Thursday, 30 July 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. a1, Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020 - all Stages, to be taken at 12.15 p.m. with the time allocated to the groups' spokespersons in the debate on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes each, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 2, motion regarding earlier signature of the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020, to be taken on conclusion of No. a1 without debate.
I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government at the earliest opportunity after we return from the summer recess to examine investment in water and sewerage infrastructure in rural areas in this country. In the county I know best, County Clare, there are four villages - Broadford, Cooraclare, Carrigaholt and Doolin - where there are no Irish Water assets. Raw sewage is pumped into local rivers and courses in a number of these areas, which is very damaging to the environment. It also has a significant impact on the capacity of these villages to grow and develop, which is an important part of balanced regional development. Let us consider what has happened as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many more people now wish to work from home. It is clear from the research that has been done on the wishes of people who work in our cities that they would like to work from home. That creates a great opportunity for rural areas to attract people from the cities. If one does not have to work in the city centre five days of the week and if one does not have to clog up the traffic lanes, this is an opportunity for people to move back to their native communities in some cases and for others to have the experience of living outside the capital and major cities.
There is a plan, albeit rolled out too slowly, to provide broadband in many of these locations. However, there is no point installing more services until basic water and sewerage services are provided. I appeal to the Deputy Leader to organise this debate at the earliest opportunity so we can have an important dialogue on how we plan for our country and the living arrangements of our people in a post-Covid environment. We hear a great deal about shovel-ready projects and capital investment in key infrastructure as methods of rebooting our economy. I can think of no better area in which to invest than water and sewerage schemes, especially the smaller schemes and the schemes that fall outside the main priority of Irish Water. If we can get that right, we can relieve the pressures on our cities and give an opportunity to people who wish to live in the areas they know best and to build strong communities that will protect our schools and the other services that are in great need of more population. In that way we can work towards the idea of balanced regional development.
I have been contacted by Ann Marie Flanagan, advocacy officer, and Martin Tobin of the Clare Leader Forum and they have raised many serious issues. From the nature of their questions it appears that we have not moved far from the outdated medical model to the more inclusive and appropriate social model when it comes to people living with disabilities. For a start, they question why Deputy Rabbitte is Minister of State with special responsibility for disability in the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality while Deputy O'Gorman is Minister with responsibility for children, disability, equality and integration. This is a bizarre carve-up of an area that requires the full and singular attention of one Minister. If one were to be cynical about it, the current arrangement allows for endless forwarding of matters for attention from one to the other, which is an impediment to progress and resolution.
They are equally concerned that both are Ministers with responsibility for disability, not the more inclusive term of Minister for disabled persons or people with disabilities. It might sound like something small, but semantics are important. It is indicative of the mindset which places people with disabilities outside the collaborative and consultative framework, as a problem to be solved by service providers. This regressive step was illustrated at a recent meeting of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, which heard from the professional lobby of service providers, without one disabled person or disabled people's organisation representing people with disabilities being present. The Clare group wants to be included as equals to contribute to meaningful solutions. Nobody is better positioned to do so.
Martin and Ann Marie express the matter well when they say that the political narrative about their lives needs to move to equality and that we need to disentangle disabled people's lives from service provision. They say
Because of our lives we are more than just service. We are human beings. We have real feelings, dreams and ambitions. We are citizens, adults, parents, children, workers, students, transport users, climate activists, people in need of housing, mortgage holders, users of all health services affected by the pandemic, just like everybody else.
On legislation we have always been behind the curve. We adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006 but it took us until April 2018 to ratify it. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 has yet to be fully implemented, and the Disability Act 2005 protects the State's preventing disabled people and parents of disabled children from access to legal recourse if not provided with vital services.
I have a lot more to say on behalf of this very articulate group. I ask that at some stage we provide a space in our timeframe to allow for public consultation with actual disabled people rather than service providers. The disabled people themselves deserve the right to be heard in the Lower House of Parliament. I, therefore, ask that the Deputy Leader and the Leader between themselves find time for this.
Yesterday I raised the very serious situation in the Skellig Star direct provision centre in Cahersiveen. I asked that the House would hear statements from a Minister on the very stark humanitarian crisis that residents in the centre are facing and an update on the Government's plans to bring the system of direct provision to an end. It was the responsible thing to do to suggest we provide an opportunity to hear such an update, engage on this issue and raise concerns, not least given the fact that residents in the Cahersiveen direct provision centre have started a hunger strike and that they have serious concerns about their access to safe drinking water. These are all very serious and real concerns. Senators from Fianna Fáil agreed with me and Senator Hoey when we raised these issues and, if it is to be believed, the Green Party will take credit for adding an end to direct provision into the programme for Government.
The purpose of raising this issue yesterday and seeking to amend the Order of Business was to give the Government parties an opportunity to sort this out. They have not done so. I have not had so much as a piece of correspondence or a phone call about this even asking for a bit more time - nothing. There has been absolute radio silence. All the while the situation in the Skellig Star continues. That is really not good enough. I, therefore, propose an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a Minister, preferably the Minister for Justice or the Minister with responsibility for children, disability, equality and integration, come before the House to update Members on this situation and the process to bring direct provision to an end." It is not too much to ask as we come to the end of our business before the summer break. This amendment does not seek to delay or hinder any legislation. It seeks a debate in the House on a very stark, real, immediate and dangerous humanitarian situation. If we are not even going to acknowledge the authoritarian approach of the Government parties on this with a debate or an update, it is a very worrying and very concerning potential sign of things to come, and I do not think this side of the House will be too accepting of it.
I support Senator Ó Donnghaile's amendment. He is right in what he says about Cahersiveen. He mentioned my colleague, Senator Hoey, who has raised this very important issue. We will back his call for an amendment.
The issue I wish to raise is that of medical cards, particularly the renewal of same. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House in order that we might debate with him the issues surrounding medical cards at this time. This is nothing new for me to bring up here. In April, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in reply to a question I asked him here, stated that he did not want to see medical card renewals "become a burden for people during this time". In fairness, he stated that he made this clear to his Department and the HSE. This seemed to work, and I am sure Members will have dealt with cases in which medical card holders had been told their renewals were okay until 2021 and beyond. The reason I bring this up today is that I have had a number of calls this week and, even though we are still in the middle of a pandemic and supposedly "all in this together", it looks as if renewals are back on the table again. One such call I got this week, on Tuesday, was from a man in his late 60s. He had spent seven months in hospital, most of that time, unfortunately, with the dreaded Covid virus. He has a medical card that is valid until the end of October, but one of the first letters he received on his arrival home stated that he must renew his medical card. These cards, as I have said previously, are comfort blankets for so many people. The stress this man is now under is unbelievable. This should not be the case. As the previous Minister for Health said, he did not want to see medical card renewals being a burden in April due to the pandemic. We are still in that pandemic, and that is why I am asking for the current Minister to come before us.
I also wish to use this opportunity, as fellow Senators have done in recent weeks, to support John Wall in his campaign for automatic medical cards for terminally ill patients. Unfortunately, like other Members, I am sure, I know too well the process John and those with terminal cancer are being put through. I will continue to fight for a one-tier health system whereby the State, rather than those who see health as a profit-making exercise, would control treatment and healthcare costs. In the meantime, for people such as John Wall, the least we should do is provide the comfort blanket that is a medical card at a time they need it most.
Yesterday the Minister with responsibility for climate change, communications networks and transport announced funding to the tune of €4.5 million for 26 greenway projects throughout the country. I warmly welcome this announcement. Recently I spoke to a friend who, by his own admission, is anything but green in his outlook or thinking, but the lockdown gave him some time to think. He escaped the sheer pace and pressure of life and work. He took to his bicycle again for the first time in 30 years and with his two children went on daily cycles around Dublin city. He heard the birds sing for the first time. When the lockdown relaxed, however, he resented the return of mechanically propelled vehicles. This was an epiphany for just one person. In Cork city yesterday, we had an announcement of several streets being pedestrianised, putting people first, providing for al fresco dining and showcasing Ireland's tourism. The future is bright; the future is green. In the programme for Government, the Green Party has negotiated a 2:1 balance in favour of public transport instead of roads, roads and more roads. At the heart of public transport, of course, are trains and buses, but also cycling and walking. In my commuter belt county of Kildare, cycling and walking provide a boost to tourism and a safe and healthy pastime. Kildare is also very close to Dublin and where people work. When we have the Grand Canal greenway and the other greenways up and running, people will be able to commute daily to work in certain places. I welcome the announcement made yesterday and look forward to better things to come. This is just the design feasibility and funding stage. The future is green and the future is bright.
I echo what has been said about the third day of hunger strike for the people in direct provision. This is one example of people living in pure poverty in 2020 Ireland. It is clear that people living in direct provision do not want to be there and are getting treated horribly by the State and some in the communities around them. I, therefore, support the call for a debate on ending direct provision. I am open to listening to what people have to say and I hope we do not have to put these people's lives on hold any longer.The programme for Government commits to ending direct provision. We must now look at when that will be done. Time is of the essence in the context of saving the lives of young children and other people living in horrible conditions.
Last week, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stated that urban transport could be transformed in six months under the stimulus plan. I certainly hope that is the case. The funding of €115 million for active travel, public transport and infrastructure is very welcome and much needed. It follows on from the allocation of €200 million under Project Ireland 2040 for BusConnects in Galway city and other cities. Although the focus on major cities is important, many of them have public transport links whereas many rural towns and communities have very poor public transport services. I warmly welcome any extra investment in public transport and active travel, but it took years for me and other public representatives to secure a couple of extra bus services on the main routes in Connemara, for example. Such extra services are very welcome, but they are not sufficient to successfully encourage greater use of public transport, particularly outside core urban areas. Unfortunately, bus services in some areas have been reduced or stopped altogether, such as the No. 456 service between Carndonagh and Galway city. That impacts negatively on everyone who needs the services, whether they be pensioners, those who do not drive, students or workers.
Reducing pressure on our main transport routes is very important. All Senators are aware that the carbon tax is projected to continue to rise in the coming years. It is important that we ring-fence those extra resources for the National Transport Authority to ensure adequate increases in public transport frequency and the provision of additional routes in rural towns and other rural areas. I hope the Minister, Deputy Ryan, will come to the House in the autumn to address this very important issue.
I share the concerns of other Senators with regard to the unhappy situation in Cahirsiveen. I endorse the very strong statement on the matter that was issued yesterday by my constituency colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley. I support the remarks of Senator Ó Donnghaile on the issue.
I do not usually use a script, but I will be treading on thin ice on this issue and, as such, will refer to my notes. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange for a debate on nuclear energy as soon as possible in the autumn session. Under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, the production of nuclear energy is prohibited. There is, however, no ban on the consumption of nuclear energy. Since 2012, Ireland has been increasingly interconnected with the British grid. We are currently importing energy from mixed sources, including nuclear energy.
Resistance to nuclear energy is nowhere near as strong as it was in the 1960s when public opinion put paid to Des O'Malley's courageous project at Carnsore Point. I am one of the Woodstock generation. Little did we know when we stopped the project at Carnsore Point that the plant at Moneypoint would be built and little did we know about global warming or climate change.
Ireland is committed to a target of achieving 70% renewable energy by 2030, but how many of us believe that can be attained? Each day last week, more than 60% of electricity was generated from gas. The Kinsale gas field is almost exhausted and further offshore exploration is being ruled out. Interestingly, the State has turned its back on important LNG terminals, as I, being a Kerryman, know only too well. An over-reliance on wind power is turning our beautiful rural landscape into a forest of ugly windmills. In my county of Kerry there has been an inexplicable rush to facilitate planning for ever bigger and uglier wind farms, with many now being sited in built-up suburban areas.
Many people understandably fear nuclear power. They immediately think of Chernobyl or nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are a travesty of human endeavour, but they have nothing to do with nuclear power. We are now in an era of smaller, modular nuclear reactors. They are safer and create less waste than the reactors that were built in the past. In fact, some of these new models can reuse the waste they produce and create more power from it. They are less costly and quicker to build than was previously the case. There are several Stone Age nuclear reactors just a few miles across the Irish Sea from Dublin. It is very likely that Britain and most European Union countries will utilise the smaller nuclear modules in the next decade.
In addition, science is on the cusp of making nuclear fusion a reality. It is much safer and more efficient than nuclear fission. It is the future. The first prototype is currently under construction in southern France. The Citizens' Assembly on climate change and the Joint Committee on Climate Action inexplicably failed to properly address the option of nuclear power generation. It has transformative potential in the context of how we can achieve climate change targets. It would add to what can be achieved through the use of renewables and would make zero emissions a real prospect in our time. A debate on this matter is needed. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
I hope the junior Senator from County Meath will be allocated the same amount of grace. Some Senators will be aware that the largest religious minority in Iran is the Baha'i faith. Many people across the country know members of the Baha'i faith who live in their community. Senators may be aware that members of the Baha'i faith who live in Iran are severely persecuted simply because of their religion. The UN and most human rights experts agree that the persecution of Baha'i people in Iran is one of the most obvious cases of state-sponsored persecution. Any doubt that the persecution of Baha'i people in Iran is systematic and state-sponsored has been erased by the recent upsurge in their arrest, conviction and imprisonment. It was always the case that between 50 and 100 Baha'i people were in prison in Iran but in the past few months, as Iran battles a severe Covid-19 resurgence, the Iranian authorities have begun to arrest and imprison more Baha'i people. In recent weeks, at least 80 Baha'i people have been targeted and subjected to arbitrary arrest, interrogation and conviction on trumped-up charges. Some of them have been sent to prison, while others have been convicted and are at home in terror, waiting to be summoned to serve their sentences. Among those arrested is an elderly man who will struggle to survive Covid-19 if he contracts it in prison. Also affected are a couple who are caring for their daughter who has cancer. They are terrified that there will be no-one to care for their very sick daughter if they are summoned to prison at the same time. They are worried because they know that could easily happen, having previously seen such things happen to other Baha'i people.
For me, the statistics in respect of the ramping up of persecution of Baha'i people in Iran are more than numbers because I have family in Iran who are members of the Baha'i faith. When I read about Baha'i people being arrested and imprisoned, I fully understand how arbitrary and religiously motivated the arrests really are and I know there is a chance that the next person arrested might be a member of my extended family. The simple fact that members of my extended family who live in Iran are of the Baha'i faith is enough to have them arrested and imprisoned.
None of my family members has committed a crime, but nor had any of the 80 Baha'i people who were arrested in recent weeks. These people are being persecuted simply on the basis of their beliefs. The Baha'i people who are being arrested and imprisoned are ordinary people. They are not trying to overthrow the regime or cause trouble in their society. Rather, they simply want to live their lives. All they are asking for are ordinary human rights.
I wish to highlight this issue with the Minster for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Iranian ambassador to Ireland. I am asking the Members of the House to speak up on this issue and shine a light on the persecution of members of the Baha'i faith in Iran.
I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to bring forward an affordable rental scheme early in autumn. Ensuring that the housing crisis is tackled is a key objective of the Government. The issue of supply is fundamental to achieving that aim.Critically, the State must address the issue of supply. The commitment of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and Fine Gael is to use public land to deliver public housing. Key to that objective is an affordable rental scheme. A prime example of the barriers to delivering affordable rental is a site in my own constituency, O'Devaney Gardens. For those who do not know it, it is a 14-acre site less than 5 km from O'Connell Street. It is zoned and serviced for housing. It has not only public transportation but electricity, water and sewerage. It has lain derelict for ten years more or less. As a city councillor, I and my colleagues fought to have public housing delivered on public lands. Unfortunately, Fine Gael would not provide full funding for the development of that site and Sinn Féin wanted to give away 50% of it to a private developer. Fianna Fáil councillors with colleagues from the Green Party, Labour Party and Social Democrats did a deal last year that will deliver 80% social and affordable housing on that land. Some 30% of it has the potential to be affordable rental housing. We need the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to bring forward an affordable rental scheme that will allow Dublin City Council to move on with Tuath and Clúid, the two approved housing bodies, AHBs, that have been selected, and make it a reality. There is potential for 824 homes on this site. The deal we did will not only deliver homes but a community centre, local employment and apprenticeship opportunities. All of that development is public and will provide good quality, sustainable public homes. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister to bring forward the affordable rental scheme.
I welcome the just transition retrofitting initiative. A number of local authorities in the midlands and Galway are putting forward funds to retrofit houses in areas affected particularly by job losses in respect of Bord na Móna and ESB. I am looking forward to the 60 homes in Ballinasloe that are going to be retrofitted and how this will impact on the cost of heating. There is a lot of fuel poverty in that area. It will be great to see those costs reduced.
I welcome the investment yesterday of €4.5 million into greenways, especially the Shannon monastic greenway which is going out to Shannonbridge and the Loughrea greenway from Tarmonbarry to Athlone. It is great to see. In particular I welcome the Transport Infrastructure Ireland focus on the route from Dublin to Galway and perhaps further on. It is a priority and a focus for this Government to achieve. The office for the Athlone to Galway section, which is the next priority, is located in Ballinasloe. Public consultation for the whole section from Athlone to Galway city will be open from 10 August. I encourage people with any interest in how important it is to have greenways in our area to consider submitting a consultation. Two venues I would like to highlight in particular are the Shamrock Lodge in Athlone from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on 10 August and the Shearwater on 11 August from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. This will be a public display, so engineers based in Ballinasloe will be putting it out in many locations. It can be seen in local authority offices, particularly in Ballinasloe, from 17 to 21 August. I encourage people to make submissions. It is important to have greenways but to do it by consensus and to have something that is of benefit to all.
I welcome the fact that tomorrow we will have the first meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. It is a very important meeting, as everyone will agree, and an important forum as part of the all-Ireland framework as together we try to deal with the many issues that face us on an all-Ireland basis. Not least of those is the current pandemic and what seems to be the strong possibility, as we are hearing from Europe, that we could be dealing with a no-deal Brexit come January. It is alarming to hear such reports being leaked from Europe. I note the briefing document that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, referenced yesterday. It is difficult to understand how we are going to come through this pandemic with the fear of a no-deal Brexit. We should all be concerned about it. I am especially concerned for the 300 mile stretch of the Border constituencies that without a doubt will be some of the worst impacted in both scenarios. I ask that the Deputy Leader consider reconvening the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union to bring back immediate reports as to how the country will be affected. The reports we have had previously were very sound but they were done in the absence of this pandemic. I ask that we give immediate consideration to what is going on in an all-Ireland context with a specific focus on Border constituencies.
I echo the sentiments of Senator McCallion on the North-South Ministerial Council and the special committee on Brexit. I want to raise the issue of the stockpiling of medicines. The global pandemic has placed great strain on the lives of many people over recent months. We have seen heroic work by those on the front line in the health sector. The Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response has heard evidence from nursing, medical and healthcare professionals about how unprepared we were, including the lack of personal protective equipment, PPE, and the lack of supports to nursing homes.
Two weeks ago the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was with us and we passed the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Bill 2020. It provides that Ireland must have a 90-day supply of oil as part of a national strategic stockpile so we can respond to an emergency. However, we have no stockpile of medicine or PPE. The Irish Pharmacy Union sent us information this week stating that 97% of pharmacists report an increase of medicine shortages over the past 12 months and 92% of them believe it is going to get worse next year. A stockpile of medicines may be more important than a stockpile of oil. Concerns were raised by pharmacists about medicine shortages in recent days. Members will also have received a report from David Delaney, chairperson of Medicines for Ireland, the Irish pharmaceutical trade association, which supplies the majority of medicines to the HSE and patients directly. It has identified significant risks to the supply of medicines associated with a no-deal Brexit.
We need to heed the warnings because all of us have family, friends and constituents who are on life-saving medication. We must ensure that they are protected. I ask the Deputy Leader to consider holding a debate on the issues in the autumn. I will be in touch with the Minister for Health on the matter myself. It makes sense to examine whether Ireland should have a national medicines reserve similar to those in the UK and the USA. If Covid has taught us anything, it is that we need contingency plans and to be prepared for emergencies.
Today is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. It will probably be a surprise to most people as they go about their normal lives that no matter where they are in the country, be it in a rural or urban setting, they are probably in close proximity to someone who has been or is experiencing being trafficked. Trafficking does not follow typical patterns or even a stereotype of victims. It is not all about sex trafficking or what occurs in brothels. Its participants are not people who are other to ourselves.
We can all be unwittingly complicit in benefiting from people trafficking in the services we procure for our businesses and homes. While an offer of an organised service at a domestic level may appear to be extremely reasonable, what is the real cost in human suffering? Are the workers working voluntarily? Do they show signs of distress? Are they working long hours? Where do they live? Can they move freely? Are they being disciplined harshly? Are they having fines imposed on them? We have seen cases go through the Workplace Relations Commission in recent years where people have been subject to domestic abuse, trapped in homes, paid a pittance or fined for infractions. We have even had people being made to be pay for the balance of their contract when they have a desire to return home.
Do we as a society inspect or consider the supply chain for our cheap goods, cheap clothes, or the cobalt in our mobile phones? Do we consider the misery that was incurred in our latest acquisition? It is absolutely reasonable and fair that we have a national conversation that slavery should stop. We all have a duty a duty to become sensitised to and aware of the past, our attitudes, our inherent racism and the inbuilt prejudice that we all have.While doing so, we also need a national conversation to challenge the slavery from which we are benefiting today. I refer to the small choices we make in the goods and services we buy. The Seanad is the perfect forum for this conversation and I ask the Deputy Leader to accommodate that in the schedule.
I join with Senator Seery Kearney in marking World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. I also second the proposal from Senator Ó Donnghaile to amend the Order of Business to call in the relevant Minister to debate with us and explain the appalling conditions in the Skellig Star direct provision centre and to explain what it is proposed to do, urgently, about those conditions. As Senator Wall said, Senator Hoey raised this issue yesterday, and all of us who have been reading the reports have been distressed and concerned these appalling conditions. Yesterday, I wrote to the Ministers concerned, Deputies McEntee and O'Gorman, asking them to address this issue urgently but I have not yet received a reply. The Labour Party supports the proposed amendment, which I formally second.
I also echo the words of Senator Craughwell on disability and join with him in commending the Enough is Enough group, which staged a very effective event outside the Convention Centre yesterday. The group has done a great deal to highlight issues facing persons with disabilities. Like Senator Craughwell, I call for a debate on this issue in the Seanad to be held urgently, particularly in light of the disturbing findings reported on the "Morning Ireland" programme today regarding 5,000 children having been waiting longer than the law permits to have their needs, such as those associated with autism, formally assessed before they can access public health services.
Anyone who has had any engagement with the assessment services will be well aware of these dreadful waiting times, but it is concerning to see it set out that the average waiting time is 19 months, despite the stipulation in the Disability Act 2005 that assessments must be completed within six months. Children's lack of access to services, and the consequent serious effect upon the conditions from which so many children suffer, are serious issues. We had some very distressing reports about this on the "Morning Ireland" programme as well.
I join with Senator Ó Donnghaile in hoping we will receive an update on this issue. There was consensus in the House yesterday regarding concern at what was happening in Cahersiveen. It is important, therefore, that we receive an update on that situation.
I support the re-establishment of the select committee on Brexit. If we had been asked six months ago what issue we would have been debating the most in this House, we would have said Brexit. The reports today highlight how important it is that this country is prepared to deal with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. I refer to the impact on Border communities, but also on trade, agriculture and transport. I am glad that there are commitments in the programme for Government to ensure that our ports, and particularly Rosslare Europort, are ready for Brexit.
I would also like for us to focus on an aspect of Brexit that is both a challenge and an opportunity and that is education. It is essential that we maintain bilateral education relationships between Ireland and Britain. There are many research collaborations and much good work has been done in this area by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and we must look at ways to ensure that aspect continues to be facilitated. The Erasmus programme is one of the most successful European programmes ever and it also provides opportunities for Ireland. We must look to the post-pandemic period, when students will be travelling again, because many more students from continental Europe will be looking to come and study on an English-speaking island.
We must also think about the longer term and that means fostering closer relationships between Irish higher education institutions and those in continental Europe, and also in investing in modern European languages. The Department of Education and Skills has a language strategy and we must ensure that children from primary school level right through the education system have access to learning modern European languages. In the context of the Brexit discussion, therefore, the Brexit select committee should not only deal with immediate issues that will arise, but, if there is a no-deal Brexit, it should also explore what educational opportunities that situation may present for Ireland two to three years down the line.
I will speak today on greenways. As someone who has been working in the area of sustainable travel for many years and campaigning and writing letters endlessly seeking money for such things, I am very happy with yesterday's announcement of funding. I could not let this opportunity go without speaking on this development. Some people think of greenways as a place where people go for a bit of a cycle or just where tourists go. A greenway is far more than that, however. It is the very tool that is missing in rural Ireland to restitch the fabric of communities. I have visited all the existing greenways, located in the midlands and counties Waterford, Kerry, Limerick and Mayo several times. I wish for the day to come when we will have them all over Ireland and this is a good step in that direction.
This will create thousands of jobs and bring the instant revival of villages and towns. On any greenway one might visit, it is possible to see once-derelict villages now thriving. Kilmacthomas was dead but now it has no derelict buildings and 30 people are working in the local café. This is what can happen when people work together, including landowners, engineers, community groups and businesses. When they come together, success is golden. More than 2,000 people use the Waterford greenway every day. The value of this type of tourism is evident because people who come on a bike spend four times more money than someone who comes in a car and at least 20 times more than people who come down on buses.
It also spreads out the benefits to the wider area. In County Clare, for instance, 1.2 million visitors could be coming to the Cliffs of Moher, while Miltown Malbay, Corofin and Kilfenora may be struggling. That is not the case, however, with a greenway, where every town and village along the route benefits. In addition, research from Mayo and Waterford shows that people will look for accommodation up to 60 km away from a greenway and that spreads the benefits around. Even if an area is not directly on the greenway, therefore, there will still be great opportunities for areas anywhere close to it.
I wrote an amendment to the Green Party policy on rural development and it is called a farmers first policy. That is key to the success of greenways. We must ensure that we work with landowners. Greenways do not have to stick to the straight lines of the old railways. It is always good to have a bit of meandering and the first people that need to be engaged with in that context are the farmers. We must ensure that they will have full indemnity and proper fencing, and then farmers will see the benefits that will accrue to them from greenways, including keeping young people on the farms. That is very important for us in rural Ireland.
I support the call for the creation of a select committee on Brexit because I think that is an important issue. My colleague spoke about the education issues which we need to look at. From the perspective of agriculture, we need some idea about how Brexit, especially in its later stages, could have a major impact on the agriculture industry.
I spoke yesterday about local government and the need for reform. I was amazed by the response. I got many calls specifically regarding what is happening with our recycling and bring centres and the lack of joined-up thinking in this regard. I referred yesterday to the lack of town councils having a major effect on how our communities are working, as we do not have local input from town councils on local issues. I heard reports this morning that a civic amenity site in Bandon had closed because of a lack of staffing. A bring site also relocated out of Bandon because of dumping and another similar site relocated out of Dunmanway for the same reason.
We need a more local focus on what is happening on the ground. We have moved big government into local government issues, so we do not have that local focus. We must go back, therefore, to one of the models that worked, and that was town councils. Regarding bring sites, our attitude seems to be that we will state there is an issue with dumping and then close the sites in response. That is totally inappropriate.
We now have a staycations policy, with many people coming to west Cork and yet we are closing our bring sites. That is not good news for Ireland or local government, and that is not how we should be doing things. We need to find solutions, rather than just taking the easy option by closing bring sites and walking away because of the minority having a major effect on the majority. This debate, therefore, regarding local government and reform of local government is an important one. It is amazing how much society has changed in the past six months. People now want to have a real input into what happens in their local community and they want local power brought back to local communities.
We had International Bog Day on 26 July. As someone born and reared on the Bog of Allen, I am proud to highlight our wonderful bogs. Our attitude to our bogs has changed in the recent decades. They are now seen as areas with beautiful plants, lovely wildlife and landscape and as greatly important in countering climate change.In the past our bogs were seen as sources of fuel and employment. In Kildare, since Bord na Móna was set up in 1946, we have had thousands of people employed by the company in areas like Kilberry, Rathangan, Allenwood and Carbury. Much-needed jobs were provided and the local economy very much depended on Bord na Móna jobs.
Over the past number of decades, that dependence has reduced significantly and we currently have fewer than 400 people working for Bord na Móna. It is very important we do everything we can to support the existing workers who will lose their jobs because of the path Bord na Móna has had to take as a result of our climate change responsibilities. It is very important we have the opportunity to discuss that with the Minister. I know a number of other Senators are also from counties affected by that so I ask the Deputy Leader to call the Minister in to discuss the issue.
We have the just transition fund, which is very important, along with commitments to retrofitting to help support these areas and workers. One particular application for just transition funding I want to highlight is for the Umeras bog between Rathangan and Monasterevin in County Kildare. It covers 600 acres and it could be a very valuable amenity, providing much-needed employment in the Rathangan-Monasterevin area. It will blend very well with the proposed blueway, the Ballykelly distillery and the greenway. I welcome the funding of €96,000 for the Allenwood section, and all of this will work very well together.
Yesterday, I mentioned a request made to the Deputy Leader to have the Minister with responsibility for culture come here to address the subject of the removal of statues from outside the Shelbourne Hotel. I was slightly disturbed to see the ambivalent remarks made by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who is in the same party as the Minister, about the statues. There is no slavery at all suggested with these statues and the leg ornamentation shown on them is simply that. There is no slave involvement at all so I presume they will be put back.
As we are discussing buildings in the vicinity, I ask the Deputy Leader to invite to the House the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works. We spent €18 million restoring Leinster House recently, and a very good job was done, but the south facade is now showing major staining. It looks like iron oxide becoming visible because of what has been done, and it is starting to look increasingly unpleasant. Over €1 million was spent on the stonework but I ask Members to go out on Leinster Lawn and take a look at it, as it is deteriorating badly. I would like the Minister of State in charge of the Office of Public Works, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, to come to the House and explain to us precisely what has happened and what is proposed to be done to stop that side of Leinster House becoming increasingly unsightly.
I join Senators Byrne and Lombard in asking that consideration be given to re-establish the Brexit committee. In speaking about something dear to the Cathaoirleach's heart, Senator Lombard spoke about the need to have some connection between the Seanad and local government.
It is our last week in session but it is important that the Government, in conjunction with the acting Chief Medical Officer and the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, reconsider the capacity concerns around people attending local championship matches. I know Senator Cassells raised this yesterday or Tuesday. It is important that wise heads look at these capacity matters. For example, I attended a club championship match on Saturday night in Páirc Uí Rinn, which has a capacity of almost 16,000. It could easily host more people safely than were there last Saturday night.
Watching the television footage of different matches, we can see there is a need to be wise about capacity and increase it. For example, our club will get six tickets for next Sunday's championship match, which is ridiculous. It must be changed, and I say this cognisant of public health matters and the possibility the virus may continue to spread. We should be able to allow people who are volunteers in our sporting clubs to attend these matches. The League of Ireland is starting tomorrow night. We could allow for an increase in attendance and I ask that consideration be given by the Government, NPHET and the acting Chief Medical Officer to increasing attendance at matches.
Earlier this week, the Minister with responsibility for children, disability, equality and integration, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, told fellow Ministers he was undertaking a root and branch review of childcare services to support the delivery of affordable and high-quality school-age early learning. I sincerely hope this Minister grasps that matter. In addressing this review, the Minister stated "the review is to look at the existing structures that administer childcare in the country" and "these have developed in a very ad hocmanner, with county childcare committees and so on". Before the Minister undertakes any review, he would want to be briefed on the county childcare committees' defined remit in supporting the roll-out of the national childcare policy, as directed by various Departments from Billy to Jack over the years as Governments moved them around, with very little funding or pay. That is instead of having well-funded quangos set up as middle men. I sincerely hope this well-funded system is delivered and when it comes, the Minister will start with administrators on the ground, who have delivered complex programmes across the country with little reward. They do not need these ill-judged remarks. I look forward to debating the report with the Minister in this House.
I use today's Order of Business to ask the Deputy Leader of the House if she supports the comments of her party colleague, Deputy Marc MacSharry. Deputy MacSharry, on a salary of approximately €96,000, has accused public servants of laziness and using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to lie on the couch and watch box sets. Apart from the ignorance and offensiveness of those comments, it is worth remembering that those who are working from home are doing so because they are following public health advice. Public servants, like everyone else, have had to come to terms with sudden changes imposed by the pandemic measures. They have had to juggle childcare, a lack of appropriate working space, poor broadband and worrying about family members who may have underlying health conditions or elderly parents. For a member of the Government party to single out one group of workers and talk about them with such contempt is deeply offensive.
I have spoken to public servants who were very hurt by the Deputy's comments. These public servants have had to get up before daybreak in the early hours of the morning to get work done before children woke up. I spoke to others who are living in rented accommodation and sharing with individuals. They have had to work from bed as it is the only quiet place they have where they can work.
Every person on this island had to make sacrifices and some have made more than others. As a country we succeeded in suppressing the virus through collective action. For Deputy Marc MacSharry to insult one group of workers is to undermine that solidarity. Perhaps it was the Deputy who was catching up on box sets while the public and private sector workers kept this country running during the lockdown. He should make a public apology on the matter and I hope his party colleagues in this House call on him to do so.
I raise the matter of the reopening of pubs on 10 August. To state the obvious, public health and safety is paramount for both staff and customers so the guidelines must be followed to the letter of the law.Bars serving food, as the Cathaoirleach will be aware, have been open since 29 June. This has gone reasonably well. Premises which have not followed the guidelines should be closed forthwith.
I facilitated a high-level meeting with the Taoiseach and senior officials in his Department on Friday last to give them a better understanding of the challenges that remain. As Senators will be aware, pubs in rural areas will have been closed for 20 weeks on Sunday. Behind every business and pub is a family, many of whom have contacted me from around the country. In excess of 60% of licensed premises have not opened since 15 March. Shebeens have opened and house parties have taken place nightly, certainly in Galway city and county. These are a greater public health risk than any pub in a rural village. We are the first to close and the last to reopen. Thankfully, there are only six people in hospital with Covid, following the peak of 900. We are ten days away from opening. Fáilte Ireland is meant to issue guidelines and we could do with them today or tomorrow. I ask the Deputy Leader to request that the relevant Minister issue guidelines to pubs in rural areas. These should be enforced to the letter of the law.
Like Senator Garvey, I welcome the funding of €95,000 to conduct a feasibility study to connect the Westport, Castlebar and Ballina greenways. That would be a 60 km route, which would be fantastic for the county, linking the three greenways already in place.
I ask that the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister with responsibility for transport to come to the House in the not too distant future to discuss issues with Iarnród Éireann, particularly level crossings. I would like to raise an issue with a level crossing, with which the Deputy Leader will be familiar. The level crossing at Kilnageer on the Belcarra-Breaffy road just outside Castlebar is operated by a manual gate. The local residents recently addressed Mayo County Council in relation to some very serious near misses in the area. The gates have to be closed after each vehicle passes. While there are flashing red lights, drivers are supposed to close the gate after crossing the line. This is dangerous and confusing for motorists. I ask the Deputy Leader to request that the Minister come to the House to give an update on the number of level crossings in the country. The level crossing at Kilnageer could be modified, whether by automating the existing gates or constructing a bridge over the railway line. This needs to be done and I ask that the Minister come to the House.
Tús is a work placement scheme which aims to provide work opportunities for those who are unemployed, while also assisting in providing certain services to benefit communities. Currently, there is a restriction on the random selection process for those on jobseeker's allowance as they are engaging with JobPath. Removing those restrictions would significantly increase the number of participants available to Tús, resulting in a higher number of jobseekers gaining the opportunity to get involved in their local community. Companies are welcoming the new July stimulus package of 3,000 extra Tús and community employment places but are worried that with the present restrictions, they will find it difficult to fill the current quotas in place, not because of lack of eligible participants but because of the rule which states that those currently engaging with JobPath are not available for random selection for Tús. Change is needed here, especially in the current climate as unemployment figures are high and community groups are struggling for assistance. One year is not long enough for most individuals on the Tús scheme. By the time the participants have been trained and community groups become familiar with them, it is time for them to leave the scheme. Three years is also a long time for a person to wait before becoming eligible to re-enter the Tús scheme. The period should be reduced to one year. If persons have not found employment in the year after Tús, they should have the option of coming back to Tús to gain more assistance and experience. On the rural social scheme also, if the six-year rule continues, we will not be able to fill all of the places on the scheme. The positions created under the stimulus package are important. I ask the Deputy Leader to take this on board and change those rules as quickly as possible. I raised this issue briefly with the Minister yesterday.
I echo and support the calls for the re-establishment of the Seanad Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The previous Seanad led the way on discourse and discussion on Brexit. This issue has far from gone away, although it has probably been sidelined as a result of Covid. I certainly believe this Chamber has a significant role to play in that regard.
I also echo and agree with calls for the Minister with responsibility for disability to come into the House. I was concerned about delays when I heard about them. They were discussed on "Morning Ireland" this morning. It is totally unacceptable. We made considerable progress on disability when we had a Minister of State with specific responsibility for disability at Cabinet, namely, former Deputy Finian McGrath. We made progress by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD. I am not sure how disability fits into the Ministry to which it is attached but I am willing to keep an open mind. It would be appropriate at an early point in the next term to have the Minister with responsibility for disability, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, in the House to give us his view on disability and the uphill battle that must be fought to create an equal society. I look forward to that debate and engaging with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. I have no doubt the Minister is sincere in his endeavours, but we need to see what his roadmap is. There are commitments in the programme for Government on disability, one of which is the establishment of a joint Oireachtas committee to monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I would like to know when this committee will be formed and I would like more details on its specific mandate. I look forward to that debate in September.
I raise the issue of medical cards for those who are terminally ill. We are all aware of a recent case of a man who was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer having his medical card removed and reinstated, not once but twice. Let us pause for a second and imagine what it must be like to be told by a consultant or doctor that one has cancer and is terminally ill. That must be absolutely devastating news for the individual concerned to get and it must also be heartbreaking and devastating for the person's family. As we are all aware, the process of trying to obtain a medical card can be trying and stressful at the best of times, but this practice of reviewing medical cards for terminally ill patients is cruel and heartless and should cease.
As far back as 2014, a promise was made that this practice would cease. That was six years ago and it continues.I have written to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to ask him to cease this practice immediately. I ask that the Deputy Leader on behalf of the Members of the House also writes to the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, to request that this cruel heartless act of reviewing medical cards for people diagnosed with cancer and who are terminally ill cease immediately.
I will deal at the outset with the issues surrounding Cahersiveen and the direct provision centre. I hear the calls from Members, including from Senator Ó Donnghaile and his party colleagues, to have a debate in the House. I have asked for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House. We are still in discussions with her office on this. The difficulty posed is that there is a lot of legislation to get through here and in the Dáil. The Minister will be at the meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council tomorrow and will not be available. We are trying to get time. As it stands, I cannot give a commitment to the House that she will attend today. I am just not in a position to do that.
I have received an update on the issue. Departmental officials were on site yesterday to inspect the facility. I believe that issues raised with regard to water and food have been addressed and they are exploring the possibility of additional social supports on site and counselling for residents. I fully accept the situation there is less than satisfactory. Everyone in the House agrees on this point. I hear the calls from Members to have the Minister come before the House but I am just not in a position to give that commitment on her behalf at this point in time.
Senator Dooley raised the issue of water and sewerage infrastructure for rural communities and I very much agree. There are sites in Mayo where raw sewage is flowing into waterways and it does need to be addressed.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of disability and the fact there is a Minister and a Minister of State. I believe having a Minister and Minister of State on the topic is a good thing but Senator Craughwell does not agree. I commend the comments by Ann Marie Flanagan and Martin Tobin that we do need to hear from and listen to people with disabilities and not just the service providers. I fully support the call from Senators Craughwell, Conway and others that we have a debate in the House on how we can become a more inclusive and equal society. That is something all Members would certainly support.
Senators Wall and Gallagher raised the issue of medical cards. I fully support it and certainly I will raise it directly with the Minister. If somebody is terminally ill the last thing he or she should be doing is fighting for a medical card. It should just be issued without any question.
Senator Flynn also raised the issue of Cahersiveen and the issue of equality and people living in poverty. She has been very consistent in her comments in the House since she has taken up her seat to advocate and fight for those in less fortunate positions. We all support the sentiments raised by the Senator.
Senator Kyne raised the issue of rural transport. I agree with him that we need to look after public transport in our cities, and we always welcome infrastructural development and investment in public transport, but as a rural public representative I fully appreciate the issues he raised with regard the lack of rural transport and the very real battles we have to go through just to get basic bus routes. I would love to see the western rail corridor developed and have a rail link between Galway and Mayo. It would be quite transformative. I am glad to see a commitment in the programme for Government to increase spending in public transport.
Senator O'Sullivan raised the issue of nuclear energy. He has put the cat among the seagulls today in raising the issue. I will certainly take those comments on board.
I am not fully briefed on the particular topic Senator Keogan raised with regard to Iran and the Baha'i faith. I am sure she has made the case today and it will be brought to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Iranian ambassador.
Senator Fitzpatrick raised the issue of an affordable rental scheme, in particular the O'Devaney Gardens site. I am pleased to say having an affordable rental scheme is in the programme for Government. I know the Minister is committed to bringing forward legislation on this issue at the earliest possible opportunity.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of the just transition retrofitting. She has done a very good job of representing Ballinasloe. Her video inviting people to staycation in Ballinasloe was possibly overshadowed by Deputy Bruton's video and the imagery contained within. Nonetheless, Senator Dolan's video was equally impressive. She also raised the issue of greenway investment. As somebody from the area of the Great Western Greenway I can certainly account for the huge success it has been. Senator Garvey mentioned the spin-off for surrounding areas and said it can be felt up to 60 km away. I can certainly attest to this. It has been transformative for rural communities with regard to small businesses popping up to support the tourism coming through because of greenways.
Senator McCallion raised the issue of the North-South Ministerial Council meeting tomorrow. I echo the sentiments that it is very important it is meeting tomorrow particularly in light of Brexit, which has not gone away. It has been pushed to the back burner a small bit because of the pandemic but it has been trickling on all the same and it is something we will certainly have to deal with. I fully support the request by numerous Senators that we re-establish the select committee on Brexit in the House. It certainly would be very welcome and it should happen. I will raise the issue today at the meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges with the Cathaoirleach. I have no doubt it will be supported by all members of that committee.
Senator McGreehan raised the issue of a national medicines reserve. It is a very good idea and I am sure the Minister for Health will take it on board. The pandemic has exposed the shortcomings and weaknesses in our health system, which is a good thing, while it has also shown the huge strength and resilience of our health system. There are things we can learn from the pandemic as to how we do things better and the supply of medicines is certainly something we can look at.
Senator Seery Kearney spoke about today being world day against the trafficking of persons. Senator Bacik also commented on this issue. Senator Seery Kearney has been very eloquent in her commentary that we all need to be careful we are not complicit in supporting modern-day slavery by the choices we make in terms of purchasing services and goods. It was a very poignant point to make for Members of the House and beyond.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of assessment for autism. Quite frankly, it is disgraceful that any child would be waiting 19 months. Actually, it is disgraceful they would wait six months. That particular goalpost should be narrowed and made smaller. If it is to be early intervention it should happen early and 19 months is just unacceptable. We should do everything we can in our power as public representatives to bring this figure right down. Six months is the maximum wait and we should aim to have it much lower. That is where we need to get to.
Senator Byrne also raise the issue of Cahersiveen direct provision centre, the Brexit select committee and the impact of Brexit. He has done a lot of work on the Rosslare Europort. I agree with his sentiments on the educational opportunity. Although it poses a challenge, I know from my brief in the last term as Brexit spokesperson for the Fianna Fáil party that there are opportunities in education. The link between the UK and Ireland and how we work together in education has been very positive. I see no reason we should not continue this. If we have to be imaginative in how we facilitate this continued engagement let us be so.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of Brexit and the impact on agriculture. We are all very well aware of the difficulties posed in the agriculture sector from Brexit. There are no easy solutions to this. We just need to work with our agricultural sector to try to protect it. He also raised the issue of local government reform. Two thirds of us are elected through local councillors and we hear directly from them about the issues regarding local government reform and the need for it. I certainly support it.
Senator McDowell raised the issue of the removal of statutes outside the Shelbourne Hotel. I agree with the Senator that we should not seek to erase history. We also need to be well informed about the history of statues and other emblems and markings so we are correct in our assessment of them. The letter he spoke about shows that sometimes we can be very quick to move on things without really knowing what we are speaking about and let that be a lesson to all of us.
Senators Buttimer and Cassells raised the issue of capacity at local championship matches. I agree that now we have been dealing with the pandemic for quite some time we need to look at the one-size-fits-all approach to these issues.Senator Crowe raised the issue small rural pubs. We have the space now to look at that. A really large venue can definitely accommodate more than 200 people safely. If we can do things safely and with a bit of common sense, I see no reason why that issue cannot be explored further.
Senator Cassells spoke about the county childcare committee and childcare policy. Childcare will be one of the big issues for both the Seanad and Dáil to try to get to grips with in the upcoming term. The pandemic has shown us the importance of childcare and that we cannot reopen the economy while leaving parents without adequate childcare. I certainly support those calls.
Senator Burke raised a local issue in Mayo with which I am familiar. In this day and age, we need to get away from having manual gates at level crossings because it is a health and safety issue. I will be working with Senator Burke and Mayo County Council to try to address the issue.
I apologise. Senator Murphy spoke about Tús and JobPath. There is a particular restriction for those who have access to Tús because of their involvement with JobPath. The Senator is correct in what he has requested, and we should explore it. The six-year rule is quite arbitrary, and it should be more flexible. There is little point in having someone removed from a rural social scheme or a Tús scheme when there are no other available employments.
Senator Ó Donnghaile has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Minister with responsibility for children, disabilities, equality and integration on the Skellig Star direct provision centre and the future of direct provision generally be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I listened intently to the Deputy Leader and I do not doubt her efforts. However, given the strong feelings and the consensus in the House and the fact that the Minister will not be available tomorrow given that the North-South Ministerial Council is meeting, it is important that a clear message is sent from this House. I will press the amendment.
Ivana Bacik, Lynn Boylan, Gerard Craughwell, Eileen Flynn, Paul Gavan, Alice-Mary Higgins, Annie Hoey, Sharon Keogan, Elisha McCallion, Michael McDowell, Rebecca Moynihan, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Marie Sherlock, Mark Wall, Fintan Warfield.
Garret Ahearn, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, Emer Currie, Michael D'Arcy, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Pippa Hackett, Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, Vincent P Martin, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Diarmuid Wilson.
Garret Ahearn, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, Emer Currie, Michael D'Arcy, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Pippa Hackett, Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, Vincent P Martin, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Diarmuid Wilson.
Ivana Bacik, Lynn Boylan, Gerard Craughwell, Eileen Flynn, Paul Gavan, Annie Hoey, Sharon Keogan, Elisha McCallion, Michael McDowell, Rebecca Moynihan, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Marie Sherlock, Mark Wall, Fintan Warfield.