Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Senators who contributed to the Order of Business.

First was Senator O'Loughlin, who wanted to draw our attention and pay tribute to the power of parents, and in particular Kathleen Murphy in Newbridge who hosted a coffee morning, and also the Finding Charlie's Voice initiative, which assists children with verbal dyspraxia. The Senator also welcomed the town centre first plans and the announcement today, as did Senator Ahearn, and they congratulated those towns. My town of Killala in County Mayo was also listed, as well as other towns like Tubbercurry and Carrick-on-Shannon. It is a significant investment from the Government into those towns, and importantly, it as a result of local communities being consulted. It is the vision of local communities for their own area. That is really important. It is from the ground up that these plans are being development, and now funded by Government. I wish those towns very well.

Senators Kyne and Conway raised the issue of the school transport review. I commend the Minister, Deputy Foley on her work in this regard. The review was long overdue. There may be teething problems, but there has been a real push on the part of the Government to extend school transport to as many children as possible. Even the required distance from schools has been reduced. You no longer have to go to the school closest to you because that was proving quite difficult as well.It is a really transformative review and will be hugely welcomed by school communities across the country.

Senator Boyhan spoke about the strategic housing development and the 22,000 homes he says are tied up with An Bord Pleanála. We are in the process of overhauling the planning system. The legislation in that regard is passing through the Dáil and will hopefully come to this House before the end of this term. There is an acknowledgement that the planning process needs to be changed, streamlined and made more efficient. This is a priority for the Government and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of St. John of God Hospital and welcomed the fact that the suggestion to suspend services there has been rowed back on and that this was as a result of significant work by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte.

As he has done on many occasions, Senator Wall raised the issue of housing adaption grants, the shortfall that is often there when someone is approved for a grant and what it costs to actually have work done. There is a review due from the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform. I can follow up to see where that review is at. Certainly, there is a bridging aspect involved.

The Senator also raised the issue of Croí Cónaithe. This scheme has been very much welcomed. Many homes that were vacant and derelict are coming back into use, which is great. It is €50,000 for a vacant home and €70,000 for a derelict house which is a significant sum of money from the Government. You have to have the work done up front and claim the grant back afterwards. The initial outlay is proving challenging for some individuals. We are looking to make sure there is bridging finance available. The Senator made a suggestion that every new build should have an AED as part of planning. That is something that would have to be weighed up against the overall cost benefit of every single estate, but I understand his intentions and where that remark came from.

Senator Higgins proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 9 be taken before No. 1. The amendment was seconded by Senator Ruane. I am happy to accept the amendment. I commend both Senators on introducing the Bill and look forward to debating it in the context of the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Of course, we hope and continue to pray for peace and a ceasefire now in the region but we take on board the comments around arms and who is profiting from their sale, distribution and delivery. That would be a very worthwhile debate to have in this House as we continue to shine a light on that conflict and others around the world.

Senators Warfield and Malcolm Byrne raised the issue of the report launched yesterday by the tourism and sport committee. Senator Byrne wanted to point out that the committee does other work besides discussing the challenges or issues facing RTÉ. We will try to schedule a debate with the Minister for sport on that really important work that the Senators have done. It is great to see that so many Members of this House have been involved in that important work on inclusion, diversity and visibility in sport. The Minister for sport has been quite good in looking at the diversity issue. In particular, Senator Warfield acknowledged the work done in respect of women in sport and that for the sports capital grants that will be announced later this year, sports clubs have to ensure the facilities are equally accessible to men and women. This is a really good and positive policy change. I obliges clubs to do better. We will continue to fund and support sport throughout the country.

Senator Horkan acknowledged that Moldova will be celebrating on 1 March. He also raised a really important issue with regard to road safety and the number of road deaths in the country in the year to date, which is in and around 30 at this point. We need to get those numbers down. The Senator stated that the biggest contributing factors are young people and driving at night, particularly at weekends, and on rural roads. There is another element to that at which we have to look, namely, the response of the National Ambulance Service and the air ambulance service. Are we doing enough in the context of treating trauma at the roadside? Other countries appear to do things slightly differently and there is scope there for looking at how we treat people before we even get them to hospital and what kind of interventions are being provided at the roadside. We can do better and I have concerns around the way the air ambulance is being conducted in the country and what type of team is available on board. There are types of interventions being provided at the roadside in the UK and in other countries that are not currently being provided here. Perhaps that is another aspect at which to look because we are always looking to reduce speed, deal with substance abuse in driving and the state of our roads. However, how we treat traumatised people is also part of the picture.

Senator Lombard asked for a debate on the Irish language in the Gaeltacht and the report on the Irish-language exemption currently allowed to children with dyslexia. I have not had an opportunity to look at the report. I am aware of the issue only because of what the Senator has raised in the Chamber today. We can look at organising a debate on that but at the outset it might be worth tabling a Commencement matter to get the Minister's response to that report as well and we can see what we can do further on that.

Senator Craughwell raised a personal issue. I was in the Chamber yesterday for the comments that were sent his direction, if I can put it that way. The Senator has defended himself well and put his perspective on the record. I do not propose to deal with that matter any further.

The Senator also wanted to acknowledge and pay his respect and sympathies to the families of Councillor Pat Hynes and Corporal Tadhg Quinn, who both passed away recently.

Senator McGreehan raised the plight of Mandy Kelly and her two children who are currently in Egypt with their father. Despite a court order here, they have been taken by their father and she has not been permitted access. We certainly want to see that issue resolved.

Senator Ahearn raised the issue of town centre plans, which I have dealt with.

Senator Ruane spoke about the arms embargo and also the Bill that is being brought forward by the Civil Engagement Group. We look forward to the debate on that issue.

Senator Malcolm Byrne has asked for a debate on rural roads and funding of roads. There is probably a challenge in this regard in that there is a commitment to spending on active travel vis-à-visspending on roads. That may be posing a challenge for the Department but, ultimately, the roads are part of our transport network and need to be properly funded. It is an ongoing challenge and councillors right across the country will say how the list of roads they get given on an annual basis compare with what they can actually address in terms of funding. The list they cannot do is longer than the list they can work on and that is consistently a problem at local authority level.

Senator Conway raised the issue of orphan drugs and suggested that Ireland should be a leader in that area. I agree with him.

Senator Mark Daly flagged the significant achievement by a former member of this House, namely, Professor John Crown, who has been acknowledged for his extensive work over many decades in cancer research and the lives that have been saved by his work in Ireland and abroad. He also mentioned the accolade given to Professor Crown by the Irish Association for Cancer Research. It is a hugely proud moment for John's wife Orla, his children and the research community. We wish Professor Crown very well. It is a great endorsement of this House to have had a colleague who served here now reach those heights in the medical community, not just in Ireland but further afield. I listened to the professor's interview this morning with Pat Kenny on Newstalk. It was a fascinating interview detailing the level of work involved and how he first began his work in cancer research. He acknowledged how much has been achieved in breast cancer research and the survival rates, and how that has been really turned around from a point where so many more people were dying and today we see so many people surviving. There are far better outcomes and treatments are tailored to different cancers. I congratulate Professor Crown on his achievements and wish him and his family the very best.

Senator Carrigy raised an issue regarding the Minister for Education and the ETBs. It might be worth a Commencement matter as it is quite a specific question on that front but I take on board the comments the Senator raised in the House today.

Senator Maria Byrne again raised the issue of small businesses. There are significant challenges facing such businesses. The Government has responded quite well, and there has been an acknowledgement that a great deal has been levelled at businesses this year in the form of auto-enrolment, the increased minimum wage and statutory sick leave. There has been much change in a relatively short period with which businesses are dealing. There has been the increased cost of business grant of €250 million that has been a significant investment. We have asked for statements with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in the House and are probably looking at April now at this stage with the schedule and the calendar we have coming up. However, the Minister has agreed to come to the House to discuss that matter and so we look forward to having a wider debate to raise issues for particularly small businesses across the country.

Senator Ward spoke about those who are currently qualifying for the Paris Olympic Games and acknowledged the fantastic work and how proud we are as a country of our Olympians and Paralympians of the work they do in representing Ireland. He wished those who have qualified the best and also those who are still trying to qualify. It is a big deal for somebody to be putting themselves forward at that level of sports and we wish them well. It is something the country should acknowledge on a more regular basis. I thank Senator Ward for raising the matter.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.