Wednesday, 16 October 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn after two hours, if not previously concluded; No. 2, statements on sustainable tourism, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4.30 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the time allocated to all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Children's Digital Protection Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to adjourn after two hours, if not previously concluded.
I draw colleagues' attention to the unparalleled crisis in the disability sector, where many people with intellectual disabilities, and their families, are enduring serious unmet needs. I hear about this issue time and again when I speak to people on doorsteps, right across north County Dublin. My colleagues are hearing the same thing throughout the country. Steps must be taken to meet the needs of people with disabilities, who are coming under increasing strain and pressure in their communities. We are all aware of the lengthy waiting times for children's disability supports and the knock-on effects of the delays on intervention milestones. Those milestones are being irretrievably missed, which has lifelong consequences for the children concerned. There has been zero progress on children's disability network teams in the past three years. There are major shortfalls in residential support and no avenue to access residential funding except in emergency situations. This means that adults with intellectual disabilities are not being given any choice as to how they live their lives. It is entirely unacceptable and completely undermines the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by Ireland last year to much fanfare by the Government.
The Cope Foundation is one of the largest providers of services to people with disabilities in the State. The Leader will be familiar with it as it is based in Cork. The organisation has today highlighted the numbers of parents providing support to a child with a disability well into their old age and without any security or peace of mind as to what will happen to their loved one in the future. This is not an issue that is particular to Cork; we are all hearing the same thing from parents across the country. This issue is fundamental to our society and groups like the Cope Foundation must be listened to when they point out the needs that are going unmet. Between 2015 and 2018, there was a massive drop of 26,523, or 14%, in respite overnight stays for people with disabilities. That provision is absolutely essential as it gives families the break they need to be able to continue to care for their loved one. The chief executive officer of the Cope Foundation has described the current situation as the worst he has seen in 38 years. He pointed out that 179 adults who use his organisation's services are on a residential waiting list as their only parent has become too old to care for them at home. Another 649 adults are dealing with changing needs. Will the Leader ask the Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Finian McGrath, to come to the Chamber for a proper debate on the problems with services for young people and adults with intellectual disabilities? I hope the Leader will facilitate such a debate soon.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 12 on the Order Paper, First Stage of the Harmful Plastics (Prohibition) Bill 2019, be taken before No. 1.
I am aware that the Government and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, in particular, are deeply concerned about what is happening in the Brexit negotiations. I do not wish in any sense to pay insufficient attention to that state of affairs. However, I am concerned that within the past week, the President of the United States, in a telephone conversation, effectively gave the green light to the President of Turkey to invade Syria. I will come back to what he did after that. Having made the call, a military operation commenced along the Turkish-Syrian border in the Kurdish areas of Syria. It appears that the Turkish military is using proxy forces - the Syrian Democratic Forces, as they were called - which include elements of al-Qaeda, to engage in ethnic cleansing and butchering of Kurds in a border strip along the Turkish border. I was horrified to see that a prominent female Kurdish politician was taken from her car and executed by these militants. The other day, to my horror, I saw on television two young men being executed by machine gun on the side of the road.
This ethnic cleansing seems to be deliberate and the Turkish Government seems intent on moving Sunni refugees in Turkey into a strip along the border and dispossessing and evicting the Kurdish people from the towns there. The civilised world must protest these developments. Ireland, in particular, as a non-aligned state which is not a member of NATO, has a duty to protest this barbarism.
Things were bad enough in Syria before but were beginning to normalise. The current situation was started by the actions of the American President in abandoning, in a most cowardly way, the people who did all the fighting for him in confronting ISIS and ending the caliphate that was established in Syria and Iraq. I accept that the Tánaiste's mind will be elsewhere today and for the next few days.Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste to come here to discuss what Ireland can do to make its voice clear against barbarism of this kind and against the actions of the United States through its out-of-control President? I will mention one last thing about President Trump. Having unleashed this bloodshed, he then started warbling on about imposing sanctions on the people to whom he had given the go ahead. I do not know what sanctions have been imposed. I know we have a special relationship with America but at some stage we have to protest about the bloodshed and savagery that he unleased on people who have been loyal allies of his and the wanton killing of decent ordinary people that is happening as a result of his utter incompetence as a statesman, and his completely out-of-control approach to the conduct of international relations.
Athlone Institute of Technology has always been hugely progressive, an ambitious institution and a key driver for the development of the midlands. My family and I have long been associated with the institute and I am a former member of its governing body. I very much welcome the announcement that the Athlone Institute of Technology and Limerick Institute of Technology have come together to form a consortium to apply for technological university status. This will bring together the capital of the midlands and the capital of the mid west to provide a top quality educational institution that benefits students, staff and both regions.
Following the joint application for funding submitted by the two institutes earlier this year, I spoke privately to the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills and asked her to ensure the bid would be fully resourced. I now ask her to continue her support by providing sufficient funding for the consortium because I believe it would be money wisely spent.
Athlone Institute of Technology is one of best institutes in the country and the institute in Limerick is of a similar standard. Whether it is the percentage of staff who have PhDs, the level of research or the diversity of the student population, Athlone Institute of Technology has always been to the fore. This is a new beginning and I congratulate the president of Athlone Institute of Technology, Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, and all the staff there. I ask that the Leader uses his good office to request the Minister of State, who is responsible for higher education, to come here and discuss her plans to fund the consortium applying for technological university status.
Senator McFadden does a great job for her local area. I totally support what she is trying to do for Athlone Institute of Technology, a fine institute which I had the privilege representing for over two years. I wish her the best of luck in her quest.
From time to time, all of us in public life are subject to attacks on social media. That is part of the job. I say "fair play" in respect of some of it but some of it is disgusting. This weekend my identity was stolen on Facebook. Somebody set himself or herself up on Facebook as Gerardp.craughwell.77.
He or she used my photograph and my profile. Such a situation can be amusing. However, this person contacted females in my Facebook friends' group and made all sorts of suggestions to them. Facebook was contacted by one of my friends, which is why I am making this statement today. Facebook sent me a message stating that it had removed a profile that my friend reported because it did not follow its community standards and that it lets the profile owner know that it has been removed but not who reported it. What the hell does "does not meet with its standards and that it will let the profile owner know that it did not meet with its standards" mean? This thug, whoever it was, took my photograph and all the details belonging to me from my Facebook page and used them for a reason he or she should never have been allowed use them for. Has anybody in this House ever tried to get in contact with Facebook? Is there an email address that one can use? Can one telephone Facebook? Can one say this is wrong? This is outrageous misbehaviour. I am not saying there is only one Gerard P. Craughwell in the world.
I am certain there is no Gerard P. Craughwell with the fine physique and good looks that I have. Using my name and my photograph to try to seduce women and attract them to various acts or whatever is simply not on.
I opposed the Bill brought in by the former Senator, Lorraine Higgins, in the last Seanad in which she sought to place controls on what happens on social media. The disregard they have for people and their private lives will force a situation where we will have to introduce legislation and make them answerable. There is no way on God's earth that Facebook should have allowed my photograph to be used by somebody else. Facebook admitted it knew the person who perpetrated this, because it was about to contact him or her and asking him or her to please remove that page. There is no place to hide on the Internet and there never has been. It is time the social media companies faced up to that and started to behave and protect people. I happen to be in public life but there are people who are not to whom this is happening all the time and they cannot make a complaint in the Seanad or Dáil. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to come in here to discuss this matter in the not too distant future.
I raise the issue of An Post's policy of replacing post offices when a postmaster dies. There is an issue in my part of the world. Applications closed last Friday for a post office in Belgooly, County Cork. The remuneration being offered to the replacement postmaster is €27,000, and that is to open throughout lunch hour and to open five days a week. Getting somebody to fill that role or work in the community on that kind of money is totally inappropriate. Some €27,000 to cover the entire post office service in Belgooly village as well as lunchtime and holiday cover does not make financial sense.
We need to have a debate with the relevant Minister on whether cutting funding so tightly means we will no longer be able to replace postmasters, because they will not join the service on that kind of money, and on what An Post is doing at the coalface. An Post said it has an active policy of ensuring postmasters are replaced. Is that realistic, feasible or practical on that kind of money? I do not think it is. The Minister needs to come to the House for a debate on the policy going forward to ensure we have post offices in rural Ireland and not just district post offices in larger towns.
The post office in my village of Minane Bridge has closed. This is an issue. The post office is the centre of the community and we need to help, support and put more services into the post office. To do all that work, we need to pay postmasters and postmistresses an appropriate sum. Some €27,000 for working five days a week, with no holiday cover and working throughout lunch hour does not make financial sense and because of that, we are closing post offices by stealth. We need a debate and to review this policy because if we do not, we will end up with one post office in every large town and, unfortunately, smaller post offices will close.
I second Senator Clifford-Lee's amendment. I fully endorse what Senator McDowell said about the crisis in Syria, particularly in respect of Turkey, the US and what is happening to the Kurdish people, who down through the centuries have unfortunately been abandoned by their allies. That is the historic truth of the matter.
I agree with what Senator Craughwell said about so-called social media. He was making an excellent point until he said his face was being used to attract females.
That is only a flippant comment. I am sure the Senator is very attractive to some women.
What I wanted to address in the realm of social media is the volume of intimidation that happens on a daily basis. We do not have laws to do anything about this. On a number of occasions I have raised in what happened to a man named Eamonn Jackson from my area. That continues to happen because we do not have laws in place to prevent that from happening to him. I do not intend revisiting the case but I will come back to it if something does not happen regarding what is being carried out by so-called concerned animal welfare people and what they are doing to that man and to his family, and what they are costing him economically and health wise.
I call on the Leader to arrange at an early date a debate on the infrastructural deficit that is a reality for people who live north of a line between Sligo and Dublin. I instanced here previously the fact that if one looks at a railway map from the 1920s, the entire 32 counties of this island were covered by the rail network, and nobody was further than 20 minutes from a station. That was at a time people had to rely on bicycles, donkeys and carts or horses and traps to get to those stations. It is troubling that looking at a map of the rail network nowadays, it is clear the area above the line I referred to has been abandoned by the State through the decades. It is more troubling that if one looks at the motorway infrastructure in place, there is almost an exactly parallel deficit. It is time this was addressed urgently.
The carbon tax was introduced for good reasons. However, all it has achieved for the people from the part of the country I come from is they have to pay an extra 4 cents for their diesel, while making the same journey and emitting the same volume of carbon as they did the day before this carbon tax was introduced. This morning, for example, it took me 58 minutes to get from Blanchardstown to Leinster House. If we were real about trying to tackle carbon emissions and the global warming resulting from cars, we should at least have a park-and-ride system in operation so one can get from Blanchardstown to the city centre, either with a light rail network or a bus network. One would get from Blanchardstown to here in ten minutes if the proper infrastructure was in place. It is time we got real with the deficit in infrastructure in this country, particularly in the area I referred to previously.
I agree with Senator Wilson about the matter of infrastructure. As somebody who does not drive and who uses the train on a daily basis both to get to the House from Clare and to come in from Maynooth in the morning, the more public transport infrastructure we have, the better. It is good for everyone, it is good for the environment and so on.
We need to have some sort of review of security at the gates of Leinster House. I encourage and support anybody's right to protest, but we had a situation where Members could not drive through either the Kildare Street gate or the Merrion Square gate because of protests last week. According to the law, Members of the Oireachtas should be able to freely come to work in the Dáil and the Seanad and go from work. Last week, An Garda Síochána was not in a position to uphold that, and that is not good enough. There have been protests in this area with thousands of people outside the gates of Leinster House, and yet people were able to come and go in their cars. The situation that happened last week should not have happened. People who had childcare commitments, medical commitments and family commitments could not get home. I understand some Members did not get home until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. because they could not drive through the gates of Leinster House.
Protest is important and critical in this country and throughout the world, but it is also important that people can get in and out of Leinster House and go home. If the protests were even notified, perhaps people would not have driven to work or they might have left their cars elsewhere. That situation was not acceptable and the Garda Commissioner needs to review this because it is honestly not fair on the Members and the staff who work here and use the car parks. It is also not fair on their families, loved ones if people are not able to honour childcare commitments by picking children up from crèches or childminders and so on. That was emphasised to me when I saw people were not able to get into the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to conduct negotiations on Monday. That was also a regrettable situation. There needs to be some sort of a review.
I would like to raise an issue that is of great concern to quite a number of parents who have contacted me of late. The concern arises out the relationship and sexuality education report, which I understand is under consideration by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. There are a number of aspects to the report, one of which is compulsory sex education for children at primary school. I understand nothing is finalised yet, but I would like to think we respect the fact that parents are the primary and legal guardians of their children and are responsible for their care and well-being. We should not get into a position where parents cannot exercise their conscience in how their children are raised or educated in these matters. I would like to encourage parents who have concerns about the proposals to make a submission to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The closing date for that is 25 October. People should get the opportunity to examine the substance of what is being proposed. It is always a retrograde step to pressure parents in these matters. Parents care for their kids and they know what is best for them. We are entitled to have different views in this society and everybody's view should be respected. I sincerely hope we are not moving towards a position where the rights of parents will be overridden or disregarded in matters such as these, which are highly sensitive. That is why it should be down to parents to decide on the nature of the sex education their children get, especially on certain issues. It would be helpful for us to have a debate on this matter in due course.
Very good. Once the consultation is completed and we see what direction this is going in, I will bring this back to the Leader because there are certain fundamental principles that we in this democracy should uphold, one of which is respect for all views and every ethos.
It is an interesting question because I was outside the gates of Leinster House with the carers from all over this State who have gathered to tell us how they are being neglected by this State. I spoke to them individually and was there to represent the carers, particularly those in Mayo who could not be here today because they do not have respite and there is nobody else to care for their loved ones. I want to express solidarity with all of those from the Seanad.
It is wrong that carers have to come from all over the State to gather outside Leinster House a week after the budget to tell us how they are being neglected. There are men and women there but most of the carers in this State are women and that is one reason they have been left behind. They are absolutely taken for granted. We know that. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection was out there. It was quite insulting for her say that it should be put to the Citizens' Assembly to find out what the carers' needs are. There needs to be strategic planning and focusing of resources and all of that. We know what carers need. We know we need the income disregard for the carer's allowance. We welcome the fact that the budget extends the time carers are allowed to work by three and a half hours. The caveat is that if they get paid for it, that money will be taken from their carer's allowance. They are one of the groups that have been most neglected by successive Governments. We need reform of the means test for the carer's allowance and to end the postcode lottery for home care and supports. While I welcome the fact that there are additional home help hours, I note the ones announced last year were not implemented this year. That will not reduce the waiting lists as much as they need to be reduced.
There has been no replacement for the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant, which was withdrawn in 2013. Carers do not have a general practitioner, GP, visit card. All of those things need to be addressed and we do not need a Citizens' Assembly or more consultation to do it. We need action for carers. I heard the Minister say we need cross-party agreement. She has the agreement of our party to support what needs to be done for carers. I cannot speak for any other party but I would be very surprised if there was any other party or individual here who did not support the needs of carers and see what needs to be done for them. The Minister should not be kicking the can down the road and fobbing us off. She needs to come in here and answer these questions. There are small things that cost little that could make a huge difference to carers' lives and it is our responsibility to stand up for them.
I concur with the sentiments expressed by the previous speaker about carers. We have all spoken about the role of carers in this Chamber many times and it is disappointing that, as Senator Conway-Walsh said, these people had to leave their homes and travel this morning from different parts of the country to protest a week after the budget. It is an issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The imposition of value added tax, VAT, on food supplements was raised this time last year and after pressure was put on the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, he deferred the decision. Now it is proposed to go ahead and put VAT on certain food supplements. I heard no word of this in the budget speech but I understand that it will be discussed today as part of the Finance Bill 2019 in the Lower House. This is very disappointing. Many people take food supplements for a variety of reasons but primarily to stay healthy, and imposing VAT on food supplements will affect those most vulnerable in our society. Many take them to stay healthy, to stay away from their GP, to stay out of hospital. I was interested in a recent study carried out by a Dr. Martin Coyne in Donegal who undertook a test of over 10,000 people. He discovered that 70% were low in vitamin D. Unfortunately in this country we do not get much sunshine and as a result many people are forced to take supplements such as vitamin D in order to try to stay healthy. This will have a knock-on effect on those people and on many others who take food supplements.
We have spent the past three years talking about Brexit in this House and how it will affect the entire country. I and many of my colleagues from the Border counties have made the point that the people of those counties will be more affected than anyone as a result of Brexit. I thought the Government would have been more conscious of retailers, particularly in the Border counties. As we increase the price of these food supplements, people will be able to travel across the Border and buy them more cheaply, which will have a knock-on effect on the sustainability of many businesses. That is very regrettable. I ask the Leader to pass on my concerns to the Minister for Finance, even at this 11th hour, in order that he can do as he did last year and defer this increase.
In reference to the previous speaker, there is absolutely no doubt that Irish people are low in vitamin D and many GPs now do a routine check on this. I would advise anyone to get their vitamin D levels checked when having a blood test. Lack of vitamin D is quite common, even more so in people of African origin in this country because of the low sunlight hours here.
This morning I wish to raise an issue that is of both local and national importance. At present, there is a community school in Skerries in which many children who live in Skerries cannot get a place. This has been going on for some time. It was agreed some years ago to provide additional temporary accommodation. Officials from the Department of Education and Skills were out last December, which is almost a year ago, but nothing has been done about providing permanent classrooms for this ever-increasing population. Fingal has the youngest population in Ireland, if not in Europe. Houses are being built and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has announced plans for another 250 to 300 houses in Skerries, in addition to other housing being built by private developers. These families will be coming into a lovely area in which to live but there are no places in the schools.
The Minister for Education and Skills has done a brilliant job since taking over. I would like him to consider the situation and say whether there are not enough resources in the building unit in the Department. Is that the problem? This is not unique to Skerries. The same problem arose in Rush, which awaits a site for a new school, it is the same in Swords and Balbriggan. There is land earmarked there for 1,200 houses and the schools are already full. I am sure this applies across the country, not just in Fingal. We need to have a review of the funding of the building unit and the Minister ought to come in and tell us what plans he has to address this. Our children are our future. We pride ourselves on giving them the best education we can but if they have not got a school place how can we do that? How will they compete in an ever-globalised world against the best in the world unless they have the best education?We know we have the brightest and best in the world in this country. One need only look at those who have qualified in science, medicine and industry, including captains of industry. Let us give our children the best chance possible. A year is a long time in the life of a child. Nothing has happened concerning these five community schoolrooms that were supposed to be put in Skerries community college. Many children there do not have a place for next year as a result.
I seek a debate on the conditions of work in the hospitality sector. Eminent research by Dr. Deirdre Curran of the National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG, might have come to Senators' notice last week. It detailed shocking results regarding what is happening in that sector. Some 76% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse, 64% had experienced psychological abuse and 15% had actually suffered physical abuse in the workplace. When asked the identity of the perpetrator, 76% said it was someone in a position of power. That could be the chef, the owner or the manager. As for sexual harassment, 55% of respondents had witnessed or experienced sexual harassment and 63% had witnessed or experienced bullying.
This is just a small sample of the shocking results of Dr. Curran's research concerning what is happening in the Irish hospitality sector. At the committee meeting I attended last week, representatives from both the Irish Hotels Federation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland stated that they would continue to refuse to engage with the joint labour committee process set up by the previous Government. They also made it clear that they would refuse to engage in any way in respect of putting a floor of decency in place for standards, pay, conditions and protections in the industry. It is scandalous for employer groups, which probably expect major funding to support them during the Brexit disruption to come, to turn around and tell the Government they are not going to engage in any way with the joint labour committee process, will not talk with trade unions and will not engage with workers or their representatives. That is disgraceful.
This sector has been characterised by extremely low pay and very poor conditions for far too long. It is time for the Government to step up and do more than just comment that there are some concerns about the sector. That sector is a disgrace and we need to see some action. I am calling for a debate on this issue in order that, once and for all, we can lay bare what is happening in the hospitality sector. I refer, in particular, to calling out the Irish Hotels Federation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland for continuing to refuse point-blank to engage with the industrial machinery of the State and with trade unions.
I welcome the news received from the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, that agreement has been reached in principle regarding a site for the replacement of St. Vincent's special school in Lisnagry in Limerick. The school serves children with profound educational difficulties, as well as children who are on the autism spectrum. I attended a Dóchas meeting recently at which parents expressed their concern that there were not enough school places. I call on the Minister for Education and Skills to come into this House for a discussion regarding school places in the area of special needs and autism. Parents are facing issues in this regard and their questions are not being answered satisfactorily. It is, however, most welcome news that agreement has been reached in principle on a new site with the landowner and the school. It is also good news that the application for planning permission can run in parallel with the purchase of the site. It is great news for Limerick and the mid-west.
I warmly welcome the announcement made by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, last week that a public programme in respect of pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP, would be rolled out by the HSE. PrEP is a drug that prevents the transmission of HIV. The State has a very poor record of combatting HIV and transmission rates have been rising. There were 500 new cases last year. I first raised this issue here in February 2017 and I have spoken many times about it since. While I welcome the announcement, the programme is not a silver bullet. We need to continue to strengthen our community testing services and to eradicate stigma surrounding HIV. I give a special mention to campaigners and groups that led the way in calling for the introduction of this drug. I refer to ACT UP Dublin, particularly Andrew Leavitt and Will St. Leger, and Adam Shanley from HIV Ireland. They have shown great leadership. Two years ago, the House held statements to mark World Aids Day. I respectfully ask the Leader to make time available this year in order that we can discuss the next steps in combatting HIV transmission.
I thank the 14 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. On the issue raised by Senator Clifford-Lee, it ill behoves her and others to come into this House and play politics with the disability sector. Fianna Fáil was the party that cut funding to the disability sector during its tenure in government. I am familiar with the story of the COPE Foundation as my father was a former chief executive and I have family members working there. It is an organisation that is part and parcel of Cork and it is an institution in the area. There are issues in the disability sector that need to be addressed. I refer, in particular, to the issue of respite care in the context of section 38 and section 39 organisations. It is a topic which the Minister should come into the House to discuss. Notwithstanding the points made, the budget of the COPE Foundation has increased in recent years. It is a voluntary organisation and is doing great work in Cork. We should listen to and note the remarks made this morning by Mr. Sean Abbott, the chief executive the COPE Foundation.
It is important that the Government takes notice of what is being said. It is also important that there should be a recognition that the main aim is to provide services and supports for people who have a disability to allow them live independent lives in their communities. Support should be provided to these organisations, not just in Cork but across the country. Senator Clifford-Lee did not acknowledge in her remarks that the budget for disability services next year will be in excess of €1 billion. That is notwithstanding the fact that as a part of the national service plan, more than 200 voluntary organisations are in receipt of funding. There is a real need now for the HSE, in co-ordination with section 38 and section 39 organisations, to put in place a stringent service level agreement, SLA, taking cognisance of the need for more respite care etc. I am very happy for the Minister to come to the House regarding this matter. I accept Senator Clifford-Lee's proposed amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 12 on the Order Paper, Harmful Plastics (Prohibition) Bill 2019 - First Stage, be taken before No. 1.
Senator McDowell raised the issue of Syria, the Turkish intervention and the Kurds. We had a debate on this issue as part of the Order of Business debate yesterday, but I would be very happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter. All of us must be deeply concerned with what is happening. The Senator is right to expose the hypocrisy of the American Administration, which abandoned people one minute and then in the next minute imposed sanctions on their supposed friend. The resultant vacuum has been filled by Mr. Putin and the real winner is Mr. Assad. Meanwhile, ISIS will re-establish itself. The whole policy is a complete shambles, causing the displacement and killing of many people. I welcome Senator McDowell's comments. It is important to note that different views to President Trump have emerged within the Republican Party in the US Congress concerning this matter.I am happy to have the Tánaiste come to the House. We should all stand firm in our resolve and support of the sentiments expressed this morning by Senator McDowell regarding the matter.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of technological university status. The Technological Universities Act 2018 was enacted, which is very welcome. I commend Senator McFadden for once again raising the joint application of Athlone and Limerick institutes of technology for university status. The Senator has been a strong supporter of that application not only today but on other occasions. It is important that we progress the measures provided for in the Technological Universities Act 2018. I hope we will see a similar application for university status from Cork and Tralee institutes of technology.
Senator Craughwell raised the important matter of identity theft on social media and the lack of access to accountability within some of the social media outlets, which we may, perhaps, have been a little frivolous about earlier. This is an area in which we must have accountability, in particular for those people who Senator Craughwell rightfully pointed out do not have the recourse he has or the ability to communicate or engage. I am happy to provide for a debate on the issue. Later on today the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 will be taken during Private Members' time. The Senator might take the opportunity of that debate to raise the issue with the Minister.
Senator Lombard raised the vexing issue of An Post's policy in regard to the replacement of postmasters and the need to keep post offices open. This is a matter for An Post but the points made by Senator Lombard regarding Belgooly are important.
Senator Wilson also referenced Syria, Facebook and the infrastructural deficit in terms of transport. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has become the bogeyman for some in this House in terms of transport. Budget 2020 provides for increased funding and new commitments in regard to road projects, bus services, trams, BusConnects, the Cork metropolitan strategy-----
I refer Senator Clifford-Lee and other members to the announcement in the budget last week by the Minister, Deputy Ross, in regard to the transport brief, which shows a commitment in terms of the capital spend on new trams and trains and improvements in the rail network. I ask them to read the section of the Budget Statement relating to transport. Let us live in the real world.
I am sure Senator Wilson will join me in welcoming the budget announcement of a €2.7 billion transport allocation. The carbon tax about which the Senators spoke is being ring-fenced to tackle climate change. If Senator Wilson is a climate change denier that is a different matter.
I am stating the facts of the situation. It takes the same amount of time and fuel to travel from the part of the country I am proud to come from to represent people in this House as it did previously. The fact that the cost of the fuel has been increased does not mean people will use less of it.
The Senators opposite should remember that to progress to the future we must remember the past. Today, we have one of the strongest economies in Europe. We have more people in work than ever in the history of the country.
Senator Conway made a very good point regarding the protests last week which deprived staff and Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas of being able to enter and leave Leinster House. It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and others. It is important that staff and Members of the Oireachtas are able to access and leave Leinster House.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of relationships and sexuality education. We had a debate on the issue in the House in the last couple of weeks. The Minister, Deputy McHugh, has made it clear that schools are obliged to teach all elements of the RSE curriculum which are age appropriate and will involve interaction and engagement with parents and families in regard to content. I assure Senator Mulherin that I have respect for all views, ethics and religions and none in terms of the teaching of the RSE curriculum.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of carers and the protest. I agree with the Senator that no carer should have to protest. We do not take carers for granted. They are providing a service to people across the country. I refer the Senator to the changes made in the budget in terms of the 15 to 18.5 hours work in respect of which 1 million extra care hours were provided. As I said earlier, there is need for a real conversation on this issue be that by way of a citizens' assembly or a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas and a comprehensive plan put in place with the HSE, the section 38 and 39 organisations and the Carers Association in regard to the role of carers, in particular in the disability sector and for our elders. I would be happy to provide a debate on the issue in this House. We do not take our carers for granted. We appreciate what they do every day of the week. I thank carers for the work they do. They should not have to protest outside the gates of Leinster House.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of VAT on food supplements which the Minister has announced as part of the Finance Bill. The Senator will be well aware that certain food supplements will not be affected by the VAT rate application, that the Bill provides for an exemption in respect of foods for specific groups and that vitamins, folic acid and minerals will have a zero rating. There will be some changes which we can debate as part of our deliberations on the Finance Bill. The former Minister for Health, Senator Reilly, made a point regarding vitamin D, which is worth heeding.
Senator Reilly referenced enrolments at the community college in Skerries. I do not have an answer to his query but I am happy to have the Minister come to the House to respond to it. The Senator made the very good point that there is need for a review of the building unit in the Department of Education and Skills. It should always be subject to review.
I have not read the report on the hospitality sector as mentioned by Senator Gavan. If what he says is correct then that report makes for very grim reading and there is need for the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the hospitality sector. We are known as an Ireland of welcomes, the cead míle fáilte. Our bed and breakfasts, hotels and restaurants are an important part of what we sell across the world in terms of our tourism product. Central to this are staff who are happy and working in an environment that is conducive to their being able to produce their best and being treated with fairness, dignity and respect.
We will have statements on tourism later. As Senator Gavan knows from my record, unlike others, I believe in consensus and talking and reaching out to everybody. There has to be engagement by all sides.
Senator Byrne referred to St. Vincent's special school, which is an important facility in Lisnagry, County Limerick. Like Senator McFadden, Senator Byrne has been a strong champion of technological universities. I will be happy to have a debate on the issues raised by her related to autism. The HSE autism plan has been established to address the need for multi-annual funding to build capacity and competence and provide certainty for parents of children with autism.
Senator Warfield raised the issue of PrEP. I think we all agree with his comment on the welcome announcement made by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, on the need for PrEP. The increased rate of HIV infection is a cause of concern for many because there seems to be a sense a person can live with HIV and that it is no longer a death sentence. There is a need for an ongoing educational campaign, of which PrEP is just one part. I will work with the Senator in that regard. We have spoken to the Minister of State; the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Department of Health about the need for an accentuated campaign. When I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health, we had a meeting every year on 1 December with the Minister and HIV-AIDS activists throughout the country. We cannot remove the issue from the radar. It is becoming more and more relevant, given that the last two reports have shown an increase.