Friday, 6 November 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 26, motion 6, postponed division on the amendment to the motion on biodiversity, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 10 November 2020, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 26, motion 6, without debate; No. 2, third report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, motion regarding section 6(5)(a) of the Act of the Data Protection Act 2018 (section 60(6)) (Central Bank of Ireland) Regulations 2020, to be taken at 12.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later and to conclude after 45 minutes, with the time allocated to each group spokesperson not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than four minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, Investment Limited Partnerships (Amendment) Bill 2020 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. or immediately on the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the earlier, and to be brought to a conclusion after two hours by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to the amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; and No. 5, motion re the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Act 2020, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 4, whichever is the later, and to be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply to the debate.
I agree with the Order of Business. I raise today the ongoing and deeply distressing situation of hundreds of Aer Lingus employees. As we are all aware, over the last five months I along with many colleagues in this House and the Dáil have raised issues regarding Aer Lingus workers accessing the short-term income supports backdated to March 2020. Due to the management of the temporary wage scheme by Aer Lingus, I believe a disservice was done to the employees leaving them on less - much less in many cases - than the €350 pandemic unemployment payment that was envisaged by the last Government and carried on by this one.
These employees have had to turn to the Department of Social Protection for assistance given their reduced hours and pay. Many of them have applied for the short-term working scheme, allowing them to claim jobseeker's payment for the days they were not working when they were on 50% or 30% of their salary. For five months from March until the end of September not one of these applications has either been awarded or rejected. They have just been put on a red flag file.
I know how hard Intreo officers work and I have great respect for them. In recent months they have been frustrated in dealing with the queries both online and in person. They are doing their absolute best, but they are awaiting instructions from the Department and the Minister. There are ongoing negotiations between them and Aer Lingus as to how best to manage.
In the middle of all this, I am aware that we have more than 2,000 applicants for the short-term working scheme waiting for backdated payments and for their applications to be processed. We are now seven or eight weeks away from Christmas. These people have been living on buttons since March. It is not acceptable that an agency of the State, or indeed a blue-chip employer like Aer Lingus, would continue to stand over the mistreatment of its employees as is happening.
I call for the Department of Social Protection to intervene with a communication directly to the more than 2,000 applicants outlining when and how they will be dealt with, and what kind of outcome they can expect.While there are people who are entitled to the short-time working scheme and will get what they are entitled to, an expectation has been created among far more employees in Aer Lingus that they are also entitled to access the scheme and I fear they are not entitled to do so. This needs to be brought to an end today with a clear statement from the Department but also direct communication to every one of those 2,000 and more applicants.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 8 be taken before No. 1. This concerns the Children (Amendment) Bill 2020. On the issue of voting for business next Tuesday, I appreciate the problems we face with accommodation, votes and the like. I have tried to be constructive, as has my group, on all of these matters. Some people feel that in these Covid days, we must make concessions on parliamentary procedure to facilitate the doing of business in safe circumstances in Leinster House. The recent experience with legislation on house parties shows that we cannot suspend the function of parliamentary scrutiny. I know these are matters for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which is addressing these matters as a matter of urgency, but the Seanad must function constitutionally in the way it is intended. We must be in a position to look at legislation, not at a leisurely pace but in a businesslike way, by getting through our business. We must be in a position where the ordinary processes of this House function well. I know the Leader has run into difficulty because of a few deadlines in recent times, despite commitments that were made to the House on previous occasions, and that legislation has been guillotined and motions for early signature and the like have suddenly been put before us. We have a constitutional function to discharge. The rules and procedures of this House must reflect the urgency of our constitutional function. We cannot continue to keep cutting corners on the pretext of there being a Covid emergency. Therefore, the work that is being done by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to normalise our voting and sitting procedures should be expedited and this House should reach the position where it can use its Chamber in the civilised way we have been doing - sharing the accommodation in it but doing our work of scrutiny in a way that allows us to call votes on matters we think are of considerable importance.
I echo what Senator McDowell said about the work of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I am glad we had a productive meeting this morning. I thank the Cathaoirleach, his staff and colleagues. We have all been working constructively to try to reach the position where we can use our Chamber and engage in voting in the normal democratic way thereby fulfilling our constitutional function. I am glad, therefore, that we have had progress on that this morning.
I ask for a debate on the extension of citizenship to healthcare workers on the front line who are caring for patients with Covid in many cases but, as we have seen in recent weeks, still face uncertainty as to their legal status in Ireland. I commend Labour Youth on launching a campaign yesterday entitled "Born Here Belong Here", which seeks in particular to extend citizenship rights to children born in Ireland but who have uncertain legal status because their parents are not entitled to be Irish citizens as a result of the 2004 referendum and the legislation brought in subsequent to that. Colleagues may recall that in 2018, the Labour Party brought forward a citizenship Bill that was passed on Second Stage with support from our colleagues in Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. It would have expanded the right to apply for citizenship to children born in Ireland. We will bring this Bill back on 2 December as part of this Labour Youth campaign to extend citizenship rights. There is a groundswell of public support for greater generosity in terms of citizenship rights, particularly when we see reports of people who have been working in healthcare in Ireland, in some cases for many years, and are facing a threat of deportation. I ask the Leader to facilitate our debate in Private Members' time and that the Government see fit to support the legislation. We would be bringing it back on Committee Stage and are very much open to having amendments from the Government side. I look forward to working constructively with the Leader and other colleagues to ensure we have some expansion of our citizenship law for children born in Ireland and persons working in healthcare who are on the front line and facing deportation. I look forward to that debate.
Like everyone else, I have been riveted by the US election. I express my hope and that of my party that Joe Biden prevails and is elected today and that we see a declaration being made. I also condemn the outrageous comments made by the outgoing US President about the democratic process casting aspersions and undermining people's belief in the integrity of the democratic process in the US. It is shocking to see those comments being made by an outgoing US President.
I also welcome the work we did on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges this morning. We will find a resolution to the issues around voting very shortly. I thank the staff for their engagement. It is very important that the Seanad continues to operate effectively and that we do our duty and what we were elected and are paid to do.
As a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, I would probably have been observing the US election this week. I watched with horror all of the demonstrations that have been taking place. There does not seem to be any indication of voter fraud despite what the current President says. I would have welcomed the opportunity to observe the election. I hope that sense will prevail and that following this, we will have a coming together of the people of the US with a common interest in peace and reconciliation between all sides because that is the most important thing.
I urge my colleagues in the House to support the vote this morning on the Sinn Féin amendment to the motion on biodiversity brought forward by the Green Party. I reiterate the point I made yesterday that supporting farmers to farm sustainably and protect nature is not the same as allowing nature to be traded on markets to facilitate emissions. It is a shame that some of my Green Party colleagues did not understand the difference. Maybe they should listen to their colleagues in the Just Transition Greens group.
Later today, we will discuss the enforcement powers for Covid level 5. The Government must use the time during lockdown to get its house in order. Covid-19 has exposed fundamental weaknesses in our health system. One of them is how the health service plans its workforce and staffs its services. Staffing levels are not based on best practice or evidence-based policy. Instead they are based merely on the idea of what the ward has always had and essentially looking to history to set the staffing levels. The framework on safe staffing is a scientifically tested tool to set staffing levels based on the number of patients and their specific needs. When trialled in Irish hospitals, it cuts costs, particularly agency staffing costs; decreases the length of patient stay; improves patient satisfaction rates and staff morale and well-being; and cuts mortality rates.The tragedy of Covid-19 has touched many families throughout Ireland but for nurses that tragedy is a daily experience. They are on the front lines day in, day out. The trauma of what they go through for all our sakes is difficult to fathom. Yesterday, a nurse from a Dublin hospital, Jennifer, called into "Liveline" and put into words her experience of the Covid ward. She read a poem she had written about the ten minutes that she gives to those losing loved ones in ICU to say their final goodbye. I ask each Member to take a moment to listen to that poem today because we owe it to the nurses to do everything in our capacity to support them in their work. In the words of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, we must take care of them so that they can take care of us.
I express again the grave concerns of hundreds of musicians who have contacted me since the budget, many of whom are struggling to meet their financial commitments. I have raised the crisis in the music industry several times and have offered my ongoing support to the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI. It is an amazing organisation which works voluntarily to help struggling colleagues in every way, including mental health in some ways. Workers in this sector have been in lockdown since March without any income. They have relied on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and payment breaks to get by. Now, with a reduced PUP and no guarantee of payment breaks, many face the realisation that their homes may be at risk. Many are forced to sell equipment and their tools of the trade which are essential for their business to survive. This is such an unfair position in which to leave workers who want to work but who simply cannot do so.
The Covid restrictions support scheme announced in the budget benefits only premises owners. The majority of musicians do not operate from a premises or pay rates and their annual turnover does not reach the threshold for VAT. Schemes announced in the July stimulus package do not apply to these individuals. The VAT reduction was not given to the music industry. That reduction would have helped survivors in the industry when it reopens. These are self-employed people in microenterprises who raise families, pay mortgages, enrich the social fabric of our existence and culture and whose livelihoods have been put under threat by this pandemic. Their livelihoods have been put under further threat by the lack of supports by this Government.
These sectors need individual supports for the workers who have been on PUP since March. They want to work but their ability to work has been taken away by Government guidelines and the lack of clarity about those guidelines. Even under level 5 restrictions, wedding bands and private music teachers have been left in doubt about their ability to earn an income and honour private contracts. I ask that the Minister come before the House to address the concerns of these workers and then to arrange a meeting with their representatives to hear their views on the failure of Government responses so far to reach out to them in any effective or meaningful way.
It is also essential that support comes the way of these musicians as we fast approach the Christmas period. They have sacrificed their right to work and earn an income for the greater good of the nation. The Government should now reward the heavy burden they have borne for more than seven months. This burden of financial uncertainty is a risk to their future livelihood and even to their homes. It is not good enough. Music is the heart and soul of who we are in Ireland. It is our duty to afford protections and honour the artists and musicians who contribute so much to Irish culture and society. Now is the time to do that.
Next Monday is equal pay day. We look forward to the #WorkEqual campaign run by the Dress for Success group. Equal pay day underlines the inequality between men and women and their pay. The average pay gap in Ireland is 14.4%. Technically, Monday, 9 November is the day on which women stop being paid for the work that they do. Women are disproportionately over-represented in lower paid positions and under-represented in the labour market. They take on the bulk and burden of care and domestic roles and the struggle to juggle everything. Deeper issues are at play around gender stereotyping and discrimination, especially for women from minority groups.
This Government is deeply committed to changing this, as was the previous Government, and to encouraging the share of care between both parents. Paid paternity leave and a new paid parent's benefit were introduced in this year's and last year's budgets but there is still more work to do. Yesterday, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform announced a new spending review which noted that the uptake of paid paternity leave stands at 50% and that of new parent's benefit is relatively low. These low rates are associated with the failure by employers to top up salaries. This also reflects other challenges I often see with parental leave, including employers not being sufficiently flexible and insisting that parents take all their parental leave in one go instead of giving them the flexibility to take it as part of a three-day or four-day week over a period. These are the practical issues that hinder our progress in sharing the care. The EU work-life balance directive is an opportunity for the Minister to review all these issues - access to parental leave, work flexibility, and the right to request - together.
I raise again the untimely death of Shane O'Farrell. This tragic killing has been discussed twice in this House and the Dáil since 2017. Shane O'Farrell died in a road traffic accident nine years ago in August. He was hit by a car driven by Mr. Zigimantas Gridziuska, who had 42 previous convictions and was at large while on bail. He should have been in prison for breaching many bail conditions but was dangerously out on this day, killing beautiful young Shane O'Farrell, aged 23 years, in August 2011 near Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. This matter received cross-party support when it was discussed in both Houses. Two years ago, the then Minster for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, established a scoping inquiry headed by Judge Gerard Haughton. I understand the family have met the judge and are working well with him. It is expected the report will be completed in December. I ask the Leader to seek an update from the Minister on that. When the report is published, I ask that the Leader make time in the House early in the new year to discuss it. We need justice in this case, not only for the family but also the public generally. We need facts. We need to give some solace to the family who need to the truth that they may finally put the matter to rest and get on with their lives in some sort of normality.
The Oliver Bond flats complex in Dublin has a serious rat infestation. I have been asked to name a lady whose flat is infested. Lindsay O'Brien has rats in her bathroom and her kitchen. It is a disgrace that people are living like this in this day and age. None of us here would put up with that and no one living in council property should put up with it either.
This weekend is very special for all of us who wore uniforms, irrespective of where we wore them. It is the weekend on which we would commemorate the armistice and the loss of Irish lives in the First and Second World Wars. More importantly, 8 November, this weekend, will be a very poignant day in Irish military history because we will remember 60 years since the Niemba ambush, when Lieutenant Gleeson, Sergeant Gaynor, Corporals Kelly and Dougan, Privates Farrell, McGuinn and Killeen, and Troopers Fennell and Browne all lost their lives. If it is not inappropriate, I ask that we hold a moment’s silence today in the House. We had expected the Niemba ambush to have a particularly poignant remembrance this year, given that it has been 60 years since those men lost their lives. Unfortunately, however, because of Covid-19, there will be no such commemoration. It would be fitting of the House to remember in particular those who died in Niemba and, at the same time, to remember the thousands from Ireland who gave their lives in the First World War and Second World War. I am not sure whether it would be appropriate to take a minute's silence but it would be a noble thing for the House to do. I ask the Cathaoirleach to consider that at the end of the Order of Business.
As every day of the level 5 lockdown goes by, more and more issues arise that are clearly not consistent with what is being attempted to suppress the virus. Many of them attach to rural pursuits. It is difficult to justify why a small number of cattle buyers cannot attend cattle marts to assist in the trade of livestock, which is part of the food chain. Rural men and women who are interested in hunting normally take their guns and dogs to shoot pheasants at this time of the year, mainly alone or sometimes with one or two others, in the wild countryside. There are also issues with hare coursing. Again, it is usually a couple of men or women and their dogs. These are not just sporting pursuits. For some, the breeding of a dog is an important source of income. It often goes on to pay for the college fees of a son or daughter. It is an essential component of the income of those families, yet with the wave of a hand or the stroke of a pen, certain people in government and in the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, seem to suggest it is better to suppress everything for the greater good of all.
When that kind of blanket approach is taken, however, very quickly people start to be lost, group by group, individual by individual, club by club. It will become more and more difficult as time goes on to get the support of the people. We need to learn to live with Covid-19. I have talked in the House about the necessity to give some sense of hope to people who will want to come home for Christmas. We need to do that now. We need a debate in the House on living with Covid. If one talks to the experts off the record, they will say very clearly that even with the emergence of a vaccine or some therapeutic cure for Covid, we will still have to live with it for many years to come. We need to get real now while we still have some chance of retaining the support of the people. I suggest we have a debate in the House as soon as possible.
I raise the issue of the recent application for strand 2 of the just transition fund. I believe that evaluations are under way and it is expected that applicants will be contacted this month in respect of their applications. More than €11 million in funding has been put in place to help fund these projects, create employment and re-employ workers who have lost their jobs, especially in Longford and Offaly. I refer in particular to the Lough Ree power plant in Lanesborough, County Longford, the closure of which has had a significant effect on the people of Lanesborough and the surrounding areas of Killashee, Keenagh, Newtowncashel and workers in nearby Ballyleague in County Roscommon.
I asked the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to follow up on his commitment to me in the Chamber during the summer that he would prioritise funding for these specific projects in our county. A number of such projects in which I have been involved include: Access for All, which is aimed at providing outdoor recreational pursuits for wheelchair users, with tours of Lough Ree and the River Shannon, and will provide alternative employment for dozens of Bord na Móna workers; a food hub, which is a joint venture between the local community, Longford County Council and Bord na Móna, a venture that has previously received funding from Enterprise Ireland and is anticipated to employ in the region of 40 workers; and Lough Ree Distillery visitor centre, which is on the banks of the River Shannon. When in full production, the distillery will have a capacity for 50,000 cases of whiskey, gin and other spirits. It is expected the visitor centre will attract more than 25,000 tourists to the area and create 20 jobs locally.
I am concerned about a commitment given with regard to the just transition. When the bogs were being rehabilitated by Bord na Móna, a commitment was given to re-employing the workers who had lost their jobs. I would like assurances from the Minister and Bord na Móna that they will commit to re-employing these workers and not use external contractors, which may take place. If we are to deliver a just transition for the midlands and the workers, it is imperative that the funding be delivered without delay.
I raise two issues, the first of which I have raised a number of times previously in the House with a number of colleagues. It concerns the campaign by John Wall to expand medical cards to terminally ill patients. I listened to John earlier on my local radio station, KFM, on my way to the House. He informed everyone listening that he will hold a further meeting with the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, on this deeply important matter at 6 p.m. today. I appeal to the Minister to have the political will to listen to John on behalf of all those who need this comfort so much, and to change the current guidelines. I am sure this would be welcomed by everyone in the House and, most important, by those who need such a support at such a difficult time in their lives.
I ask the Leader to request a debate with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on an issue highlighted to me in recent months. I ask for that Minister to come to the House because of the urgent need to change the building regulations to make it mandatory to include what are called changing-place toilet facilities rather than the standard accessible toilets in public buildings. In Ireland, there are estimated to be only 15 changing-place toilets, whereas I am told there are more than 1,500 in England, which recently introduced legislation to make such toilets mandatory in new public buildings from 2021. There are 40 in Northern Ireland and the Assembly has given a commitment to amending its regulations. There is currently an online campaign, which I urge Senators to support, to change the Irish building regulations to ensure that changing-place toilet facilities will be mandatory in public buildings. I am aware of a number of families who simply cannot use the facilities currently on offer in this country. Their children and loved ones have grown into young adults and the small baby table in these facilities is simply not good enough. These families are left having to change their children's clothes in the back of their cars or on the cold floors of whatever changing rooms they can find.
I hope we can make a change for these families. Having just 15 changing-place public toilets in this modern republic that we all call home is simply not good enough for those who need our help most.
I echo Senator Black's comments on the need for continued support for musicians, and those of Senator Bacik, who stated we should send our congratulations, we hope, to US President-elect Biden. I have no doubt the Cathaoirleach will happily welcome him to counties Mayo and Louth, should he decide to make a visit in the coming years.
I return to the questions on the clarity of the guidelines under level 5 and the position on the shooting of pheasants. As the House will be aware, recreational shooters play an important role in managing vermin, pests and predators in country areas. Due to level 5, however, recreational shooting has been stopped. I ask that we get clarity on that and in particular on the possibility of an extension to the pheasant shooting season.
On the question of living with Covid, I raise the issue of how our young people are coping with the virus. We need to consider our response. While we are all impacted in many ways, young people have been particularly affected. There was a peak of youth unemployment at about 45% over the course of the summer.Those who went through the nightmare of the leaving certificate this year and those who will face it again next year will not have the same first year college experience many of us in this House have been fortunate to experience. The joy of going to nightclubs - I am not sure how many in the House have spent their time clubbing - is certainly not available to teenagers and young people. These are very important rights of passage. We need to consider ways in which we might ensure we have a debate about not only how young people have been dealing with Covid, what supports we can put in place and how we can support young people's mental health but also the contribution, welcomed by the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, this morning, that young people have made to fighting this Covid challenge.
I presume that by now most Members of the House have received a copy of a letter sent to the Director-General of the World Health Organization because of the exclusion of Taiwan from the World Health Assembly meeting that will take place between 9 and 14 November. I ask that the Leader of the House request the Ireland-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Society to write to the World Health Organization for the inclusion of Taiwan in these talks. Taiwan seems to be the most successful country in tackling Covid-19 and has also been very generous in giving its products to other countries right around the world. It has only had 544 confirmed cases and seven deaths up to October of this year. That is an incredible record. It has given generously to other countries around the world, including member states of the European Union. It has given 54 million surgical masks, 35,000 thermometers, 227 sets of protective clothing, 600,000 isolation gowns, polymerase chain reaction, PCR, test devices and medical gloves to more than 80 countries around the world over the past few months. That is very generous. As I said, given the number of cases in Taiwan, with a population of 23 million people, it is the world leader, yet it is being excluded from the World Health Assembly talks taking place in November. We have not heard the World Health Organization or even the Irish Government or many of the European governments expressing what is best practice around the world. They always state we are following best practice. Best practice seems to me to be what is being done in Taiwan. I ask that the Leader contact the Ireland-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Society to discuss supporting Taiwan in this case.
I cannot endorse enough Senator Wall's suggestion in respect of the Changing Places facilities. We opened one in Belfast City Hall in January last year. For families caring for people with profound disabilities, just the knowledge that such a facility is there for them affords them an opportunity as families to do things together, to plan their day and to plan recreation and important family time together. It is an important issue to raise in the House but, more important again, it is one we should all take on in our own spheres of influence and help to drive forward in support of families and those with profound and severe disabilities. These facilities really make a difference.
Colleagues have spoken about the level 5 restrictions. We are where we are, and I respect fully and champion the medical and scientific advice given to the Government. However, we need to consider the issue of fitness and gym access in the context of people's mental and physical well-being. We all remember in the summer the great craic and novelty people enjoyed in working out in the back yard or in the living room and encouraging their families and communities to take part in that. We are now into the winter months, however, and that option is just not available to everyone. I appreciate the fact that we will have a debate later today and indeed statements on this issue next week. I do not have the answer and I do not expect the Deputy Leader to have it either. I am just calling for a discussion and a debate on this in order that we can hear from the Minister the rationale, which, I hope, can evolve and be reviewed as we come into the winter months to make a real, tangible, positive impact on people's health.
I echo the sentiments of Senators Byrne and Dooley. I have discussed with the Deputy Leader herself the matter of shooting since the season has come in on 1 November and I acknowledge she will raise it with the relevant Minister. I appreciate that. She indicated that to me earlier.
As for Senator Burke's comments and the WHO stance on Taiwan, and other Senators have echoed those thoughts, I see it as very strange in our modern world that the WHO is still taking such a stance on Taiwan, particularly as it is to the fore in the fight against Covid. I ask that we make our feelings known in that regard.
Lastly, on 1 January, as the Deputy Leader knows, Brexit will be at our door. A lot of our exporters are not up to speed with the new regulations, regardless of whether the EU will do a deal with Britain. This is very important. Perhaps this is the relevant forum to which to bring the relevant Minister to discuss the wide implications and see what we can do to encourage businesses to be ready for the large changes that will come in on 1 January. I thank the Deputy Leader for her time.
The past couple of days have demonstrated, if anyone needed reminding, how precious democracy is and how much it matters. Every vote counts. It is quite improper for any government to involve itself in another country's election, but as individuals who care about democracy and the free world, the last few days have been little short of incredible in our lifetime. It has also been a salutary lesson for President Trump that bullying does not pay and that the road of peddling fake news runs out and is a cul-de-sac. His despicable references to Detroit and Philadelphia, appealing to his base last night, in his anything-but-gracious speech were a disgrace. His invoking of and reference to the US judiciary is from a different planet. Democracy in Ireland has a very proud tradition of respect and separation of powers for our Judiciary. It is in sharp contrast with what the leader of the free world said in referring to the US Supreme Court. He welched on the Paris Agreement, and that withdrawal happened only yesterday. Soon-to-be-president Biden - does that not sound good? - has said he will ensure America takes its place again as a part of that agreement. He has strong Irish connections. It is not my place as a Senator, but sometimes it is good to be first out. I know that the Cathaoirleach is respected in America.
My final point is that Mr. Biden should come to Mayo and Galway and that perhaps the Irish Government should consider, after all we have been through, inviting President Biden to address the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank all the healthcare workers who work in our healthcare system, including all the front-line workers, from the cleaners to the consultants.I thought of them very much this week. I also heard the shocking story this week of two women care workers who worked in a nursing home throughout the pandemic and have been denied leave to remain in Ireland. These are healthcare workers being sent from Ireland in the middle of a pandemic. It is absolutely ridiculous. These women put their lives on the line in this country. If that does not show determination and commitment to this country, what does? Despite this they were told to leave voluntarily or face deportation, according to RTÉ. We stood outside in March to clap for our healthcare workers, including migrant healthcare workers. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste also stood and clapped for all healthcare workers, including migrant healthcare workers. I call on the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and Ministers for Health and Justice to be supportive of all our healthcare workers, including migrant workers, to work with migrants who are treated as lesser people in the Irish system and to ensure they are not deported from the country during this time and are granted leave to remain. Those who live here belong here. Migrants make this country a better place.
I join Members in asking that we support Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization. Lawmakers in most European countries are in favour of Taiwan joining the WHO. It makes no sense, if we are collectively trying to defeat Covid-19, that Taiwan cannot participate in the WHO. I urge the House and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to lend Ireland's support to its participation.
I ask the Cathaoirleach and Leader to arrange a debate on the forthcoming decision of NPHET on moving from level 5 to a different level, whatever it may be. It is important we have a debate on moving from level 5, including on issues such as places of worship. I support Senator Dooley's remarks this morning on rural pursuits, be it coursing or pheasant shooting. That is an issue we need to look at. It is important we have an informed and meaningful debate on how we can collectively address and live with Covid-19. We, as parliamentarians, must have a role and a say in that debate and contribute to public discourse on living with level 5. In particular it is important we stand with our hospitality sector which has suffered enormously as a result of Covid-19, especially small restaurants and coffee shops in many of our cities and towns. If we move to level 3, small and medium enterprise owners must be given an opportunity to pursue indoor dining.
I echo Senator Wall's call for more changing places, toilets and facilities. He is dead right that the northern part of this country does these things an awful lot better than we do and we need to improve. It would be remiss of me, as a Member of this House and proud County Louth woman, not to mention our proud son, Joe Biden. I must also take umbrage at the fact that County Mayo is getting ownership of all his genetics when we all know the Biden clan came from Owen Finnegan and Ms Kearney from Templetown in Cooley. We must be very proud of our son, or perhaps cousin, Mr. Biden, and hope we can welcome him home as President of the United States. I fully agree with Senator Martin on the importance of democracy and how we work on, encourage and improve our democracy.
In light of Brexit, which I think is only 49 days away, I ask the Leader that we have a debate on an all-Ireland economy post Brexit. We need to ensure the Northern Government and the Government here work to create a Border economic zone in light of Brexit. North County Louth, Dundalk, the Newry and Mourne district and the entire Border region, North and South, are going to suffer. I would appreciate a debate on how we are going to support both sides of the Border after Brexit.
I join colleagues in calling on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to engage with the World Health Organization in support of Taiwan. It is a most hospitable country and one which does its business right, as we see in its record in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. We can all learn a thing or two from them.
Speaking of Covid-19, I hear Members calling for exemptions for various activities and many of the cases they are making are strong. However, I suggest that there will not be any changes or any further dilution for the next four weeks of level 5. It is appropriate that we look at how to deal with any future level 5 lockdowns because even if a vaccine is developed, I suspect unfortunately that we will be moving into further phases of level 4 or 5 restrictions in the first half of 2021. As for rebuilding or economy, it is fair to say that the Cathaoirleach's county and my county would have seen tourism kick-start their economies after the last recession. Between 2010 and 2013 in particular, we saw the tourism numbers grow. We saw hundreds of thousands of people working in tourism when there were not jobs in other sectors of society. I earnestly believe tourism will be the first industry that will kick-start our recovery. With that in mind, I suggest to the Leader that we have a considered debate on tourism with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media in the not too distant future. We need to invest in gold-plated tourist facilities across the country. In addition, each county should have at least one gold-plated facility like we in County Clare have with the Cliffs of Moher visitor experience. We also need to develop silver-plated facilities because people will come to the area for a day, visit the Cliffs of Moher and then leave. We want to keep them in the area for two or three days. We need to invest in other facilities that would feed from the gold-plated facilities.
I fully endorse the views of my colleague, Senator Flynn, who called for support for our healthcare workers. When President-elect Biden takes office the first thing we will do is look for support for the undocumented Irish. It is about time we faced up to the undocumented here and showed them similar respect. The migrant healthcare workers who have given such service, compassion and support in our hospitals, care homes, nursing homes and private residences for those who need extra care are living a very difficult existence because of the legality of their situation. It is about time the State faced up to the debt we owe these people and regularised their situation.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2020 be taken. The purpose of this Bill is to make provision in law for hate crime against persons on the basis of their asylum or refugee status, race, colour, religion, nationality, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity. It essentially seeks to tackle hate crimes in a very effective and robust manner.Ireland is behind the curve in not having specific hate crime laws and such legislation should also improve the reporting and recording of hate crime, which is generally considered to be under-reported. There is an onus on us to make it very clear that hatred will not be tolerated in our society. I hope my colleagues will support my proposal to amend the Order of Business.
I second the proposal by Senator Fiona O'Loughlin in regard to the hate crime Bill. I compliment her on the great work she has done in bringing this forward and in her role as a Deputy in times gone by. I am delighted that we are bringing forward this timely and much-needed legislation and I again compliment her on bringing it forward.
One of the older members around here is going into storage today. I want to compliment the people from the Office of Public Works, the Natural History Museum and the National Museum of Ireland who are removing the skeleton of an ancient walrus. I just saw this going on outside. In fact, they had to open up and expand the window space to remove this walrus by way of a window because of its size. It struck me that at least one former Taoiseach would approve because he was reputed to have invited a member of his party on one occasion to exit by the window.
More seriously, I support what Senator Jerry Buttimer and others have said in regard to Taiwan and its membership of the World Health Organization. China continues to be a big issue to which we must pay attention. Colleagues will know that a motion introduced by myself and seconded by many Members passed unanimously in this House a few weeks ago. That motion condemned China's treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority and it called on the Irish Government to use "all available trade and diplomatic channels" to put pressure on China. The motion was not opposed by the Government. Although we know the Government is concerned about undermining our trade relations with China, it cannot be a nod to human rights in Geneva and a wink to Beijing on trade. This motion having unanimously passed the Seanad, it is timely to ask that the Government come to the House and, having reflected on the unanimous vote of the Seanad, tell us what it is going to do about the issue.
Before I call the Deputy Leader to respond, Senator Gerard Craughwell has made a proposal that the House would stand for a minute's silence in remembrance of those who lost their lost their lives in the Niemba ambush over 60 years ago. I agree with the Senator that it is worthy for this House to reflect on the sacrifice of Irish soldiers in the service of peace with the United Nations. I ask the House to stand after the Deputy Leader has responded to the Order of Business.
I accept the amendments proposed by Senator McDowell and Senator O'Loughlin to the Order of Business.
Senator Doherty raised the issue of Aer Lingus workers. It is a failing of our system that over 2,000 applicants have yet to be responded to by the Department. The Department is there to serve the citizens and the people. I will certainly raise it with the Department that it expedite its work in that regard and give a response to those people.
Senator McDowell raised issues around the suspension of parliamentary scrutiny and our work as parliamentarians because of Covid. Covid has, in some respects, become an excuse to not do certain things and we have to be very cautious of that approach. I note the comments of Senators O'Reilly and Bacik around the progress we made today at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in terms of the ongoing accommodation of this House. We are moving closer to a resolution that I hope will allow us to resume our work as parliamentarians and to give proper scrutiny of all matters that come before the House.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of front-line workers and their legal status, and I join with her and Senator O'Loughlin on that issue. It is morally wrong that we would send away workers who have been risking their lives to protect our citizens and not look at their legal status. I commend Labour Youth on the campaign it has started, "Born Here, Belong Here". It has taken the action of children to bring these campaigns to the fore in order to protect their classmates who were at risk of being deported. We have seen many instances of this; it is morally wrong and should be addressed. I believe there would be broad support for that and it certainly has my support.
I thank Senator Bacik for raising the issue around protecting our democracy. The US election has been raised by many Members. When we look at the coverage of the US elections, from Fox News to CNN, it makes us appreciate our national broadcaster. For all its faults, for the most part and almost all of the time it is very good at providing impartial, objective and unbiased information to our citizens and it is a trusted news source. We should never forget how important that is in terms of having a functioning democracy because, from what I can see, there is no news source in the US where one can go for that impartial and balanced information. I believe that has led to some of the polarisation we have seen.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the suggestion by the sitting President Trump around voter fraud and the fact there is no evidence for this. Senator Martin said that as an outside jurisdiction and another country, we should not be commenting on the electoral process of another country. However, I think it is important to appreciate that an important democratic process is taking place and the eyes of the world are watching. It is important that as parliamentarians, we acknowledge the importance of the democratic process. Nobody is above that and nobody should seek to undermine it at any level, let alone the sitting President of the United States. I think we would all be in agreement on that.
Senator Boylan raised the issue of our health system being exposed by Covid and, in particular, by level 5. There is no health system in the world that has not been challenged by this pandemic. However, we should acknowledge the fact we are doing quite well in terms of keeping the numbers of deaths down and protecting people. We have not reached the situation seen in other countries where there has not been an ICU bed for somebody who needs it. That has not happened. Permanent capacity is one thing, but there is surge capacity. The message should go out to citizens that if they need a bed, there is a bed available and care will be provided. It is important that we do not frighten people. We commend our health service for managing to cope up to this date, although that is because we have taken on these restrictions and limited so many aspects of our society to make sure our health system can cope.
Senator Black raised the issue of the music and entertainment sector and commended the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland on the voluntary work it is doing on behalf of musicians and entertainers. Music and entertainment is the heartbeat of Irish culture and society but it is a fact we cannot go to live gigs anymore. I have heard stories of musicians selling their equipment, and it is very sad they find themselves in that situation. The Minister with responsibility for the arts has to do more to help that sector because people really have nowhere to go and their livelihoods have been taken from them, with no real prospect of that sector opening up for quite some time. It could be 2022 before we see ourselves back in large-scale venue venues and they cannot sustain a further full year of what they are going through.
Senator Currie raised the issue of Equal Pay Day and I am glad she did. Monday, 9 November marks the day on which women in this country stop getting paid because of the gender pay gap. We in this House are committed to working on that and I have been working directly with the Cathaoirleach on the issue. It is something we, as a House, hope to address this month more formally in order to try to work on it. It is a problem in every country, and the gender pay gap exists across the board at differing levels. The gap in Ireland is 14.4% and we must work to close it.
Senator Ardagh raised the very sad case of the loss of Shane O'Farrell at the age of 23. I am sure many of us have worked with Shane's mother, Lucia. The fact the person who took his life was in breach of bail conditions and had 42 previous convictions was a failing of the system. The system failed the O'Farrell family and failed Shane. I look forward to that report being published. We should have an opportunity in this House to consider that report and, hopefully, to learn from those mistakes to ensure this never happens again.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of Armistice Day and the loss of life at the Niemba ambush. I thank him for taking the time to read onto the record of this House the names of the men we lost at that ambush, lest we ever forget the huge sacrifice the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann give to this State on a daily basis and on all of the missions they are involved in across the globe. Given our outstanding record as UN peacekeepers, I believe we need to do more, as a country, to highlight to the general public the great work the Defence Forces do, and take more pride in the Defence Forces' past and current serving members. I thank the Senator for his continuing work on behalf of the Defence Forces.
Senator Dooley raised a number of issues around rural Ireland and the impact of Covid. I agree with him in terms of the restrictions at marts. I know this is not an issue in every constituency.We do not have broadband in many parts of rural Ireland and operating online is genuinely difficult for many traders. I do not see any great difficulty in a small number of traders being at a cattle mart, properly distanced, for short periods. That is essential, as they are part of the food chain and the current restrictions are impacting on an element of that process. Meat factories can stay open but traders cannot go to the mart in small numbers.
I have also had representations on hare coursing and the hunting season. I have been contacted by many gun clubs in my constituency of Mayo. The pheasant shooting season was due to start on 1 November. The shooting season had already been in operation for other game in September and shooting had commenced. It is a reasonable ask by gun clubs that if people comply with the 5 km rule and they go alone, they should be able to participate in shooting. Running is a professional sport, but nobody is saying one cannot run within 5 km of one's home, by oneself. We must have some degree of flexibility. I understand where the Garda is coming from. Shooting is not on the list of exemptions. We should not be asking An Garda Síochána to interpret what the Department is telling it. We need clear direction and guidelines from the Department of Justice on this issue. We should not be afraid of being somewhat flexible. Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to gyms and the need to flexible for reasons of mental health. It is one thing to be running and training outside in March and April when the weather is good, but it is a very different thing in November and December when it is freezing. It is not practical. We must have some degree of flexibility.
Senator Dooley called for a debate on living with Covid. A number of Members have touched upon that. Senators Byrne, Ó Donnghaile, Buttimer and Conway all raised issues around how we get to live with Covid because it will be here for the next year in some shape or form. I will certainly request a debate on living with Covid. That title is quite good because it gives us an opportunity to discuss all matters relating to living with Covid.
Senator Mullen referred to places of worship. Again, that is something we need to look at because it is an outlet for people and it is somewhere that people get great solace and comfort. Such a debate would be welcome and we can deal with a number of matters under its auspices.
Senator Carrigy referred to strand 2 of the just transition fund, and the Lough Ree power plant in Lanesborough in County Longford. It is an important employer in the region. In a county and region where employment is scare, the loss of 100 jobs is significant, as it would be anywhere in rural Ireland. It is akin to losing 1,000 or 2,000 jobs in the capital. That is the scale we are talking about. I hope alternative employment can be found for those workers. I agree with him that we should not outsource the job to external organisations. The work should be done by the Department and the State.
Senator Wall referred to medical cards for the terminally ill and the campaign by John Wall. I listened to Mr. Wall on the radio. My heart sank to hear that we are still making terminally ill patients fight for a medical card. It is disgraceful. I know the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is working hard on this issue. I expect there to be a resolution shortly. It goes without saying that people do not really have the time to wait for such issues to be resolved. They should be focusing on looking after themselves, not fighting the State for basic services.
Senator Wall also raised the issue of Changing Places toilet facilities. To be honest, I was not aware of the full extent of the issue but it was also raised by Senators Ó Donnghaile and McGreehan. It is a very important point that they have raised on the floor of the House. It is something on which we should be doing better. If we can facilitate families that are caring for loved ones to get out and about a lot more and to enjoy all of the things we take for granted, then we should be doing that. We must all work towards building a more inclusive society.
Senator Byrne referred to the shooting season. I dealt with that matter already. In terms of young people living with Covid and coping with it, sometimes people dismiss how important it is to go to a nightclub or a pub, but when one is at a certain age it is an important right of passage for young people to be able to socialise, meet people and have a relationship. It depends on the stage of life one is at. This is a really difficult time for young people. We can deal with the matter in the debate I will organise on living with Covid.
I echo Senator McGreehan's congratulations to the man whom, I hope, will be declared President-elect of the US, Joe Biden. Mr. Biden is also a son of Mayo. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he was Vice President because he visited County Mayo. He walked the streets of Castlebar with me, at one point hand in hand, if Members can believe that.
Yes, he is known for that. He is an incredibly affable, friendly individual with great charisma and energy. I hope to see him in the White House in the near future. He has shown the grace and leadership qualities that we would like to see in the White House in terms of how he has handled recent comments by the current President.
Senator Burke raised the issue of Taiwan and its exclusion from the World Health Assembly. Those points were echoed by Senators Buttimer, Conway, Davitt and Mullen. Senator Mullen raised an important point about China. Sometimes, it may be politically convenient to turn a blind eye to what China is doing because it is such a large, global superpower because of the impact on trade, but if something is wrong we should say it is wrong regardless of where it originates. Recent events have shown us that as well. We should not be afraid to say something is wrong when it is wrong. Let us not demean ourselves by suggesting otherwise. I agree with Senator Mullen on that point.
I addressed Senator Ó Donnghaile's points about Changing Places toilet facilities, level 5 restrictions and gym access. We need to look at how we can live better with Covid.
Senator Davitt raised the shooting season, Taiwan and also Brexit. The latter is a very important issue. I am pleased that we will soon be formally setting up the first meeting of the Seanad Select Committee on Brexit. Much work has gone on behind the scenes to get the committee up and running, with some challenges along the way, but I am pleased that we are finally there. The Committee of Selection met yesterday and members have been appointed to the committee. I hope we will have the first meeting of the committee very soon so that we can deal with the many issues that have been raised in terms of exporters. Senator McGreehan raised the issue of Border communities. This will impact massively on Border communities, North and South, and there must be an all-island approach. We all share the same island. We agree that the committee can do some good work on that topic.
Senator Flynn raised the issue of migrant workers. I have dealt with that. I thank her for bringing this important matter to the floor. I echo her sentiment to the effect that migrants make this country better. It is an important point to make. It is very simple and very straight to the point but with all of the division across the world, we must acknowledge the people who are working hard in communities here. They should be commended on it.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on the forthcoming move away from level 5 restrictions. I hope we can tie that discussion in to the living with Covid debate. NPHET gives its advice independent of the Oireachtas so we do not have an influence there, as such, but we as politicians need to take the advice and guidelines and work with them, taking into account all the other social and economic factors.
I dealt with the issue raised by Senator McGreehan on Changing Places toilets. I acknowledge her claim to Joe Biden as well. She also raised Brexit.
Senator Conway referred to Taiwan as well, but he also called for a debate on tourism. That could form part of the living with Covid debate. If a further debate is required specifically on the tourism sector I have no doubt we will be able to make time for it.
I commend Senator O'Loughlin on the hate crime Bill. I know this has been a passion of hers and she worked very hard on it in the previous term. She brought the Bill back before the Oireachtas, into this House. It is welcome that the Seanad will get a chance to debate the issue for the first time in this Parliament. She has my full support for the Bill. She also raised migrant workers. What was said has been echoed by all parties across the House. I know Senator Gallagher has also been working behind the scenes on the hate crime legislation. I thank him for his work on it.
I am not sure what to say about the ancient walrus, other than to thank Senator Mullen for telling the House about it. I was not aware that it was going out the window today. I commend the OPW on its work. The work of the OPW is varied. It does fantastic work in protecting important structures and sites across the country to ensure they are there for generations to come. The walrus clearly falls into that category. We have an interesting piece of history to be appreciated and enjoyed by all citizens.