Wednesday, 18 November 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 24 November, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion re the sixth report of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges on Standing Order No. 45, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion re the appointment of the Chair of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, a Private Members' Bill, Seanad Bill 2020 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m., with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours; No. 5, statements on living with Covid and an update on the level 5 restrictions, resumed from last week, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and to conclude at 4.30 p.m., with all Senators not to exceed five minutes, but Senators can share time, with the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 6, statements on flooding, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude at 6 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, but time can be shared, with the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate.
Last Friday, the UK's High Court issued a landmark ruling regarding gig economy workers. The ruling stated that the UK had failed to properly implement EU law, specifically certain parts of two EU health and safety directives which had not been transposed correctly. This meant that some self-employed workers did not enjoy the same legal protections as employees. As Members will know, the gig economy is characterised predominantly by workers with short-term or freelance contracts. Those workers are the van drivers, takeaway delivery drivers and couriers, all individuals whom I consider to be front-line workers. They are people who have worked right through this pandemic and have been on pretty much every doorstep in this country in recent months. They have worked continuously and are at a higher risk of contracting the virus than employees in some sectors.
In the specific case to which I refer, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, IWGB, sought a judicial review of the implementation of the relevant EU directives and the gap in protection for those it represents. Concerns were raised about the provision of personal protective equipment, PPE, to these workers and it was found that they should enjoy the same protections as other workers, should have access to PPE and should, if they feel unwell, be allowed to stay home from work. In his ruling, Mr. Justice Chamberlain stated that the issues were of potentially wider significance and found that the IWGB was correct to say that the term "worker" includes those working in the gig economy.
This could be of significance in Ireland since we also have many workers who are employed on those types of contracts. These people work for Deliveroo, Just Eat and DPD and other couriers and have been on every road and every estate in the country this year. I ask that the Leader bring the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment before the House to the House to provide an update on the Department's view on that ruling and whether there may be significant implications for Ireland. Are gig economy workers properly protected and is there a requirement under those EU directives for the provision of PPE to those workers in this country?
I raise a second issue which came before the House yesterday and which was broadly discussed across all media. I refer to the EU budget and the provision of Brexit and Covid recovery supports . Members will be aware that Poland and Hungary have vetoed the EU budget because they are seeking concessions in respect of abdicating elements of the rule of law, significant human rights infringements and limitations on free speech within their jurisdictions. This has the potential to delay significant amounts of money coming to Ireland to protect our economy, assist the recovery from Covid and protect against the impact of Brexit on 1 January. I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, come before the House to discuss the implications of the actions of Hungary and Poland, including how they might affect Ireland in the context of accessing the funds to which I refer. I ask that the Minister update the House on what is happening at EU level regarding how it intends to deal with this matter. My view is that this behaviour needs to be stamped out. Poland and Hungary cannot be allowed to get away with what they have done and there need to be significant consequences for those member states trying to impede the recovery of the EU from Covid.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business to delete the motion relating to the sixth report of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges on Standing Order 45, which is scheduled to be considered without debate. I do so on the basis that this matter is one for which there was no adequate notice to my group of the proposal to further curtail the amount of time available to speakers on legislation. The effect of this motion is to reduce the amount of time for somebody proposing a Bill to eight minutes and other Members to five minutes. The proffered reasoning is that, in the past, inadequate time has been available for many speakers who wish to speak on Second Stage of legislation or on motions.Whatever about motions, Second Stage requires more than eight minutes for the proposer, especially when we accord to the Minister who frequently attends to reply to these debates up to 20 minutes or half an hour to respond to a legislative proposal. It does not allow the proponent of legislation to do what the Minister would do when introducing legislation in the House, namely, explain its contents or examine the arguments in any detail.
This is part of a pattern which is now emerging in the House of treating it with utter contempt. I do not have to remind the House that the late Senator W.B. Yeats made a speech about resisting the abolition of civil divorce in Ireland by parliamentary procedure, in which he reminded the Catholic majority that the Protestants in Ireland were no petty people.
I read the speech and I think it took approximately 20 minutes to deliver, and he was frequently interrupted. Our procedures now are such that we are reducing ourselves to almost the status of old-fashioned telegram boys. We are not debating things seriously or providing for serious debate. We are reducing the role of the House as a legislative organ, especially in respect of legislation, to practically nothing.
The Leader should remember that this House is under stress due to Covid, but its function is not suspended by Covid. If there is inadequate time for people to contribute to Private Members' business, there is plenty of scope for the Leader to extend the time for Private Members' business and allow Members to contribute for a longer period.
We are reduced to statements on issues when there is no legislative load coming to the House from the Government. The time has come to take a stance, not for the dignity of the House but for the essential democratic function of the House, to say that we will not accept this reduction in speaking time and slots to practically meaningless proportions just because it suits the Executive of the State.
Senators may have seen over the weekend a rather discouraging piece in TheJournal.ie. A series has been done by Noteworthy on the way staff in the higher education sector are being treated. Many are on zero-hour or term-time only contracts or are not being paid for the enormous amount of overtime they do. Institutions will argue that they do not have the budgets to pay all of their staff, hence the use of these contracts and postgraduate students for unpaid tutorial or lecturing work. This is no way to treat staff.
Over the summer, postgraduate students in NUI Galway were expected to teach as part of their postgraduate studies with no remuneration. This has been a widespread practice for a long time, but it is the first time it has been so blatant. It is no coincidence that in Ireland vocational roles are treated so poorly. Teaching and healthcare staff are affected. I mention again the plight of our student nurses and midwives who are on the front line and are still unpaid. I request, via the Leader, that the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science come to the House for statements on employment practices in the higher education sector.
This is stand up awareness week, which is co-ordinated by BeLonGTo, an organisation providing a stupendous service for LGBT youth. This week, schoolgoers and everyone else are being asked to come together and take a stand against homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools, for our friends and ourselves. If people wish to show support to the LGBT people in their communities, I invite them to do so online with the hashtag #standup20 and reach out and see some of the incredible work BeLonGTo is doing in our schools in supporting LGBT youth. As someone who came through the school system a number of years ago, I would have loved to have had support like that when I was in secondary school. I commend BeLonGTo on that work.
This week is trans awareness week and Friday, 20 November, is trans day of remembrance. I remind everyone that trans people would just like to get on with their lives without having to defend their very existence. From this House, I send my solidarity to the trans community this week. I think of those in the trans community in Ireland and globally who are no longer with us, either through their own hands or through violence perpetuated against trans people. An enormous number of lives are lost every year through violence towards the trans community.
Transphobia and hate are not welcome in Ireland. We will not tolerate it. The extraordinary amount of hate towards the trans community online is unacceptable and we will not stand for it. I invite people to take note of trans awareness week and the trans day of remembrance this Friday, and to be supportive of those initiatives.
Government parties are often pulled into petty squabbles, as we have seen over the past few weeks. It has been brought to my attention that our communications have been quite poor in recent months. The current news cycle means that a story lasts for a matter of one or two hours and people have to get their message out very fast. This means we are on the defensive all of the time rather than pointing out what we are achieving as a Government.
The Government has recorded some unprecedented achievements. I spoke to the people in the council in my city, Galway, today and in the background I heard their excitement when they talked about how they were spending funding. They sent me a list of what they feel they have achieved for their city. There is discussion about politicians and civil servants and public servants but we are all on the same team and want to achieve things for our communities.
Galway will be a transformed city. Parklets will be developed in the early part of next year. The July stimulus money is hitting now and people are seeing a difference. We will not see the difference from budget 2021 until next year. It is still a story, but we will not see it. We need to start talking about what it is that we are achieving in government and what is achieved when the Opposition and Government work together instead of getting dragged into petty squabbles.
We should say that we have made a huge difference for the people of Ireland during a difficult time. We will now see some of our cities transformed into something that can be seen in other parts of Europe such as Oslo, San Sebastián and other places we love to visit on holidays. We will see some of that in our cities. People will be able to sit on the streets surrounded by biodiverse pollinator-friendly planting in the middle of our streets. That is something that we have to be really proud of and start talking about, rather than going on the defensive all of the time.
I agree wholeheartedly with everything Senator McDowell has said. That is not easy for me to do because we come from very different political perspectives. The fact of the matter is that I find myself, not for the first time, in complete agreement with him.
There is something very worrying happening in the Chamber. There are not many of us in opposition. There is a large conservative bloc across the way. The two conservative parties are together, along with the Green Party. We do not have much in the way of speaking time to begin with. If we are serious about using the Chamber in the sort of constructive way Senator O'Reilly described, the last thing we should be doing is reducing speaking time for the few of us who are in opposition.
I appeal to the Leader not to go ahead with this. I have spoken to my party leader about the matter. She does not have the agreement of Sinn Féin at this point. We ask her to park this point so that we can work collectively. We do not agree to the reduction in speaking time. There is too little of it for those on the Opposition benches as it is.The issue I want to raise today is childcare. It was raised last week, I think, by Senator Carrigy. He spoke about the crisis in childcare and he was right to highlight it. However, he suggested a temporary loosening of the qualifications required to work in childcare and I want to say this is not a solution. The reason we have a crisis in childcare is because the pay and conditions of childcare are so appalling. The reason we have a crisis in childcare is because thousands of childcare workers have to sign on each summer. The reason we have a crisis in childcare is because the average rate of pay is just €11.46. The reason we have a crisis in childcare is because 79% of childcare workers have no recourse to a sick pay scheme.
Sinn Féin put forward very concrete solutions in this regard and suggestions for the budget to ring-fence €30 million to ensure every childcare worker gets a living wage, as was asked for by the SIPTU trade union that has organised thousands of them. We also asked for a minimum of five days' sick pay. I have raised this issue in the Chamber for five years in a row and, once again, the Government of the day ignored those requests and did nothing for childcare workers.
I appeal to everyone in the Chamber because we all know people working in childcare and they are voting with their feet. There is a huge issue in terms of people leaving the sector because they cannot afford to earn a living in it. We speak about essential workers. These are essential workers. There were 19 outbreaks of Covid in one week in October in childcare services but these workers are not required to wear a face mask. It is all well and good to applaud these essential workers but the fact of the matter is that for the past six years nothing has been done for them. The Government had an opportunity in recent budgets and once again it ignored it. I call for a debate on childcare services because we need to hear everyone's views on this and come up with concrete solutions.
Has there been any movement on the question of Standing Order 41, which inhibits discussion of financial matters in this House? I raised this matter quite some time ago and every party and every individual in the House all agreed it should be got rid of. It was then kicked to touch to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I would like to know what is happening. It looks like another example of bureaucratic inaction. I would like to see some advance. We are always speaking about Seanad reform. Here is a perfectly simple matter that we have in our own hands so let us do something about it.
I endorse the remarks of my colleague, Senator Chambers, on the actions of the Governments of Hungary and Poland and the continual breaches of the rule of law and the attacks on freedom of the press and on minorities. They are not European values. I certainly support the call for this debate.
I welcome the arts and culture recovery task force report that has been published, in particular the recommendation that the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, will champion on the introduction of a universal income scheme for a three-year period for those involved in the arts, cultural, audiovisual and event sectors. We have spoken a lot in the House about those working in the arts and event sectors being among the hardest hit during the pandemic. This is something that is very important but the quicker we can start this scheme to get the money into artists' hands and, more important, to allow those in the sector to help us through this recovery, as they have already been doing, and help us rebuild as a society, the better. They will play a very important role in this.
We have spoken about the successes and progress we have seen in the vaccines. A worrying trend has been the development on social media and other sources of anti-vaccine fake news. While I am not opposed to debate between medics on how vaccinations will be rolled out, for unqualified people to spread anti-vaccine messages is simply not acceptable. I ask that we have a discussion on the House and that, if necessary, legislation be brought forward to ensure that the tech giants in particular take responsibility to prevent the spreading of anti-vaccine nonsense.
Over the past few days, I have had two remarkably similar but distinct queries on next-of-kin, who is next-of-kin when a loved one is in hospital, their right to be informed and their right to information. One of the calls to me involved a spouse who believed he was entitled to know what was happening to his wife in hospital and the other was from a sister about her dependent sibling in hospital. In both cases, the hospitals were very reasonably following the instructions of the patient as to who had a right to be informed. To be fair, they had very impressive systems of allowing information to come to them so they could ensure that in making the decision of who will get the information the medical team was fully informed. This has brought to mind that there is a misunderstanding in people's minds about what next-of-kin is and what power next-of-kin has. In fact, they have none and there is no such thing really.
In 2018, Sage Advocacy carried out research that showed 70% of people believed next-of-kin was someone called in an emergency, 57% of people believed it was someone who can make a decision on medical treatment, 52% of people believed it was someone who can make a decision on life-support treatment and 32% believed it was someone who can have access to a person's bank account if that person cannot. These are very serious misunderstandings. While we await the commencement of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act it is important that people understand the role of power of attorney and enduring power of attorney and that people need to put in place these systems. There needs to be an understanding that just because someone is a relative, however close, even a spouse, it does not necessarily entitle them, particularly at this time when there is a lack of access to patients in hospitals. We need to have a discussion and statements on this.
I second Senator McDowell's amendment to the Order of Business. I want to remark on the performance of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in the Dáil yesterday. It was really heartening to hear a Minister for Defence speak about the rejuvenation of the Defence Forces, putting them front and centre and making sure they have the resources they need to drive forward. The terms of reference of the commission on the future of defence in Ireland are soon to be released and I would like a debate in the House after they are released so we can discuss them with the Minister.
Today, a save Ireland's search and rescue group, which I chair, began to issue press releases. The search and rescue contract is coming up. It will be worth more than €700 million over the ten years from 2023. Thanks to the work of the Air Corps we now have sufficient pilots and trained crews to take over part of the search and rescue operations in Ireland, particularly on the east coast. Due to the Government investment in fixed wing aircraft we now have the aircraft to provide top cover for the entire country. I was really heartened yesterday to hear the Minister, Deputy Coveney, speak about his willingness to look at how the Air Corps can merge into search and rescue operations. We also need the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on side because it is a contract of the Department of Transport. It would be a massive morale boost for the Defence Forces and, in particular, the Air Corps. We knock the Government a lot, and I will do some of that later, but today I want to recognise the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and congratulate him on the huge work he is doing on defence. I hope it delivers what he expects and what I expect.
I support Senator Craughwell's call for a debate in the House on the terms of the commission on the future of the Defence Forces. I was very pleased, along with Deputy Chambers, to ensure that in the programme for Government there really were strong commitments on the Defence Forces.I was pleased to hear yesterday's announcement by the Department of Education that all new primary and secondary school buildings will have an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, unit going forward. This is important in terms of inclusion. It is also hugely important that our young people with disabilities will have the opportunity to have an education in local schools along with their siblings and neighbours. It sends a strong message.
We must now look at the existing schools around the country that do not have facilities for ASD students. We need to have that debate here. We had the Minister for Education in the Chamber; we need to have the Minister of State with responsibility for special education.
Approximately three years ago, we had a situation in my town of Newbridge where 11 young students left two ASD units in a primary school. It took five months for them to get a place in a secondary school. It was appalling that 11 young people were left without any form of education or stimulation for five months. We need to act. We are coming to another pinch point. Having had a conversation with the principal this morning, I know the Holy Family Catholic Secondary School for Girls in Newbridge has put in for an ASD unit. I certainly hope that will be in place next September. I want a strong message to go to the Minister on that and also about seeking a debate on the provision of special education in mainstream schools.
Families and people woke up to the news today that Dublin Zoo faces an uncertain future. This is sad but understandable in the circumstances. The zoo is a magical place for children. While it is important for domestic and international tourism and it is a major employer, it is part of the fabric of family life, particularly where I live in Dublin 15.
Many families have annual passes and the recurring visits are like markers in the development of a child. They come back and notices how much their child has grown and changed and how much the animals have grown and things in the zoo have changed. It is educational and teaches children about animal conservation and welfare.
It is important to say it is not the fault of the zoo. It had emergency cash reserves but those are gone. It has not had statutory funding from the Government in 15 years and it is not-for-profit. As it said, one cannot furlough an elephant. This is an always-on business. It is, however, also home to more than 400 animals that cost €500,000 per month to feed and it is a home that costs €1 million per month to run. We have stepped up to help homes all around the country. We should step up to help this home. It should not be any different.
I call on the Government today to intervene and support Dublin Zoo at this moment.
I support the call by Senator Gavan for a debate on the childcare sector. I also support the call by Senator Chambers to ask the Tanáiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come into the Chamber to talk about the groundbreaking judgment in the UK High Court last Friday because there is a long-standing issue with regard to the rights of self-employed persons and gig workers in this country.
In Britain, it is a little different because there are a number of classes of workers and so we had the judgment. In Ireland, the answer will be that the health and safety legislation does not apply to the gig workers. Having the debate here, however, is important, because for a number of years now, legislation on the rights of gig workers and the self-employed has come before the Dáil and the Seanad and has gone nowhere. That debate is an important first step.
I wish to put on the record my grave concerns with regard to the Government's handling of the pandemic and the decisions that now need to be taken in advance of Christmas. We are at level 5 but the case numbers at the moment suggest level 5 is not working. A number of serious decisions must now be taken with the expiry of level 5 restrictions in a short period. The question must be asked of Government that if the message is not getting through under level 5 restrictions at the moment, what research and efforts is it making to ensure the message gets through to the population? A behavioural subgroup was set up under NPHET and disbanded last July. My information is that there was no sufficient commissioning of research or, indeed, understanding of what people are responding to.
Finally, we know behaviour is the single greatest defence against this virus. I, and many of my party, are not convinced the Government is taking behaviour seriously at this point. I ask the Leader to convey that to the Government
I support Senator Currie's call for Government assistance for the zoo in the Phoenix Park.
The scariest thing I did in my life was give birth to my three children. I spent the first seven months of my first pregnancy in denial and the final two months saying I genuinely cannot do this. If it had not been for the Rotunda Hospital and the amazing staff, including the midwives, nurses and doctor, I do not believe I would have ever found the courage I managed to find. I would never have imagined I would have such courage, and three 10 lb babies later, here I am. They are teenagers who drive me mad; I wonder why I ever did it.
The Rotunda Hospital, for those who do not know, is on Parnell Square. It is the world's oldest maternity hospital and dates back to 1745. It has brought more than 300,000 babies into the world. Even in pandemic times, approximately 700 babies per month have been born in the hospital.
An article on the front page of one of our Sunday papers last weekend highlighted an issue that all of us in the constituency have been campaigning on for the past number of years. It relates to a report completed by KPMG that documents safety concerns in the hospital relating to chronic overcrowding, a lack of space and a lack of capital investment to address the ancient infrastructure and buildings.
I ask that the Leader invite the Minister for Health to come to the House and address the serious issues raised in the KPMG report, and outline what action he and the Department will take to support the midwives, nurses, the Master and the doctors in the Rotunda Hospital to continue to deliver babies safely into our capital city.
My good colleague and friend, Senator Currie, said much of what I was going to say about Dublin Zoo. I will, however, reiterate what she said about Government support at a time we have given unprecedented support to organisations such as sporting bodies, and justifiably so, because of the financial stress they are under. An institution such as Dublin Zoo certainly warrants support from Government.
It launched a fundraising campaign this morning and I encourage people to get behind the zoo. I have fond memories, as do, I am sure, many people in this Chamber, of visiting Dublin Zoo as a kid with my family, with school tours in primary school and in recent years with younger family members. More than 1.3 million visitors go to see such amazing animals each year and that costs money. As the director of the museum said, and as Senator Currie echoed in her contribution, one cannot furlough an elephant nor turn of the lights of the zoo when one goes home at night. We have all seen the fantastic work done the workers in the programme on television and the great joy it brings to see these animals up close and in person.I reiterate the calls for further Government support for Dublin Zoo. I imagine that Fota Wildlife Park in Cork is facing a similar situation.
I echo Senator Sherlock's remarks on the necessity for correct behaviour in controlling the virus. Given my experience of a committee meeting yesterday, Senators and Deputies are not complying with mask wearing and are showing blatant disregard for other Members as well as for the staff manning the committee rooms. We have repeatedly been told that visors are not appropriate.
I wish to raise the growing concern about the increase in the number of tragic and unnecessary deaths of homeless people. Fifty deaths of rough sleepers and people in emergency accommodation have been reported in Dublin alone, and we are yet to reach the rough winter months. Increases in deaths among people known to homeless services have been reported in Cork and Galway as well. In January, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, stated that there had been 34 such deaths in 2019. On "Morning Ireland" yesterday, the DRHE revised that figure upwards to 49. We undoubtedly have a growing problem. These tragic and unnecessary deaths should not be happening and we need to do more to prevent them.
I welcome the Government's commissioning of a report, but it needs to act. We must see an end to dormitory-style accommodation. There is no place for it in this day and age. We must also see an increase in mental health and addiction supports for those experiencing homelessness. Covid has placed a significant strain on the mental health of many on this island, in particular the most vulnerable people living on our streets. We need a dramatic increase in tenancies under the Housing First policy in order to get people out of emergency accommodation. This model works and there is no reason it cannot be rolled out across the country. We need to introduce adult safeguarding reviews to ensure that, when someone dies, we fully understand the reasons for the death and address the problems in order to prevent it from happening to someone else.
People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable in our society. We have an obligation to do much more to help them. I request that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage attend the Seanad to outline what he and his Department are doing to ensure that we reduce the number of these tragic deaths.
Will the Leader ask the relevant Minister to attend the House to update us on the N5 national road project from Ballaghaderreen on the Roscommon-Mayo border to Scramoge in my area of Strokestown on the Dublin side? As Senator Chambers and other Senators from the west will know, it is a 34 km stretch of road. The project has been coming for a long time and will cost €200 million when everything is taken into account. The contractor was to be announced by now but that has not happened. I am sure it will, but it is important that we get this project up and running as quickly as possible. Much of the work has been done, including in the towns and villages that will be bypassed, for example, Strokestown, Frenchpark, Tulsk and Bellanagare, and the project is ready to go. The fatality rate on the current stretch of road is twice the average on national primary routes. From a safety aspect, it is important that this development proceed without delay. Will the Leader use her good offices to invite the Minister in order to update the House and, perhaps, give us the good news that the project will start as soon as possible?
On 15 November 2000, which is nearly 20 years ago to the day, I sat as a guest in the Public Gallery and listened to the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Micheál Martin, discussing the use of vaccine trials and experimentation on children in institutions in the State. Promises were made. There was a long debate in the Seanad that evening. Senator Norris, who has just left, made a lengthy contribution, as did my colleague, former Senator Helen Keogh. The then Minister made a compelling statement. If we were to track all of the correspondence since, we would see the many promises made. The debate is contained in Volume 164 No. 10 of the Official Report. I will email this information to every Member of the Oireachtas today because it is important that everyone read it.
Some weeks ago, the Seanad had a lengthy debate on the mother and baby homes commission. For those who do not know, Bessborough was included in the vaccine trials investigation. That information was discussed and brought to the commission and I look forward to its recommendations and report, but that was only a sample of institutions.
Roll on 20 years and we are facing Covid. I am not anti-vaccination. Indeed, I support vaccination but I also support the right to bodily integrity enshrined in our Constitution. It is everyone's right, children and adults alike. Justice has not been done where the people in question are concerned. I met quite a few of them in recent months. Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister or the Taoiseach to the House? I will give one commitment to the people listening to us - week in, week out for the next six months, I will raise this issue until such time as people get justice. Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to attend the House once he has reflected on his comments, in which regard I support him? I want him to return to the Seanad. Little did I think that I would be here as a Member of Seanad Éireann 20 years later or that he would be the Taoiseach, the man who might be able to do something for these people.
I concur with the comments made by Senators who raised the issue of Dublin Zoo, but I will put a southern twist on the matter. Complexes like Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park need to be debated in the House. More importantly, action by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, is necessary. It is appropriate that she attend the House next week to discuss this issue. Fota Wildlife Park is a major driver of our economy and one of the largest tourist attractions on the southern end of Ireland. It is a place that families like mine frequent monthly when we have the opportunity. That the complex is now closed is detrimental to society.
We need a package of measures to be put in place. Keeping the two complexes going costs tens of millions of euro. They are enshrined in our communities and societies. We are rightly supporting sporting clubs and other businesses, but these two organisations are outside the net for some reason. That is unfortunate. Action is needed urgently. In rebuilding our society post Covid, it is key that these complexes be left intact and supported fully. We must consider the issue of the animals. Everything must be done in that regard. As anyone who has visited Fota knows, it is a fantastic complex with animals running around its hundreds of acres. Fota needs to get a package of supports. Otherwise, it will be under pressure.
I hope the Leader will forgive me for being parochial - I do not normally adopt this approach in the Chamber - but I wish to raise the issue of a secondary school for Duleek. There are 12 feeder schools in the Duleek area. We have the land, a 23-acre site that was allocated for the provision of a school by the bishop in County Meath. I have brought this matter to the attention of the Minister for Education, but I would appreciate it if the Leader did whatever she could to accelerate the process. This week, a number of parents received letters stating that there was no room for their children in schools in Drogheda and Ashbourne. Something needs to be done urgently. The land is available and ready to go. It has community zoning. There is no reason the Department of Education should not consider a new secondary school for Duleek. I concur with what Senator Currie and a number of others said about Dublin Zoo. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine published its animal welfare strategy document yesterday. It is incumbent upon us, and the Government, to look after national institutions such as Dublin Zoo. The zoo faces a staggering cost every month. We need also to ask factories and people in the food production business that may have a lot of food waste to donate to Dublin Zoo at this time because it definitely needs support.
In the recent budget, over €740 million was allocated in respect of school buildings under Project Ireland 2040. Scoil an Chroí Naofa in Ballinasloe has been waiting 20 years for a new building. Generations of children have gone through the school and had children of their own and still there is no new building. How did this happen? In 2000, the boys' and girls' schools amalgamated to form one school. School buildings were promised at that stage. The existing buildings date back to the 1960s. I went to infant school there. It is the only Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, band 1 school in County Galway. There is a fantastic team of teaching staff and special needs assistants, SNAs. There is an ASD unit in the school. Children travel from east Galway, Roscommon and Westmeath to attend the school. It is shocking that, in 2020, over 290 students are still waiting in the cold because there are serious heating and insulation problems.
Planning permission was granted in 2011 and has been extended. As a councillor and now a Senator, I have worked with the principals, teachers, students and families to progress this project through the planning stages with Galway County Council and its design team. I am delighted to hear that the final designs will be submitted to the Department of Education this week. I call on the Leader and the Minister for Education to prioritise the needs of this DEIS band 1 school, especially as it is also dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. I will be working with the Department to ensure this development is accelerated to meet the needs of Scoil an Chroí Naofa, but also the children and families in Ballinasloe. It cannot be left any longer. They have waited 20 years. There is €740 million in that budget and I want to see this development happening in the next year.
I was amazed by the decision of Dublin City Council a couple of nights ago in respect of a proposed development at Oscar Traynor Road. This is an area of Dublin near which I used to live. There was a plan to have 253 social homes, 172 affordable homes, 214 cost rental homes and 214 private homes on the relevant site. Councillors put a stop to that entire development by a vote of 48 to 14. The result is that not a single unit will be built on the site for at least eight years. The supposed reason for the decision is that instead of allowing a developer-led project with a 50-50 split between private sites and social and affordable houses, councillors want the council to develop the site to provide 100% social and affordable housing. That seems to me to be a case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. In other words, petty ideological reasons now mean that instead of having 425 social and affordable homes, there will be none in that development. Those 48 councillors were led by Sinn Féin and its colleagues on the hard left, but the merry band also included councillors from the Labour Party.
I would like a debate with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to discuss a number of issues. Quite apart from what the Minister might say, it would be an opportunity for our Sinn Féin and Labour Party colleagues to explain to the House how their parties can justify incredible decisions such as that one. I lost track of the number of sermons I heard from Deputy Ó Ríordáin when he was a Member of this House on the need for more housing and yet he is one of the local politicians opposing this development. He is not alone. The same people who bleat in these Houses about a constitutional right to housing opposed the building of houses in local communities. To quote Katharine Hepburn in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", nobody seems to know nothing no more.
Dublin City Council seems to be dysfunctional and incapable of addressing the housing crisis in this city. It routinely vetoes or stymies housing development. Perhaps it is time to start considering stripping that council of its planning powers if it will not do what is needed. Council members have discussed all sorts of motions in recent years, from the eighth amendment to the Constitution to whether to raise the Palestinian flag over City Hall, but they are failing to deal with people's fundamental needs. I request a debate with the Minister on the issue.
Following on from the previous contribution, I note a factual inaccuracy. There is no reason development cannot take place on the site. The eight years to which the Senator referred is the opinion of one person. The real debate we need to have is whether Ireland will be taking advantage of the fact that we can access loans at rates of 0% or lower in order to build public housing. The capacity is there and if it was a matter of developers rushing to build, we would not have tens of thousands of planning permission applications for developments that we fast-tracked through this House that have not been built.
The State should be able to, and can, build. It has built in the past. We were asked to expedite fast-tracked planning permission which was then not used, as the Senator will be familiar with. Strategic housing developments were never built. We may have a debate about it.
I refrained from interrupting during the previous debate. I second the proposals for adjournments or a 90-minute or one-hour period for the Seanad Bill. I second the proposals to oppose the taking of the proposed amendment to Standing Orders in respect of speaking times for Private Members' business. I believe that is a signal of intent from those who once sought to abolish this House and who now seek to cut away at it through a thousand cuts, specifically by cutting away the time for the proposal and seconding of Private Members' business, including legislation, by Senators. The Private Members' business slot is not simply a platform for making statements or attacking political rivals, it is also or putting forward legislation. It is good parliamentary practice that when legislation is put forward on Second Stage, all parts of the Bill are put forward by the proposer. That is not allowed for. I remind the House that at least three Private Members' Bills that came through this House became law during the lifetime of the previous Oireachtas. Private Members' business - and the legislation we put forward during the time allocated for it - is a meaningful process and not simply something to be chopped away at. The Government has a majority and can win votes. Please let it not also silence the voices of those in opposition who are putting things forward.
I will go from back to front, if that is okay. There is a motion on the Order of Business regarding the sixth report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP. One would be forgiven for thinking, from the various and fairly passionate statements that have been made here, that this was not agreed yesterday at the CPP. I was not at the CPP-----
I did not interrupt the Senator. I can see that she is passionate about this but I will not listen to charges made against me and my colleagues for, in Senator Higgins' opinion, trying to dispel an opportunity for debate. For the record of this House and to dispute what was said here this morning, a proposal was brought by me, on behalf of the Government, to the CPP-----
A proposal was brought yesterday by me, on behalf of my colleagues, to the CPP. It was discussed at the CPP and I acknowledge that I was not present. A message was sent from the CPP, by the administrative people, that the proposal had been agreed yesterday and, as a result, it was placed on the Order of Business this morning. If the proposal was not agreed, the motion should never have been put on the Order of Business. I was not at the meeting yesterday but the reports were that Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and the Independent Senators who were present agreed with the proposal. I assume that is why the administrative people who look after us in this House asked me to put the motion on the paper this morning so that what was agreed at CPP yesterday could be passed in our Standing Orders. If it was not agreed, I am more than happy to send it back to CPP. I will not tolerate Senators saying that we are trying to reduce Private Members' time to 90 minutes when, in fact, the motion is for the full two hours and Standing Orders denote that it is two hours. All we were trying to do was to allow more Members the opportunity to speak and for leaders not to have 12 minutes but to give everybody here the chance to offer their opinions and views during Private Members' business.As I said, it can certainly go back to the CPP. I will withdraw No. 2.
On the number of debates that have been requested this morning. I agree with Senator Chambers regarding sthe directive that was issued a few days ago. We have spent the past eight months genuinely looking at elements of our society that have contributed greatly to the functioning of it, whether they are communities, businesses, public services, that in many of our day-to-day dealings, we probably heretofore took for granted. One could probably delve even further to look at some of those who are perhaps not treated as well as they should be by businesses. Based on my own experience, there are probably tens of thousands of people working in the gig economy, and I will certainly ask for a debate on that ruling to make sure that they are looked after and that the reflective rule of law on that EU directive is transposed.
There is also a need for a debate on the reaction yesterday of our Hungarian and Polish colleagues to the multiannual financial framework funding. It is not, and should never be, good enough or accepted by the other 25 member states that two member states that have a questionable way of observing the rule of law in the EU, which we all accept, assert that it does not stand in their countries. We certainly need a debate on that issue.
I will certainly make a request for a debate on higher education funding. I absolutely agree with Senator O'Loughlin that the announcements by the Department of Education yesterday that every and any new school will have ASD units and individual ASD teams is welcome. Indeed, two colleagues raised the much-needed school buildings in Duleek and Ballinasloe. There is not a community that we all live in or represent that does not have children with special needs. What absolutely should be made a rule of law today is that every school in the country should be compelled, as was the case in south Dublin last year, by directive of the Department of Education, to have ASD units, however small, and reflect on the needs of the children that they serve.
The last thing I will bring up is our much loved Dublin Zoo. One can see from the representations that were made here this morning how valuable an institution it really is. I do not know if Members heard the director on radio this morning, but one would have to commend the zoo for having the reserves that it had accumulated and that allowed it to stay open for the past number of months without any income and that will allow it to survive until early next spring. However, I believe it is incumbent on the Government to look after the zoo, Fota Wildlife Park and other institutions that are much loved by families. This is the case whether they have young children or not; my own children are no longer small, but we still love going to the zoo. It is incumbent on us to look after the zoo. On behalf of all Members, I will write to the Taoiseach today to ask him to make sure that the funding is looked after.
I raised a very important point and I do not need the Leader of the House to respond in detail, but will she take it up with the Minister for Health and ask him to come to the House to address the concerns raised about the Rotunda Hospital?