Thursday, 22 October 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 23 October, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Investment Limited Partnerships (Amendment) Bill 2020 - Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken at 1.30 p.m. or 15 minutes following the conclusion of No. 1, whichever is the later, and to conclude by 3.30 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 3, motion re Part 3 of the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, and No. 4, motion re Part 5 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to be discussed together, with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed one hour and 45 minutes, contributions by all Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than eight minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 5, Private Members' business, Electoral (Civil Society Freedom)(Amendment) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to be adjourned after 90 minutes.
I am happy to support the Order of Business today.
There are a number of items which I wish to put before the House. Something I believe would be interesting and topical for us to discuss is the whole area of employment and the different changes that have occurred due to this pandemic. The first factor is the level of youth unemployment. This is a significant problem for the country. The level of youth unemployment among the under-25s currently stands at almost 37%. Many of those have been employed in the lower income sectors, in hospitality and in retail and would have been in part-time and more precarious employment. Many of those jobs will not return in the short term. We have a serious issue around youth unemployment and the long-term impact on young people in this country. It would be a good debate to have in this House and to hear from the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to discuss the impact of that on this sector.
I welcome also the news this morning from IBEC which has published a report to identify the dual threat of Covid-19 and Brexit and the fact that it poses significant challenges to businesses for the year 2021. There were, however, some positive aspects to this report, in that 28% of their businesses intend to hire more staff next year and 49% of their businesses intend to increase wages. There is some positivity and light at the end of the tunnel here. The impact of this on business is also an issue that the Minister with responsibility for trade might wish to come before the House to discuss.
I also wish to highlight and discuss the point that today is day one of the new restrictions under level 5. This House will discuss and debate today and tomorrow additional legislation in respect of penalties, rent and protections for those living in rental accommodation. It is a difficult time for the country and I am concerned about the impact on the mental health of citizens for these six weeks. One thing I will say is that we have learned from the last lockdown and we have made some changes. The social bubble proposed is a very positive measure for this period, in that we recognise that some people who live alone will need to meet up with other households. We are asking people to limit that to one other household and to have that social bubble. The fact that the schools are remaining open is also a very positive impact. Six weeks of these restrictions is difficult but I hope that at the end of the period, we can reopen. The question being asked is whether we can be sure that six weeks will be enough. When I listened to Dr. Tony Holohan, he stated his belief that if we do the right thing and follow the guidelines of these six weeks, the time they have set aside is sufficient to flatten the curve and reopen the country in time for Christmas. That is what we must be looking forward to.
The legislation this House will debate today and tomorrow is emergency legislation to protect our citizens and to ensure that we can get through the next six weeks. I look forward to debating those items with colleagues over the next couple of days and I thank the Cathaoirleach.
I thank the Leader for sending on the Order of Business to Members. Although it is somewhat late because there has been a slight change in it, I again appeal to the Leader to make arrangements to provide sufficient time for Members, some of whom are travelling long distances to be present. We need time. The Senator is the Leader of the House and she assured me last week that she would do her best. I believe it is not unreasonable to have available to Members the proposed Order of Business she wishes to bring to the House a minimum of one hour before proceedings begin. It is our job under the Order of Business to consider what business the Leader is proposing. It is the Members who decide it by a vote and we accept the democratic decision. That is what the Order of Business is. I appeal again to the Leader to take that on board and ask her to address that point in her replies here today. I do not support No. 1, which is the motion that we received last night. I thank the secretariat which must be under enormous stress and pressure. I was working at my desk and it came in just before 9 p.m. That shows the level of commitment and work of our staff-----
-----and the timelines they are up against. I thank them for that. Unfortunately it gives us very little time to consider it or to discuss it with our colleagues. We are a small group of five Senators and other groups have bigger numbers. I ask the Leader to take on board the difficulties and practicalities around that and to use her position as Leader of the House to do something about it going forward. She might also address that point in her response to the House today on the Order of Business. I therefore do not support this item. I do not believe there is any good enough reason to not have an Order of Business tomorrow. That is our prerogative and our call.These issues can be addressed tomorrow. We are in a difficulty in respect of Covid, and I accept and respect the difficulties around those issues, but I want that addressed. I have an alternative, which I propose to deal with later on with the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach.
I want to say a very big thanks to the Members of Seanad Éireann who contributed to the debate on mother and baby homes. I particularly ask Members to read the contributions made yesterday in Dáil Éireann by our Deputies. They were very moving and compelling. If anyone was in any doubt as to whether not to support the Bill, which will be before us tomorrow, this was an opportunity. I will make a final appeal, as someone who has lived this experience. I am not interested in what the historians want to say. I am interested in what the survivors want. If people cannot vote against the Bill, I ask them to abstain when it comes before the House tomorrow.
This week we will discuss the emergency legislation for the second lockdown. Today we have woken up to lockdown No. 2. Up to 150,000 people now have no jobs to go to. Others are returning to working from home in less than ideal conditions. While of course the lockdown is necessary and the ratio of spread of the virus is deeply concerning, our contact tracing system collapsed over the weekend under the volume of cases. This is simply not good enough.
The WHO has repeatedly said that lockdowns are a mechanism to stop the spread of the virus while countries get their houses in order. A lockdown buys time to put in place a robust testing and tracing mechanism. This Government squandered the first lockdown. There was an enormous sense of goodwill from the public. They put their faith in the Government to put in place the necessary hospital capacity and ramp up testing and tracing. Now they find that did not happen.
The Be On Call for Ireland campaign saw tens of thousands of people sign up to help in the Covid battle. From those who came forward, a pool of 1,480 people were eligible, 755 of whom went through the entire process and yet were not hired. Some 300 job-ready applicants have already dropped out. In addition to the Be On Call for Ireland drive, many more part-time and semi-retired GPs came forward to offer their services for contact tracing. Instead of seizing their expertise, they were subjected to reams of form filling, including, in at least one case, a GP being asked for his leaving certificate results. In the ultimate insult, those who were hired were offered zero-hour contracts with no sick pay during a pandemic.
It is simply not good enough. The vast majority of people in this country, young and old, will play their part in bringing the Covid numbers down. They will stay home, wear their masks and socially distance, but they will not tolerate their efforts being wasted a second time because the Government failed to get its house in order. Medical workers who are exhausted will not tolerate it. Teachers, childcare workers, bus drivers, cleaners and retail staff who are continuously being put at risk on the front line will not tolerate it. Existing contact tracers who are worked to the bone will not tolerate it.
The Government has an enormous opportunity to restore public faith in the system. It should hire contract tracers directly, not through a recruitment company that is charging a 20% premium, and pay them a decent wage. Trying to do contact tracing on the cheap will cost us in the long run. It will not just cost us economically. It will cost us in terms of our mental health, well-being and the public buy-in which will collapse if the Government does not get this right. I know the public will do their bit, but we need the Government to play its part.
We will support Senator Boyhan's amendment. I have come from a meeting of our group of five Senators where we looked at what is ahead of us in the next day and half where we have five guillotines facing us.It is unacceptable and is no way to do business. I hope Members will agree that we need to do something about it.
Today, I wish to again highlight the urgent need to recognise the heroes of Jadotville. I know this has been mentioned by several speakers in the Chamber but I believe we have come to a point where we need to do more.
Since I had the honour of being elected to the House I have listened to colleagues support the call for these gallant soldiers to finally get the recognition they deserve. Many continue to fight for this on their behalf. Recently, along with Labour Party colleagues, I received a reply from the Minister for Defence stating that in recent years his Department has had several representations outlining the courage and bravery of A Company. The Minister finished his reply by stating that he would consider any additional documentation, information or evidence to support any request for additional medals but that no new information had come to light.
I have spent the past couple of weeks speaking to families who have loved ones who were involved in this engagement. They continue to search for justice for their loved ones and continue to uncover new documentation on this important matter. I know they are in constant contact with the Department. They will never give up and neither should we.
I am informed that 11 or more county councils have supported this request in recent weeks. I was also informed recently that there may be nine surviving members from this engagement. I encourage everyone here to come together as a House to support this call once and for all. I call on the Cathaoirleach to show us how to do that, whether by letter or whatever else to the Minister for Defence.
Finally, I wish to take the remainder of my time to talk about the retail sector and the many jobs and services provided by the sector in our towns and counties. During this pandemic, many of us have been forced to change the way we shop. This has had an impact and will continue to have a serious impact in the coming six weeks on the many retailers throughout the State. Local enterprise offices have helped many retailers get online for the first time with grants to retailers as well the search and start initiative, a new online route for their customers. A recent article in The Irish Timespromoting 100 Irish-based online retailers stated that up to 70% of Irish consumer online spending leaves this country as people shop with multinationals. This must stop. We have to start shopping locally. We must start buying Irish as much as we can. Specifically, in the coming six weeks, we must do so to save as many jobs as we can. I encourage Members to get involved in that campaign.
I welcome the increase in the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, this week and the commitment by the Minister with responsibility for higher education to re-examine the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants. However, it is important that we put in place supports for students immediately. Some students have on-campus commitments and rental commitments. We need a proper process for all third level institutions to ensure that refunds are given immediately. Also, we need a process around the private rental market for students. Additionally, now that students can no longer avail of the payments under the PUP scheme, we need to examine what has happened to those students who fall outside of the SUSI grant system and, therefore, cannot get the work they were doing at the weekends to be able to supplement their living. I ask, as a matter of urgency given the lockdown, that the Minister would look at how such people can be supported. We cannot see this generation sink into poverty any more than they already have. We need to ensure that people do not drop out. We need to ensure they get the education they want and require, because it is of benefit to society.
As spokesperson for enterprise, trade and employment, I want to use my time to encourage people to really think about where they spend their money in the coming six weeks. We spend €5 billion doing online shopping. More than two thirds of this goes outside the country. If we are buying more online, we need to look at the Irish companies. As the Senator said earlier, there is a good article by Conor Pope in The Irish Times. I strongly recommend that people look at it. We also have buyirishfood.ieand there is importance of buying local. Luckily, the farmers' markets have not been shut down this time. We have to look at quality over quantity. Every year in this country, 1 million tonnes of food are wasted by being thrown away. Customers get a better personal service if they support local businesses.They are the character, the make-up and the heart of all our towns and villages and we need to prioritise spending on money locally. Even if people go to the big chains or supermarkets to do their shopping, they also have sections of Irish products. People should take the time and look at the label. If it states, "Packaged in Ireland", it was not made in Ireland but if it states, "Produced in Ireland", it was produced in this country. Let us put our money where our mouth is and go all out to buy Irish. If we could all spend €5 or €10 more per week on Irish goods we could save thousands of jobs. Now is the time. Let us prioritise buying Irish.
I support Senator Boyhan's amendment to the Order of Business. Yesterday at the Joint Committee on Health, we heard from representatives from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Irish Medical Organisation and it was shocking to hear what they had to say. We heard about the disgraceful treatment of student nurses during this pandemic. Student nurses are exhausted. They are expected to work over and above their undergraduate status, they are exposed to the dangers of Covid and they get either no payment at all or an allowance of €50.79 per week. Failure to pay them amounts to exploitation.
A common thread running through all the submissions is understaffing and the negative impact this is having on patient care. Everyone is in agreement that the nurses are prepared to jeopardise their own health to save lives. The increase in spending on health of €4 billion is to be welcomed but it could be wasted if staffing levels are not addressed. Understaffing of hospitals can lead to poor outcomes for patients and increase the number of deaths. We have relied on recruiting nurses from abroad but with the travel restrictions this may prove impossible. It is important to retain Irish nurses in Ireland and increase the number of college places so we can satisfy the demand for nurses. The allowance that was paid in March must now be reintroduced.
The mental and physical toll of this pandemic on nursing staff is enormous. Some 50 nurses per week are getting infected by the virus. Research has shown that front-line hospital staff and other key workers have a higher chance of experiencing mental health difficulties during the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has created stressful working environments for many people. Having regular contact with people who experience severe symptoms of Covid-19 or die from it becomes traumatic over time. It is important that the necessary mental health services are made available to all front-line workers experiencing trauma from dealing with the impact of this pandemic.
I thank all the healthcare workers and front-line workers who are risking their health to save lives. We are deeply indebted to them all. However, although saying thank you is important, they are not enough. If this gratitude is to be given meaning, it should lead to an overdue reassessment of who we value most in society and how we treat them. It should not have taken a pandemic to expose how poorly paid, insecure and badly treated so many health workers, without whom society cannot function, truly are. I would like to ask the Minister to come in and give us an update.
I agree with Senator Wall on the Jadotville men. We need to do something about it at this point as it is just not on.
Normally in this House, we raise the death of former Members or distinguished public figures but today I raise the death of a six-year-old boy, Cathal Martin. Cathal died on 10 October. He suffered from metachromatic leukodystrophy. He was extremely fortunate in his loving and caring family: his father Les, mother Linda, brother Ciaran and sister Holly. Some weeks ago, I introduced the National Screening Advisory Committee Bill 2020 in the House, which would allow for the screening of up to 40 disorders and save the lives of 50 children each year in Ireland. We should, in Cathal's memory, commit ourselves today to ensuring this situation is urgently addressed.
I refer to the wonderfully welcome message from Pope Francis, who said gay people were part of the human family.Of course they are and it is perfectly obvious. It is so different from the hateful language employed by Pope Benedict. He spoke about objective disorder and intrinsic evil. The statement of the Pope is one thing, but the Catholic Church needs to look at the catechism and remove this terrible language.
I refer to level 5. Is it not extraordinary that we are told we are at level 5 and we must stay at home, isolate, reduce our contacts and work remotely but as Members we have to fob in? What kind of utter bureaucratic lunacy is this? I am calling for it to be abandoned immediately.
I welcome the news that last week the Cabinet agreed to draft an election reform Bill that would provide for the establishment of a statutory independent electoral commission and, critically, the modernisation of the register of electors, which we can all agree needs to happen. An area I feel needs to be looked at, and I raised it in the previous Dáil with the then Minister with responsibility for local government, unfortunately to little avail, is the area of online voting - not electronic voting - and the necessity for a proper debate in the Houses to recognise that if we were bounced into an election in the next year, we would really have an issue with voting by way of pencil and paper at polling stations. One need only look at the five-hour queues for early voting in the United States at present.
People will immediately raise concerns about security as a knee-jerk reaction as to why it cannot happen, but our entire Revenue system now operates on a secure portal. If we can collect the taxes of the people of this country online through a secure portal, then voting online safely should also be possible.
Last year, I met the Gov2U group, which promotes democracy throughout Europe. Up to 14 countries have some form of online voting. Estonia, a small Baltic nation, was the first to introduce permanent national Internet voting. It has gone from 1.9% of votes cast through online voting to almost 30% in the parliamentary elections there last year. Interestingly, it also keeps the pencil and paper as a voting system for the electorate. If we are looking at electoral reform, it is incumbent on us before any Bill is drafted to have a robust and proper debate that would also consider online voting and its potential, not only in terms of ease of access but also in helping younger people to participate in democracy and voting.
I want to raise the rigidity in the system that allows citizens to change their names. Specifically, I am given to understand that citizens under the age of 18 have no right whatsoever to change their names. I can see why this would not be a problem normally, but the circumstances of this rigidity specifically affect a number of women who are estranged from their husbands and the fathers of their children, and who now have children who have a different name from them. If the children have not taken any part of their mother's name and have their father's name, a mother who is estranged from that person and from whom the children might also be estranged must now in regular circumstances in engagement with the State, such as passport control or dealing with the Garda and social and family protection services, not only explain the nature of her relationship to her own children but also prove they are her children.
I suggest that the rigidity means these women cannot change this but we should put in place a system that allows somebody in these particular circumstances to register a double-barrelled surname that includes the name of the mother in the official name of the child and does away with this bureaucratic difficulty that many women have. Many women have raised it with me personally with regard to when they are dealing with the State or officialdom in the country. I would like to see us do something to facilitate it and to be much more flexible in how we approach the various types of families we now have in the country.
I second Senator Boyhan's amendment.
I am not sure whether we can call the Taoiseach and Tánaiste into this House. It has never been done by any Senator here before. I would like to call them in to account for their chaotic mismanagement of this crisis and to give reasons, backed up with solid evidence, why we are ignoring smarter strategies as we face into level 5 restrictions.
This nation is in shock this morning. We are in level 5 again. We are yo-yoing in and out of lockdowns. We, as politicians, have failed with our messaging. Even Opposition parties have failed. Perhaps our constant questioning of every single move that the Government has taken did not work. It has not worked for the likes of Deputy Mary Lou McDonald and all of those who have questioned every single move that the Government has made in trying to protect our people. It should be about how we can protect our people. I believe that level 5 is a step too far.
The Irish strategy is short-sighted. It is led by politicians who are pandering to lobbyist groups so that football and alcohol trump the health and wealth of this nation. We failed in our messaging in respect of level 3 restrictions. Perhaps it needed to be tweaked. We did not get buy-in from the public because we had protestors, anti-maskers on our streets, and because of golfgate. There are many reasons why we did not bring the public with us. We have to look at ourselves when we ask why we are at level 5 this morning. It is down to us. We should not be in this position.
Broadband has been promised to every house in the State for over ten years now. It remains no more than a promise. The Government last year signed a contract with National Broadband Ireland to the value of approximately €3 billion. Since then, we have heard precious little from National Broadband Ireland on when it intends to begin the installation of broadband. At the time, the estimate was five to seven years but we have no indication as to when it will begin and end.
We are now in level 5 and have asked the Irish people to take extreme measures and stay at home. We still expect them to provide appropriate services while working from home. We expect our college students to participate in lectures and advance towards examinations. We expect people to do their banking without going to the bank. We effectively expect people to live their lives from home, to the greatest extent possible. Yet, 540,000-odd people have no access to high-speed broadband. I appeal to the Cathaoirleach and to the Leader to try to organise a debate here as quickly as possible with the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to see if anything can be done to roll out a wireless service to some of those areas as a kind of stopgap measure.
Like many others in this and the other House, I take calls from people about this matter on a daily basis. Those people could manage until now but, with the level of restrictions that we are now placing on them, they can do so no longer. Unless we are prepared to address that in some way, we will make it much more difficult for people to remain in their homes.
Would it be possible to bring the Minister with responsibility for further and higher education, research, innovation and science, Deputy Harris, to the House? I am echoing the sentiments of Senator Pauline O'Reilly in speaking up for our third level students. They are in the most invidious of positions because two of their academic years have now been affected. There are great supports for them and there is no doubt that the Minister has brought in great things. The injection of €50 million in the budget was great and equated, in the instances of some students to whom I have spoken, to them receiving €250 back.The problem, however, is that many of them have paid up front for accommodation and are not getting that accommodation refunded, yet they are not allowed on campus. That mechanism, therefore, is not working. They cannot work in part-time jobs and their whole lives have been disrupted at a time when they are not on campus to receive their lectures, so they are not getting the benefit even of the discussions among themselves that might happen when they are coming out of lecture theatres or sitting around the coffee dock. They are not getting the additional growth and development that normally comes from campus life.
At the beginning of this academic year, they were promised they would attend one lecture session on campus per week, but unfortunately that has not transpired, although that is for good reason, given that we are in level 5. This is a group whom the media and people in general are quick to criticise if there is a social gathering, even though the vast majority are trying to get their qualifications. If they are final year students, they may be worried about what the next year will hold for them, what they will do after college, whether there will be jobs, what the prospects will be and what their future will look like. At a time when the world should be their oyster, it is not. We need to address that and have the Minister hear statements from us on that.
I raise an issue of international concern. Last year, I visited Colombia as part of a Justice for Colombia peace monitor delegation. I travelled extensively through the country and witnessed at first hand horrific stories of human rights abuses. I visited a small town called Cajibio in the Cauca region and met a young man, Jayder Quintana, who was just 17 years old when I met him. At the beginning of this month, he was gunned down and murdered. A few minutes before he was murdered, a policeman came to check his identity card to see who he was, and then the right-wing paramilitaries arrived and gunned him down.
Jayder was a member of the FENSUAGRO trade union, which has a relationship with the Unite union here and in Britain. The most dangerous country in the world in which to be a member of a trade union is Colombia. Trade union members have been gunned down in their hundreds. Some 1,000 people have been murdered since the peace process was initiated four years ago. The key problem is that the Colombian Government is not implementing what was agreed to at that time, in respect of rural reform, justice and the country's national commission for security guarantees.
The Colombian Embassy is very active in Dublin. I call for a foreign affairs debate in order that we can discuss the matter in greater detail. I have written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs to request a meeting. I want to understand what measures the Government will take to put pressure on its Colombian counterpart. To be fair, while the people at the embassy are very decent and fair people, we are talking about a far-right government that seems to be watching on as people are slaughtered month after month. We have to do what we can to ensure, for people such as Jayder, murdered like so many in Colombia just for trying to build a better life for his family and community, that something fundamental will be done by the Government. We need to hear justice for the people of Colombia.
I endorse, support and second Senator Gavan's call. It is really important. We have to examine human rights throughout the world and see what we can do.
The issue I raise relates to my friend, Pat Tinsley, whom I have spoken about in the House previously. Pat and 29 others have been diagnosed with amyloidosis. No treatment is available in this country, although it is available in Northern Ireland, the UK, Europe and the US. The treatment's name is patisiran. I have engaged with the company that produces it. It would give a new lease of life to the 30 sufferers in this country.
I raise this issue again in the context that €50 million was allocated in the budget for the provision of high-quality healthcare through the availability of innovative medicines. That is really welcome and it marks a major shift in public policy towards the funding of new medicines. When I spoke previously about the issue, I requested a debate on it with the Minister for Health. That the money has been allocated in the budget is a really significant development.Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to have this process expedited in order that we support these 30 people? Following that, perhaps the Leader would bring the Minister before the Seanad to discuss this.
I wish to raise the issue of a dispute between the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the County and City Management Association, CCMA, which represents the local authorities throughout the country. The dispute centres on a funding shortfall of €1.2 million for veterinary inspections of smaller slaughterhouses carried out by the local authority vets, who also work with the local enterprise offices to develop new businesses as well as overseeing the regulatory standards. The current contract runs out on 30 November, with the CCMA indicating that it will not continue to provide these services because of a shortfall in funding. This issue is quite close to me in my local village, which is home to the Rawles abattoir, which services nearly all the butchers throughout the entire county. We have Uncle Bok, which provides Biltong for the entire southern African market in Ireland, and Herterich's artisan butchers, which are renowned for their quality throughout the country. These are small local enterprises in our community. They are not the Goodmans or the large supermarket chains. This issue needs to be resolved immediately to give certainty to these businesses prior to Christmas and to keep the veterinary service within our local authorities in order that they can work with the local enterprise offices to continue to provide more jobs.
Finally, I support Senator Wall in his comments. Collectively, we need to come together to recognise the men of Jadotville.
I put on the record my agreement with my colleague, Senator Boyhan, on behalf of the Labour group in opposing the Order of Business with its five guillotines in 24 hours. I have only been here six months but it seems like a record, even for this House, so I reiterate that we will oppose the Order of Business on that basis.
I am thinking of all the many Nigerians living here in Ireland today. They are in all our communities. #EndSARS is a movement against police brutality in Nigeria and for an end to the special anti-robbery squad, SARS. SARS is a controversial unit of the Nigerian police force. The dissolution of SARS was announced over the weekend, to be replacement by SWAT - same thing, different acronym. There is an outcry over this entirely unwelcome replacement of the very body the people of Nigeria are protesting against. The international community is watching with dismay the fury and outcry on the part of the people of Nigeria and the extremely heavy-handed approach the Government of Nigeria is taking against these protestors. My heart goes out to the victims of the shootings in Lekki, where people were peacefully protesting around the toll gate and were fired upon.
What is happening in Nigeria is reprehensible, and the international community must not be silent. There is enormous energy going into disrupting the protestors rather than engaging with them and meeting the demands of these people. The demands include the immediate release of all arrested protestors, justice for the deceased victims of police brutality, appropriate compensation, and an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police violence.
This is about more than just SARS. It is about ending police brutality and about better implementation of laws, better leadership and more accountability. I request that the Minister for Foreign Affairs condemn how the people of Nigeria are being treated. Peaceful protestors are being gunned down, and this is reprehensible. I hope this House will join me in condemning this senseless violence and that it will support the promotion of peace in Nigeria.
I am sure the House, like me, has great memories of Italia 90 and that great Donegal man, Packie Bonner, a great ambassador for football in his day and still. The reason I say this today is that Packie was once a director of football in the FAI. He and one of his colleagues and many more staff were turfed out of that organisation at a time when a member of his departmental team was raising financial irregularities within the FAI and taking those concerns to the board of Sport Ireland. Nothing was ever done about them. The only result was that Packie, all his team around him and his department were turfed out on the back of a money-saving exercise shortly after 2011, after the irregularities were raised.I find it extraordinary that last week the CEO and chair of Sport Ireland were reappointed for another term. Is the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform aware of, and did he approve, the reappointment of the CEO for another term? Is he also aware that the reappointment of the chair goes against the regulations of Sport Ireland which state that nobody can be appointed for more than two terms? I find it disgusting that these two individuals have been reappointed, considering how they handled the financial affairs of the organisation, the saga which surrounded John Delaney's term in office and the financial irregularities that are now coming to light. I ask both Ministers concerned to open an investigation into these irregularities, dating back to 2010.
When Covid first visited the isle in March, the heroic work and crucial role of doctors, nurses and so many more behind the scenes in hospitals became apparently and rapidly clear to us all, if we needed reminding. They are the heroes of the hour and continue to keep us all safe. They have been joined in recent weeks by new heroes, and it is not an exhaustive list. We should remember teachers and childcare workers on this poignant day when level 5 restrictions are introduced. They have kept the lights on in this country. They have stepped up, putting themselves in harm's way, so that this country continues to function. We spoke today, and have done so the past, about honouring the A Company heroes of Jadotville, and we should do so. However, we should also honour and recognise the work of teachers. As someone who is proud to have spent a few years as a teacher, I am conscious of the diverse logistical and other challenges faced by principals, teachers, caretakers and special needs assistants in every school community to make their schools work. They are all working for Ireland like never before. I know the Leader of the House will agree to honour them and recognise their role. In the longer term, the honour they deserve involves receiving equal pay for equal work, reducing the teacher-pupil ratio to the standard European norm, giving childcare workers a salary that is commensurate with their incredible and crucial work, and showing them the dignity and respect they deserve and have earned. I urge this House to remember them today of all days. We must do something constructive and real, and not just pay lip service. When we get out of the Covid pandemic, and we will, let us express in tangible and real ways the great work they have done. They are the soldiers of today - the living soldiers.
First, I would like to second Senator Ward's contribution on the changing of names. I have no interest in changing my daughters' names, but I have come up against the obstacles and complications that the Senator has highlighted. I have had many conversations on this issue. One stands out more than the others because it took place at passport control. I have one daughter who is a Wallace, one who is a Jones, and I am a Ruane. That has led to some very awkward conversations. Obviously, none of us look alike, which makes it even worse.
The issue I want to raise today spans across a few Departments, including the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and involves everyone who is in control of funding expenditure for youth, addiction, community, and mental health services. Over recent months, I have had many conversations about the concerns of many of those services about underspends this year as a result of service provision being somewhat restricted due to the Covid pandemic.Service providers are afraid that when they seek next year's funding at the end of the year, the underspends will make them look as though they do not need so much funding. As the underspends were caused by a very exceptional year, I hope the Departments in charge of many of the community services will issue an instruction or guideline to them that allows a six-month grace period that lasts into 2021, thus allowing enough time for them to spend their money and they do not have to rush to spend it before the year is out.
It would be very helpful if the Departments were able to widen the scope for the expenditure because some it will not be spent on service provision and many projects may need to invest in particular capital that is necessary to continue to provide services due to Covid-19. Widening the scope would not cost the State any money because the money has already been assigned to the projects but would allow projects more room to manoeuvre and prepare for 2021 in terms of how different the work looks for many of these sectors.
Today, we moved to level 5, which will place a huge burden on many citizens. My sympathies and heart goes out to the people who are sick with Covid, the people who have lost loved ones and the hundreds of thousands of people who today find themselves having to resort to the pandemic unemployment payment.
As a society, it is incumbent on all of us to do everything that we can to combat the spread of Covid-19. As we are leaders in our communities and in this country, we all need to show leadership.
What happened with contract tracing over the weekend was regrettable. I note that when Paul Reid was interviewed on radio today, he expressed his regret and apologised for what happened, which is commendable. I suggest that we invite the Minister for Health here to specifically debate Covid halfway through the six weeks of restrictions at level 5. It would be an opportunity for him to engage with us on Covid, review how we are doing and talk about a roadmap that lasts right into 2021 because there is no doubt we will have to live alongside Covid-19 for some time to come. Even if a vaccine is rolled out, it will take a significant amount of time for it to percolate down. Consequently, as a House we should have a specific debate on Covid in the next two or three weeks.
I agree with Senator Wall about us finally recognising the men of Jadotville. Members in both Houses have previously raised this matter. We should not allow it to be repeatedly discussed and raised here, as there is cross-party consensus. As Senator Wall mentioned local authorities, I note that two former members of the Army, Councillor Joe Malone in Kilkenny and Councillor Gary Laffan in Wexford, tabled motions on the issue with their local authorities as has happened across the country. The Defence Forces have a lot of bigger issues but the recognition of the Jadotville men is a small issue. Only eight brave men who served in Jadotville remain and I ask the Leader to seek an assurance from the Minister for Defence that he will come here to debate this issue.
I welcome the statement that the Taoiseach made this morning concerning the development of a shared island unit and its priorities. In particular, I hope that we will have a debate and discussion in this House. I am happy that he has committed to the development of the university campus at Magee College and to the concept of an all-island research entity, which is very important.
I wish to raise what is a very important issue for a significant number of people. I ask that the Minister for Transport explains why the driving test list grows ever longer. Somebody who currently awaits their driving test has had to wait over 30 weeks.This is prohibitive for young people, and some not-so-young people, not only in terms of enabling them to drive unaccompanied but for many who need to be able to drive to work. I would ask that priority be given to looking at how we can reduce the driver test list.
I heard Senator Cassells speaking on the voting issue and the thought struck me - what is it with these otherwise talented and gifted Fianna Fáil Deputies from Meath who seem to be determined to impose electronic voting on us in some shape or form? "Please, no" is all I could say to that. Let us spare ourselves the future misery and confusion and let us see what happens in the US election in the coming weeks.
Section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 allows income from the sale of artistic works to be exempted from income tax in certain circumstances. The works involved must be original and they must have "cultural and artistic merit". Applications are made annually in respect of specific works - books, plays, a collection of artworks, etc. - and individuals can earn up to €50,000 tax free in the year the determination is made. The question of what works qualify as having that cultural or artistic merit is assessed by the Revenue Commissioners with advice from the Arts Council based on set guidelines. It seems that the granting of exemptions for non-fiction books has been a bone of contention for more than a decade. In 2013, the Arts Council complained to the Revenue that its role was being undermined by the tendency to grant exemptions to ghost written sports biographies and political memoirs. For non-fiction books to be considered, they should have a cultural theme, such as a biography or an autobiography of a writer or painter. Where appeals are made against applications, more than half have been successful. The Arts Council provides expert opinion but, here again, the council has said that all manner of appeals are being upheld. The council differs from the Revenue in some determinations. It seems political memoirs should not quality but there is certainly no justification to allow serving politicians or retired officeholders with generous pensions to avail of a tax break in this situation. They should pay tax on royalties as they would on other income earned in retirement. This is something that can be addressed in the coming finance Bill. It is something we ought to address. We are spending a great deal these days. We are borrowing a great deal. We should certainly take any opportunity we have for prudent retrenchment.
What I would like to raise today is the importance of urban regeneration funding for the provincial towns around the country and I will use my own home town of Dundalk as a case in point. The Bridge Street-Linenhall Street area has been a neglected part of Dundalk for the past 40-odd years for various different reasons. It is a part of the town of Dundalk that has the most sincere and genuine sense of community. Other parts of my town have benefited from urban regeneration funding over the past couple of years but the north end, Bridge Street and Linenhall Street, have been consistently left behind. We have people like Mr. Martin McElligott, who is the manager of the business improvement district scheme, BIDS, in Dundalk. We have people on Louth County Council who are pushing hard to improve this area. However, they cannot do that unless they get substantial funding. I am talking of funding in the millions of euro which would be required for urban regeneration to totally transform the streetscape to make it more attractive for new businesses to move in and to make it more attractive for people to go and shop in that area. The area has a wonderful sense of community and it is crying out for substantial funding. I would appreciate it if we could invite the Minister to this House at some stage in the near future to talk about urban regeneration funding and the benefits that it can have for towns right across Ireland, in particular, for the area of Dundalk I raise here today. It would be important to do that and push for urban regeneration funding in the provincial towns and large towns, such as the town of Dundalk.
We are hearing every side of the Covid debate today. It is with great sadness I rise to tell the House of a story that is breaking online in the Roscommon Herald in recent hours. A nursing home in the Roscommon-Galway border - I will not mention it or the people involved but the names are here - has been left in a state of absolute emergency after the majority of staff and 26 of the 28 residents tested positive for the coronavirus.The director has been in tears. She tested positive herself. She has no symptoms but obviously cannot go to the nursing home. The result is that the nursing home has been left with one nurse, one care assistant, one chef and one food server. The HSE's intervention was sought. It promised to help and did send one nurse but, because so many staff have been affected, that nurse and one care assistant were left in charge of the patients. One resident has died and two are being hospitalised today. It has been described by a local GP, Dr. Daly, as a state of emergency. It is really sad and we have seen this before. I will not prolong my contribution as I will be working behind the scenes later but I ask the Minister, whom I know will be very compassionate, to bring this to the attention of the Government and get the HSE to do everything possible in the coming hours to sort this out. If it is not sorted, most of the residents will end up in hospital.
Like Senator Murphy, I have received notice, in the last hour, about what has been happening in east Galway. It is a private nursing home. The circumstances indicate exactly why we have moved to level 5, which is to protect and save lives. All of these measures that we have to endure, such as wearing a mask and taking a step back, are about saving lives. The nursing home is in dire straits. We are talking about the tracing and testing capability of the HSE but we also need to ensure we are supporting private nursing homes so they will have adequate staff, especially when staff are testing positive. As Senator Murphy pointed out, it is an emergency ask. I that this be raised with the Minister for Health so a request can be made of the HSE that it allocate resources urgently. I assume it is through primary health care so we are talking about Community Healthcare West. The resources need to be assigned today. We need the nursing home and the people in such dire straits to be supported. God forbid that we would have a loved one going through something like that.
The other point I want to make is on staying safe at this time because the evenings are getting darker. There was a fatal accident involving a pedestrian this morning outside Strokestown. All of us are going to be driving, speeding or rushing to where we need to go, but people will be walking with no footpaths in rural areas on dark evenings. Please be careful; please be safe. I will work with Senator Murphy on getting support as soon as possible.
We had many hours of debate in this House on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. We noted quite recently that many members of the public are of the view that off-licences should be closed. I do not agree but I cannot understand why the Government has not at this stage implemented minimum unit pricing, which is included in the legislation. There was a big debate on this at the time regarding the prices in the North and South. At this time, people cannot travel from either jurisdiction given the travel restrictions. I therefore call on the Leader to liaise with the Minister for Health in order to introduce minimum unit pricing. The Government should liaise with the authorities in Northern Ireland and reach a joint agreement in this regard. This is the opportune time to do that.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his generosity. I will be brief. Today is the first day of the lockdown. Everybody working in front-line services obviously has our support but I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport to address, with Dublin Bus, the provision of public bus services in the city.Ordinarily a Dublin Bus double-decker will carry more than 100 passengers but because of the restrictions only 17 passengers will be allowed on them. We encourage parents and children use the public bus service to go to school. During the lockdown earlier this year, we had good weather and children were home from school, but we are now entering the period of worse weather, darker mornings, afternoons and evenings with less capacity on the buses. I am not asking Dublin Bus to do anything that would be in any way dangerous for either the drivers or the passengers but we need to ensure the full capacity of the bus service is made available to commuters in the city. The Leader will know that people commute from County Meath and far beyond the city. However, by the time the buses get to the Navan Road, Cabra or Drumcondra the city commuters cannot actually board. It was not too bad this morning because although it was cold, it was dry but it will be lashing rain soon enough. We need to ensure everything is being done to maximise capacity on the Dublin Bus service.
It should read "whichever is later".
I thank the Cathaoirleach for the latitude today given we will not have an Order of Business tomorrow. The next number of weeks are probably going to be difficult not just for the operations of this House and the Dáil but for every Irish citizen. We woke up this morning with level 5 imposed on us. Senators Murphy and Dolan brought the impact and reality of this virus home to us with clarity, when they described the information released this morning on the nursing home in County Roscommon, on the County Galway border. It shows us how dangerous and precarious things are. Precarious does not even come close to describing how the families of the residents and staff must be feeling this morning. When we finish voting here, the first call I will make will be to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and Mr. Paul Reid to ensure the services are put in.
There were many requests for debates this morning. Depending on how we sit over the next couple of weeks I will try to accommodate them, particularly those related to Covid, given the Covid committee is no longer sitting. However, we need to be cognisant of the health and the welfare of all the people who keep these Houses running. To that end, I want to put on record my genuine appreciation for the officials, ushers, catering staff and absolutely everybody who tirelessly come in here every day to keep these Houses running and to help us and support us in doing our jobs. I will, however, arrange for debates to be facilitated as quickly as I can.
Last week Senator Craughwell, who is not in the Chamber, asked for a debate on education and I committed to providing that. I tried to arrange for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to us today but unfortunately she had a very busy schedule. She will, hopefully, be back to us the week after next for a debate on substitute teachers. A number of colleagues said this morning that it is very easy for us to be appreciative of our healthcare workers, which we are, but I am always fascinated by the divide and very contentious debate when we talk about our teachers. I really find it fascinating. I do not think I was particularly lucky with the teachers my four children have had, and continue to have. The commitment teachers show not only to education and the quality of education but to the overall well-being of all our students is second to none. When I see the debate becoming vicious towards teachers, suggesting they are being precious about their own healthcare and well-being and that of their children, I get somewhat angry. Perhaps that is not justified but I do not want a society where we all start pitting ourselves against each other. Whether we are all at different levels of being "in it together", we all must experience the same precautions and engage in the same activity and behaviour to protect ourselves, our families and each other. I do not think turning on particular sections of society is in any way helpful.If we sit for a substantial time during the six weeks of lockdown, a debate with numerous Ministers about Covid and its related issues would be helpful – I do not mean this disrespectfully – in holding people to account in the absence of us going about our normal daily schedule, given that we will be told to work from home as much as possible. I will facilitate that debate.
We will not be in a position to vote for the proposed amendment. Senator Boyhan raised this request last week as well. We are working in an extraordinary time. There are not just Covid restrictions, but also other obstacles to running our business normally. We are not in our own Chamber because of objections from certain quarters. We have no guarantee that we will be in this Chamber on any day except, perhaps, a Friday. Even that is not guaranteed, given that the Dáil might choose to sit in this Chamber every single day. Schedules change at very short notice. This week's schedule was issued yesterday at lunchtime. It was again issued today at 10.23 a.m. Based on interactions with the Seanad Office, there was a slight change at 11.20 a.m. The Cathaoirleach highlighted the exact wording a second ago.
I ask Senators for a little latitude and understanding. These are not normal times. Our officials and staff are working flat out to ensure that we can try to hold Ministers to account by having this House and the Lower House functioning as much as possible. However, there are constraints, and they are not just the obvious ones owing to Covid. I will continue trying to provide as much space for debates as I can, but I am cognisant of the fact that we need to mind not only our own health, but the health of those who support and work with us to keep these Chambers open on a daily basis.
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Lynn Boylan, Paul Gavan, Alice-Mary Higgins, Annie Hoey, Sharon Keogan, Elisha McCallion, Rebecca Moynihan, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Lynn Ruane, Marie Sherlock.
Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Malcolm Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, John Cummins, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Seán Kyne, Vincent P Martin, John McGahon, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.
Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Malcolm Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, John Cummins, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Seán Kyne, Vincent P Martin, John McGahon, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Lynn Boylan, Paul Gavan, Alice-Mary Higgins, Annie Hoey, Sharon Keogan, Elisha McCallion, Rebecca Moynihan, Rónán Mullen, Lynn Ruane, Marie Sherlock, Fintan Warfield.