Seanad debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

 

1:00 pm

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)

I thank the Members who contributed to the Order of Business. Senator O'Loughlin spoke about the French election results. We all breathed a sigh of relief at the outcome, which was not expected a number of weeks ago. It gives cause for reflection in all EU member states in terms of the direction we are going in our politics.

The Senator also raised concerns regarding commuter fares and that the planned reduction in fares beyond short hop zones will not go ahead in September. I suggest that she put forward a Commencement matter on this issue. There is a new Minister of State in the Department of Transport. We might receive some update on the matter. It was my understanding that the fare reduction would go ahead. The same issue was raised by Senator Wall.

All colleagues who rose expressed their deep sadness and sympathies on the passing of the former TD, Senator and Mayo football manager, John O'Mahony.People were clearly very fond of John and knew him well. He was a fantastic colleague across the political divide and was well respected. He had a presence when he was in a room. People understand what that means. It is very sad to see somebody go far too young, having battled a long illness. It was very difficult for John and his family. I was really struck, when I heard him speak on radio last week on the passing of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, to learn that he had done so when he was very unwell. He spoke so eloquently. Again, I extend our sympathies to John's family, his wife Gerardine and his daughters, the community and, of course, his Fine Gael and GAA friends and colleagues. I will move a motion at the close of the Order of Business.

Senator Craughwell proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That we extend the time for the Defence (Amendment) Bill by one hour". The amendment was seconded by Senator Keogan. I am unable to accept the amendment. I understand the reasons the Senator sought the extra time. I asked for the time we proposed today. I know there was a robust debate last week but I am not in a position to accept the amendment. I will leave it in the Senator's hands as to how he would like to proceed on that point.

Senator Craughwell also noted the need to acknowledge the good work that our Defence Forces do. It has been a really difficult period for our Defence Forces. I have responded every week since the Senator has been here on that matter, and he will know my position on it. There has been unfair criticism of our Defence Forces in recent weeks and a tarnishing of an entire organisation for the really bad actions of a really small number of individuals. Those actions were horrific and appalling and they have been properly aired and dealt with. Justice was served in the case that was raised in this House and other cases that are being dealt with. The many thousands of men and women who serve in Óglaigh na hÉireann – serving members, former members and the “defence family”, as we call them, of relatives and communities of these individuals – were deeply hurt in recent weeks by particular comments that were totally out of line and unnecessary. You can deal with the issue without tarnishing everyone with the same brush.

The Defence Forces are an organisation in transition. It is undergoing huge changes and transformation. These cultural changes will take time. After many decades serving with the UN as peacekeepers and peace enforcers and putting their lives at risk - some of our soldiers lost their lives - it is important to always acknowledge the fantastic work the Defence Forces do and the role they play in every community in the State. We should remember that in the context of some really negative comments that may not have been precise enough.

I take on board the point Senator Craughwell made on the RAF deal. I understand the proceedings he has taken in that regard are moving forward.

Senator Martin proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 15 be taken before No. 1". The amendment was seconded by Senator Joe O’Reilly. I am happy to accept it. I concur with the Senator's remarks wishing all those newly elected at the recent UK elections the best in their task ahead. He spoke of it as a reset of Anglo-Irish relations, as did the Taoiseach and Tánaiste. We look forward to better relations in the time ahead. It appears that new Members of Parliament have hit the ground running. In particular, we wish Hilary Benn, the new Northern Ireland Secretary, the best. Our Ministers have been very quick to engage with their counterparts in the UK, which is a positive start to the next chapter.

Senator Hoey raised concerns around the trans community and trans rights, as she does on most occasions when she is in the Chamber. She asked for an update on the hate crime Bill. It has not moved since the last occasion. We are awaiting Committee Stage of the Bill. I have not been requested by the Department to schedule the Bill. That is the current position.

I take on board Senator Hoey's point about financial supports for postgraduate workers. It might be worth tabling a Commencement matter to get an update from the new Minister for further and higher education on that and, similarly, on PhD researchers' status. That probably presents a challenge in that researchers are doing a PhD, so I can understand why the issue is not clear-cut. I am probably not as well informed on the topic as the Senator is. It may be worthwhile tabling a Commencement matter to get an up-to-date position on PhD researchers' status.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of the National Advocacy Service and the Labour Court recommendation. I take his comments on board. The Minister is working through that. These issues are always complex and I do not think it is correct to compare this dispute with another labour dispute, namely, that in Aer Lingus. However, I am pleased to see there is a decent recommendation on the table. We hope for the sake of all those working that both disputes can be resolved for the benefit of workers and those using the service because that is really important.I will seek an update on the safe access zones Act but it has passed through the legislative programme here so it is not really a matter for the House, as such. I have asked my office to get in touch with the Department to see where it is at. We will revert to the Senator with information on that matter.

Senator Dooley raised an issue around matters affecting the internal workings of this House. I do not propose to comment any further on that and take on board the comments of the Cathaoirleach in terms of his direction on that matter.

Senator Joe O'Reilly asked for an update on CAMHS. I might suggest a Commencement matter on that point as it is quite a specific question.

Senators Malcolm Byrne and Clonan raised the issue of the strike by Russia on a children's hospital in Kyiv in Ukraine. It was an absolutely and appalling act and we saw imagery and footage of really sick children, the ones who actually made it out. The Senator is absolutely correct that we need to make sure that issue stays at the top of our agenda, that it does not become normalised, that we do not become used to there being a war in Ukraine and that it becomes somehow acceptable. Putin's actions know no bounds in terms of how despicable and horrid he can be. It is important we continue to support and have solidarity with Ukraine and that we assist Ukraine not just to defend itself but to win. That is important because we are kind of hovering between the two and getting nowhere on that point.

Senator Malcolm Byrne raised concerns about Uisce Éireann and the boil water notice in Ferns, County Wexford. I urge him to contact Uisce Éireann directly and if he requires my assistance I am happy to assist in that regard.

Senator Carrigy congratulated and wished Superintendent Seamus Boyle well on his retirement. I take on boards the points he made around the Garda districts. It is a matter for the Minister for Justice and An Garda Síochána. It might be worth tabling a Commencement matter to the Department of Justice on that particular topic. The points were very well made on how we are running those geographically very large areas and how they can be covered satisfactorily for citizens.

Senator Keogan raised an issue with regard to Tusla and I share her concerns about the lack of social workers for some very vulnerable children and the lack of care places. I understand one child was sent to the UK because a space could not be found for them in Ireland so we clearly have a lot of work to do there. It is really difficult to attract staff to that sector, particularly in an economy that is doing well and has full employment. That always puts pressures on jobs where the pay could be a bit better or is not where it needs to be. There is a huge challenge there and I certainly back the Senator's call that anyone who is in a position to foster or to assist in those spaces, more of a campaign from the Department around that might assist in bringing new people into the system who can help and who can give those children a place and a home.

Senators Kyne and Seery Kearney spoke about childcare providers pulling out of the sector. The information from the Department and the Minister is that the scheme and the core funding is working very well and that the vast majority of providers are staying with the scheme. Some childcare providers are pulling out. I share the Senators' concerns in that many providers have their prices fixed since 2017 or 2018, did not get a chance to increase during the Covid period and then the core funding came in. Obviously, the cost of running those service has increased in terms of the cost of living and utilities. There is definitely pressure, particularly where providers might be paying rent for their premises as well. We need to look at those providers who fixed their rates quite a number of years ago. The focus of the Government during the past number of years, as we all know, has been to reduce the cost for parents and we have done that. We have halved the cost for parents and we are getting that message back really positively from parents. We now need to do something for the providers. Along with that work, we need to look at facilitating parents who want to stay at home and that should be financially viable as well. For many households it is simply not an option and being a stay at home parent is now the preserve of those with money and the wealthy. That is going in the wrong direction as well. Ultimately, it is about providing parental choice and making sure that whether a parent wants to go out to work or work outside the home, or work in the home, that choice is available across the board and that we are not funnelling everything into one sector. I have grave concerns about a system that clearly benefits the larger childcare providers. We do not need to name them but some of them are very well known. It should not become an industry or a corporation when we are providing early years education. Small providers are the preference for many parents and we need to keep them in the system. Many parents would love to be in the home as well, and it is not a financial option and that also needs to be examined. We will certainly raise that with the Minister for Finance in the context of the upcoming budget.

Senator Clonan raised issues around spinal surgery at the children's hospital and I take on board his comments in that regard. He also spoke about the bombing of the children's hospital in Ukraine. Senator Seery Kearney asked for a public consultation on the issue of sexual violence and sexual abuse. It is not within the remit of my role to provide a public consultation but we can certainly seek statements on the issue for the schedule in the coming term.

Senator Ward highlighted that the Olympics will happen soon and wished well the four sailors who are heading off to represent our country. We often do not see all the work that goes into getting to the point of making it to the Olympics, along with that of all those who did not get there but also put years of work into it. It is a huge honour to represent your country in those games. We wish all the Irish participants the very best in the upcoming Olympics.

Senator Currie raised issues of school places for children with additional needs, a pinch point in her constituency, where 30-plus children are awaiting spaces. She might contact me directly on that to see whether we can assist in getting help from the Department.

Senator Maria Byrne raised, as she has always done, the issue of University Hospital Limerick. I absolutely support what she said about the report. We await that information and hope we are moving in the right direction to address the very acute problem in that hospital, which is really impacting on staff, patients and the wider community. Some people feel as though they do not want to go into UHL, which is a problem. There is an acceptance that a great deal of focus and work has been done by the Department of Health and the Minister, with additional beds, funding and staff. It is moving in the right direction, but I completely understand that there is a desire for it to happen faster and for that issue to be resolved.

I take on board the Senator made about young carers and SUSI. That is probably an anomaly and it would be a matter for the Ministers for Social Protection and further and higher education. It might be worth tabling a Commencement matter to each of those Departments on their respective roles in that issue. Often, when an issue goes across multiple Departments, it is more difficult to resolve, but clearly there are two people there who need to come together and I have no doubt there will be a desire to address that.

Senator Dolan spoke about John O'Mahony and his sad passing, as did many others. He was a local representative of the Senator in the Roscommon-Galway constituency. We will move a motion of sympathy shortly and we will, of course, have more time in the new term, when space will be put aside in the Seanad schedule, to give Members a proper opportunity to put on record their thoughts in light of the passing of our former colleague.

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