Seanad debates

Friday, 16 October 2020

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)

In response to some of the contributions that have been made, as a colleague and pal of mine for many years and an adversary, and a lot of those years on different issues, Senator Sharon Keogan is an absolute lady.She is one of the hardest working ladies both in her home as a foster parent and in our community for all of the years I have known her. A number of debates have been asked for today. The issue was raised of maternity care and the co-operation of these hospitals, in recognising that there are two parents in almost every single case. Both parents need to be recognised during the duration of that pregnancy and the care thereafer. It is very vital that we have that debate as quickly as we can.

The debate on disability is, again, timely. Our services have been closed for many of our citizens for far too long. The extra money is welcome but we need to know how this will resolve in getting our day services open again. We will schedule that debate as quickly as we can.

A number of Members have touched on the US elections. I will not comment on it but I will agree and concur with Senators McGreehan and Seery Kearney’s call for a debate. When a lady, Amy Coney Barrett, is asked who does the laundry in her house when being interviewed for one of the most serious and senior positions in the American judiciary, this is an absolute disgrace regardless of whether one agrees with her politics or the politics of the party that has proposed her. It goes to show that we have a hell of a long way to go to achieve equality, not just in Ireland but in the world.

As to the debate on homelessness that was asked for by Senator Fitzpatrick, I did not ignore her call for a debate when she asked for it in August. The Minister has agreed to come to this House and the earliest date that I can get him to do so is in November which has been scheduled.

I agree that, notwithstanding that we had the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in here only a number of weeks ago, it seems like a lifetime ago as so much has changed. With the advent of adopting the green list and the funding for our airports, which will happen next Tuesday, it will be vital that we get both Ministers back in to this House at the earliest convenience and I will do this for Senator Carrigy as quickly as I can.

On the two amendments to the Order of Business, I will take the second one first. Unfortunately the Minister, Deputy Foley, is in Kerry today. Even if I was of a mind to try to facilitate Senator Craughwell's amendment, I cannot get hold of her as she is in Kerry and there is no feasible way for her to be here today. I will certainly asked that question as the issue raised by the Senator is very relevant, not just to our primary schools but to all of our secondary schools also, and does not just extend to teachers but to resource teachers and SNAs also. This is really vital and permeates through every statement made, not just by Ministers but by leaders in Ireland, and particularly by our leaders in NPHET. Our main aim is to keep our children in school and to keep the education system working. We all know the damage that was done to quite a number of our children during the months that schools were closed. We must keep the schools open safely and ensure that we have replacement teachers for staff members who may get sick during the course of this pandemic. If there is not a plan there then we certainly need one. We need to hear what the plan is or at least be able to input on what our suggestions should be to keep our schools open. I will arrange that as quickly as I can but I am not in a position to support the amendment.

I am also not in a position to support the first amendment to the Order of Business which proposes to take Report Stage at a later date because the Bill is scheduled to go to the Dáil next week. On that basis I will be opposing the amendment.

I wish to briefly refer to Senator Boyhan’s irksomeness at having received the Order of Business at 10.19 a.m. The Order of Business, a Chathaoirligh, as Members know well, is drafted in consultation with the Seanad Office to ensure that what I read out on the Order of Business is procedurally correct. As to the business to be dealt with, absolutely nothing was added that was not already in the schedule that I issued to all Members last week. I reissued a revised schedule to Members yesterday arising from the issues that were dealt with at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, this week. There should be no conspiracy theory suggested as to people getting anything late. The schedule put before the Senator this morning was exactly the same schedule that was given to Members last week and yesterday. The Senator is more than welcome and willing to meet me any time and I am here nearly every day.

I am fully open to the request for a leaders and whips meeting and I am willing to do this every week but we do have a CPP meeting every week. This week we are having two such meetings. What I do not want to do is to assume that people have nothing better to be doing than having the same conversations in two meetings. When we have run our course of scheduled items on the CPP, it will probably go back to meeting on a monthly basis, and we can then certainly have a scheduled meeting for leaders and whips every week.

Certain members have touched on what they think should and should not be happening in Irish society. One either agrees with the GAA or does not. It is very telling that no other specific sporting or entertaining organisation was raised today. We need to have a significant debate, not just in this House but in Irish society on the psychosocial impacts of Covid-19 that are affecting every single household, whether it is a single-person household that has been impacted by the no-visitor rule or suggestions that were made this week, or a household with a lorry-load of children in it. The psychosocial impact of Covid-19 is something that we are all talking about in quiet corners in terms of how we can ensure people’s well-being is going to be minded. However, we are not talking about it at a national level or from a programme of delivery perspective, or how we will build resilience in our children who we certainly want to keep going to school. Some of these children are absolutely petrified that they are going to get sick and make their granny or grandad sick.

We are not talking about the underlying levels of anxiety that exist in healthy normal people who have good jobs, before we ever get to the anxiety levels of people who are on €300 a week. This is a huge debate that we need to have not just in this House but in Irish society. Society needs to show and be shown leadership from our Ministers, our Government, from the HSE and from organisations that look after our mental health and well-being but this usually happens after the fact that we have reached crisis. We are in the biggest emergency this country has ever seen.

The fact that we announced almost €18 billion worth of investment in Irish people on Tuesday and by Wednesday we had moved on to talking about something else tells us that we are living in a time where people are moving from announcements made three or four hours ago and we nearly forget what happened yesterday because we are so concentrated on what is happening today. If that does not tell people the level of anxiety that people are living under, whether they recognise it or not, then we are storing up enormous problems in terms of the well-being of our citizens in this country. We cannot ignore this any longer. To that end, with the agreement of Members, I will write to the Cabinet and ask it to convene a special group to consider what programme should be put in place to build not just resilience in our children and schools, but resilience in all of society. I fear that sometimes when announcements are made there is a lack of information or understanding as to why. Other Members mentioned today that we need touchtone information as to why announcements are being made so that we can appreciate and follow them. I feel that we will have a very grave situation like that which is currently being experienced in Israel, where if we lose the minds and hearts of people as to what we are trying to do for the public good and in their best interests, then we will have a very serious problem that we will not be able to come back from.


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