Monday, 29 March 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank colleagues for the variety of topics raised today. The project Senator Carrigy described would have huge merits in the area of Ballymahon and for the sections of society on which it would have positive impact. I will write to the Minister for Rural and Community Development and ask for the status of the funding from the rural regeneration fund.
Senator McGahon raised the five-day rule, which does not seem to have any logic. I wonder why it is even a rule. It probably has something to do with protecting employment rights or continuity of service but, as the Senator said, it seems incredibly illogical. As we will be in recess for the next couple of weeks, rather than ask the Minister for Education to come in for a debate I will write her a letter today to ask what the logic behind the rule is and if it could be suspended during Covid. I will come back to the Senator with the Minister's response.
Senator McGreehan makes thoughtful contributions in the Seanad every week. It may not be very good practice for me to say this but I am absolutely bloody delighted that she put the elbow in on that particular day. This issue gives rise to a much more serious conversation. In the past number of months, we seem to have been having more of these kinds of conversations about the inequality in which women and children in this country have to live. Many of our male colleagues, friends and family members are somewhat surprised and perhaps defensive in some conversations we have with them. Of course, not all men carry on or cause women to have to behave in a certain way to protect ourselves. It is definitely a conversation that should be had far more frequently and maybe it will become commonplace for men to understand the kind of self-preservation women have to go through just to lead normal lives.
I would like to touch on what the Senator said about catcalling with regard to our children. I have a 14-year-old girl at home. She is the baby of our family but she is as tough as nails. It never ceases to amaze me when she talks about being the subject of catcalls on the way home from school. What is incredible is that the catcalling is not coming from 14-year-old boys, which one could potentially think is banter or that they are growing and trying to find themselves, it usually comes from older men.One has to wonder what is wrong in this world or this country that people find it acceptable to be catcalling sexual innuendo at a 14-year-old girl. It is beyond me. I am not sure how we could legislate for catcalling, but it is a matter on which we definitely need to have further conversations.
Senator Warfield raised the two Bills on the Order Paper with regard to reducing the voting age, in respect of which I expressed my support on Friday last in the Seanad. We need to have conversations with our 16 to 18-year-olds and, perhaps, 14-year-olds about what they are interested in. We can all fall foul of the thought process that young people are not interested in politics. They are but we are just not talking about the things they are interested in. Giving them the franchise would bring them into that sphere. Whatever I can do to help advance that, I am happy to do so.
Senator Ahearn spoke about the large amount of funding announced for rural Ireland for walking, cycling and interconnectivity. The investment in rural Ireland, developing our pathways, cycleways, blueways and greenways, is coming to fruition. I wish Tipperary success in bringing the blueway and greenway together.
Other colleagues mentioned the expected announcement at 2 p.m. today, which has been well flagged, regarding our future plans for rural Ireland. It is really exciting. I have been a Member of the Oireachtas for just over ten years. Much of the time we talk about the things that we do that will discourage a thriving society in rural Ireland. In recent years, it has been the reverse and that is really welcome. The plan to be announced today, in particular in regard to remote working, will be a game changer in that it gives people a viable opportunity to work and live in rural Ireland and have exciting and successful careers. We have attempted to redistribute public services in recent years through decentralisation, somewhat unsuccessfully. This does not mean we will have a pocket in Sligo, Roscommon, Cork, Galway or north County Dublin, which I represent. It means we can have all services at all levels with all opportunities in rural Ireland. I welcome the announcement to be made later today and I welcome also that many Senators have welcomed it this morning.
Senator Buttimer asked for a debate on the travel industry, particularly travel vouchers. On the way here this morning, I heard on radio people talking about consumer rights in regard to concerts, something in our distant past but, hopefully, not too distant our future, and people constantly being told they are to be rearranged. Concerts that were due to take place last summer and rearranged for this summer have been cancelled again and are to be rearranged for next summer. An official from the consumer rights protection agency spoke about people being entitled to have their money back and not just rolled over. The reverse appears to be happening in the travel industry, such that we definitely do need a debate. We all know that travel is be interrupted again this year, much to our dismay, but people must be entitled to get the extension of the five-year rule introduced for vouchers last year and then have their money back, as opposed to it being rolled over for a further 12 months. I will arrange that debate when the House returns after the Easter recess.
Senator Byrne spoke about the higher education report. There are some really good aspects to the report, particularly around younger people coming to our third level institutions through the disability and access route to education, DARE, and higher education access route, HEAR, programmes and the successful outcomes they have in some more affluent societies that we always expect to do well. That is really positive progress. Senator Byrne also spoke about, sadly, the anniversary of Joanne Mathers. I concur that anybody who has information should come forward to help put an end to the suffering of the family.
Senator Boyhan spoke about rural Ireland. I agree with him that just transition has to involve all of us; it is not something that should be done to us. It is important all of us, collectively, are involved in it, particularly the farming industry because we will not have a farming industry if we do these things to our farmers. We need to work with our farmers to make sure we have positive outcomes while addressing the challenges that face that whole sector.
Senator Kyne also spoke about the rural plan and the 400 remote working hubs that are to be put in place. This will be seismic. Earlier, Senator Chambers made the point that it is very difficult to find a positive in the last 12 months but, if anything, the acceleration of remote working and our grow remote strategies, about which people have been talking for a number of years, is probably the one positive we will all hang on to.
Senator Gallagher asked for a debate on an international soccer team for the island of Ireland. I will invite the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, to the House for a discussion on it.We should be talking about it in light of the request from colleagues last week that the Seanad start to discuss the shared island experience and the outcomes. This probably should be less contentious than some of the other topics. I will organise it after Easter.
Senator Gavan requested two debates, one on workers' rights and the other on the subsidies to private schools, I will organise both after Easter.
People talked about the landmark climate action Bill that was launched by the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Green Party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, last week. Ours is probably the most ambitious plan of any state in the European Union, but it will absolutely require us all to be ambitious and not to be partisan or political.
Senator Moynihan talked about development plans and her aspirations for her city. That was a welcome contribution.
As he always does, Senator Craughwell talked passionately about the Defence Forces. I will ask for a debate after Easter. I might write to the Minister today on the Senator's behalf to find out why the technical pay is not operational for levels 2 to 6, which makes no sense to me. I wonder why it has not been implemented. I hope to be able to come back to the Senator a bit quicker than that.
Senator Chambers opened today's session very much welcoming the plan, Our Rural Future. I know we will all be avidly listening in when the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, officially launches the plan at 2.30 p.m.