Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)

They are not just doing secretarial work. They are doing research, drafting policy, helping with legislation and doing everything a parliamentary assistant does. They are doing even more because they are also doing the secretarial work. Their work is much larger, and that issue must be resolved. I look forward to the briefing being held by Ms Samantha Long and all those working on the issue. I am sure many of us will attend and support as best as we can. I will raise the issue again with the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, to see if we can get it advanced in this term to the benefit of those working in that role. It is also important to address the issue for people coming into the role in the future.

Senator Craughwell raised the RACO biannual conference he attended. He expressed his frustration and said it was a very depressing engagement because of the many issues in the Defence Forces. In particular, he raised the need to appoint the conciliation and arbitration adjudicator and said the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is having difficulty getting that over the line. It is an issue for the Government and I am sure the Minister for Defence can bring the issue to a conclusion as quickly as possible. However, there are many issues in the Defence Forces with regard to recruitment and retention and how they have been treated in general over the years. I agree with the Senator's remarks, and I know Senator Wall shares the concerns about the Curragh. Senator Craughwell referred to it as our flagship military installation and spoke about the state of disrepair into which it has been allowed to fall. I stayed in the Curragh many times in many of the billets and I can attest to the poor quality of the accommodation. It has not seen an upgrade in many years and it is long overdue.

Senator Craughwell also raised the booster vaccination programme, as did other Senators, and the need to roll it out. That is appreciated. The Minister is working hard to get that up and running as best he can and to get it implemented as quickly as possible. We are working within the constraints of when people can get the vaccine.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly discussed the peat extraction Bill, the issues regarding its compatibility with EU law and also the illegal extraction, as she put it, that is happening across the country and which needs to be stamped out. I share her concerns about that. It is something that must be addressed. I hope that tabling legislation, no matter where it eventually goes, might bring the issue to the top of the agenda in the Cabinet, because there are issues with peat supply in the country for small horticultural businesses, companies such as Monaghan Mushrooms, those working in north County Dublin and the many food producers around the country. There is a lot of stuff going on with that issue; it is not black and white. Perhaps this might bring it to the top of the agenda so we will get Government action as quickly as possible to resolve the situation for those horticultural industries.

Senator Boylan raised the student protests and the Cost of College campaign. I share her concern about the cost of going to college for many students.It is a real issue. I am sure all of us will stand in solidarity with those students. It is a very expensive time to go to college. We pride ourselves on having access to third level for all students across the country, regardless of financial means, but that does not always happen in practice and it has become very expensive to go to college if a student must pay for accommodation because of the housing issues. I wish those students well and hope we can see some action on that issue.

The Senator raised a particular issue about a Dublin City University lecturer. I am not fully up to speed on that matter, bar what I have read in media reports, so I do not want to comment any further. I am sorry to hear the difficulties that she had as a student on that campus. Nobody should have to put up with that.

Senator Wall referred to the episode of "Prime Time" that dealt with Naas General Hospital. We were all floored by it. I do not know what to say about it. I cannot imagine what it must be like to get that phone call. We send our best wishes to those victims of abuse. We need to see action on that now. I know the Minister is taking the issue extremely seriously. Everyone was upset by what they saw in the programme. I commend "Prime Time" and RTÉ for bringing this important issue to light.

Senator McGreehan referred to fuel security and fuel cost in the context of the haulage protest. We share the frustration of many of those dealing with the rising cost of fuel. It is a concern for many families. The Government is putting a lot of resources into ensuring that those who can avail of fuel supports through social welfare are getting them and additional moneys have been put into that scheme. However, I appreciate the cost of fuel is an acute problem for the haulage sector. As we know, our shelves would not be filled every day if it was not for those bringing food and other supplies in on trucks. It is a pressing issue.

Senator Dolan raised the issue of antigen testing and welcomed the response from the Minister of Education, Deputy Foley, about its use in the education sector. She also welcomed the fact that additional substitute teachers will be brought on stream very soon. That will, hopefully, alleviate some of the issues around getting substitute teachers in many of the schools across the country. Retired teachers will be allowed to return to the workplace to help in that sector with no impact on their pensions. The Senator also welcomed the new name for the technological university in the north west, the Atlantic Technological University. I concur with her remarks. It is a fantastic name and it is great that every campus can get in behind that name and support it. It represents the region, which is important. The Senator also called specifically for funding from the HSE for nurse triage in Westdoc. I support that call.

Senator Boyhan spoke briefly about the scoliosis debate that happened in the House last night. He asked for the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to meet with the advocacy groups. I know that request has gone to him. The Senator also raised an issue around a feasibility study announced by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Hackett, around wool. I support that. It is welcome and I am sure it will be appreciated by sheep farmers across the country.

Senator Crowe raised an issue that has been articulated by other Senators about the fact that sentencing for burglary cases can, in general, be quite lenient. That would be the view of many citizens. There are particularly aggravating factors when the homes of people of a certain mature age and elderly people are burgled while their are there. It is aggravated assault in such cases because the impact on the victims is so severe. We would hope that the sentences in such cases reflect that aggravating factor. I hope the lady the Senator mentioned is doing well and is okay following her ordeal.

Senator Cummins raised the Oscar Traynor Road site in Dublin and said that a certain number of councillors voted against that housing development. It is worth reflecting on all housing developments that have not been supported across the country. I know there can be specific language issues in a locality or circumstances where the mix of tenure is not to the liking of everybody. However, we must always remind ourselves that we are in the middle of a housing emergency. Every unit that is brought on stream is another person, couple or family who is housed. That is important. It does not need to be perfect but we need housing. The housing development in question has 853 units and will, thankfully, go ahead. It will transform the lives of many people and families. I am glad to see that it has progressed despite many of the Opposition councillors not supporting it. It is regrettable because we need these units to be built.

Senator Burke raised an issue around transport and road infrastructure. I share his concerns. Roads are still important for many parts of the country and will be forever more. We are pushing electric vehicles so people will still be using roads. We need a debate with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on that matter to discuss his plans and those of his Department for road infrastructure right across the country. We will request that debate.

Senator Murphy referred to the ongoing difficulties facing musicians and those in the entertainment sector. The Senator is right that the sector that has been particularly hard hit and is unlikely to see a return to full income in the short term. It could be well into next year before that happens. It is a difficult time for those families, particularly as we head into Christmas. We need to see specific supports for that sector. I urge the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, to sit around the table, as I am sure she will and she has done over the past year and a half, to try to find a specific solution for that sector. The issue in that sector is acute.

Senator Lombard raised a matter relating to the Janssen vaccine, which I know has been a particular issue for the many younger people who got the one-shot vaccine and are waiting for a second dose. We will have the Minister for Health in next week to update on Covid-19 mitigation measures. That will be an opportunity to raise issues around vaccines with him.

Senator Maria Byrne raised an issue around University Hospital Limerick and had a good-news story for us, which was nice to hear. Bonnie the therapy dog is retiring. We wish her and the team well. It sounds like she did a fantastic job over the years with the children in the paediatric unit of University Hospital Limerick. It is a fantastic initiative.

Senator Seery Kearney spoke passionately about the 21-year campaign to bring modern and progressive laws around surrogacy into this country. I share her frustration about the delays. I know how heartbreaking it is for the families and mums who are still waiting for that legislation. At the end of the day, Ministers can deliver this.


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