Friday, 24 July 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 28 July 2020, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, the Companies (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Covid-19) Bill 2020 - all Stages, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and to conclude after two hours by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, the time allocated to the group spokespersons in the debate on Second Stage shall not exceed eight minutes, and all other Senators shall not exceed five minutes, and the Minister shall be given not less than eight minutes to reply, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; and No. 3, Health (General Practitioner Service and Alteration of Criteria for Eligibility) Bill 2020 - all Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m., with the time allocated to the group spokespersons in the debate on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than eight minutes to reply, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter.
I raise a very important issue today. It is one I raised on a number of occasions in the previous Seanad, namely, period poverty. For those who do not know what period poverty is, it is being unable to access sanitary products due to financial constraints. It is a global public health issue and vulnerable women and girls in Ireland today are suffering from period poverty. They cannot manage their menstruation in a safe, dignified and healthy fashion and without stigma and shame attached to it. That poses a very real risk to their health and well-being. A recent survey of girls in Ireland revealed that 50% have been unable to access sanitary products due to financial constraints and 61% have missed school as a result of their period. Women are using rags and newspapers and some have suffered significant permanent damage to their health as a result of using inappropriate products. It is shameful that, as a rich, developed country, we allow this to persist. We already know that women have borne the brunt of this pandemic financially and otherwise. Period poverty in Ireland is set to become an even bigger issue in the coming years as a result of the pandemic.
Almost a year and a half ago, the Seanad and Dáil passed identical motions on period poverty.I was happy to play my part in that in the previous Seanad. As a result of those dual motions, the Minister for Health gave a commitment that sanitary products would be available in all public buildings and a committee on this subject was set up within the Department, which brought together various NGOs and interest groups. That committee has met, so I ask the Leader to call the new Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, to this House to get an update on its work. Ireland was a global leader on public health in the past. The current Taoiseach brought in the smoking ban when he was the Minister for Health and Children, and we were world leaders in that regard. That ban changed the culture, public health and people's behaviour, and it saved thousands of lives. Now is the time to make a bold statement on behalf of women in this country. We must become global leaders and join countries like Scotland and New Zealand by giving the women of Ireland the respect they need and the dignity to have a safe period.
I wish to proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 5 be taken before No. 1. I wish to draw the House's attention to the following health matter and I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to make himself available to deal with this issue, as he has other business in this House today. I refer to the need for the HSE and the Department of Health to put in place a comprehensive programme for influenza inoculation right across the country. We know there is a significant danger of flu coinciding with spikes in Covid infections and that the symptoms of some flus and Covid are easily confused. Some scientific material also indicates that the flu complicates Covid conditions and makes the Covid infection more dangerous. Given that there is a seasonal aspect to flu and that, ordinarily, there is a significant influenza problem from October to January or February, it is essential that the health authorities extend inoculation services to the maximum possible extent.
A plan is currently afoot in United Kingdom - or in the English part of it, at least - to provide free influenza inoculation not only to those over 65 but to everybody over 50 and to other vulnerable categories of the population. With all the problems we are experiencing at the moment, it is essential that the HSE makes preparations to do that in September and October. I would like to hear from the Minister that that is going to happen, that the plans are well advanced and that we are not going to find ourselves running to catch up when this becomes a problem in November. In the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are different, there are indications that social distancing and mask-wearing for Covid have reduced the prevalence of influenza and are having a repressive effect on it. That may be the case but we have an opportunity now to do something about the coincidence of flu and Covid and I would like to hear what the Minister proposes to do.
I refer to the July stimulus package that was published yesterday. In advance of the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020 coming to the House next week, I have serious questions about what was announced yesterday.There can be no doubt that the injection of €5 billion in additional spending into our economy is badly needed, but let us be clear as to what needs to be fixed and what the July stimulus does and does not do. There is no doubt that businesses need support and the vast majority of the firepower announced yesterday was directed at them. For workers, there were some assurances on the continuation of the temporary wage subsidy scheme, but there was very little reassurance yesterday for people who are out of work, especially those in sectors that cannot open until there is a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19. I am thinking of the arts sector in particular. As the National Campaign for the Arts has already stated, this sector was the first to close and will be probably be one of the last to reopen. Many venues simple will not be able to open and many performances will not take place. The key issue is that a number of announcements were made yesterday on the performance fund and the arts but there was no detail. The only clarity we got was that the pandemic unemployment payment is to be cut, which is deeply regrettable for those in the sector, many of whom were already on very low pay prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. There are also anomalous situations involving people who were dependent on State benefits in 2018 and freelancers. I refer in particular to those on maternity benefit who were working in the arts and who have not been allowed to count that maternity benefit as reckonable income in determining their entitlement to the pandemic unemployment payment.
I am not stopping the Senator. For the decorum of the House, it is very difficult for Senators to speak when other Senators are interacting with each other. If Senators need to speak to each other, I ask them to step outside. Senator Sherlock will get extra time.
That is grand. We need to see detail on certain matters in advance of the aforementioned Bills coming to the House next week, with regard to those in the arts sector in particular. They are now facing a dual uncertainty, due to the pandemic unemployment payment and the freezing of rents and the eviction ban, as a disproportionate share of people in the arts sector are renting and are not paying mortgages. I ask for that detail on the €10 million performance fund and for certainty on how it will be distributed in the sector. It would be great if it went to organisations and their employees, but there is a very real difficulty for freelancers.
The real issue with yesterday's announcement is that the firepower of the State's resources is being directed at businesses in the hope that it will create jobs and that they would remain viable, but all the usual rules of thumb with regard to the incentives to business, elasticity in putting money in and ensuring that businesses will react accordingly are gone out the door. We simply do not know what the next few months are going to bring for the Irish economy. It is regrettable that we are dependent on businesses and the trickle-down effect to workers. We need certainty for those who are out of jobs, in particular for those depending on the pandemic unemployment payment.
Aontaím leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Sherlock. I agree with pretty much everything Senator Sherlock said when expressing her concerns about some of the specifics announced, or rather not announced, in the July stimulus package.
I am concerned about the way we are doing and are expected to do our business in this House over the next while. While none of us is shying away from the important work facing us over the next few weeks, a number of substantial Bills are coming before us and they are being taken at all Stages. That has been the case for the last number of weeks, for some reasons that are understandable and justifiable. However, we need to reflect on the manner in which legislation is proceeding through the House. It is not good practice for all Stages to be taken in one day. Sometimes all Stages of one or two Bills are being taken in one day. That is unsettling for legitimate parliamentary reasons, but also on the basis of the very legitimate points expressed by Senator Sherlock.If it is a matter of us having to sit a bit longer we should do so, given the Government formation talks went on for so long and the pandemic restrictions prevented us from coming to this place and kept us at home. That is not to say Members were not working, we were all involved in work in our own communities and representing people. If it means that we can better scrutinise and do our job to improve legislation from the Government or the other House we need to look at that. I appreciate that this is not on the Leader. It is something for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to reflect on and is something I will take up next week but I ask Members from both sides of this Chamber to be cognisant of that reality.
I welcome the announcement from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this week that it has granted over £60,000 funding from the reconciliation fund to the CAIN website. For anyone who does not know, CAIN is the conflict archive on the Internet, based in Ulster University. It has been in existence since about 1997 and it is lauded internationally for its comprehensive record of conflict-related incidents. It is held up as an educational, academic and indeed civic asset and resource. As a student of politics, both at A level and in university, it was something I leaned on very heavily. It is cited as a source at the end of many a paper or essay. People were deeply worried that funding had come to an end for the archive and that it may have had to be mothballed. This intervention from the Government and the Department is very welcome because it is such an asset, such a resource. While it is only a temporary stopgap, I hope the universities and others will engage and appreciate just how important this website is and hopefully that funding can continue.
Lockdown has left us with a legacy of domestic violence. Early in lockdown, I spoke extensively about this issue and warned of the dangers, as did many of the organisations who deal with it on a daily basis. It became a powder keg for already difficult situations. In hidden homes, people were experiencing violence and felt they had nowhere to go. The Garda followed up on all previous incidents of domestic violence to ensure that women and men were getting help. However, we now have a legacy that we must deal with.
The programme for Government is the first such programme to mention sexual violence and domestic violence. We really need to look at it immediately because it is not just a matter of how we deal with the actual incidents. Courts were sitting throughout lockdown and barring and protection orders were being given. We have to look at the causes, however. One of the really powerful things within the programme for Government is that we look at prevention of domestic violence, not just dealing with its consequences. I ask the Leader to expedite this in order that we can see some early movement. We are talking a lot about the economic consequences but there are also social consequences that need immediate action. Yesterday we listened to the Irish medical officers speaking about 35 incidents of domestic violence occurring before people actually identified to authorities that they were suffering. As such it not just about how we deal with it through the court system, it is the prevention that we really need to look at.
I echo the points made about how we do business. It is a concern that by the end of next week we will probably have had more Bills go through all Stages than went through the entire last Seanad by means of the "all Stages" mechanism.That is a real concern because the job we are all elected to do is legislative scrutiny. The very real and thoughtful concerns that Senator Sherlock expressed on social welfare payments and the insight that everyone on all sides of the House may have about different Bills is not being given an opportunity to be properly engaged with, to be properly considered by Ministers and to be an aid to them in improving legislation. We need to look at that and make a very clear statement that that is not how business is going to continue. Certainly, when we return in September we cannot be in a situation where there is not an appropriate opportunity for scrutiny between Committee and Report Stages of legislation. In the past, this is very often where things have actually happened because an amendment brought in good faith on Committee Stage may be engaged with by a Department and then by Report Stage become a Government amendment. That is a healthy conversation and we are missing the opportunity for that at the moment. I urge that we look at how we plan to move forward with the legislative process and of course all of those other matters being addressed in the Dáil where Members are having debates on the July stimulus package, for example. In our very first session in this Chamber there were calls for a debate on the package prior to its announcement. We did not have such a debate. Now, we should at least have some opportunity next week to reflect on it. There are very good measures in that package. Some measures relating to public services and the arts need to be strengthened. That input from us can help to inform the October strategy. As such it is important that we have the Seanad doing its work.
In that same spirit of valuing the Seanad and caring about what it does, I am very happy to support the taking of No. 5 before No. 1 today, which relates to the introduction of the Seanad Reform Bill 2020. Many of us, across all sides of the House, entered the previous Seanad very keen to move forward on this issue. I am looking at Senator Ned O'Sullivan and thinking of Senators Warfield, McDowell and others. We put a great many hours into thinking about how we could move forward with Seanad reform. We wanted to reflect the mandate given by the public in 1979 for the expansion of the university franchise and in 2013 when the public, many of whom had no vote in Seanad elections, and who as non-graduates may never have had a vote, voted to retain the Seanad and reform it. I am glad that new Members are also interested in these issues and I hope that we make this Seanad the place where we constructively find ways to move forward.
I wish to raise an issue that is of major concern to me and rural Ireland. It is of concern on a broader scale as well. I refer to the control of the noxious weed called ragwort. Anyone who travels on a road will see this yellow weed and to the uninformed, it may look well. It is a nice yellow weed to view but it is a noxious weed. Livestock and horses avoid eating it. If they eat it in a wilted or withered form after it has been cut, it is poisonous.
It is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to oversee the control of this weed under the Noxious Weeds Act 1936. However, based on discussing the issue with farmers and general observation, its prevalence is in fields close to roads and it is very prevalent on roadsides. It is not being controlled by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, or the local authorities and the seeds are spreading. Farmers, even with the best husbandry in the world, have lost control in their fields adjacent to roads because it is spreading from the roadside. It is important that the Leader communicates with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine which have responsibility. Officials need to communicate with TII, the local authorities and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Until it is controlled on the roadsides and the verges, the farmers will be fighting a losing battle.
I am sure the Leader will join me and other Senators in proposing a vote of sympathy for the late Mr. Terry Brennan, a former Member of this House. I ask that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, discusses how we move forward with expressing votes of sympathy for former Members.It was usual that the family would come here on the day on which sympathies were expressed. I am sure that while that is not possible at this stage, there is a way forward.
In recent days the European Commission has given the Government the green light for the electricity support scheme to proceed. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan, outlined this in the Dáil. It is great to see this coming forward but it presents problems for communities. It includes a preference category to support communities to develop their own renewable energy projects, but they have a lot of problems in this field. First, the communities do not have the cash to develop these wind farms. Second, they have problems with the planning process, which is very detailed, complicated and expensive, and they need support on that. LEADER provides feasibility study funding for communities to develop wind farms and to have feasibility studies carried out, but that process is complicated as well and slow-moving. I ask the Leader to get the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and perhaps the Minister with responsibility for rural affairs to come before the House at some stage in order that we might have a debate on the problems faced by community farms, whether onshore or offshore, in developing wind energy or offshore projects.
I agree with what Senator Paddy Burke said about deceased former Members. The late Farrell McElgunn, a former Senator and MEP, departed this life in March as well. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.
It was reported, a Chathoirligh agus a Threoraí, that the Cabinet on Tuesday approved the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020, under which terms a witness would no longer be required to swear before God or to make an affirmation when filing an affidavit. What is proposed instead is that people will be able to make a statement of truth remotely. This was said by the Law Society to be welcome because it would put an end to what it called the "embarrassing" practice of a witness having to indicate his or her religious faith when making an affidavit. I disagree with the welcome given to this proposal because it attacks genuine pluralism by depriving people swearing an affidavit of the option of making a solemn oath. What we should do is recommend by all means, if we must, the introduction of a statement of truth but in addition to an oath or affirmation. In a similar way we found a very good arrangement in the Seanad whereby, instead of the prayer as Gaeilge and in English, we start with 30 seconds of silence, which is a very appropriate way to recognise that all Members, of all faiths and none, approach their duties here in a solemn and respectful fashion. Indeed, in the absence of an oath or affirmation, the question of making a legally sanctionable statement of truth is a meaningless formula anyway because the law can simply provide for the prosecution of those who knowingly make false statements or averments in affidavits. The effort is further weakened by providing that all this could be done remotely, without a person having to present before a solicitor or notary public to make this statement of truth. This is all rather badly thought through. This measure ignores a genuine lack of pluralism that exists whereby judges and Presidents are required to make a religious oath. What is happening here, perhaps, is an attempt to anticipate the creation of some kind of one-size-fits-all formula for these cases as well. It is not good public policy to regard religious belief or lack thereof as an exclusively private matter. What we have here is a weakening of the atmosphere of solemnity and a failure to recognise that the dignity and seriousness of the State have always been bolstered by references to those questions of ultimate meaning. They have buttressed the rule of law in this country, whatever views or outlooks on those questions of ultimate meaning people have.
I would like the Leader to give consideration to organising a debate on the stimulus package announced yesterday. There will be a serious injection of capital with some €5.4 billion going into the economy to try to address the very significant fallout from Covid-19. I understand that this is the largest amount - or wall of money, as I heard one commentator refer to it today - ever injected into our economy. Additionally, more €2 billion in loans will be guaranteed to a great extent by the State.The real objective of this has to be to pump-prime our economy. A debate here would be helpful because we need to tease out some aspects of this. We cannot allow, as often happens, red tape to get in the way. I have already had some people on to me from bed and breakfast businesses who were initially delighted to see a recognition of the impact on their sector but who are now concerned, since they may not be registered with Bord Fáilte, that they will not be able to be accommodated.
There is also the temporary wage subsidy scheme. Companies applying for the scheme will have to demonstrate that they have been impacted to the extent of a drop in activity of a minimum of 25%. What we do not want is companies ensuring they remain below that threshold in order to get the payment.
We need a debate here to try to ensure a degree of flexibility and a capacity to appeal certain decisions in respect of the payment of these sums because their whole purpose is to try to get people back to work rapidly and get activity going again. It is absolutely necessary to ensure some flexibilities in respect of the various criteria. Of course there must be criteria, and their purpose must be to assist companies that are affected to the greatest extent. However, if one company has seen a drop in turnover of 25% and is entitled to the wage subsidy scheme, and if another company has seen a drop of only 24.5% and gets nothing, there is an anomaly there that needs to be addressed. We must therefore be very careful in the application of the necessary criteria. A debate would help to clear up some of the potential confusion that might emerge.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Dooley. I think we would all welcome a debate on the announcement yesterday. If time could be made available next week to have such a debate, that should happen. I was looking at the schedule for next week and we seem to have a gap on Wednesday morning, so perhaps that morning would be the time to have such a debate.
As the Cathaoirleach will be aware, this is Farm Safety Week. In 2015, this House, through the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, an excellent committee of which the Cathaoirleach is a member and which has done fine work and published some great reports over the years, did a report on farm safety. I had the privilege of being the rapporteur for that report. Senators who were here at the time will remember that we had many witnesses before the committee over, I think, two days of public hearings. There was a significant engagement. In 2014, 30 people lost their lives as a result of farm accidents. Sadly, while this figure has improved, so far this year 14 people have lost their lives tragically as a result of accidents on farms. I commend the Government on taking the initiative of appointing for the first time a Minister of State with specific responsibility for farm safety. This was discussed during the deliberations on the report to which I referred and it is very welcome. I suggest to the Leader that she invite, perhaps in the autumn, the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, whose responsibility farm safety is, before the House for a debate on farm safety. It would give him an opportunity to update us on the work he is doing on farm safety. Perhaps there are Senators who would have suggestions that would help him in the critical work he is doing.
Over the past few days, we have heard many people discuss, and quite rightly so, the need for people across the island to staycation, as the concept has become known. It is right for so many reasons that we encourage those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford a holiday to stay on the island, not least because it would help our economy and industry.It also encourages people to learn more about their own heritage and cultural identity. I ask that the Leader at this point consider having a conversation with her colleagues with responsibility for tourism and suggest there should be some sort of quick intervention between Tourism NI, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to promote the island as a whole. We have a small window of opportunity to do that. Obviously, we are in the middle of the holiday season, but it would be useful if those three bodies could come together and begin to market and promote the one island as a place for people who are fortunate enough to holiday to come together.
A place I have spoken about many times in this Chamber - Members may not have heard of it as it is marketed - is the north west city region. It is a place I encourage anyone here today and further afield across the island to visit. Everything is on one's doorstep. The north west city region has a city, namely, Derry, in the middle of it for a city break, and Donegal, which has some of the finest beaches and best golf courses. I could say plenty about Derry and all the tourist attractions there, but I will not as I am running out of time. However, an opportunity could be missed if we do not ask all those agencies to come together as a matter of urgency to try and promote the one island.
I wish to raise the question of the community employment, CE, supervisors pension scheme. The Cathaoirleach will be aware there was a Labour Court recommendation in 2008. This has been the subject of a long-running series of discussions. I am aware the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, is due to meet representatives of the supervisors next week. I am hopeful that we will finally be able to reach agreement. Many of these CE supervisors have been working for a long number of years. It is important that we implement the Labour Court recommendation and that these supervisors have access to an occupational pension scheme.
Much of the focus has been on the emphasis on remote working. The Government has started a consultation process around remote working and this is welcome. However, it will be difficult for our towns and villages, which will be the centres of remote working, to continue to develop unless there is adequate water and waste water infrastructure. When we have a debate on housing, representatives of Irish Water should be invited to come here to talk about the water and waste water schemes we need in place in smaller towns and villages around the country to allow them to be sustainable. That will help in terms of regional development but also in providing housing. I am conscious that in my own county, vibrant towns and villages like Camolin, Ferns, Our Lady's Island, Ramsgrange and Campile do not have the necessary water and waste water. It will be impossible for them to develop unless those schemes are developed. I am sure the Leader has found the same in her own country. I hope that when we have that debate on housing, Irish Water will brought in to give answers on that issue as well.
I believe the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, should come to the House next week. Notwithstanding the difficult job the Leader has, there is merit in the comments of Senator Higgins this morning regarding all Stages of Bills. It is important for us to have our own autonomy here. In advance of the schools and our educational establishments reopening in September, we should have a debate in the House next week on education and the reopening of our schools. Let me put it in context. A principal in Dunmanway, Mr. Niall Murphy, put out a tweet yesterday in which he said that 2 m equals eight students in a 7 m by 7 m classroom. Therefore, 1 m equals 16 students in a 7 m by 7 m classroom.
It is important we have clarity earlier rather than later regarding our return to third level, post-primary and primary schools. We are heading into the last week of July and one thing our schools do very well is organise. It is important that the Government and the Minister, Deputy Foley, come into this House next week to give us all clarity.I speak as a former teacher who has been engaged with some of my former colleagues on the return of schools and third level institutions. We now have blended and online education but, as we all know, children need to be in the classroom in the school setting for their sociological, educational and physiological development. I appeal to the Leader to have a debate next week, not an adversarial one but one in which clarity and certainty can be given to all who are involved in our schools.
I will speak about direct provision and some serious concerns raised by residents of direct provision centres about how they are treated. These are based on recent correspondence residents received from the international protection accommodation service, IPAS, regarding those who leave direct provision overnight and similar matters. The correspondence states that in line with previous public health advice, any resident who is absent from the centre for one night or more without notifying the manager will not be permitted to return to the centre and will have to formally reapply to IPAS to be re-accommodated. It goes on to state this will include a required 14-day quarantine period in an appropriate isolation location. Huge concerns have been raised about this. I ask the Leader to appeal to the Minister for Justice and Equality for common sense to prevail. People in direct provision are grown adults. This decision is not in line with any public health advice to any other resident in the State. There are deep concerns about this and the infantilisation and treatment of those in direct provision.
On that note, Dundalk Institute of Technology, DkIT, has announced a sanctuary scholarship. Many other institutions have such scholarships and these need to be much more widespread. I encourage Senators to share information on sanctuary scholarships that may be available in their local areas.
The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, MASI, is taking a survey of educational attainment and aspirations of those in direct provision and the asylum process. This research is valuable given our new razor-sharp focus on post-second level education. I encourage the new Ministers, one of whom was in the Chamber yesterday, to engage with MASI and other such groups on the issue of educational attainment and opportunities for those living in direct provision or the asylum process.
As I will not be in the House to say this next week, Eid celebrations will take place in Croke Park this day next week and I wish all the participants and organisers well.
I echo the concerns expressed by Senator O'Reilly on the serious issue of domestic violence. Women's Aid and Safe Ireland need resources and we need to work on preventing domestic violence and protecting women.
I also echo Senator McCallion's contribution on cross-Border tourism. Last week, I stated that the North-South Ministerial Council should look at connecting and joining forces in tourism marketing. I want to add to the list of tourism hotspots by name-dropping Slieve Gullion and the Mourne and Cooley mountains.
I welcome the July stimulus which provides €4 billion in direct expenditure, €1 billion for taxation measures to directly support businesses and €2 billion in credit guarantees, as well as the new employment wage support schemes, the restart grant and €2 million investment in training and education. The list goes on. On the day of the announcement, the leader of the Opposition described the stimulus as miserly and lacking in ambition. Yesterday afternoon, the same party opposed the setting up of a new Department of higher education dedicated to empowering citizens to improve themselves through further education and reach their potential in whatever way that will be. That is miserly and lacking in ambition.
The July stimulus is an excellent package for many workers and businesses. It needs to be teased out as it is not perfect but, as my colleague, Senator Dooley, said, these things can be tweaked. The stimulus is part of our recovery and we have other schemes which assist in many other ways. I also look forward to hearing how other sectors, namely, day-care services, health services, childcare services and, in particular, schools, will get back to some semblance of pre-Covid normality.
In the past week, Jack Charlton was laid to rest and the East Belfast GAA club was officially launched. One may initially feel that those two events do not have an awful lot in common but there is a common denominator: they did, and will, bring people together. Sport brings people together. It has a dividend in a sense of community, health and mindfulness. It also has a business dividend because sport is an employer and a revenue generator. Sport brings people together. Some Munster, Connacht and Leinster fans visited Belfast for the first time to watch interprovincial rugby matches. Almost more important, our friends from the North also came south for the first time.
Soccer, the beautiful game, is struggling in this country. Jack Charlton was an iconic Leeds United figure and English international footballer. He was a quintessential English sportsman whom we took into our hearts as one of our own. If one ever wanted to see a crest that tells a thousand words, one should look at the crest of East Belfast GAA club. England, Ireland and Ulster Scots are represented on it. Sport can bring people together, yet the beautiful game is on its knees at the moment. I ask the two governments on this island to consult with clubs and UEFA. I am actively pursuing this and ask other Senators to come with me and come up with suggestions as to how we can reinject vigour into soccer on the island of Ireland. An all-island league is one way to go. Perhaps the winner of the league should be entered into the first round proper of the English or Scottish FA cups.
The Seanad can be a catalyst for good in that regard. We bemoaned the fact that no Northern Irish person was appointed a Member of the Upper House a few weeks ago. We might have a role to play here. We must bring back the spirit of Barry McGuigan, the Clones Cyclone, a Monaghan man who was adopted in Ulster Hall. Let us work together and let the Upper House be a catalyst. We do not have a Northern Irish representative among us but that means we should work twice as hard. We bemoan the absence of such a representative but I am redoubling my efforts to do all we can to help bring our people together in a positive way.
I second what has been said about having a debate next week, if possible, on education and children who may be left behind, including young children in direct provision, working class areas and the Traveller community. Such a debate is needed and next week would be a good time to have it.
As a woman, I am privileged to stand here today and congratulate Deputy Catherine Connolly on her election yesterday. I am not very good at Irish and I feel a little awkward to admit that I do not know how to pronounce the position to which she was elected. I will call her chairperson for now, even though that is a little inappropriate, until I learn my Irish. I congratulate Deputy Connolly, as a woman, and it is brilliant to have a woman in that position for the first time in the history of the State. I look forward to working with her and Deputy Ó Fearghaíl and having two strong leaders in the Dáil. I congratulate them both.
I raise the issue of the Kings River in Callan, County Kilkenny. I spoke last night to my colleague and friend, Councillor Joe Lyons, a representative in that area. The community in Callan is at a loss about what to do about the levels of silt that have built up between the two bridges in the town. It has reached a point where the riverbed has reached the same height as the riverbank. Kilkenny County Council published a detailed strategic flooding assessment in April 2019. A couple of years ago, the council provided €75,000 for the river. That money was used to clean out the river and riverbanks while doing nothing for the riverbed, which is the main cause of the problem. The council has essentially told Councillor Lyons that responsibility for the riverbed lies solely with Waterways Ireland.Waterways Ireland has carried out tests and reports, hemmed and hawed and not got anywhere with it. It has said that finance is the biggest issue, that it cannot afford to desilt the river because it would cost €365,000 to do it in the first place and that if it were done, it would have to be done again in a couple of years' time.
Councillor Lyons told me that the community is at a loss as to what to do. I suggest to the Leader that it would be timely if we could have a debate about Waterways Ireland and, more importantly, perhaps a wider debate about what we are doing to protect the rivers on this island, North and South. We must consider what we can do to make sure rivers do not get to a point where one cannot see where the riverbed is anymore and one can almost walk across it. It would be timely to do that. I know we will not be able to have that debate next week but perhaps we could look at it when we return in September.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House at her convenience, probably during the autumn session, to outline the Government's plans to deal with hate crime and the legislation, if any, that is envisaged. The matter was well discussed in both Houses prior to this year's general election, but we did not get to the stage of taking any real action on it. We are lagging behind in comparison to Europe in this regard. We all know that hate crime is a prejudiced, mindless attack on any individual or group because of the colour of their skin, sexual orientation or anything of that nature. That is abhorrent to all reasonable people. On a more micro level, we see hate speech every day on social media. Last week, slightly in jest but not fully, I put up on Twitter that people who post anonymously should be put onto a separate forum or platform to those of us who identify ourselves and stand over what we have to say. Let those anonymous people go onto that other platform and have a happy time abusing each other and let other people get on with catching up with the news and having an occasional joust with somebody or other in a reasonable way. Some of the things that are said on Twitter are hate crimes. When I say that, the people responsible will respond that I am interfering with freedom of speech. Indeed I am not. In fact, they are an attack on freedom of speech.
Right-minded people will not be prepared to stand up and give a decent, honest opinion when they are going to be subjected to the vilest anonymous tirade of abuse. It is also spilling over into politics as well. I am not pointing the figure at any particular party but we should all take note that wise use of social media offers a political advantage and some are better at it than others. My own party has a lot to learn about the use of social media. That use of social media must be reasonable and civilised. I hope the Minister, in her own time, will come before us and debate the issue.
I echo the congratulations extended by Senator Flynn to Deputy Connolly on her election yesterday as Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It was a wonderful, well-deserved achievement. She is certainly a Teachta Dála whom I admire greatly. She always sticks up for and does the right thing. She is well deserving of the position to which she has been elected and I am delighted that she won the vote yesterday. I congratulate all the Deputies who voted for her and gave her that honour. Please God, I will call all the female Deputies and Senators together for a photo on the plinth next week to celebrate. It is something wonderful that women in politics must celebrate. When we see other women doing well, we must get in behind them. We must encourage women into politics when we can. A young woman yesterday left the stage of politics, or is at least talking about leaving the stage. That is a great shame because losing someone of the talent of Saoirse McHugh to the arena of politics is not good for politics. I would like to see the women in the Seanad and the Dáil getting out there and encouraging more women into politics.It does not matter whether it is done through the party system or independently, as I have done, the doors are there and they can be opened so please go for it.
I second the call by Senator Ned O'Sullivan for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House. A colleague of mine in Louth, Councillor Paddy McQuillan, has suggested that proceeds of drug crime be used for rehabilitation services. If the Minister, Deputy McEntee, came to the House to discuss this, I would be very appreciative.
I recognise the passing of Dr. Ali from Tyrrelstown in west Dublin and I pay tribute to his life, work and sacrifice, and that of his very young family. I also acknowledge the seven other health workers in Ireland who tragically lost their lives because of Covid-19. Their names and that of Dr. Ali should be remembered.
Yesterday, we had the announcement of the July jobs initiative, which includes €75 million for minor works for primary and secondary schools to prepare for the much anticipated and needed return to school. There has been an ambitious schools building programme under way since 2019, with commitments to build 42 primary and secondary throughout the State. This excludes all of the major extensions that have been going on in recent years to deal with our growing population needs. One of the schools committed to is in what is described as Blanchardstown west and Blanchardstown village, but will actually look after the needs of people west of the M50 and south of the N3, in areas such as Ongar, Clonsilla and Carpenterstown. It will accommodate 800 secondary school students. It will open in temporary accommodation in September and is under the patronage of Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board with an accomplished team of teachers. Its name is Ériu community college and Ériu is where Éire comes from. Despite all of this good news, the school does not yet have a permanent site. A permanent site has not been identified and this is a barrier to enrolment, particularly at this uncertain time. Will the Leader request an update from the Minister for Education and Skills on the permanent site for this school? I know that next week we will have a discussion with the Minister for Education and Skills but perhaps she will come to the Seanad in September to discuss the capital programme and the needs we have identified in our communities.
I apologise to my colleagues; I am not wearing a face mask because I have mislaid it but I have one on the way. I notice all of my colleagues are wearing one and I offer my sincere apologies.
I want to tell the House a very short story.
When I was came to the Oireachtas as a Deputy in 2016 I met many bright people, many new and old faces from politics and many staff. The same happened when I became a Member of the Seanad. One of the questions I was asked was where I was from. When I said I was from County Roscommon, what was the reply 70% of the time?
No. People said they had never been in County Roscommon, except to drive through it on the way to Westport. I will not spend my time speaking about Rooskey, the River Shannon, Lough Key, Arigna, Loughnanane Park and Slieve Bawn. I will use my slot to speak about tourism. I am very glad to see one of our colleagues, Senator McDowell, seeing the good fresh air and good people of Roscommon. He joins us there frequently but I know that because of the lockdown, he has not been able to spend as much time as usual with us. It is a lovely county. That is my little bit for tourism. Rather than pass through Roscommon, people should stop. That message is directed in particular at Senator Dooley because a lot of Roscommon people go to County Clare.
Very briefly, the package announced yesterday is very important and a lot of money is involved.I take cognisance of what Senator McDowell said yesterday about an awful lot of money being tied up in it and there will not be money for everyone. That is a fact. I agree with the comments made by some Members that we should have a debate in the House. There are issues regarding sole traders and others that need to be recognised. The Minister, Deputy McGrath, and other members of the Government will be anxious to have these matters fleshed out to see whether we can do something for that sector. I particularly refer to the arts sector, as has been mentioned. I acknowledge this fact and that we need to have a debate about the package in the House.
All Senators from the previous term will consider which Bills to resubmit. One of the Bills of which I am most proud is the amendment to the Gender Recognition Act, which tried to right the wrong of the exclusion of young people from the original Act. The House has a proud record of support and shows of empathy for our trans community, who bear the brunt of attacks on all of the LGBTIQ communities. Before I resubmit the legislation I want to ask the Leader, in line with the programme for Government commitment, when the Government intends to bring forward legislation to recognise the right of self-determination for 16 and 17 year old transgender people? Will it considering extending this right of self-determination, or even with parental consent, to those under the age of 16? Will the Leader explain why need further research is needed into those aged under 16, when the review group, established as it so happens by the Leader's former Department, included research from experts on child welfare and legal rights and Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, and consulted doctors, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and parental rights? Has the scoping exercise begun on non-binary identities? Will it be completed by December as previously stated by the Leader when she was Minister? It is not a phase. Trans men are men and trans women are women.
I want to raise the issue of the limit on attendance at outdoor events at 200 people. I am not sure many people had the opportunity to watch the Wexford senior hurling championship match between St. Martins and Oulart-The Ballagh but to see 200 people in a venue the size of Wexford Park when our numbers are where they are is not reasonable. In dealing with the pandemic we have shown a level of flexibility that we need again. GAA matches and other events throughout the country are taking place and organisations are struggling with the pandemic. We should not put in place false limits that will impact on the finances of organisations.
Club GAA matches will happen in every county with 200 people attending. It is not right when the Covid-19 numbers are as good as they are. We had seven new cases one day during the week. On average, there are approximately 17 new cases a day, which is less than one case per county. We are still allowing only 200 people attend an outdoor event. The flexibility required was there previously and should still be there. We should consider opening up these events to more than 200 people. I will not put a figure on it as there are people who are better capable and more qualified than me regarding public health who should be able to put a figure on it. We need to move to a better place than we currently are. The figure of 200 is an error and we need to get back to some degree of normality.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for letting me in. There was a lot of talk towards the end of the previous Government about the massive number of 600 people who wanted to return to the Defence Forces. We now find that of the 600, 400 were deemed ineligible and, to date, only 11 have been called.Those 11 have not responded as of yesterday, as far as I am aware, as to whether they will take up the call. Let us be honest about it, the call was never about Covid-19. It was about trying to fill a gap due to the failure of retention policies. I know the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is in place and has taken a hands-on approach. I sincerely hope we will see a turnaround in the fortunes of the Defence Forces, given that we now know that two further ships - that is half of the entire naval fleet - will be tied up by the end of this year. They will not be able to patrol the seas, protect Ireland from people smuggling and drug running or protect the fisheries they are charged with responsibilities for. It is interesting to note that abatement was waived for people returning to the HSE but not for members of the Defence Forces, which means the whole thing was a scam in the first place. It was really a retention crisis they were trying to fix. I hope the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will do a much better job.
I would like to place on record my appreciation and, I am sure, this House's appreciation for the many hundreds of veterans around the country who have given up their time and personal resources to deliver meals on wheels and various other things to the public. They are under the radar and they are not high-profile people. I think this House, this Government and this country owes them a great debt of thanks.
I second Senator McDowell's amendment to the Order of Business and I will make one point on legislation. The running of legislation through the House with all Stages in one day or in one sitting is fundamentally wrong and debases this House. I know the Leader is under pressure to get urgent legislation through but I sincerely hope this practice stops as soon as we return in the autumn.
I wish to acknowledge the Irish giving spirit Senator Craughwell has talked about because it extends to many more groups of people and communities than just the veterans he referred to. We cannot acknowledge it enough. It is inherent in all of our DNA. We are a very giving people. Irish communities and societies are a great example of what we can do when we work together.
I will briefly go through some of the things that have been asked of me. The first thing is to say I gladly accept Senator McDowell's amendment. That is no problem at all.
On Senator Paddy Burke's point, I will be in contact with Terry Brennan's family. We would rather do it in a way that not just dignifies our respect to our loved colleague but also allows his family to participate in our expressions of love and appreciation for Terry. I will contact the family and do it at some stage later in the year when it is more appropriate for us to welcome them.
Various colleagues have brought up the fact that we have in the last number of weeks and will continue next week to debate Bills at all Stages. I would like to apologise but it is not being done in any sense to annoy, to detract from crucial analysis of legislation or to detract from the valued input from all Members of this House to Government legislation. It is being done because most of the legislation we are passing at the moment is required by citizens, either to fix something that is wrong or is going to run out, as in the case of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020, or to provide other supports that are needed by Irish people as a result of the financial strains arising from Covid. I do not intend for us to conduct our business in that way when we come back in September unless there is a need for something to be turned around very quickly. I will communicate with all leaders and Whips on a weekly basis to make sure we are all happy. I have no intention of continuing to do business as we have done it over the last couple of weeks. I appreciate Senators' support in allowing us to pass a sizeable amount of legislation in the last two weeks and in the next two.
For Members' knowledge, in case they do not already know, there will be three debates in the House next week. One will be with the Minister for Education and Skills and I am sure it will centre around the reopening of our schools. I believe we will get notification of the protocols for the reopening of schools, both primary and secondary, on Monday. The Minister will be with us on Tuesday. As a parent of four children in education, it is vital. This is not just because they need to get back into learning mode which has been unusual, to say the least, in the last couple of months, but also because their mental health and well-being is crucial to engaging with their peers and teachers, and I do not mean over Zoom calls or on iPads.That is not to discount the enormous effort that has been put in on behalf of our teachers in the past couple of months, which we appreciate.
We will have the Minister with responsibility for tourism in the House and I acknowledge everybody's promotion of their own county this morning. In my own county, the Boyne Valley is an enormously popular place and I encourage anyone who is looking at coming to Meath to certainly do so. It is important for us all to recognise that we need to give each other in different counties a dig out. People are welcome to counties Roscommon, Galway or Kerry. We have a beautiful island. I am assured we are getting beautiful weather from next week so we should encourage each other to go to every county. The suggestion made by Senator McCallion is very important. We should market our country on an all-island basis. The Minister will be here next Tuesday and Senators should put their suggestions to her.
We will have a July stimulus package debate next Thursday because all the financial provisions that underpin the package announced yesterday have to be passed by both Houses next week.
Some of the routine issues that have been badly affected do not get the exposure they deserve. I am particularly concerned about domestic violence, which has really been brought to everybody's attention in the past couple of months. When we see the increase in cases of domestic violence that have been reported not only to the wonderful organisations that support our women and men who are sufferers but also to the Garda Síochána, it is an issue that needs and deserves more highlighting than it has ever got. I do not say this disrespectfully, but it is something that falls to the women of this House and the Lower House in the main but I genuinely ask our male colleagues here to start speaking about it more than they have in the past because it is an issue that affects every family in this country in some way, shape or form. We should talk about it a lot more.
I welcome the meeting that will talk place with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform next week for our CE supervisors. As some Senators will be aware, I have enormous respect for the work and the individuals and would love to see a resolution, which was not possible in the previous two Dáileanna, take place in this Dáil. I am appreciative of the Minister for meeting them next week. Hearing them is important but especially so is acting and finding a solution, which exists, and I hope it gets over the line next week.
I do not believe gender rights require more review. I say this as the person who had the privilege of being fed the results of the previous review that was done. As far as I am aware, the legislation is practically drafted to enable us in this House and the Dáil to give the right to 16 and 17-year-olds, with the consent of both of their parents, to change their gender through documentation in this country if they want. That debate should be had and I will contact the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, to see where we are, particularly in respect of the new review suggested in the programme for Government because I do not think there is any need to have a new review. We have done the work and the work that needs to be done now is to publish and to pass the legislation.
The single largest investment in the history of the State was announced by the Government yesterday not in the businesses of Ireland but in the people of Ireland. The money that will be given to businesses to support wages will support families up and down this country who otherwise may not have a job because the companies would not be able to financially support those people for the next weeks, months and perhaps longer. I refer to the extensions of the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the pandemic unemployment payment for those who are unfortunately out of work temporarily at the moment, all the financial measures that will be put in place for the retraining, reskilling and re-employing of all those people in different and new industries, all the waivers in respect of costs for those businesses and everything else that was announced yesterday. Some Members commented that it is not perfect but the last thing it is, and I say this with respect, is miserly.
It is the single biggest investment in Irish people we have ever seen in the history of the State. There is an important role for Opposition to point out the flaws, but it would be lovely if just for once, in a sign of solidarity, the Opposition recognised that the State in all of its forms has an obligation to support every citizen in this country and yesterday's significant announcement was an important second step in that role. We had the first step in March and April, we had the second step yesterday and, hopefully, we will have the final steps before we get back to the new normal in the budget in October.A simple acknowledgent of the single largest investment ever in Irish people, which was announced yesterday, would go a long way if we are to continue with the mantra that we are all in this together.
Before the Order of Business is agreed, it was mentioned that the former Senator, Farrell McElgunn, had died. Perhaps the Leader would correspond with the McElgunn family in Carrick-on-Shannon along with the Brennan family.
We will bring that up at the CPP, as suggested.
Senator McDowell has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 5 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.