Monday, 26 April 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank my colleagues. I agree with Senator Martin that now is not the time for a poll. However, what it absolutely is time for, and I do not think there has ever been a better time, is to start having the conversation with each other, those of us with opposing views, as to what we would like to see in a shared island and what the potential opportunities and, indeed, perhaps some of the downsides might be.I do not think that there has ever been a better time for us to start the conversation and obviously any part of a conversation involves listening. The other day, we discussed at the meeting of the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight the potential role that the Seanad might be able to play in that. Once a decision is made I will put it to all Members and let people know.
Senators Buttimer and Keogan have raised the need for a debate on the proposed EU legislation on digital green certificates that, please God, will pass in June. There are opposing views and that is why it is important for us to have not just a debate in this House but a public debate. The most important thing that we can do as leaders is to determine and make clear what a digital certificate will actually do because it will not discriminate. I know that there are people who feel it will but it absolutely will not. The proposed legislation does allow those who are vaccinated to get a digital certificate but it also allows those who have contracted Covid-19 and still have antibodies and, equally, those who have a negative test who may never have a vaccination for either their own reasons, medical reasons, or, thankfully, did not contract Covid. The certificate will be a game changer that will ensure the Irish connectivity that has been developed by our airlines over the past 20 years and that is vital to the rebounding of the economy will be able to resume at some stage at the being of the second half of this year. A debate has been sought and as soon as I have scheduled date I will let both Senators know, and indeed all of the Members.
Senators Crowe and Carrigy both have talked about the welcome announcement by the Minister on the grants that are available for outdoor dining for our outdoor summer this year. I hope, and I have made inquiries to the Department, that the current exclusion of the so-called wet pubs must be an oversight and an anomaly, because if it is not, then the matter needs to be rectified. I have written to the Minister and asked to be assured that it is an oversight and an anomaly. I will come back to Members of this House once she has written back to me.
I am absolutely gutted and I was unaware that the hard work of Senator Dolan and the community of Ballinasloe has been somewhat overlooked by Galway County Council. I certainly will ask the Minister to revise and review the conditions around public notifications in terms of advertisements about planning permission. The community is not unique in not knowing even though there apparently were notifications, but once people were made aware of the proposal, there were objections. I will come back to the Senator once I write to the Minister.
Senator Malcolm Byrne raised the absolute right to have free academic education and it should be enshrined.
I was distraught when I listened to Senator Warfield speak about the years he prayed and he felt shame. It makes me feel shameful we had a society that allowed him to feel that way and I am really sorry. There is a need for a debate and a number of Members have raised the issue, including Senator Pauline O'Reilly. I have religious beliefs but they play no part in the conversations I ever had with any of my four children around sexual education. Beliefs have nothing to do with it and the same should apply for everybody in all walks of life. Senator Warfield is right that, given we are still having this conversation, there is definitely a need for a debate. I will arrange it and let all Members know.
Senator Currie talked about an outdoor strategy for an outdoor summer. Like all those colleagues who have welcomed the easing of restrictions this morning, I too wish to put on record that it is lovely to see a little bit of life being injected into the population. Again, and I do not mean to be disrespectful, and I do not think it is rocket science, if we ask people to be outside, and we know human behaviour is that people do not always bring their rubbish home with them, let us just provide the bloody bins so they can put their rubbish in them. I pay tribute to all of the workers who are up at 5 o'clock in the morning cleaning up the Portobello area, the Phoenix Park and all of the other attractions people flocked to over the weekend because of the sunshine.
Senator Blaney talked about the "GunPlot" podcast. I only started to listen to it this morning and I look forward to having a full view. The podcast is interesting for those of us of a certain age who probably do not know. I also thought it was interesting to hear on RTÉ this morning that the podcast is most popular on Spotify, which has a far younger cohort of listeners, so it is interesting to hear back.
Many Members, including Senator Sherlock, have brought up the momentous recommendations made by the Citizens' Assembly on Sunday. On behalf of all of us here, I thank Dr. Catherine Day and the 99 other members for their tremendous input. I was privileged to be a member of a Citizens' Assembly many years ago.We got together in Malahide once a month and they were very enjoyable occasions. These citizens had to do it online, which meant they had a very different experience. The recommendations show just how far we have to travel if we are to have equality for women, carers and children. It is incumbent on Cabinet to react to these recommendations as quickly as it can because we all know how long it takes for legislation to be drafted. Judging by the list of recommendations, a hell of a lot of legislation will need to be passed. We will play our part. I will ask for a debate in this House as soon as I can get access to the Minister.
Senator Ward brought up an issue that is particularly close to my heart because of the dealings I had with a wide variety of people when I was Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. At that stage, we in the Department set up a judge-led inquiry with a view to streamlining the process, especially given that the vast majority of these cases involve people fighting to move a social welfare payment from one side of the table to the other, to take that burden off the courts. That commission was delayed as a result of the Covid pandemic but I will welcome the recommendations to come from the lady judge this year. I expect those recommendations very soon. I will write to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and ask her the status of the process and then come back to the Senator. This will not, however, address the situation of those who are not relying on social welfare payments in this period of their lives. We might look at the next steps involved in taking this administrative burden away from the courts.
Senator Murphy talked very passionately about a family in Roscommon. I will ring the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and write to him later today to ask him to intervene and I will come back to the Senator with a response directly.
Senator Craughwell talked about the vaccine he received this morning and he paid tribute to the wonderful staff we have in every single vaccination centre in the country. I acknowledge that.
Senator Carrigy, among others, talked about the very emotional interview Andrew Geary gave on behalf of his son. It is absolutely abhorrent that any parent in this country would see himself or herself as a failure because of either the distribution of services or the lack of services for any child in this country. Again, we have a long way to go. It is interesting that, in listening to the concerns raised here every week, they are usually about the lack of services for women and children in this country. This should make us more mindful of how we spend our euros as a nation.
Senator Gallagher gave his opinion, which I wholeheartedly share, that there is an immediate need for antigen testing in this country. We spent months compiling a report as to whether this is a good idea. Professor Ferguson came out with a report a number of weeks ago and recommended that pilot schemes be introduced. I have no idea why we are introducing pilot schemes. We know these tests work. They are not perfect but they are part of a suite of measures we could be using to ensure that teachers, special needs assistants and other staff in schools feel more confident going into their schools every day. Giving all staff in schools an antigen test five days a week would cost approximately €12 per person. When one considers the cost of a PCR test, tens of thousands of which the State is paying for every week, it makes no sense to fail to instil confidence in our teaching staff and all of the employees who will go back to work in the coming weeks, if it please God, when we reopen click and collect services or shopping by appointment or reopen in other ways. We all anticipate the announcements in this regard next Thursday. Why can we not instil confidence in all of those staff by making sure that their employers give them antigen tests before they begin work? It may also be of use for intercounty sportspeople. The list goes on and on. I have no idea why we are not doing this and at some point we are going to have to answer the question of why we are not using antigen testing to ensure a safer reopening for our outdoor summer.
Senator Bacik welcomed the loosening of restrictions, as we all do, and the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. I will come back with the date.
Senator Chambers raised the very welcome announcement of the Department of Health last week regarding the establishment in 2021 of specialised medical services for women and the dysfunctions we go through at certain periods in our lives.
Senator Ó Donnghaile made us all incredibly jealous - or at least he made me incredibly jealous - when he told us that he received his vaccine and, indeed, a haircut last week. I am not sure of which I am more jealous. I wait in anticipation of our hairdressers opening in the coming weeks and of when I can get on the list. We are looking forward to the days when life as normal, whatever the new normal will be, can resume and we can all enjoy it.