Friday, 18 September 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sittings of the House on Wednesday 23 September and Thursday 24 September, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 1a, motion regarding Standing Orders 16 and 29, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the establishment of the Select Committee on European Union Affairs, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1a, without debate; No. 3, motion regarding the establishment of the Select Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to be taken on conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, motion regarding the establishment of the select committees, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate; No. 5, motion regarding the work programme of select committees, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, without debate; Nos. 6 and 7, motions regarding the election of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, to be taken on conclusion of No. 5, and to be discussed together; No. 8, the Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill 2019, Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m. or after 20 minutes on conclusion of Nos. 6 or 7, whichever is the later.
I agree to the Order of Business as proposed by the Leader, but I do want to raise some issues. We need to discuss the very real prospect that Dublin will now face increased restrictions. This House should acknowledge, and on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group I acknowledge, the severe implications that these increased restrictions will have for businesses and livelihoods and on citizens living in the city centre and beyond. I know these recommendations were not made lightly, and I am sure that a Cabinet decision to implement NPHET's recommendations will also not be made lightly.
I hear loud and clear, however, what has been said about the challenges and difficulties that these restrictions will pose for businesses. I was having a cup of coffee and talking to a member of staff in a business close to Leinster House just this morning, and it was obvious that there is genuine worry for livelihoods and businesses. The person I spoke to referred to his colleagues who have already been laid-off and who may never return to work. This situation, therefore, is having a serious impact on our capital city.
Remarkably, however, small towns and villages beyond the capital are doing well. We had a very good tourist season in Mayo, for example. People left our cities and large towns and came to rural Ireland, so it is an ill wind that does not blow some good. If our capital is not doing well, though, our country has a serious problem and we must look at the long-term impact of these restrictions on businesses and communities in the capital city.
I also raise the issue of maternity restrictions. This matter has been raised in the Lower House, but we also need to examine the trauma being imposed on women. Many thousands of them are sitting in consulting rooms on their own and hearing very difficult news about the pregnancies. These women are also going through labour on their own and some hospitals are not even facilitating visitors. I have been there myself and I can attest to how difficult, challenging and traumatic is the experience. We must look at how we look after women in maternity care settings for the foreseeable future, because this pandemic is not going to end any time soon.
I turn to the issue of the migrant camp on Lesbos. I proposed a Commencement matter on this issue, but it was not selected this week. I have been in discussions with the office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, because I think it is incumbent on us, as a First World country and a member of the European Union, to do something about this situation. We have been asked to take in unaccompanied minors, children without parents, guardians or protection, and look after them. I do not think we have stepped up to the plate on this issue. It is unfair to expect Greece to have to deal with this issue on its own.
Regarding turning a blind eye to the situation, I have seen some commentary online to the effect that we need to look after our own first. My response to such comments is let us do both. A message should issue from this House that we are willing, with arms open, to take in those children immediately. I want the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, to listen to this message and I hope he hears it loud and clear.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 12 be taken before No. 1." This Bill concerned deals with genetic screening, an issue on which I spoke at some length in the previous Seanad.
I also raise the business of fobbing in. We are certainly getting mixed messages from the Government. We are being told on the one hand to stay at home, isolate and work from home, but then we are also being told to come into the House because we must fob in. I raise this issue because I am in four vulnerable categories. My health is threatened and I am being penalised for being vulnerable. I think this is absolutely absurd, and talk about mixed messages.
I would also like to comment on the recent death of Desmond Guinness, who was a most remarkable man. I was lucky to enjoy his friendship for more than 50 years.Desmond and his wife Mariga founded the Irish Georgian Society in the early 1960s. They were derided by the authorities, particularly by the then Government, and made a nonsense of, but they rescued Castletown House and a very large section of our cultural heritage. We should be very grateful to them. Among the other houses rescued were several associated with my own family. I am very grateful to the Guinnesses for doing what they did. Their not having doing so would have been such a loss. The point that Desmond always made, which I made myself, was that we should say to hell with the ascendancy and the people who built these houses — one can have different views about them and they were a mixed bunch — but we should think about the Irish craftsmen, including the stuccadores, plasterworkers, ironmongers, timber carvers and bricklayers. These were essentially Irish. There is a considerable difference in feeling between the plasterwork in Edinburgh and London and that in Dublin. Dublin has a lightness, grace and beauty that are unsurpassed.
I want to address the complete lack of clarity behind, and the lack of an explanation for, the reported decision to close indoor eating spaces in Dublin. Communication and basic thoughtfulness were completely lacking in this process. Last night, thousands of workers in pubs, cafés and restaurants across the city found out through the media that they may well be unemployed by the weekend. I have heard stories of workers becoming visibly upset as the news spread through their restaurant. The Government may be bad at disseminating information but people are not fools. News spreads fast. It was terrible that people had to find out in such a haphazard way. Many still have questions. When will the regulations come into force? How many people sitting outside may be served? Would it even be feasible to stay open if the outdoors were the only resource? There seems to be a new three-step decision-making process, extending from NPHET to the subcommittee to the Cabinet. I wonder whether the Government even thought about workers on this occasion. I hope detailed reasoning will be given to workers in the sector.
There were 6,800 inspections of pubs over one weekend, yet there have been only five clusters associated with pubs, according to the figures released two days ago. Outbreaks in meat plants have accounted for one third of all workplace clusters, that is, 44 clusters. Thousands of premises will close across Dublin this weekend. Why was a meat plant with 226 associated cases not shut down? There is a perception that certain industries are being treated with kid gloves, and today's expected move does nothing to counter that theory. Therefore, the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, needs to come to this House next week, if only for a few minutes, to set out clearly the rationale for the closures. Pubs and restaurants are not the problem. There are controlled environments. The latest figures identifying clusters show that there were just three clusters associated with pubs and restaurants across the State last week.
Just before the summer, we voted in this House to lift the eviction ban that protected renters in the course of the Covid emergency. We are seeing new restrictions in Dublin and, as my colleague referred to here, many people in the events, arts, hospitality and restaurant sectors have been told their jobs are likely to be lost by the weekend. We are aware that a disproportionate number of these people are renters, that renters were most affected by the job losses back in March, and that they will be most affected by the new restrictions coming in. For renters, support and security are essential. I ask that the relevant Minister come to this House to review the ban on evictions. We were told the legal advice underpinning the ban on evictions was that people were being asked not to move. We are told this week that people in Dublin are being asked not to move. We need emergency support to bring back the ban on evictions and the enhanced rent supplement that was applied.
Threshold has said in a report it sent to me that, from March to August of this year, 163 people have been threatened with eviction and served with eviction notices.The other day, somebody had to have nine people troop through the house in the middle of a Covid-19 emergency because the landlord was selling over 12 units in the house and was interviewing potential buyers. If we are asking people to restrict their movements and limit contacts, we must have supports in place now, as we did in March. The Minister with responsibility for housing should immediately come to the House to address the issue of the enhanced rent supplement that renters need and we are relying on. We have reverted to the old rules, and we must also reinstate the eviction ban.
I also raise the review of co-living and change of use applications. Over the summer, we have seen some developers either apply for co-living developments or move to apply for them while the Minister has said they are under review. There is a planning application going through in my area that is to change student accommodation into tourist and visitor accommodation. The argument is that the international student market is collapsing but the domestic tourism market is not. We need to get a hold on our planning system to try to build the right type of housing. Co-living student and tourist accommodation is not what we require and I would like to see an update, three months on, for the co-living review.
General practitioners and pharmacists have grave concerns for their patients about the initial delivery and roll-out of the flu vaccine. Delivery of the flu vaccine has already been delayed and, worse still, the number of vaccines that some doctors have been told they will receive is tiny. I have spoken to GPs and pharmacists, one of whom has received 20 vaccines. One large GP practice received an initial delivery of 60 vaccines. GPs and pharmacists are correctly worried and perplexed about this on behalf of their patients. Surely, this year of all years, the Health Service Executive should have ensured timely delivery of the vaccine and a sufficient number of vaccines to meet patient demands. The last thing this country needs is a surge in flu cases during a Covid-19 pandemic when there is an already overcrowded system.
The House will debate Brexit in a more substantive way but it appears the attitude being adopted by the British Government is that if it does not get what it wants, it will legislate for it anyway. It is not that it will legislate but it is already producing that legislation. It is playing dangerous games with hard-won peace and adopting a Harvey Smith type of attitude to the other party to the contract. The more senior Members in the House will remember who Harvey Smith is.
I heard he was a very good showjumper. The British people should speak up on this. I appeal to my fellow parliamentarians in the House of Commons and the House of Lords not to undermine peace or relegate Britain to a state where it cannot be trusted in negotiations.
I have concerns about America and Britain and the damage that could be done to western democracy. At least in America there is a possibility that a certain outcome in November's election will alleviate our fears. The British situation is far more serious. Peace has been so hard won and the reckless disregard shown for building on that peace is little short of a scandal.
I will address the rise of the far right. It is very rare that I would say I am afraid of anything but right now I am very afraid of the rise of the far right in Ireland. I hold great fear for the future if we do not stand together against hate and division. We do not have to agree on everything. We do not have to agree on economics and social policies.This threat should unify us as a country and as people. There is no place in our country for an agenda that divides us from one another and that seems to be the aim: to pit neighbour against neighbour, brother against brother and sister against sister. The only way to fight this is to stand together against it. I do not have to remind anyone in this House of our Proclamation's powerful pledge as a nation to cherish all the children of the nation equally. As a child, my mother always told me that blowing out someone else's candle will not make mine shine any brighter. She was right; it is by helping others that makes our own candles shine brighter.
There have been protests on our streets in recent weeks where people have not worn masks, with people engaging in pure nonsense behaviour in the middle of a pandemic. They have drawn attendance by and included speeches from members of far-right parties. There has been violence. We have seen our tricolour, the flag of every person who lives in Ireland, being used during these violent protests. The word "patriot" has been used as something to divide rather than unite us. Whether someone is a member of a political party or none, everyone has a duty of care and a responsibility to the people of Ireland. We should stand together against the rise of the far right. Now is the time for all Ireland to stand and unite in solidarity, not division. If we do not stand together against this threat, we will live to regret it. We should live and let live. I encourage everyone, especially this weekend, young and old, to wear their masks to protect themselves and others around them.
I ask that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, examine why Bus Éireann removed its discount to people with epilepsy for services on Bus Éireann and Expressway services. This was removed without any notice whatever. People with epilepsy can be temporarily or permanently restricted from driving. The discount, which was about 10% of fares on Bus Éireann or Expressway services, can make the difference between someone undertaking travel, including for work, or not. This move is contrary to the Oireachtas report on accessibility to transport for people with disabilities, specifically recommendations 9 and 10. We understand the National Transport Authority, NTA, directed that the discount be removed. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to seek a reversal of this move, which affects up to 700 people. It is unfair. I acknowledge we are experiencing a Covid-19 pandemic but there are issues affecting vulnerable people in society for which Members must stand up.
I wish to thank the Minister for Education and Skills for meeting myself and representatives from Dublin South Central about opening Scoil Choilm as a hub for pupils with autism. We met the D12 ASD group. The meeting was very promising. I ask that moment is kept behind the project. There is a great lack of services nationally for those with autism, whether it be children who need a specific school or autistic spectrum disorder classes in mainstream schools.Each child is different and has different needs. Finally, I support my colleague, Senator Chambers, on welcoming unaccompanied minors from Lesbos. I know many people who are involved in charities in Lesbos and they are finding it very difficult at present to do any fundraising, as people cannot meet or organise events. At this time, when these children do not have shelter, accommodation or basic rights, it is a small gesture on our part to take them in.
Five days ago, the 59th anniversary of the Battle of Jadotville occurred. This topic has been raised consistently by Senator Craughwell whom I saw earlier in the Chamber, our former colleague, Gabrielle McFadden and at the monthly meeting of Kerry County Council by Councillor Jim Finucane. On 13 September 1961, A Company of the 35th Infantry Battalion found themselves under attack from the army of the Katangan government. It is a story that we all know extremely well. In essence, 3,500 enemy soldiers launched an offensive attack against 155 Irish troops. At the end of the battle, A Company suffered five wounded in comparison to 300 dead and 750 wounded of enemy forces. The fact that there was not one single Irish casualty is something else. The Jadotville action is one of the best defensive perimeter battles in the history of military action. It has been taught by the German army for the past 28 years and the Australian army for the last 15 years. It has been presented in presentations to armies of 25 countries worldwide.
In 2016, supported by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, a unit citation was awarded to A Company. This is the first and only time in the history of the Irish Army that a unit citation has been awarded. That was known as the Jadotville Medal. It is not to be confused with the medals for gallantry and the distinguished service medal that Commandant Pat Quinlan recommended to 31 of his men for bravery in action for the events of 13 September 1961. Currently, eight of these men are still alive and living in Ireland. On his last day in office, the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, met Commandant Leo Quinlan and stated that those 31 medals should be awarded as a matter of urgency. As we have passed the 59th anniversary and only eight of the 31 who were so recommended are still alive, I would greatly appreciate if this House could convey to the Minister for Defence and to the Taoiseach the urgency of having these medals awarded. I am sure we can all agree that 59 years for bravery in action is far too long a wait.
I thank the Leader for presenting the proposed Order of Business for our consideration today. I second Senator Norris's proposed national screening advisory committee Bill. I acknowledge what Senator Chambers said in respect of the minors in Lesbos. It is important. I lived in Greece for a number of years myself; they are a remarkable and resilient people. It is beholden on all of us as European citizens to play our full and active part. It is something we should consider in more detail and I thank Senator Chambers for raising it.
I thank the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Chambers, for circulating the legislative programme for the autumn session for 2020. It is particularly interesting and I advise colleagues to have a good look at it and to mark out the areas in which they may have a particular interest. I am on the agricultural panel and note that under agriculture, which is one of the first things on the list, is the agriculture appeals (amendment) Bill. The legislative programme suggests that it is the Government's commitment to have pre-legislative scrutiny. However, I learned last night that the Business Committee of the Dáil took the decision to have no pre-legislative scrutiny of it. That is something. A document that was circulated yesterday refers to pre-legislative scrutiny. Government members on the committee took a decision, as is their right and prerogative, to have no pre-legislative scrutiny. That brings me to another issue. Everyone will be aware that we had a public consultation about this Bill. We will be dealing with it next week. I do not intend to talk about the Bill here today. We know that there are 8,889 of our citizens engaged in a public consultation and it would be helpful and meaningful if the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and our Senator, who is the Minister of State in respect of this area, could allow us to see a copy of those submissions today.More important, it would be helpful if we could see an index of those who made submissions. Politicians made submissions, and I have copies of many of those, so I look forward to seeing a consistency of approach in this process.
I welcome that the legislation will be before us next week. I will deal with that matter later.
The House will be well aware of the considerable issues that have resulted from Covid-19 and of its impact on the tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors. It is appropriate that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should appear before us to set out in a clear and concise way the Government's plans for reopening those sectors. The devastation caused to the lives and livelihoods of the many people attached to them cannot be underestimated.
If we are to ensure that we protect the key infrastructure of our aviation sector, some certainty needs to be given to airlines. We have all heard the rumours of Ryanair and Aer Lingus removing aircraft from bases at Shannon in County Clare and at Cork Airport. We know how the aviation sector works - if that happens, it could be two to three years before those airlines consider reopening those routes. I cannot overstate for the House the impact that this would have on the capacity of the mid-west and south to rebuild our economy when we get to the other side of Covid, which I have no doubt we will. If key infrastructure is not protected, we will effectively be working with our hands tied behind our backs. I do not doubt that Dublin Airport will prosper again. It is the capital city and, when things get moving, it will see activity again. However, if we do not retain key services in places such as Shannon and Cork, we will be in real trouble.
The Government must consider the public service obligation, PSO, elements that existed previously. Routes were not profitable for a time but they were necessary for developing, growing and sustaining regions' economies. State support was provided to airlines to ensure that those key routes remained open. We need that kind of thinking again. The House must debate this matter so that certainty is given to the aviation sector, including airlines, and the tourism facilities that depend so much on such services.
I wish to discuss the future of the 30 county childcare committees throughout the Twenty-six Counties. On 27 July, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, announced a review of the current model to support the delivery of accessible, affordable and high-quality early learning and care and school-aged childcare services. Part of the review was to examine the architecture of the administration of the various childcare schemes and institutions, with a remit to recommend improvements based on the principle of best practice. This process, which forms part of the programme for Government commitment to devise a workforce development plan and a new funding model, was opened for consultation in mid-August and is to close on 2 October.
There was a recent article in The Sunday Business Post. I will not read it all, but I will highlight the comments in one section. According to the article, there are more than 30 county childcare committees operating at an annual cost of €11 million, which may well need to be axed to make way for the proposed Childcare Ireland. The article also asserts that the civil servants in the Minister's Department are distinctly unenthusiastic about these committees and have stated in briefing notes that the childcare committee structure does not lend itself to providing the national consistency sought by the Department. This concerns me greatly, because it appears that the outcome of the process has been determined before the consultation has even finished.
Although civil servants might feel that county childcare committees do not lend themselves to providing the national consistency sought by the Department, has consideration been given to the idea that one size might not fit all in the provision of support to local early years and school-aged services and parents? Needs vary from county to county and even within counties, from town to town, where local relationships are vital to supporting the sector. I was involved in setting up an afterschool service in my local area a number of years ago. Based on that experience, I know the supports that county childcare committees give and the significant work done behind the scenes by voluntary committees. Alongside a number of others, my wife is involved in providing support to such a scheme.
I know the Longford County Childcare Committee extensively. It has collaborated with a number of local agencies on promoting specific initiatives in our communities, including the Longford Sports Partnership, Music Generation Longford, the refugee resettlement programme and intercultural working groups, to name a few.The priority should be to increase pay in the childcare sector. That is where the issues lie and those problems need to be sorted. Further investment is needed in childcare to bring pay to a certain level, rather than dismantling a structure that works in communities and the childcare sector.
I bring to the attention of the Leader a matter on which I have written to the Minister for Health and which colleagues in the North have also raised. Issues have arisen with tracking and tracing of cross-Border workers. I ask that we immediately find out for employers what the current protocols are for employees who reside in the South but live in the North and vice versa because there seems to be mixed messages coming from both jurisdictions. I am sure the Leader will agree that the 30,000 cross-Border workers and their families deserve the same treatment as everyone else on the island. It has come to my attention that there have been errors in sharing data, particularly in Border constituencies. While we have raised the issue with the Minister in writing, it needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency given the significance of the spread of the coronavirus. I ask that the Leader relay my concerns to the Minister and his officials and ask that they immediately have conversations with officials in the North to see if these problems can be rectified sooner rather than later.
While it is very important that we continue to highlight the plight of professional artists and musicians, I draw the attention of the House and the Minister with responsibility for the arts to the situation facing the amateur arts community. Normally, around this time of year, amateur drama groups are preparing for one-act or three-act drama festivals and amateur musical societies are preparing their productions for the 2021 season. Obviously, because of Covid these cannot go ahead this year. It will be arts and drama organisations, as well as sporting and other organisations, that bring communities back together in cities, towns and villages. I welcome that the Minister has set up a task force to consider ways to rebuild the arts. However, it is also important that we support community arts and local drama and theatre groups. I ask that specific measures be put in place to support the amateur drama community.
At the start of this month, An Post was deservedly named company of the year at The Irish Timesbusiness awards. We are all familiar with the work of our postmen and postwomen. In the course of this pandemic, they have gone beyond delivering letters and parcels, often looking in on the elderly and vulnerable people in our communities. I ask the Cathaoirleach, on behalf of this House, to write to An Post congratulating it on being named company of the year and thanking its workers for their continuing service, particularly during the course of the pandemic. It would be appropriate to acknowledge them.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 11 be taken ahead of No. 1. No. 11 is the State Airports (Shannon Group) (Amendment) Bill 2020, which proposes to amend the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act to facilitate the appointment of an elected member of Clare County Council to the board of the Shannon Group. Shannon Airport is in the rateable authority of Clare County Council and pays its rates to the council. However, there seems to be a lack of connectivity between the airport authority and Clare County Council. No one is at fault here; it is simply because there is no political representative of the county council on the board.Given that Clare County Council successfully built the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience from 600,000 visitors originally up to just under 2 million in 2019, I believe that it has a unique perspective on tourism, its growth and building a tourism product. Having run very successful events such as the Irish Open and participated very fully in the development of the concept of the Wild Atlantic Way, I believe that the appointment of a member of the council to the board of the Shannon Group, in whatever future guise it will have in the aftermath of the Minister's review, is important. The board has not benefited from that knowledge. Issues concerning Shannon Heritage and what happened in recent months may have been avoided if a county councillor elected by the people of Clare had been on the board.
I hope the State Airports (Shannon Group) (Amendment) Bill 2020 will receive the support of Senators across the House because, in situations such as that to which I refer, it is always good to have a county councillor, an elected member, there to articulate the voice of the people of a particular area. Councillors are elected by the people every five years. We need to consider having local authority representatives on various boards of this nature throughout the country.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I echo the sentiments expressed by Senators Chambers and Boyhan in welcoming yesterday's announcement by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy O'Gorman, on the intake of four unaccompanied minors from Lesbos to Ireland. As we know, Ireland's record in the context of taking migrants has been patchy. We have had promises but the numbers have been lowered than promised in recent years, so we welcome the development. Médecins Sans Frontières is seeking that Ireland would do more and we call on the Government to do that.
I wish to refer to the restrictions to be announced later today for Dublin. In this House, we all understand that compliance is critical to suppressing the virus. If we are to have compliance across the board within communities, however, then people need to understand why restrictions are being imposed. Senator Warfield referred to the proposed ban on indoor dining. There is a behavioural change sub-committee of NPHET but I have not heard anything from it for weeks or even months as to what it is advising NPHET to do. There is much confusion and a lack of clarity as to how the ban on indoor dining, in a controlled environment, will have the effect of suppressing the virus in Dublin. There is a very serious question here about the behavioural signalling relating to such a measure because we know that the incidence of transmission of the virus is happening in people's homes as opposed to occurring in controlled environments. This measure will have a devastating impact on the businesses involved.
There is an irony in the fact that yesterday we saw the first of the cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. The payment is going in one direction, namely, decreasing, while the level of restrictions is increasing. This is a very serious issue and we want the Minister for Health, the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to come before the House to outline the support measures they are going to provide to people in the pub, hospitality and arts sectors who are facing into a very long winter.
The issue I wish to raise relates to a number of Departments. I refer to the local property tax. We are in a year when all family and household incomes have suffered a negative impact due to Covid-19, yet we are asking local authority members to increase the property tax, thereby increasing the burden on those same households.
That could have been avoided if previous Governments had addressed the two fundamental issues of the revaluation process and the fact that the property tax was not paid on new homes that were built, thus increasing the burden on the owners of existing properties.I accept that dealing with this issue is now in the programme for Government, but regretfully, legislation is required to deal with the revaluation and bringing new properties into the net. What does not need legislation and is in the programme for Government is the commitment that all money collected locally be maintained locally in each county.
The second issue here relates to the self-funding element and the baseline element. We have an opportunity to give the council some break before the budgetary process starts in a month. The Ministers for Finance and Housing, Planning and Local Government should look at both those elements, which can be adjusted and can give additional funding to local authority members to provide the services that are badly needed, while we try to address the legislation that is needed for the other two matters I have raised.
I wish to raise two issues today. The first is that of the Debenhams workers. We cannot forget about them and their appalling treatment by Debenhams. The workers have been picketing the stores since April for a just redundancy settlement of four weeks' redundancy per year of service. The workers are showing great resilience in their fight for fairness and have rightly rejected as insulting the offer made by the liquidator KPMG. Debenhams should not be allowed to walk away from its obligations and claim inability to pay a fair redundancy to workers who have given years of service to the company. The workers have been resolute in their determination in mounting pickets on the stores to halt the transfer of the stock to the British stores. As the trade unions have suggested, the Government should introduce a statutory scheme under which the State would pay workers enhanced levels of redundancy payments, provided for in the collective agreements in cases involving companies that go into liquidation, such as Debenhams. I would like the Minister to come to this House and give us an assurance that the Government will pass new legislation to ensure that no more workers have to go through a similar situation.
Second, I must raise the apparent ignoring by Britain of international law in its Brexit negotiations. The shared island unit that was set up should give assurances to the people in the North that they will be subject to the protections of international law. I was contacted by an Irish citizen living in the North who asked if she could now legitimately ask for a Border poll so she could be assured that she lives under international law and that it will be applied. She also said that "all arguments that this is not the right time or in any way contentious have just been blown out of the constitutional water". The concerns expressed by people over this latest statement must be addressed by the Irish Government as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. I ask the Minister to come in here and give an assurance that the new unit will be composed of representatives of all groups who have been working towards a shared Ireland, as it is deeply worrying when one of the parties to the Good Friday Agreement feels it is no longer bound by international law.
I raise the issue of school transport, though I know it is proposed to have a debate on it next Thursday. I have been dealing with a particular family in west Waterford who, due to connectivity issues and through no fault of their own, submitted a late application for school transport for their three children, two of whom received a seat on the school bus last year. Bus Éireann has since accepted their application and payment for school transport for the three children this year. While I understand that priority has to be given to those who submitted their applications on time, there are four free spaces on the bus that passes this family's door but these three kids have not been able to access them. Common sense is seriously lacking. This is not just an issue for me in west Waterford. I am sure this is an issue for many Members of this House right across the country because common sense and joined-up thinking are clearly lacking.This needs to be addressed at ministerial level. If it is necessary to establish a clearing house to which Oireachtas Members can submit common-sense issues, then I ask that the Leader ensure this is done. We cannot allow this situation to continue. The bus passes the house of the family to which I refer. There are four free spaces on the vehicle and only three children in the family waiting to get on it. However, they are prevented from doing so. That is ridiculous.
Like others, I wish to comment on the restrictions that will possibly be imposed throughout Dublin later today. I fully appreciate the rising number of cases. In that context, the increase in the number of cases in hospital ICUs is a matter of deep concern for all Senators. If further restrictions are to be imposed on the hospitality sector, which has already taken a huge hit, then I request that the advice and evidence on which these restrictions are being introduced be published because, naturally, we want to bring the people with us. We must provide certainty and give them the information that is required. The data I have seen so far informs me that only a handful of outbreaks have been linked to restaurants and bars since they reopened. I must say that 99% of restaurants and pubs have adhered to the restrictions and if they have not then they should be closed forthwith. The Garda has the powers now do that and regardless of whether it is a gastropub or a restaurant, it should happen immediately.
The real likelihood is that removing the current socialising options that exist in controlled settings will lead to an increase in the number of uncontrolled settings. I have huge concerns about that. Certainly, in respect of the city of Galway and the Airbnbs, I have been inundated with complaints, as are the Garda and the local authority. It is an area we need to look at because the residents and the people of this country who are trying to live in the correct manner are being affected. In one house in Galway recently, 73 people attended a party. That is totally unacceptable.
The impacts beyond Covid-19 must also be considered. I refer to the economic impacts of course, but the mental health and well-being of people is a major issue, as the Cathaoirleach will be aware. Some 50,000 employees and business owners are affected. It is simply unacceptable and we need to look at it. I ask that this House supports the hospitality sector.
I sympathise completely with the remarks made by other Senators regarding what we are being told in the media about what the Government intends to do on the basis of the advice from NPHET. I have no confidence in NPHET for the very simple reason that the difference in treatment of meat plants and restaurants between it and the HSE is dramatic and inexplicable. I have no confidence in the HSE because for the three years from 2016 to 2019, report after report recommended increasing the level of ICU provision in hospitals but practically nothing was done. When this situation arose again in March, we heard at the Covid committee that sanction had been given for an increase in ICU capacity. That is the politics and the administration of paralysis.
Closing down restaurants on this day in this capital will condemn vast swathes of vulnerable, underpaid people to go home to their bedsits, or wherever they live, and spend weeks alone without proper wages. That is what will happen. What is being proposed has not been scientifically justified and is wrong.It flies in the face of the strategy announced two weeks ago by the Government that it was going to open these places again. It flies in the face of science. It is wrong.
This House should debate these regulations. We have not debated them. We stand up and speak for two minutes on them. They are misguided. NPHET does not deserve our respect. The HSE does not deserve our respect. They are implementing policies which are cruel, wasteful and extremely damaging to our economy and extremely damaging to public health in terms of cancer, psychiatry, psychology and well-being across the board. It is time we stood up and demanded that these regulations be properly debated in this House.
I second Senator Conway's amendment. I agree with Senator McDowell that it is important that the House would debate the regulations and that we also hold people to account.
I join Senator Dooley in calling for a debate next week on the aviation sector. I raised this matter in the House prior to the summer recess and I do so again today conscious that Government is to announce a further suite of measures today. The report of the task force for aviation recovery has been published. We are at a critical juncture for the aviation sector and the airports in Cork and Shannon. This is not about Cork versus Shannon; it is about airports being able to continue to operate. This is critical. If we do nothing else in this House in the next two weeks prior to the budget, we need to have the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, or the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, come into the House to discuss this issue. There are jobs and livelihoods at stake. To put it in context, Ryanair has bases in Cork and Shannon. If they are moved, it will be devastating not only for the people working in the airports but for the offshoot businesses, particularly in Cork.
There are 12,180 people in full-time employment as a consequence of Cork Airport. It generated €904 million for the Irish economy last year. Notwithstanding the sabre-rattling of Ryanair, those of us who met them in Cork saw a chief executive who was not raising a flag but was genuinely giving an opinion and a view, as were the staff accompanying him. I call on the Leader to provide for a debate on this issue in the House next week. We cannot obfuscate any more in regard to our aviation centre.
I agree with the comments of Senator McDowell in regard to meat factories. The public is not happy with what is going on in the meat factories. We all know the importance of the jobs in that area and the importance of the export market but for this particular business to be up and running, we must have in place the strictest conditions and testing. That is not happening and there are question marks over what is going on there. I appeal to the Government and the HSE to ensure the strictest testing structure is put in place immediately. I note there was reference to the situation in Cork as well. This needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency. The Government is expecting people to accept new measures that are to be introduced.
Flooding has been a massive issue throughout this country. It has got worse in the context of climate change. I will not spend too much time speaking about the River Shannon basin and the damage that has been to it for years and years. It is now in a worse condition. Farmers and businesses in that area have suffered. It has to be acknowledged that the previous Government and former Minister of State, Mr. Moran, did a lot on flooding. It provided a huge budget for it. It is important that particular campaign of helping people to deal with the flooding issue continues. As I said, a lot of work has been done.We have protected towns and villages but we have pushed the water out into rural areas, which is causing more flooding of agricultural land and affecting businesses in rural area. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State with responsibility for this issue, Deputy O'Donovan, to come to the House and give us an update on what is planned to deal with what will be a very serious problem for the nation.
Today is the first United Nations international equal pay day and I ask the Leader for a debate on legislation to close the gender pay gap. This House passed legislation that I and the Labour Party group initiated previously but unfortunately it seems to have run into the ground. I would like a debate on it.
I echo the words of Senator Sherlock in welcoming the decision by the Minister and the Government to bring in unaccompanied children from the Moria camp. We need to do more and show more generosity in this regard.
In respect of the reports that Dublin is facing increased regulation and restriction, what we need is clarity. I do not think it is helpful to blame NPHET or the HSE. Responsibility lies with the Government. I agree with those who say we should debate the regulations in the House. We did debate them in the context of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill. It ended up being a debate about the regulations and which were penal provisions and which were not. What we need to see, and what we have not had from the Government this week, is clarity on whether it is following NPHET recommendations, which are only recommendations, and why it is doing so. We need to see the rationale and rational evidence-based political decision-making by the Government. Where we are looking for responsibility it lies with the political decision makers.
August was a busy time for the west. There were more than 600 submissions to the Galway to Athlone cycleway project office in Ballinasloe, which shows the desire and need for the cycleway from Dublin to Galway to happen as soon as possible. I thank the more than 200 people who called to my office in Ballinasloe to make a submission on why Ballinasloe would be the perfect next destination on the greenway route. It would transform our town, particularly through working together with all other towns by consensus. Along with having the newest streets in our town we also have the shiniest shops. I congratulate the more than 90 businesses who took the time in this particularly challenging period to make an application to have their streetscapes enhanced. This is a pilot measure conducted by Galway County Council in Athenry and Ballinasloe. Will the Leader ask the Minister with responsibility for housing to see how we can ensure the maximum number of businesses are supported under this initiative. It is fantastic to see there is a desire to do this but support is needed for it to happen.
Ireland is up for the first public citizenship award in Natura 2000 and I ask all of my colleagues to take two minutes today to log on to the Natura 2000 awards website and support Ireland's living bog project. We have 12 raised bogs in Ireland, including one in Mountbellew and two in Roscommon. We are chasing the Italians and the Bulgarians for the award. If colleagues vote for the living bog project and share it, Ireland could win a Natura 2000 conservation award for the first time. We have 2,996 votes against 6,000 for the Italians and 10,000 for the Bulgarian so let us get voting. Our unique boglands inspired our Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, so I am sure they will inspire all of us to take two minutes to vote.
As spokesperson for innovation, I call for the support of everyone in the House to maintain the budget for Horizon Europe and European Research Council, ERC, funding. It is important with the challenges we have now to invest in the best. Innovation is the way to answer this and to build a better future. We need to ensure that ERC funding is maintained.
I agree with Senator McGahon, who raised an issue on the soldiers who fought at Jadotville. It is a matter I have raised in the House on several occasions. It would be apt if the Minister came to the House to discuss this issue. A lot of work has been done on it and progress has been very slow. Some of the people who were at the battle in Katanga have passed away recently. The second issue was brought to my attention by a couple of secondary school teachers. Some pupils seem to consider it a badge of honour if they are able to get an exemption from wearing masks and visors. This seems to be a bit of craze in some schools, which is disturbing to hear. I have heard about it from two secondary school teachers, one of whom rang me and was quite distressed about it, while the other sent me an email on the matter. I will pass this on to the Leader, who might bring it up with the Minister for Education and Skills and the Department of Health.
On Wednesday night, RTÉ1 broadcast the ground-breaking documentary film "Unquiet Graves", the story of the Glenanne gang, which was directed by Sean Murray and features much of the Trojan research carried out by Anne Cadwallader for her book Lethal Alliesand by Margaret Urwin, who will be familiar to many Members, for her book A State in Denial. Between 1972 and 1978, more than 120 people were killed by the notorious group known as the Glenanne gang. I commend the film, although I know that many Senators will be familiar with this issue and will have watched the film. It is available on the RTÉ Player and other outlets online. I strongly encourage all Senators and anyone following these debates to watch it. It unravels the British state collusion at the heart of sectarian campaign, and how members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the British intelligence services collaborated with that gang.
Like many campaigning families in the North, tragically having already lost, been hurt and undergone such a trauma, those involved in the Glenanne murders had to find themselves in court simply to ensure that the police and the British state would respond with the most basic entitlement they should have, namely, a proper, full, effective police investigation into the murder of their loved ones, which has been denied to them and so many others for so long. The Lord Chief Justice in the North said the police had not honoured the legitimate expectation of bereaved relatives that an overarching investigation into the Glenanne gang would be held. The gang, as Senators will know, was responsible for some of the most notorious incidents in the conflict, including the massacre of the Miami Showband and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, which led to the single largest loss of life in the conflict.
In asking Senators to reflect on that, I remind them that another international obligation of the British Government, the Stormont House agreement, for which we passed all the legislation relevant to this jurisdiction in the House last year, remains unfulfilled. In fact, it is very worrying that the British Government is reneging completely on that commitment and, in so doing, denying families such as the Glenanne families the most basic entitlement and right, namely, to access truth and justice for their loved ones.
I raise the issue of meat plants and where we are going with the sector. It is one of the big issues. Yesterday in the Dáil, a Member claimed there was a certain number of cases in Cork and the southern half of the country. We need clarity on the entire structure, including how things are happening and how the reporting is happening. If there was a case of Covid-19 in a school, the information would be published and we would be aware of it. Strict restrictions have been introduced for the bar and restaurant sector, where customers' names are taken and businesses must be very transparent as to how they are running their show. In respect of the Meat Industry Ireland issue, we need to find out exactly where the cases are, how many there are and what the issue on the ground is. At the moment we are dealing with a dangerous vacuum, with rumour and counter-rumour, and nobody has a clue what is happening on the ground.
This morning, I took the opportunity to call the chairperson of Meat Industry Ireland to have a conversation about getting that information out to the general public.He was open to the idea of Meat Industry Ireland telling the general public if there are cases and where they are. We are in a dangerous vacuum and that leads to paranoia among the general public. I do not know if there are 200 cases in a meat plant in Cork but the issue is that we do not have clarity one way or the other. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine must come before this House, hopefully in the next few days, to set out what guidelines Meat Industry Ireland will use to provide information to the general public. This will follow what the education and training boards and the pub and restaurant sector are doing. We need to have that information because, without it, we will have rumour and counter-rumour and that is not good for society. I do not believe we have 200 cases in a meat plant in Cork but because of the lack of clarity, we have no idea exactly what the true story is.
Last week, we all witnessed the devastating fire in Lesbos, which again brought into sharp focus conditions in the Moria camp, particularly for children. In light of the announcement yesterday by the Minister with responsibility for children, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, that Ireland will take four more unaccompanied children, it would be remiss of me to fail to point out that we, as a Government, are not doing enough. As the leader of a Government party in the Seanad, I wanted to make that statement. Humanitarian efforts are needed now more than ever, with democracies under threat and the devastating consequences of climate breakdown we will see over the next few years. Tusla has a deficit of €20 million and all of these unaccompanied minors will be brought under its care. I ask that the Government introduce an ongoing programme to provide proper funding over the next few years to bring more of these children under the care of the State.
I call on the Leader to bring the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Feighan, to the Chamber to discuss the national drugs strategy, with particular reference to Covid-19. During the first lockdown, addiction services were not necessarily seen as essential services with the result that many of them had to close their doors. Many residential aftercare services sent home people who were in the middle of their recovery journey because some of these services, for example, the Keltoi rehabilitation unit, were taken over for use as isolation wards. People who were in addiction were sidelined and the HSE's addiction counselling line was closed down.
As well as my role in this House, I also chair the Canals Communities Local Drugs Task Force and I am a director of the SWAN family support organisation in Tallaght. I have also been working closely with Safetynet primary care services with regard to referrals of members of the homeless community and people in direct provision and hostels. Now that these services are beginning to re-engage with people in some of the most vulnerable communities, they do not know how they will continue. There is a real fear in that regard. I ask for a discussion with the Minister of State on the current national drugs strategy and on whether we can add to that strategy in terms of Covid as we move forward.
Safetynet is a brilliant service. There are many amazing doctors and nurses involved. It is about health equity. I congratulate it on a preventative piece of work it did on public health last week when it identified a cluster of Covid cases in a working-class community where a large number of vulnerable people are living on top of each other. Staff arrived with a mobile health unit and swabbed more than 200 people in the complex in question. They were able to catch an outbreak before it spread. This is an example of the preventative public health care that could be provided as part of the national drugs strategy or a community development approach. I would love an opportunity to discuss with the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, how we can utilise and fund a resource such as Safetynet to do this preventative work with vulnerable groups.
I support the comments of the leader of the Green Party in the Seanad, Senator Pauline O'Reilly. It would be helpful if the Leader wrote to the President of the European Commission and emphasised the importance and urgency of a progressive migration programme for the European Union. Europe should be leading on this. It has been far too slow. We should call on the President of the European Commission to take immediate action.
Nearer to home, Dublin city is more my concern this morning. I would like the Leader to be a strong voice for the young people of Dublin, for parents, for the owners and operators of public houses and restaurants, for those who work in the entertainment business and for taxi drivers. Our city is on its knees. It is dead. I walked down Molesworth Street yesterday evening and it was empty. I was coming in this morning and Dorset Street was empty. There is nobody in the city. The restaurants are dead. The children of this city and their parents have taken the lead. Children have gone back to school. Young people in this city are sitting in classrooms with masks on for eight hours a day. If we are going to talk about shutting the city down, we need to do it in a proportionate way. Young people have had the courage to go back into classrooms. They and their teachers are putting up with masks for eight hours a day. We need to ask the Government not to stop them from playing football, hurling, soccer or whatever. Gardaí are tackling higher levels of antisocial behaviour in the city than in previous times. Young people need outlets and they need to be able to use their energy. Their parents need to be supported.
The outbreaks in Dublin city have not happened in public houses or restaurants. We need to ensure that testing is freely available and without referrals from GPs. A system in this regard has been piloted in Limerick. I would like the Minister to make that available in Dublin so that people will be encouraged to get tested and will not be obliged to wonder whether it will take 48 hours to get a result or if they will be out of operation for five days. I ask that the Minister for Health come to the House next week to talk to us about testing in Dublin city.
Like the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Green Party, I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs that Ireland will be taking in four children from Lesbos. It is a pathetic number to take as a nation but I know the constraints and the pressure that Tusla is under at this time. I arrived late to the House because I am a foster parent and I had a meeting this morning with Tusla about someone in my care. We could all do much more. We all have to look at ourselves. There are many kids in care for whom long-term placements cannot be found because it is not possible to find families to take them. That is really sad. Kids go from emergency home to emergency home and cannot find forever homes. We need to look at ourselves, as do people listening in today, and we need to ask what we can do to protect the children of this nation. Do we have a spare bedroom? Could we be a leading light in a child's life? Some of the kids get to 18 and aftercare services are not there for them. They have nobody. Last week, one teenager was out on the street at 9 a.m.
The buck stops with us. It stops with me. What can I do? It stops with every one of us. We can all come in here and say that we are disgusted that we can only take four children. My daughter said to me that we should take five because we have five bedrooms. I cannot take five kids. I would love to, but I cannot. The buck stops with us, as a people. We have to ask ourselves what each and every one of us can do. Can we take a child? I encourage any parent or family listening to get in touch with Tusla.They need us, they need families - they are desperate for families. It is taking much longer to assess parents to take children at this time, perhaps up to a year, because the regulations mean they cannot visit the families or carry out the assessments that are needed in a timely fashion, and they are relying on the existing force.
I want the Minister to come to the House to explain what he is going to do to try to encourage families and parents to take children into their homes.
We have discussed the issue of Jadotville veterans in both Houses several times and every county council in the country is putting forward motions. There are only eight of the recipients of distinguished service medals and military medals for gallantry who are still alive. I think it would be a terrible shame if we lose any more of them before we give them the honours that were recommended for them 61 years ago. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Defence where he stands on this right now and to see whether we can get something done.
The desecration of the altar in Islandbridge by graffiti over last weekend is something we should all condemn. That altar represents the thousands of Irish men and women who were lost in the first and second world wars, and to think that somebody would go in and spray paint on it is beyond belief.
I thank Senators for all of the wide and varied items they brought up this morning. As I have so little time, I will respond by saying that for anybody who has asked me to write letters on specific topics, I will do so and I will send them a copy of the letter individually. With regard to anybody who has asked for a debate, I know it is a symptom of this House that we stand up and ask for the debate, and we want it immediately or next Tuesday. While next week's business is obviously arranged, for debates that are particularly important, such as those on bus transport, aviation and the Moorhead report, I am trying to organise those for the beginning of the following week. Members should rest assured I will get to them as quickly as I can.
While I am speaking about aviation, I know many in this House and in the other House had representations from the thousands of workers in Aer Lingus as to the major difficulties they have had in recent weeks in accessing a simple short-time working scheme because they have had their salary reduced from 50% to 30%. I have no idea what is going on in Aer Lingus but I want to call publicly on Aer Lingus to pull out all the stops today for those employees who are waiting to get that extra few bob, just to keep them on the bloody breadline. It is not even what we would call having a decent standard of living but just to give them what they are entitled to. It should pull out all the stops to make sure that the forms are signed and that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which is ready and willing to engage with the staff through its Intreo offices, gets all the assistance it needs from Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus should also make a very clear statement that any moneys it has claimed through the wage subsidy scheme or the unemployment payment scheme, individually and on behalf of independent employees, was passed on to those employees - not the general statement that has been made that all moneys that were taken through the temporary wage subsidy scheme were passed on to employees, but that any money that was claimed in the name of a person was 100% passed on to that person, not to the general population of employees in Aer Lingus.
I disagree with the statement made by Senator McDowell this morning that he does not have confidence in either NPHET or the HSE. I would have to tell him, from personal experience, that the people who give up all of their time, and it is all of their time, to providing us with the regulations and the recommendations do it purely to protect our public health. We can all have opinions as to whether the communications are up to scratch, and all that stuff, and a lot of fair criticism has been made, but they are making recommendations purely on the basis of our best interests and in the best interests of public health. There are competing economic interests and competing social interests, and that is obviously what the Cabinet Covid committee has to decide on, and then make those recommendations. However, honest to goodness, these people are giving up all of their time just to make sure we are safe.If one is looking for clear communication, all one has to do is listen back to Mr. Paul Reid on "Morning Ireland" this morning. He could not have made it more simple and clear that the recommendations NPHET is making are to get us all to remind ourselves of the things we did religiously, probably over-zealously, in March, April and May and to go back to the basics of taking personal responsibility and behaving responsibly towards others. The number of people moving around Dublin city is the major problem at the moment. We will all be devastated if we cannot support the restaurants and bars and the artists and others who make parts of our cities, towns and counties so vibrant but, at the end of the day, we have to mind public health. There are sacrifices that we will not be happy about but they will have to be made in the next couple of weeks and months. I ask for Senators' understanding for the work NPHET is doing.
I had the pleasure of spending a day in a camp in Greece. It was one of the most profound things I have done in my life. It had such an impact on me that I am still in contact with some of those, including refugees, I met. Small children, aged four, five and six, came up to me, held my hand and brought me to what they considered their homes, which were square boxes. I do not mean to be disrespectful or critical of the Government response or of a Minister's response, but taking four children is a joke. We have issues in this country and Senator McGreehan beautifully described the challenges we have and her mother's advice with regard to the rise of the far right in this country, but we are a welcoming nation and we can and should do more. On that basis, I will write to the Minister and say that we want to do more. If it is a question of money, by God, we are borrowing money to beat the band at the moment. The least we can do is borrow a few bob more to show the humane side of the Irish people. With Senators' permission, I will write that letter to the Minister.
Senator Fitzpatrick mentioned that we need strong leadership and a strong plan from the European Union. Some Senators may have had the time to listen to Ursula von der Leyen's speech on Wednesday morning. This speech showed the powerhouse and political force that she is and I hope it won over her detractors, and there have been a few in the last year who questioned her suitability for the job. Mark my words, Dr. von der Leyen will make sure there is a strong immigration plan and that the humanity that exists in most countries in the EU extends to all countries and all migrants who find their way to our shore. I thank Senators and apologise for rabbiting on for such a long time.
I accept the two amendments to the Order of Business proposed by Senators Norris and Conway, respectively.