide. They need security and support, and they need both now. They need to know the Government is looking at a long-term plan to protect these businesses in the future as climate change worsens. Can the Minister give an assurance to the business owners, the community?
I thank Deputy Farrell for raising this important issue. I saw the devastation on television last night, with business owners reduced to tears. Some are fledgling businesses. I saw one woman whose business has only been open five years wondering if she would be able to reopen. That is why today the Government took what by any standard is swift action. My colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coveney, got Government approval for the emergency business scheme and also the enhanced business scheme. Funding of up to €100,000 can be provided once an assessment is carried out. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is in the area today and is engaging with the local authority and others on the next steps that can be taken to support and protect the people of Clarinbridge in particular and Galway in general.
Today's announcement that local authority home loans will be extended to people renovating derelict properties is welcome and, may I say, overdue. However, it is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to tackling vacancy and dereliction. Unfortunately, the Government has simply not been doing enough to ensure not just that we see more homes provided for people but also a halt to urban decay and to the scourge of vacancy and dereliction across our communities. Tomorrow, the Seanad will debate a motion brought forward by Labour Senators setting out a pathway to transform vacant and derelict sites into homes. There is something the Government can do right away on this. The Government can act much more quickly and effectively to clean up its own house, literally. We learned last month through parliamentary questions that the HSE is sitting on thousands of empty properties. The OPW is also in possession of a portfolio of empty sites. More replies to parliamentary questions confirmed that Irish Rail is sitting on nearly 120 empty cottages across the country. The Government has failed to prevent the hoarding of vacant properties by the State
The Government has noted the Labour Party's Seanad motion to be taken tomorrow. It is a constructive motion, and we look forward to engaging on it. There are varying levels of vacancy indicated from different data sources but the overall trend now is downwards and vacancy levels are decreasing. All 31 local authorities now have a full-time dedicated vacant homes officer funded by the Government through the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. As the Deputy rightly said, today the Government, on the recommendation of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, significantly expanded the vacant homes refurbishment grant, the Croí Cónaithe scheme, because the scheme is now oversubscribed, which is an encouraging sign. In the context of the public bodies to which the Deputy referred, I will ask the Minister to communicate with her directly on the matter.
The Irish Council for International Students published a report earlier that outlines the impact of the housing crisis on international students. Such students are some of the most vulnerable renters in Ireland and abusive landlords know this. Some 5% have come across sex-for-rent arrangements while trying to find accommodation.
Rental advertisements constantly appear on platforms aimed at international students offering reduced rent for women, with the expectation that sex with the landlord will be required. It has been 20 months since Deputy Cian O'Callaghan introduced legislation which would make demanding sex for rent a criminal offence. The Government refused to progress the Bill, but promised an urgent solution. However, in June, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, admitted she did not even have a timeframe within which sex-for-rent practices would be outlawed. There is a complete lack of urgency on the part of the Government in respect of this matter, which leaves people vulnerable to predatory landlords. What is the Government doing to protect vulnerable renters from sex-for-rent predators? Will it commit to progressing the Social Democrats Bill to ban sex for rent?
I certainly commit to taking action in this space and to meeting with the association that represents international students on the basis of its survey published today. I am already engaging with the Minister for Justice on the issue. It is a horrifying practice that is not acceptable in any way, shape or form.
We are also bringing in an international education mark. It is an important protection that will be welcomed by international students to ensure that students' entire journey and well-being in Ireland are known in advance of them coming to our country. I intend to launch the international education mark at the start of 2024.
I will revert to the Deputy specifically on Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's legislation and with an update from the Minister for Justice.
At the weekend, almost 50 people overdosed on contaminated heroin. Traces of synthetic opioid were found in samples of the heroin they took. Thankfully, no one has died as a result of the overdoses because of interventions made using a drug called naloxone, which is welcome. There are issues with naloxone, which is a prescribed drug. Experts in the field say it should be more available in the context of treating overdoses.
There is another worrying trend, which the House and society should be made aware of. There could be supply issues relating to heroin coming from Afghanistan. If that is the case - it has been seen in the United States - synthetic opioids will replace heroin and that will lead to hundreds of people dying. What is the State doing as regards overdoses, the issues relating to heroin coming out of Afghanistan and the possibility of opioids engulfing Ireland as a result?
I thank the Deputy for the question. He is correct that there have been more than 50 overdoses in the Dublin area since Thursday of last week. They were associated with the use of heroin that was adulterated with nitazines, which are potent, synthetic opioids. Naloxone is distributed by the HSE. I commend the members of the HSE in the Dublin region who are on the front line, such as outreach workers, ensuring the message regarding this toxic drug gets out. People are being assisted by hospital emergency departments and Dublin Fire Brigade. There was a swift response to what happened.
On the Deputy's other query about other substances coming in, the HSE is acutely aware of the dangers of new drugs. We have a range of methods, including working with our EU partners around emerging drug trends and with emergency departments here on syringe analysis and wastewater treatment analysis in the context of drugs coming in. The Deputy is correct about the roll-out of naloxone. There is a budget of €114 million for the HSE and the Department to deal with the matter of drugs. I will be working on that.
It has been reported that the main hospital in Gaza is burying patients in a mass grave. A doctor in the hospital said that bodies are littered around the hospital complex and there is no longer any electricity for the morgues. He stated that 7 babies and 29 patients who were in intensive care are among the dead. This is an indictment of the war Israel is waging. It is also an indictment of the international community.
The Tánaiste stated that one of the reasons we should not expel the Israeli ambassador is that Ireland could have a position as an interlocutor in the peace process. However, when I asked the Taoiseach last week whether the Government has made any material effort to approach Israel or Palestine about becoming an interlocutor, mediator or facilitator for peace, he admitted that it has not. No effort has been made by this State to put ourselves in that position, despite the fact that we have a competency in peacebuilding. Will the Tánaiste make a material effort on his trip to the Middle East this week to put Ireland in a situation where it can be a mediator for peace?
The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach are correct. What is needed is an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. We have called for that from day one. Other countries are now beginning to adopt that position, thankfully.
We need to see all hostages released, including little Emily Hand, whom we are all thinking of and who turns nine on Friday. Emily was taken hostage by Hamas. We need all Irish citizens and all international citizens out of Gaza.
The Government is taking practical steps, including that which it took earlier today to make an additional allocation to the International Criminal Court in respect of its investigation into the ongoing situation in Palestine. It might seem hard to believe now, but there will at a moment in time have to be discussions about peace. When we get to that stage, Ireland will be able to play a role-----
Over 300 residents of Killarney convened a meeting on Sunday night. They are very concerned about the placement of 77 more asylum seekers very close to them in Harmony Inn on the Muckross Road. They want the decision in this regard to be reversed because there is a lack of surety as regards safety and services in the town of Killarney in light of the number of asylum seekers and refugees being placed there. We seem to be taking way more than our share in Killarney. The matter of vetting is very important to the people of Killarney. Where are these people coming from? The people of Killarney want to know who is coming in beside them, where they are from and how many different countries they are coming from. We had trouble earlier in the year on the other side of town, and these people are concerned. Old and young people, especially women, are fearing for their safety with this number of people being placed beside them in the town of Killarney.
In reply to a parliamentary question last June, the Tánaiste stated that “in the absence of progress towards a two-State solution", Ireland would recognise Palestinian statehood. This was reaffirmed in September, when he stated that the Government favours recognition. With the sheer brutality of the ethnic cleansing we are witnessing the Israeli state rain down on Gaza, with over 12,000 killed to date, more than 4,000 of whom are children, a two-state solution looks further away than ever. Yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu once again stated that the Palestinian National Authority would have no place in Gaza after Israel's current campaign or, as the Minister quite correctly called it, war on children. There is, then, no plan to build a unified Palestinian Authority and no plan for a two-state solution. Will the Irish Government now move to recognise Palestinian statehood in reaction to the ongoing horror being inflicted on Palestinians and the Israeli Government's clear movement away from even the pretence of a possible two-state solution? This is something the Government can do today or tomorrow.
It is a long-established position of this country that the solution in the Middle East is a peace settlement that recognises two states. That is where the world wishes to get to, or certainly large parts of the world, including Ireland. Right now, the most important thing this Government and country can do, and indeed that the Tánaiste will do, starting this evening, on his visit Egypt, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is continue to advocate for that immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages and also help get our citizens out of Gaza.
As the Minister will be aware, last week, Jozef Puska was convicted of the murder of Ashling Murphy. In common with other people convicted of murder in this country, this individual will be able to apply for parole in 12 years. Ten years has elapsed since the Law Reform Commission recommended that in murder cases, the trial judge should be given power to impose a minimum period of incarceration. From reading its report, it is obvious that the commission had in mind especially heinous cases, such as this one and the case of my constituent Kevin Sheehy, who was murdered in an equally heinous manner, the aftermath of which was very badly handled by the State. Does the Government accept the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission and does it intend to implement it? If so, when will it do so.
I will have to ask the Minister for Justice to revert directly to the Deputy. I am aware work is under way in the Department of Justice in respect of that matter. Certainly, it is my view, and I think it is also the Minister for Justice's view, that in certain cases of particularly heinous crimes, there is merit in considering the idea of a minimum tariff.
The Government is on course to see 100,000 homes built in four years, notwithstanding Covid-19 and the Russian war on Ukraine. We have exceeded our Housing for All targets for the past two years. In the first quarter of this year, we are seeing the highest level of commencements for this period since records began. Is the Minister confident we will continue to deliver the Housing for All targets of cost-rental, affordable purchase and social and private homes at the pace required to meet our chronic demand issues?
I am indeed, and I thank the Deputy for his question on this. Today, the Government had a good day in that we took three more concrete actions on the basis of recommendations from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien, to assist with the housing situation. We are expanding the Croí Cónaithe scheme such that more people can avail of the grant to do up vacant homes, extending the rent-a-room scheme to include local authority homes that wish to take in a student, which is a win-win for everybody, and also making sure the State-backed mortgage scheme can be made available if someone wants to buy and do up a home that may be viewed as derelict or unusable at the moment. Those are three concrete steps. We exceeded our targets last year and I believe we will exceed our targets this year. We will also set new targets next year for 2025 on the basis of the census and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report.
The Minister knows the importance of increasing apprenticeship capacity right around the State, especially in the context of housing need. He is well aware of the proposal made by Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board, ETB, to SOLAS in respect of an apprenticeship centre in Roscommon, really well located, bang in the centre of Roscommon town, with really good public transport links. Of course, the site the board has selected and identified has the benefit of having buildings in place, so there is the immediate creation of workshops and also the potential to grow. I understand the Minister has to wait for the correspondence from SOLAS and I appreciate that, and I know constituency colleagues have raised this with him and he has talked positively about it, but what is the typical timeframe within which he would expect to receive that information from SOLAS?
I thank the Deputy for that very fair question. I would expect to receive it in the coming weeks. There is a lot of work going between Galway-Roscommon ETB and SOLAS, and I thank them for that. We cannot provide enough apprenticeship capacity - the more, the better - and we need to make sure every part of the country is covered to make it accessible for people in the regions as well. I am positively disposed to this and look forward to receiving the application in the coming weeks.
I again raise the need to enable higher education students studying outside this State to avail of the €1,000 reduction in student contribution fees. The Minister confirmed to me in a reply to parliamentary question that this was one measure of the package of measures to help households with the increased cost of living. Families here, regardless of their children's study location, have similar cost-of-living pressures. Students who have had to avail of courses outside this State should not be disadvantaged further by our failing to include them in this measure. I highlighted this issue last year regarding students studying in Northern Ireland and elsewhere who were denied this payment and were similarly denied the tax credit as well.
Whatever administrative obstacles exist to ensuring those two benefits are applied to all eligible students from our State should be removed without delay. It has to be within the capacity of the Government, if the will is there, to ensure some fairness for those students who, in many cases, have to study elsewhere because of an insufficient number of places on the courses of their choice in this State. If we are to improve and encourage student mobility, our administrative systems must adapt, change and ensure a level playing field for all students. This Government is quite rightly supporting a range of major capital projects in Northern Ireland, and presumably all such expenditure is within the proper Government financial procedures. That shows clearly that where there is a will, there is a way.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. In fairness, he has raised it with me on a number of occasions. It is something we have yet to find a resolution for, but I will accept his challenge to engage with broader Government colleagues on this to see whether there is a way. The Government has done more on all-island education than perhaps ever before, including the expansion of the Magee campus in Derry, ensuring Northern Ireland students can continue to benefit from Erasmus+ and ring-fencing places in nursing, medicine and therapies in Northern Ireland for students from down South. This is one on which we have hit a bit of a roadblock but I will engage directly with the Deputy and see if we can overcome it.
It is 2023 and we live in a wealthy country. For 7,000 people in Limerick, however, it might as well be the Dark Ages because they have no clean drinking water in their homes. For over five months, they have been told that the water coming from their taps is not safe to drink because of the pollution of our rivers and the underfunding of our treatment plants. This is particularly egregious for the people of Kildimo and Pallaskenry, who for years got their water from the much cleaner Bleach Lough but who were forced, against their will, to switch to the more polluted River Deel.
I have supported them over the years in their campaign and warned that this switch would result in unsafe drinking water. Successive Governments refused to listen and now people are forced to spend hundreds of euro buying bottled water, causing untold levels of plastic waste. Will the Government intervene to ensure that these people are provided with safe drinking water and that the cost of bottled water is shouldered by Uisce Éireann? Will it ask for a review of the water supply so communities who wish to can go back to the Bleach Lough supply?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter . I will ask my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, to look into this matter, liaise with the local authority and reply to the Deputy directly on the issues raised.
I raise the issue of school transport bus escorts. I met a large delegation in my constituency recently and was taken aback by the way they had been unfairly treated. It reminds me of the treatment of school secretaries and caretakers for many years in the context of pay and conditions. The other issue is that they are not paid for 69 days of the year when there are school holidays or breaks. There are big issues when they have to sign on. What is happening is incredibly disrespectful. These people clearly do not do it for the money. They assist young people with special needs and disabilities. They are an important part of these children's and young people's lives. I ask that the Government urgently review the situation and give them fair treatment, pay and conditions.
I am well aware of the excellent work done by bus escorts. It is vital, and they often build a relationships with vulnerable children and children with additional educational needs. I am not familiar with the contractual issues or terms and conditions, but I will refer the matter to the Minister for Education and ask her to link with the Deputy.
Earlier this year, the Department received a report from a Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, working group containing a proposal about the creation of a national relocation scheme in which teachers could identify locations where they would like to teach and swap with colleagues in those locations. In response to a parliamentary question I submitted to her some time ago, the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, outlined that there was a meeting between Department officials and TUI representatives and that the proposal was still being considered. This concerns me because not enough urgency is given to this issue. Schools throughout the country, including in my constituency, Laois-Offaly, are facing a crisis in the context of a lack of teaching staff. Will more urgency and greater priority be given to this issue? The proposal is a solution that addresses the needs of teachers and will also, I hope, address challenges in teacher shortages.
I thank Deputy Nolan for raising the issue. Teacher supply is an issue which my colleague, the Minister, takes seriously. Budget 2024 contains a range of targeted measures aimed at trying to improve teacher supply, including a professional master's of education incentive scheme to be introduced for teachers graduating in 2024 and an expansion of the number of upskilling programmes available in Irish, French, politics and society and computer science. I will ask the Minister for Education to update Deputy Nolan directly on the status of the proposal to which she referred.
Flood and storm events are, unfortunately, becoming quite common. In each of these events, damage is caused. A significant number of commercial properties and dwellings in Galway city, Oranmore and Clarinbridge were damaged by the recent Storm Debi. I am aware that schemes are available to help these people. However, a number of smaller businesses have losses that far exceed the existing limit of support to get themselves back into business. Due to previous flood events, these businesses were not able to get flood insurance. Will the Minister outline the steps being taken to assist such businesses? In the long term, it will be cheaper to get them back into business than to have failed businesses. In many cases, these were the only businesses of their type in the village of Clarinbridge. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government intends to take to improve what is on offer? What is on offer is substantial, but it needs tweaking for a small number of businesses.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am well aware of the difficult situation in Galway city, Oranmore and Clarinbridge. My colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies O'Donovan and Naughton, were there today. We all want to help as a Government, as does Deputy Ó Cuív. At its meeting earlier, the Cabinet approved, on the recommendation of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the extension of the enhanced emergency business flooding scheme to businesses in County Galway affected by Storm Debi. As the Deputy may be aware, an initial application to the scheme can lead to a quick payment capped at an increased upper limit of €10,000. The scheme can now pay out up to €100,000 once an assessment has been carried out. This is the enhanced scheme we introduced in the aftermath of the Midleton flood, I think. We have extended it today on the recommendation of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to cover damaged caused by Storm Debi.