Friday, 16 July 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I will go through some of the specific issues before the general thanks at the end of the session. Senators Gavan and Higgins raised an issue relating to some of the staff who work in this House. Our recording staff only contacted me in the last week. I am not sure if some of the people in this House are aware that we as a State worked with RTÉ as a State operator in the last number of years to conduct an internal audit of all of its staff going back for decades. A tremendous number of those people, who were independently employed in RTÉ, had to be given retrospective contracts, employment rights and PRSI. Tax liabilities had to be paid to the State on behalf of RTÉ for a significant number of employers who were deemed not to be self-employed contractors but actually employees of RTÉ. It is about time we did exactly the same thing in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I will ask the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to conduct a survey of all those it would call "casual" staff in these Houses. We rely on them day in, day out. They are the people behind the screens and behind our boxes. I do not mean that an individual recording this is casually employed. It is not good enough that a State employer, which is exactly what RTÉ was and what we are in these Houses, treats people in such an insignificant manner. That is something that we should do and I will write to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission on their behalf. I acknowledge the Senators' persistence in this area. I know they are dedicated to it, as we all are.
Senator Sherlock brought up the High Court decision yesterday. I know that we are all supposed to be incredibly careful about the separation of powers and I will be. It bloody well shows that we still have significant stigma about a medical condition and medical treatment in this country. I would call it arrogance but maybe it is ignorance of people who genuinely still believe that addiction only happens to certain people in certain communities of a certain type. In fact, the vast majority of people who suffer from addiction are the hidden people in every single town and community that we live in and we either choose to ignore them or just not acknowledge them. Yesterday's decision was an awful shame. The Senator is right that we need the HSE to step up to give us plan B. It should not be something that we plan for in three years or five years but something that we plan for in three weeks or three months. I acknowledge the Senator's contribution.
Senator Martin raised the solidarity in sport that we often see. I thank him for his good wishes for our attempts to open a branch. We have had one in Ulster University for a year or so now and it is going well. This is a new adventure for us and I hope it goes well, not for political purposes but for integration, co-operation and sharing ideas.
Senator Boyhan talked about Seanad reform. I thank him for acknowledging that I try to be as co-operative as I can. I hope that we do not ever use our majority. It is there but it is irrelevant. We should all use our co-operative skills in this House to try to get legislation passed. It is testament to the fact that there is not politicking in this Chamber that we can get our business done and start at 9 a.m. and have a late night be 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. The politicking that goes on in the other House is why they are there until 3 a.m. Maybe they have much to learn from us. We acknowledge that we are using the Dáil Chamber. I thank Senator Boyhan for his co-operation over the last months.
Senators Kyne and Higgins talked about planning. We will have a new process for fast-track planning and good planning. All of the flaws that have been obvious to some Members and more obvious to some of us later in the day have been highlighted in the last couple of months. I hope that we get a good new process. I acknowledge Senator Boyhan's good wishes for the housing for all strategy, because we are all pinning our hopes on it delivering in the next couple of months. It will be launched next week or the week after.
Senator Kyne referred to the PorterShed development. I am looking forward to many more of those types of organisations so that we can see remote working happening live and not in people's bedrooms, halls or landings. It is good to see something happening live while we are still talking about remote working.
Senator O'Loughlin talked about the peat harvesters who we met outside Convention Centre Dublin the other day. This is an example of something that we are doing to try to reduce our carbon footprint resulting in an increase in our carbon footprint and bringing about something that we have all said we want to do away with, which is carbon leakage. I do not mean to be disrespectful to the Minister because I think she is doing a wonderful job but doing another report for another year on something that we all see as plainly obvious is not the answer, so we need to do something far more specific and far sooner.
I join with Members' good wishes in thanking our staff. We do it this time every year or at Christmas. It is not just that we acknowledge and appreciate them during those times. There are some incredible and special people who work on this campus. We are incredibly lucky to have them because their care, attention, empathy and concern for all of us is evident in the interaction that we have every day. I acknowledge it and thank them sincerely. We appreciate it. It makes working in this environment much nicer than it otherwise would be.
Darren Fitzgerald is one of the ushers. I acknowledge a task that he has set himself. If you look at his Instagram page, you will see that he has a little daughter. She is only four. She has cystic fibrosis. I do not know if any Members know of his interest in golf but he is obviously a keen golfer. He is doing 65 Holes for 65 Roses, which is an appeal by Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, so all sponsorship would be welcome. I acknowledge and commend him on doing that.
I wish our colleague, Senator Annie Hoey, and her new husband-to-be today every success and happiness. The sun will shine on her today and hopefully it will for many years to come.
I send our best wishes to Senator David Norris. He obviously has not been around a lot in the last while. He needs to protect and mind himself. Hopefully he will be back to us in September, hale and hearty.
I wish colleagues a good rest during the summer. We will continue to do all the work that we always do during the recess. It has been a trying year. I know that we have grated on each other's nerves somewhat, especially some of the people who have been trying to keep us safe. I know I have certainly grated on some of their nerves by trying to get back to normal. Hopefully everybody will have a good rest and we will be back in our own Seanad Chamber in September. I am looking forward to it.
I know we can use the words "I had the real privilege" too often after we meet people. I had the real privilege of meeting a remarkable woman yesterday, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. For such a young woman to have the burden of the people of her country on her shoulders and to take it with such gusto and to have such an impressive campaign in the last general election in Belarus left me genuinely in awe of her. I am much older than her but I pale in comparison. She is a remarkable woman. Today is the Day of Belarus Women's Solidarity. She explained to me yesterday that the women in her country have held her up and have kept the resilience campaign in that country alive with the energy that it has. I asked her how she did it. She said that it is not that they have been given hope but that they have no choice but to fight for themselves, for their children and grandchildren because the alternative is accepting that all they will have if they do not fight is the dictator and Lukashenko's regime, which they live under every single day. I was in awe when listening to her. Some of us had the pleasure of meeting her yesterday.
I acknowledge the solidarity of all of us with the women of Belarus today. We stand with them and with the political prisoners. We hope, support and pray for them. I do not say that to be facile, because the only way they will overthrow him is with real sanctions and clout from the EU. We can offer solidarity, light our candles, stand beside them and hope that they get what they are working for daily, which is common decency and a normal standard of living with normal conditions and livelihoods. They should be able to go to do a decent day's work and not have to live with the peril of having the KGB knock on the door and drag people out of their houses daily. I acknowledge her visit. She is a remarkable politician in this day and age.