Tuesday, 17 November 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re appointment of chairperson of the Standards in Public Office Commission, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion re appoint of ordinary member to the Standards in Public Office Commission, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion re the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2020 - referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, statements on Traveller accommodation, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. in the Seanad Chamber and to conclude at 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 5, Private Members' business, Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2020 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. in the Seanad Chamber and to adjourn after 90 minutes.
The development of two vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna is certainly welcome news, particularly with such high efficacy rates being reported. Others are in development. We also need to recognise the sacrifices of the majority of Irish people during this crisis. Of course, we cannot let our guard down over the next two weeks. I also acknowledge front-line staff in our health services for their hard work and sacrifice. It has been a horrendous year for retail and hospitality, which are part of the fabric of all our towns, villages and cities. We acknowledge the employment these businesses create, both full-time and part-time jobs, as well as the very important revenues for the State and our local authorities.
The Government needs to act now to ensure there are no stumbling blocks to providing short-term exemptions for retailers to extend opening hours without the need for planning permission. If retailers that wish to extend their opening hours can do so, they can get the most out of this very important Christmas period. This will ensure that more of the Christmas spend stays in this country this December. If ever there was a time to encourage people to buy Irish and buy local, it is this year of Covid. Ensuring we have extended opening hours will reduce the numbers queuing both in shops and on our streets and thoroughfares, so this is a public health matter as well.
We need to ensure the retail sector has every incentive and that there are no stumbling blocks to allowing extended opening hours. We need to ensure that any regulations or legislation are passed to provide the flexibility that is needed for the three-week period leading up to the Christmas shopping period. I ask that we would engage with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to ensure there is no disincentive and no stumbling blocks and that our retail businesses can open for extended hours if they so wish in December up to Christmas Day and the holiday season.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for setting out the proposed Order of Business for today. I must take up two or three issues with her. One relates to No. 3. I have a problem with anybody who tells me I cannot do anything. I do not think it is good parliamentary practice to come to a House and propose a motion without debate. There is some confusion, although I am not confused. The Deputy Leader might clarify this later. On 13 November 2020, we were furnished with two motions on this issue. One was to approve the motion while later, we had motion No. 2 - they are both with me as I printed them off - which refers to today's proposal to send this to the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I think that is the right decision.
My concern is the lack of detail. I will make a proposal regarding Standing Orders of the House in respect of this in future. I do not believe any motion should come to this House without an explanatory memorandum. This issue related to a total aggregate of money that can be given to the horse and greyhound racing industry by Government, not the amount given every year. This was limited to £200 million in 2001. This limit can be increased by regulations and motion, and this is what this motion will attempt to do. The limit now stands at €1.36 million.
This motion is due back in this House next week. If it is approved, it will add €96 million to the limit, which is a significant amount of money. In respect of suggesting that we come in here to talk about a motion without debate, it is more fundamental because it deals with an awful lot of money. I am happy to support today's arrangement but I respectfully put down a marker and ask the Deputy Leader to bring this up with the Leader's office. I do not think we should have any motion before this House without an explanatory document.I thank the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Orla Murray in the Leader's office who facilitated me as regards some content last night and provided me with more information. I understand the Department has now agreed, through the Leader's office, to provide an explanatory memorandum, which I hope we will see today.
With regard to the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2020, the Deputy Leader has done a lot of work on this in the OSCE. I have been with her there so I know her track record and form. It is suggested that we can have only 90 minutes to discuss this critically important Bill, to which the Deputy Leader is a signatory and I commend her on it. This should be increased to two hours, which is standard practice for Private Members' business. Will the Deputy Leader agree to my reasonable request to extend the debate by a further 30 minutes?
To follow previous speakers on the issue of living with Covid, we have statements on that tomorrow, which I welcome. The figures of recent days have been disheartening, to say the least. All of us are hoping we will see a turnaround in the next two weeks while we are still at level 5. This indicates even more clearly the need for a clear exit strategy and a clear message from the Government, in particular on the very difficult issue of people coming home for Christmas and how we manage this. There is very welcome news of a vaccine but we need to ensure that over the coming months we have a clear strategy in place.
I join with others who called for a debate on domestic violence. I understand we are due to have that debate next week and I very much welcome it in light of the very alarming figures from Safe Ireland last week, which showed that an average of almost 2,000 women and 411 children were in receipt of support from domestic violence services in each month since March. We already know from various reports the extent to which the risk of domestic violence has been heightened and exacerbated during the pandemic. I commend the Garda and NGOs that have been working on this during the months that Covid restrictions have been in place to ensure supports remain in place for women and children in particular who are enduring this level of violence. It is a very serious matter. As we approach the international day for the elimination of violence against women and girls next week, it is timely that we would have this debate in the House. I thank the Deputy Leader and Leader for organising it.
I call on the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on conditions for asylum seekers pending the implementation of the Day report recommendations and pending the abolition of direct provision. We know this is promised in the programme for Government and steps are being taken. In the interim, we need to ensure the conditions in which those currently living in direct provision and seeking asylum in Ireland live are not simply let slide while we await the overall reform. I note that this week the Irish Refugee Council called for the urgent implementation of vulnerability assessments for asylum seekers and to prioritise children coming into Ireland. It is a real concern that this is not happening. Ireland is legally obliged to conduct a vulnerability assessment within 30 days of arrival under the reception conditions directive. It must be a concern if we see this is not happening, or if we see that perhaps we have let our attention become less focused on the conditions for families and children in particular in direct provision. I know organisation such as Nasc as well as the Irish Refugee Council have raised this issue. I would welcome a debate on this over the coming weeks.
The Order of Business states we will take the motion regarding appointment of the chairperson and an ordinary member to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, without debate. Like my colleague beside me, I do not think this is a healthy practice. I propose a change to the Order of Business whereby we have a debate before any appointment is made. Sinn Féin will not accept this motion without debate and nobody else in the Chamber should either. Unless people have been in a coma for the past fortnight, they will know that when the Tánaiste was Taoiseach he passed a confidential document to the then head of the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP, and we also know a Deputy has lodged a formal complaint over this action to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. Today, we see the Government wishing to appoint, without debate, a former professional lobbyist for the NAGP to SIPO. The former lobbyist can then adjudicate on the issue of the confidential document released to the NAGP by the Tánaiste. The person in question only ever lobbied for one organisation, the NAGP. I understand she lobbied on no less than eight occasions for the NAGP in 2017 and 2018.You could not make this up. The arrogance and the apparent stance to the effect that there is nothing to see here are astounding. I am looking across the Chamber to see if there is anyone at all on the Government benches who is prepared to say that perhaps they should pause this process and that we should have a debate on this topic before proceeding any further. This is also yet another example of the cosy insider club that operates across this body politic. It appears that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have for years been operating an arrangement whereby they take it in turns to fill this position with one of their own each time it comes around.
The second issue I wish to deal with is that of Fine Gael's sister party, Fidesz, which, as Senators will know, has today scuppered the EU budget. I have personal experience of Fidesz. I met a number of its Government Ministers two years ago when they were cracking jokes about the final solution in the context of immigrant children. I went to see two teenage children, the same age as my own, who had been imprisoned in a cage for a year without ever being let out. I need to ask the following question this morning: when will the Fine Gael Party decide to call for the expulsion of Fidesz from the European Peoples' Party, EPP? We have been talking about this for long enough but it has not happened. It is frankly beyond comprehension that Fine Gael can sit comfortably with an openly fascist party as a member of the EPP. It is high time we had a debate on that topic as well.
I raise an issue which I have previously brought to the attention of the House. It is a very important matter. It is essential that we discuss the plight of the Debenhams workers and their appalling treatment by the company in their redundancy dispute. The Irish branch of Debenhams, which operated 11 stores, was put into liquidation on 9 April. The stores' closures came once the UK parent company entered administration and ended its financial support to the Irish business. I have been in contact with a number of workers who have picketed for over 200 days and many of these workers have been picketing 24 hours a day, seven days a week for more than half a year. Some 1,000 staff and a further 1,000 working in concessions have lost their jobs.
What has driven the former Debenhams workers to commit to one of the longest pickets in Irish history? They are seeking redundancy terms of two weeks' per year of service and statutory entitlements of two weeks' per year of service. The workers have claimed this agreement would be to match the negotiations between the retailer and the unions carried out in 2016. The workers' trade union, Mandate, has attempted to reach an agreement with the liquidator, KPMG, that would have the workers share a €1 million allocation as well as statutory entitlements realised from the sale of stock. However, this has since been withdrawn. Shop stewards said they would not accept it as a 2016 agreement was much higher. Ninety per cent of these workers are female and many of the voices I heard from are in their third decade of working for Debenhams. They have given so much to the franchise and now feel utterly forgotten. Many of these women are grandmothers who said that they enjoyed their work thoroughly. They have now been picketing for over half a year in harsh weather conditions and they will continue to do so. They have made it clear they will not stop until they are honoured with a better offer. They feel this is about loyalty. We need to listen to their voices and see some definite action for these workers. It is essential we discuss this issue in order to come to a satisfactory resolution to this dispute. It is simply not good enough. These workers deserve so much better than this.
This weekend marks 100 years since Bloody Sunday and the terrible events of that day. Last night, the RTÉ documentary on Bloody Sunday expertly captured the events of the day in a very detailed way, from the morning of the raid by Michael Collins' Squad on British officers, during which innocent people were also killed, to the deaths in Croke Park in the afternoon. The executive producer, Mr. Michael Foley, used archival interview footage involving those who were there on the day to recall the events, as well as transcripts.He also set out how the Crown forced people back in the ground with volleys of machine-gun fire from Jones' Road on one flank and The Hill on the other and, in doing so, caused a crush that led to more deaths. It was particularly harrowing. Of course, the military files were only released 79 years later and showed the extent of the British cover-up on the day. I also acknowledged the RTÉ Radio 1 "Documentary on One" programme, which aired on Sunday night and which was narrated by Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, as part of its coverage of the event.
Most striking of all was the difference in the funerals. The British officers were transferred back to London and given military honour funerals at Westminster whereas the British ordered the funerals of the 14 souls killed at Croke Park be minimalist and that there be no speeches. Indeed, many of those 14 souls lay in unmarked graves for over 90 years. I acknowledge the role of the GAA, which has always been more than sporting organisation. Led by its president, Mr. John Horan, it initiated a programme of rectifying the position by providing headstones for those who lay in unmarked graves in Glasnevin Cemetery and, indeed, the memorial at the rear of the Hogan Stand. I wish to afford particular praise to the GAA Museum, which for the last number of months throughout this year culminating in this week led an educational programme examining the lives of the people involved. It is 100 years later but they were real people on the day, from Jane Boyle, aged 26, who was due to be married and held her fiancé's hand as she fell and died at Croke Park, to young William Robinson who, at 11 years of age, was the youngest and first to be killed on the day. He was in a tree at the Canal End and was shot out of it. Of course, there was Michael Hogan, probably the most famous of all the people on the day because the Hogan Stand is named after him. I rise today to say let us remember them this weekend and not forget the events of that particular day.
I echo Senator Cassells' comments and commend the documentary last night on television and, indeed, the "Documentary on One" programme. They did a great professional job of remembering this tragic period in our country's history.
I congratulate the Burren Ecotourism Network on being the only tourism initiative from this country to be considered as part of the thirty great experiences in the Lonely Planetguide that was announced today. This is on top of other awards the Burren Ecotourism Network received in recent years for the unique and splendid way in which it does business. The Burren Ecotourism Network is a world showcase on what can be gone when communities collaborate. It is a network of 60 businesses in the tourism area which promote and do their business in a sustainable way. The Burren is a world example of sustainability and farming for conservation where the people who live on the land and on the farms, and the farmers who farm the land, also act as ambassadors for the area. The best possible tourism product is where the people who live, breathe and work in the area become the ambassadors, storytellers and guardians of the product.
This is a great day for County Clare, north Clare, the Burren and Ireland. It shows what we can do in a sustainable way, in a manner that protects our environment and what we have inherited from previous generations, and what can be done in terms of protecting it for future generations. Projects like this will definitely help us get out of our current challenges and difficulties because millions of people want to travel and visit environmentally-friendly areas in our country to protect, cherish and celebrate our environment. I salute and congratulate the 60 people involved in this latest world award achieved by the Burren in County Clare. I wish them well in their future endeavours.
First and foremost, I second Senator Gavan's amendment to the Order of Business.
I echo what Senator Black said. She is 100% correct about the Debenhams workers. It always amazes me that when these companies go bust, they walk away and leave behind a trail of utterly decimated workers, some of whom end up on the breadline. I fully support what the Senator said.
It is time we had a debate on bullying in the workplace. I was horrified last week to hear on "Today with Claire Byrne" the way staff are treated by some of us in these Houses. We have a unique relationship with the people who work with us. We depend on our personal assistants and secretarial assistants. Mine go way beyond the call of duty and I know that the rest of us around here feel the same way. That said, I listened on that programme to stories of people crying in their offices and on the way to work. Those people were totally decimated by the treatment they received here.
I have worked with a bully and looked into the eyes of a bully. Bullies attack the strongest and best liked in an organisation. They target people and set about their mental destruction. That is the way they work and there should be no place anywhere in this country for bullies, certainly not in the workplace. We need legislation to criminalise bullying in the workplace. People have committed suicide as a result of being bullied. I worked with a man who committed suicide and I know he was bullied. It is horrendous. I am asking that we bring the Minister for Justice in here and have an open and frank discussion on bullying in the workplace and on how we, the lawmakers, might tackle it in this House as an example to all other workplaces.
The fallout from the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the social lives of teenagers, students and young adults. Further suffering is now being foisted upon students in particular as a result of them entering into contracts for accommodation in many colleges and universities. In order to secure accommodation for the year ahead, students had to pay somewhere between €5,000 and, in some cases, €10,000 in advance, only now to be told that the contracting party was not aware that there was going to be a lockdown, the contract has been entered into and they must suffer the loss. Those students have paid the money but have no access to the accommodation or requirement from it.
I am seeking a debate on this matter. The resolution of this cannot be on the basis of contracts entered into being enforced. These students have suffered enough. I am familiar with cases where the parents of such students have lost their jobs and the €5,000, €7,000 or €10,000 that was given over to secure accommodation was borrowed money that has to be paid back. In many cases, the people affected do not have the wherewithal to do that. It cannot be beyond all of us to come up with a solution, whether through some kind of grant that supports those in particular hardship or through a tax write-off that can be attained over a number of years. In most cases, it is the parents who are affected but some students have taken out loans on the basis of a hope that they could work part-time in the hospitality sector during the college year. We now fully accept that there will be very little opportunity for students to work through this period. I would like the Leader to organise a debate at the earliest opportunity in order to give some sense of direction as to how this matter might be resolved.
I wish to raise the issue of local harbours. Recent changes in legislation have meant that harbour companies were abolished and their responsibilities were transferred to local authorities. That is welcome. Any element of local democratic involvement in the operation of harbours was removed in 2009 and councillors were removed from the boards of those companies. Harbours are now being administered by local authorities and the cost implications of that are significant, perhaps nowhere more so than Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown because the harbour there was transferred to the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council with an estimated liability of €45 million attached.That is a huge burden, both capitally and in terms of the revenue budget of the council on an ongoing basis. We as a House need to recognise that this is repeated in other local authorities throughout the country and we need to take stock of that.
Dún Laoghaire Harbour is an enormous historical asset for the country, as the location through which so many emigrants left this country and for its Victorian architecture, what it is and what it represents. However, it suffers from a lack of investment because Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council does not have the money to make the significant repairs and maintenance that needs to be carried out. As we approach the end of the month, with the council's budget meeting scheduled for 24 November, it will be a difficulty for councillors to find that money.
There are knock-on effects for other important historical harbours, such as Bullock Harbour and Coliemore Harbour, where recent damage has rendered the harbour virtually unusable. The House needs to take stock of the fact that this burden has been transferred from central government onto local authorities, notwithstanding the fact that, in the case of Dún Laoghaire Harbour, the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company essentially ran the harbour into the ground and failed to take care of the maintenance obligations it had. We have allowed a burden to shift onto local authority and thereby onto the residents of the area that we need to deal with as a House.
I want to be associated with the words of my colleague, Senator Black, regarding the Debenhams workers. Today is day 222. That is 222 days on strike. They are going to be outside the Dáil at 1 o'clock today and I support Senator Black's call for a debate in this House.
I raise the urgent need for additional secondary school places in south Kildare and for a new secondary school based in the Curragh of Kildare to alleviate the problems in surrounding towns and villages. The campaign has been going on for a long number of years. Recently in parliamentary replies to my Labour Party colleagues, we were told the identification of the site for this new school was imminent but, due to commercial sensitivities, its exact location could not be disclosed. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education into the House because, commercial sensitivities aside, there is a crisis for parents looking at secondary school places for their children. I have been contacted by parents with this worry from Newbridge, Kildare town and down to the village of Nurney. Parents are being told their children are on long waiting lists, causing great stress to them and their children alike. Kildare's population continues to increase but despite repeated warnings from public representatives, community groups and many parents, the urgent need for school places has fallen so far on deaf ears. I hope additional classes, more school places and, as urgently as possible, a new school can be provided. Anything else will cause an educational crisis in the coming years in the county.
The second issue I will raise is one I have raised previously in the House, as have colleagues. It is an issue for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and if he could come into the House, it would be appreciated. There are a number of housing co-ops in County Kildare. Some have been built for more than 30 years. The residents of many of these houses took part in these schemes on the proviso that they would in time be able to buy out their homes. In all cases, this has not happened and they have been refused at every attempt. These residents ask that the same opportunities be afforded them as are given to those in local authority housing. They ask that the tenant purchase scheme be altered to allow those living in co-op housing the opportunity to buy the homes where so many of them have lived all their adult lives.
I support the Debenhams workers on day 222 of their campaign and I will be proud to stand with them outside the Dáil later.
I raise the issue of the report that the HSE national safeguarding office published last week, which makes for grim reading. As we all know, adults are at risk of different types of abuse or neglect in their family homes and residential settings around the country. Many such adults are older or dependent and may have disabilities or mental health issues. There has been no targeted national messaging campaign throughout the Covid period regarding these vulnerable people.
I will provide some figures from the report, particularly in relation to CHO 7, which contains my county and constituency. The 2019 annual report highlights a serious backlog and failure to respond to preliminary screenings. For example, in 2019, 1,000 preliminary screenings were submitted which have received absolutely no response.That figure doubled from 438 the year before. If that trend continues, it means 2,000 preliminary screenings could have received absolutely no response in 2020.
This is appalling and essentially means there has been no clinical oversight of safeguarding within those reporting organisations. There is major concern about this, which I share. There is a lack of understanding and an appropriate response to people who are vulnerable to harm and abuse. I call on the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House for a debate on this issue.
This is the time of year when people are doing their Christmas shopping. I want to ask everybody to consider shopping and staying local. We are always going online. Many people are using websites such as Amazon. We should think about supporting our favourite retailers at home.
We are very lucky to haveshopballinasloe.ie. which is doing great Christmas raffles to try to help the local area to prepare for Christmas lights and get the town ready, even though we are in lockdown. I ask everyone to consider supporting their local area. Many businesses are giving out prizes and holding raffles. It is important to support our shops as they are going into the Christmas period, a time when they usually make so much money.
This has been a really difficult year for children. The Government has done all it can in terms of education. Reopening the schools was the best thing that could have been done. However, we do not yet know what the long-term impact of the pandemic on children will be. Last weekend my nine-year-old daughter said the number one thing that she wanted for her birthday next week was an end to Covid, despite the fact that she is in school and is happy. She also said that she will remember this time for the rest of her life.
With that in mind, let us turn now to the adults who last weekend put everything we have achieved thus far in jeopardy. They have not thought about the legacy they are leaving for our children. Over the past nine months, we as a Government have done our utmost to support businesses, put in place supports for workers and put the physical and mental well-being of our community to the forefront.
What were the adults who were drinking on the streets of Dublin last weekend doing? They were putting all of that in jeopardy. We know that vaccines are on the way, but we cannot throw caution to the wind at this important time. I ask people not just to think about the vulnerable people in our communities that we all know need to be supported but also about what they are doing now that will have a deep and lasting impact on the development of the younger age group as we go forward.
We all know about the pending Covid vaccines, which are very welcome. They are not a panacea and there is a long road ahead, but I am cautiously optimistic. I see them as, it is to be hoped, a pathway to the rejuvenation of the economy and some sort of normal life.
Those who are vulnerable and front-line workers will be the first to be vaccinated, but we should have a proper debate on whether teachers should be included as a priority when the vaccine is rolled out. We have to acknowledge the huge amount of work they have done since September to keep our schools open and provide some sort of normality. There is a low incidence rate in schools, but teachers are at the front line and should be given priority when it comes to the roll-out of a vaccine. As we know, we will be given a limited supply of it.
I was worried yesterday when Dr. Ronan Glynn remarked that this is the first time in history that anti-vaccine campaigns are being organised before a vaccine is available. This is extremely worrying. We are already seeing large amounts of disinformation and it is incumbent on us as policymakers and public representatives to ensure that facts are relayed to the public to counter disinformation about vaccines.We must remember that vaccines work and have saved millions of lives around the world.
That is fair enough. A cheannaire gníomhach, ba mhaith liom tosú le hiarraidh uirthi am a chur ar leataobh fa choinne díospóireacht leis an Aire Stáit, Teachta Jack Chambers, maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge ag an am práinneach seo ina bhfuilimid. Sílim go bhfuil sé thar a bheith tábhachtach nuair a bhímid ag plé faoi chúrsaí agus grúpaí pobail amuigh ansin go stadaimid agus go smaoinímid ar phobal labhartha nan Gaeilge agus go háirithe ar an bpobal i measc ár gcuid Gaeltachtaí ar fud na tíre chomh maith.
I ask that, before the Christmas break, we have statements in the House on the Irish language with the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Jack Chambers. In the current climate, we have talked a great deal about the impact of Covid and the many other issues facing communities and community groups. It is vital that we have an opportunity to hear specifically from the Minister of State with responsibility for the Irish language and Irish-speaking communities about Government supports and strategies. More broadly, to give him his due, the former Leader of the Seanad in the previous term regularly provided time for statements on the Irish language. For understandable reasons, we had a lot of issues come down the track but we need to have statements on the Irish language before we break for Christmas for all of the logical and fair reasons that everyone understands.
Agus é sin ráite agam, a cheannaire gníomhach, I respectfully note - I am also at fault for this - how little Irish has been spoken in this Chamber in recent months. I respectfully encourage Senators to consider how we can improve the situation. We have lost a number of Gaelgoiri from the previous Seanad. Those of us who advocate for and champion the Irish language have a responsibility. We must ask, through the office of the Cathaoirleach, the Leader's office and as individual Members, how the Irish language can feature more regularly in the day-to-day business of this Chamber.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. Ar an gcéad dul síos aontaím leis Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge.
Senator Cassells made a very telling and important contribution to the Order of Business. I do not want to usurp the role of the Cathaoirleach or the very generous remarks made by Senator Cassells but I ask that the Cathaoirleach consider, in light of the request by the president of the GAA that we all light a candle next Saturday, that either tomorrow or next week the Seanad have a minute's silence to remember those who died on Bloody Sunday. I leave it in the good hands of the Cathaoirleach to do that.
I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on opening up the country again post 1 December. I know we will have another debate on living with Covid-19 later but real issues need to be discussed around retail, hospitality, students, sport and living. As legislators, we must have the debate on reopening in these Houses, not on Twitter, not in the media by the fourth estate and not by commentators. During the debate on living with Covid, I will read out a number of letters I have received from people who are struggling to live, struggling to keep their businesses going and recovering from Covid who want to a real debate on how we can co-exist Covid. We all welcome the vaccine debate.
Senator Boyhan made a very interesting point on taking motions without debate and raised issues concerning funding for the greyhound industry. I am very much supportive of the need to have debate. I will address one point to Sinn Féin Senators.The politics of division and personality have no place in these Houses. Sinn Féin is again trying to create a division among the political class about the appointment of a very honourable person to a board or a public body. We should stop that and reflect on what are our jobs and tasks in these Houses. If we learned anything from what has happened in American politics in the past six weeks, it is that people vote not on the basis of personality but on what is vital to them.
I draw the attention of the House to legislation that will be introduced by my colleagues, Deputies McAuliffe and Lahart, in Dáil this evening. The legislation in question relates to scrambler and quad bikes and the social use of them in our communities. I live in the constituency of Dublin Central and I am aware that the use of these bikes has been an issue right across the city and outside it. The Road Safety Authority stated that there were more than 40 injuries and fatalities over a three-year period and that more than half of the individuals involved were under 18 years of age. This issue is affecting young people and their families. The Private Members' Bill that will be introduced this evening is part of a response to try to regulate the use and control of these quad bikes and scramblers. There is no doubt many people enjoying using them off the road in a responsible way. However, scramblers are available cheaply to purchase for young people under the age of 18 and for others. They do damage in residential, built-up communities such as Cabra, in those communities along the Royal Canal, in beautiful parks such as Tolka Valley Park and to sports pitches.
Of critical importance is the fact that the proposed Private Members' Bill will amend the Road Traffic Act to the effect that the Garda will have the power to enforce the law and prosecute people if there is not registration or insurance on the bikes and it will also have the power to seize them. This House should appeal to Government to support that Bill and appeal to parents and young people not to buy quad bikes and scramblers this Christmas and to enjoy a safe Christmas.
I call for a debate on BusConnects, with the Minister in attendance, in the context of the current public consultation period. BusConnects, in principle, is visionary. The idea of upgrading our cycling infrastructure and of public transport in the city being more accessible is fantastic. However, it will involve an enormous infrastructural change to our capital city. To give due regard to the National Transport Authority, it is running public advertisements, virtual rooms and having one meeting per corridor. It is in this regard that we need to have a discussion. The public meeting aspect of this is happening on a 90-minute Zoom session where any public representative or only a nominated community representative may enter one question. Not everybody on the call is getting to ask a question. Consequently, there is no real public meeting aspect. It is limited to a six-week consultation period but six weeks is not enough, not in the middle of a pandemic.
While I applaud the NTA's creativity and effort in the manner in which it is trying to engage and get the information out, confining the consultation to a six-week period and a 90-minute meeting per corridor is completely and wholly inadequate. There are major concerns. For instance, it has gone to get lengths in the context of traffic modelling but there are concerns about, for example, the area in the Dublin South-Central constituency where there is a confluence of three corridors. When I asked if traffic modelling has been done in respect of this matter, I was informed that it would be done at the planning permission stage. That needs articulation right now. We need the Minister to come before the House for a debate on instructing the NTA to extend that consultation period to at least the end of the February.
I welcome the news from Government last week that the Tidy Towns competition will proceed in 2021.That news was welcomed by many volunteers and community groups across the country. In 2019, almost 900 communities and groups entered the Tidy Towns competition. We are deeply indebted to all those groups, individuals and volunteers who do such excellent work in our villages and towns each year. If I can be a bit parochial, we were particularly proud last year that the beautiful village of Glaslough, County Monaghan, scooped first prize.
This year, all those groups and communities have continued to work throughout the pandemic, while adhering to social distancing and other health guidelines, to ensure villages and towns were kept in pristine condition. They did that while knowing that there would be no judges this year, but that did not stop them from doing their work and ensuring their villages and towns were well kept. I commend them on that excellent work. While I welcomed the news from Government that the Tidy Towns competition would go ahead in 2021, I was somewhat taken aback by the fact that the Minister made no reference to funding for those groups. Those groups get minimal funding each year to assist them in their work. I ask the Leader to contact the Government and ask it to make the announcement that is made every year so that these groups and communities can plan for the work ahead in 2021.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and all the Members who contributed to the Order of Business.
Senator Kyne welcomed the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which is a positive development. I agree with the Senator that we should take a sensible approach to the opening hours of our retail sector. They should, of course, be allowed to extend their hours. Some shops are considering a 24-7 operation when they are allowed to reopen and that will help with safety, so that people can shop at different times. It would allow those retail sectors to try to claw back some of what they have lost. This is the time of year when many businesses make the money that will see them through to the summer months.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the explanatory memorandum regarding motions before the House. I completely agree with him. I am aware of the conversations that he has had with the Leader's office and the Department. I thank him for his contribution and for giving notice that he expects this to happen in future. It is a reasonable request, which would help all Members, both Government and Opposition. It is a sensible suggestion and we will follow through on it.
Senator Bacik raised the domestic violence debate. That will go ahead. Many Members raised the Safe Ireland report last week. It is extremely worrying. It is predominantly women and children who suffer and the long-term impacts will be quite severe. It is the hidden cost of the pandemic that goes on behind closed doors and we often do not see it. It is an important debate to have but this should not stop at that debate. We have much work in the pipeline to do on that issue. It has been left for far too long. I agree that it is disheartening to see the week's figures for Covid-19. We made such great strides. Many of us are focusing on those outside drinking scenes but there are other sectors of society where meetings are still happening. We all need to knuckle down in the next couple of weeks and hope that we can claw back those figures, but, as Dr. Ronan Glynn put it, we are not where we need to be. Hopefully, we can turn that around. We still have time to do so.
Senator Gavan moved an amendment to the Order of Business regarding the motion to appoint an ordinary member to the Standards in Public Office Commission. The Senator did not have a difficulty with the appointment of the chairperson but mainly with the ordinary member. He went on to link that to the Tánaiste's actions in releasing a confidential Government document to his friend, Dr. Maitiú Ó Tuathail. I know Geraldine Feeney personally. In the crossfire between Sinn Féin and Fine Gael, with a seemingly quite aggressive battle going on, it is unfair for the Senator to link a person who is not in the House and cannot defend herself to that particular incident when she had nothing to do with it. I will not accede to the Senator's request to amend the Order of Business. If there is a disagreement between two parties, we should not let an individual who did no wrong get caught in the middle of that. It is quite unfair.
Senator Black raised the issue of the Debenhams workers. I thank her for bringing it to the floor of the House. I listened to one of the workers this morning on "Newstalk Breakfast".It is disingenuous of KPMG to offer them less than what they were originally offered and that they rejected. It shows no willingness on KPMG's part to settle the matter. The lady who spoke on radio this morning - her name escapes me - spent 24 years of her life working for that company, which is still in operation in the UK but not in Ireland. She called for people to think twice before purchasing from debenhams.iebecause the Irish business is no longer in operation but the workers have been standing outside for the past 222 days. I hope to see some movement on this situation, given how difficult it is for the workers.
Senator Cassells mentioned that this weekend would be the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. I thank him for that. It is incumbent on us all to remember it. The documentary did a good service to what happened that day. I was struck by the Senator's comments on the funerals of those men here compared with the lavish funerals of the officers in Westminster. His remarks have some standing today in terms of the restrictions currently in place, the importance of having a proper funeral and burial and how much it means to people to be able to honour their dead. To take that away from people following the incident in question compounded the hurt and aggravated the situation. I concur with Senator Buttimer's request to acknowledge that in some way at the Cathaoirleach's discretion.
Senator Conway mentioned the Burren Ecotourism Network. I congratulate its members on behalf of this side of the House. It is remarkable to see the network being recognised by Lonely Planet in its 2021 guide. This shows the considerable work being done in a beautiful and fascinating part of our country, one that we sometimes take for granted because it is on our own doorstep but that is widely appreciated across the globe. I do not doubt that, when travel reopens, we will see many new visitors flocking to see what is one of our national treasures in the Burren in Clare.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of bullying in the workplace. I concur with him. The news story that some staff members of the Houses of the Oireachtas had been treated that way made for damning reading. We need to do something about it. It is not right or acceptable in any workplace, and our workplace is no different. In fact, we should be leading by setting a higher example than any other workplace and treating our staff with the utmost respect and dignity at all times. Clearly, we have a great deal of work to do in that regard. I hope that any staff member who believes that he or she is not being treated fairly feels that he or she can come forward. There are mechanisms in place to deal with bullying. People should never feel silenced. There is somewhere to go for help and people are not on their own.
Senator Dooley raised the issue of student accommodation, a matter that has also crossed my desk. I have managed to resolve a couple of cases, in that the college eventually came around to refunding the students in question the moneys they had paid up front. Although there was a contract in place, it was on the basis in one case that classes would be held in person in at least a blended learning experience, something that will not now happen. Many students were only told of the scheduling changes after they had committed to their accommodation and paid their fees up front. This is about goodwill and doing the decent and right thing. The situation is changing at a fast pace. Students are suffering enough and many parents have taken out large loans to afford the accommodation. If students do not need to use it and are not having classes, the colleges must not use student accommodation to buffer themselves against their lost finances for the year. That is not what students are there for. Those colleges that did not look after students in their time of need will be remembered.
Senator Ward raised the issue of local harbours being transferred into the ownership and authority of local authorities and the financial burden of same. Dún Laoghaire Harbour is close to his heart and I think of Westport Harbour in my county of Mayo. The transfer is a significant outlay. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should be able to assist and find specific funding. A harbour is a local amenity, one that needs to be protected and invested in rather than just maintained at its current standard. The Department has work to do in this regard. It might be worth raising the topic as a Commencement matter in order to get the Minister to answer in the House.
Senator Wall raised the issue of school places in south Kildare. I agree with him on the answer to the challenges at second level. Deputy Ó Ríordáin has discussed the matter of students getting places based on their parents having attended the same school previously, but I agree with Senator Wall's approach. This is a question of the amount of school places. That is what needs to be addressed. If we do, then there will be no difficulties. School places do not arise as an issue in many rural areas, for example, my county of Mayo, but it is a major issue in the commuter belt around Kildare and Dublin. Rather than tinkering around the edges of the rules, the only solution is to create more school places where there is demand and an increasing population.There is clearly demand in Senator Wall's area of south Kildare.
Senator O’Loughlin raised the issue of the HSE national safeguarding office report in respect of adults in residential care being very vulnerable. I agree that Covid-19 and the pandemic have really highlighted the deficiencies right across the health sector in protecting the most vulnerable. I think straightaway of the nursing home situation where many people have lost their lives because the proper plans were not in place. Vulnerable adults who often do not have anybody to speak on their behalf can often be forgotten in the chaos and mayhem that surrounds a situation like this. It is unacceptable that over 1,000 screenings have still remained without a response. That is a failing of those individuals who were left without their case being dealt with and this needs to be addressed immediately.
Senator Dolan, as always, puts Ballinasloe on the map, not that it needed to be done. I drive past it on my way up here all the time. She mentioned the website shopballinasloe.ie.It is an important reminder to all of us that retail is struggling. There is a sticking plaster there currently because of the temporary wage subsidy, the supports that are there and the money that has been provided directly to businesses to keep the wolves from the door. Come next April and beyond, the cracks will start to appear in those businesses that may be running out of that cash flow. We can help to prevent some of this happening by all of us, as public representatives in our own communities, encouraging people to shop and spend locally. As somebody said we must not let Jeff Bezos win by shopping on Amazon. We must shop locally as we can get everything we need right here in Ireland and it will make a big difference.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the issue of the difficult year it has been for children in quite a poignant remark by her nine-year-old daughter wanting a birthday present that Covid-19 would just end. It is difficult to comprehend what it must be like for a child of that age to be dealing with a pandemic. They are being asked to stay in, not to play with or hug their friends and they cannot see their grandparents. Children are very resilient and will come through this but there is an impact. They often do not have the same voice that we have. The voice of the child and listening to children is so important in understanding the impact that this has had. This is a very important point and is something that we must be cognisant of as a Government and Parliament.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the Covid-19 vaccines and the anti-vaccine campaign, which I listened to on the radio this morning. Dr. Glynn mentioned at the briefing I believe, yesterday, that Dr. Tony Holohan, Dr. Glynn and the health professionals’ team will not say much about the vaccines at this point because they want to get more clarity. They are welcoming them, however, as a positive move. They are acutely aware of the already emerging anti-vaccine campaign which is really dangerous and may prevent this country from reopening at the pace that we want it to, will result in people getting sick, and much sicker than they would have been if the vaccine had been widely accepted. There is a job of work to be done to reassure people. These vaccines have come around at a much faster pace than ever before. Of course, there will be caution and an element of suspicion and people will fear that they are not fully safe. We need to see the data, as has been said by many health professionals. I am not an expert in all of this but there is certainly a job of reassurance to be done whenever we do get our hands on those vaccines.
Senator Ó Donnghaile asked for statements on the Irish language. I will certainly make that request to the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, to come before the House at the earliest opportunity. The suggestion that we use the language as much as possible is a good one.
Senator Buttimer wants a real debate on the reopening of the economy post-December 1 because of Covid-19. We have sometimes a far better and more robust debate in this House than we have in the Dáil because there is at least the opportunity to go back and forth a little more. I understand the point that the Senator is making and it is something that we will have to have a regular discussion on because the pandemic is not going to end on 1 December.
I join with Senator Fitzpatrick in welcoming the Bill being put before the Dáil today by Deputies Lahart and McAuliffe on scramblers and quads, and the dangers they pose, in particular, for younger people who may perhaps need to be better informed and protected because they are young adults.
Senator Seery Kearney raised the issue of BusConnects and the challenges posed by public consultation. This is a very genuine and reasonable issue to raise. Public consultation on a change of this scale is completely necessary. If people feel that the consultation process is not inclusive and facilitative of proper debate then that is something the Minister should consider. I will ensure that his office is aware of that. This is a significant development and there will always be resistance to change. Change scares people and people prefer the status quo. The only way that change can be brought about is by bringing people with it and ensuring that they are properly informed and included in the process. At the very least, the debate and consultation needs to be broadened out.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of the Tidy Towns programme for 2021 being opened up again. That is very welcome. This is a big deal for many communities right across the country.I know that in my own county of Mayo it is a huge source of pride for every small town and village. It can take years to achieve first place, like Senator Gallagher's town of Glaslough in County Monaghan. It takes years to reach that standard and I have no doubt that is why they kept going in 2019, as did lots of communities. If a community lets a year drop, they will know about it the next year when it comes to the rankings. It is fantastic for local communities. The funding should absolutely be provided because it is an outlet for many communities and a source of pride.
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, John Cummins, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Seán Kyne, John McGahon, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, John Cummins, Emer Currie, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, John McGahon, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.