Seanad debates

Thursday, 22 September 2022

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)

Ms Keeley is very welcome. I congratulate her on such a distinguished career.

Senator Carrigy asked for the extension of two welcome announcements, namely, funding for community centres and the recreational funds scheme that have been a resounding success. I am sure there will be many more applications for the €70 million fund. It is oversubscribed and needs further funding. The Senator eloquently described the positive impact this money is having on communities across the country. We will certainly make his views known.

Senator Ward asked for a debate on water quality in Dublin Bay. The situation strikes me as quite bizarre. There are similar issues in Balbriggan, Skerries and Rush, which are in the same treasured part of the world in terms of swimming. I do not know how something so drastic as a sewage spill can affect only some areas. Perhaps it is something to do with the way the waves move, but it does not make sense, in particular for the people who use the facility. I will certainly invite a debate on the topic the Senator has raised.

Senator Maria Byrne called for a debate on equality, in particular around gender and disability in the context of supports from the State for lifelong learning and just progression within the workplace. I have the privilege of sitting on the Joint Committee on Gender Equality. We have this conversation every Thursday morning. This morning, representatives from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions were in with us. It would be useful to have a wider debate.

Senator Lombard spoke about cost increases for volunteers running clubs throughout the country. I was mindful of and pleased by the fact that the Tánaiste said yesterday that in any small business package for energy we will announce next Tuesday as part of the budget, we have to consider those in our farming community as small business owners, even though many of them receive their energy bills in the same way as I or other Senators do for a household. We cannot leave the social fabric of all of the towns, villages and cities we live in, including the GAA, rugby, soccer, basketball, tennis and other clubs we rely on for our children and which are run by volunteers and funded by weekly lottos, out of the budget. At a time when people are struck by the extra cost of living crisis, we can only assume that the support for those clubs will decline and their bills will go through the roof, just as they will for everybody else. They have to be countenanced and looked after.

Senator Seery Kearney asked for a debate on the additional costs for families when children are in hospital. It is a serious matter and a debate which is very much needed. As a Government, there are a lot of extra things we could be doing to support families during times when children are in hospital.

Senator Ahearn spoke about the cost of living and sought to extend the back-to-school allowance. It has been significantly increased over the past number of years, especially by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, this year through the cost-of-living response during the summer. The means test relating to applying for the scheme needs to be reconsidered. It would be helpful if we had a tiered scheme as opposed to the rigid scheme we have now.

Senator Boylan spoke about the cost-of-living protests that are going ahead this Saturday. I hope the sun shines, because it is miserable outside today. I do not mean to be disrespectful in my response to the Senator, but she made her remarks as if the rest of us are not aware of the requirements of Government for a cost-of-living increase for all sections of society. That is something which is mentioned by all of her colleagues week in, week out. We are well aware of the situation. That is why we will see a significant package in the budget next week, not only for individual households and citizens but also for all of our businesses and employers. I expect everybody to welcome the good stuff and point out the stuff we might miss next week. I wish everyone the best of luck on Saturday.

Senator Keogan asked for a debate on the shortage of pharmacists, in particular community pharmacists. I would very much welcome and support such a debate. Sharon Foley is the secretary general of the IPU and a good pal of mine. She brought to my attention yesterday a pilot scheme for extending services in our community pharmacists conducted in 2017. It was a roaring success, yet it has sat on the desks of numerous Ministers for Health since and nothing has happened. We need to invest not just in college places, but in ensuring that we keep students once they graduate and make it is a viable and decent business to work in and provide the services in localities we all want in the future.

Senator Ó Donnghaile suggested that we have a citizens assembly on the changes happening in society in Northern Ireland. I believe the changes are probably reflected in the rest of the country too. In fairness, we have Brexit to thank for the increase in the number of people applying for Irish passports. He makes a very valid argument. Given the number of people applying for Irish passports in Northern Ireland, it should have its own passport office.

Senator Garvey spoke about the stark contrast in housing figures, which is disgraceful. There are 627 houses available to rent this winter in Clare through Airbnb. This compares with 36 houses available to rent on a long-term basis. We have a problem and we need to confront it in terms of the relaxation of regulations around Airbnb. We probably need to have a debate on that and bring suggestions to the Minister.

Senator Craughwell spoke about the statements we had yesterday on SAR tenders. I contributed to the debate and I believe the Cathaoirleach was also present. Regarding the contribution of Senator Craughwell, the problem with unanswered questions is that they do not go away. If they are not answered in this forum, they have to be brought to other forums which are far more public and involve far more scrutiny. It is a pity we did not get answers yesterday. I do not think this matter is going to go away.

Senator Conway spoke about another group which is experiencing an increase in the cost of living and building. He referred to the grants for Pobal-funded projects. They might have been allocated last year or the year before. Organisations have sought to draw down funding now and the money involved does not meet the bills that will arise once building projects start. We need to be cognisant of that.

Senator Clifford-Lee opened proceedings by asking for a debate on sexual violence and the use of rape as a weapon of war. That would be incredibly worthy and worthwhile, given our show of solidarity in the past couple of months with the people of Ukraine and the interactions between our respective Parliaments and parliamentarians. She has had interaction with other European politicians. It would be very valuable for us to have that conversation and see what we can do to support Ukraine and how the Government can best help not just with money but resources and solidarity.

Senator Sherlock spoke about Patricia King, who announced yesterday that she is intending to retire in the next couple of weeks. I genuinely wish her a very long, healthy and happy retirement. She is one of the most formidable women we have ever seen in this country. Senator Sherlock used the term "trailblazer", which I also used in my statement last night. Ms King is and has been a trailblazer for employment rights and mediation in this country. Her legacy is something that exists not just because she is a woman but because she is a woman in a world which is male dominated, not just the labour industry but also the political industry. It will be a long time before her legacy is matched. I had the privilege of sitting around the leaf table with her for years. It was a privilege on good days and, by God, it was bruising on bad days. That shows the power and passion of the woman. I genuinely hope she has a long and happy retirement.


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