Friday, 31 July 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank everybody for being here this morning. I thank the ushers and cleaning and catering staff for their extraordinary work in these extraordinary times. I also thank the Clerk, Mr. Martin Groves, and Ms Bridget Doody, who do extraordinary work behind the scenes in the Seanad office, getting all amendments, legislation and other business ready each morning. I know the process now as I see it from my new position and it goes late into the night. Senator Paddy Burke knows this from his time in the Chair.
I also thank the Ceann Comhairle for the use of this historic Chamber. It is a mark of how extraordinary are these times when the Seanad is sitting in the Dáil Chamber. I hope that over the next few weeks Members will get a break from work and have some time to spend with family and friends. I look forward to seeing everybody again in September.
I concur with the Cathaoirleach's remarks of thanks to the Ceann Comhairle and the staff in the Seanad office and the Houses of the Oireachtas in general for their work over the past hectic and somewhat chaotic number of weeks and in these unprecedented times. With late sittings and the new positions in which we find ourselves, they have done a tremendous job. I wish everyone well for the recess and I hope everyone gets a nice break here in Ireland. Perhaps they might come to Galway West and Connemara if they so wish, or to all of Galway, including Ballinasloe.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the second report of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion re earlier signature of the Companies (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Covid-19) Bill 2020, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, all Stages of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020, to be taken at 12.15 p.m., with the time allocated to the group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes, the time for all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, with the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; and No. 4, motion re the earlier signature of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate.
I join the Cathaoirleach in thanking all the staff here and I know some of them had a very late night. I hope we will not be still here at 2.40 a.m. tomorrow. I thank all the staff for facilitating us and the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to use the Chamber. It has been a particular honour and I have now sat in this Chamber as a Senator for more days than I did as a Deputy.
This is the final day before the summer recess and although the Houses will not sit, there are cheap headlines coming from certain journalists that seem to suggest Members of the Oireachtas are going on six weeks of holidays. It is incumbent on the Houses of the Oireachtas press office to address this. Members will take a break.I hope everyone enjoys it and spends time in Ireland. I will be taking a few days in Galway. I hope the Deputy Leader will come to Wexford. The idea that Members do not work when the Houses are not sitting is misinformed and nonsense. People here will be working on policy, meeting with different groups and dealing with individual representations. I ask that the Houses of the Oireachtas look at addressing some of those misleading headlines.
We will not be sitting in August but it was in August 1970 that the Social Democratic and Labour Party was formed. The men and women involved in those early days consistently advocated policies that, through peaceful means, supported engagement, conciliation, social justice, the unity of this island and Ireland playing a constructive role within the European Union. Leaders such as Gerry Fitt, Seamus Mallon, Austin Currie and Bríd Rodgers charted a difficult course but it was the position advocated by the SDLP that ultimately underpinned the peace process. The SDLP was, of course, led by John Hume for a long time. I consider him the greatest living Irish person. His actions more than anyone else's led to the peace process that shapes Ireland's future. In that regard, I am sure the Deputy Leader and other Members of the House will join with me in wishing the current leader of the SDLP, Colm Eastwood, and its members a very happy 50th birthday and in thanking that party for the enormous contribution it has made in shaping the future of this island.
I concur with the previous speakers. Today we deal with very important legislation, the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020. Let us hope we do not have a reoccurrence of what happened in the Lower House yesterday. I appeal to all democrats to support open, healthy discussion. As a revising chamber, it is our job to revise legislation and to look at all amendments and to give them serious consideration. It should be remembered that it was not too long ago that half of the Government were on the opposite benches in the Dáil, hurling all sorts of political accusations at the other party for its failures in the areas of housing, healthcare and disabilities. I could go on listing a raft of things. They should not forget where they came from. They are in government for the moment but who is to say that they will not be back on the hustings in six months' time arguing a different story? It is important to respect both sides. I respect the Government as it has a democratic mandate but those of us on this side of the House also have a mandate and we should be facilitated in scrutinising legislation. The last Taoiseach, now Tánaiste, came to this House and stressed the importance of this Chamber, the Seanad, as the revising chamber of these Houses. That is important.
As we wind down for the summer recess, it is important to look at a few things. We have had a hectic time as politicians but also as people and citizens of this country. We have had a general election and a Seanad election. We had a major crisis in healthcare, which has not gone away. We have a crisis in housing and our economy is flat on the ground and needs help. Brexit lies ahead of us. There has been Covid-19 and the associated forced closure of essential services. We should think of the disabled people, those who were locked in their homes and those who could not say goodbye to their husbands, partners and loved ones because of Covid. None of us caused this but these are tough, harsh times. I have no doubt they will get harder in the future.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Deputy Varadkar, who led the outgoing Government, for his steady, sure hand with regard to Covid. That has to be acknowledged. He was professional and steady, as were all involved. I also acknowledge the work of Fianna Fáil with regard to the confidence and supply agreement which allowed all that to happen. We saw good co-operation. Co-operation is key. Above all else, I thank the community call, the people in every one of the 31 local authorities who enlisted volunteers. That was important. Finally, I thank the Oireachtas team, particularly Martin Groves, Bridget Doody and their team. I also thank the ushers, the caterers, the attendants and all of the people who make these Houses, the family of the Oireachtas, work as well as it does. I thank them because it is important to do so.
As I leave for the summer recess, I plead for Members to respect and support one another in this Parliament. I ask that we give legitimacy to criticism and scrutiny of legislation. I ask Members over the summer to think about pledging not to facilitate or acquiesce to the guillotining of legislation or the ramming through of every stage of a Bill in one day. That is not good for democracy. For the sake of the people of this country, we should not do it. Let us think about that before going away and let us come back with vigour and a commitment not to acquiesce to that type of abuse of the democratic process.
I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on climate change in light of the Supreme Court this morning finding in favour of the activists involved in Climate Case Ireland, whom I congratulate. I understand the court has found that the national climate change mitigation plan falls well short of the level of specificity required to comply with the law. This is a very serious finding and we need a debate on the matter urgently after the recess.
I also wish to raise the very serious matter of the proposed closure of a nursing home, St. Mary's Centre, Telford, on Merrion Road in Dublin 4. I have spoken with some of those involved in the campaign to save this home. They are very concerned about the impact the proposed closure will have on the residents. This is a healthcare facility which provides care to women with visual impairments and other care needs. Many of the residents have lived in the centre for many decades. To move them at this point would be extremely traumatic. The centre is run under the auspices of the Sisters of Charity. It comprises a registered nursing home and a registered disability centre. The staff and residents were informed of the proposed closure in a relatively perfunctory way in June and July. There have been some newspaper reports about it and the matter is now due before the courts in August.
The directors say it is sought to liquidate the company which operates the centre. Liquidators were appointed by the High Court on 24 July. There are real concerns about the impact this proposed closure will have on the residents and staff. This nursing home has remained free of the virus throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no immediate concern about it. It has very positive reports from HIQA. I ask that the Minister for Health be brought to the House. I have already written to him to ask him to come to the House, to meet with residents and staff to hear their concerns, and to bring the home under public management to ensure it remains opens for those who desperately need its services.
I was wary of wading into the debate on the removal of the statues outside the Shelbourne Hotel given how much somewhat unwarranted outrage has been expressed. Some useful commentary has been offered in a thoughtful way. It suggests that, when we look at works of art, we have to remember the context and how they may be interpreted. Statues of this sort fit in with the tradition of portraying women, and particularly African women, in a way we would now find rather problematic. We should recall that one woman's ankle bracelet may well be another woman's manacle. It is in that context I believe the Shelbourne Hotel may have acted to remove the statues.
I express my thanks and that of the Labour group to the staff of the Cathaoirleach, his office and the Leader's office for all of the work they have done in running the House during this difficult time. I wish everyone well in the break ahead.
At the outset, I join with the Cathaoirleach in thanking of the staff for enabling us to operate in the way that we do in a week during which some dreadful remarks were made about public servants. I hope all of us will join together in recognising the value of the people who enable of us to work in the way we do and in thanking them and in wishing them well in the weeks ahead.
I raise the issue of Debenhams. This is day 111 of the strike by members of staff of Debenhams who are members of Mandate and SIPTU. They have spent 16 weeks on the picket line. It is a 24-hour-a-day picket line. It has to be because two days ago, at 3 a.m., the liquidators entered the Limerick store. They are trying to access the stock, which is worth millions. This money must form part of a settlement for the workers.I want to send a message to KPMG that it would be entirely unacceptable for it to try to interfere in any way with that stock until such time as a settlement has been made.
Government officials have met the workers from Mandate. That is important because the Government has a role to play. Four years ago, after the debacle at Clerys, the Duffy-Cahill report was published. That report outlined a set of measures which must be taken to protect workers and prevent tactical insolvencies. The reality is that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have sat back and let that report gather dust for the past four years. We have spent the past couple of weeks passing emergency legislation, much of which is necessary, but why is it that we never pass emergency legislation relating to working class people and workers' rights? Why has that report been left to gather dust for the past four years? I want to send the clear message that this dispute must be resolved before we come back in September. It would be unthinkable that those workers would have to spend another six weeks manning a picket line 24 hours a day because of the negligence of previous Governments. There is a role for the Government to play and I call on it to play that role and ensure a just settlement for those workers.
I will briefly mention the situation at Shannon Group and key sites in Limerick, such as King John's Castle and Bunratty Castle, because those sites may have been closed by the time the Seanad resumes. It is fair to say that everyone in this Chamber knows that is unacceptable and that there must be an intervention by the Government. If that intervention has not been made by the time we come back in September, the clamour for action will be loud and clear, day in and day out. We must do better by the workers at those key sites and the people of Limerick and Clare.
The Cathaoirleach, as a regular visitor to our city, will be aware that it was a great and fitting honour for Galway to be named the European Capital of Culture but, as we know, matters have not gone as planned for a number of reasons, including the pandemic. As a legislator, I am aware of the serious concerns relating to Galway 2020, the company that was established to deliver the programme of events. It was revealed at a Galway City Council meeting last week that in excess of €18 million has been spent despite no major events having taken place. That money was provided by the Government and the EU. In spite of the fact that no events took place, €18 million of a possible €19 million has been spent. I share the concerns of my colleagues on Galway City Council at the level of spending in light of the cancellation of all events. The Government is due to provide an additional €5 million in funding in the coming weeks for a revised programme of events. Questions must be asked because this is taxpayers' money. There is a duty on all public representatives, including everybody in this House and in Dáil Éireann, to ensure that public money is spent appropriately and in accordance with the regulated guidelines. I am asking the Deputy Leader to contact the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to ensure that the appropriate measures relating to funding are outlined. If an audit is required and I believe it is at this stage - it should be pursued via the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
I would also like to be associated with the remarks that have been made about the staff of this House. They have done a tremendous job over the years, particularly in the past number of months which have been very difficult for everybody. This Chamber has been our fourth home in the past 12 months. We have been in the temporary Seanad Chamber, the restored Seanad Chamber, the Convention Centre Dublin and now we are here in the Dáil Chamber. The staff are due great credit for having everything running smoothly even though we have been all over the place for the past 12 months.
I would like to suggest an issue into which the Cathaoirleach might look. We spent a considerable amount of money, through the Office of Public Works, OPW, to bring the temporary Seanad Chamber, owned by the National Museum of Ireland, up to a high standard for sittings of the House for two and a half years. That Chamber should be used again by the Oireachtas for committee meetings. There will be a lot of pressure in the context of meeting rooms when we return in September because joint committees will be up and running and we will need that space. I remember at that time the former head of the National Museum of Ireland, Dr. Pat Wallace, said that the staff of the museum cried when that space was given to the Seanad. We spent a considerable amount of money on it and I would hope that we would be able to use it in the future. There will be a need for it, and I ask the Cathaoirleach to investigate the possibility of using that room for committee meetings or sittings of the Seanad in the future.
Before I became a Member of the Seanad a couple of months ago, I thought that I had a bumpy ride when I got on the Cú Chulainn roller coaster at Tayto Park. I have had a bumpier ride since I came in here a few weeks ago. The cervical cancer crisis overseen by the previous Government continues. It has been compounded by the recent tragic death of Ruth Morrissey. Cervical checks are due to restart soon but breast and bowel cancer screening will not resume until September. The people of Ireland did not stop getting sick during the slowdown in the provision of general healthcare. In that context, I am calling on the Government to do better.
A recent HIQA report shows that almost 60% of nursing homes inspected after Covid-19 may have had more severe outbreaks because of weak governance and management. What action has the Government taken to improve the governance and management? I am calling on the Government to do better.
It is sad to see that it took action from our Senators yesterday to deliver an answer for those living in direct provision in the Skellig Star Hotel. I am calling on the Government to do better for those in direct provision.
The Government is miles away from where it ought to be on other issues. The fiasco surrounding data protection for citizens of our State is nothing short of criminal. If it is not alleged Garda leaks to media sources or gangland criminals, it is data collected when people leave the State. The Government must do better.
Towns and villages have been touched by the closure of businesses and loss of jobs as a result of Covid-19. Cities and towns continue to suffer because of flooding and I think particularly about Kenmare in that regard. I am asking the Government to do better.
It is all very well coming into this House day after day but, ultimately, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party hold the power to effect change. I am trusting that there is more than enough talent and capability among those parties to take on these challenges and I am holding them accountable. The Oireachtas is heading into summer recess and I can only hope that the rest will replenish the spirits of the members of the Government so that it can return with a different attitude. The people of Ireland demand and deserve more. We are watching the Government and I ask it to do better.
I also thank the staff who have shown amazing kindness to me since I came into this House in April. I appreciate that and thank them for making me feel welcome.
I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government come before us in September. That request has been made by a number of other Senators in order to discuss social and affordable housing and the homeless crisis. The issue I wish to raise comprises two interconnected aspects.One of these relates to the county development plan process, which every county council is undergoing, and the impact the national planning framework and the regional plans are having on our councillors. I raised the very unfair distribution of population figures several times at committee hearings. We are now asking councillors to make very tough decisions.
The role of Irish Water is connected to that. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. We cannot have sustainable development without infrastructure. I raised this issue at committee level. Irish Water is not answerable to this House at all, which is a complete and utter failure. That needs to be addressed. The State writes Irish Water a check for €750 million per year. There is no accountability in that regard. We have talked about regional development and sustainable development. Irish Water has no interest in the development of small towns and villages because there is no profit in it. My proposal at the time was to ring-fence a percentage of that €750 million for the development of small towns and rural villages. A 10% share would give us €75 million a year to invest in small towns and rural villages to allow them to sustain themselves in future. It is even more important now with the advent of Covid-19. We can develop spaces that will allow people to work in their towns rather than coming up to Dublin.
While Senator Byrne has probably sat in the Dáil Chamber as a Senator for longer than I did as a Deputy, I did not think I would be sitting here again so soon. It is disappointing that I have not yet had the opportunity to sit in the Seanad Chamber. I thank all the staff for making everything possible today and I hope they enjoy their summer recess.
Like Senator Casey, I would very much like to thank the staff. I am very new, so this is a wonderful experience. It is wonderful to be in the Dáil Chamber and to see the sunshine coming in from outside. We do not see it on television, but it is shines very beautifully on the ceiling. It provides haloes for all the angels here in the Chamber.
I would like to discuss the stay-and-spend initiative. We have talked about it so much, but August is about to begin. For people who are thinking of taking a staycation, I wish to highlight again how wonderful it is to travel all around the country. I particularly wish to highlight that Ballinasloe is the newest town in Ireland. We have a new streetscape and all the businesses will be painting their shop-fronts. That is one example of the amazing towns around Ireland that we sometimes miss because we are speeding from A to B on motorways. People should remember that there is a lot to see and experience and a lot of great people to meet on adventures in Ireland. I wish everyone going on holidays in Ireland a wonderful time. I encourage them to holiday safely, which is really important, especially this bank holiday weekend.
In regard to the schools we have just mentioned, I note that Scoil an Chroí Naofa in Ballinasloe is fighting very hard to ensure that people with special needs can be safely integrated into the mainstream classes. I wish everyone well for the summer and I look forward to engaging in robust and constructive debate in September.
I would like to draw the attention of the House to the wonderful State-sponsored free amenity that is the Royal Canal. It runs all the way from the Liffey, at Spencer Dock in my constituency, to Longford, a distance of almost 150 km. During the pandemic it has been an amazing amenity for the people of the north inner city, providing a space for walking, cycling and picnicking. It has taken more than ten years, but today will see the official opening of a section of the Royal Canal running from Sheriff Street to the North Strand. It is a relatively small stretch of the canal. When I brought this up with the city council more than ten years ago, I was told it was not city council land. It was owned by CIÉ and Waterways Ireland. Several State bodies would have to be involved. They all engaged and worked together. It is a great tribute to the public servants, designers, architects, engineers, construction workers and city council officials who have opened up that part of the Royal Canal. It is now a premium cycle route and walkway for everybody to enjoy free of charge.
I would like to ask the Leader to talk to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport about the next steps for the Royal Canal premium cycle route, of which this was phase 2. I would like to see phases 3 and 4 accelerated, extending the cycle route to Cross Guns Bridge in Phibsborough and from there all the way to Ashtown. It is a really well-used part of the city. It is a safe off-road cycle route running all the way from the M50 to the Irish Financial Services Centre. It is the type of public space in which we should invest for the enjoyment of everybody, either as an amenity or as a means of transport.
I would also like to thank everyone in the House, particularly the staff, who have been incredibly accommodating and supportive since I was appointed. To the Senators of all parties and none, I would like to say that it has taken me more than 16 years to get to this House. I have worked with public representatives of all parties and none. It is not my intention to waste my time or that of other Members. I will work with all Senators. We are coming through a pandemic. In the case taken by Friends of the Irish Environment that was decided today it took the courts to confirm to the world that our State is failing on climate action. We are also in the midst of a housing crisis. I will work with all Senators. However, when a vote is called on cleaning the Chamber I have to doubt their bona fides. Let us put yesterday's incident behind us and move forward. I hope Members enjoy the recess.
I would like to offer my thanks to the ushers and to the other staff of the Oireachtas. They have shown great kindness and have made me feel very welcome, as have many people in this Chamber. I hope everyone working here also gets a wonderful break. The Boyne valley is less than an hour away, so they might zip up there and have a look-see.
I would like to take a moment to refer to the controversy that raged this week in respect of a Tampax ad. I will not weigh in on the quality or merits of the ad. All sorts of ads are ill-advised, but we do not take them off the air. As a nation we need to get over the hysteria, a word I use deliberately, that arises whenever we get down to the nitty-gritty of bodies and bodily functions. The unwarranted response did nothing to deal with period poverty in Ireland or globally. In the last session both Houses passed motions around period poverty, which shows that we can have a relatively mature conversation about periods and the needs of people who have them. Yesterday, the House also discussed the work of the Homeless Period Ireland project. It should not have to do that work. Another Senator talked about someone in direct provision who was incontinent and was given a bucket. We need to have a mature conversation about women's bodies and the bodies of people who have periods. I cannot wait for the trolls to attack me for referring to "people who have periods".
I will not go into a kumbaya circle about when I had my first period, but it is problematic for the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland to insist that someone needs to be over 18 to see certain kinds of ads, an age at which people have had periods for more than half their lives. I also want to commend the Irish Family Planning Association on its Because She Counts campaign. I know many people in this House supported that.
Finally I note that today is Eid al-Adha. I do not know if Members saw the coverage of events in Croke Park this morning. It was a wonderful example of Ireland's céad míle fáilte, pluralism, religious tolerance and inclusion. I want to take this moment to wish all of my Muslim friends Eid Mubarak.
I wish to raise the lack of speech and language therapy and occupational therapy for children, both in the early intervention system and when children leave that system at the age of five and are catered for by the school age team. In 2018 a joint initiative of the Department of Education and Skills and the HSE introduced specialised therapeutic services in schools. Some 19 speech and language therapists and 12 occupational therapists were recruited in a pilot programme, with each therapist supporting a cluster of schools.The pilot was set up to test how early intervention and specialised supports can be integrated into the education system rather than being delivered in an outside forum. This system would allow therapists to support a greater number of pupils in the school environment, where there is often a large concentration of needs. In 2017, there were 741 children waiting more than one year for speech and language therapy. All the research shows that language development is critical to every aspect of children's lives and is one of the best predictions of educational achievement.
I ask the Leader to request an update from the Minister for Education and Skills outlining how the scheme will be implemented. The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, commits to a full implementation of the access and inclusion model, which helps children with additional needs to access early intervention education and care, and to expand and enhance the speech and language and occupational therapy pilot scheme in schools, given its success. I fully believe that it is the way forward for children to receive those supports in a familiar environment rather than a clinical setting.
I join others in thanking the staff of the Seanad for their work. From the first day I met the Clerk, Mr. Martin Groves, back at the beginning of April, he was most helpful and accommodating. I thank him, the Clerk Assistant, Ms Bridget Doody, and the other staff who have been so helpful at all times in putting up with us. On the last sitting day of the Seanad and Dáil, things can get out of hand. That certainly happened in the Dáil last night. When we talk about how fantastic the staff in Leinster House are, we should remember that some of those staff left their families yesterday afternoon and told them they would be home at 11 p.m. or midnight. My information is that a number of members of staff did not get home until 3.30 a.m. this morning. We talk a lot about workers' rights but what happened to workers in the Houses of the Oireachtas yesterday was absolutely disgraceful. I do not like it and it should not happen. There was clearly going to be prolonged debate in the Dáil because people were making valid arguments about speaking rights, but we cannot treat people like that. We cannot, on the one hand, say they are fantastic but then keep them out half the night, particularly when they would have told their families to expect them home at an earlier time. Perhaps it is time for reflection on that matter.
The need for a Ballaghaderreen-Strokestown bypass on the N5 in Roscommon was talked about for years. It is very badly needed and is finally under construction. However, a number of the farmers who lost their land have not been paid and that is outrageous and disgraceful. Their land was taken over and they are left years without their money. Many of them are the owners of small farms and are finding it hard to survive. We must examine whether this issue needs to be addressed in legislation to ensure no other members of the public are treated like this. The farmers in Roscommon are very concerned and upset because they have bills to meet and the loss of their land will have consequences for their farm payments, as the Cathaoirleach would know. The way this type of process is handled needs to change. I am asking the Leader to raise the issue with the Minister with responsibility for transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. We need to get it sorted out as quickly as possible.
Last week, I raised the issue of nursing homes in the context of the troubling contents of the recent report by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, into the handling of the Covid outbreak. I spoke on that occasion about the need for a formal inquiry into what has happened. In the United Kingdom, the authorities have started their inquiries into similar problems in that jurisdiction. This week, the Committee of Public Accounts at Westminster published its report, which found shocking failures in decision making. In particular, the committee condemned the decision to release 25,000 hospital patients into care homes, to free up beds, without testing those patients for Covid. This action was described in the report as "reckless" and an "appalling error". We know that more than 500 similar discharges happened in this country early on in the lockdown. That decision needs to be investigated further and the UK inquiry may perhaps give a taste of what might be discovered here.
The latest depressing development in regard to the nursing home sector in Ireland is the announcement of the closure of three facilities operated by the Sisters of Charity in Dublin. Senator Bacik adverted to one of them. The closure of the St. Mary's Centre and the Caritas Convalescent Centre, both on the Merrion Road, and St. Monica's nursing home on Belvedere Place leaves a total of 135 elderly residents to be moved elsewhere. All three facilities are facing financial difficulties and may or may not have enough funds to pay statutory redundancy to staff. The Caritas centre is closing as a direct result of the pandemic. The HSE told the centre management it could reopen with a 40% reduction in the number of beds, which made the care home financially unviable. I understood that both the St. Mary's and St. Monica's facilities had been the subject of critical HIQA inspection reports in recent years. The HSE has expressed surprise at the closures, indicating that it thought they were engaged in a process to restructure. However, the Sisters of Charity say they lack the funds needed to bring each premises up to the standards required by HIQA.
Is this the state of things to come and will other care homes fall victims to the fallout of the Covid pandemic? It is not a case of blaming those who ran the homes. If they find themselves unable to run them viably, we have to be fair in dealing with that. If the State is going to step up, it has to be done so responsibly. Unfortunately, we have had talk from irresponsible people in the other House who have no problem with seizing private property, particularly if it belongs to certain classes of people and not to others. The State has a responsibility to invest in these facilities to ensure there is a continuity of care. That involves acknowledging the investment of others, as well as the contribution of the State, in the financial running of these homes up to now. There has to be a fair solution but we should be very troubled by the closure of any of these institutions at this time. In particular, we must keep in mind the impact on those who will be most affected by such closures.
I take the opportunity to call for a debate on women's health, including the need for a women's health strategy and a proper action plan. For too long we have had a situation where women's health is ignored. Unfortunately, we have recently seen the consequences of that failure, which can be a matter of life and death. A specific issue I would like to see examined is fertility. There are couples throughout the country struggling financially, physically and emotionally with infertility. I can tell colleagues that having to deal with fertility and miscarriage issues was one of the lowest points of my life. There is nowhere to turn to for professional help.
Another issue we need to examine is the treatment of women with endometriosis, which is a cruel and debilitating disease. It takes up to nine years to get diagnosed in this country, during which time it is getting worse and one's entire body is crippled underneath the condition. I have endometriosis and today I am pain free. Last week, I stood in here feeling like I had daggers swinging around inside my stomach. I am one of the lucky ones because I was able to go to work and stand here, I am not addicted to painkillers and I do not have suicidal thoughts. The same is not true for many women in this country but they are ignored, pushed aside and told the pain they are experiencing is only a bad period. I am the second speaker to talk about periods today. Endometriosis is not just a bad period. It is a crippling disease and we need to examine how it is treated and ensure we take care of the women in this country who suffer with it.
I join colleagues in thanking the Seanad staff for their courtesy and kindness since the election. I wish everyone a very happy break for the few weeks we are in recess. In recent months we have gone through a pandemic and had major issues to deal with. Carers are one of the sectors of society whose members have come to me to say how upset and annoyed they are at how they were dealt with during the pandemic. While other people received the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, of €350 per week, carers were entitled to only €219 and no additional payment. That became a huge issue for people who were working twice as hard as usual because the usual services were not open. They felt they were not being listened to.
The situation of carers is an issue I have raised with the Minister with a view to having it addressed. The contribution of carers to our society is absolutely amazing and we have not talked enough about the trauma they have endured over the past four months. It is one of the key things we need to look at now that services are reopening and children and adults with intellectual disabilities are going back to their services. With regard to transport, for example, many service users were transported by taxi in groups of two or three. Now those taxis will be able to carry only one passenger at a time. I have a case in Bandon where a person who would usually pay €8 a day for a taxi has been asked to pay €40, which adds up to €120 for the three days per week this person goes to services. This is an example of the kind of lack of joined-up thinking that is causing major frustration for people in communities throughout the country. Not only do carers feel they were not really looked after during the pandemic but when it comes to enabling children and adults with disabilities to go back to their services, they are not being looked after either.We need to have what I would call a real debate on the issue of carers, the way they are looked after in our society and the amount of work they do. They are true heroes and we have to do more for them. A debate next September on our future strategy in that regard is very important. I ask the Leader to put that on the agenda and that when we return in September it is one of the main priorities of this House.
I would first like to note the decision made by the Supreme Court in respect of Climate Case Ireland. It is a very important reminder of how seriously we need to act on climate change. It is not simply that we need to be acting on mitigating and adapting to climate change but that we also need to ensure we are not taking actions that take us in the wrong direction. I hope we will now see the same passion that sometimes goes into the defence of property rights applied to the Supreme Court decision that tells us that climate action is a fundamental responsibility and that the State has to do more.
I join those who thanked all of the public servants in this House for their work, recognising that we are ourselves public servants, that we have to do our work and that sometimes that will be calling votes. However, it is very important to thank all the public servants here and those across Ireland. I would strongly point out that the remarks made this week in respect of public servants were unacceptable because it was our public services, in the most difficult circumstances in the very darkest times of this crisis, who kept people going across the country. That is very important and it is the reason public services, and investment in public servants' pay and conditions, and new imagined public services such as taking areas into public service as described earlier, be it in residential care and other areas, need to be looked at as part of how we build and go forward.
As we end this term I want to raise a note of concern. There are very worrying events happening around the world. We are seeing in Hong Kong a push-back against democratic rights. In terms of rule of law, we are seeing people being picked up in unmarked vehicles in the United States. In Poland, we have seen a decision to pull away from an international convention in terms of domestic violence. We saw that happen in Russia previously, which led to very dangerous laws that affected women's health and rights. It is a reminder of the reason the European Union needs to ratify the Istanbul convention and produce directives that ensure each individual woman and child in Poland has recourse to that law, if not their own country's law. It is notable that President Duda did that in Poland with a 1% majority. It was a winner-takes-all attitude to politics. That is a dangerous attitude to politics.
In Ireland, where we have valued the diversity of political opinion, we need to be extremely cautious of anything that moves us even one inch towards the idea of Government without Parliament or the idea of winner-takes-all politics. At different points in our lives all of us here might be in government, although I may never be in government, or in opposition. We have to respect each other going into the Civil War period of commemorations. Diversity of voices is crucial. The decision to roll back to Civil War-era, 1920s politics in terms of who gets to speak in the Dáil Chamber was a regressive step and one we should all be concerned about. It is very important that in this House we endeavour to keep that constructive form of politics moving forward. I urge that on everybody, not as a point of division but as a point of unity so that we can move forward and serve the people of Ireland better.
In thanking the public servants of this House for their support and unstinting helpfulness and courtesy, and all of the public servants across the country, I want to be disassociated with the remarks made by my colleague, Deputy MacSharry. He was completely wrong to say what he said.
I accept that.
Senator Gavan mentioned the Debenhams workers. There is a Debenhams in Newbridge, in Kildare South, where I live, and I have been very proud to stand with the workers, and did so over the weekend. There are a lot of negotiations going on behind the scenes. I note that the Taoiseach met Debenhams workers yesterday. He has also been in contact with the liquidator in the United Kingdom as well as the liquidator here, as I have, so hopefully we will be able to find some resolution over the next few months. I agree with Senator Gavan that that is vitally important.
The issue I want to raise concerns students at third level. It has been a very difficult year for all students, particularly leaving certificate students who now must wait an extra three weeks to get their results and to know what the future will hold for them. Many of them will go on to third level. Many will not because there are wonderful apprenticeships available. There are opportunities for other employment also. I refer to those who will go to third level and will need to move away from home. Families make huge sacrifices to send their children to third level. What happened in recent months was appalling in terms of accommodation fees that were not returned. Families paid private management companies between €6,000 and €8,000 in advance and many of them did not get back that money. In addition to that, I have a receipt from a family who paid €700 up-front for electricity for the Christmas to Easter semester. That was not returned even though the student had to leave college on 12 March. That is wrong. Families who had to pay deposits in February for the September-October 2020 start have been told now that those colleges might only sit for three weeks of the coming semester. The privately-managed companies will not rotate the accommodation so families are facing hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation costs. That is wrong. The new Department with responsibility for third level, further education and research is welcome but it is very important that the Minister with responsibility for higher education looks at the accommodation crisis and ensures that there is regulation on the private companies.
At the outset I wish all colleagues, the public service personnel here and all the staff of our House a very nice holiday, hopefully in Ireland. We have to show leadership in that area so I wish everybody well in that respect. I want to unpatronisingly and genuinely salute the integrity and courage of Senator McGreehan - I hope I am pronouncing her name correctly - for the testimony she gave to the House today. That kind of courage merits a positive response from the Leader.
I turn now to a theme I raised previously and which I will turn to as often as I can on every possible occasion during this term. Covid-19 was mentioned earlier but if it has taught us anything it is that for once we should treasure our carers and home care, and provide the opportunity for people to be cared for in their own homes. I ask the Leader to make the statutory home-care package scheme a legislative priority very early in the autumn session to ensure we have the equivalent of the fair deal scheme for people to be cared for in their homes. I ask the Leader to specifically seek to have that legislation brought to the House.
Our carers should get very attractive packages. There should be increased moneys for that in the budget. The job should be made attractive and given an enhanced status. If we do that a number of people will opt to care. Unfortunately, the current socioeconomic reality is that a number of people will be dislocated job-wise and caring should be made an attractive option, as well as retirement villages and supporting people to build granny flats etc. The immediate response to Covid-19, however, should be the provision of care in the home.
No side, either on the Opposition or the Government, has a monopoly on virtue. I never speak about the other House but I was absolutely shocked, as was the nation as a whole, by the shenanigans we witnessed on television last night. There is no gagging of democracy in these Houses and anybody who argues as much is only fooling himself or herself. A system was put in place and it does not suit a minority but as far as I can see those Members still have approximately 65% to 70% of speaking time. As they did not get their way, they chose to behave like a pack of rowdy undergraduates. There was a travesty last night as a person appointed as a teller for a vote refused to sign the result because it did not suit him. Is that democracy?
Some of those people on the extreme left are doing this nation a disservice by hyping the talk of gagging democracy. They have tried street politics and we listen to them every week outside practising megaphone diplomacy. They are now trying it in the Lower House. I am thankful nobody has tried it here yet. They have nothing to say about abuses in Trotskyite regimes like Russia, China or North Korea but if anything happens in any of the European democracies, they give out yards. I am having a bit of a rant but I believe I represent common sense in this. I appeal to those undergraduate Deputies to cop on and grow up.
How does one follow that? I will not rant so Members should not worry. There is merit in Senator O'Sullivan's suggestion. We are in a parliamentary democracy and we represent the people who put us here, whether they are the electorate for the Lower House or councillors, among others, in the Seanad. The Parliament's groups have voting strengths according to the votes received.
I raise the matter of proprietary directors not being included in the new wage subsidy scheme. I raised this issue yesterday in discussing a Bill with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fleming, and I will do so again this morning. It is a very important matter that must be addressed by the Government and a solution must be found. I am appealing to the Deputy Leader to intervene with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is a very difficult time for businesses, including self-employed family directors. They are working to create and keep jobs and we must look after them. I ask the Deputy Leader to intervene on that matter.
I join everybody in thanking the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas for their tremendous dedication, not just during the pandemic but at all times. They work irregular and unsocial hours but are always courteous, efficient, helpful and friendly. I wish all my colleagues in the House a very happy summer. Like most speakers, I suggest people come to my local area, Cork, which is the best part of the country.
Come to Kerry, Jerry. For the benefit of Members who might see people arriving later but speaking earlier than they do, there is a specific rota for speaking slots. I know it looks a bit unfair at times but it has been decided by leaders of groups. Senator Vincent P. Martin is the representative for the Green Party today. He will get three minutes. That is democracy and these are the rules. As in all parliamentary chambers, everybody should be afforded the opportunity to speak while abiding by the rules.
In the course of my maiden address to the House I did not mention the Cathaoirleach and congratulate him on his election. One is never too late to wish a person well in a new role. It is probably the last good wish he will get in this respect but I got it in before the House rose for the summer. I remember the Cathaoirleach canvassing at Monaghan County Council when Senator Robbie Gallagher was a councillor. He brought some razzmatazz to the campaign. It was out of Bobby Kennedy's book. He did not have the advantage of being a sitting county councillor but he had political acumen, like Senator Timmy Dooley, who also jumped the county council apprenticeship and went straight to the Upper House. I still have the lovely DVD.
I wish the Cathaoirleach well.
Sport has had a good airing this week and it can be the heartbeat of a community. I know we are doing our best but it is important when sport returns in any shape or form. We should really exhaust all possible channels to ensure we can restart sport while putting health and safety first. My wish this morning, as the House rises for the summer, is discuss the Leinster schools senior cup rugby final for 2020. These children, or young adults, gave six years of their lives to this. We had the spectacle of a first-ever Kildare final between Clongowes Wood and Newbridge College, which only recently celebrated the 50th anniversary since last winning the cup in 1970. These are kids or young adults and I hope they will take places in college but there is a window of opportunity in the next month for this match to happen.
I say this as the Leinster provincial team is training, along with its academy and under-20 team. Is there any way at all that the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, could give those youths a well-deserved day in the sun, even if few people are present? It could be an all-Kildare derby that would provide such a spectacle. It would be the highlight of their young sporting lives. I know the IRFU will do its best but is there any feasible or viable way to put on that match? It means so much to the young people, who are now adults. They have worked for six years to get to the promised land and have their moment in the sun. The pandemic has ripped it away from them. It is late but perhaps it is not too late. Could the IRFU look at this again to see if it is possible to put on the match? It would make many families, the teams and supporters so happy if we could defeat the pandemic this way. If there is a way of doing this while adhering to health and safety advice, it would be a spectacular boost to the young adults as they enter the next chapter of their lives. This chapter is just not closed yet and they are hoping against hope that the match can be put on. I will write to the IRFU and do everything I can to see if there is any way the match can be played.
I thank all Senators for their contributions on very important matters, both national, international and local. They are equally important.
I start with Senator Byrne's comments and I also wish the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP, a happy 50th birthday. I had the pleasure a number of years ago to attend an event in my constituency of the time with Mr. John Hume, although it was a time when his unfortunate illness was becoming evident. I join the Senator in wishing the SDLP and its members, including Mr. Colum Eastwood, a happy birthday.
Senator Boyhan mentioned healthy discussion and a respectful debate and I concur with his comments. At times there is action at late-night sittings, as we saw last night in the other House, that are definitely regrettable. I agree with his concerns about taking all Stages of Bills in one sitting. We appreciate that this is an unprecedented emergency and the House had not been constituted because there was no Government in place. This should not happen and will not happen again.I hope that in September we can return to taking Second Stage and Committee Stage of legislation on different days and maybe in different weeks.
Senators Bacik and Mullen referred to nursing homes and several other speakers, including Senators Lombard and O'Reilly, mentioned carers. The two matters are linked. I agree with all about the need for debates on this area. Nursing homes are important because in many cases there are not alternatives. I was lucky enough, when my late father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, my mother said "Billy, we will keep you at home". We were able to do that because there were seven of us in the family and we were able to do a rota. My sister from London was able to come over and work remotely on her laptop and mobile phone in Moycullen. We were able to look after him and keep him at home but other families do not have that option because they do not have the numbers of siblings that we have. I have always had a romantic view, and one of my favourite television programmes when I was younger was "The Waltons", where there were four generations of the same family living in the same house. I know that is not realistic in many cases but it is an absolutely wonderful setting where younger people are able to look after older people. There is a need to look at the whole area of carers and nursing homes. I will take the matter of Telford at Merrion back to the Minister for Health.
Senator Gavan and many others thanked public servants, as I do too. He and Senator O'Loughlin mentioned the Debenhams workers. We all recognise that former Debenhams workers have immediate questions and concerns about their redundancy payments as a result of the liquidation. There are ongoing discussions with the liquidators, the companies and unions. We note that the workers have statutory employment rights, that liquidation is court supervised and remains before the High Court. The legal proceedings have to conclude. I do not want to say anything prejudicial but it is important that their get what is in their rights. However, I disagree with Senator Gavan's view that the Government does not look after ordinary workers. The whole basis of the emergency legislation on the pandemic unemployment payment and the wage subsidy scheme has been to protect workers and, indeed, employers because it is not possible to cannot have one without the other. There is no point in employers thinking that they can run a company without employees or an employee thinking that they can get a days pay or a week's wage without someone to employ them. Of course, there are also self-employed people who are very important in all this.
Senator Crowe mentioned Galway 2020. What has happened there is regrettable. There was a litany of issues previously and the matter has been compounded this year. A wonderful event was planned but the opening-night celebrations were cancelled when a bad storm hit Galway Bay. Covid has impacted on every sector but it has had a real impact on Galway 2020, with many events either cancelled or postponed. On 10 July, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Catherine Martin, published a reimagined cultural programme for Galway 2020, with scaled-down events, although still featuring 350 artists due to work. Progress on this is being closely monitored by the Department. There has been a significant reduction in staff numbers and there is a Government commitment in the context of ensuring funding and governance.
Senator Burke made a very positive suggestion about the room in the National Museum of Ireland. I am not sure if that room is in its ownership. We are tight for space at times and no more so than during the current pandemic. The Cathaoirleach stated that he will look at this matter, which is important.
Senator Keogan said that the Government must do better. The Government, regardless of the parties which comprise it, always endeavour to do better and the role of the Opposition is to keep us on our toes in that regard. I would point out that the things that we are doing now and that we are able to do, including borrowing money for initiatives such as the July stimulus, was possible because we were able to balance our books at the start of the year and had good credit-worthiness as a State and because we had full employment at that point. It is important to remember that.
Senator Casey asked for a debate with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on housing and Irish Water. We will not get into a discussion on the various funding streams relating to Irish Water but I know that it is an important issue in the investment in rural towns and villages. I concur that it is important in relation to spatial programming and population.
Senator Dolan spoke about people holidaying at home. We all agree. She also mentioned Scoil Croí Naofa and integrating special needs into mainstream. I am sure we can take that up with the Minster for Education and Skills.
Senator Fitzpatrick spoke of the wonderful amenity of the Royal Canal and the need to speak to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on phases 3 and 4. Several Senators have asked for debates on greenways and blueways. It is important and I agree.
Senator Hoey spoke about the Tampax ad and the near hysteria surrounding it, as well as the more important point on period poverty. It is something that does not personally impact on people of my sex but we do appreciate the importance of the issue. In the previous Oireachtas, the Irish Women's Parliamentary Caucus had a special debate in the Houses on period poverty. If all it takes is for 82 people to object to an ad for its removal, God knows what might happen down the line on other ads. I question the decision in this regard.
Senator Carrigy raised the important issue of speech and language therapy services. It is hugely important for those who require those basic services. It is mentioned in the programme for Government and it is important that it is not just a mention but that there is full implementation. All of us here, including the Opposition, have a role in ensuring the Government is focused on that.
Senator Murphy referred to the N5 bypass around Strokestown to Ballaghaderreen, a €200 million project that is under way. He mentioned concerns that family farmers have not been paid. It is a serious issue. There is a process and compulsory purchase orders have been made. There is a statutory process that the Irish Farmers Association on consent and access worked on. I will take the matter up with Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the Minister.
Senator McGreehan, as Senator O'Reilly acknowledged, told a very personal story about fertility, and the women, and indeed couples, who struggle with it. I will not get too personal about that as it would not be right, but I applaud what she has said and it is important that the issues she raised are taken on board.
Senator Higgins raised a number of issues including the importance of public servants, residential care and climate change. These are all very important points. She and Senator O'Sullivan mentioned what happened in the Dáil last night. Senator Higgins spoke of a winner-takes-all attitude towards politics and how diversity of voices is important. I agree with that but it is also important that there is more proportionate speaking times for Members which is the point of what was voted on yesterday. Indeed, there was no reduction in Opposition speaking time, but there was more proportional times given to those speaking based on the numbers in the Dáil.
Among the matters raised by Senator O'Loughlin that of accommodation payments at third level. I will ask the Minister with responsibility for further and higher education, Deputy Harris, to take up the matter of those payments.
Senator Buttimer referred to parliamentary democracy and to proprietary directors. I raised this with the Minster for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, yesterday. He stated that he is aware of the issue. It is a standard measure to avoid the abuse of these schemes but he will look into the matter in terms of the scheme's development.
Senator Martin spoke of the importance of sport and urged that we exhaust all channels to get sporting events back, specifically the all-Kildare Leinster Senior Cup final. It should happen. Those involved in rugby, especially schools rugby and in Leinster in particular, place huge importance on winning a medal in a final like that. I hope those involved get an opportunity to complete the fixture and that the IRFU takes that on board, taking into account the considerations relating to health.
Before we agree the Order of Business, I thank Senator McGreehan for sharing her story with us. I know it is not an easy thing to do but it gives people courage. She has gone through a huge trauma and I hope other women take comfort from her championing their cause here.