Tuesday, 1 December 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020 - Second Stage, to be taken at 2.45 p.m. in the Seanad Chamber, with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed ten minutes each, time can be shared and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate, and any division demanded thereon to be postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Wednesday, 2 December 2020.
I thank the Leader for setting out the Order of Business for today. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 24, motion 8, on the Order Paper be taken before No. 1. This motion relates to the vacancy on the agricultural panel and the by-election.
I want to talk about the red meat industry. Those who follow the agricultural sector and food security will be very aware and particularly concerned about the recent reports from the Health and Safety Authority concerning serious breaches around public health, public safety and Covid. This industry has a very large workforce. Currently many workers would tell us they are forced to work in very tight, cramped conditions. Many of the workers in the industry are afraid to report incidents because they fear they will lose their jobs. Many of them are on very low pay and many of them are scared their work will dry up.
A report published this week and referred to in all the national press relates to issues around Covid and the serious possible cross-contamination of food which, in turn, will affect our foodchain. When there is doubt or a lack of confidence in a sector, particularly like the meat sector, it has a knock-on effect from retail to processing, back along the line to the farm gate and, ultimately, farm incomes.People will be seriously concerned about the consumption of meat if they read in the national press and in reports about the sector, its health and safety and that of its workers. It is important that we protect the workers and empower them to be able to be whistleblowers or whatever one calls it in order that they can articulate their concerns. More important is that we support them in terms of health and safety and look at the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, report. Therefore, I suggest, if at all possible, that the Minister or Minister of State with responsibility for food safety might come to the House and allow a brief opportunity for us to put a number of questions to them. We owe it to the workforce, to consumers and to agriculture that we have a healthy, safe and confident meat supply.
I echo Senator Boyhan's call for a debate on the red meat sector and the serious issues that arise from the HSA's report. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment should also be party to that debate.
I raise the issue of the pay of contract cleaners. As we all know, contract cleaners are some of the lowest paid across our economy. My question, which I ask the Leader to direct to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, relates to why he is holding up the awarding of a pay increase to workers in the sector. I will briefly provide background to this. Contract cleaning has a joint labour committee. This is where employers and workers come together to decide the rates of pay. Earlier this year, they decided that a pay increase of 40 cent should be awarded from 1 December. The Labour Court adopted this employment regulation order on 4 November and that document has been sitting in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment since 4 November, waiting for a ministerial signature to give statutory effect to the employment regulation order. We are still waiting, as of this morning, for that. It is not acceptable that contract cleaners or any other workers should be left waiting for their pay increase when it has been agreed between employers and worker representatives. I ask the Leader to get an answer from the Minister. If he is not prepared to sign it today, he should come into the House and explain why.
I will] raise a second issue relating to the arts sector and some concerns articulated in recent days regarding the allocation of funding. To be clear, the recent initiatives by the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, with regards to the arts sector have been welcome, in terms of the various supports that have been put in place in the music sector and in the theatre and performance sector overall. However, there are clear concerns with regard to the transparency with which those grants are made, fairness and feedback. I understand that a number of applicants have not received feedback as to why they have not received a grant and are looking at others who have. The important point is that these supports in many cases will be the difference between people remaining in the arts sector or being forced to leave a sector they love and have given a lifetime to. I ask, as we have asked previously, for the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, to come into this House to debate these issues. It is important that we have a better understanding of the supports that are in place and plans for future supports.
Ireland has a long history of friendship with the people of Ethiopia. It saddens us all to hear recent reports of atrocities and identity-based attacks across the country. With the regional communications blackout, it is difficult to verify the number of deaths and we know thousands have been displaced and will face an uncertain winter. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Coveney's, call last week for all parties to cease hostilities and de-escalate tensions. Ethiopia has seen extraordinary changes in the past years, most notably, making peace with neighbouring Eritrea and long overdue political and public service reforms. Change is welcomed by the clear majority of Ethiopian citizens but this might threaten and frighten others. Old rivalries between ethnic groups are re-emerging with brutal consequences and there are now reportedly 3 million displaced people in the country.
The Tigray region is known as the cradle of Ethiopian civilization and its people have long held senior and important positions across all parts of the Ethiopian Government. The EU and Ireland must do all in their power to prevent the emergence of a larger conflict, which could unleash international ethnic fighting throughout Ethiopia and have devastating consequences across the entire Horn of Africa. Both sides have thus far refused UN and African Union calls for dialogue. Given the long-standing role of Irish humanitarians, diplomats and peacekeepers, the wonderful role they have played in the region and our aid relationship with the Ethiopian Government, I believe Ireland can play a greater role in reconciliation. Irish Aid already provides support to small farmers in Tigray through a range of sustainable practices and I ask the Minister to come into the House to give an update as to whether these operations have been affected during the recent instability and as to whether there are plans to extend such initiatives and offer emergency aid in the coming months.
Ireland, with its respected reputation, could trigger much-needed dialogue in this northern region of Ethiopia. Ireland could be instrumental in brokering peace. It is of concern for many Irish people who have nothing but love for the Ethiopian people and what they are going through at the moment as we approach Christmas. I tried unsuccessfully to seek a Commencement matter on two occasions but I understand how pressured that time is so I am using the Order of Business to ask the Leader to invite the Minister into the House to give us an update on the precise situation, which is of deep concern to many Irish citizens.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Cheannaire as ucht an Oird Gnó a leagan os ár comhair. As the Leader knows, last week the Taoiseach met Pat Finucane's wife Geraldine and their son John and unequivocally supported the family's demand for a public inquiry into the murder of Pat. In this Chamber, the Minister for Foreign Affairs endorsed that Government support and the Seanad unanimously supported the family's call for a public inquiry. John attended the Seanad debate and he spoke personally at last week's Good Friday Agreement committee about the loss of his father and the impact of his murder on his mother and his family. Yesterday, the British Government rallied around to protect and defend those in the British Cabinet who sanctioned the murder of Pat Finucane through collusion over 30 years ago. Reacting last night to that decision, Pat's son John stated:
Our initial reaction is that we are very angry. I would like to say that we are surprised. But what the British Government proposed to us today was nothing short of insulting. We have waited for nearly two years for the government to respond to our supreme court victory in 2019. We have been waiting 31 years for an effective investigation into the murder of my father. What was presented today, I think, once again, if we needed another example, we were presented with it today, is, that the British government at every opportunity will continue to make the wrong decision, and will put all their efforts into ensuring that the truth as to what happened in the murder of my father, that the full truth, will not see the light of day. And they are intent on suppressing that truth. And today's meeting confirms that again to our family. To dangle this statement, that he is not ruling out an inquiry, 31 and a half years after my father was murdered; some nine years after David Cameron accepted that there was collusion; five years after De Silva reported; two years after the supreme court have given their judgement. To say today quite casually that he is not ruling out an inquiry I feel is insulting. We had police investigations before. We had the police investigation after my father was murdered. We also had a police investigation by the most senior police officer in the UK, John Stevens, now Lord Stevens. The Supreme Court dismissed that as not being an effective investigation. So to sit in a room with us today and present this as something credible and ask for us to support that; I thought it was astonishing and I thought it was exceptionally arrogant and cruel of the Secretary of State on behalf of his Government.
The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Seanad with one voice supported the Finucane family and their call for an independent public inquiry.They have also received substantial bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Yesterday's decision by the British Government was cruel and crass. Last week, An Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Seanad sent a powerful and personal message of support to the Finucane family. That message remains with them today and will help them absorb yesterday's shocking and indefensible decision. Yesterday, Pat's widow, Geraldine, stated:
It would seem to me there is a lot to hide. So the idea is to just delay and delay and to hope as I get older I will pop my clogs and the investigation will stop. But believe you me with every breath in my body I will fight them to the bitter end and I will make them responsible for what they did.
We wrote to Geraldine to continue to stand with her and family in that fight, to Pat, to truth and to justice and to all those campaigning for the same. The Weston Park agreement has been wilfully ignored. The full authority of the office of An Taoiseach is being wilfully ignored, as are the unanimous and unified voice of the Oireachtas and the importance of the people, here at home and throughout the world, who put on this campaign. The British Government is even ignoring its own Supreme Court.
The Finucane family and the people must now hear what the Government intends to do about it. As Geraldine put it so well on RTÉ Radio this morning:
Today is a new day. I will never give up.
We must never give up either.
I fully endorse the comments of Senator Ó Donnghaile regarding the disappointment we all feel in respect of the appalling death of Pat Finucane. The Senator is correct. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and both Houses of the Oireachtas have been snubbed by the British authorities. I do not want to go into all this again, but there is clear evidence of the collusion that went on. It is appalling that, even at this late stage, the British authorities will not own up and give in to this public inquiry. It is really sad for us all. I am sure the Government will again take up the baton and fight hard to get this inquiry. I will raise this matter at our parliamentary party meeting later.
I turn to Covid-19 because, in many respects, this is a good day. The retail sector has got up and running. We look forward to Friday, when restaurants, hotels and other services will reopen. Walking from my hotel to Kildare Street earlier, I was keeping an eye on the trains as they travelled through the city. I have to say "Fair play" to the public. While quite a number of people were on the trains, or as many as are allowed at the moment, I did not see anybody without a mask. The people are really coming to terms with the message that we must wear masks. All of us have to understand that the Government had to do a little bit of tightrope walking, both by taking on board what the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, recommended, which is very important, and by seeking some type of meaningful Christmas, although we all know it will not be the same as usual. Older people I have spoken to in recent days have said they have arranged with their family that one wing of the family will visit on Christmas Day and another on St. Stephen's Day, and they have worked that out. We all have to do things differently because of where we are at the moment.
I compliment the people, who are treating this terrible pandemic in what is probably a more serious way than they had previously. I do not say that lightly. Perhaps how we viewed the pandemic in the first four months is different from how we view it now. We all thought it would be a passing storm but now we know it is not. Even with vaccination, it will still be some time before we end up getting the virus under control, but we are moving in the right direction. I firmly believe, and I am sure the Leader will refer to this in her response, that if we wear masks, wash our hands, observe social distancing, we can keep down the numbers. I appeal to everyone, including all Senators, that we do what we are asked to do, have a Christmas and, at the same time, try to keep the numbers low.
I fully agree with Senator Ó Donnghaile about the Pat Finucane decision and the behaviour of the British Government. I think we may all have been laid into a space where we believed an inquiry would be announced yesterday. I certainly believed it would be and all the mood music suggested that, especially in view of the fact that the highest court in the UK had recommended it. What has happened is regrettable and, certainly, the campaign cannot stop. Let us hope that, eventually, the right thing will be done.
Today is World AIDS Day. While we are in the middle of a pandemic, the world keeps moving and there are other serious diseases and health challenges. In the 1980s and the early 1990s, AIDS was a serious challenge but the world came together to try to deal with it. It is not as big a challenge as it was, but it is still a challenge and we cannot forget that because much work continues to be done and needs to be done in the eradication of AIDS and dealing with HIV, particularly in Third World and developing countries. We should redouble our efforts and commitment as a country to funding programmes in the developing world to help combat the spread of HIV and AIDS. At some stage in the new year, it would be no harm to hold a debate on our world development programme and the overseas aid that is provided by this country. We could include world health programmes in that.
Today is a good day in terms of Covid-19 but the deputy chief medical officer put it well when he said that just because we can do something, it does not mean we have to. I call on the Chief Medical Officer, the Minister for Health and the Department of Health not to release Covid-19 figures or death numbers on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephen's Day. We have all got used to seeing the notifications on our phones at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. giving us the latest update on the numbers of cases and deaths. On some days it is good news, while on many others, it is not. It would be appropriate if the figures were not released on those three days of Christmas. I am sure they could be released at a later date. Everybody needs a break from that news cycle for those three days and I make that suggestion respectfully.
I second Senator Boyhan's proposal that No. 24, motion 8, on the Order Paper be taken before No. 1.
I join colleagues in expressing my deep disappointment with respect to the Finucane murder. It is important to remember that Pat Finucane was the highest profile person killed in Northern Ireland through collusion but there were hundreds of others, and a truth commission in Northern Ireland is needed to allow the purging of all the horrendous crimes that took place during the Troubles.
I woke up this morning to the news about Arcadia, which is a massive retail outlet. While watching the news, I saw Sir Philip Green, the chairman of Arcadia, get on his yacht. Is it not funny that in every such case, these chairpersons and people who are at the top of the heap get on their yachts and head off to the sun and leave behind devastated workers? More than 490 workers will be affected by what is going to happen to Topshop, one of the brands under which Arcadia operates in this country. Not unlike in the case of Debenhams, much of the stock will now be sold online.The people of Ireland who are now desperately buying stuff online because of Covid-19 should remember that, if they are buying former Debenhams products or products from Topshop, they are buying products that have put people out of work. I hear a lot of talk about Christmas. However, there will be no Christmas for the 490 odd workers from the Arcadia Group. There will be no Christmas for the people standing outside Debenhams doors just looking for a decent redundancy payment. The chairpersons of these organisations, however, will be on their yachts or in their Maseratis driving off to the sun. The people need to speak by not supporting these super-rich people.
We might have had our argument last week but I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for picking both Senator Warfield and me for our Commencement matter on World AIDS Day. It is about global solidarity and shared responsibility.
This morning the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council praised the Government's temporary supports and stimulus package in budget 2021. Its chairperson, Sebastian Barnes, however, raised questions around the permanent spending increases. We need a debate on fiscal management and budgetary matters outside of the Finance Bill in light of the fiscal council report. Where is the revenue going and where are the jobs? We have Covid, Brexit and the need for increased employment. We heard this morning about the need to have solidarity with our contract cleaners, an important matter that cannot just be cast aside.
I request we have this debate as it is important that we protect our economy. However, 17,000 additional jobs in the public sector are coming at a time that many organisations say they cannot get nurses, psychologists or care staff. It is important we have that debate.
I endorse the remarks on the need for a full public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. All of us who want to see our country reconciled, and we recognise the need for truth and reconciliation. Such an inquiry would have been an important step in this regard.
I echo the calls of other Members on the issue of the Pat Finucane inquiry. It is extraordinary that this issue managed to unite people across the House yet the United Kingdom Government did not hear the calls for a full public inquiry. It is extremely remiss of it and it was a disappointing statement yesterday.
In this House several months ago, we discussed the issue of our built heritage and the O'Rahilly house. This was a case where a developer had got permission to demolish a building, in the middle of the night, even after Dublin City Council had initiated the process of having it put on the record of protected structures.
I want to raise the issue of another building, which I raised at the time of the debate on the O'Rahilly house, the Player Wills building on South Circular Road, which architecturally, culturally and socially is a great example of our industrial heritage, of which we do not have much. It was recently bought by Hines which is planning to put in a planning application to develop it and the site surrounding it. Back in 2018, while I was a member of Dublin City Council, I got the local authority area committee to pass a motion asking that it be immediately put on the record of protected structures. This had also been recommended by the then Minister. Two years later there was no movement on this.
The person who succeeded me on Dublin City Council tabled a motion to the full council meeting asking all council members that it be added to the record of protected structures. He got word yesterday that the executive had taken the decision that, after engagement with the developer, the developer was committed to maintaining the building and the executive was not moving to include it in the record of protected structures. Two arms of a local authority asked for it to be put on the record of protected structures, as did the then Minister. We have a chance of keeping this building, yet we are taking the word of a developer and an executive decision has been made. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to the House to discuss this? We do not want to be reliant on the goodwill of a developer to keep part of the industrial heritage of our city intact.
Following the decision last Friday not to open public houses across the country, I was speaking to members of the VFI, Vintners Federation of Ireland, in Longford and Westmeath. I do not agree with the decision. While we have off-licences and supermarkets selling cheap alcohol in an unregulated manner, it is going to cause many issues. Publicans need to see a path for themselves if they are to have a future. Something needs to be put in place when and if they can open. It is the only sector which has been closed since last March, bar two weeks.
It is also important that the Garda enforces rules for those premises which have been given authority to open. It has been quite common for rules to be broken around the country. Will that be addressed?
Disability and assessment of needs staff have been redeployed for contact tracing and community testing. The figures for my community healthcare organisation area, CHO 8, which covers Longford-Westmeath, Laois-Offaly and Louth-Meath, are astounding. The number of staff deployed from the disability and assessments of need area is 100 of a total of 167. Up to 60% of the staff in the whole country have come from one CHO area. That means the children in our area are not being assessed or getting the support measures they need. There has been talk about recruiting staff but it has not happened in sufficient numbers. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, deal with this issue immediately as we need the staff back in our counties to ensure our children get the assessments to which they are entitled?
Today is a good day. It is nice to see the shops open. I was on Grafton Street early this morning picking up a couple of things. At the same time, it struck me that we had some bad news yesterday as we have already heard about the Arcadia Group. I have genuine concerns. Another 500 jobs are at risk with another dubious enterprise in terms of its management and ownership. There is a huge hole in this company's pension fund while the owner enjoys himself on his €100 million yacht.
The real concern is that we have been speaking for four years on the Duffy Cahill report. I am a member of the committee that dealt with the issue last week. I have real concern that there does not seem to be an urgency in the Department to deal with the Duffy Cahill proposals. They have been outstanding for four years.
We heard on "Morning Ireland" earlier that there will be, unfortunately, a significant number of redundancies in retail early in the new year. However, there is still no action from the Government. We know the plight of the Debenhams workers. I know there are talks this week and everyone wants to see a good resolution for all concerned. We are only going to repeat this, however.
We are well capable of passing emergency legislation quickly when it is needed in this House and the Lower House. What is frustrating is that five months after the programme for Government, there has been no emergency legislation to protect retail workers. All of us must ensure that before this tsunami is upon us early in the new year, we take urgent action to implement the Duffy Cahill proposals and build in protections for retail workers. Otherwise, how can we look anyone in the face and use the well-worn phrase that we are all in this together? Retail workers are not included in protections that they desperately need. We need to ensure that happens. I call for an urgent debate on the matter, as well as for urgent action from the Government.
Today, large parts of the economy are reopening following a difficult six weeks of lockdown. However, several sectors are still not permitted to open which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I am specifically referring to the arts sector, theatres and venues across the country.
In Waterford, the Theatre Royal opened successfully without cases when restrictions were eased during the summer. It can hold 90 audience members across three floors with 2 m social distancing in place. The theatre would be happy to operate with just 50 patrons.The arts sector is not about making money. Rather, it is about ensuring that engagement is maintained for artists and audiences in order to keep the sector alive. Likewise, Forum Wateford, a bingo venue, has to remain closed under level 3. Nobody can tell me that a venue which has the capacity to hold 600 people cannot operate safely with 50 patrons in attendance. People can scoff at the idea of bingo, but Forum Waterford is an alcohol-free and socially-distanced venue that can operate safely and that should be allowed to do so.
When asked by a reporter at yesterday's media briefing to explain if there is a particular risk associated with theatres over cinemas, Dr. Tony Holohan said NPHET had not given any consideration to distinguishing between the risks that applied to the two settings. He went on to say that cinemas are allowed to open in level 3. I am sure the Leader will agree that is a contradictory message. The reason no consideration has been given to it is that there is no difference between a cinema and a theatre.
I am sure we all watched "The Late Late Toy Show" on Friday with great joy and saw children singing, dancing and performing. Stage schools have not been given the opportunity to reopen, despite operating successfully during the summer. Not every child wants to be involved in sport, which is something I know as a former PE teacher. It is essential for children to be able to engage in activity outside of their households. I believe stage schools can operate safely. I ask the Minister to invite the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Martin, to the House as a matter of urgency for a debate on the sector and these issues.
I echo the comments that have been made and express my disappointment about the decision of the British Government not to hold an independent inquiry into the case of Pat Finucane.
I also echo the comments of Senator Cummins. It does not make sense that cinemas, galleries and museums can open, yet theatres, which are safe and controlled environments, are kept closed. We will see far more people in retail outlets and supermarkets over the next few weeks than we will see in theatres. When theatres were permitted to open earlier this year, they were able to do so in a very safe and controlled way and they provided people with an opportunity for entertainment. I ask that consideration be given, in particular coming up to the Christmas period, to examining how our theatres can reopen.
We have asked on a number of occasions for a debate on the rule of law in Hungary and Poland. People will be aware that yesterday the Dutch Parliament voted to force its Government to take action before the European Court of Justice against Poland for breaches of Article 7 of the EU treaties. It is no longer acceptable that Poland and Hungary are holding vetoes at a European level, where they are constantly breaching the rule of law, there is no respect for the judiciary or freedom of the press and where minorities, in particular the LGBT minority in Poland, are being treated with such disrespect. The European Union is about values. I ask that we have a debate in the House on Poland and Hungary's continued membership of the European Union if they are not prepared to follow the rule of law.
I want to discuss something that the Leader will have a lot of experience of from her time as a Minister in her former Department. I refer to the Christmas bonus and, more importantly, the fact it is not paid to people who are on maternity leave. Next year I would love those who are on maternity leave at Christmas to be eligible for the Christmas bonus scheme. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, talked about the Christmas bonus last week, which is incredible. She encouraged people to spend that money locally. This is money that, in the first instance, goes back into local economies. That is important. People who are on maternity leave have paid their taxes, worked in jobs and contributed to the economy. They will contribute to the economy when they finish maternity leave. The payment will not be given to everyone who is on maternity leave; it will only be paid to those who are on maternity leave during the Christmas period. According to the Department's website, more than 30 groups of people avail of the Christmas bonus. They include those in receipt of the State pension, invalidity pension, the back to work enterprise allowance and the supplementary welfare allowance. It is important that we include people in receipt of maternity benefit in that cohort. It is too late to do anything about it this year. I would appreciate if we could have a discussion or debate about this issue so that it can be put on the agenda for Christmas 2021.
I echo the statements of many Senators who have wished all of the businesses that are opening up today well. In that context, I wish all of the businesses in Tipperary well. They have had an incredibly tough number of weeks and I hope the Christmas period is a success for them. I encourage everyone to support them.
There is some confusion about whether craft fairs can go ahead. Fethard Horse Country Experience in Tipperary has hosted a Christmas craft fair for the past two years. It has proved very popular and has been a source of income for stall holders who provide a great variety of Christmas gifts for their customers. This year, the organisers considered holding the fair again but making it an open-air event on the main street in Fethard. They put feelers out to check the viability of such a plan and determine whether there was interest. They found there was overwhelming interest from stall holders who wished to take part. They planned to hold it on Friday, 11 December from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. There is plenty of room on the main street, which has wide footpaths and plenty of space for stalls to be socially distanced. I understand under the latest Covid restrictions the fair may not be able to go ahead. I have spoken to Councillor Mark Fitzgerald who has worked extremely hard to try to resolve the issue locally. A committee is meeting tomorrow to discuss where the fair goes from here, just ten days before the planned event. There are numerous craft fairs across Tipperary and the country that want to go ahead. I would appreciate if the Leader can give us clarity from the Minister for Health on whether craft fairs can happen. If farmers markets can go ahead, craft fairs held in a safe outdoor setting should also be allowed. If I could get some clarification on that it would be welcome for those involved.
I concur with Senator Ó Donnghaile's contribution on the Pat Finucane case. It was a very disappointing decision by the UK Government yesterday. One might say it was to be expected but it was hugely disappointing nonetheless. My thoughts are with the Finucane family and what they have gone through and are still going through on and issue that deserves a full public inquiry.
Another issue the Leader was familiar with in her former Department is the certification of deaths abroad. As she knows, the family of an Irish citizen who dies abroad finds it difficult to get a death certificate in this jurisdiction. We passed legislation a number of years ago to rectify this matter. I worked with the then Minister, Joan Burton, at the time. Legislation was enacted and received widespread support across both Houses at the time. There were further delays in putting in place the process to ensure that those certificates could be awarded to the families and loved ones of those who died aboard. I ask the Leader for an update on this issue. She will be familiar with the industrial relations issues in the Department that was dealing with this issue. We have done the heavy lifting here, as have departmental officials in terms of ensuring this process is put in place, yet we cannot sort out the final and most important issue, namely, providing certificates for the loved ones of those who, unfortunately, passed away abroad.I ask that the Leader seek an update on this very important issue.
Before I call on the Leader, I also pay tribute to Geraldine Finucane for her courage, resilience and relentless pursuit of justice for the murder of her husband, Pat Finucane. Nobody should be afraid of the truth. We had a great debate for two hours with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and there was consensus across the House that the truth should be given to the family, an inquiry was needed, and is still needed.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I am very happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business and we can take No. 24, motion 8, before No. 1.
A number of sectoral debates have been requested which I will certainly attend to at the end of the Order of Business. I will attempt to arrange them as quickly as I can. The time will be difficult for us between now and Christmas but I agree with a number of speakers this morning on employment rights, particularly in our retail sector. We have a rolling suspension of redundancies in all sectors, and rightly so, to protect businesses that are still viable albeit vulnerable. However, I agree with Senator Gavan that we have a tsunami of potential redundancies, particularly across our retail sector. This is not just because they have been so adversely affected over the last nine or ten months and will continue to be so until we see a widespread roll-out of the vaccine, but it is also because over the last nine to ten months the changes in our habits are going to drastically devastate the high streets in our cities and towns and probably even more so in many of our large shopping centres. The task force may need to be set up immediately and I will send a letter to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on this issue. I will also ask about the delay. I am unsure as to why there is one as today is 1 December. Those sectoral arrangements agreed between employers and employees have to be respected and should not be delayed. I will try to find out today what the status of these are and will contact the Senator’s office later on.
A debate that is needed before Christmas concerns the arts. It has already been requested by my office and by a number of Senators today. It was raised by colleagues last week on the introduction of the minimum universal payment as a pilot in the arts sector. The Minister would very much welcome coming in and extolling her values. The payment is not just to that sector but that is where the pilot is. However, there are some difficulties within the sector. There are some sectors within our arts community that are not able to avail of the supports that are there and nobody seems to know why. There are some diverging rules or guidance being put out there. I have a gentleman called Nev Ross who contacts me at least two to three times a week who raises the issues that Senator Cummins has raised. I do not understand how it is okay for our under-14 boys in Ratoath to play football on a Tuesday and Thursday night but it is not okay for under-ten little girls to go to their dance class in the hall outside our community centre. There are diverging and contradictory rules and that is just one example.
It is sometimes difficult for people to understand and accept guidance or rules which are obviously only given on behalf of either NPHET, the State or Government to protect us, as to why one thing is okay and another thing is not. There is an Irish saying that when we are given an inch, we want a mile, which is probably true. The overall message, however, which we must try to remember not just as representatives standing up here, is to say that if it is okay for footballers why is it not okay for dancers, or if it is okay for cinemas why is it not okay for theatres, and please God bring bingo back, because it is definitely okay for bingo halls that can hold 600 people. Bingo is definitely an activity that our older people need. However, we need to be mindful that while everything is okay, we then have millions of people churning around the country, and it is that movement which is the problem. We probably do have to recognise and accept in our representations that what is limited is probably precious and we will not get the blanket opening up of all sectors - even though it is difficult to understand why one is okay and the other is not - until we see a full roll-out of the vaccine. We need to have that conversation and debate and, particularly, we need from the Minister’s perspective to hear our views on how the arts industry needs to continue to be supported. It is definitely an industry that does not make any money and there is nobody in the arts industry floating around on €100 million yachts. That task force is something that would be very useful and I will write to the Minister today on behalf of Senator Gavan and others who have brought up employment rights, particularly in less well-paid sectors.
I will come back to Senator Martin on the issue of Ethiopia. I do not know if I will be able to facilitate a debate between now and Christmas. However, I should definitely be able to get a written response on what the Government’s reaction is and what supports the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, plans on behalf of the State to look after a nation that is very proud but so vulnerable at the moment, not least because of Covid-19, but it also has so many other issues.
It is probably unusual that either this House or the other House ever unite entirely on an issue. We saw last week the unification of this House, the Government and every party in support and recognition of a need for a public inquiry that was mooted by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, eight or nine years ago because of what he believed was irrefutable evidence that there was collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane. I have to pay tribute to the stoicism and strength of Mrs. Finucane. To watch her yesterday and her resolve after 30 years is quite something to behold when one considers everything that family has been through. There is no doubt that there was significant disappointment felt yesterday, not least on behalf of the family, but by all of their supporters and every right-minded person in this country. The difficulty with looking at the past is that it causes hurt. The recognition that if we are to heal, then the truth has to be told, and only then can healing begin, is something that every single one of us knows. Some 31 years later, yesterday, one can still see the hurt that Geraldine Finucane feels. That is true of every other family who have suffered at the hands of atrocities in our country over the last two to three generations. There has to be a recognition and an acknowledgement all around that hurt will only heal when there is truth and a ceasing of the glorification of what went on during those 30 years. I do not know what the Government’s response is going to be this morning but I know that it is discussing it at Cabinet. If the Minister does not make a statement later today I will ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach what their response is. I have no doubt that the Taoiseach will liaise with the Finucane family. We all need to recognise, finally, once and for all, that the only way that we can heal is for the truth to come out, painful, sordid and ugly as it is. Without that healing and the justice, there will be no moving forward for this country because people will always harbour some sense of anger and despair at what went on in the past. We need to be grown-up once and for all as states and, particularly, as governments. The British Government’s decision was very disappointing yesterday and our actions now need to ensure that we make it known to it what we want and what will be needed to resolve 30 to 35 years of hurt and pain.
I do not have an answer on the resolutions for Senator Ahearn. The regulations will be issued today by the Department of Health on what can and cannot happen safely over the next couple of weeks while we are in level 3 and indeed when we open our counties to allow people to visit their families over Christmas. If it does not include the Senator’s markets, which is exactly the same as a farmers’ markets except that it is selling different items such as crafts, it may again not make any sense, but I hope that it does. I will find out the position for the Senator later today.
In my closing comments I note that the last couple of months have been completely crap for everybody and very bad for many of our citizens. As an auld one I got such great joy out of "The Late Late Show" on Friday night. I do not have small children any more but yet every one of my near-adult children sat in the sitting room with us and it was an enormous tonic to see Adam, Saoirse, John the hospital porter and the great Irish spirit that exists where millions of euro were donated to children’s charities because of the goodwill of the Irish people.On behalf of all of us, I hope, I say "hats off and congratulations" not only to Ryan Tubridy but to the entire production team and every child and his or her family who participated in giving Ireland such a great joy on Friday night. It was a real tonic and we definitely needed it.
We all agree with the Leader about RTÉ and "The Late Late Toy Show". It was a huge lift. The Leader's description of the past few months as being crap is probably the most accurate description of the past whilee.
Senator Boyhan has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 24, motion 8, be taken before No. 1". The Leader has said she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.