Wednesday, 9 December 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, proposed division on Second Stage of the Finance Bill 2020, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding arrangements and sitting of the House for Friday, 11 December, Monday, 14 December and Tuesday, 15 December 2020, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 2a, report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 3, Private Members' business, Deportation Moratorium (Covid-19) Bill 2020 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2a, whichever is the later, with the time allowed for the debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 4, statements on the annual national transition statement on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the later, with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.
I convey to the Leader through the Deputy Leader my gratitude as when I raised two weeks ago the University College Cork report into a foetal medicine specialist's experience of carrying out late-term abortions in the context of children diagnosed with a fatal foetal so-called anomalyin utero, she undertook to ask the Minister to come in to discuss the matter in this House. I have not acknowledged that she did so and I am very grateful that she did. I ask that this happen as soon as possible and there would be a specific discussion on the matter, given its seriousness, and it would not just be one topic taken among many others.
The Oireachtas Life and Dignity Group has launched its discussion document on late-term abortion and foetal pain. These are desperately important matters and the question is asked of what happens where unborn children in these cases are subject to foeticide. Is there pain relief and does the procedure always end in the death of the child before the child is brought out? In cases where a child is induced, what steps are appropriate in the context of precautionary pain relief?
This is extremely serious and I hope the matter might unite people of all shades of opinion on abortion in this House. I ask for the debate as a matter of reasonable urgency.
I do not want to join the general pile-on to the Sinn Féin Party or Deputy Brian Stanley arising from his tweets. However, social media and politics often do not mix well. Tweets are not good vehicles for expressing complex ideas and as politicians we must check both our motivation, tactics and judgment when we start discussing important topics using Twitter or other forms of social media. There is a lesson to be learned.
When we debate matters such as the Kilmichael ambush and what happened at Narrow Water almost 100 years later, it is worth saying there is a distinction to be drawn. In one case, the majority of people in Ireland had voted for independence and the War of Independence that was taking place had the support of the majority of people in this country. What went on during the Troubles never had the support even of a majority of nationalist people in the North, never mind the whole country.
My third point is a lesson we can learn. President Higgins speaks about "narrative hospitality" in speaking about commemorating these events. In other words, it is about including other people's perspectives and sensitivities when we commemorate. To commemorate need not and should not mean "to celebrate". To sing about the boys of Kilmichael might have made sense when we were trying to keep a war effort going in Ireland and when people needed to know they could succeed against the occupying forces. It is not inappropriate for us to recall that whether they were auxiliaries or black and tans, some of these people were scarred by their experience of the First World War and very damaged people. All of them were somebody's son or brother; they were human beings and deserving of respect, even while we condemn the atrocities that took place. President Higgins's call to narrative hospitality is really important. He signals it as an ethical imperative and he is right about that.
I will be jumping around a couple of topics if that is all right. I draw attention to the Labour Party request sent to all Deputies and Senators that they pledge their support to getting the Covid-19 vaccine if and when it is ready and to encourage constituents and people they know to get that vaccine. I mention it for the people who have not yet signed up or tweeted their support. It has the hashtag #vaccineswork.
It would not be a normal week if I did not stand up to speak about my favourite topic, which is pay for student nurses and midwives. I flag a reason given for not paying student nurses, although I do not really accept it. It is that if we paid student nurses, it would come at the cost of eliminating the degree programme certification or somehow devalue the education part of their training. I simply do not agree and there is nothing intrinsic to student placements that prevent payment. Using this as an argument not to pay student nurses is not really acceptable.
The payment of student trainees should be a goal in all fields as otherwise the unpaid placements become a barrier to entry to such courses, reproducing and reinforcing inequality in society.I refer often to who is not in the room, who is not in the degree programme or who is not able to take on a learning opportunity because there are financial barriers in place. Those financial barriers are not only fees. It is a financial barrier to not be able to afford to take unpaid placement. If we want to build an Ireland of equals and opportunities for everyone, we have to think beyond just getting people in the door. Unpaid placements on courses are a financial barrier. They are locking people out of taking on these learning opportunities. Now more than ever we need nurses, midwives, doctors and people who are willing to take on these vocational roles. This is a matter of justice and equality. It ensures true access to opportunities that placements bring and also that work is properly recompensed and that is important. We cannot support unpaid labour. If the Government line is that it supports it, that is problematic.
The issue of pay restoration in the public sector and former Deputies getting a pay rise in pensions and contributions has been raised previously in this House. There are secretarial assistants working in the Oireachtas who earn less than the living wage. Student nurses are also not being paid. The big unions walked away from the Low Pay Commission on the back of a proposed 10 cent increase in the living wage. What Government is saying in terms of valuing work is concerning and shows a little bit of remove from the reality of the financial hardship experienced by many workers.
What is happening in the health system among staff who are keeping it going is happening in our own offices. We are not paying our secretarial assistants properly or enough. We need to set the standard for employment here in Leinster House and outside Leinster House.
I welcome the announcement last week by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, of a €50 million allocation for rural infrastructure for cycling and walking. This is the first time in the history of the State a Minister for Transport has thought to allocate money specifically for rural infrastructure of this kind. As somebody who has worked on modal shift and sustainable transport promotion in rural Ireland for 14 years, this gives me hope. It means the estates that have no footpaths, the schools around which there are high speed limits and the children who have nowhere to walk or cycle safely, might finally have those issues addressed. The funding is specifically for rural counties, which is great. To date, very little funding has been provided for this type of work and so there has been very little joined-up thinking. The result has been scraps of infrastructure such as a cycle lane ending at a footpath and so on, leaving people to wonder if they were supposed to pick up the bicycle and put it in their pockets at that point.
One of the most important aspects of this funding stream for local authorities is that there will be an active travel network strategy. It will no longer be acceptable to do bits and pieces of work on a cycle lane, which no child could ever use safely, or to leave footpaths without dishing, which is the dip in the paths that enables people with buggies and wheelchairs to access them. This type of work has been acceptable in rural Ireland for too long. Now that the funding is in place, all of us in the House can engage with our local authorities on putting in place the infrastructure to link up villages and towns and to give people in rural Ireland options around walking and cycling safely, be that from estate to estate where there is permeability or outside schools. Our children spend a great deal of their time in schools. We have the highest rates of air pollution and safety issues at school gates. It is appalling. Now that there is €50 million at the disposal of local authorities, there is no excuse for them not to prioritise people with disabilities, children and people who want to choose modes of transport other than the private car. The local authorities now have the choice to do things right and to make sure they have in place a strategy that works for people of every age and ability.
I ask the Deputy Leader to schedule a debate in the House with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to clarify the position on co-living ventures and to also discuss how we combat the continuing illegal advertisement of rental properties that fall well below the standards already set. The Minister gave notice two weeks ago that co-living is to be banned, yet permissions are still being granted for existing applications. Co-living should not be a feature of our housing system. We need clarity from the Minister on whether there is to be an outright ban on co-living or if its use is to be only restricted.
A co-living development at the Brady's Castleknock Inn site on the Navan Road has been approved, as has a project on Merrion Square in Ballsbridge. This means that within the last two weeks well over 300 co-living spaces have been approved. The concerns that were raised around Covid-19 and this style of residence will still be an issue well into the future. One of the main reasons given in the report from the planning division of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for the rejection of future developments was that some co-living developments consisted of less than 29 sq. m. of space per person.
On the issue of the advertisement of rental properties, we still see private rental properties advertised online that fall well below the minimum space per person requirement. One such advertisement on Leinster Road in Rathmines received an awful lot of attention online last week. The photographs of the property showed a cramped lay out such that it appeared it would be nearly impossible to open the oven door without moving the bed. While many people pointed out how unsuitable it was to have an oven and a sink within arms reach of a bed, it was shocking to note that by the end of the day the property had been let for over €1,000 per month. People who commented under the online advertisement asked if this was illegal. Once the advertising platform had seen the lack of space in the apartment and the high cost of the monthly rent it would have had to take down the advertisement.
We need clarity on the ban on co-living and on existing applications for co-living developments. We also need the Government to ban the advertisement of unsuitable rental properties and accommodation on prominent property letting platforms.
Last week, Inner City Helping Homeless, ICHH, brought the Don’t Forget Me campaign to the gates of Leinster House to highlight the 56 people who died in homeless services in Dublin this year. Dublin city councillor Anthony Flynn has asked me to raise with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, the homeless numbers nationally, including how many people have died in our homeless services and on our streets in 2020. I would very much appreciate if this information could be sought and provided to councillor Anthony Flynn who has been unable to access it.
I want to raise a serious local issue for the people of north Louth, that is, the Louth County Council draft development plan and the fact that this process is going ahead during the Covid pandemic despite the restrictions in place in terms on meetings, including in people's houses, to discuss the plan's detrimental consequences. To say that it restricts one-off housing is not true. It does not restrict one-off housing, it prohibits it in many locations. The McGreehans have lived in Castletowncooley since the 1700s. This plan would ensure that the McGreehan's would never be seen in the 2100s in that it will displace an entire population. We are investing in rural schools. In 15 years time, under this development plan, there will be no new houses or young families living in their local areas.
When I raised this at council level a council official looked at me like in a funny way because I would like to live where I grew up and where my people are. If I lived in a town and I wanted to move a few houses down the road to be close to my mother that would be acceptable but that is not acceptable in rural Ireland. We need to call a halt to development plans at this time. It was mentioned that people can access the plan online. People in north Louth do not have broadband. Some of them do not even have a landline never mind broadband such that they can go online to investigate or review the draft development plan.
I urge the people of north Louth to review this draft development plan and to make submissions to ensure it is stopped. It is not right. It prohibits people living where they belong.
The Judicial Council Act 2019 allowed for the nomination of a date for the establishment of the personal injuries guidelines committee which would then prepare guidelines on the level of damages awarded for claims within the State and, for comparative reasons, outside of the State to allow for the promotion of consistency in awards and in terms of the principles for the assessment of awards of damages for personal injuries.
We know the cost of insurance has been crippling business for some time. I welcome yesterday’s Government decision to publish a plan to reform the insurance sector. The plan sets out 66 actions to bring down the cost for consumers and businesses, introduce more competition into the market, prevent fraud and reduce the burden on business and community and voluntary organisations. The plan will replace the book of quantum with new guidelines on the appropriate level of personal injury awards. It will enhance the role of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. It will also examine the duty of care to strengthen waivers and notices to increase protections for consumers, businesses, sporting clubs and community groups and further strengthen transparency through the expansion of the national claims information database. The plan is to monitor whether personal injury award levels need to be capped and to reduce insurance fraud, including placing perjury on a statutory footing, making the offence easier to prosecute. Another measure is to strengthen the enforcement powers of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, to examine dual pricing and to establish an office within the Government to encourage greater insurance market competition.
I welcome the plan and, more importantly, the implementation of the measures outlined in the plan. The plan was launched by the Government yesterday. It included the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for insurance, Deputy Fleming, and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for trade promotion, Deputy Troy. They all took part in the launch of this campaign. It might be in order for the Leader to seek a debate on insurance with the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, or whoever else might wish to participate. I welcome the progress evident yesterday in the launch of this comprehensive plan for insurance reform.
I also wish to raise the current development plans throughout the country. We need the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, to come to the House to make a statement on the existing restrictions on the maximum number of new housing units that may be built in each county. We also need to get clarity on the rural housing strategy and how many houses will be allowed in rural areas going forward.
I wish to read a quote:
The era of unrestricted development of one-off housing in rural areas has come to an end. It has been a fundamentally flawed policy for decades that is not just anti-rural but has been a contributory factor in the decimation of our towns and villages.
One-off rural housing is extremely expensive on local authorities and other agencies in provision of roads, waste collections services, groundwater pollution, electricity, lighting, postal services and broadband.
Concentrating serviced planning, clustered around towns and villages and within towns and villages would give capacity to retail, urban mobility and to services such as water and wastewater, where urban areas are connected in to modern treatment facilities.
Those are the words of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, who currently has responsibility for local government. If the Green Party gets its way there will not be anybody living in rural Ireland. We will have the birds, the bees and the foxes, but we will not have rural housing. It is about time that we woke up to that, in particular those who are living outside the urban area of County Dublin and the bigger cities. We need to wake up to the fact that this is happening in every small town and village throughout the country. We need the Minister to come to the House for a serious discussion on the current development plans around the country.
According to a proposal in County Meath the other day, 315 ha were dezoned. With what has been proposed, the local authority does not even have enough zoning to build social housing itself. It is a crazy situation that is happening throughout the country and we most definitely need to have a discussion on it.
I support Senator Flynn's comments about the deaths of homeless people. I raised the issue last week, having stood outside with Inner City Helping Homeless, who were protesting at the deaths of 56 homeless people this year in Dublin. It is far too many. I welcome the Minister's response to my request, which is that he has tasked the HSE and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, to compile a report and to bring it to him. It is a matter the Minister and our party is taking very seriously.
This morning I wish to raise women's health. I welcome the announcement by the HSE that it will allow partners of pregnant women attend their maternity visits and scans with them. That is very welcome and long overdue. Recently, I was in the Rotunda Hospital myself to meet with the master there. The Rotunda is the world's oldest maternity hospital and it is the busiest maternity hospital in the country. It delivers approximately 8,000 babies a year. One in six babies in Ireland is born in the Rotunda. One in four neonatal ICU babies is delivered in the Rotunda Hospital. The hospital gets approximately 500 gynaecological referrals a month and there is a waiting list of approximately 3,500 gynaecological appointments in the hospital.
The hospital is delivering 21st century medical care in an 18th century infrastructure. The building is creaking. It is overcrowded. The neonatal intensive care units are too small, and the postnatal wards are overcrowded. A woman has achieved her greatest achievement in life and pushed a baby out into the world, only for her then to be pushed into an overcrowded ward with no room for her, her partner and baby to have a little bit of privacy. That is just wrong. The delivery suites are insufficient. As I mentioned, there are 3,500 on the waiting list for basic gynaecological services for women's health. A report has been commissioned and a preliminary budget proposal has been made to the HSE. I renew my request for the Minister for Health to come to the House and to update it on the provision of women's health services in the Rotunda Hospital as soon as possible.
I wish to raise two issues, the first of which is local. The Ballinasloe Says No campaign is up and running and we have a public meeting this evening. All Members are very welcome to join. We have invited Deputies and Senators from the Roscommon and Galway areas. It is a community group fighting for the health, safety and environmental impacts to low-lying floodplains. We are fighting on environmental issues. We have already brought this to the High Court under the habitats directive. It is extremely important to people in the area. We will deal with the issue as well under the county development plan. People have 25 working days to make submissions on the issue to the local authority. I would welcome the support of Members and colleagues on this matter.
I attended the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine yesterday. The Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, INHFA, attended the first session and the second session was attended by Meat Industry Ireland and the National Dairy Council. They spoke very clearly about the significant impacts of Brexit on farming from a no-trade deal. There will potentially be more than €1.5 billion in tariffs a year.
Before coming to the Chamber, I watched Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions. One would not believe there is going to be this crisis in the coming days. It is shocking. I can only wish the negotiators the best and that they will be able to negotiate a deal, which is so crucial for Ireland and for the UK. We are neighbours and we have a shared history, and it is so important that we will be able to work together in the time ahead and achieve the best deal for people on both islands. That would be very much appreciated. I wish them the best in the coming days.
I wish to raise the shocking "Prime Time" programme on overcrowding last week. I raised the issue a number of times in the context of the Residential Tenancies Bill and the budget. Hot-bedding is a phrase I never wanted to hear but I have heard it more than enough times in recent months. Unscrupulous private landlords and people who are subletting are letting rooms with bunk beds in it for up to ten people where one has no chance of social distancing. There is a crisis at the lower end of affordable accommodation.However, we do not have proper robust legislation to deal with the issue of overcrowding. Local authorities have stated that the 1966 Act is not suitable as it is too cumbersome. As such, when local authorities tackle the issue, they use fire safety legislation. A Bill dealing with the issue was introduced by Deputy Cowen and is on Committee Stage but, in the context of a public health pandemic, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien, should introduce a Bill to address overcrowding as a matter of urgency. This is not just part of a housing crisis; it is a public health crisis. Members are aware that some of the infections that broke out in meat plants during the summer were as a result of the fact that the workers were hot bedding. They could not afford a room or even a bed of their own, so they were sharing beds. This is a public health crisis in the context of the current situation.
I also raise the issue of heritage buildings. I welcome that Lord Iveagh yesterday moved to take back the Iveagh Markets in Dublin 8. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, should come to the House to address how the building will be restored as a market, as well as how it will be made structurally sound in the short term. It has been neglected and allowed to lie derelict by the person who had a long lease on it for the past 20 years. It is very important that serious, considered and immediate State action is taken to protect what is a jewel of a market in the south-west inner city.
I start by agreeing with Senators McGreehan and Keogan on the need for a discussion around rural housing. One of the difficulties is that not only are people not allowed to build one-off houses in rural areas, they cannot even live in nearby villages because the required water and wastewater infrastructure is not in place. We need to have a discussion on that issue.
I welcome the news that Facebook, Twitter and several other social media giants will work with the national vaccine task force to combat the spread of disinformation and fake news. This is a very important step, but there is also a need for a Government campaign to explain the vaccine and to stand up for science.
I wish to raise the issue of the reopening of theatres, which has come up on several previous occasions. Obviously, I am disappointed by the decision of the Government in this regard. It still makes no sense that galleries, museums and cinemas are rightly open, but theatres have been excluded. My concern is that theatres cannot just open the following morning; an adequate notice period is needed. If a decision is to be made regarding theatres being allowed to open in January, that should be communicated to the theatres in plenty of time. There is a specific challenge with regard to many community theatres and not-for-profit theatres around the country. They are closed but, as they are not-for-profit organisations, they cannot avail of the same levels of business supports that commercial operators can access. We will have to support the amateur drama movement and musical theatre across the country. It will be a big challenge next year to get them all back on the road. It is very welcome that there is an additional €50 million for the Arts Council and arts funding, but we must ensure that money gets into the hands of arts venues, artists and musicians within the community. As Senators have stated many times, we need a debate in the House on the future of the arts.
I ask the acting Leader to arrange the attendance of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for a debate in the near future on the issue of energy. It is a very important and exciting area. As Members are aware, the cost of generating energy from fossil fuels depends on the price of the fuel and the cost of the power plants that use those fuels, whereas it is completely different in the case of renewables. We have the wind and the sun. Basically, the only cost is that of the technology that uses the wind or the sun to generate energy. As Members have seen, that cost has reduced dramatically in recent years. Although most Departments favour large-scale wind energy created by big wind plants, there should be a shift towards households generating their own energy. We could have a very important debate on that issue. I ask the acting Leader to arrange such a debate in light of the fact that the State is paying hefty fines to Europe as a consequence of its failure to generate enough renewable energy. It is an exciting area with significant potential for job creation. I ask that the debate be arranged for next week or as soon as possible in the new year.
I ask the acting Leader to call the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, before the House at his earliest convenience regarding unfair dismissals legislation. I would like the legislation, and the 1997 Act in particular, to be reviewed and amended. I raise this issue having been contacted by a constituent. To put the matter into perspective, he had 36 years service with a global organisation that has in the region of 9,000 staff. He was in the top 100 of those staff. The Cathaoirleach may be aware that the man in question was five or six years away from retirement age when he was told that his services were no longer required. Having sought legal advice at the highest level, he realised that all the advantages were with the company. The maximum payout is two years' salary and benefits and it is fully taxable such that one only receives 50% of it. Any welfare payment one receives within the two years is deducted from the payout. I am asking for the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to come before the House and to consider the 1997 Act. The situation to which I refer is very unfair on an employee with 36 years service. There are similar cases in which the remuneration is just not suitable. Employees need to be protected at all stages. We need the Minister to come to the House.
I wish to raise the issue of insurance. All Senators are well aware of the big problem it is for many people and businesses across the country. I welcome the new action plan for insurance reform published by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, but I wish to highlight some things I believe need to be changed. I wish to put on record that we should compliment Deputy Kieran O'Donnell, a former Senator, who brought many of these issues to the fore. He has not received the media attention he deserves as other parties have claimed credit for his work, but if people look back over the record, they will see he was the first person to really tease out the issue of insurance.
The Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland, MIBI, was established in 1955 under an agreement between the then Government and the companies underwriting motor insurance in Ireland. Its purpose is to compensate victims of road traffic accidents caused by uninsured or unidentified vehicles. All companies underwriting motor insurance must be a member of MIBI. They fund it by means of an annual levy to which all those with motor insurance contribute. However, following personal experience, I found that MIBI has no liability for vehicle or property damage claims where the alleged offending vehicle is not identified by means of its registration plates. The MIBI will not assist claimants in such cases. The only exception to that arises where the claimant makes a personal injury claim. There is a fund that all those with motor insurance pay into to cover claims relating to uninsured and unidentified drivers, but unless one makes a personal injury claim as well as claiming for vehicular damage, one is not entitled to claim from the fund. Basically, one is not entitled to get one's vehicle fixed if that is all one is looking for. I know that from personal experience. I was injured in the incident but I have no interest in taking a personal injury case. I just want to get my car fixed but I was not able to do so because I was not making a personal claim. This issue needs to be examined.
That said, we are moving in the right direction on the matter. Judges look at all the facts when motor claims come before the court. Last week, a court case was widely publicised on television news and in newspapers when a judge dismissed claims for up to €60,000 as the four men making the claims grossly exaggerated their case and knowingly misled the court about a collision in my home county of Longford. The men have received tens of thousands of euro in compensation payouts over the past 20 years.The law needs to be changed. It is a crime for people to make false claims.
We have heard a lot in recent times about maternity leave not being available. It is in that context that I wish the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and her husband, Paul, who is a good Roscommon man, every good wish for the future.
In today's edition of the Irish IndependentLorraine Hall, a Fine Gael councillor, talks about the treatment of pregnant Deputies. She stated that she had to return to work when her baby was three weeks old. That is appalling. I cannot stress strongly enough the urgent need to deal with this matter. I compliment my party colleagues, Deputy Niamh Smyth, and the Minister of State, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, who worked on a Bill on this issue when in opposition. I know that they are pursuing the matter again. I urge everybody to support their Bill so we can deal with this issue as a matter of urgency.
I mention another newspaper report, by Shane Phelan, in today's edition of the Irish Independent. It states:
The detention of an “actively psychotic” murder accused in prison is lawful even though he should be receiving treatment in the Central Mental Hospital (CMH), a judge has ruled.
Experts say the CMH is the only place in Ireland where the man can receive the care he needs. However, he cannot be admitted because it is full.
The matter is one of a number of recent cases highlighting difficulties caused by a lack of capacity at the hospital.
Lawyers for the man challenged the legality of his detention in circumstances where they said he was suffering from homicidal thoughts in prison and not getting the treatment he needs.
As the Cathaoirleach will recall, he allowed me to raise a Commencement matter on the lack of mental health services in recent weeks. Despite all the talk about this issue a few weeks ago, we now have another appalling case. I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister for Justice to see if the House can discuss the matter and assess what we can do. While there is obviously no space available in the Central Mental Hospital, there is a new centre in north County Dublin. I do not know what stage the project has reached but I understand some patients have been moved to the location in question. We need extra space to treat people rather than locking them up in jails where they obviously should not be detained.
The Leader of the House has said that sometimes supports or restrictions can be tweaked after their announcement because of the nature of Covid-19 and the challenges we face. I raise an issue concerning food outlets and pubs that genuinely fall between being a wet pub and a gastropub. This situation was not foreseen. The restrictions in December include the clause that a designated food preparation area must be on-site, indoors and a permanent part of the building. These seek to discourage the partnerships of convenience that popped up previously and ensure there is a controlled environment. I fully appreciate that but there are also pubs with permanent food partnerships that were established long before Covid-19 and do not fit the criteria. For example, I know of a family business in Dublin 15 that consists of a long-established pub and a coffee and pizza van with picnic tables. The pub and van have different branding and are different businesses but they both trade on the same premises. The pub business has faced a lot of challenges and the sad part is that this pub has innovated in recent years to became more family-friendly and attract a new audience and new customers. Its partnership was approved by the environmental health officer last year, long before the onset of Covid-19. A substantial amount of money has been invested in making sure the entire premises is Covid-friendly and Covid-proofed. The hard part is that the proprietors expected to open over Christmas and invested but now they cannot open the premises. Can the pub or business trade if it had an established food partnership on-site that was approved, adheres to all of the rules and is open to inspection?
Yesterday, the Scottish Parliament passed fantastic legislation, the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act, which means period products are now available free of charge in all schools, colleges and universities. I welcome the move because it lights the way for girls and women, or all who menstruate, to be fully supported with the cost of their periods during their time in education and without a means test or qualification.
Sanitary products can cost between €2 and €6 per product. Previous governments have ensured the products are zero-rated for VAT. If one assumes 13 periods a year and the use of two products per period, the final cost per year is as high as €156. Over a lifetime, that amounts to between €6,000 and €7,000.
Period poverty was acknowledged by the United Nations when it stated that "lack of menstrual health management and stigma associated with menstruation both have a negative impact on gender equality and women’s and girls’ enjoyment of human rights, including the right to education and the right to health". Plan International conducted a survey of 1,100 girls aged between 12 and 19 years in Ireland that showed 61% o them have missed school due to a period and over 50% of teenage girls find it difficult to afford sanitary products. The high cost of menstrual products has led to girls using unsuitable products such as newspapers, toilet paper and clothing, which is horrific and unimaginable. I welcome that the programme for Government contains a provision to bring forward legislation for the free provision of menstrual products in schools, colleges and higher education institutes to ensure that no students are disadvantaged educationally. I am mindful of the economic hardship of the here and now so we need to advance the legislation more quickly. Therefore, I call upon the Minister for Health to bring forward the legislation as a matter of urgency and that we consider and be sensitive to all of the transgender requirements. We should follow the example of the Scottish Parliament as quickly and as closely as possible.
Yesterday, Oxfam released another report that showed lower and middle-income people have cut their emissions while the richest 10% have grown theirs. These are EU figures but there is no reason to suspect that they do not hold true for Ireland. The words "just transition" are regularly thrown about but these figures suggest that the transition is anything but just. The rich go on flying more, driving bigger cars and having more homes, while low and middle-income people go on doing their bit.
Climate change is a bit like Covid-19. We hear we are all in this together and everyone must play their part but not everyone is doing so. There seems to be a narrative that climate change could have been fixed if only we all changed our lightbulbs and bought a keep-cup. This is despite all of the evidence that shows the bulk of the emissions from consumption are down to the lifestyle of the top 1%. A just transition must target high-wealth lifestyles and corporations.
This week, I signed up to a campaign called Make Amazon Pay. Amazon has a carbon footprint of 44.6 million tonnes of carbon and its subsidiary, Amazon Web Services, works with the fossil fuel industry to extract more carbon. Amazon avoids paying taxes, its employees are forced to work during a pandemic without personal protective equipment, PPE, while the wealth of Jeff Bezos has increased by 65% during the pandemic alone.
We have had decades of Government policies that have set us on the wrong path where it is always the poor who have to make the cuts while the rich lead increasingly lavish lifestyles. What has the Government done? We have had proposals to ban the two-for-one food deals when what we really need are policies that target consumption by the rich. Individuals must play their part but it not their fault that they are locked into a fossil fuel dependent system.
This House will soon debate the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill. I ask that the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, listens to the Oxfam report, follows the evidence and ensures that just transition is placed at the centre of the Bill. I urge him to do all that when redrafting the Bill because the importance of getting this right cannot be overstated. We need a just transition to bring everybody along with us. If there is no just transition then we will not have any transition.
I thank Senators for contributing to the Order of Business this morning. Senator Mullen has raised a very important issue. I am not a medical doctor. I recall that the issue came up at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. There were differing scientific views expressed by medical professionals. I have no difficulty in the issue being re-examined. I certainly have sympathy for and am persuaded by the cautionary principle in relation to same.
On the Senator's points about social media, I fully agree that it is not the best forum to express what sometimes are very complex views. Unfortunately, we have come to a situation in politics where Government policy or Opposition policy is being announced for the first time on Twitter. It is certainly not something that I support and I would like to go back to doing things the old way, and I would not often say that about many things. I believe that progress in that regard has not been positive.
Senator Hoey raised the issue of the Labour Party vaccine pledge. I believe that the majority of Members, as leaders in their communities, will do their best to encourage people to take up the vaccine. I will be rolling up my sleeve. I am far down the pecking order for getting the vaccine, but as soon as I can get it I will be taking it. I fully support the Government's published plan for the hierarchy of the people who will receive the vaccine first, prioritising those in nursing home, front-line workers, and then based on risk and age. It seems like a fair and sensible way to do this. Ultimately, the quicker we can roll out the vaccine the better. Recent opinion polls showing certain levels of support among different political groupings for the vaccine will put it back on political parties to do their best to speak to their supporters and their base to make sure we reach that 70% and higher vaccine uptake, which is what we need to get this country back up and running.
Senator Hoey also raise the issue of student nurses and student midwives and their pay. Obviously, there has been much debate on the issue in recent days. I made my views on the issue very clear in this House last week. The Government is examining an increase in the allowances for student nurses. I agree with Senator Hoey in that I do not believe remunerating nurses and midwives would result in the degree programme no longer being viable. That does not make sense to me and we do not need to go down that route. We need to address the issue in a real and meaningful way. We will do this by working with the student nurses, the student midwives and with the INMO, to find a solution that is acceptable to its members.
Senator Garvey raised the issue of rural cycling and walkways. I welcome the €50 million investment by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in rural communities for walkways and cycleways. We need to move to a place where people can leave the car at home and can walk and cycle between communities. If a person lives in a rural area within 10 km of the local town or village, then he or she should have the option to walk or cycle there. People would use the walkways or cycleways if they were there.
Senator Warfield spoke on the issue of co-living. I reiterate the Minister, Darragh O'Brien's very clear position that co-living has been banned. If there are certain processes in place with regard to planning, that is a matter for the Minister to take up with An Bord Pleanála and the local authorities. The position from Government is that co-living has been banned.
With regard to the rental properties being advertised that are well below standard, Senator Moynihan raised a similar issue about properties that are being rented out that are clearly not fit to be lived in by anybody. I agree with Senator Warfield that we need to look at ways of preventing those properties from being advertised. That can pose a difficulty, however, as it is very difficult for Government to regulate all advertisements. There need to be better supports and laws in place for local authorities to come down hard on these landlords.
Senator Flynn raised the issue of the task force and the Inner City Helping Homeless #DontForgetMe campaign. It has highlighted the 56 lives that were lost to homelessness in our capital city in 2019. Senator Fitzpatrick raised the same issue last week. The Minister has responded that they are working on the issue. A task force has been set up. It is an issue the Government wants to see addressed. I do not have an answer for the Senator on how many lives we have lost in the capital in 2020. We do need to know those figures. It is important that they are highlighted and that it is known across both Houses and among the public.
Senators McGreehan and Keogan raised the matter of the county development plan. It is a real concern. This is not a new issue. This came up in the last development plan also. I was a local authority member on Mayo County Council at that time. We had a huge difficulty with the Department in trying to make amendments to our county development plan to facilitate once-off rural housing. I come from a rural village. It is difficult to get planning permission, but we do not want to make it absolutely impossible for people from an area to live in that area. That is certainly being pushed from certain quarters. It is not something I support. We need to support people to live in their communities. Why are we investing in rural schools and rural infrastructure if people are not going to live there? There is definitely that friction between the Department and some local authorities. Our councillors across all counties are doing their damnedest to make sure the views of the public in their local community are reflected in their county development plan. It is in their remit to pass those plans.
Senator Kyne raised the issue of insurance and the personal injuries guidelines. I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fleming, of the reforms that will come into effect in the area of insurance and personal injuries, and around the guidelines for awards that can be made. I am aware there is also a particular issue the Government is working on whereby we want to see a cap on personal injuries claims, especially for the smaller claims such as whiplash where we know that people are taking claims that are quite frivolous but difficult to disprove. Awards for whiplash in Ireland are two and three times those in the UK. This is not acceptable and it cannot be justified.
We must also take into account the person who has a very serious accident. The Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, gave an account on radio yesterday of the child who may have suffered a catastrophic injury when very young and who will need long-term care for the rest of his or her life. Really, there should not be a prohibitive cap on those types of cases. It is about trying to strike the right balance. I am confident that the plan announced yesterday will bring about meaningful reform and change in the insurance industry. I compliment Mr. Peter Boland and his team from the Alliance for Insurance Reform who have done a lot of work on this in recent years to bring about those changes for businesses and for citizens.
I take on board Senator Keogan's quote, which she read into the record of the House. It was very important to bring that issue to public attention and to put it on the record of the House.
Senator Fitzpatrick raised the issue of the Rotunda Hospital. I am aware it is not the Senator's first time to raise the matter of the not-fit-for-purpose standard of the Rotunda Hospital building. This hospital delivers one in six of the babies born in Ireland. One in four of babies born in Ireland who end up in a neonatal unit come through the Rotunda Hospital. It is one of the busiest maternity hospitals in the country.
The Senator also highlighted the very important issue of women's health and the waiting lists for gynaecological appointments. This is a huge issue and often it is not talked about very much. Women tend not to receive a diagnosis as quickly as they should on many issues, and endometriosis certainly comes to mind. We have a lot of work to do in Ireland to put in place a proper care pathway to care for women, one in ten of whom suffer from endometriosis at different levels of severity. We have a lot of work to do on that. The figure of 3,500 on a waiting list for gynaecological appointments at the Rotunda Hospital is a shocking and disgraceful figure that needs to be addressed urgently.
Senator Dolan once again has raised the issue of Ballinasloe, always keeping her home community on the agenda and on the map. I commend the Senator on her fine work representing her community. I thank the Senator for extending an invitation to all Members of the House to attend the meeting tonight of Ballinasloe Says No. It is very important that communities get to have their say on issues affecting their community.
I concur with the comments of Senator Dolan on Brexit and the impact on the agrifood sector. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, we are looking at some €1.7 billion worth of tariffs on our exports, the majority of which, up towards €1.5 billion, will be on the agrifood sector. The impact of a no-deal Brexit on top of a pandemic really does not bear thinking about. I sincerely hope a deal is reached. While the progress yesterday on the withdrawal agreement was welcome, it was probably slightly overstated because that was the agreement we thought we had reached a year ago, so really we had only got back to where we were a year ago. The free trade agreement is quite separate to the withdrawal agreement. There are still considerable differences on fishing, governance and the level playing field provisions. We are not there yet. We certainly wish Commission President Ursula von der Leyen well in her conversations today with the British Prime Minister. We hope that sense and logic will prevail.
I reassure citizens who may be watching that the Government is making every effort to get that deal over the line. We are making very real preparations in the event of no deal. Plans are being put in place even in relation to vaccines. We are ensuring a direct access from mainland Europe to Ireland, without having to use the land bridge, to get the vaccines here. We are making the necessary preparations in the event that a deal is not done by the 1 January, all the while hoping we do get there.
Senator Moynihan raised the issue of the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on overcrowding in rental accommodation. I watched the programme and I believe it is disgraceful. We need to listen to the local authorities when they say they do not have the proper legislative basis to tackle these landlords, many of whom are criminals in my view. They are forcing people to live in absolute squalor, and putting their health, safety and well-being at risk. We need to make an example of these individuals and come down hard on them. I believe they should be getting significant custodial sentences for making people live in those conditions. Until we take the issue seriously and until people pay the price for what they do to good decent people who are just looking for a home, we will not see meaningful reform in this area.We need to enact legislation that empowers local authorities to bring these people to court. The full rigour of the law must be brought to bear on the individuals who are responsible for these living conditions. I would not call them homes or places to live because they are neither of those things. I say to the people affected by these living conditions that we are listening, we will work on this and we hope to get a resolution to the matter very soon.
I thank Senator Moynihan for also raising the issue of the Iveagh Markets and heritage. I was not aware of the issue, but protecting our heritage and all such sites is really important not just for those of us enjoying them today but also for generations to come. We should look after what is the heart of our communities.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of rural housing, which I think I have dealt with.
I was not aware of this but I welcome the fact that Facebook and Twitter will work with the Government to try to get a positive vaccine message out there. We have a job of work to do on this. The anti-vax campaign is already up and running, spreading misinformation and scaring people. We have to acknowledge that some people are asking genuine questions and are really worried. They ask whether the vaccine is safe because it has been brought about so quickly, which is a reasonable question to ask. I am confident it is safe but I am not a scientific expert. As I said, I will be very happy to take the vaccine when I am allowed to get it. If we can come out and answer people's questions in a very honest and transparent way, we will be able to deal with this. I understand that the HSE, the CMO and the Minister for Health, when they have approval from the EMA and are ready to roll, will be ready to start a campaign promoting the vaccine in a positive way. I trust that will come about in a very effective manner.
Senator Byrne also raised the reopening of theatres. I know that the Senator has been a strong advocate for the arts since setting foot in this Chamber. He has always advocated for protection of the arts and trying to get the arts sector back on its feet. It has been one of the most impacted sectors in the country, aside from retail and hospitality. The arts has really suffered, with no real end in sight in the coming months because we just cannot see packed venues being a reality for the next while. There are questions to be asked here, particularly for not-for-profits that are not accessing supports that they may need. We need to facilitate these organisations in staying alive and viable so they can reopen when we are able to reopen them. I thank Senator Byrne for consistently raising the issue of the arts and the people working in that sector.
Senator Burke raised the issue of energy. It would be a really interesting debate, which we will try to facilitate in the coming term with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. As to how households might be able to generate their own electricity, there is definitely scope to facilitate microgeneration and getting people onto the grid. As an island nation, we have so much wind energy and wave energy opportunity. That is where things are going. It would be helpful and interesting to the House to have that engagement with the Minister. We will certainly seek it in the new year.
I do not have the details of the case Senator Crowe raised but I sympathise with the individual in question. To be employed for 36 years and then be told that one is no longer required when one is so close to retirement must be devastating for the individual and the family involved. Shame on the company in question for doing that to somebody. It is wrong and immoral. Regardless of whether the person in question was no longer needed in that role, a decent company would have found an alternative space for the individual, who should be a valued member of the company's team, having served the company for that long. I take on board the Senator's comments on the Unfair Dismissals Act. Perhaps we can explore ways to try to protect workers who have given that length of service and who require an additional support. Two years' salary does not really cut the mustard for 36 years' service. I agree with the Senator on that.
Senator Carrigy raised the issue of insurance and a very important issue surrounding the MIBI restrictions. The Senator may wish to table a Commencement matter on that issue and have the Minister respond because it is quite specific.
Senator Murphy raised the issue of maternity leave for elected representatives. I concur with the Senator's remarks and commend my colleagues, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and Deputy Niamh Smyth, who in the previous Dáil tabled legislation to put leave for elected representatives - Deputies, Senators and councillors - on a statutory footing. We need to do this but we also need to have a wider debate. It is not simply the maternity leave aspect. This is a difficult profession in which to have a family. For the information of the public, it is not that Deputies and Senators are marched back into the office within days of giving birth, but there is often a very personal feeling that one needs to get back to work because of the competitive nature of multi-seat constituencies and the nature of the job. There is a wider discussion to be had on how we make this a more family-friendly working environment and put in place better supports. I refer to such things as a family room in the Houses of the Oireachtas, which I have personally requested of the Ceann Comhairle and Oireachtas staff since the previous term. When mums are with their young children while in either House, there should be a space to go to that is not just one's office but a more family-friendly space. We could make changes within these Houses very quickly that would make a difference to women in such situations.
I concur with Senator Murphy's comments on the Central Mental Hospital and that we need additional capacity there. I will pass that on to the Minister for Justice.
Senator Currie raised the issue of gastropubs and wet pubs and those that perhaps fall between two stools. The difficulty there is where one draws the line. There have been challenges across the board in trying to find the right balance in opening up, and a lot of wet pubs - and I really dislike that term, as I think most people do - are finding it difficult that they are not able to reopen this Christmas. At the end of the day, these are people, families, businesses, livelihoods and communities, and the impact is quite severe. My only hope is that we can just get past this, get into the new year and get things back open across the board.
Senator Boylan raised the Oxfam report. I agree with everything she said. I am not sure how we as a State, a Government or an Oireachtas can tackle the issue of big corporates such as Amazon that clearly have a far greater impact on climate change than the Senator or me as individuals or our families. I do not know how we go about doing that, but clearly there is a gap and it is widening. The vast majority of us do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. A lot of corporations are making moves to have better corporate social responsibility and to play their part. I see AIB making steps to become carbon-neutral by 2030. SSE Airtricity is doing good work. There are corporates that are taking this seriously but others are not. There is an element of personal responsibility as well if one is shopping on Amazon to think twice, to look to green companies and Irish indigenous companies, and to support the ones that are supporting communities. Perhaps that is the kind of campaign in which we as Oireachtas Members can have an impact. This is a global issue. Perhaps even at an EU level we need to start tackling it and we need to all work together.