Seanad debates

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

2:30 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on climate action, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes.

I join the Leas-Chathaoirleach in welcoming our colleague, Senator Pippa Hackett, to the House and wish her and her family every success during her tenure. Comhghairdeas agus beír bua.

I also welcome the transition year students from Christ the King school in Cork who are in the Gallery.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I am glad the Leader did not forget them.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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First, I welcome our new colleague, Senator Hackett, to the House. I congratulate her and her family. It is great to have them in here today as it is certainly a day they will always remember.

I would like to raise the passing of the late Gay Byrne and extend my condolences and those of the Fianna Fáil group in the House to his wife, Kathleen, daughters, Suzy and Crona, and his larger family and colleagues at RTÉ. I grew up watching Gay Byrne on "The Late Late Show" every Friday night. He was a real trailblazer not alone in his distinguished broadcasting career but in the massive influence he had on wider society, giving people permission, as it were, to discuss topics that would not generally have been discussed at that time. Not alone did he introduce us to Boyzone but during the AIDS epidemic, he introduced Irish people to condoms and there was a funny episode where he-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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He introduced the Senator to boys.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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Boyzone. We were all very sad yesterday when we heard of his passing. Ní fheicfimid a leithéid arís and ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.

I would also like to raise an issue I have raised regularly in the House, which is that of housing and homelessness. In 2018, we were told in the budget introduced at that time that an affordable housing scheme would be established but it is fair to say no such scheme has worked effectively. We have not seen many fruits from that scheme and we have seen an increase in the number of people accessing emergency homeless accommodation. There are more than 10,400 on the list for such accommodation, comprising more than 6,500 adults and 3,800 children. That list does not include those we call the hidden homeless who are not accessing emergency hotel accommodation but living with grandmothers or parents. Many people are living at home, cannot afford rent and are not on the emergency accommodation lists. Members may have seen the Focus Ireland advertisement and for those who are accessing emergency accommodation, especially children, what is portrayed in that advertisement is a real scenario in that children are living in hotel rooms in which one could not swing a cat and in which the parents cannot cook. Parents are trying to give their children a proper childhood but it is impossible in such accommodation. There will be major repercussions for those children, and society, down the road if we do not ensure this homelessness crisis is resolved in some way. It is a disaster for those families, especially coming up to Christmas. It is very upsetting for them and for all of us. We have let them down.I would like to see a lot more done. The number of people accessing emergency homeless accommodation has remained at in or around 10,000 since we started in the Seanad. Something urgent must be done. I know we say it all the time but no holes have been made in it and there have been no changes. We need to take the figures seriously, as they will increase as the weather deteriorates, despite Leo's comments on climate change and temperatures increasing.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator mean the Taoiseach?

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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Yes. Apologies.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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In Milton's poem, "Samson Agonistes", Milton says of Samson when he dies:

No time for lamentation now,

...Samson hath quit himself

Like Samson...and...hath finished

A life heroic

I say that about Gay Byrne. Gay Byrne was a broadcasting legend, a husband, a father and a grandfather. He was an extraordinary communicator across our entire country, and beyond, for 60 years. He woke us all up and he protected us as he did it, and his talent was immeasurable. He was a cultural and social barometer of an Ireland about to grow up across those years and face all of its responsibilities both past and present. In the history of the State, through the national broadcaster, RTÉ, he totally embodied what all great public service broadcasting aspires to, namely, entertainment, information and education across radio and television. Most of us through our lives, if we are paying any kind of attention, can learn and are capable of learning through osmosis. We watch and we listen. It is how I learned from great teachers who never knew I was doing it; from great artists, great poets, great thinkers and great elders. I learned by osmosis from those that I admired from afar when I was young. Anybody who had any interest in the art, skill and craft of communication knew to look in the direction of Gay Byrne. There, one would find a master. When I became a friend in later life, that admiration only deepened and grew. Gay Byrne's talents were enormous but he wore them very lightly and he spent most of his life creating platforms daily for all others to be great and good.

Who are the people who have changed and altered Ireland for the better? People might name politicians from all sides, and they would be right. Indeed, they might even name religious leaders, doctors, teachers and artists. I name Gay Byrne, without argument or opposition. We owe him so much. He broke our silences and he taught us to speak out and speak up and not be afraid of what we were capable of and indeed what we needed and had to face.

In some way, there is a voice and nothing more. Beckett believed that. Through his voice we heard meaning. We heard meaning because his voice always paralleled meaning. His voice bore meaning. His voice found meaning - ordinary meanings and extraordinary meanings, complexities and distinctiveness, a kind of kernel of our social bonds, both intimate and objective, but all the time his voice always made acoustic sense. Across generations we inhabited the universe of his voice. We made our way through our daily lives with his voice. He introduced us to other voices, other music, other meanings, other media and we became intermingled with the lot, first on radio and then on television where voice is still dominant. Progress over 50 years in Ireland in some way announced itself through his voice and his show. In some way, Gay Byrne's voice was a sign of Ireland's life and, as such, compelling.We have lost a compelling voice away from the maddening crowd. It is now time to carry its echo with us.

After the death of Seamus Heaney, I quoted his play "The Cure at Troy", a dramatisation of Sophocles's "Philoctetes". Seamus Heaney was a favourite poet of Gay Byrne's wife, Kathleen Watkins. I wish to quote lines spoken by the chorus of elders at the close of the play. I would consider myself, after many years here, an elder of the Seanad. I am very happy to say that because I have learned so much here. I have listened well and I have learned from other great Senators here by osmosis. I will end with the words of the chorus of elders, Seamus Heaney's words:

Now it's high watermark

And floodtide in the heart

And time to go.

The sea-nymphs in the spray

Will be the chorus now.

What's left to say?

Suspect too much sweet talk

But never close your mind.

It was a fortunate wind

that blew me here. I leave

half-ready to believe

That a crippled trust might walk

And the half-true rhyme is love.

I say that of Gay Byrne. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome Senator Hackett to the Seanad. I hope she has a fruitful and enjoyable time here, as did her predecessor, Grace O'Sullivan. We look forward to working with her.

I, too, extend my condolences to Kathleen, Crona, Suzy, the wider Byrne family and the very many friends of Gay Byrne. Many tributes have been paid to Gay over the past 24 hours. His easy manner and unique tone of voice will long be remembered throughout the households of this State. For me, coming from County Mayo, one of the moments of note captured over the past 24 hours was his famous interview that led to Mr. Tom Gilmartin speaking out. Mr. Gilmartin was the man who brought down a Taoiseach and exposed the greed and corruption in this country. Gay Byrne and his easy style of interviewing brought that to the fore.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That was a matter for the findings and the relevant report. Senator McDowell might correct me later but I believe some of the content of the report might have been corrected in a Supreme Court judgment. I do not believe we should be getting into tribunal reports at this stage. I understand the Senator's reference otherwise.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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I acknowledge what the Leas-Chathaoirleach is saying. What I am trying to get across is Gay Byrne's style of interviewing people, the way he dealt with issues-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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-----and the way in which he made people feel at ease when interviewing them.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That is undoubted.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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He played a very significant part at a very important time in this country, a time of transition in many areas. He will be missed by his family in the main. I extend my condolences to it. May his soul rest in peace.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I have already spoken on the wireless about Gay Byrne. I knew him for over 40 years. I will be speaking about him again twice on television this evening so I will leave it to my colleagues to pay tribute to him. He was a most remarkable man.

I welcome very warmly to Seanad Éireann Senator Hackett. I have only just met her but I can tell instinctively that she will be a great Senator, like her predecessor from the Green Party.

I wish to raise the issue of privatisation, which seems to be a madness spreading all over this country. The bin services were privatised, which was an absolutely lunatic idea. We are now paying about three times and in three separate ways for the collection of bins. Half a dozen different bin companies are charging up and down the streets of residential areas at all hours of the day and night. In the old days, they used to pick up the rubbish.Nowadays they do not. They just pick up those that have their tags. We are provided in my street with plastic bags for the rubbish but they are useless. One has to buy the plastic bags but they are so thin that seagulls reef them and spread the rubbish all over the road.

On top of that, this weekend once again, two enormous black plastic bin liners were left in the street, right outside my front door. Within minutes, the seagulls had got at them and spread the rubbish all over the street. It is absolutely unacceptable. For the entire weekend, the street was filled with rubbish, knee deep. It is a disgrace. The Government should lean on local authorities and say it is time they got their act together and forgot the idea of privatisation. As I have noted previously, such companies are not registered in Ireland for tax purposes and, therefore, we do not know anything about their profits. They are a collection of gangsters.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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They are gangsters.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I remember when they were burning out one another's lorries. It is outrageous. One would not get it from the mafia. We ought to take a firm stand and demand an end to privatisation in this country. We need to have a sense of national identity and community, and to look after the people, not after the business interests allowing such companies to profiteer.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Was that a PD speech?

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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What is that?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Was that a PD speech?

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I do not know. Is the Senator a PD?

(Interruptions).

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Order, please. I call Senator Higgins.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I join in the expressions of condolence so eloquently made by others across the House. I also join wholeheartedly in welcoming Senator Hackett to the Chamber and her family to the Public Gallery. I was happy and proud to be one of those who nominated the Senator to her role, and we look forward very much to working with her. Following discussion with members of the Civil Engagement group, she has decided that, even though she represents what is perhaps a different mandate as a member of the Green Party, she is also interested in the work we do in our civil society mandate. We look forward to working alongside her in many interesting debates and to any new perspectives she will bring to the general work we all do together in the House.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, will tomorrow lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report based on work done in the Chamber, namely, an amendment of mine in respect of open and semi-open adoption in Ireland. It was an attempt to move past the closed and secretive system of adoption that has obtained for many decades, in many cases with devastating consequences for families and individuals. I am delighted that the amendment I tabled two years ago, requiring a review of the possibilities and potential for open adoption, has come to fruition and that tomorrow we will be given a copy of the report on open and semi-open adoption. Crucially, post-adoption supports and post-adoption contact plans will allow children to have the widest range of appropriate and helpful relationships as they shape their lives. I ask the Leader that when the report is laid before the House, we might have the opportunity to debate it as part of a move away from a climate of secrecy to a new, transparent and caring model for adoption.

A debate on the use of the money message mechanism is due to take place in the other House this week. It is relevant to us not in respect of our Standing Orders and operations but because many good Bills from many Senators have passed with full debate in the Chamber and are before the other House, awaiting a final hearing at a later stage. I hope we can find a resolution to the issue. Good ideas can come from anywhere and we need to ensure that any of them, whether they come from an Opposition or Government bench, will have the opportunity to reach its full development. It is part of what we all do as legislators. I urge the Leader to appeal to the Government to accommodate movement in respect of the money message mechanism, in order that there will be progress, as is the intention in the Constitution for the separate but complementary roles of the Houses.

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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I raise the serious issue of the Cuisle national respite centre in Donamon in Roscommon. I have spoken with quite a number of staff members and service users of the Cuisle respite centre over the past number of days since news broke last Friday that it is to close on 29 November this year. This decision was made by the board of the Irish Wheelchair Association. It is really devastating and dreadful news for the service users, the 48 staff who are employed there and the local community in Donamon. The Cuisle centre is incredibly important for people with disabilities as it allows them to enjoy accessible holidays. It is a national centre and attracts people from all over Ireland and abroad.

I have spoken with the director of services at the Irish Wheelchair Association about the reasons for this decision and am advised that there is a need to complete electrical works at the centre which will cost well over €1 million. I am also advised that costings were sent to the HSE, although we do not have the exact details of the business plan that was sent to the HSE. I am also advised that a different model of care is in the process of being implemented which would involve moving away from congregated settings to more integrated holiday services within private hotels.

I want to clearly make the following point. I worked in the health service as an occupational therapist for eight years. I am very aware of the needs of many individuals with disabilities and the specialist equipment, facilities and carer support they require. I am extremely concerned that such a service cannot be provided elsewhere.

I have listened to many people who use that service, all of whom spoke positively about the fact that they are able to enjoy a holiday within a supportive environment. I have contacted the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, in order to explore all the options available to keep this important respite centre open. There will be a meeting with the Minister of State at 2.30 p.m. tomorrow but it is important that this issue is raised in the Seanad because this is a national respite centre and we need to support people with disabilities to live at home for the longest time possible but also to be able to enjoy holidays within a supportive environment.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I sincerely welcome Senator Pippa Hackett from Offaly. I wish her every success and commend the wisdom of the leader of Fianna Fáil who initiated the Green Party getting the available seat. I think that is correct.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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It should be noted that it was a unanimous decision of the entire House.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senator Leyden is playing for transfers.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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It was unanimous with the support-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Victor and Gerry wrote to them last week about it.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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-----and leadership of the Fianna Fáil Party. I welcome Senator Hackett's husband and two beautiful children to the House. I wish her every success for a great career here in the future. I want to see her bringing the issue of climate change into this House and reminding the Taoiseach that there are no pluses to climate change.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Senator was never in government.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I was in government a few times.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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It is a pity the Senator was not here when Fianna Fáil was in government.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Hopkins for raising an issue that is causing us great distress. I am calling on the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to come to this House, although I know we are meeting him tomorrow to discuss this matter. Last Friday, the regional manager, Tony Cunningham, called a meeting at 4 p.m. and informed the staff of Cuisle, the national holiday and respite centre of the Irish Wheelchair Association that the facilities at Donamon, Roscommon, were closing on 29 November with the loss of at least 45 jobs and the removal of a service for wheelchair users, their families and supporters, that has been there for the past 22 years. The centre is on the grounds of the Donamon Castle which is in the ownership of the Divine Word Missionaries who have been there since 1939. The lease of which expires in 2026. I am calling on Ms Rosemary Keogh, the chief executive officer of the Irish Wheelchair Association, to answer my telephone calls and talk to me about the decision she has made.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator knows he should not be naming people.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I know, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I have located the chairman, Mr. Martin Kelly, and I ask him to telephone me. I know he works for Monaghan Mushrooms.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I do not want the Senator to give names in the Chamber. He is abusing his privilege.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I ask him to please inform me why he is callously closing this facility in Donamon, Roscommon, which I fully support.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator has gone well over his time.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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My daughter, Councillor Leyden, has received 31,000 hits in respect of this. I want the same-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is well over his time.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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-----time as Senator Hopkins.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Senator got the same time.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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The telephone is ringing.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I want to tell the Chamber that on-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Leaders have three minutes and everybody else has two minutes.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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-----on 6 and 7 November, the Irish Wheelchair Association is running its fundraiser called Little Angels. It is a very strange situation where it is closing a great facility in Roscommon and it is having its Little Angels fundraising event tomorrow and the next day. I will continue to raise this issue in the House and to fight for this. I do not care what rule I break. I am going to do my best, with Senator Hopkins and others, to get this decision reversed.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is out of order.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I am very much in order, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is out of order. I call Senator Craughwell.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I join with all of my colleagues in welcoming Senator Hackett and her family to the Chamber. I hope she enjoys her time here. She is with a good group in the Chamber. She should have spoken to us first as we would have offered better terms and conditions, but such is life.

Over the weekend, the Sunday Worldpublished an article about the repatriation of Lisa Smith and her daughter to this country, and the fact that the Irish Army Ranger Wing was involved. I am asking the Leader of the House to make a statement on this today. The release of this information during an operation, which is not yet over, was, to say the very least, poorly thought out. I am aware that the Defence Forces management is somewhat concerned about the fact that members of the Army Ranger Wing are out there at the moment, doing whatever they do, to bring this lady home.

Ms Smith will be brought home and the child who is allegedly hers will be brought with her as well. We are unsure about this because we have had no insight into what testing has taken place to establish the child's true identity. We also have a situation where the child could claim three nationalities, namely, Syrian, UK or Irish. At the end of the day, this places us in a rather precarious position. When Ms Smith returns to this country she will be a subject of interest for An Garda Síochána which is something that must concern every citizen. There is valuable information to be got on how she became radicalised and finished up where she did. I am not going to prejudge what she may or may not have been involved in as that is a matter for An Garda when she comes home. The Government, however, must get to the bottom of who released this information. It is unheard of for a military operation, which is ongoing, to be reported in the national media and possibly place the lives of people at risk.On the other side, I have to commend the Defence Forces, which are always ready and willing to do whatever is asked of them by Government.

I join with my colleagues in acknowledging the passing of Gay Byrne. All of us in this Chamber can recall, certainly from the time I was in short pants right through to the time when I lost all of my hair, that Gay Byrne influenced everything in our lives. Some of his programmes were amusing and some of them were highly serious. I would not dream of naming names or mentioning people, but he was a tremendous icon and he will be sorely missed.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I join with others in warmly welcoming Senator Pippa Hackett to the Chamber, as well as her family. No doubt she has big shoes to fill in terms of following former Senator Grace O'Sullivan but I have no doubt she is up to the test.

On a happy note, I warmly congratulate the Irish women's hockey team on their wonderful qualification for the Tokyo Olympic Games. I was very fortunate to spend the weekend at both games in Energia Park in Donnybrook. While we were joined by the Taoiseach, the Minister and Deputy O'Connell on Sunday-----

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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We saw the photographs.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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-----the most important person there, to my mind, was my young niece, April, who was attending not only her first international hockey match but the largest international women's sports match in terms of attendance ever held in this country. It was a wonderful day for her to see absolute heroes on the pitch, fulfilling their aspirations to qualify for the Olympics and proving a real example.

There is a lot going on in women's sport in this country that we should be happy about. We have the women's rugby team playing Wales, our women's national soccer team are having great success and we see record-breaking numbers attending the football and camogie finals. However, so much more can be done. As the saying goes: "Can't see, can't be". It is so important for women and girls across the country that all the State broadcasters and private broadcasters increase their level of coverage of all sports, but particularly women's games at every level. If we look at the achievements of the women's hockey team at the weekend, coming after the absolute disappointment for the men's team just the previous week, that is the example we can all aspire to. We wish them well and, hopefully, they can repeat their success at the Olympics in Tokyo next year.

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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Céad míle fáilte to Senator Pippa Hackett. I hope she enjoys the pantomime that this place sometimes brings.

I want to comment on the overcrowding, which is often described as obscene but is also insupportable. I know the issues in Limerick are constantly being raised by Senators Bryne and Gavan, and there is also Cork University Hospital in the Leader's area, as well as the situation at the hospitals in Letterkenny and south Tipperary. The INMO brings out statistics on a monthly basis and, obviously, the recent figure is the highest so far this year, with 679 people on trolleys. Every year, we have the winter initiative and we know overcrowding is at its worst in February and March every year. Unfortunately, it would seem the winter initiative needs to become a year-round initiative to try to find capacity. We have empty wards and problems with recruitment and retention, as well as the significant increase in the population of the country, but we have not increased capacity while trying to recruit and retain medical staff. The Minister, Deputy Harris, is to meet each hospital group this afternoon. I ask that he would come back into the House to report on what their initiatives and plans are but, more importantly, what their actions are.

Dovetailing into this is an alarming report about the rise in the number of teenagers missing school at second level. Tusla has launched a survey and it is the first year it has monitored school attendance. The survey shows that 12% of referrals to its service concerned people who cannot or will not attend school due to stress and anxiety. It is the first time this has been named and, for example, they say they cannot attend due to the school atmosphere or other pressures that are going on in their lives. Tusla will not take a disciplinary approach but is urging parents and students to contact it with these referrals, so it can sit down in a non-judgmental way and try to work out the difficulties.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome our new colleague, Senator Pippa Hackett. It is a great honour to come through the gates to either House of the Oireachtas. I pay tribute to her colleague who has gone to the European Parliament. She is hugely respected in all parties. I wish Senator Hackett all the best.

I condemn outright the attack on the property of my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, last Sunday week. The attack was deeply serious and a sinister development. An attack on an elected Member is an attack on all society. I know the House will join me in condemning outright the attack on our colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I ask anybody with information to contact the Garda. There is a peaceful and respectful group in Ballinamore and I hope we come to a resolution to a very difficult situation. I condemn outright the attack on the property of our colleague and friend, Deputy Martin Kenny.

I pay tribute to Gay Byrne. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, he was a light in a very dark era of our country. He certainly brought forward many liberal issues. We should recognise the contribution he has made to Irish life and society.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I also welcome Senator Hackett to the House and wish her well. I congratulate the Irish women's hockey team who will go to Tokyo in 2020. They have done us proud.

On a sad note, I express my sympathies to the Byrne family. Gay Byrne was a national treasure and there is no doubt about it. He had a massive impact on all of our lives.

I want to raise an issue that came to my attention during the Halloween break. Home buyers are being charged extraordinary money to view homes. I have heard of people being charged up to €100 just to view of a house. According to the provider of the viewing, the money is only refundable if the applicant is successful in buying the house. This is illegal. The fact that it might be common practice alarms me. I cannot decide whether it is a sinister way to weed out those with less disposable money or a cash making opportunity. I encourage all of us to alert the public about their rights when it comes to viewing homes. I would love to hear what the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has to say on the matter. Perhaps the Leader will bring the matter to his attention and revert with the reply.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Senator Pippa Hackett to the Chamber and I look forward to working with her.

I agree with my colleague, Senator Richmond, regarding the women's hockey team. I must be parochial and single out Roisin Upton, who scored the sudden death penalty to win. It was great to see members of the Hogan and Upton families in the crowd. The team has given great pleasure not only to those at home in their sitting rooms but also to those present. It is great to see women's sport on the rise as well as support for women's sport.

I cannot let today go without raising the issue of University Hospital Limerick, UHL, which Senator Devine also raised. A total of 679 people are on trolleys nationwide, 63 of whom are in UHL. We are not even into the winter season yet. Throughout the summer, UHL topped the list and it tops it again today. It is unbelievable. A meeting of the Joint Committee on Health took place on 2 October, which I attended, even though I am not a member. Mr. Paul Reid, the new CEO of the HSE, attended as did the Minister. There was a commitment on the day that the Members from the mid-west would be met within two to three weeks of the meeting to examine the various issues facing UHL. That meeting has not happened to date. I have written several times and asked questions about it but I have received no response. Will the Leader follow up on when that meeting can be held?It is important that Members from the mid-west meet Mr. Reid and the hospital group's CEO, Professor Colette Cowan. This is not just about the patients who are on trolleys, but about the staff and conditions as well. We have the largest and newest accident and emergency unit in the country, yet the numbers are still rising. Ironically, more than a third of those on trolleys today are in the west. Mr. Reid needs to address this issue with the various hospital group CEOs, especially as it relates to University Hospital Limerick. I await the Leader's response, whom I am sure will revert to me shortly.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome Senator Hackett and wish her well. I also welcome her husband, daughter and son. This is a demanding role. It is great to have a Green Member back in Seanad Éireann.

The Leader will be aware that the family of the late Shane O'Farrell brought their campaign to the gates of Leinster House today. I do not know how many Senators took the time, or got time, to meet the family, but I did. We all know of Shane O'Farrell's story and the family's campaign for justice for him. The matter was brought to the Oireachtas. There was a demonstration today at which the family issued a press release and met the media. This is a difficult story. The family is calling for the Minister for Justice and Equality to establish a public inquiry into the circumstances leading to the 23 year old's death in 2011. Senators are aware of the case's background. The family wants to know what actions State agencies took prior and subsequent to Shane's death. In 2018 and 2019, the Houses passed motions to establish a public inquiry into these events. The Department of Justice and Equality has instead opted for a scoping exercise. The Minister elaborated on that in the Seanad some time back. The exercise was to seek the family's views, but family members have said that it was an inadequate vehicle to achieve justice for their son, their loved one and their brother. All of us can understand and empathise with those concerns.

Will the Leader and every Senator use their connections and good offices to call on the Minister to progress the matter of a public inquiry in line with the family's wishes for truth and transparency surrounding the tragic circumstances leading to Shane's loss? It was a tragedy, and there are people who know the facts of the real story. The family members are entitled to a full examination of all the facts concerning the death of their dear son and loved one. I appeal to the Leader to use his good office to see how to progress the matter. All Senators should seek to support the family. The House debated the issue, took a decision and demonstrated to the family our support, but words are meaningless if they cannot be pushed into action. I am making this call on behalf of the family, who cannot be here. The O'Farrells need help and wish to have our support. I hope we will give it to them.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Senator Hackett to the House. We miss our wonderful former colleague, Grace O'Sullivan. We were all fond of her and worked well with her. I do not doubt that we will work well with Senator Hackett too. It will enrich the House to have a new Senator from the Green Party. I wish her well.

I share Senator Byrne's frustration with the situation at the accident and emergency department at University Hospital Limerick. We are all blue in the face raising such cases at this stage. I agree with the Senator, in that it is time that Mr. Reid got a handle on the matter. There are issues with early discharges and not-so-early discharges from the hospital. The Minister made an unannounced visit last August. When there was an analysis following on from that of why there were so many people on trolleys, it transpired that there was a logjam in discharges, with delayed discharges causing serious problems. The HSE has a responsibility to explain why there are 63 people on trolleys in that hospital.We need a detailed breakdown of discharges and delayed discharges. We need to know if people identified as ready for discharge are being discharged and, if not, why not?

I welcome the comments of Senator Feighan in regard to our colleague in the Houses of the Oireachtas, Deputy Martin Kenny, who, in my dealings with him, I have found to be an absolute gentleman. What happened to his car was an absolute disgrace and it has been, rightly, condemned by everybody. There is a problem though in that four proposed direct provision centres have not gone ahead. We have an international obligation to provide accommodation for people who come to this country seeking our protection. I want to see the facilities in Achill Island, Leitrim and everywhere else where they have been proposed, opened. We must have a collective conversation on this issue. There must be engagement and consultation with communities. It is appalling, however, that a State Department did not relocate 13 vulnerable people to Achill Island because there were concerns regarding their safety and so on. This is not acceptable, as far as I am concerned. I want to see those vulnerable people, who have come here seeking our support and help, located in Achill Island. I sincerely hope that whatever the difficulties are, they will be resolved such that the ladies in question will be able to go to Achill Island, where I have no doubt the majority of the islanders will welcome them with open arms. We have seen a deterioration in regard to this issue that is extremely worrying and, as a Member of this House and as a citizen of Ireland, I am very uncomfortable with it.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Deputy Eamon Ryan to the Gallery.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome Senator Hackett and her family to the House today. It is great to have another progressive voice in the Chamber. Sinn Féin looks forward to working with her.

I commend colleagues who have spoken out about University Hospital Limerick. What was not mentioned but I suspect is probably known, is that at the heart of this issue is a major problem with management at the hospital. We need to be straight and call that out.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I agree.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I am calling today for a further debate on Shannon Airport, in particular in light of the visit two weeks to these buildings by Major Ken Mayers and Tarak Kauff, a former US paratrooper. I am glad to say they received a tremendously warm reception. Ken is 82 years old and Tarak is 77. Since engaging in a peaceful protest on St. Patrick's Day, they have been on bail; their passports have been taken from them and they are unable to return home. The manner in which they have been treated by this State is nothing less than disgraceful.

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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It was wonderful to see people from every party, except one, stand with them when they came into the House. I regret that it was the Fine Gael Party that did not engage in support of these people. I note my colleagues from the mid-west are here. The good news is that there is another opportunity for them to do so this Friday at Ennis Circuit Court, where the latest hearing for these two fine, brave men will take place at 10.30 a.m. The men are applying for their trial to be transferred to Dublin. They cannot get a change in their bail conditions until that is agreed. What they have met to date is postponement after postponement. What the State is doing is, effectively, incarcerating these two fine men with a combined age of close to 160 in Ireland. This is being done because these men stood up and said what everyone knows to be the case, namely, that there is something terrible happening in Shannon day after day. There are US wars of aggression all across the Middle East, in Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq and we are supporting those wars. Nobody on the other side of the Chamber has ever stood up and announced that we are doing the right thing in supporting what the US is doing at our airport because they cannot.There is no defence for what is happening in Shannon. Senators are remaining silent about the prospect of these two fine men facing Christmas without being able to go home to their families. Surely to God we can all agree that the State should allow them to go home to their families. We should all agree to recognise the wrong that has been done to them. I encourage Senators to come along to Ennis at 10.30 a.m. this Friday. In common with a number of other people, I will be there to support Ken and Tarak by standing up and saying that justice should be done for these two fine men.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Senator Pippa Hackett to the Chamber. It is a happy and proud day for the Senator and her family. I wish her well.

I join other Senators in condemning what happened with Deputy Martin Kenny. It is absolutely abhorrent that his car was burned and his family was frightened. It really disgusts me. I spoke to the Deputy earlier. He has young teenagers who understand the danger. It is such a difficult situation. We have all become used to the negativity and the abuse we get online. When it comes to our homes and our families, it is a different story. I think we all have to speak out against that. We all disagree on occasion - I suppose we agree on occasion - but at the end of the day, this type of intimidating criminal behaviour should not be tolerated in a democracy.

I seek a debate on the report on State-funded contraception, which follows on from a request made by the Minister for Health. There is a lot of detail in the report. There has been a great deal of media discussion on what is being proposed. People have debated whether long-acting contraceptives should be provided and what age groups should be involved. The provision of State-funded contraception was one of the fundamental ancillary recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Obviously, this recommendation must be a fundamental part of our efforts to avoid unwanted and crisis pregnancies. I am seeking a debate in the House on this topic as soon as possible.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I join my colleagues in welcoming Senator Pippa Hackett to the House this afternoon. I had the pleasure of meeting Senator Hackett, her husband and her two children earlier today. I also welcome Deputy Catherine Martin, who comes from Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, to the Gallery. Their party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is also present. Senator Hackett is in very good company. This is a proud day for the Senator and her family. I hope she enjoys the rest of the day and the rest of her term in the Seanad.

I wish to join other Senators in mentioning the Cuisle respite centre in County Roscommon. I remind those who wonder why someone from the Cavan-Monaghan constituency would discuss a centre in Roscommon that the users of this facility come from all over the country. Indeed, I was contacted yesterday by people from Tydavnet, County Monaghan, who wanted to express their sadness, disappointment and annoyance that this much-loved facility is due to close at the end of this month. They told me of the joy they experienced when they availed of the respite services at the Cuisle facility. They spoke about the kindness and understanding shown by the staff to the people who stay there. This facility has given many families throughout the country their only possibility of respite. It has specialised equipment to cater for the needs of their loved ones. Needless to say, they are heartbroken about its proposed closure. As others have said, this facility has been open since 1997. I understand that issues have arisen on foot of a structural survey of the building, which appears to have highlighted a number of issues. I am sure the Leader will agree that none of these issues should be insurmountable. I ask him to use his good offices to ask the Minister for Health to intervene in this issue. Between 45 and 48 people are employed in this centre. On behalf of all the people who have had joyful and happy experiences when they have visited the centre, I put it to the Leader that the problems which exist at the centre can be surmounted with the goodwill of all parties. I have no doubt that a solution can be worked out over time.The facility should remain in place for all the people throughout the country who avail of it.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Deputy Catherine Martin is very welcome to the Chamber.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I too welcome Senator Hackett and acknowledge the presence until a moment ago of the leader of her party, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I am glad that she is already showing independence of mind and is against car-pooling. I anticipate that she will not be in favour of rewilding to the extent of the reintroduction of wolves.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Senator McDowell has certainly gone for her.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Leinster House has already been rewilded. There are quite a few wolves prowling its corridors and many of them are in sheep's clothing.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator can say that again.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I wish to address the issue of direct provision centres. This House needs to have a serious debate on this issue. It is very easy to virtue signal on this issue and state that one is against a particular thing. A woman stated on the radio on Sunday that she disapproves of the centres. When asked by Brendan O'Connor for an alternative to them, she said, "Well, that is the difficulty." This country must be realistic and truthful. We cannot, at a time of housing shortage, simply say that every applicant for asylum goes to the top of the housing list. In the present circumstances, we cannot say that everybody who comes from Albania, Georgia or elsewhere and applies for asylum automatically becomes entitled to full social welfare. It is naive to think that such a regime could be put in place. We need a real discussion on what is wrong with our current system and why it is so unfair to so many people.

The real cause of injustice is that we are failing to deal in a timely manner with applicants for asylum. It is absurd that it can take years to go through the process. Either people are entitled, prima facie, to asylum protection or they are not. The second thing about which we must be honest is the economic migrancy. It is not the same as asylum-seeking. Although many of us will see similarities between the plight of the Irish going on coffin ships in the 19th century and some of the people getting onto RIBs to cross the Mediterranean in the present day, we must be truthful that economic migrancy is something which must be dealt with by the law and through legal processes. It is not a question of simply turning a blind eye to the difference between the entitlement to refugee protection and the need for the State to be clear that it is a cause of concern that so many people from places such as Georgia and Albania - both of which are trying to get into the EU and are safe countries - have suddenly applied for refugee status. The real reason is that it is our own fault that we have a system which entertains delay and creates the opportunity for people to pose as refugees for a long time when, in fact-----

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Every person is entitled to seek refugee status.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Senator McDowell without interruption.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I will make my remarks though the Chair to be orderly. Of course, every person is entitled to seek refugee status if he or she is a genuine refugee. There are safe countries and presumptions. There must be some realism on this matter. Senator Higgins should know that many people posing as refugee applicants are, in fact, migrants. They are escaping poverty. I have no difficulty with what is driving them, but these are not genuine refugee applications.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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They may apply under international law.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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The Senator's heart may be in the right place.I have seen the files, however, and I know what I am talking about. We need a genuine debate in this House about the difference between migrancy and refugee status. We need a real debate about where and how we will accommodate asylum seekers. In what locations, in what buildings, in what facilities and with what supports will we accommodate asylum seekers? These things have to be discussed honestly. It is about time people stopped the virtue signalling and started talking about real solutions to real problems, including the culpability of the Irish State, which is not of this Government's making, but it is a long-standing problem with delays in this area.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Seanadóir Hackett fosta. I acknowledge and thank colleagues for their solidarity and support for our colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny. Deputy Martin Kenny will not be deterred by this, as troubling and concerning as it is. While I disagree with a lot of the sentiment expressed by Senator McDowell, I agree with him in that I want to have the debate about direct provision. I want to have the debate about the failure to deal with the facilities, the processes, the needs and the care that are required by the people who are coming to this State to seek refuge. I want to talk about the rise of the right in this State. I want to talk about how it is able to exploit the economic, ideology-driven decisions that are causing poverty and deprivation in this State, which is ripe and fertile ground for the right to exploit. I want to talk about that in the course of that debate.

I also want to talk about what Senator Gavan said about the use of Shannon Airport to displace a lot of these people from the Middle East. I want to talk about why the Irish Defence Forces are moving from search and rescue work in the Mediterranean and drifting ever closer towards participating in a European army. I want to talk about all of that in the round and I want to particularly afford everybody in this House the opportunity to take a stand, like Deputy Martin Kenny, in support of people who are vulnerable and who are coming to this State to flee some of the awful devastation being inflicted upon people around the world, much of it via Shannon Airport, to our shame.

I want to commend the latest initiative from Ireland's Future yesterday. Over 1,000 signatories from the civic world, political life, academia, the arts and sport came together, in this State this time, to respectfully ask the Government to prepare for new constitutional horizons and not to fall into the Brexit trap of constitutional change coming about in an ill-prepared or ill-informed manner. It is a responsible and prudent call and it is the right thing to do. It is a conversation within broader Irish life that mirrors the conversations that are happening in board rooms, club rooms and even in this Chamber on occasion, that identify the real need to have an inclusive, engaged and informed conversation about where we want to be. The Constitution compels us to do that and the Good Friday Agreement allows us and affords us the opportunity to deliver that for people. Tús maith leath na hoibre, a good start is half the work. I want today to reiterate that call from Ireland's Future through the Leader. It was yet another impressive initiative calling on the Government to get ready.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Well said.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I was not going to speak but after Senator McDowell's contribution I would like to add to his call for a debate, which is needed. It was announced that a group is being set up to examine direct provision. When I looked at in the budget, however, one thing Senator McDowell is right about is-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We are not going to have a debate now.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I know but the Senator spoke about a system whereby we would assess people in a speedy and orderly fashion. When I looked at the budget this year, straight away I saw there was a 1% increase on the last budget in respect of how much would be spent on the system to move people through the asylum process. If we were really committed to addressing people's assessment for asylum, we would have seen a much larger increase than 1%. We need to have a conversation about this issue.Not enough has been said here today about the Taoiseach's comments in the paper when let run without somebody telling him what to say. His views became very clear on a number of issues but one of them was on direct provision. I am not going to refer to the nationalities he spoke about but to a phrase he used in one of those sections, that we cannot give everybody free houses. Not only is he not fixing the direct provision centre issue, he is also using a term that is coined all the time against working class people in terms of being able to access social housing. He is purposely trying to pit direct provision against ordinary people in the housing system. That cannot be a conversation that is allowed be had.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I do not think when we have the conversation about direct provision that we should be talking about the housing shortage. The housing shortage is an issue in itself that we need to address but we cannot pit people against each other when we are talking about the demand for housing. I want to make sure that message is very clear. I call on the Leader to arrange statements and a debate on direct provision.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Like the last speaker, I had not intended to contribute but came in to welcome our new colleague. However, Senator McDowell is to be complimented for raising a very big subject here. Before we all get into our various boxes on the left and on the right, we should pause and stand back and look at some of the points he has made. My instinct is probably not the same as his on this issue. We in Ireland have vast experience of being accommodated and welcomed in many countries abroad. Certainly some of our emigrants were asylum seekers. In the days of the Fenians we were looked after in Paris and other places like that. However, the vast majority of our emigrants were economic emigrants. They went to Australia, England and America to better themselves financially and we should bear that in mind as well. Whatever I would say on the subject, I abhor totally the unlawful attack on the home of Deputy Martin Kenny, who is a fine Member of these Houses and who is highly respected. We cannot tolerate that. For the life of me, I am not a holy Joe but I think there is some Christianity in all of us and we have to do the best we can for people in this unfortunate plight. I really do not understand in my heart how some people in Christian Ireland are responding - minorities really - in the way they are. I am not saying it should be some place else. Kerry has done well in this and we have a good record, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows. If they come to my town, I assure the House that they will be welcome there. Certainly keep the numbers tidy and small and have a nice separation but that is not what I came in here to say.

I warmly welcome Senator Hackett to the Chamber and I compliment her. It is a great honour for herself and her family to come to Oireachtas Éireann. I welcome her family and members of the Green Party. I compliment her colleagues in the Civic Engagement Group, with whom I agree most of the time. There is a certain issue in Ballylongford which I will be talking about here tomorrow and on which we cannot agree. Senator Hackett's tenure cannot be too long but it will not be as short as people think. My money is on around March 2021.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Ba bhreá liom freisin fáilte a chur roimh an Seanadóir Hackett. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sí taitneamh agus tairbhe as a tréimhse anseo, cibé fhad a bhéas aici. Cuirim fáilte roimh a fhear chéile agus a chuid páistí dar nóigh. Táimid ag súil le oibriú léi chun leas na tíre.

I welcome the debate that Senator McDowell so eloquently requested. As somebody who has always supported a structured but generous accommodation not just of asylum seekers but of economic migrants, I really think it is important that we do not hear phrases like "nothing can be said in these Houses". This debate suffers from a lack of intellectual honesty and when people are being accused of gaslighting the minute they raise an issue that others disagree with, it closes down debate. It is extraordinarily unhelpful and colleagues are not going to persuade people who are reluctant by being so judgmental of their fears and feelings. That seems to me to be obvious.

If I may, I want to return to the nostalgia that many people are feeling in these days and that has been expressed in this House with the sad news of the passing of Gay Byrne. He played a huge role in Irish life, as we all know, and in saying farewell to him, people are saying farewell to a part of their own lives and a part of our past. For most people, the memory of times past is a memory of happy times. There is also gratitude because Gay and his team did so much to entertain, inform and educate the nation.He was a brilliant broadcaster and communicator at a time when, all over the western world, what was previously private was rapidly being made public. He exemplified and symbolised that new public expression. He and his team shone a light into dark corners of our society at a time when others found that threatening. However, we must never forget that the same dark corners existed in every society, and we still have dark corners in our society today. Indeed, the nostalgia that people feel today reflects the fact that the Ireland that Gay Byrne explored and reflected back to itself was mostly a happy one. I would like RTÉ to consider a systematic and unedited rebroadcasting of the extensive series of episodes of "The Late Late Show", because it would make for interesting and very valuable social history.

The work that others did with the material that Gay and his team brought to light reflected various agendas, some good and some bad. Some of that work ended injustices and some of it sadly contributed to the dark corners that exist in our society today. However that is often the case with the legacy of great figures. Today we pay our respects to a consummate professional, to the most effective broadcaster of his generation and to someone who affected all our lives and created so many lasting memories. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé and to his family our deep sympathy.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Does Senator Colette Kelleher wish to comment?

Photo of Colette KelleherColette Kelleher (Independent)
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I was not going to speak but we need an honest debate in this House about asylum, refugees and economic migrants. That debate has to be framed by the notion and the belief that diversity is a positive thing and not de facto a negative thing. We should have our conversations and discussions in that light. I was an economic migrant for 17 years. I never felt like and never was a burden on the country in which I worked. People seek asylum and flee countries for a variety of reasons. Some are to do with wars, despots and people destroying their own people in a fashion that none of us here can possibly imagine. People also leave for other reasons. People left Ireland in the 1950s and went to other places because they were gay. I know for a fact that women leave countries that are considered to be welcoming and not in difficulty because they are experiencing domestic violence. We need to understand and have this debate in its fullness. I pay tribute to my own home town of Macroom, which has stretched out the hand of friendship, as it rightly should, to people seeking asylum who are living in direct provision centres there. Rural Ireland is not all one and the same. We need to promote the positives as well as the negatives. Once that debate is respectful, I am happy to have it. We should not slice and dice between genuine and non-genuine asylum seekers, or pit local people facing a housing crisis against people who are coming to the country for the refuge which we rightly offer and to which end we have signed international obligations. Once we have that understanding, I am very happy for us to have this debate. If we do not have that, it will be a waste of time. It will just fuel the rhetoric that can be found at times outside this House and that leads to the kind of horrible experiences recently undergone by Deputy Martin Kenny and his family.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I now have the pleasure of calling on Senator Pippa Hackett.

Photo of Pippa HackettPippa Hackett (Green Party)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the warm welcome and all the Senators for their messages and words of support. It is a real honour for me to take up this seat in Seanad Éireann. I am grateful to the Green Party for selecting me for the by-election and to all the Senators and Deputies who nominated me to contest it. Yesterday, I enjoyed a wonderful tour of this Chamber and its surrounds given by the Clerk of the Seanad, Mr. Martin Groves, and the Clerk Assistant, Ms Bridget Doody. I thank them for that. It was lovely. I also thank all the ushers and staff who also have been very kind and welcoming.I look forward to working with all the Members in this House over the next few months, which I hope will be a good few months. I am particularly delighted to join with the Civil Engagement group, comprising Senators Higgins, Ruane, Kelleher, Black and Dolan. I recognise the direction of the group and the work they do and I hope I can contribute to that.

This is an immensely proud day for myself and for my family, particularly my husband, Mark, and my children, Heidi, George, Charlie and Poppy. I thank my parents, Jeannie and Lucien, for their love and support. I want to remember their son and my only sibling, Jay, who passed away only a few months ago. It is a quite emotional time for them.

Finally, I acknowledge my predecessor, Grace O'Sullivan, who is now a Member of the European Parliament. It was Grace who gave me my first look inside this historic building, shortly after her election to the Seanad in 2016. I have followed her progress closely. She has asked me for help and I have been willing to give it. I very much enjoyed working with her and seeing how she worked with the Civil Engagement group. She has been an inspiration to me to get involved in politics up to this level. I also look forward to working with my Green Party colleagues in Leinster House, namely, Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin. I acknowledge my colleagues around the country, where we have a large number of councillors. I would love to work with them to build a better, greener future for our wonderful country.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I dtús báire, ar mo shon féin agus ar son Fhine Gael, cuirim fáilte mhór roimh an Seanadóir nua, Pippa Hackett. Déanaim comhghairdeas léi. In congratulating Senator Hackett, I welcome her on behalf of all of us to the House. I pay tribute to her two children, Heidi and George, for their endurance in what has been a test of strength for them in the House this afternoon. I also pay tribute to her husband, Mark. Today is a very proud day for the Senator and her family and I wish her every success in her term, whether it is to 2021 or to February, March, April or May.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I have not been wrong yet.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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True.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Has the coalition agreed a date?

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Watch this space.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senator Hackett's maiden speech as a Member of this House is one she can look back on with pride. She is serving not just the people of Offaly but the people of Ireland. She has come on a huge journey as the first Green Party councillor elected in Offaly last year and I certainly hope she will not displace our Deputy, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, in Offaly in the general election.

The vast majority of the House paid tribute to the late Gay Byrne, who tragically passed away yesterday. Many eloquent words have been spoken by many Members, in particular Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, on the prowess which Gay Byrne had as a broadcaster. This morning, Sean O'Rourke summed it up pretty well when he said we were all part of a national wake remembering, commemorating and celebrating the life of a broadcaster who, despite the comments of some, shone a light into dark corners, opened up a window for many in our country and gave a voice to those who were voiceless. The letters written to radio stations from people across the country give a powerful reminder of Gay Byrne. I remind the House that the late John Charles McQuaid had the temerity to write to RTÉ to say he was in charge of what RTÉ could broadcast in the context of Gay Byrne. How we have travelled as a country. Gay Byrne was part of that journey, along with others. He was an enlightened man and one who gave people a voice but he was also a broadcaster. We use the phrase "ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann" far too easily but it is true.He was the first. He was iconic. As Senator Mullen said, there were some who agreed with him and some who did not agree with him. That is the democracy and the Republic in which we live. We pay tribute to him and thank him for his service to the Irish people. We thank his wife and his two daughters for allowing us to live our lives with him. We hope that in their time of mourning and sorrow they will remember the good Gay Byrne brought to the lives of so many people but also that they will be comforted by the prayers and the thoughts of the people of Ireland. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I welcome Senator Ardagh back to the House and wish her well in her pregnancy and remaining time with us. I sincerely wish her every success. She referred to the issue of housing. It is a vexing issue. As she knows well, in the city of Dublin, in the first six months of this year, presentations of families who are homeless have fallen by 9.5%. One in two of the families presenting to homeless services were prevented from having to enter emergency accommodation and the number of families entering emergency accommodation has fallen by 5%. Some 786 families have exited emergency accommodation to a home. That is a 48% increase on the 530 exits recorded from the same period in 2018. Of course, we do not hear some of those facts. We accept there is an issue with housing and supply. The Government is committed under Rebuilding Ireland 2040 to pursue that in terms of tackling the issue of homelessness.

Senator Norris raised the issue of privatisation. Yet again, the issue of seagulls has dominated the Order of Business in the House. The issue of waste collection is one that has been well debated and documented across every local authority in the country. It is not my intention to revisit it.

Senator Higgins made reference to the issue of the debate on the report on adoption transparency I would be happy to facilitate that debate. The Ceann Comhairle has ruled on the matter regarding the money message. I will not delve into that here today.

Senators Hopkins, Leyden and Gallagher raised the issue of Cuisle. Unlike Senator Leyden, I am aware Senator Hopkins has been in contact, had her phone answered, has had meetings and has been in here raising the matter-----

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I hope to God she gets results.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Order. Allow the Leader to continue without interruption.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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-----which, as Senator Leyden knows quite well, is a matter for the Irish Wheelchair Association.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I was at a public meeting in Cuisle last night.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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To be fair, the matter is-----

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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That is discrimination by the Irish Wheelchair Association in calling one Senator and not the other.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator has made his contribution. Allow the Leader to continue without interruption.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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There seems to be an issue with Roscommon politicians and telephones. I remember another former Roscommon politician talking about putting his sweet lips a little closer to the phone but the Senator could come back to that later.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Cheap shots do not work.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I made no cheap shot. The Senator is well able to give it. If he cannot take it-----

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I am well able to take it.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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-----he should not bother giving it.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I can take it and I can throw it back too.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Is the Senator's disagreement with coalition?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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The Leader need not worry about that.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Order, please.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Despite Senator Leyden's attempt at being frivolous, the issue raised by the Senators is a very serious matter. It is one of respite care for people who require care.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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And holidays.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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People sometimes use the word "holiday" which is a mistaken word with respect to respite care. It is not a holiday. For those people who require 24-hour care, and the Senator might not like my answer-----

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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It is a holiday camp.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We are not having a private debate. I ask the Leader to address his remarks through the Chair. He is responding to the Order of Business.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Leader should not pick up on any points made by way of interruption.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Would the Leas-Chathaoirleach like to take the Leader's job as well?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I wish the Leader would respond without reference to any interruptions he is getting.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am trying to do the best I can.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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We are all a little testy today.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I am not.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am actually in great form. I am not in bad form at all.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We are well over time and a Minister is waiting to come into the House.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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With respect, the Order of Business-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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It was extremely lengthy.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I accept that but I was not chairing it.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We had the maximum number of contributors.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The points made by Senators Leyden, Hopkins and Gallagher are very serious. The issue of respite care and of providing care for people is one we should take seriously.To be of assistance to Senator Leyden, I suggest the Senators table a Commencement matter on the issue for next Tuesday depending on the outcome of their meeting tomorrow.

Senator Craughwell raised the issue of the Lisa Smith case and an article published in the Sunday World. As the Senator will be aware, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade made reference to this in a statement subsequent to the RTÉ and TV3 coverage and the newspaper report, he was of the view that a resolution to the matter was nowhere near. The Government does not comment on individual cases and it has not done so, as the Senator will well know. He is being mischievous around the issue of-----

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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No. It is about the leaking of the story. We need to find out who leaked it.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I have no information on that.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Does the Leader condemn it?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Order, please.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The issue of our Army rangers is an important one. They undergo operations in absolute secrecy and it is important they are allowed to do that. The Tánaiste's statement reinforces that viewpoint.

Senators Richmond, Murnane O'Connor and Byrne paid tribute to the Irish ladies hockey team and we congratulate on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games. We wish them well. We are delighted we have new heroes on the pitch. I would have happy to arrange for a debate on sport and women in sport.

Senators Devine, Byrne and Conway raised the issue of overcrowding in our hospital emergency departments and, in particular, the number of people on trolleys. Whether it be one person or many people being treated on trolleys, it is one person too many. I have stated here previously the management of people on trolleys and our hospitals seems to be a major issue. I think there is a game going on in our health system. Vested interests are taking our patients, who should be at the centre of care in our health system, and are relegating them as part of a game-----

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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Should we stop telling the truth?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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-----and it should stop immediately. It is unfair to the families concerned and to the patients being treated on trolleys. We need to fundamentally tackle the issue of patient discharges. We all welcome the new 60-bed unit being built in Limerick, which will assist in that respect. There is a need to deal with the issue of patient discharges and the provision of a continuum of care in our communities.

Senator Devine also raised the issue of a Tusla report dealing with the number of students missing school. I would be happy to arrange a debate on that issue in due course.

A number of Senators raised the matter of direct provision, as linked to the attack on the home of Deputy Martin Kenny, as well as the issue itself. Senators Feighan, Conway, McDowell, Ó Donnghaile, Ruane, Mullen and Kelleher raised the issue. On my own behalf and on behalf of the House, I condemn those who attacked Deputy Martin Kenny's car and his family. It has no place in a democratic society. Everybody should stand firm in upholding the law and standing with Deputy Martin Kenny and his family, and any Member of the House, regarding the matter of an attack. The perpetrators of this crime are from a community. They are known. People should come forward with that information.

The issue of direct provision is a contentious one but it need not necessarily be one. Senator McDowell in a powerful presentation, raised a number of valid points with which I might not agree. We are an Ireland of welcomes, we have international obligations but it is time we had a national conversation on direct provision. As a former Minister for Justice and a former Attorney General, the Senator knows quite well that there is a system in place but the process takes time and it is a somewhat cumbersome. We all wish it was quicker because we all have people who come into our offices every week who are seeking asylum, have had their application refused or have submitted an appeal and the process goes on and on. These people's applications, in many cases, are worthy and they are genuine people who left their country out of fear. There are others, which Senator McDowell is right in saying, who are here chancing their arm, and we should say that too. I am somebody who is very much in favour of asylum seekers and of having the matter dealt with in a humane and fair way. A debate on this issue is very much needed. We should stand firm in our opposition to those who oppose direct provision facilities being put in places around our country. Senator Kelleher is right. There are places like Macroom and Drishane in Cork where communities within communities are being formed and friendships and new families are being created. Direct provision and our new immigrant communities are welcome in our country.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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We should all stand up and say that. Those who oppose them are doing so in many cases out of ignorance or are trying to create fear in our country, and that has no place here.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of home buyers. If she has the information she referenced, she should give it to the Garda or the Minister because what she set out is illegal.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I have spoken to the Minister.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I would ask the Senator to name the people in the Chamber where she would have immunity in doing that because we should not condone that kind of behaviour in any shape or form.

Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the Shane O'Farrell case. Senator Norris also has raised the case here previously. First, we send our condolences to the family of Shane O'Farrell on his tragic death and, second, we all agree there is a need for answers. The case was the subject of a Dáil motion and a motion in this House and the Minister sought the advice of the Attorney General on how best to proceed with the case, given that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was at the time still investigating the matter. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, appointed a retired judge, Judge Gerard Haughton, to conduct a scoping exercise. I understand, but am open to correction on this, that this scoping exercise is still continuing. The family has been met and some changes have been suggested to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, in terms of a proposed change to the terms of reference of the scoping exercise. I hope that in time, the recommendations will be able to be debated and that Judge Haughton will be able to continue his work. Following that, we can make a decision based on the outcome of that work.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of Shannon Airport. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter in the House at any time.

Senator Noone raised the issue of a report on State-funded contraception which, again, is an very important one. I would happy to ask the Minister to come into the House regarding the matter.

Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of civic groups coming together yesterday in terms of the 1,000 signatories. It is important we plan for the future of our island.

I express my sympathy and that of the House to the family of the late Fr. Des Wilson, who died today in Belfast. He was a very strong powerful voice within our country. He was a person who tried to build bridges rather than take down bridges and he was very committed to his people.

I again welcome Senator Hackett to the House. I thank Members for their contributions.

As a measure of our support for and in expressing our sympathy to the family of the late Gay Byrne, I propose we stand for a minute's silence at the end of the Order of Business if that is agreeable.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

We will stand in respectful silence for a minute.

Members rose.

Order of Business agreed to.