Wednesday, 29 July 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank Senators for the issues they have raised. Senators Higgins, Fitzpatrick and Ruane referred to the deaths of five people in homeless services in Dublin over the past week. Our sympathies go to those individuals and their families and the people who loved them. I understand two individuals died in a facility in the north of the city last week, one individual who had been accessing homeless services died in hospice care, one individual died in a facility on the south of the city on Friday, and one man died in the city who had not been in emergency accommodation. I understand a number of investigations are ongoing and, as such, it would not be appropriate to comment further. I am sure the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, will be happy to come to the House in the autumn to discuss this very important matter.
Senator Norris raised two issues. In regard to the theft of dogs, I agree that it seems to be absolutely rife throughout the countryside and in cities. It is a horrific practice. Many families, including my own, have dogs, often rescue dogs, as pets and companions and they are hugely important to them. Every necessary power needs to be enacted to ensure such activity is stopped. In regard to the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, I understand that Parts 2 and 3 of the Act, which empower the courts to made declarations of parentage for children born through donor-assisted human reproduction, have been enacted. This is a major step forward in recognising diversity of families in our country. The law in regard to assisted reproduction urgently needs reform and the programme for Government contains a commitment to enact an assisted human reproduction Bill. It is a very complex issue and one that requires time and a lot of input to get the legislation right.Senator Hoey, as well as Senators Ó Donnghaile, Higgins and Byrne, raised the issue of Cahersiveen direct provision centre, systemic racism and related issues and asked that the Minister be called in for a debate. As somebody who lost much support in the last election, as some people know, in respect of asserting our international responsibilities to asylum seekers and refugees in my constituency and for supporting 49 social houses in my village, I understand the difficulties associated with issues such as this.
Reading the reports concerning the Skellig Star direct provision centre in Cahersiveen, it sounds very bad. It sounds horrific, to be honest. Representatives from the Department visited it yesterday and there is a commitment in the programme for Government to ensure that direct provision is ended. That is hugely important but very difficult, because the majority of political parties, including mine, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Green Party and many Independents, have been in government since 1999 and direct provision has been part of the solution since then. That has not been intentional and not something any of us are happy about, but there were limited choices. The Minister will be invited into the House to address the issue of the Skellig Star direct provision centre and direct provision.
Senators Higgins and Gavan discussed the pandemic unemployment payment legislation and the Bill we will be dealing with today, and they have proposed amendments to the Order of Business. According to the Taoiseach, who was speaking in the Dáil today, more than 90% of claimants who had their pandemic unemployment payments stopped on foot of an intervention at airports by inspectors from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection were leaving the State permanently. There has been much media reporting on this issue, but more than 90% of the people involved were leaving the State permanently.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, has stated that she has directed her Department to review all cases to date where people who went on holiday had their payments stopped and that she would sign a regulation allowing people receiving pandemic unemployment payment and jobseeker's allowance to travel to green list countries without having their payments stopped. We must remember that this is an emergency payment brought in at the start of the pandemic and from which many people have benefited. We are now putting it on a statutory footing, we are in our last week of this session and we need to get this legislation passed. It will be in the House today.
Senators Dooley, McDowell, Buttimer and Craughwell discussed the issue of aviation and I will ask the Minister of State with responsibility for that area, Deputy Naughton, to come into this House at the earliest opportunity to discuss these important issues concerning Aer Lingus and the aviation sector. As was stated, I think we have all received correspondence from Aer Lingus pilots.
Senators Ahearn, McGahon and Buttimer also raised the issue of blueways and greenways and the funding announced today, some €4.5 million. Those are excellent initiatives and good for people's physical and mental health. Senator McGahon mentioned Louth and cross-Border tourism and we hope to see that continue. I agree that there needs to be a debate on this important topic in the autumn because some routes have issues regarding gaining consent and the code of practice. Those need to be teased out and I recommend a debate on this topic as well.
Senator Boyhan spoke about the article in theSunday Independentby Vicky Phelan. I read the article and I have texted the office to request that the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, come into the House again this week, if possible, to debate this issue. I think it is fair that the Minister himself would come in rather than any other Minister, as the Senator requested. Ms Phelan mentioned many important and outstanding issues that need to be dealt with.
Senator Casey mentioned the protecting uplands and rural environments, PURE, project in Wicklow, which I had the pleasure of visiting in my former role as Minister of State. Good work is being done in Wicklow regarding funding and I know we have put it on a multi-annual basis. We must ensure that continues and that important groups and volunteers have certainty regarding such projects in the years ahead. In Galway, we have the Golden Mile and Galway County Council produces a wonderful calendar every year regarding the work being done on that project. I will ask the Minister to look at this matter.
Senator Carrigy spoke about section 39 organisations. It is important that at the earliest opportunity we get back to having Commencement matter debates and Private Member's business so we can have an opportunity to tease out these issues and get the Ministers with responsibility into the House to debate these matters. The area of section 39 organisations is certainly one we need to look at.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of solidarity and the rule of law, and that funding should be linked to those who uphold the law. We have seen the situations in two members of the European Union, Poland and Hungary, and what is happening in those countries. It is worrying, and we must continue to encourage the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and his Department to continue to raise these important issues. When there is an opportunity, we will invite the Minister into the House to discuss these issues as well. Freedom of the press is hugely important. We might not always like the press at times and what it does and says, but it is important that there is freedom of the press. For example, we can look at Poland where there have been issues regarding LGBT-free zones, which have been overruled or declared illegal by the EU. It is important that such issues are addressed in any democracy and particularly in a member of the European Union.
Senator Moynihan raised issues that I think will be addressed when the Minister is in the House on Friday in respect of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020. I am sure he will be happy to engage then with the Senator regarding her concerns.
Senator Murphy spoke about the fire station in Castlerea. I can imagine that would be worrying for any community and would cause much upset. I understand that responsibility for the fire service is still with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the relevant Minister, therefore, is Deputy Darragh O'Brien.We can raise this issue with him.
Senator Ruane mentioned that it was World Hepatitis Day yesterday, and I commend the Prison Service on keeping the prisons Covid-19-free in recent months. We acknowledge the Senator's comments in that regard.
Senator O'Loughlin spoke about the disability services and the despair of parents. Indeed I spoke here last week, I think it was, on the same subject. I hope there can be a full resumption of disability services at the earliest opportunity, and I acknowledge the work of the Enough is Enough group. I hope to see a full reopening of services, and perhaps the relevant Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will be able to come into the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss these matters.
Senator Craughwell raised several points from teachers. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, was in the House yesterday and gave a comprehensive presentation regarding the existing plan. There are some remaining issues and I am sure they will be teased out in the days to come as there is continued engagement between the Department and the unions etc.
Senator Lombard spoke about local government reforms. I do not have personal experience regarding town councils in my area, but I know many people who felt they were working well and that there has been a democratic deficit since they were removed. I am sure this issue will be examined in the autumn and we can request that it is done.
Senator Gallagher spoke about resubmission of Bills. He can advise us about the procedures in that regard, but I presume there are some official channels to be gone through. I have no problem, however, supporting the outline of the Bills he mentioned.
Senator Boylan mentioned the Mid Shannon Wilderness Park in Leitrim and regarding the Grand Canal, and her description makes it sound like a wonderful initiative. We will ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to investigate that issue. We cannot get involved in planning decisions, but if there is an aspect that he can look at, we will certainly ask him to do that.
Senator McDowell spoke about the decision taken by the Shelbourne Hotel. The statues concerned seemed rather innocuous any time one passed the hotel, but beautiful. However, they have a history and someone has complained. According to social media last night, the complaint may have come from the United States. I do not know, but I saw that on Twitter. I also know that the Irish Georgian Society has expressed concern on social media. We will ask the relevant Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, to come into the House, and that is another ideal issue would be suitable for Commencement debates, once we get them back up and running. It is the ideal forum for an issue like this, which happens late at night and should be raised as quickly as possible.